Bird-brained Christians

bird in handHave you ever been accused of being a “bird brain”? If so, it probably was not meant to be a compliment. Birds are not known for their intellectual skills. Nevertheless, Jesus tells us we can benefit by observing their ways: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” ~Matthew 6.26

Jesus had just finished teaching the disciples how to pray. We can easily remember the parts of the prayer with the acronym ACTS:
1. Adoration…declaring the “ultimacy” of God over all things.
2. Confession…admitting our frailty.
3. Thanksgiving…living with a sense of gratitude that God in his ultimacy looks after us in our frailty.
4. Supplication…asking for what we need to sustain our life…today.

Which brings us back to the bird illustration. Jesus is referring to the part in the prayer about asking for our daily bread… “Give us today our daily bread.” ~Matthew 6.11

Whether or not we realize it, most of us are hoarders. No, we’re not the hoarders who stack piles of useless trash to the ceiling, leaving only precarious walkways through our stuff. We’re the kind of hoarders who have food in our fridge and freezer, and in our cupboards and pantry. At what point do we become a hoarder? The moment we have more food than we need today. But it only seems reasonable to prepare for tomorrow, doesn’t it?

Seems reasonable to me. But if so, why didn’t Jesus direct our attention toward squirrels? (Possibly he was no more fond of squirrels than I am, but that’s a topic for another time.) As a kid, I liked to watch squirrels bury acorns in the dirt. They knew instinctively they needed to “squirrel” something away for the winter. But Jesus did not tell us we should look to squirrels for life lessons. He pointed to birds.

God designed us to depend on him. One of the most difficult concepts for us to grasp is the “daily bread” part of our dependence on him. We get excited when God provides in a miraculous way. You know, the times he comes through in the “nick of time.” We enjoy telling these stories. After the fact.

But we struggle to believe he’s going to do it again. It’s as if we wonder if God has a limited number of miracles up his celestial sleeve. Our faith is sometimes limited to God’s past provisions, and we strain to trust him for our daily needs…our “today” needs.

Yet, God wants us to live in continual awareness of our utter dependence of him. And we run the risk of forgetting this when we have stuff. While we might consider a full fridge and full pantry a blessing, the “fullness” is a blessing only if we remember that everything we have is because of God’s provision.

But some say, “I’ve worked hard for what I have.” Yet we forget God is the One who gives us breath and strength to work for what we have.

How do we know if we actually believe everything we have is because of God’s gift to us? By the way we respond the next time we have a need—a need that is beyond our own ability.

Some of us would be more comfortable if Jesus had told us to pray for our weekly bread, or better yet, for our monthly bread. Then we could coast along for a while…on our own…in oblivion to our helplessness, apart from God. And whenever we wondered if we had enough stuff, we could meander over to wherever we stash our stuff, and take a quick peek. Then we could relax in our self-sufficient little bubble. But bubbles burst.

Or, we can fix our attention on God, who in his goodness provides everything we need. Daily. And we can get on with learning to relax in him, rather than in our stuff. Like the birds of the air.

*The ACTS acronym is attributed to Dr. Dent, professor at Northern Baptist Seminary.


The “Unconverted Conscience”

What is an “unconverted conscience”…for a believer? It is the suppression of that “still small voice” that is trying to push through the barrier of our self-centered conclusions and choices. When we are honest with ourselves, we admit that when we come to a crossroad in our life, more often than not we tend to make decisions based on our past experiences, rather than taking the time to ask God for His wisdom. We all do it. It’s called our ‘default mode’… the way of our fallen nature.

The Holy Spirit has a way of speaking to us that is unquestionable! Consider the simple verse in Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The truth of this verse would resonate in our hearts as a command rather than a suggestion if we would simply stop dead in our tracks when we are about to take a left turn, instead of a right. He is ready and willing to lead us, out from the control of the residue of our fallen nature. He declares in Jeremiah 29:22 “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This is His bold promise to you and me! He WILL, because HE IS the “Great I AM”….able to convert our conscience to be in tune with HIS calling…His perfect will.

So how do we discern the voice of God from the clamoring noise of the world? Perhaps it is time to begin our prayer time with Psalm 139:23-25 “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” In order to experience a conversion of our conscience, we must be willing to allow Him to purge the impurities that cloud our perspective…even when the process hurts.

Let His mercy and grace find a resting place in your mind and heart today! Experience a “conscience conversion” that will pave the way for a life with purpose! He longs for relationship and desires obedience! So take time today to BE STILL…and take a moment to listen…really listen!  “…acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.”  ~1 Chronicles 28:9 ~ In His Strong Love ~ rose

Hey people, take your places!

Possibly you’ve heard a movie director shout into the megaphone, “Okay people, take your places!” If we’re paying attention, we’ll notice God is calling us to do the same thing. The Director of Life wants us to find our place in the story. For many of us the flow of our spirits has stopped because we lost our place in the scheme of things. How have we lost our place? As silly as it sounds, some of us have elevated ourselves to a place we do not belong. We are pretending to be God. Whoever would have dreamed up such a silly idea?

Possibly you have heard there’s a difference between you and God? Actually, there are several differences, but one of the big differences is that he doesn’t think he’s us. He’s not trying to be us; why are we trying to be him? We need to let God be God. It’s difficult to word this in a way that makes good sense because God will be God whether or not we let him be God—in the grand scheme of things. His God-ness is not dependent on whether or not we approve of him being God of the universe. He is the “I Am.” Nothing is going to change that. So a better question is whether or not we’re letting God be God in our lives.

A Leap of Faith…

Christ followers accept the Father’s teaching with the same unquestioning trust a child displays when he believes what he’s told by his dad. My son Derick illustrated this principle to me in a way that has always stuck in my mind. I was attending Purdue University at the time, and I lived with my family in a mobile home park near the campus in West Lafayette. Whenever I got an opportunity, I enjoyed hanging out with my young sons, Derick and Aaron.

During one these special times we were wobbling a Frisbee back and forth between us when somehow it landed on the top of the trailer. So I did what any safety-conscious dad would do. Rather than boosting Aaron up, who was lighter, I decided on Derick, because he was older—about five years old. Aaron was two, and my better judgment told me he was a tad too young to be on the roof alone.

As I boosted Derick up onto the roof to retrieve the Frisbee, I reminded him to be careful. That’s what good dads do. I didn’t want him to learn from experience what it felt like to fall from that height. Derick tossed the Frisbee to me, and then asked how he should get down. I told him to jump. As soon as the words—or rather word—left my lips, he was in the air, headed in my direction.

I didn’t think about it at the time, but afterward I wondered how much more free-flowing my life would be if I was as trusting of my heavenly Daddy as Derick was of me at that moment. At the time I was just focused on catching him. He was in the air, and the only thing between him and the concrete pad was me.

There’s no need for a Christ follower with the mind of a trusting child to understand why it’s safe to trust. We just do. And we don’t need evidence to prove what God has told us. Our faith is never bolstered by studies and discoveries that prove by science that the impossible may be explained by scientific knowledge.

The Mountains are Calling…

Rose and I have a piece of slate hanging on the wall in our living room that is inscribed with the words “The mountains are calling, and I must answer.” My brother Bob and his wife Sherry gave it to us when they came to New Mexico from Michigan for a visit. This rings true in our hearts—and we spent the last couple of days “answering the call” to the Jemez Mountains in central New Mexico.

I remember a time several years ago when I was driving south out of Denver – headed toward Colorado Springs – as Sandi Patty was singing “How Great Thou Art” on the radio. That majestic moment is forever etched in my mind—the visual reality of the greatness of our God as he revealed himself in the Colorado Rockies.

But mountains do not have the same appeal for everyone. My Grandpa Johnson used to say the mountains are made up of the stuff God had left over when he was finished creating the earth. They are akin to the ruble on the sculptor’s floor that was chiseled away from the masterpiece hidden away within the block of marble. Grandpa said God never intended for the mountains to be inhabited—or visited—by people.

Even so, we all have things we are drawn to—things with which we feel a deep kind of connection. What we are “called to” is a part of what makes us who we are. And as far as I can tell, nobody decides what they are going to find appealing and what they are going to dislike. These things are built in as standard equipment and are unique to every human being. And our interests change over time—just because they do—not because we decided they should.

Celebrate the uniqueness of who you are today by pursuing the call God has placed in your heart. Pursue your passion in a way that honors your Creator. When Rose and I have an opportunity to come home to the mountains, we are rejuvenated. The unobstructed flow of His Spirit infuses us to continue on with our daily assignments with renewed vitality. That’s how we celebrate the passion he has placed in our hearts.

How do you celebrate the call in your life?

“The Call”

The glimmering city lights of Nairobi were spectacular as the plane banked toward the runway. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of the two-week adventure that lay ahead of me. I took in a deep breath, and then exhaled slowly. I recalled the distant yet emotionally vivid memory of myself as a young boy, holding on for dear life to the back of the pew in our little country church. It was the altar call, and I was scared to death I might get “the call.”

You might know what I’m talking about—the “missionary call to Africa” we get when we decide to “give our all” to God.  The altar calls demanded every ounce of strength I could muster to stand my ground, even though everything inside me wanted to be God’s little warrior. But I had to stand firm. I couldn’t risk full surrender, knowing it could mean the end of life as I knew it. I liked my life just the way it was. A sentence to some remote jungle of Africa, never to see my family or pony again, would ruin everything.

It didn’t help that the song leader – and everyone for that matter – always seemed so somber, like someone had just died, or was about to die, as we sang songs like I Surrender All, and I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go, Dear Lord!

Now here I am, about to land in Africa.  My pulse quickens as I rehearsed my mission: Deliver thousands of dollars worth of drugs and medications to an orphanage near Kobare, north of Lake Victoria and a little north of the equator, not too far from Uganda. In essence, I’m an international drug runner, and I don’t know a soul where I’m going. But I’ve never felt so alive in all my life!

It happened on a hike in New Mexico…

It happened on a hike in the mountains of New Mexico, the very first time we met after connecting on Rose had invited me to come to Albuquerque for the 2004 International Balloon Fiesta. I lived in Michigan at the time -1613.3 miles away. A “safe” distance, we thought. No chance of anything “happening” other than meeting a new friend.

Rose took me hiking in the mountains, and it was on one of those hikes I encountered the grace of God in the form of woman. As we were descending the mountain, I told her my story of moral failure, and my eventual spiritual healing. I was totally unprepared for the response I got from her as she stopped on the trail, turned and embraced me, and told me she saw a man transformed by the grace of God.  She says that’s when she first fell in love with me…in the midst of my “mess confession!” Imagine that!

A few weeks after our first encounter I traveled to Kenya to deliver medical supplies to an orphanage. When I arrived back in Detroit, Rose met me at the airport, and we enjoyed our second “date.”  A few weeks later Rose and I were married in New Mexico—the 3rd time we met. We recently celebrated our 7th anniversary.

There’s something about the grace of our Lord that creates a bond that is beyond our ability to explain. For Rose and me, our personal stories are a living illustration of God’s amazing grace–and our love story is the Divine punch line!

When Life Throws us…Parkinson’s

My younger brother Fred was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s. It’s devastating news…the kind of news we dread. He had noticed he was having difficulty gripping things, and he occasionally stumbled. Apparently he’s had the disease for a long time; the doctor told him his loss of smell many years ago was probably an early indicater.

I think we all imagine what it would be like to be diagnosed with a debilitating disease. I know I have. When we hear about it happening to someone else, we wonder how we would react under the same circumstances.

Parkinson’s attacks the place in the brain that produces a chemical called dopamine. Our brain relys on chemicals to function the way it is designed to function. Without dopamine, things begin to change, both physically and emotionally. Nerve cells use dopamine to help control muscle movement. Without it, a person experiences tremors and stiffness.

Dopamine also plays an integral part in our emotional state by affecting the reward center in the brain. Most of us do what we do–to some degree–in order to experience some sense of satisfaction…or reward. We enjoy the feeling that follows our accomplishments.

And to some extent, we all rely on our feelings–or emotions–to validate our “okayness.” Without emotional validation, we tend to doubt what we “know” to be true. Spiritually speaking, we have inadvertently tied our faith to our feelings. No one knows this better than a person with Parkinson’s, or with some other condition that affects the production of certain brain chemicals.

How well are we equipped to handle “feelingless faith?” Are we able to press on in our faithfulness, even when it no longer seems to make sense–from our perspective. Can we continue to trust the heart of our Father?

I invite you to share your experience. We help others best when we allow God to use our story to spur one another on in the truth.

My heart is heavy for my brother. We are asking God to lead us in this journey. We need His perspective, because our own perspective doesn’t sustain us through these times. Kinda weird I suppose, but I also believe we will all learn some important lessons as we travel this road together.

When Fred comes to you mind, will you please pray for him–and for others you may know who are also struggling–that the peace of God will saturate his entire being in a way that boggles his dopamine-challenged brain!

God Interlock…

What if we had a “God Interlock” system in our lives so we would not be able to get started with our daily activities until God has breathed Himself into us through His inspired Word!

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Francis Chan on the Balance Beam of LIFE!!

What does our life routine look like…


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