Bruised Reeds

Reed Cat Tail (2)

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out”.        Isaiah 42:3

We, the human race, are all broken (bruised) in one way or another. Sure, we can create facades that vault us into super stardom appeal, but in the end we all face issues that we simply cannot overcome in our own power. Try as we may via manifold self-help strategies, the latest diet and fitness plans, seeking advice from others who may or may not be qualified to give it, and on and on it goes.

Rather than spend your time on all of the reasons as to why we are bruised and broken, I want to state a few simple thoughts which compliment rather than deride this human condition. First, we are beautifully and wonderfully made (Palm 139:14). Period. Whether a model or a paraplegic, a millionaire or a homeless junkie, a child with AIDS or an Olympic star, we are all basically the same once we overlook the obvious differences on the outside.

Secondly, we have a hope which transcends this earthly existence. This hope is called Love and came to us in the form of a man. He set the world upside-down with His teaching and is either praised, loathed or ignored…Jesus is His name. Because He loves us so much He has chosen to not condemn us, but to save us from ourselves. Rather than break the reed or snuff out the candle, He strengthens the stalk and fans the flame to burn brighter. It may not always feel like it, but it’s during the tough times that faith grows and hope is renewed.

So, the next time you see the stalk of any plant think about the bruised reed, about yourself and have faith that both will outlast the storms of life and the foibles of the human heart.

Double Vision

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When this double vision ends and I see clearly again, will I be any better off and make sense of life? 

When I feel that my existence seems like that of a spectator, will I ever become a participant?

When the cold of winter and loneliness of the holidays overwhelm me, will I cry myself to sleep?

When faith flickers like a dying candle, what will become of me? Will I have mattered to anyone?

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I will be better off, and so will others, once I regain clarity, and I will understand my life’s purpose.

I am already a participant, I just need a little encouragement to help me understand this truth.

I will cry no longer-even though I needed to for a moment-because joy is just around the corner.

I will light another candle-thus keeping my faith-for my life matters very much. It matters to those who love me and to those who are yet to know me; to the lost who need me and to those who have helped me; to the sojourner who has double vision and to the blind who can’t see at all. No more tears, no more despair, and no more loneliness for there is One who loves me just as I am. Prince of Peace come join me now and help me to show others the way. 

 

 

 

Provision

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“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”        Matthew 6:28-30

In The Palm of Your Hand

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If I could have the world and all it owns

A thousand kingdoms, a thousand thrones

If all the earth were mine to hold

With wealth my only goal

 

I’d spend my gold on selfish things

Without the love that Your life brings

Just a little bit more is all I’d need

Till life was torn from me

 

I’d rather be in the palm of Your hand

Though rich or poor I may be

Faith can see right through the circumstance

Sees the forest in spite of the trees

Your grace provides for me

 

If I should walk the streets, no place to sleep

No faith in promises You keep

I’d have no way to buy my bread

With a bottle for my bed

 

But if I trust in the One who died for me

Who shed His blood to set me free

If I live my life to trust in You

Your grace will see me through

 

I’d rather be in the palm of Your hand

Though rich or poor I may be

Faith can see through the circumstance

Sees the forest in spite of the trees

 

 

Sung beautifully by Alison Kraus

Music and lyrics by Ron Block

Photograph of Cheryl, Elliot & Carson

Inspiration from above

 

 

 

 

Hope

Faith, Hope, Love & Sunbeam 1-30-12

Jim Fransen was a good man. No, let me correct myself. Jim was a great man. Here is why I believe this to be true.

When you saw Jim, you saw sunshine. When you spoke with Jim, you felt like he cared. When you spent time with Jim, you never felt a hint of arrogance or selfishness. Quite the opposite, he was a true servant-always eager to help out when needed. Jim worked hard and played hard, yet he maintained a balanced life. He loved His Lord, his family and his many friends.

However, Jim had one glaring blind spot by the name of Patty. Like a pair of comfortable shoes, Jim and Patty walked through each day as if they just started dating. No pretense or nonsense. They were simply two people very much in love.

Unfortunately, Jim is gone. He died of a heart attack just a few days ago. He had played basketball that day, the same as he did every weekend for many years. Patty lost her best friend in an instant. The clock stopped, and time stood still. No more Jim. No more Jim and Patty…at least not in this life.

There are countless memories and photographs to scroll through for years to come. But there is one thing more. There is Hope…the kind of Hope that keeps people struggling to stay alive when all seems lost-and they do. The kind of Hope which says, “I will be with you again, my darling”. And they will.

Most are familiar with the Apostle Paul’s most poignant verses in any of his epistles…the Love song of 1 Corinthians 13. This is where Paul talks about all of the meaningless things we can do, but true living comes down to three things: faith, hope and love. He concludes by stating that the greatest of these is love. And, I agree whole heartedly. Yet, during this time of loss and disbelief, Hope is what will bring Patty and others through the darkness of lonely nights and bitter tears.

For Jim and Patty loved one another without reservation. Jim, like Patty, had a faith in the Creator who offered him a gift called salvation…and Jim took it. He believed it and he lived out the exhortation to become more and more like the God who gave him such a gift of grace.

So, Hope is what is needed most during this hour and the season to follow. Hope in the reality of the resurrection. Hope that she and Jim will be joined together again in heaven. Hope that she will not be forgotten nor forsaken. Hope, that love wins the day-and it will. A reunion is on the horizon for those whose Hope is based upon the promises of Christ; that there is more to life than what we currently experience. I am Hopeful. I Hope you are, too.

Unforced Rhythms of Grace

I wish I could take credit for this title because I find it so profoundly accurate to the story I am about to share in this post. Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message Bible, developed this paraphrase from a passage about surrendering our burdens to Christ whose grace never ceases, but flows continually into our lives. Rather than simply create a word picture, I have included several photos of waves I recently watched and played in off the coast of the Dominican Republic. The time spent at the  beach was as enjoyable as one can imagine!IMG_1359I really love waves. They remind me of clouds passing across the sky-an ever-changing panorama. I am in awe of surfers who navigate these fluid highways with stunning accuracy, and I thoroughly enjoy those jaw-dropping videos of waves rolling over surfers or crashing over reefs and onto shoreline rocks. Nature in motion. Breathtaking beauty. The visual and audible rhythm is soothing. At the same time waves can be extremely dangerous, especially the undertow and hidden objects below their momentous surfaces. Nevertheless, waves are awesome to behold and I count it a privilege whenever I can be near them (on or next to land, that is).IMG_1111While on the coast of sunny Punta Cana I was reminded of the words a friend spoke to me a few weeks ago. Tom lives in Florida and spends time lapping up the soft wave action of the panhandle. He often sits in the shallow water as the waves gently roll into him…repeatedly without end. He loves that. Tom discovered he has a very serious form of lymphoma cancer which devastated his body in short order. The good news is that his type of cancer is curable. However, the treatments last five months with week-long infusions, then rest and more infusions. Tom is away from his home during these treatments. His body suffered serious bone deterioration in joints and along his spine. Surgeries were necessary. It has been rough sailing for him and his wife.IMG_1134You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about Tom in the same context as waves. I’ll tell you. Before our vacation, I met with Tom for lunch and he explained the whole ordeal with cancer, treatments, etc. No pity-party, just facts. I’ll never forget the part where he talked about this journey and how his faith played a part in him keeping a positive attitude despite the circumstances. As he sat in his wheelchair, he kept motioning with his arms; he would extend them outward and then draw them inward in unison, like he was rowing a boat. He told me that God’s grace flowed into him just like the waves gently rolled into his chest as he sat in the shallow water of the ocean. Back and forth his arms moved. Then he said, ” I’m blessed, you know. I’ve been given so much and don’t deserve it all “.

DESERT HUMILITY

English: The start of the border fence between...

English: The start of the border fence between the United States and Mexico near Sunland Park, New Mexico, U.S.A. and Rancho Anapra, Chihuahua, Mexico. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several years ago I was blessed to participate on a work related mission trip in Juarez, Mexico through AMOR Ministries. The goal of AMOR is to provide housing for the poor in cities along the northern Mexican border. Through the efforts of those who donate materials and labor, the love of Christ is conveyed to local Hispanics in a tangible way. AMOR has staff members who raise all of their support themselves, and are a dedicated bunch of folks. Another goal is to introduce Christians and non-Christians alike to missions outreach. Team building is a key component of this dynamic. Each house is built by a team of up to ten people. Sometimes there are fewer workers available. AMOR’s model is to have each house completed in three days from start to finish.

I traveled with a close friend of mine to El Paso, and then to Juarez. Jason introduced me to AMOR and invited me to go serve with him in the desert. My reasons for doing so were manifold: compassionate ministry and assisting the less fortunate have always interested me; I have been on a couple of missions trips before and recognized the value of them; my friend was very persuasive; the need was evident so I felt I could make a difference; my construction management skills could be of added benefit; and most importantly, I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me. I was reluctant to go, however, because I suffer from a chronic back condition which keeps me in pain much of the time. I knew I would be doing a lot of standing and bending which really intensifies the pain. I decided to go anyway. The conditions were a bit primitive as we stayed in tents on a field of dirt within a fenced area, worked in the heat and sun all day, and had cold showers and very basic toilet facilities…not delightful, but doable for three days.

I met many wonderful people including several staff members, strangers who became friends as we worked and worshipped together, and the families we built for. We visited an orphanage while in Juarez and I immediately saw the compassion of those who ran this facility. I became closer to my friend who invited me and I gained a greater appreciation for his heart to serve God by serving others. This trip was a memorable experience and one of great value because of several lessons that I learned.

Prior to leaving our home, I prayed that the Lord would give me a ‘reality check’, as I recognized that I was becoming too influenced by the things of the world. Business was good at the time and I lived in an affluent county where financial success was paraded around me. Although I tried really hard not to get caught up in this dynamic, I was affected by it. My fear was that I was becoming indifferent to the plight of the less fortunate and that I was becoming a bit stingy in my giving and serving. Therefore, I pleaded with God to change my heart and show me again what He valued the most so I could join Him whole-heartedly. My prayer was answered immediately upon our arrival and then throughout the three days.

My friend had an acquaintance that picked us up from the airport and drove us to a home he and his crew had just completed in a Colonia, the name of the small communities which pop up in the desert on the outskirts of border cities. It had just rained a couple of days before (unusual for this area and time of year) and there were puddles of water everywhere. We were invited into the home of the woman for whom the house was built. She spoke no English, and my friend and I very little Spanish. Fortunately, our driving companion was fluent in both languages. As I looked around the new 11’x 22’ two-room house with concrete floor and stucco exterior, I could see the pride in this mother’s eyes. I asked what she thought of her new home and as she explained, she began to cry and raise her arms towards heaven.

Anxiously, I asked our interpreting friend to tell us what she was sharing, and this is what he told us. This dear mother of three children was praising God for giving her a house with doors, windows, concrete floor, and most importantly a roof that didn’t leak. Prior to this house, the family would endure muddy feet due to wet dirt; the roof would leak and there were no windows or door in the wall openings to keep out the rain water. Tears of joy filled her face, and then mine. I was zapped with the realization that God had, indeed, revealed to me in this moment what really mattered. I had just received my first reality check only hours after arriving. I was hoping something like this would take place while I was in Juarez, but didn’t expect it so soon and so powerfully. I selfishly felt God had orchestrated this meeting specifically for me in answer to my prayer. I was humbled.

My second experience of witnessing humility, and the humbling that tags along with seeing humility in action, came when I was teamed with a group of college students from Texas A&M. I learned that every year up to one hundred or more students and dedicated adults head to Juarez during Spring Break to serve. These young adults and sponsors give up their vacations to serve others. It wasn’t merely the serving that struck me, but the spirit in which they served. These young people, full of energy as can be expected, grabbed onto the concept not only of constructing a house, but of nurturing the families whom they served. It was a common sight to see girl and boy alike pickup and play with the children of this community, and interact with the adults. The teamwork philosophy fostered by AMOR Ministries pays dividends, in that a real sense of community is developed, literally overnight. Many of these young people vowed to return in the summer to serve again. I believe many did. In addition, these servants began to learn skills not previously known to them; plus they learned the value of cooperating and being effective builders of community. Again, I was humbled.

The third experience which God placed before me had to do with the interaction I had with a small group of youth and their pastor who came from several states away to be a part of this Spring Break endeavor. Because there were not enough of them, I was asked to assist this group. Although few in number (maybe seven) and with little to no building skills, they jumped in whole- heartedly in constructing their house. The process of construction consists of mixing gravel, sand, cement and water on-site, thus creating the concrete for the slab. The concrete is leveled and finished smooth within forms placed on the dirt. The following day wood stud walls are built and then erected onto the edges of the slab. From this point the roof framing is installed. Plywood walls and roof decking are cut and nailed, and then felt paper applied. The single slope roof receives a waterproof fabric while wire mesh and stucco are applied to the walls. Three windows and one door are installed, and the exterior is painted. Upon completion, each house is dedicated to the owner, in the name of the Lord.

Working along side this church family was wonderful because they all possessed such servant hearts. They invited me and my friend to attend their evening meal and time of worship. We quickly accepted. The meal was simple, but good. The worship was pleasing to the ear and to the heart of God…like incense rising to heaven. At this point we thought we were finished and were ready to head back to our tents and get a well needed night of sleep before we left the next day. The humbling took place before we were dismissed. The most spiritually sensitive girl of this group (I can’t recall her name, but God does) read from the gospels about how Jesus served His disciples. As she read she asked us to allow her to wash our feet just as Christ had done to His disciples in the upper room (John 13:4-9). I was overwhelmed that a sixteen year old ‘kid’ would humble herself and wash my feet. I almost acted like Peter by refusing, but recalled the Lord’s rebuke to him. So, I acquiesced and had my feet washed. As she gently washed our feet (over the desert dirt) and towel dried them, this precious young lady spoke words of encouragement as she prayed over each member of our group. As you can imagine, I was humbled, again.

Jesus told his followers that when we seek the kingdom of God, we will receive that which we need to sustain us (Matthew 6:33). He also told His disciples that when we seek after the things which He holds dear, we shall find them (Matthew 7:7-8).

My seeking led me to discover that which I was looking for, and needed desperately. The greatest gift of this trip, one which has not escaped me to this day, is of humility. I was humbled repeatedly by His overwhelming love and mercy. I witnessed humility played-out through the lives of others: via the ministry of AMOR, in my friend and through the volunteers who sacrificed their time and gave their best to assist the less fortunate. Even the people we served were humble in there acceptance of us, and were appreciative of our contribution. Tears of joy flowed as each house was dedicated during the three days I was in the desert.

I gave, but I received so much more. James states in chapter 4, verse 10 that when you “humble yourselves before the Lord, He will lift you up”. Certainly, I was lifted up. Most definitely, I was humbled. Without a doubt, my faith was buoyed with a renewal in the promises of God. And, I was reminded that, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me” (Matthew 25:40). Without question, when we serve others with humility, we serve our Lord, and by serving Him, we become more like Him. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get.