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God uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary

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Several weeks have passed since the devastating hurricanes in Houston, SW Florida, and Puerto Rico. The news trucks have long ago departed for their next assignment, the local newspapers have pushed any stories related to hurricanes to the 3rd page, and those not seriously impacted by the storms have returned to their normal lives.

hurricane Maria

NASA satellite photo of hurricane Maria

For the tens of thousands whose lives were devastated however, normal will never be “normal” again.

Living all but the last year of my life in the Midwest, I had never encountered a hurricane until Irma came rushing through SW Florida. Like most Midwesterner’s, I never thought much about hurricanes, as tornadoes and the occasional blizzard were the worst type of storms we had to deal with.

Believe me, my thinking has been altered after witnessing the devastation all around me, and I’ll never think of these storms the same way for the rest of my life.

To gain a better understanding of the situation, I was privileged this past week to attend a meeting of SW Florida pastors and their associates where we were to receive an update on the various rebuilding projects in the aftermath of hurricane Irma. After a wonderful fellowship meal, we were ushered into the sanctuary for a time of worship, which I have to say was much needed and appreciated.

MWOA worship

Broadway Community Church, Ft. Myers FL.

There were two local pastors there who spoke of the devastation their churches received at the hands of hurricane Irma.

To see the videos and pictures, plus hearing their first hand accounts, was a bit overwhelming to this previously “sheltered” country boy.

It was immediately apparent that it’s altogether different seeing the news on TV vs. hearing it from someone who lost everything. Listening to the anguish of a now homeless mother, seeing the tears of those rendered helpless, these are very powerful and very moving things.

Of course, many churches and businesses in the area suffered catastrophic damage, just as thousands of homes did. Trying to grasp the level of devastation to families who have lost everything is not easy to do. No wonder such a feeling of helplessness hangs over the affected areas. Can anyone blame those who ask “God where are you”?

 

The main speaker of the evening was the denominational leader for Men and Women of Action for the Church of God, who gave a riveting,”boots on the ground” account of their work in Houston, SW Florida, and Puerto Rico.

Hurricane’s Harvey, Irma, and Maria have kept them going nearly non stop, and to say this team has been busy would be quite the understatement!

His message centered around the theme of how God will take ordinary men and women and use them to do extraordinary things for the kingdom. MWOA 1

I heard powerful stories of God’s provision and care to those in need, and it was a blessing to see first hand how ordinary men and women are transformed into the hands and feet of Jesus.

This is real ministry. 

The main takeaway for me was that even though during a major disaster we sometimes feel as if God is a million miles away, or question why He didn’t stop it from happening in the first place, the truth is God is never far from us.

In this life it is very likely that we will never understand why we must endure the catastrophic events that are a part of our lives. In reality, we can drive ourselves nearly crazy trying to figure these things out.

What I have found to be most important is not the “why”, but rather knowing that in spite of the storms of life, God is there to help us pick up the pieces and rebuild. Hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, etc. are just as much a part of life as the personal tragedies we endure. Yet in spite of it all, God is still God!

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;    Isaiah 59:1

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.   Psalms 46:1

Be blessed!

Ron

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Bloom where you’re planted

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No doubt you’ve heard the expression “bloom where you’re planted”, a phrase frequently heard in church. I was reminded of this phrase when I came upon the tiny plant you see below as I was walking on the beach.

beach plant 2

A tiny plant flourishing in spite of it’s harsh environment

What with the frequency of “church shopping” these days, where parishioners are leaving their current church for greener pastures, it’s worth repeating that unless there are Biblical reasons for leaving, staying put is normally best. 

While many today are running here and there seeking the “next big thing” that God is doing, mature Christians realize that the “next big thing” is largely a figment of someone’s imagination.

Either that or it’s a work of the flesh, disguised as the work of God by those looking to capitalize on those believers who are easily captivated by catchy slogans and theatrics.

Staying put where God has planted us affords Him time to refine us, to weed out those things that hinder us. This in turn produces blooms and new growth as our relationship with God grows deeper.

My hope is that we all bloom where we’ve been planted so that the body of Christ is strengthened.

 

Why is this so difficult?

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Giving to God what is rightfully His. Why is this so difficult? Is it because His requirements are so out of reach for us mortals that we give a weak, anemic effort?

To answer that, let’s first understand what His requirements actually are.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?   Micah 6:8

Anyone? Can anyone give a reasonable explanation as to why it is so difficult for us to do just these THREE things? To do justly and treat people fairly, to be kind one to another, and acknowledge that there is One much greater than any of us…is this so hard?

Or how about this? (emphasis mine):

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” ‘ Matthew 22:35-40

Anyone? Can anyone give a reasonable explanation as to why it is so difficult for us to do even these TWO things? For us to love God with our entire being, and to love one another as much as we love ourselves, is God asking the impossible of us?

It seems so trite, so obvious for us to say that the reason we struggle with doing these very doable things is because we live in a fallen world. Or that it’s because the enemy is hard at work.

As if he hasn’t always been hard at work.

Here’s what I think. Like everything else in life, we make time for the things that are important to us. With unending devotion we sacrifice for what we deem necessary. We exert monumental effort to achieve our dreams.

Don’t we?

And the things that are not important to us…..

Ron

 

It’s what comes OUT of a man that matters…

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Do you agree that we often place far too much emphasis on outward appearances? And in doing so, are sometimes guilty of misjudging someone? After all, isn’t it still true that looks can be deceiving?

do-not-judge

imagesbuddy.com

Consider this lesson from the gospel of Mark.

One day Jesus was confronted by a group of Pharisees and scribes because they had observed his disciples eating bread with unwashed hands.

You see, the Pharisees were all about maintaining outward appearances, and they used this opportunity to inform Jesus that his little band of followers were now defiled for failing to keep up with tradition.

Then, as now, we humans seem to have this need to elevate ourselves while tearing down others. Why is that?

At any rate the Pharisees were all about outward appearances and traditions, believing that putting on a good external show somehow equates to a healthy inward relationship with God.

NOT.

Hmmm…makes one wonder if not a lot has changed over the space of a couple thousand years. OK….back to the topic at hand.

After Jesus admonished the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”     Mark 7:9 NKJV

In other words, Jesus is telling them that they rejected God’s word and his teachings in favor of their own man made traditions. And this is a snare that all of us must be on guard to avoid. Jesus came to set us free, but I dare say many of us are ensnared in traditions of our own making, thus rendering the word of God of no effect.

traditions of men

Pinterest.com

Instead of worrying about and focusing on trivial things that mattered little, if at all, in the grand scheme of things, Jesus went on to explain to them what truly defiles a man.

And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.””
Mark 7:20-23 NKJV

Notice anything missing from this list? None of the things on it are matters of tradition or outward appearance, but matters of the heart!!

What defiles us, what condemns us are the evil, sinful acts born out of an unregenerate heart. That’s what Jesus is saying here. A heart that has resisted the love of Christ and has determined to forge its own path is a heart that is capable of doing the unthinkable.

As lest any of us should be lifted up with pride because we are so good, residing within each of our hearts are the seeds of each of the sins Jesus mentions above. I don’t care who you are, that’s a powerful and sobering thought.

The point is, our good intentions will never be good enough, but instead a life lived apart from God will give way to a heart that is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it”?   Jer. 17:9

There is but one cure for such a thing; the Lord Jesus. He alone has the cure for what defiles a man. Only Jesus can transform our hearts from one of stone into one that is fully alive in Him. He is the heart mender.

It’s what comes out of a man that matters most, and when Jesus has been given control of our lives we must continually strive to gain control of the flesh that produces the things which defile.

Walking with Jesus is not about keeping church or religious traditions, it’s not about maintaining appearances or your standing in the church. Walking with Jesus is about relationship, one that produces the fruit of the Spirit, not the deeds of the flesh.

do-not-judge-2

imagesbuddy.com

Be blessed,

Ron

 

Biting the hand that feeds you

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You’ve probably heard that expression haven’t you? It’s typically used when a person displays ungratefulness to others. For instance; if someone in your life helps you out, or provides sustenance to you and you act in an ungrateful manner towards them, you are “biting the hand that feeds you”.

The truth is that when ungratefulness surfaces on the outside, it’s merely reflecting what’s going on inside of us. Murmuring, complaining, ungratefulness, being unthankful, these are all outward symptoms of inward rebellion.

As Christians, we must be especially careful about complaining and being ungrateful. I wonder, how often do we check ourselves to see if we are displaying the symptoms of an ungrateful heart?

complain

aarc.org

There is an almost unbelievable example of this found in the book of Exodus. We all know the story of God’s great deliverance in setting Israel free from Egyptian bondage.

With excitement and enthusiasm the Israelite’s left Egypt, headed for a land that flowed with milk and honey.

Not only did God deliver them, but they left carrying the riches of Egypt with them! Gold, silver, and clothing in abundance were given to the children of Israel as their former masters sent them away in haste.

Yet just three days after walking through the Red Sea on dry land, the children of Israel began complaining. It’s important that we grasp this. Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for 430 years. Generation after generation knew nothing of freedom, yet within just three days of tasting freedom for the first time, they are already complaining! Here’s the story in detail (emphasis mine)ungrateful

1. “They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt.

2. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness,

3. and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

4. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.

5. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”

6. So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt,

7. and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. For what are we, that you grumble against us?”

8. And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD.”” Exodus 16:1-8

What is the key takeaway from this story? On the surface, it may appear to be that the nation of Israel is about as ungrateful as a nation could be. While that may be true, the key point here is that while Israel vented their complaints to Moses and Aaron, in reality they were complaining against God.

Moses told them that “Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD”. In essence, they were biting the hand that fed them!

So the million dollar question is this: are we any different than they when we complain,grumble, and generally have a terrible attitude?

I don’t know about you, but I too used to be a slave. I was a slave to sin and all that went with it, until one day God sent a deliverer to rescue me from my condition. What should my response be to what God has done for me?

When I’m going through difficult times, should I remind Him of how good I used to have it before I became a Christian? Should I remind God that I was doing well enough on my own? Should I say to God that I’d rather go back to my old life?

Of course not! I don’t care how my life is measured or by whom; at the end of the day I count myself among the most blessed of any people! My life has been just like everyone else’s, full of up’s and down’s, trials and successes.

At the end of the day however, what matters is that God has been right beside me through it all. I don’t understand some of the hard things, but I realize that I don’t need to understand everything. All I need to be sure of is that God is faithful, and as such He will never leave us or forsake us.

My prayer is that all of God’s children will appreciate Him for what he has done for us.

May we never bite the hand that feeds us!

Be blessed,

Ron

A sample of God’s beauty,Florida style!

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I thought I would share something with my readers that shows the handiwork of God in a different light than scripture. While this post may not be Bible based, it still points us to God, albeit through nature.

I really love plants. When I was a boy tending our families very large vegetable garden, I developed a love for plants of all kinds. Vegetables, flowers, trees, you name it and I’m interested. My parents canned everything they could to feed five kids and themselves, so you can imagine the hours I’ve spent with a hoe and shovel in my hands!

One of the reasons I have such regard for plants is because they are living things that given the proper care, can feed you as well as mesmerize you with their beauty. I enjoy working in the dirt and seeing tiny plants and seeds grow to maturity.

I also enjoy taking cuttings and propagating them. Currently I’m rooting my very own Pineapple plant,which is very exciting!

Since I now live where there are no brilliant displays of fall colors, I have to get my color fix in other ways. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a sample of God’s beauty currently on display around my home,starting with a pretty Hibiscus.

Up north these are annuals, but here they grow nearly all year long. I have Hibiscus that are pink, a deep red, and what my wife calls salmon. They’re all beautiful, but the pink is my favorite color.

Hibiscus 1

Red hibiscus

Here are some arrangements of Mums and Sweet Potato vine that are really pretty right now.

Mum arrangement 1

Mum 2

Sweet Potato vine

Next, here is a pretty bloom that grows all along the side of my house. I don’t remember the name, but that’s not important. You should see this in the summer when the entire side of the house is encased in these blooms! The summer blooms are a deep,bold red that are just stunning.

Red bloom shrub

Finally, a picture of a pretty little shrub that I stuck in a pot with some grass just to see what would happen. I think it turned out great!

Blooming shrub 1

Well, there you have it, a sampling of God’s beauty, Florida style. Of course, I’m no photographer, but the images do a decent job of conveying the beauty I get to see every day.

I hope you take a few minutes to look around where you live and take in the beauty that God provides for us each and every day. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

Ron

Chiseling away…

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I’ve always been fascinated by how things are made. While the finished product is what most are interested in, I want to see the process of how something was made.

formed steelBack in the day, as they say, I used to work with steel and iron. I learned to use various machines to cut, roll, bend, and press steel and iron into pieces that would either be bolted or welded together to make a finished product.

To the untrained eye, it is hard to imagine that beautiful scroll work, ornate sculptures, and even structures once were nothing more than a flat piece of metal or iron. Yet put that same piece of metal in the hands of a skilled craftsman, and the magic begins!

It’s the same with a stone carver. Just think of some of the world’s most beautifully carved works of stone, such as Michelangelo’s sculpture of David. This masterpiece took nearly four years to complete and stands 17 ft. tall. Yet it started out as a huge slab of marble!

david_statue

touropia.com

I often think of God as the Master Craftsman. He takes an ordinary, “nothing special about us” person like you and I and makes something beautiful out of us.

One swing of His hammer at a time!

Rejoice when you find yourself upon God’s anvil, for He is shaping you into what He knows to be something beautiful.

Rejoice when you find yourself upon the Potter’s wheel, for it is in this process that He is removing the impurities in our lives.

Rejoice when you feel the blow of the hammer and chisel, for God is chipping away at this rough exterior in order to reveal the beauty only He knows lies beneath the surface.

But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.   Isaiah 64:8

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.   2 Corinthians 5:17

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.   Ezekiel 36:26