The Way of Peace

In this day of so much miscommunication, Hope still shines brightly. Honest and open communication is the key to any successful relationship. Unfortunately, miscommunication can be the source of terrible strife and division. All the way back in the garden, the truth of what God said was twisted and misperceived, casting mankind into this perpetual battle with sin. Eve and Adam were pure and innocent in their understanding right up until their teeth crushed through the skin of that luscious fruit and the juice of sin and selfishness lustfully drizzled down their chin. At that point, “Me, Me, Me” suddenly became the center of the universe.

But I believe it has always been in the heart of our Heavenly Father that the source of all of our knowledge and understanding would come from our own personal relationship with Him. Our Father has always been about walking hand and hand with us in the garden. Jesus made the way, paying the ultimate price. Out of His great love, He created us and then He rescued us, all for the sake of relationship. The pathway upon which we walk is communion, in other words, we talk and relate to each other honestly, respectfully, continuously.

However, our prideful and self-centered tendencies are to go it alone, to look lustfully at the tree and say, “I can do this myself.” There lies our tumultuous struggle, not only truth versus lies, light versus darkness,  but more blatantly truth versus our perception of truth, in other words, the way we want the truth to be.

                “Did God really say…?” 

This very question still challenges our innate ability to communicate and to hear from God. The same concept can be applied to our everyday relationships; our family and friends, our workplace, even our church. Open, genuine and purposeful communication is the key to freedom. Miscommunication is the devil. It makes us prisoners to our fractured soul. In the garden, it caused doubt resulting in sin. Sin opened their eyes to nakedness or shame. Shame produced fear which resulted in hiding from their very own Father who loves them. We are all well aware of the end result, our own sinful nature that loves darkness and is afraid of being exposed to the light. The process remains the same; misunderstanding, lack of communication, vain imaginations and straight up lies continue to destroy lives, families and even cities and nations.

So what opens the door to truthful communication? Regretfully, often times it can be conflict. We sail along on rough seas ignoring and pretending the boat is not sinking; that is until the storm overtakes us. The wind blows, the thunder claps, our emotions become the rudder of our conversation and we will defend our self-centered belief system even to the death. I suppose conflict might be necessary when nothing else can tear through the walls of fear and pride but the problem with conflict is it always creates an atmosphere of chaos. Chaos will ultimately end in two polar opposite choices. One steers us to peaceful waters, understanding and reconciliation. The other’s outcome is a total shipwreck leaving behind the carnage of anger, bitterness, and an unwillingness to forgive. Relationships drown in a sea of pride and resentment.

Good news though…a lifeboat is on the way! His name is Jesus. Through the fog of chaos and confusion, He brings courage. The struggle to bring light into darkness is traumatic and requires much courage. The key is love but it takes courage to turn the key. This door is the way of humility and surrender, putting other’s interest first. It’s the way of the cross. Humility and weakness carry truth much further than pride and arrogance. Humility is the foundation of confidence and will always create an atmosphere of peace. Peace, however, doesn’t always look like calm waters. Jesus was sound asleep, perhaps dreaming of green pastures and quiet waters when his disciples frantically screamed something like, “We are all going to die!” Jesus however, arose from a place of peace, looked confidently at the storm and said, “Peace be still!” Winds died down. Waters became calm. Hearts again were at rest. Blue sky and sunshine emerged from the dark clouds. So may this thought be etched upon our hearts and a standard by which we all live,

               Peace begets Peace!

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91)

The meaning and purpose of life is two things, love God, love others. Love’s torment is passionately desiring God’s very best for ourselves and everyone around us. Love is the activity of thankfulness and was never meant to be passive. Love courageously initiates the relationship, especially in stormy waters. Love listens intently and patiently. Love speaks truth gently and cares deeply. Even in the midst of lightning flashing and thunder’s rumbling, love stays because love wins. Love wins!

Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

(Luke 1:78-79)

Now We Wait

Preparations have been made, hearts are ready, let us celebrate the day of the Lord! Over the past month, we have fasted, feasted and set our hearts on a pilgrimage to seek the Lord. We have been looking forward to celebrating a glorious day. It is the greatest day in the history of mankind. On the third day, the breath of life returned back into the body of the Son of Man, raising Him from death to life, signifying the work of the cross and the work of the grave was finished. Mankind, now through Jesus has the right, the privilege, and the opportunity, once again to walk and abide in the presence of our Holy God. Praise His name! Every year tradition has us celebrating the day the world calls Easter, but we who believe know it as the day of the resurrection of our Lord. So today here we are, that festive day has come and past, the merriment, and activities have died down and I’m left asking this one question…What now?

If ever there was a whisper of the voice of a prophet in me, it most surely is now. Like the beating of a drum, these words echo with resolve out of the recesses of my spirit. The heavenly answer to my question “What now?” is:

“Now we wait!”

Now we wait? What does it mean to wait?

Waiting can be a demonstration of faith because even though you don’t know what will happen next, the very act of waiting expresses a desire that something, in fact, will come. Though expressed differently, waiting and hoping are -at the very least- first cousins. The Biblical definition of hope is joyful anticipation of good. So we wait because we expect something good. As well, the words trust and rest and expectation should also be holding hands in this circle of faith. This faith allows us to turn our head toward an ancient east wind blowing out of Jerusalem to listen to the voice of the disciples as they whisper these same words: “Now we wait!” The words of their Messiah rang true in spirit as they remembered what Jesus had told them,

‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.’

For forty days Jesus had appeared to His followers giving them many convincing proofs that He indeed was alive. Jesus had disappeared into the clouds and now the disciples were trudging inquisitively back to gather together in Jerusalem. Jesus had commanded them, “Wait for the promise.” They really didn’t know or understand what exactly they waited for. How could they? This new and glorious gift had never been seen or done before in this manner. Still, by faith, they waited. Faith created an expectancy and anticipation in their hearts. If the past three years had taught them anything, it was simply to trust in what Jesus says and don’t try to bring their own understanding into the equation. Experience had taught them no matter what they expected or whatever happened, it was going to be far greater than they could ever imagine. Love now commanded their heart. Experience had taught them to trust. Faith was the fuel for hope that burned fervently inside them. That hope produced a heartfelt expectation that good things were coming! With a resolve as certain as words etched into stone, each were waiting and proclaiming, “Yes…God is good!” And God was good. And God is good. And God will always be good!
As sure as the sunrise, the promise came like wind and fire with unexplainable power and glory, touching the hearts and souls of all who found faith in waiting.

The miracle of this moment turned a group of one hundred twenty who waited into a love struck army of three thousand. These Spirit-filled believers would begin a movement that even to this day would turn the world upside down. Two thousand years later, here we are, actively and expectantly waiting. Just like those extraordinary men and women of old, we really don’t know what is next. We are not sure what we are waiting for, but still, we wait. Our hearts are excited and full of joy. We wait with the excitement of young children on Christmas morning. Our eyes are open and dodging sleep. Our lamps are burning brightly and full to the brim with oil. If the Bridegroom knocks, we are awake and ready to fling open the door, fall on our face and kiss His beautiful feet.

So to answer the burning question in our hearts that is asking “what now?” is this:

“Now we wait!”
I pray you find much joy in the waiting!
“And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You.” (Ps. 39:7)

“Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes wait for the Lord.” (Ps. 27:14)

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength.” (Isa. 40:31)

“But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Ro. 8:25)

Don’t Forsake the Process

Needing a couple of days of rest from work and ministry, I along with Julie, Hugh and Monte made the trek through the Hill Country to Fredricksburg. This is a Central Texas town that hosts a variety of wineries and is just the sort of place you want to go to when you need a weekend to rest.

We sampled several wines. Some were made in Texas with locally grown grapes. Others were imported from wineries around the world. My favorite was a Mar-Red, imported from Israel. At one stop, we visited with a well-known winemaker who gave us an education for one hour about wine making. Par for the course, I had many off the wall questions and he was gracious to answer them all. I wanted to know about the entire process from start to finish -from seed to the glass. As always for me, the natural way of things tend to
point to a greater understanding of spiritual things. Here’s what I learned.

What happens when you pour water into a wineskin? You’re right…nothing! The water just sits there wet and still. But what happens when you pour water into an empty vessel that’s meant for sanctification? With Jesus, that water turns to wine. In the same way, to be born again is as drastic a change as dark to light or even water to wine. The old pattern of thinking has gone and the new transformation has come.

However, if you try to pour new wine into an old wineskin, being stiff and dry, the skin will break and all the wine is spilled out on the ground and lost. The old wineskin now becomes useless which leads me to believe an old wine skin is only good for holding old wine or perhaps even just hanging on the wall.  On the other hand, a new wineskin is moist and soft and pliable. As the fermenting process continues with the fresh wine, the new skin is able to move and expand and stretch with the effervescence of the wine. So too, the born again believer is able to stretch and grow with the effervescence of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit of God within.

Characteristics of a new wine skin are humility, thankfulness, childlike wonder, a repentant heart, a desire for change and a heart for others. The evidence of new wine is the outpour of love and mercy that can only come from a thankful, repentant heart. Suddenly, a shift from self and selfishness moves us to a new place of honestly loving and caring and stopping for those in need. The effervescence and percolating wine within bends and shapes us back to our original design. We become more outward focussed instead of inward focussed.

Worldly pride, as well as religious pride, will walk by the unclean every time, hissing, accusing and justifying. But new wine sees into the darkness without fear and willingly sacrifices time and money and self without limits or constraint. Quiet and powerfully, the new wine in us motivates us to seek out the lost and hidden treasure in people everywhere. Something in us like grapes to wine has definitely changed. Jesus painted the ultimate masterpiece of selflessness for us by willingly going to the cross, taking the punishment due us upon himself and offering His life as a sacrifice in place of ours.

Today, He offers us a drink of new wine. New wine is freedom. New wine is hope. New wine is purpose. New wine is significance. New wine is life. New wine is love. New wine is joy. New wine is peace. New wine is healing. New wine is salvation. The way is simple and without cost. The corkscrew to new wine is placing all your faith and trust in Jesus. He beckons us to come to Him as an empty vessel longing to be filled. Scriptures teach that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Please hear my desperate and loving shout, you must be born again. Faith is the key. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. New wine is just a prayer away. Where do you start? On your knees is a good place, saying Jesus, I want to be born of the Spirit. New wine is knowing and walking with Jesus. It’s good news and all are invited. All are welcome. Jesus has saved the best for last!

So together we raise our glass to honor, to remember and to give thanks to the only One, Jesus Christ who gives us eternal life.

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Prophesy 101

Prophesy 101

“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4)

“It will come after this that I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophecy…” (Joel 2:28)

“Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1)

WHAT IS PROPHESY?

 Prophesy is hearing God speak for yourself and for others. Prophesy speaks in many different directions. It can look back to remind us of past events in our lives. It can look to the present to speak into circumstances or situations we are currently facing. Prophecy can look ahead to give us direction and to propel us into our destiny. 

WHAT ARE THE GUIDELINES TO PROPHESYING?

I like to say, prophesy gives us a target to shoot at. The Apostle Paul gives us the parameters of prophesy as found in 1 Corinthians 14:3.

But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.”

Edification means to encourage and to build up. Exhortation means to draw near. Consolation means to comfort and to cheer up. So these are our guidelines when we prophesy. Our words should be some combination of the three. God’s words spoken through us are meant to expose the treasure in someone, never the trash. All of us know what our own trash is and we don’t need someone to drag us through it again. 

HOW DO I RECEIVE A PROPHETIC WORD?

 Look at 1 Corinthians 14:3 again. This same scripture also gives us a way to test what is said to us when some shares a word of prophesy . We can ask ourselves these questions:

Am I encouraged? 

Do these words draw me closer to God? 

Do I feel comfort and peace? 

We are being made each day more into the image of Jesus, but we are not there yet. What this means is that we will not always get it right every time. This is why we need guidelines and should be ready to show grace when someone gets it wrong and ask for grace when we get it wrong.  So if your spirit doesn’t agree with the word, thankfully extend a hand of grace and then flush it. Lovingly we give you permission. 

WHAT DO I DO WITH A PROPHETIC WORD?

Now, I’ve received this word, what shall I do with. What you don’t want to do is put it in the drawer and wait for it to come to pass. Remember this is the Lord revealing a bit of His heart for you. Also know, “We know in part so we prophesy in part.” (1 Corinthians 13:9) The Lord’s ways are mysterious and He often times speaks symbolically and metaphorically creating questions and riddles leaving us the task of untying knots. The great joy in this is the relationship we build and enjoy with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. A few of the practices I have learned is to find scriptures that align with the word given you. Memorize them, paste them on the wall, declare them daily out loud, meditate and chew on the Scripture that aligns with the word spoken to you.

WHY DO WE DO THIS?

The value of prophesy is that everyone wants to know their Daddy in heaven is thinking about them. We believe that God has set this up as a way to encourage you!

A Present that Must Be Opened

“Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go!”

It’s Christmas Eve and you can feel such excitement in the air.
We really will cross a river (The San Marcos) and we really are going to Grandmother’s house (In Dallas).
Our sleigh (an R.V. dubbed the “Gray Hawk”) is packed, warmed up and raring to go. Every nook and cranny stuffed with presents as we load up our two sons, our beautiful daughter in law, two dogs, enough turkey sandwiches to feed an army and lots of Christmas cheer. We must have been a sight to behold as we rock and rolled our way up I-35, Christmas music blasting, Christmas movies blaring and Christmas lights and candy canes swaying to and fro with every turn of the wheel. Yes…we love Christmas!

We arrived just before midnight, safe and sound and with all the stealth of Old Saint Nick. We quietly unloaded all the presents and carefully positioned them under the tree. Only a few hours of sleep separates us from the sounds of such joyous laughter as we rip these presents to shreds. I have always loved the excitement and the chaos of Christmas morning. I love seeing a sea of wrapping paper quickly flood the room. I love hearing the screams of joy followed by words like “How did you know?” and “Thank you so much!”

I love giving gifts and I love receiving gifts. Some people (Grinches & Scrooges) complain about the commercialization of Christmas but I believe gift giving can be such a wonderful expression of love especially considering the thought that goes behind finding the perfect gift. More than the gift itself is the expression of love that comes with the gift. That expression says, I really know you. I know what you like. I know what size you wear. I know your favorite color. I know what makes you laugh. After all doesn’t the ultimate expression of love say, I see you, I hear you, I know you because you matter so much to me? That’s what I like about gifts.

But a gift isn’t truly a gift until it’s opened.

Christmas celebrates the greatest gift of all, the gift of the Son from the Father to all mankind. It was the deepest desire of the Father’s heart to recreate the face to face garden relationship between man and God. He did this through sending His most valuable and precious Son. The Father gave His very best and there could be no greater expression of love offered us.

Every living and breathing person has a gift under the tree with their name on it but do they know it and will they open it? As we open the gift, we find it full and overflowing with mercy and grace and forgiveness and freedom and peace and purpose and hope and love. We are overwhelmed as we dig around and discover what each of these means. Mostly what we discover is something about us has changed for the better. Mysteriously, almost magically, we are awakened to a new found joy and peace. Suddenly life makes sense and we start caring more for others around us. Out of our own thankfulness and excitement we shout to the world and say,

hey -there is a gift with your name on it too!

I love Christmas and all the hoopla. I love all the lights and decorations. I love the parties and the family gatherings. I love eggnog. I love Christmas songs and Christmas traditions. I love the tree and all the gifts. I love for a minute or two in this busy season that you might have been encouraged by these words. God bless you friend. I hope you remember the perfect gift says, I know you and and love you! Please know in your heart, Jesus is that perfect gift. Your gift awaits…open it and experience the indescribable splendor.
Merry Christmas from our family to yours! We love you.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

As followers of Christ, we should be the happiest people on the planet! We have everything to live for. We have everything to shout for. We have everything to be thankful for. We have Jesus! What could be better y’all?

In the early nineteen sixties, a famous ragamuffin poet named Bob Dylan penned the song “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” As we approach the year 2017, it becomes appropriate for us to resurrect that same age old tune and proclaim, “Yes! The times they are a-changin’!” I love what the prophet Daniel received in a night vision.

“It is He (the Lord) who changes the times and epochs; (set seasons)
He removes kings and establishes kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.” (Dan. 2:21)

I can remember that sometime around 2007, the winds of change beginning to blow throughout the church. The sound of worship was changing. A new sound began to arise in worship across the land. We moved from celebratory songs like “My Hope is in You” into a more minor-key type worship that actually opened the door to a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord. Places like IHOP, Bethel and Jesus Culture emerged as forerunners in a new sound that ushered in a new season. With every new season comes a new sound. With great excitement and enthusiasm, we entered into that season not really knowing where it would lead but all the while hoping for more.
What did I learn? It wasn’t what I expected, but I did learn a valuable lesson.

With any new birth there must be a great travail. What do I mean?
Suffering, perseverance, conflict, disillusionment, testing, refinement, surrender, waiting but most of all, trust. The deep and profound kind of trust.

I had encountered Jesus and what he was asking me was this:

“Do you trust me? Do you trust me? Do you trust me?”

Without hesitation my reply was,
Explicitly…Exclusively…Completely.

What I didn’t know was that those words would be the ticket to the most heart-wrenching roller coaster ride I could have ever imagined. And like a drowning man, I have resurfaced, gasping for air, smiling again and all the better for it.
A word to the wise: be mindful what you pray. It might just lead you to a wild and scary roller coaster ride.

The good news is this, it is a new day. We are entering into a new season. The time for moaning is past. A new and unique sound, straight out of heaven is about to flood the land. The winds of heaven are blowing and a huge wave, like a tsunami is forming, carrying a new sound that will be overtaking and crashing down upon anyone who is humble and hungry enough to embrace it. Sadly though, history proves many become so comfortable in one season that they are reluctant to move forward into the next season. But, “Fear not little flock, for it your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) So in my Holy Spirit imagination I often picture myself journeying through the wilderness with the people of old; thousands of families just moving from place to place following the Glorious Cloud and the Radiant Light. As I journey to this desolate but wonderful place, my continuous prayer is:

Jesus, I want to stay right up front with You Lord so I can see what You are doing and so I can go where You are going. Help me to stay in perfect rhythm with You Lord!

So friends, a new season is upon us and I hope you can see the fire in my eyes and hear the passion in my voice as I lovingly whisper in your ear,
The time for moaning is past. It is a new day!
Let’s celebrate!
Let’s pick up the tempo!
Let’s take off the grave clothes and come alive again!
Let’s abandon our dignity, stomp our feet and begin to dance again…like David!
Let’s see if we can turn heaven’s head toward us!
Let’s make such a joyful sound that all of heaven and earth will stand up and take notice!

All movements born in God usually have small beginnings. It only takes one spark to start a fire. One small seed planted and watered can yield a mighty oak! Be the spark! Be the seed! I’ll leave you with this final thought from God’s Word. May it be etched upon your heart…

…but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)

As followers of Christ, we should be the happiest people on the planet! We have the greatest reason to be.

Our Father Who is in Heaven

Jesus was surrounded by tax collectors and sinners, enjoying a meal. The religious leaders and the educated elite questioned and judged his behavior. How did Jesus respond to the questions? With stories.

His response had a way of revealing the heart of men and exposing their self-serving agendas and mindsets. One particular story begins in Luke 15:11.

There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.

This story paints such a good picture of the relationship between a faithful Father and a wayward son. This kind of family relationship is slowly disappearing in our culture. It desperately needs to be revived and restored.

One question that I have had is this: why is Luke’s gospel the one that God chose to use to tell us the story of a Dad and two sons when Luke was a physician and a gentile? Was there something special about Luke that made him understand the relationship between a Father and son? Did Luke have sons? Did it have anything to do with his own relationship with Paul. Was it the lack of a strict religious background that allowed him to retell this story with greater accuracy? Whatever the reason, his words hit the mark with me.

In this particular story, many of us will initially identify with the younger son, the wild one who wasn’t satisfied with the mundane but longed for adventure and excitement. He sought it in the only place he knew or could see…in the world. This is certainly familiar in our culture today because we as leaders have done a poor job demonstrating the adventure and excitement found in following a King and His kingdom. As the story continues, it is easy for us to focus on the short-comings and selfishness of this younger boy but one fact is often overlooked. This younger boy knew without a doubt, he was his Father’s son. Because he knew he was a son, he knew he had an inheritance, so he asked for it, boldly. Also we see the younger boy addressing his father as “Father.” When the boy finally came to his senses and realized he was dying with hunger, he knew his Father would give him something to eat. Throughout the story, the boy never stopped calling him Father, even when he was face to face confessing his own wrong doing. No matter the cost, this boy knew who his father was and he needed to be back close to his father, safe under his loving care. Even though the boy expected nothing, he received everything! Sound familiar?

So what about the older brother? Here is the scene: It is late in the day, he is returning home, tired and sweaty from a laborious day in his father’s field. Suddenly, the appetizing aroma of barbecue fills his nostrils.

Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’

The sound of singing and dancing and jubilation stirs his curious nature. Enter stage left, jealousy, offense and resentment as he hears of the kindness and forgiveness shown to his undeserving younger brother. The older weighs his own service and sacrifice against that of his wayward brother. He actually determines by his own obedience that he deserves to be rewarded for his many years of dedication. Let’s not forget, the father has already divided his wealth between both boys.

But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

Notice too, the older doesn’t address his father as Father. As well, all the older expects is a young goat, never ever dreaming of such extravagance as a fatted calf, and ring and brand new sandals. Sadly, this older brother only wanted to celebrate with his own circle of friends. What a contrast. The Father’s celebration of his lost son returned home included everyone. Now that is a party!

And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’

So what is going on here? An orphan on the street doesn’t know the unconditional love of a faithful Father. An orphan has to scam and scrap everyday just to survive. An orphan hoards and protects because he doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. An orphan trusts no one. An orphan judges everyone. Out of hardship and lack, an orphan feels entitled. A orphan always lives with a sense of abandonment and fear. Orphans wear a mask. An orphan has never experienced the continual support and presence of a loving Father.

The good news for the orphan is this:

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:18)

A true son never loses sight of his Father. A son never questions his own identity as a son. A son is not threatened by others. A son has no problem opening up the refrigerator and eating whatever he finds. A son shares everything because he knows there will always be enough. A son is not afraid to fail. A son knows the character of his Dad, admiring Him, trusting Him, respectfully and lovingly addressing Him as Father. A son knows he is forgiven. A son knows how to receive good gifts. A son knows he is celebrated. A son knows how to celebrate others. A son knows all that his Father has, he has. A son knows his Father is always with him, always for him, never gives up on him and always, always wants the very best for his son. A son knows his Father will sacrifice everything for him. Above all, a son knows he is loved!

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

Life can be messy. Church life can be messy. Becoming a son or daughter is the greatest gift and blessing we will ever experience. Whatever difficulties you may be facing, whatever challenges or disillusionment you might be experiencing…start here first. Start with this. Learn what it means to be a son or a daughter and then live it out. Learn from this story Jesus is telling. Learn together and then go and teach everyone around you how to live it out. And suddenly, surprisingly your life will take on great significance followed by overwhelming joy and satisfaction.

So I give to you a Father’s blessing. I remind you that you are one of a kind, special and unique in your Father’s eyes. You are beautiful. You are his perfect idea. He loves everything about you because He created you. He brings purpose and meaning to your life. Your life matters to Him and to us. You have gifts and talents that nobody else has and we need you so much. Above all, your Father loves and adores you!

There is Glory to Behold, and It Will Change You

Staying childlike is the key that opens the door to undiscovered wonder.
It is a great tragedy that the routine and responsibility of the daily grind has a way blinding us and making us numb to really glorious things. Slowly, we move from a colorful, exciting, carnival type lifestyle into a more black and white factory type of living.
Ugh! Don’t despair, there is a deep groan swelling inside our souls that yearn for glorious adventure. A magical place where living life to the fullest moves us from a blurry and distant thought into an actual reality.

Being in the construction field most of my life, I have discovered a captivating phenomena. I find the things I give my attention to suddenly attract and hold my attention. I’ll give you an example. Years ago, I started out as a stone mason. Because stonework was what I focused on all day, I found myself consistently drawn to any and every kind of stone work where ever I went. All of a sudden it seemed that stone work just seemed to appear everywhere. Strategically, my eyes would closely examine it, critique it and try to learn from what I liked and what I didn’t like.

Through the years, as I worked in many different trades, I found myself being attracted to and even captivated by whatever that specific trade was. If it was roofing, I would always be looking at roofs. If it was concrete, I would check out every little sidewalk, foundation, wall, curb and street in sight. What I discovered is this process didn’t just pertain to construction. If I was busy with landscaping or lawn work at home, then I noticed manicured lawns everywhere. Do you see the correlation here? It’s like whatever we give our attention to, suddenly, almost mysteriously, those things now invite our attention and even give us the ability to see things we previously overlooked or took for granted.

It has been said, what we focus on empowers us. This carries not only positive but negative connotations as well. Ever notice how cynicism and complaining create such an infectious atmosphere and destroys any semblance of hope? On the other hand, ever notice how joyful, enthusiastic people awaken possibility, giving us permission and almost daring us to dream again? The same principle applies, what we focus on and give our attention to directs our paths.

A word we see throughout scripture that supports this idea is meditate. I am thrilled at the idea of meditating or focusing on a specific something carries the power to open my eyes, enhance my vision and allow me to see that which was previously veiled. The Greek word, “Antenizo,” mostly translated, “Fixed his gaze” has essentially the same thought, which means, “to fix one’s mind.”

So what’s the real world application here?

First, although I am in this world and everyday life continues, the world doesn’t own me. If I make it my resolve, the world cannot control me. A good start might be to back away from the enticements of the world and to begin to focus more on the instruction given in Chapter 3 of Colossians.

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on the earth

If I am serious about walking this out, I probably have to make some serious lifestyle changes.

Less media.

Less distractions.
Less time worrying about the state of the Union and more time learning about the state of the Kingdom.
More time in the Word.
More time in prayer.
More time in worship.
More time with like-minded friends.
More time impacting a lost world that desperately needs hope. Giving sight to the blind. Healing the sick. Raising the dead. Making disciples. Loving more. Caring more. Giving more. Oops! I got excited.

I really am determined to be more intentional to give my full attention to Kingdom activity and if the saying what we focus on empowers us holds true, then there is hidden treasure just waiting to be revealed. Treasure that brings glory to our Father in heaven! What could be better? Right? Now only one question remains…Join me?

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you…Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Col. 3)

May you be fully alive and find overwhelming joy in this wonderful journey!

Bless you friend.  Jeff

Grace!

Wow! Welcome ladies and gentlemen, climb upon the grace train and join us on a journey full of excitement, mystery and unbelievable joy. Grace! Grace! Grace be with you!

Thankfully, we have all been taught that mercy is not receiving the punishment we deserve. Again, thankfully we understand grace as being the gift God offers us, that we don’t deserve and we could never earn or buy. His gift says to us, “I love you,” ” I want you,” “I forgive you,” “I’ve set you free” “Come and make your home with me.” And like light entering into a dark room, our soul awakens and through sleepy eyes we begin to see that truly “We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.” But wait! I tell you a mystery, there is so much more to grace than we have previously seen or imagined! Grace is a supernatural enablement, available to us from God, that empowers us to live victoriously in Christ, through every circumstance and situation life throws at us. Things like strength for the tired and weary, joy for the downcast, comfort in mourning, hope instead of hopelessness, clarity instead of confusion and so, so much more. This gift of grace empowers us to walk closely with Holy Spirit, to see God’s hand at work throughout our day and to stay closely yoked to Jesus no matter the distractions or deceptions that would entice us away from an awareness of His Presence. Grace is like the manna from heaven that sustained and nourished God’s people in the wilderness. Just like the people of old, it’s up to us to gather that grace each day.

“Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace (the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners) , that we may receive mercy for our failures and find grace to help in good time for every need appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it.”
-Hebrews 4:16

A word search of “grace” reveals how much the writers of the Bible knew about this mysterious gift. Check out how many times the Apostles say, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” Their declaration was like throwing a cloak of grace over our shoulders. Even in the midst of Paul’s affliction, the Lord said something like, ‘Paul…Friend…the grace I have for you is all you need. It’s enough because the power attached to the grace is absolutely perfect for your weakness.’ The scripture says, “…we find grace to help in our time of need.” Just like the wilderness journey, for us, our need is everyday! So we wake up each morning, splash a little water on our face, dress ourselves with the Holy Spirit and look for grace.

“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ…” -Rom. 13:14

Knowing that every good gift comes down from the Father of Lights we simply turn our voice to heaven and say, “Father I’m here to gather my grace for today. I really need it and I’m really grateful for it. Thank you Daddy. I’ll be back for more tomorrow.”
Well friends, we are slowing down and approaching our next stop. Everyone off for Graceland!

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” -Rev.22:21

Jeff Riddle

There is Joy in Sorrow, Perseverence in Pain

“This is the day the Lord has made…let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad!”

Everyday is a gift. Everyday we are given the opportunity to embrace life with exuberance, with thankfulness and with hope. A thankful heart coupled with hope puts the love of the Father on display and just like a light in a dark place; it awakens hope to everyone in its path. I pray hope is awakened in you friend, as you hear and see the words of this testimony.

Let the name of the Lord be praised!

You and I both have two things in common. Both of us enter into this world and both of us will depart from this world. Over the past seven or eight years I have experienced some difficult challenges health wise. All the while trusting God, I have been battling to overcome in all three realms of my being. In the spiritual realm, I’ve been leaning on the promises found in the scriptures, pushing deeper into the Fathers heart and crying out day and night, “Jesus rescue me from this pit.” In the realm of the soul, that being our thoughts, our will and our emotions, I have struggled fiercely to fight off depression. I have had to learn how to silence the voice of the accuser and how to tune into the voice of truth, the Spirit of truth who leads me in all understanding. I am learning to wake up each morning and consciously choose life. Thirdly, in my physical body I became sick with various unusual symptoms that totally depleted my strength. Through shear determination and the power of Holy Spirit I learned how to persevere. It seemed at the time I had no other choice, persevere or die. Scripture says this:

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulation, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

I’m not sure I actually exulted but for the first year I trusted in God to heal and restore me to good health. With the counsel of some friends, I decided to visit the local physician. Over the next seven years I saw a total of sixteen well meaning doctors and specialist and even had one minor surgery. Each time before the visit, hope would arise in me. Each time nothing changed. I want to tell you it is not fun living the scripture, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” My heart was sick. Throughout this journey I always believed in the power of prayer. I was a regular recipient at local prayer teams. I visited healing rooms, I attended healing schools, participated in healing conferences. I’ve been prayed over a thousand times seeing people on the left and on the right restored. And as I celebrated their blessing, still I wondered and cried with disillusionment while whispering my one word prayer, “Abba.”

Before I continue, I believe Jesus will always provide bits of encouragement that will serve to sustain us among rough seas and raging storms. This is what He did for me.

A few months ago I arose early in the morning from a restless storm tossed night. Still dark outside, I sat at my desk, Bible open, coffee in hand and struggled to fight off another day of merely surviving. It was as though my soul was in a tug of war between light and darkness, peace and despair.  On one side of the rope there was peace and joy. On the other side, hopelessness. Suddenly…surprisingly, I became aware of being in two places at the same time. I knew I was sitting at my desk, however at the same time I had entered into a heavenly dimension. As I looked, there before me was a long rustic table. It was made of large, hand hewn and well seasoned timbers. The table’s finish was smooth and the overall texture was warm and inviting. I raised my eyes to see Jesus at the far end of the table. When our eyes met it was like looking into the depths of the deepest ocean or even more, I seemed to see beyond the most distant galaxies in heaven above. It was like looking into the eyes of eternity. His eyes and His smile are completely beyond human comprehension. At that moment, as time disappeared, I truly experienced the immensity and weightiness of unconditional, undeniable love. With a smile that lights up a thousand universes, He seemed to motion towards the table where I discovered what looked like an ornate jelly jar. I looked closer at the label on the jar. The letters seemed to be alive and spelled out the word, “JOY.” In my mind I began to spread the jelly over toasted bread and eat one piece after another. It was sweet in my mouth and refreshing to my soul. The tug of war in my soul was over and once again light had prevailed. Just as suddenly as I had left this earthly existence, I realized I was back sitting at my desk. Two stirring thoughts provoked me as I contemplated what had just happened. First I thought, “Hey! He really does prepare a table for us! He really does!” (Psalm 23)  Secondly, remembering Jesus didn’t say a word, I thought to myself, “His eyes speak more than a thousand words!” I wish I could convey to you how this encounter with Jesus, as brief as it was, would sustain me and continues to sustain me each and everyday. So now, each morning, I try to imagine His face, and the long rustic table, and the wonderful taste of joy He sets before me. Today, I have decided to choose life! Today, I choose joy!

O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!

So over the past year I have been experiencing a gradual recovery. Strength is returning. Hope is returning. Many of the symptoms have totally disappeared. I am starting to remember what it’s like to feel good again. My prayer life has been rejuvenated. Even my smile has returned. It feels like I can breath again.

Now through all this, Julie and I never stopped seeking and serving the Lord. We still held our weekly meetings. We still served in the capacities we were called to serve, even as the road seemed to change coarse quite often. I guess I’m saying, I never laid down or quit. It never even entered into my mind to stop running the race, but I have learned and lived out what the Apostle Paul spoke of, “His grace is sufficient. His strength is made perfect in weakness.” If you can see ahead in this story, you’ll see another storm coming.

So a few weeks ago, after a routine visit to the doctor, a routine procedure and routine lab test, I was blind sided by a phone call. The words that came over the phone so impacted me that every thing started going black and I had fight to keep from passing out. I felt like a drowning man but somehow managed to call a friend. Barely able to speak or breath, my friend sensed the severity of the situation and he began to pray and declare scriptures over me. It was as though he was giving me spiritual CPR. I wonder if you can see the progression in every circumstance we could ever face, as Jesus says, I am the Way…the Truth…the Life? I quickly came back to life and was able to drive home. The words that had caused such trauma were, “You have malignant melanoma.”

Although we all face leaving this world, when death slaps you in the face, it’s devastating. As much faith as you have, the thought of death never leaves you. You carry it with you night and day like a heavy bag of rocks. I believe just the thought of barely emerging from a seven-year fight only to enter into another battle of this magnitude was overwhelming. I wasn’t sure I had the strength or fortitude to take on a battle of such immense proportions. Do you know the scripture, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue?” The report spoke death, not life, and opened the door to fear and doubt but I was determined not to walk through those doors. So here is what happened next:

First we rallied friends and family to pray. Julie kept saying over and over, “We do not agree with cancer and we do not agree with death, in Jesus name! I called on friends to help me with the armor, to hold a shield around me and to lift my hands. Do you remember when David’s nephew stepped in to help David slay the giant? We most certainly need friends to help us battle these giants. Next, I sought the Lord in prayer and asked Him how He saw this situation. Immediately, I was compelled to go to Romans 8. I prayed Romans 8:11 fervently, believing every word and reminding the Lord constantly of what his promise is.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Next I went and spent several hours with some friends who operate in an inner healing ministry to the soul. The Holy Spirit revealed some past events, people and even generational bondage that I wasn’t even aware of. Bringing things into the light, repenting, forgiving and putting everything under the blood of Jesus always leads to freedom and life. In this whole process I started seeing people different. I started to see each day as a gift and I am more thankful for even the smallest things throughout the day. It made me want to take more time for the people I encountered in normal everyday life. I became really interested in the check out lady, the security guard, the store clerk, and the construction worker. Somehow I began to see all these people in a different light.

As for my family, I thank God for everyday I have with them. I thank God for my wife, my best friend, my soul mate, my life long companion who has been with me every step of the way. She has always been in my court and she has always wanted the best for me, expecting me to excel in everything I approached. I am her hero…Julie is my Princess. I am thankful for my two sons who carry so much love and integrity and I could not be more proud of them. They are both caring and kind and are a reflection of the goodness of the Lord. I am so thankful and excited for our new daughter Jen, alias “Fer Fer,” and the blessing of many grandchildren in the years to come. Ask me what is the fruit of this momentary light affliction and I will tell you without hesitation, “Thankfulness!”

So with a little apprehension but a positive attitude, I underwent the required testing…and then you wait and wait. Monday morning, I’m at the job site. Life goes on, right? The phone rings and Julie on the other end is singing, “It’s a good day in the neighborhood!” “It’s a really good day in the neighborhood!” “A really, really, really good day!!!” “Your test came back and you have a clean bill of health! No cancer! None!” Do you know what it’s like when your swimming under water, you’re running out of breath and then suddenly you break the surface with a gasp and breath in a fresh breath of life sustaining oxygen? Yep, that’s what it felt like. And now I have three new favorite words, “Thank you Jesus!”

Years ago Julie had written my name next to the story of Naaman in her Bible. Honestly, today I feel like Naaman. The Monday morning I received the good news I had prayed and reminded the Lord what Psalm 91:9-10 says. During the process, four different people said I was healed. In our Friday night tent meeting, a trusted Father and a friend prayed for me and said I was healed. One of our daughters, a college student said, “I’m not worried at all. He’s healed!” Even the Holy Spirit said, “Jeff you’re o.k., there is no cancer in you body!” I look back and say, just a mustard seed. That’s all it takes just a mustard seed. So when death came knocking at my door my reply is not today death…not today. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I know that full well, and besides only the Lord numbers my days. His plans for me are good and thankfully, it’s time to dream again!

Then let him be gracious to him, and say, ‘Deliver him from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom’; Let his flesh become fresher than in youth, let him return to the days of youthful vigor; Then he will pray to God, and He will accept him, that he may see His face with joy and He may restore His righteousness to man. (Job 33:24-26)

Thank you Jesus!