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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Prayer For The Day

"Lord, teach me more and more of Thyself and of my own poverty, misery, and weakness. And oh, unfold to my longing eyes and heart what there is in Thyself to supply all my need, and in Thy loving, willing heart to do all for me, and all in me, to fit me for Thy service here and for Thy presence hereafter! Sanctify abundantly all Thy varying dispensations to the welfare and prosperity of my soul, and increase in me every gift and grace of Thy Spirit, that I may show forth Thy praise and walk humbly and closely with Thee. Thou knowest what a poor, worthless worm I am and how utterly unworthy of the least mercy from Thy merciful hands; but Thou lovest to bestow Thy favors upon the poor and needy, such as me, Thou, most precious Lord. Thou hast been a good and gracious, sin-pardoning God to my soul, and a very present help in every time of trouble. Helpless as an infant I hang upon Thee, to do all for me and all in me." 
                         - Mary Winslow in Seasons Of The Heart

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

It All Begins And Ends With Him

 Beautiful words to comfort my soul this day. His boundless love isn't based on my efforts. His mercy isn't determined by my ability or inability to sustain my relationship with Him. It's simply about a holy God delighting to choose me and give me the faith to believe. It's not about us, my friend. It's about Him. Simply put: living with Jesus always begins and ends with Him. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Behind the Scenes

 Last year, I had the honor of getting to visit this hallowed ground and to see the real-life definition of sacrifice first hand. The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider is something many have seen either on the news or in person but have never fully understood. This short video takes you behind the scenes into one of our most sacred traditions and why it matters... 

Memorial Day Reflections

This day holds special meaning for me. As I've described in previous Memorial Day posts (you're welcome to check those out in my blog archives), Memorial Day means a lot to me. Unlike many Americans who seem to be too busy, too caught up in patriotic fervor, or  too occupied with the "first weekend of summer" hype to notice what this day is really about, I spent ten years around the military community and learned what this day truly means. I personally knew a Marine who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and I've met many other families whose loved ones did the same. This day isn't to celebrate the living of those who serve - that's for Armed Forces Day. It isn't to celebrate those who have served previously - that's what Veterans Day is about. It isn't to simply celebrate America - that's for July 4th. This day is to honor those who died. Those who were willing to give their own lives and their own futures in order to protect the rest of us. And so, on this Memorial Day, I say thank-you to them once again. I will never take their sacrifices for granted. I hope you won't either. 
 The following poem is one that I wrote several years ago which details my reflections of this day and past experiences I've had while walking in the national military cemeteries on Memorial Day:

The Last Goodbye

A solider kneels beside the grave
Of someone he held dear;
A widow, quietly standing by,
Wipes her face of tears.
A veteran comes to lay a wreath
Or to say a final word.
The innocent chirping of the birds,
The only sound that's heard.
A leader comes to pay respects,
And friends remember well
The youthful man they honor here
With every story they tell.
As they say their last farewell,
I'm often asking why
It's more than just a parting - 
It's seems like a last goodbye:
A scene too quickly forgotten,
A sacrifice brushed aside;
No place for the fallen to live on,
No heart to within abide.
Is this the only time we pause
To think on what they gave?
The only day we set aside 
To honor these the brave?
What will the solider feel this day?
The widow? Or veteran too?
Will this day find us at his grave
To give the warrior his due?
Will we join the leader,
Or the friends who gather there,
To say a silent thank-you
And to show them that we care?
Let's not make this the last goodbye
But take this journey here,
To lay a rose and say a word,
To keep his memory near.
Don't let the soldier grieve alone,
The widow, the veteran, or friends - 
This warrior cared enough to die;
Let's love them to the end.
Don't wait another year to say
You think on what he they gave,
But every time you see the flag,
In your heart, make a pilgrimage to his grave.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Acclaim from the world asks a lot in return. It can jade you and strip you of your desire for anything other than yourself. It can destroy you, as it almost did for me, and its not worth the price unless God sees fit to give it to you in order to show you that he's better. By God's grace, he brought me through those challenges and has used them to show me how good and gracious he truly is. I'm not perfect, and I still fail on a daily basis. I still see my need for a savior every day because of that. But I have faith that the Lord is making me more like himself."
                                - David Boudia in Greater Than Gold

Friday, May 26, 2017

Quote of the Day

"For a long time when I heard the word idol, I thought of some carved statue with people bowing down before it. Or maybe I thought of someone you look up to, like a pop star. But I've learned that an idol is anything we worship that isn't God, anything that captures the affections, devotions, and desires that only God deserves. If something drives us, gives us meaning, and shapes and forms how we live, and that thing isn't God, then it's an idol. It took me a long time to figure this out, but the truth is our hearts were created to worship something. It will either be God or something else."
                                       - David Boudia in Greater Than Gold

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Who Do You Admire?

 Like most people, I grew up having role models. These were men and women that I grew to respect and admire for a courageous stand they took, for the difference they made, for a successful achievement they made. When I was little, most of these examples were people from history. I loved reading biographies and immersing myself in the stories of brave individuals who changed the world. 
 Early on, my role models included Dolly Madison, Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, and the late Queen Elisabeth (The Queen Mother) of England. All of these women played an important role in their nation's history by using their God-given gifts to bring hope to others. Three of these women spent a portion of their young years tending to the wounds of others. All four of these women lived through a war and saw its affects on their communities. I read all that I could about them...because something told me inside I'd one day have to put such things into action later on in life. I wanted to be like them. Strangely enough, my own life would one day mirror theirs in that I would live through a war in much the same way and would find myself tending to the emotional wounds of others, all the while recalling the example of my female predecessors who had done the same. 
 As I grew older, though, I began to look beyond historical figures for inspiration. Sports figures and contemporary people became equally interesting to me. I followed several of them closely. I read articles, watched interviews, and read books. I even made myself a scrapbook of quotes from these people on success, leadership, and the like. 
 But then came the letdowns...
As happens so often, I tasted the disappointment of observing the public downfall of several of these people. One was found to have cheated in his sport; another had private addiction problems. I was crushed. They seemed to have it all. If only they hadn't made such foolish choices, I thought! 
 So my solution was to look to Christian examples. I found other figures who inspired me that acknowledged and followed Jesus. Now, I thought, I would find the guiding role models I was seeking. Because these people know God, they can't disappoint me...
 But eventually, they too, had their downfalls. One at a time, word broke of marital affairs, hypocritical living, etc. I was disillusioned. My own walk with God was unstable at the time, and I was looking for others who would show me what a purposeful life looked like. Now that these professing Christians had let me down, I didn't know who to trust anymore. Is anybody worth my admiration anymore?? 
 In time, I would come to realize that, in a sinful and fallen world, it's actually unrealistic to expect people to behave rightly. Human nature, at its core, is set against everything good. More than that, it is set against God. And unless He grants grace to live differently, human beings will continue to return to the fallen aspects of their inner being. If you live life thinking that everyone is basically good, honest, and kind, then you will probably find yourself disappointed along the way...because eventually, people's true colors show, and you'll discover things about them that let you down. Because everyone makes mistakes. And nobody is perfect. And nobody can love anybody or set the proper example for anybody  rightly unless God intervenes. 
 I've come to see that it's really wrong of us to set each other on a pedestal and expect one another to be the perfect spouse, the perfect parent, the perfect child, the perfect pastor, the perfect role model, the perfect...well...anything. Because, apart from God, there isn't any such thing. We're merely human beings trying to fight our old selves and change into someone better thanks to  God's grace. There will be moments when we let each other down. There will be times when we can't see eye to eye. There will be times when we hurt each other...deeply. A wrong word said, an improper action done, a selfish thought conceived...we're all subject to such things. Even though we try to put our best foot forward for one another, our pride masks the fact that we have weaknesses and faults running through our veins constantly. matter how hard they try...can or ever will live "the perfect life." If we were more honest with each other, perhaps we'd spare one another such letdowns. Maybe we'd go into a dating relationship with the attitude that there's nothing we can do to impress the other person. Maybe we'd enter marriage with the perspective that there will be days that we don't love the other person. Maybe we'd parent with the knowledge that our children will sometimes bring us great disappointment and grief by their actions. Maybe we'd attend church realizing that sometimes the pastor will get it wrong. But, with the understanding of all these things, perhaps we'd pray deeper for others. Perhaps we'd be humbler about our own achievements, realizing that if we amount to anything in this life, it is the gift of God. Perhaps we'd forgive a littler quicker, knowing that we have no right to judge others for their sin...because we've got our own heart issues too. Perhaps we'd be a little more cautious as to who we emulate, knowing that the only One truly worth emulating is our Creator. 
 In his book, "Shaken," former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow writes, 

"We have this tendency to idolize people, to think they're perfect or have a perfect life or a perfect marriage or a perfect body or a perfect family or a perfect job. Many of us see other people for what they choose to put out on Instagram or Facebook. The perfect selfie (that took fifteen shots and a few minutes of Photoshopping). The perfect picture with their spouse (that doesn't include a snapshot of the huge blowup they had the night before). The perfect record of the athlete on the field (that doesn't reflect his hardship in caring for a child with a life-threatening illness). 
 When we get caught up in these fake worlds, we can become disillusioned. We forget that each one of us is human. Flawed. We all have bad thoughts. We all struggle with things. We all need grace. And we all need Jesus. Every. Single. One. Of us.
 So instead of viewing those you admire as perfect and incapable of messing up and calling them out in judgement when they do, place your eyes on Jesus instead. He is perfect. He is the one constant who is forever doing right, forever loving, forever faithful, forever unchanging. Humans are flawed and limited, but God is not. We are human, He is not. Look up to God, not others."

 You see, when He becomes the focus of our admiration and devotion, when He becomes most paramount, when He takes the place of all others, then we free those around us to be themselves without unrealistic expectation. We remove the burden of having to live up to all we want them to be, and instead just accept them for who they are...flaws and all. We then come together in a community of common brokenness before God and acknowledge that none of us "have it altogether," as we often wrongly assume. 
 The world is starving for real, authentic people. People who know themselves to be weak and inadequate, who feel the real struggle against fear...who are simply striving to live daring lives of faith in a challenging world. The best way we can be the soul-healers of our day is to talk about our imperfection and His perfection. About our own shortcomings and His never-ending mercy. About the times we've come short, and He's pulled us through. The answer is always Him. Every single time. 
 Having mentors and examples to look up to is great. We all need that. But do so with caution, knowing that people can never supply what He can. People can never be what we often want them to be. Let our expectations of others be realistic, and let us free each other up to be ourselves as we look to the only One who is truly worthy of our devotion and praise. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Quote of the Day

"When we come to God for fresh benefits of grace, it is always good to remember His former benefits. Our current needs should stir us up to pay the interest of thanksgiving on past blessings. We are unworthy of new mercies when we do not acknowledge the mercies we have already received."
                           - Stephen Charnock in Voices From The Past

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What I Learned From A Simple Redwood Tree

 My shoulders kept bending ever backward as I stood and looked at the giant trees standing all around me. Trees so tall you couldn't see their tops. The breeze rustled gently through their mighty branches and whispered a strange peace. It was my first time of visiting the majestic Muir Woods in California. I'd never laid eyes on a natural site such as this ever before. A creek ran trickling down through the middle of the paths on either side of its banks. Birds sang out a cheerful chorus. Two baby foxes played happily along the side of the path, oblivious to the dozens of people passing by their den. The whole scene spoke of tranquility and soul-refreshing wonder...of delight in a Creator whose ways take the human breath away. 
 I happened on a talk that one of the park rangers was giving to the eager tourists. He educated them on the uniqueness of the redwood trees and how the Muir Woods were discovered. However, one thing he said got my mind to thinking...and I honestly didn't hear much of the talk after this. Redwood trees are unique in that fire doesn't damage them - they're essentially un-burnable. Indestructible. Unlike most kinds of trees which burn up and die when a forest fire strikes them, redwoods actually need to be burned from time to time in order to grow and become strong. They thrive on the heat and the flames. The char marks on some of the trees, the ranger said, were from nearly a hundred years ago, but the tree withstood the burn and bears the scars of its survival. 

 The spiritual analogy was too strong of one for me to pass up: the fires of life come upon all of us. We each find ourselves facing tests and circumstances that threaten to burn us right through, to destroy the last bit of life in us and leave us for dead. But, unlike the trees which have no choice as to their kind and how they will handle the fire, we do have a choice as to which type we will be. When such adversities and tests happen to us, will we allow ourselves to be like those that burn straight through and cannot withstand the heat? Or will be like the redwood which thrives on the flames, which stands strong in the times of its testing? Which, when its droughts come, will put out more roots to find its needed moisture to replenish itself? 
 God allows things to occur in our lives so that we will discover what kind of tree we are. So that we will find out if our roots are deep and secure or weak and shallow. So that we will come to understand how to form thick bark that is un-burnable, indestructible. So that we may one day come to grow into a scarred thing of beauty which reflects strength. 
Whatever tests you may be going through right now in your life, choose to welcome the fiery trying of your faith. Through such trials, God enables us to grow and, therefore, become monuments to His grace. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Quote of the Day

"When I enumerate our many mercies, it is with deep humility that I look back on my past life and discover so little gratitude and so much unworthiness. How much has sovereign grace done for me! Though I have solemnly professed to find consolation in religion, do I derive my hopes of happiness only from God? Yet how often have I roved in the world in quest of pleasure and dishonored the best of masters by an unholy life. 
How ungrateful have I been for the common mercies of life and for the still more precious blessings of the Holy Spirit. May ever temporal blessing that your heart can wish be yours. But whatever is the trial through which you may be called to pass, may that heaven-born religion attend you that you can sweeten the bitter cup of life, afford you joy in this vale of tears, support you in nature's last extremity, and conduct you to the heavenly Canaan, where undisturbed happiness will ever reign. Life is but a vapor. Whether we spend it in tranquility and ease or in pain and suffering, time will soon land us on the shores of eternity to our destined home."
                      - Harriet Newell in Seasons Of The Heart

Friday, May 19, 2017

Vision in the Valley

The Valley of Vision

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, 
Where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;
Hemmed in by mountains of sin, I behold Thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up,
That to be low is to be high, 
That the broken heart is the healed heart, 
That the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
That the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
That to have nothing is to possess all,
That to bear the cross is to where the crown,
That to give is to receive,
That the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells, the brighter Thy stars shine;
Let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty,
Thy glory in my valley.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Quote of the Day

"I hope your soul prospers. I do not ask you if you are always filled with sensible comfort: but do you find your spirit more bowed down to the feet and will of Jesus, so as to be willing to serve Him for the sake of serving Him, to follow Him, as we say, through thick and thin; to be willing to be anything or nothing, so that He may be glorified? 
I could give you plenty of good advice upon this head; but I am ashamed to do it, because I so poorly follow it myself. I want to live with him by the day, to do all for Him, to make Him my hiding-place and my resting-place. I want to deliver up that rebel self to Him in chains; but the rogue, like Proteus, puts on so many forms, that he slips through my fingers: but I think I know what I would do if I could fairly catch him." 
                     - John Newton

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Quote of the Day

"The best saint when he looks at himself becomes unhappy; he sees things that should not be there, and if you and I spend our whole time looking at ourselves we shall remain in misery, and we shall lose the joy. Self-examination is alright, but introspection is bad. Let us draw the distinction between these two things. We can examine ourselves in light of Scripture, and if we do that we shall be driven to Christ. But with introspection a man looks at himself and continues to do so, and refuses to be happy until he gets rid of the imperfections that are still there. Oh, the tragedy that we should spend our lives looking at ourselves instead of looking at Him who can set us free!"
                     - D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Quote of the Day

"When a man truly sees himself, he knows nobody can say anything about him that is too bad."
                  - D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Friday, May 12, 2017

Weakness Is Powerful

Beautiful. And no words needed to add to this. Don't be afraid of your failures and weakness. There is too much grace in God for us to run from ourselves. He will do big things through people that know they can be nothing apart from His enabling. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Quote of the Day

"...It is best to believe that a daily portion of comforts and crosses, each one the most suitable to your case, is adjusted and appointed by the Hand that was once nailed to the cross for us; that where the path of duty and prudence leads, there is the best situation we could possibly be in at that juncture."
                        - John Newton 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

"I wish you much comfort from David's thought, Psalm 142:3: 'When my spirit is overwhelmed within me, then Thou knewest my path.' The Lord is not withdrawn to a great distance, but His eye is upon you, and He sees you not with the indifference of a mere spectator; but He observes with attention, He knows, He considers your path: yea, He appoints it, and every circumstance about it is under His direction. Your trouble began at the hour He saw best: it could not come before, and He has marked the degree of it to a hair's breadth, and the duration to the minute. He knows likewise how your spirit is affected; and such supplies of grace and strength, and in such seasons as He sees needful, He will afford. So that when things appear darkest, you shall still be able to say, 'Though chastened, not killed.' Therefore, hope in God, for you shall yet praise Him."
                       - John Newton

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Gospel Makes A Way

 This song has really spoken to me lately as I look at the broken world within and without me. So many evidences of the hopelessness of many reminders that we have no chance at a life worthwhile apart from the Giver Himself. Honestly, we can't even approach God in the right spirit if He doesn't grant the faith and grace to do so. We have not chosen to follow God without Him first planting the desire for a better way. He begins and ends it all. Such a mind-blowing concept that is! The God of the Universe knew me and loved me before time began and picked me to be His child! That thought should be all we need to give us meaning in this desperate world. I know sometimes it's hard to believe and that faith often runs out, but God always comes through. Even in the worst moments this thing called life offers us, He comforts us with the truth that we are always loved, and He is forever good. Our sin is never so great that His grace is not greater. Our hearts are never so broken that He cannot and will not mend them. Our failures and regrets are never so big that His love is not bigger still. Truly,

"In a world where our hearts are breaking,
And we're lost in the mess we've made,
Like a blinding light in the dead of night
It's the Gospel that makes a way!"

And for that, we can and should be forever thankful! 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Quote of the Day

"I am profoundly grateful to God that He did not grant me certain things for which I asked, and that He shut certain doors in my face."
                       - D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Friday, May 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

"It is indeed natural to us to wish and to plan, and it is merciful in the Lord to disappoint our plans, and to cross our wishes. For we cannot be safe, much less happy, but in proportion as we are weaned from our own wills, and made simply desirous of being directed by His guidance. This truth (when we are enlightened by His Word) is sufficiently familiar to the judgement; but we seldom learn to reduce it into practice, without being trained awhile in the school of disappointment. The schemes we form look so plausible and convenient, that when they are broken we are ready to say, 'what a pity!' We try again, and with no better success; we are grieved, and perhaps angry, and pan out another, and so on: at length, in a course of time, experience and observation begin to convince us, that we are not more able than we are worthy to choose aright for ourselves. Then the Lord's invitation to cast our cares upon Him, and His promise to take care of us, appear valuable; and when we have done planning, His plan in our favor gradually opens, and He does more and better for us than we could either ask or think. I can hardly recollect a single plan of mine, of which I have not since seen reason to be satisfied, that, had it taken place in season and circumstance just as I proposed, it would, humanly speaking, have proved my ruin; or, at least, it would have deprived me of the greater good the Lord had designed for me. We judge of things by their present appearances, but the Lord sees them in their consequences: if we could do so likewise, we should be perfectly of His mind; but as we cannot, it is an unspeakable mercy that He will manage for us, whether we are pleased with His management or not; and it is spoken of as one of His heaviest judgements, when He gives any person or people up to the way of their own hearts, and to walk after their own counsels."
                                - John Newton

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Quote of the Day

"It is when we have come to the end of our own resources, or rather, to see that we never had any at all, that we are willing to accept the fact that we can do nothing and let God do everything for us."
                          - Frances Ridley Havergal in Seasons Of The Heart

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Quote of the Day

"When means and hope fail, when everything looks dark upon us, when we seem shut up on every side, when we are brought to the lowest ebb, still our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth. To Him all things are possible; and before the exertion of His power, when He is pleased to arise and work, all hindrances give way and vanish, like a mist before the sun. And he can so manifest Himself to the soul, and cause His goodness to pass before it, that the hour of affliction shall be the golden hour of the greatest consolation...We have therefore cause for continual praise. The Lord has given us to know His name as a resting-place and a hiding-place, a sun and a shield. Circumstances and creatures may change; but He will be an unchangeable friend."
                         - John Newton 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Our whole error is that we always start with ourselves: 'I want this, that, and the other.' It is the wrong way round. We should start with the kingdom of God...You must start with what God has done, God's plan and purpose..."
                         - D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Monday, May 1, 2017

What To Do About Waiting

 I've been thinking a lot lately about the concept of waiting. So much of life depends on it and yet there is something in our nature which hates and fights it. 
 This truth has been driven home to me recently in regards to a situation I've been working through. I have this close friend of mine who calls me about every 6-8 weeks to say hello and catch up. He's extremely busy most of the time, so the fact that he makes time to invest in our friendship means the world to me. I always look forward to our calls. And in between our talks, the texts go back and forth and we try to touch base as often as we can. It's hard to describe the friendship but it's one of those that only comes along once in a very great while. He's one of those people that has changed my life in so many ways. I'm honestly spoiled in that he finds the time that he does to show that he cares. 
However, he's a senior in college and is in the last couple crazy weeks of school, the end of the baseball season, preparing for the MLB draft, and wrapping up other activities he's taken on during the school year. I know he's busy, but it's been several weeks since our last communication. And so I've had to wait until he's able to make time to talk again. But, like so many other things I value or want in life, waiting is hard. The selfish part of me wants an answer - I want to hear from him. I don't want to wait. But that's because I'm thinking of me instead of my friend. Thinking of what I want instead of what is best for him. 
 In a spiritual sense, I see that this is often how I look at things with God, too. I want God to do things that are what I want, when I want them done. I insert my will into the equation and demand that I know the best timing and the best way, when what God's really after is my surrender. But I fight that because my human desire takes over and prevents me from desiring the kingdom of God. 
 Trust is the difference. If I trust this earthly friendship, then I wouldn't mind the waiting because I know my friend will get in touch eventually and the reconnecting will be sweet. 
In the same way, if I trust God, then I will be willing to submit to His timing and won't fight the seasons where He offers no response or answer. 
 I must ask God in both cases to give me faith. I want to surrender my fears to Him in full resignation, perfectly okay to be anything, to give up anything, to wait for anything provided that He gets the glory and my selfishness is further captured. I need to get beyond myself in order to experience the best things. 
 Oh Lord, grant me grace to open up my hands and heart. To let go with complete "yes" so that I may be filled with only those blessings which You most desire.