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!

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Smaller & Smaller

Presently, I am upstairs in my Father in law’s study on this overcast, November day in Dallas, Texas. I am listening to joyous sounds and the laughter of family and friends that create such a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Cousins telling big tales, aunties cooing over the little ones, sisters excitedly planning weddings, dishes clanging in the kitchen, enticing smells deliciously rising upward and, as always, that age old question, “When does the football game start?” On this Thanksgiving day I am truly blessed and extremely thankful to be surrounded with so much love. I am sure my Father in law, George is looking on as well, from heaven with a nod of approval. We miss you and love you George. And as for you my friend, thank you for taking time from your busy life to share in the thoughts of a simple but blessed man. I hope you may find encouragement in a word or two and I pray Our Heavenly Father’s very best for you and your family.

Recently, I have been interested in the conversion the Apostle Paul experienced. It was such a radical change that many were skeptical, but those closest to him could not deny the difference. Sounds familiar! Uncomfortably, I believe I might have experienced some of that skepticism. Saul, the devout man he was, actually encountered the Lord Jesus Christ face to face and because of this encounter he never returned to his previous way of life. Paul wrote, “God rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son…” As evidenced in his letters, Paul seemed completely confident in who he was and in the purpose which God had called him. In the majority of his letters Paul introduces himself as an apostle of Christ by the Lord’s doing. Sadly, my western mindset tells me an apostle carries a semblance of importance and authority but Paul’s definition was much different. He continually defined himself as the least of these and a bond servant to Christ. Quite the dichotomy, wouldn’t you agree? Throughout the Bible we see many of our heroes underwent a name change expressing their true character as God sees them. Our potential in Christ is so much greater than the mirror our imperfect soul reflects. However, Jesus says, to those who overcome, I will give you a new name.

To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it. (Rev. 2:17)

My own quest and desire for a name change set me on a journey to find and understand Paul’s new name and how he fully embraced it. I found the name “Saul” means “desired”or “ask for.” However the new name “Paul”, appropriately means “small”or “humble.” I always wondered if his name change came at his conversion or somewhere in the journey. Upon investigation, just as I suspected, it was in the journey. The final use of the name “Saul” was all the way over in chapter thirteen of Acts.

But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze upon him. (Acts 13:9)

Surprisingly, I was caught off guard at what I discovered by digging a little deeper into the scripture. According to the definitive notes in my Bible, the phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit” literally means “having just been filled.” Paul’s name change, the context of this chapter, and then being sent on mission shortly after seems to support something very different and wonderful had indeed happened. Was that truly the moment the Apostle Paul was actually filled, completely consumed, inhabited, overtaken, possessed by the Holy Spirt? A sign post for us is found towards the beginning of the chapter.

While we were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit…(Acts 13:2-4)

Being curious, I searched out the timeline on this. Saul’s encounter with Jesus took place in the year 34 AD, found in Acts 9. However, Paul’s first missionary journey, Acts 13, took place in the year 48 AD. Wow! That’s fourteen years later! Through trials and experience, I have learned it takes time to solidify a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I personally, have found no substitute for dedicating a tremendous amount of time to actually know and establish an honest and genuine relationship with those close to us, whether in our natural lives or in the realm of Christ. In short, there are no short cuts and that is the reason it is so important to set aside time each day to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Lord. Praying, studying, listening, learning, meditating, worshipping are all acquired disciplines as a Christ follower. These require effort on our part and grace on His. That is how we grow and mature in Christ. The mystery I’ve discovered through pursuing these disciplines is, I end up with more questions than answers! God just keeps getting bigger and bigger, while like Paul, I become smaller and smaller. The true treasure can be found in the questions. Questions like: Has sin lost it’s hold on me?  Am I growing daily in Christ?  Am I an overcomer?  Am I a light shining in the darkness?  Do I love well?  What is my new name? I must have a thousand questions. I am sure you have many of your own questions too, so I’ll leave you to them. Wrestle well my friend. Embrace each day as a gift. Enjoy the journey. You are a unique expression of God’s love. No one is like you. You are an original and we need you. Without you there are stones missing on the wall! Wherever you are in the world, please know…you are loved and cherished!

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! Happy Thanksgiving Y’all!

…Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

Humble Apostleship

“It is not this way among you…”

So, you want to be an apostle? In our culture titles usually signify accomplishments or achievements through many years of dedication, sacrifice and perseverance. Doctors, judges, politicians and military rank are a few that come to mind. In our Christian culture today we often deem apostles as great leaders of churches or church movements around the world. Some religious sects believe there were only the original apostles in Jesus day and after they died there were no more. On the other hand, many self appointed apostles will shake your hand and give you a card that says “Apostle So and So” as they proceed to tell all kinds of stories that seem to insinuate how important they are. God bless them.
The dictionary defines apostle as “sent one.” It is my understanding that in the Roman conquest to acquire and rule the land, they found it necessary to assimilate the conquered people into the Roman culture. A means of maintaining order and control was changing the heathens mindset so they would totally adapt into the Roman culture. It reminds me of what the Babylon King did with Daniel and the boys. Everything needed to change, so the Roman authorities appointed officials and sent them throughout the conquered regions to establish the rule and reign of Rome. This was the root of the word “apostle,” the very word Jesus strategically used to describe the ones He chose to usher in a Kingdom culture on the earth. In writing to Corinth, the Apostle Paul gives us a clear path to identify true apostles.

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.
(1 Corinthians 4:9-13)

If you are interested in becoming an apostle, I’ve extracted a set of job qualifications as follows:

1. Have you been put on display by God as men condemned to die?
2. Have you become a spectacle to the world, men and angels?
3. Are you a fool for Christ?
4. Are you weak?
5. Are you without honor?
6. Are you hungry and thirsty?
7. Are you poorly clothed?
8. Are you roughly treated?
9. Are you homeless?
10. Do you work extremely hard with your own hands?
11. Do you bless when you are criticized and abused?
12. Do you keep on going in spite of persecution?
13. Do you try to reconcile with the ones that lie about you?
14. Have you become as worthless scum of the world?

Pretty tough qualifications, wouldn’t you agree? For me, this brings to light scriptures like, “I’ve been crucified with Christ,” “Pick up your cross daily,” “Count the cost.” Being an apostle is definitely not as glamorous as some pretend it to be. Glorified “titles” seem to create a false identity that thrive on the accolades of men but miss the grace of God. However, a truly surrendered life receives praise from God. (Vs.5)  Now, if you skip down to verse 16, Paul writes:  “Therefore, I exhort you, be imitators of me.”

Wait! What???  That’s asking a lot Mr. Paul!

Jesus said it best as He gathered the ones He called apostles and related to them their true purpose and destiny.

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Just my opinion, but probably most true apostles are hidden. They probably avoid the lime light and would never consider taking on a title. Probably, these who quietly serve would not even consider themselves to be apostles. To love and to serve is in the fiber of their being and they do it naturally and genuinely. They expect nothing in return. Quietly and effectively the culture changes.

So shall it be. Peace to you.

The Art of Listening

“So take care how you listen…” (Luke 8:18)

I remember when our sons were young, they both overflowed with so much imagination and creativity. They continuously entertained us as make believe super heroes, adorned in elaborate costumes and speaking hilariously in these low but squeaky cartoon like voices. Their friends and acquaintances came to life inside their untainted imaginations as they carried on serious and profound conversations. We even found ourselves listening and joining in. Even today the whole family laughs together as we remember Fuffy the bear and Hanger the monkey soaring overhead, coming to our rescue in their magnificent flying machine. We cherish the memories and are somewhat befuddled at how fast time flies and how quickly young boys grow into men. In the midst of all their antics, I realize now my sons weren’t so much trying to impress us as they just longed for our full attention. It’s true though, the busyness of life robs us of those precious moments. Have you ever had a two year old put their two little hands on your face and turn your head so you will look at them and give them your full attention? What a picture that paints.

A few years back, in Austin, a homeless lady on the street corner caught my attention. I parked the truck and walked across the busy street to greet her. Obviously she had been attractive in her earlier years and was extremely intelligent. She offered up no kind of scam and just seemed grateful to have someone to talk to. I remembered asking her, “How in the world did you end up on the street?” That’s all it took, one simple question, and for the next hour I sat and listened to her story. Again I realized what a fine line it is between having a comfortable, successful life compared to finding yourself helpless, desperate, and barely surviving on the street. I’ve not seen her since but I’m often reminded of that encounter and what she said in the end. Sobbingly, through tear filled eyes, she said, “You are the only person that has ever taken the time to listen to me. I love you. Thank you so much!” I remember holding it together pretty good until I got back in the truck where I proceeded to totally loose it.

The missionary, Jim Elliot is quoted as saying, “Wherever you are, be all there.” I’ve learned that listening is a developed skill. I’m not always successful, but when I remember, I try to give people my full attention, like Jim says, “Be all there.” Probably the most important quality in friendship, ministry, parenting and life in general is listening. Sometimes, in a conversation, I find myself so busy preparing in my mind what I want to say that I’m not really listening to what the other person is saying. Sometimes I just zone out in my own imagination and all I hear is a faint blah, blah, blah. Sad but true. Help me Jesus! Have you ever wondered how this might relate to our relationship with the Lord?

A few years ago I was asked to teach at a home gathering of University students. The house was bursting at the seams and I so wanted to give them something substantial to practice and hold on to. Later Joel (the Pastor) and myself adopted the name Four Fifteen. In the world we eat and the result is we are full and satisfied. In the Kingdom of God, the more you eat spiritually the hungrier we stay. Just as a starting place I encouraged them to practice these disciplines for fifteen minutes each day, (1)PRAY…(2)STUDY THE BIBLE…(3)TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT JESUS…(4)BE STILL AND LISTEN TO HOLY SPIRIT.

Surprisingly, listening generated the most feedback and the most questions. I do love this new generation of Christ followers! They are completely out of the box with no limits.  

However, on the flip side of this, when we pray, we correctly assume we have Our Father’s full and utmost attention. It’s true, the Lord is absolutely moved by our prayers! He listens, He cares, He responds, He loves, He guides, He protects, He provides! ASK! SEEK! KNOCK! There is no end. Need I say more? So now it’s up to us to provide Him the opportunity to speak. And when He does speak, we purpose ourselves to be all there, giving Him our full and undivided attention. It’s just such a reciprocal relationship, we worship, we pray, on our face we cry out to the Lord. In essence we are taking our little hands and gently turning Our Heavenly Father’s face toward us, saying “Daddy please pay attention to me!” In perfect form, He places His strong hands on our face to turn our face toward Him as He gently whispers and often times shouts, “I love you child!”

“When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face O Lord, I shall seek.”

(Psalms 27:8)

When Leather Meets the Net

Maple Street, Bellaire, Texas ~1965.
Picture this: an average ten year old boy on a narrow, cracked up driveway. Ball in hand, he furiously drives toward the basket -fully convinced by his own imagination. The clock is ticking down, the shot goes up, the crowd is silent and then, and then the sweetest sound in all of basketball…when leather meets the net. As the crowd explodes, the boy leaps jubilantly up and down the driveway in total elation.  Victory, my friends, is sweet! Living inside the imagination of a ten year old boy, the dreams and the possibilities are endless.

I’ve always loved the game. I coached both of my boys all the way through school. A group of us played in the local gym every Sunday afternoon for years where my oldest son affectionately named the game, “Geezer Ball.”

Recently, I saw a correlation between basketball and the church. In the Christian culture you hear the expression “Five fold ministry” quite often. One of the scriptures this is based on is,

 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelist, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” -Ephesians 4:11-13

Wow, that’s a mouth full! I see five people equipping and I see five players on the court. Each player has a unique talent as well as a specific role. If one is missing or not fulfilling their role and responsibility then the whole team suffers. My ten year old imagination sees:

The point guard as an evangelist, the best ball handler, bringing the ball down court, accessing the defense and calling the plays.
The shooting guard– the prophet, the most skilled shooter, he often draws a lot of attention from the defense. He struggles to get open but when he does, he is either the hero or the goat.
The center– the apostle, the leader and solid foundation of the team. He stands taller than most and is able to see from a higher perspective. He is in the middle of the court and is involved in every aspect of the game. He is usually beat up a little more by the opposition but his ability to push and rally the team as well as make the clutch plays is the driving force that unifies the team.
The Forward and the strong forward -pastor and teacher, these are the most uncelebrated. They are in the trenches where the fiercest battle takes place. Discretely, they set picks, block out, rebound and sometimes make incredible passes. They are usually the best defensive players, they watch, they cover, they protect. They sacrifice for the good of the team, often without acknowledgement or gratitude. It seems the best ones like it that way.

And the coach, that’s the Holy Spirit! If a player doesn’t know and respond to the coach’s voice, then how is he going to know what to do? A player without a coach is lost and feels alone on the court with no sense of direction. What about the backups? Well they are not really backups, they are future champions. The starters responsibility is to set the bar higher, leading by example and to give the bench players a higher starting place.

Now that the whole team is in place, you have a shot at the championship. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous to have any less than five on the floor? Even if you had the skills of Jordan, one man could never expect to thrive or even survive alone. I admit, I love to watch superstars. They are ridiculously talented and completely entertaining but even the best of the best can’t sustain a winning season without playing as a team. Looking at the team as a whole, every player has to know how to dribble, to pass, to score, to play defense, and so forth but the key is to acknowledge each other’s strengths and to play to those strengths. The next step is to teach and reproduce those same strengths in the ones waiting in the wings. Recognizing and acknowledging their own unique gifts and talents and blending them with those already established makes for a vibrant dynamic and a winning combination.

The goal now is to have everyone involved. There is a disproportionate number of spectators and not enough players. Leaders -empowered by Holy Spirit- now have the responsibility and joy to reveal the hidden treasure in others and to facilitate their place on the wall. Each one is a “Living Stone,” and we must never feel threatened by someone soaring on the wings of an eagle right past us. We must remind our self no one can ever take our place on the wall. It is uniquely and eternally reserved for us alone.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!”

Recently I posted this thought, “Unless the whole body is active, you end up with a mouth blabbing away while the hand and foot atrophy, not being allowed to participate!” The mark of a secure leader is to create opportunities for those around us to experience and excel at the gift God has made them. The secret to team play, “Esteem others as greater than yourself.”

So I just heard the whistle blow, it’s time for the ten year old boy to run onto the court and dream again. Besides, we’ve got a game to win! And as I pause to pray for you, I see Jesus. He is smiling at you as he laces up your shoes. He believes in you and He is so proud of you. He pats you on the back and says, “Go get um tiger!”

Leadership & Circus Tents

I assume in this life there are many categories of leaders.
Some bold, some quiet and possibly everything imaginable in between.
What I have learned is this, we all need leaders.
Although we are all on the same plane with God’s love, some are chosen and set apart to lead.

Leaders are not perfect.
Some lead with wisdom -some do not.
Some lead with integrity -some do not.
Most good leaders though, have learned through their mistakes, miscalculations, and misunderstandings.

Leaders are risk takers. It takes courage and a certain amount of confidence to lead. It takes even more courage to keep going after you’ve tripped a few times.

Most of my life I have been placed in a role of leadership.
This was nothing I determined to do, it just seemed to happen, preparation I suppose. When I entered into a Christian culture it only seemed natural to lead. Again, nothing I determined to do but I just found myself assuming a leadership role in the things we did. Life was not without challenges but God seemed to have me in the palm of His hand. I continued to push deeper into God until suddenly, everything changed. I think about the scripture, “Pride before the fall.” I can only question the cave I’ve lived in the last few years. Funny, I didn’t feel prideful, but I guess my loving Father was protecting me from myself and a puffed up ego. Looking back, lessons learned and wisdom gained in the cave are invaluable. When He says get wisdom and understanding, you have only to look in the cave. Persevering is the hard part, especially when many around you don’t fully understand. Like Job’s friends, many offer well meaning, misplaced advice. Clouded eyes make it hard to see that God might have had something to do with putting you in the cave and it’s even harder to understand why.
Trust is easy to say, much harder to live out.

As the season begins to change for me, I have become much more reluctant to lead.
It’s not that I’m afraid of man because that part of me has been crucified. Now I struggle with the fear of the Lord. I am so weary of not being in complete union with Him. I want to be led only by the Holy Spirit and never by the flesh. I so connect with Gideon in the wine press, hiding, unsure, not fully realizing who he was or what he was called to do. Still the word of the Lord rings true…”My grace is sufficient. My power is made perfect in weakness.”

In weakness some leaders are reluctant to lead. That seems to be the category I fit into these days. It’s like blind faith fueled by the whisper of His voice that is keeping me going. Jeremiah reminds me daily that my Father’s plans for me are good…really good! In my reluctance, I look at the cross of the crucified Christ. I remember my friendship with Jesus and how kind He is and how He is my biggest cheerleader. His smile melts away all my fear. I tell myself, “Self it’s time you start believing what you preach, that we are created on purpose and with purpose!”

So when He whispers, Put up a tent in the field. I say, yes Sir.
He says, I want you to start meeting on Friday nights and share a meal together. My response is, yes Sir.

Julie and I don’t know what we are doing or where we are headed. What we do know is where Jesus leads, we will follow. Coincidently, I stumbled upon this quote this morning that really speaks to my heart.
It’s by General George S. Patton.

A man must know his destiny. If he does not recognize it, then he is lost. By this I mean, once, twice, or at the very most, three times, fate will reach out and tap a man on the shoulder. If he has the imagination, he will turn around and fate will point out to him what fork in the road he should take. If he has guts, he will take it!

May the Lord become your wildest dream!

Daily Reminders

  1. I was created to look and act like my Heavenly Father. 
Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, and according to Our likeness;” (Gen. 1:26)
  2. I talk to my Heavenly Father everyday, and He talks to me. 
“Call to me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things which you do not know.” (Jer. 33:3)
  3. I have a bright future filled with hope. 
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”
  4. I am forgiven. 
As far as the east is from the west, so far He removed our transgression from us. (Ps. 103:12)
  5. I have purpose. 
“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give you. (John 15:16)
  6. I do great things like Jesus does.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and 
greater than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12)
  7. I am a citizen of heaven. 
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil. 3:20)
  8. I am Royalty. 
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Pet. 2:9)
  9. I entertain Angels. 
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Heb. 13:2)
  10. I know the Son of God. And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; (1 John 5:20)
  11. I have an inheritance. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,… (1 Peter 1:3-4)
  12. I have a new name. “…To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.” (Rev. 2:17)
  13. I have a Helper. “When the Helper comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27)
  14. I am seated in heavenly places. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:4-7)
  15. I am loved. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
(1 John 4:16)
  16. I have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

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A Bridge of Hope

2:00 A.M.
I was awakened by the whisper of God. Outside the wind was whipping and the rain was pounding loudly on the tin roof. With urgency in my spirit, I quickly dressed. Pulled on my boots, grabbed my hat, kissed my sleepy eyed wife goodbye and headed towards town. Windshield wipers beating off the deluge, I was thankful to have four-wheel drive on my six-mile trek to the church.

As I arrived, I was greeted by many folks, confused and dazed, seeking the safety and refuge of higher ground. In utter dismay I listened to their stories of hopelessness, describing how they had heard children’s cries in the dark for help as they were being swept down the raging river. Later I would learn it had rained in excess of eleven inches in Blanco county, which adding to the already rain-soaked soil, caused the Blanco river to rise some forty-four feet above it’s normal flow. This sent a raging torrent of water right through the heart of Wimberley destroying around three hundred homes and damaging over one thousand.

By the time I made it to the bridge, the water had receded somewhat but was still at about bridge level. Peering through the darkness and blinding rain, it was heart breaking to see the carnage left behind. At first light I was able to take a few pictures that would reveal to the outside world the destructive power and force of a river raging out of control. Unbelievable! No doubt this event will be remembered in history as the great Memorial Day flood of 2015.

In the days that followed, an outpouring of help and assistance arrived. Together we mucked through the mud and debris. I was amazed to see that instead of moaning and complaining, everywhere I witnessed thankfulness and even rejoicing. I heard stories of people singing together, lifting praise to God, as they diligently scrubbed the mud-smeared floors. Everywhere we went we saw hope and heard words of life and encouragement. Neighbors and a community were drawn closer in the midst of this adversity. Sadly though, even at this writing, only a few bodies have been recovered while many are still lost.

Spending my childhood exploring every nook and cranny of this river, I felt a necessity to join in the search for the missing. It is somewhat overwhelming to see people’s lives scattered haphazardly along the riverbanks. In the midst of the search, my eye caught a glimpse of a toy jeep precariously navigating the muddy waters. I wondered at the hours of joy and laughter this jeep had left behind as it journeyed onward downstream toward the Gulf. I have been crossing this bridge into Wimberley for nearly a half a century. I think back through the years and realize I have history with this bridge. My parents crossed this bridge. The friends I grew up with crossed this bridge. My beautiful bride and myself crossed this bridge. My two strong sons crossed this bridge and someday their wives and children will cross this bridge. With the Lord’s blessing, I now call this “A Bridge of Hope.”

As I stand on the bridge looking upstream, to the north is Rio Bonito (Beautiful River) or rather where the cabins of this beautiful resort and refuge once stood. Countless families have vacationed there, played there, and swam in the river there while enjoying the peace and tranquility of this place. Our prayers are with the Meeks family who lost it all but still –ferociously- cling to faith and hope. Old timers spoke of a time when Rio Bonito was the Wimberley Rodeo Grounds. They laughed as they remembered and recounted stories of cowboys being tossed from their mounts into the river. Even earlier, this was rich and fertile farmland. Back when “cotton was king,” I am sure this land produced much needed wealth for struggling farmers and their families. Tall, majestic cypress trees lined the banks of the Blanco River and provided shade and beauty and enjoyment to all. Early Sunday morning floodwaters made a desolation of these beauties. Most are gone, washed downstream, left only to our memory. Some lay fallen on the banks destined for the chainsaw. Oddly enough a few chosen survivors remain. A couple of weeks ago, if you stood from my vantage point you would see these monarchs lining both sides of the river. All were adorned in beauty…tall, strong, majestic, reaching towards the heavens. By God’s grace why are some still standing and some are just a memory?

As I spoke, the land to the north is rich, deep and fertile soil allows the roots of these majesties to grow deep and strong, able to withstand the storm. In contrast, the south side is rocky, lacking depth of soil, causing the roots to be shallow, unable to withstand the storm. Both looked the same, strong and beautiful. The storm came and passed, only to reveal the true and hidden depth of these roots. Some remain, but sadly most are gone.

Years ago, Jesus sat in a boat and taught His followers with parables. He spoke of a farmer sowing seed. Some seed, He said, fell by the way, being gobbled up by birds. Some seed fell on rocky soil where the tree grew but when the storm came it had no depth of root and could not survive. Some seed grew up among the thorns and was choked out by the lure of this world. But still some found rich, deep, fertile soil and were able to withstand the storm and produce a whole lot of fruit.

So I stand on the bridge, teary eyed, looking at both sides of the river and I soberly ask myself this question, “Do my roots go deep in Christ? Are my roots strong enough and deep enough to remain through the storm? And if I remain, is there fruit that glorifies my Father in heaven?”

Those that have ears let them hear!

In these days and in the days to come, may your roots go deep in Jesus. May you stand strong and weather the coming storm. May your life and the lives around you produce bushels of fruit that glorify our Father in heaven. Let the name of the Lord be praised!

In Christ name, amen.

Please pray for Wimberley and the families of lost loved ones. Thank you so much. Bless you.

Grace be with you,

Jeff

When Heaven Came to the Rez

March 27, 2015

Recently Julie and I loaded up our modern day Conestoga wagon and headed out to parts unknown. We paraded through the tourist lined streets of Fredricksburg. We precariously survived the oil patch around Pecos. We searched anxiously for encounters of the alien kind in Roswell. Then, on to Durango where we hiked the mountain trails and felt the warmth of hot spring water flowing right from the ground. Our next destination was Moab, Utah. We arrived just in time to make camp and explore the downtown area. Bright and early the next morning, we saddled up our white jeep “Betsy,” and following the advice of one of the locals, we excitedly entered into the Schafer Trial We were totally unprepared to experience the magnitude of God’s immense and breath-taking creation. Even now with the utmost honor I say, “Oh my God.”

The sheer rock faces stretching towards the sky to our right and the beautiful Colorado River canyon to our left reduced our language to one single word… “Wow.” We climbed pristine sand stone formations. We gawked at the high mountains stretching farther than our eyes could see. Very cautiously, we peeked over the “Thelma and Louise” cliff as we were reminded, cars really can’t fly. Behind us, any semblance of a road had disappeared hours ago and honestly it felt as though we were on another planet. The surroundings seemed lonely and desolate yet hauntingly beautiful. Just as we thought that our journey couldn’t have been any more thrilling, we entered the land of the switchback trials. Looking back I am sure even our donkey would balk at the challenge of the narrow and winding trail that lay before us. Deceptively, the barely jeep-wide trail lured us in until it was much too late to turn back. At one point Julie was pressed against the mountainside door and I am pretty sure I heard her praying and singing, “You make me brave, You make me brave, You make me brave!” I love my wife so much. She is brave and adventuresome and fun and she makes me laugh. She’s my best friend. Before we put Moab in our rear view mirror, I need to tell you at one point during our journey I was so overcome by the beauty and the immensity of what we saw that I choked back tears as I asked this age old question, “God…how big are you?”

With permanent smiles sculpted on our faces, we sadly said goodbye to Moab and pressed deeper into northern Utah. The main reason we embarked on this journey is that we were invited to be part of a prophetic team. Seven of us from Texas were asked to come and minister at a Native American Reservation in northern Utah. The commonality of our team wasn’t found in a church or an organization but rather in obedience to our Lord’s command to love. Our assignment was to teach and to equip, to encourage and give direction as well as to untangle a couple of balls of twine along the way. But as always, our main assignment was to love. All the people we met were so easy to love. They are kind and generous and loving and humble and fun to be with. They are honoring, quick to listen and quick to respond and they love to laugh. Looking into their eyes was like opening a aged storybook that spoke of so many heartaches but as well, so much joy. I am amazed at the depth of life and hope that lives in the heart of these people.

Our gathering drew Pastors and leaders not only from Utah, but from California, Colorado, Oklahoma and Arizona. I was surprised at so many different tribes represented among us, Ute, Navajo, Hopi, Kiowa, Comanche to name a few. I was reminded of the words from the “New Song” sung in Revelation that says, “…every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”                       

Mealtime was the best time for listening and sharing stories and really becoming immersed in the families and culture of our new found friends. The stories they tell are amazing and it is so much fun to laugh with these people. During the meetings we experienced traditional songs of worship in their native tongue, encouraging words, inspiring Spirit filled, Bible based teaching. However, our team did encounter a few mountain size challenges but all my wife could say on the trip home, about a million times I might add, was “Thank you God, thank you God, thank you God.” Our Papa God is so much bigger than any mountain we ever face! So…just one quick testimony and I will let you go. During the Friday night meeting, one of our team members, in obedience to Holy Spirit went forward and knelt before the leaders. Standing in the place of our forefathers, he repented for not honoring the Native American people, he repented for the lies, the broken contracts and for stealing their land, he repented for forcing their children into boarding schools, he repented for stealing their culture and destroying their way of life.

“Will you forgive us?” he asked the leaders. Then turning and addressing each and everyone, he said, “Will you forgive us.” Overwhelmingly, through tear filled eyes, the response of each and every one, young and old was, “Yes, we forgive you.” Even as I write this I can’t hold back the tears. In that one moment it was as if time stood still and the Lord Himself washed away the stains of many generations of devastating heartache and pain. Jesus truly is the Way, the Truth, the Life. There was not a dry eye in the entire building as pastors and leaders fell to their knees and mournfully wept with tears of healing, tears of freedom, tears of joy. Just like Jericho, the walls came down that night. Praise God!

Now, if you can imagine this…picture the floodgates of heaven opening up over that place…”Oh wow!” I will leave the rest to your own imagination but imagine what freedom looks like. Imagine what a bright light looks like as it invades the darkness. Imagine what love looks like! Listen…can you hear the sounds of freedom? I will tell you, it’s really loud and exuberant and thankful and joyful! This was a day when heaven came to the Rez! Please join me in shouting…

Thank you God! Thank you God! Thank You God!

Peace be with you. Jeff

Mr. Walker