But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” [Mark 2:16-18 (NLT)]

white peacockWhile looking through the day’s photos, I came to several of a white peacock butterfly. As I enlarged the photos, I realized this butterfly had seen better days; its once beautiful wings were ragged after a run-in with some predator. Damaged goods, I didn’t think the flawed creature’s photos worth editing and began to delete them (just as I have of similarly damaged butterflies).

Broken things and damaged goods—we tend to discard them without giving them another thought. What if God deleted us because of our imperfections and defects? What if He stopped caring for us when we no longer were flawless and beautiful? It’s not lizards or hungry birds that leave their marks on us but rather things like illness and injury, loss, dysfunctional families, abuse, broken relationships, addiction, financial crises, and sin. The resulting damage is less visible; instead of tattered wings, we are marred by pain, shame, regret, rejection, disappointment, anger, apathy, loneliness and fear. Let’s face it; we all are damaged goods. Our scars may not be as obvious as the butterfly’s; nevertheless, they are there.

Rather than abandoning them, Jesus loved and forgave damaged goods: sinners and outcasts, the woman caught in adultery, the traitorous taxmen Matthew and Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, the demon-possessed, the repentant thief on the cross, the sinful woman who anointed His feet, the disciple tiger swallowtailwho denied Him, the one who doubted Him, and even the one who betrayed Him. Jesus didn’t come for the perfect; He came for the broken, damaged, and sinful. Although the butterfly’s wings will never heal, Jesus can heal the brokenness in our hearts and souls.

When I’d taken the photos, I hadn’t detected the creature’s ripped wings; it flitted about so quickly that I barely had time to focus before it flew off to another flower. It may have been damaged, but it certainly wasn’t defeated. I took another look and saw its battle scars as things of beauty. That ragged butterfly was as exquisite as any of its untouched brothers and sisters; perhaps more so, because it hadn’t allowed its tattered wings to deter it from making the most of the sunny day. Instead of hiding under a leaf feeling sorry for itself and complaining about the unfairness of life, it had been dancing in the flowers and sipping sweet nectar! If a butterfly can have purpose and fortitude, this one certainly had it! Rather than being deleted, it belonged in a butterfly hall of fame.

Now, when I come across a damaged butterfly, I’m reminded that God loves all of His beautiful children, imperfect and broken creatures that we are. No matter how flawed, He will never discard us or toss us in the trash heap! Moreover, wounded butterflies remind me never to surrender to life’s challenges. I can be battered by this world but, because God’s grace is more than sufficient, I won’t be broken. If tattered wings can carry a butterfly through the flowers, I know God can carry me through anything.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. [2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NLT)]

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Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. [Matthew 7:7-8 (NLT)]

naples doorwayThe gospels relate two stories of Jesus telling the disciples where to cast their nets and of the record catches that resulted. Jesus fed thousands with a mere basket of food, healed lepers, walked on water, gave sight to the blind, and turned water into wine. A miracle worker like that easily could fill their boats with fish without the disciples lifting a hand. As awestruck as they were by their overflowing nets, imagine their astonishment if the fish had jumped right into their boats! Nevertheless, Jesus chose to have them work for their blessing; He provided the fish but the men did the heavy lifting.

Sometimes God seems silent regarding a prayer when He’s already answered; we’ve simply missed His answer because we stopped at the asking and forgot about the rest of His promise. When asking, we often pray for an easy solution; God’s answer, however, usually involves work. We ask for a plentiful harvest but are disappointed when all we find are seeds, bags of fertilizer, a hoe and a shovel. When the bills are overwhelming, we ask for relief. He gives us overtime, a second job, or credit counseling and we wonder why He hasn’t answered us with a winning lottery ticket. We pray for recovery from the stroke but think God silent when we’re faced with hours of physical, occupational and speech therapy instead of a miraculous healing. We pray for good grades but think He’s ignored us when all we see is a tutor and more hours spent studying. We pray for sobriety but, when faced with rehab, a counselor and twelve steps to work, we don’t think He cares. We’d much prefer a God of instant solutions but most of God’s solutions come disguised as work.

The disciples wanted fish, but they had to cast their nets to get them. When the Israelites asked for food, God gave them manna but they had to go out and gather it. God tumbled down Jericho’s walls, but it was the Israelites who marched around the city thirteen times before that happened. To be healed of his leprosy, Naaman had to wash himself in the Jordan seven times and, when Jesus healed the two blind men, they’d followed him down the road and right into the house where He was staying. Those 3,000 converts on Pentecost didn’t happen by themselves—the disciples had to go out and do the preaching!

God answers our prayers with His spiritual power but that power usually has to be converted into physical power on our part. He works the miracle but, for the most part, it comes through us as we turn His promises into reality with our actions. In answer to our prayers, God gives us His wisdom in Scripture, His guidance through the Holy Spirit, and people and opportunities; what we do with those gifts is our choice. Never stop at the asking—remember to do some serious seeking and knocking, as well!

Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you. [Attributed to St. Ignatius Loyola]

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. [Thomas Alva Edison]

Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. [1 Chronicles 28:20 (NLT)]

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STORMS (Mark 5:1-18 – Part 1)

But if I am casting our demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you. For who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man like Satan and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house. [Matthew 12:28 (NLT)]

lake lpouise - canadaMark and Luke tell of Jesus and the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee to the region of the Gerasenes where they encountered a demon-possessed man. He’d been banished to live in the tombs and was so violent and strong that even shackles couldn’t restrain him. The demoniac would cut himself with sharp stones and his shrieks could be heard night and day. When Jesus restored the man, He sent the demons into a herd of swine that plunged down the steep hillside and drowned in the lake.

Just before arriving in the Gerasenes, Jesus and the disciples had departed Capernaum in clear weather to sail across the Sea of Galilee. We know Jesus wanted to get away from the crowd, but why sail to the Gerasenes? Jesus never seemed to do anything by chance and going five miles across the lake to a predominately Gentile region (one where pigs grazed) seems an odd choice for Jewish rabbi. But this is the rabbi who told of the Good Shepherd—the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to save the one lost sheep. Perhaps this trip across the lake to the Gerasenes was a shepherd’s journey to save one of his flock. When Jesus set foot in that boat in Capernaum, I think He knew exactly where He was going, what He would find there, and what He would do about it.

It seems that Jesus deliberately set out for a confrontation with the enemy and Satan did his best to deter Him. Was that squall just another unexpected violent Galilean storm or were those twenty foot waves Satan’s attempt to prevent Jesus from getting to shore and saving the lost soul waiting there? Our good shepherd will go to great lengths to save His children and not even a hurricane can stop Him! Calming the storm revealed Jesus’s divinity and His power over nature but I think it also revealed His power over the spiritual realm. The confrontation between good and evil started in a storm on the lake, long before Jesus set foot on land and sent those demons into the swine.

As Jesus was departing, the healed man begged to go with Him. Jesus, however, told him to go home to his family and tell everyone all that the Lord had done for him. That nameless once demon-possessed man became the first Gentile missionary. Throughout the Decapolis, an alliance of ten cities southeast of the Sea of Galilee, he proclaimed “the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.” [Mark 5:20] Just as he did 2,000 years ago, the enemy loves to send storms our way to discourage us from doing God’s work. Satan, however, is no match for Jesus. Our Lord wouldn’t let a storm deter Him and neither should we!

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? … No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in al creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:31,39 (NLT)]

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Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life. [Proverbs 16:31 (NLT)]

The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old. [Proverbs 20:29 (NLT)]

GrandmaGrey hair may be a crown of glory and the splendor of old age, but that’s about all the splendor and glory I see in advanced years. As my mother-in-law approaches her 102nd birthday, there is little about her quality of life that I consider glorious or splendid. Her sparkling personality, vigor and enthusiasm, along with her hearing, visual perception, ability to reason, and memory are vanishing. Occasionally a spark of her old self resurfaces but, for the most part, the essence of the woman who has been a mother to me for over fifty years has disappeared.

When I join my mother-in-law for meals at her senior residence, along with gray hair, I see plenty of stooped, shuffling, and incapacitated people. While speaking with them, rather than words of wisdom, I often hear the words of confused and failing minds. While writing about fear yesterday, I realized that, while I’m not afraid of old age, I am afraid of the infirmities that can come with it.

Fear may lie about plenty of things but he doesn’t lie when he tells me I’m getting old. The mirror, arthritis, my worsening eyesight, and my less than sharp memory tell me that every day. Fear, however, doesn’t stop at telling me I’m old. When I walk into a room and forget why I went there or fail to recall someone’s name, he whispers “dementia.” When my knees scream or my back aches, he flashes an image of an old woman hunched over a walker. If I need a magnifying glass to read directions or a small flashlight to scan a menu, he tells me it’s only a matter of time before I’m blind as a bat. Fear, however, doesn’t know what the future holds and neither do I.

My life expectancy at birth was almost 70 years of age. Having passed that milestone, I took an online test to determine my expected expiration date. Based on my zip code, marital status, and present health and weight, it’s a high probability that I’ve got twenty-five more years. Rather than finding that number reassuring, I find it terrifying. I don’t want to require help to bathe or dress and I don’t want to give up hikes through the woods or riding a bike. I don’t want there to be a time when I can’t read my Bible, remember the verses I’ve worked so hard to memorize, or do a crossword puzzle or Sudoku. I don’t want to need Depends, use a wheelchair, or forget my children’s names. I want to stay the way I am now but, short of dying today, that’s not likely to happen. Moreover, what I want doesn’t matter. Time will take its toll on all of us and, for some, that toll will be great. All we can do is take care of ourselves the best we can and trust the rest to God. As long as He gives us breath, He has a purpose for us. Our job is to live purposefully, thankfully, and joyfully all the days He’s given us.

As for my mother-in-law, in spite of her loss of vitality and mental faculties, she remains cheerful, pleasant and friendly (and she looks fabulous). Her younger tablemates tell me she’s an inspiration to them. Indeed, when I think about it, she’s an inspiration to me. She is facing the ailments and indignities that come with advanced age with faith, grace, and love. With God’s power, I can do the same. I will make the most of today, send fear packing, and let God worry about my tomorrows!

God never said that the journey would be easy, but He did say that the arrival would be worthwhile. [Max Lucado]

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. Psalm 73:26 (NLT)]

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. [2 Corinthians 4:16 (NLT)]

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I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” [2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (MSG)]

oleander - rocky mt. bee plant

I recently read about a man who can’t feel pain because of a rare neurological condition called “congenital insensitivity to pain.” As someone who often reaches for the Ibuprofen because of assorted aches and pains, this sounded like a true blessing. In actuality, as nice as never having a headache, sciatica, or feeling the sting of fire ants initially sounds, it is life-threatening. Although this man can identify whether something is warm or cool, he can’t know that the coffee is burning his tongue, the stovetop is blistering his fingers, or the subzero temperatures have given him frostbite. He won’t feel the pain in his abdomen before his appendix bursts or the tightening in his heart signaling a heart attack. He chewed off part of his tongue when just a baby and has broken over seventy bones simply because he doesn’t know how to avoid injury. With no pain to restrain them, children with this condition tend to be daredevils. Pain is what teaches us to use our bodies correctly and safely. It warns of danger by telling us when something is too hot, cold, heavy, tight, hard or sharp and alerts us when something is wrong—a muscle is torn, a bone is broken, or an infection has set in.

Not only does pain protect and correct us, it certainly gets our attention, knocks us to our knees and turns us toward God. Moreover, it offers an opportunity both for our church family to draw near and comfort us and for us to witness to others in our pain.  As much as we don’t appreciate pain, it is a blessing rather than a burden. In reality, along with thanking God for the Ibuprofen, we should be thanking Him for the pain.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. [C.S. Lewis]

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. [2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (MSG)]

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (MSG)]

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But you have followed what I teach, the way I live, my goal, faith, patience, and love. You know I never give up. [2 Timothy 3:10 (NCV)]

great egret

On Moses’ sixth ascent up Mr. Sinai, the Lord told him to bring Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders part way up the mountain with him. All of the men saw the God of Israel and ate a covenant meal in His presence. After Moses was told to come further up Sinai to receive the stone tablets, he entrusted the Israelites to Aaron and the other men who then went down to their camp.

Easily missed when reading Exodus 24 is that Moses’ assistant, Joshua, continued up the mountain with him. The two climbed a little further and made camp where they stayed for the next six days while a cloud covered the mountain. On the seventh day, God called to Moses from within the cloud and the Israelites’ leader disappeared into the mist. He wasn’t seen again for forty days. During that time, God gave Moses various instructions and commands for the Israelites. When God told him of their sacrilege and wickedness with the golden calf, Moses went back down the mountain where he met Joshua.

Although Joshua served as a sort of personal assistant or servant to Moses, there is no mention of him during those forty days. We know he couldn’t have returned to the Israelites’ camp or been with Moses; in either case, he would have known that the clamor from the encampment was that of pagan revelry and not warfare. It appears that Joshua stayed on the mountainside alone and patiently waited for Moses’ return. If I’d seen someone vanish into the mist, I’m not sure I would have lasted even four days but Joshua lasted forty. As the days wore on, did Joshua worry that Moses may have been eaten by lions or consumed by what appeared to be fire? Did he wonder how long he should wait before giving up? Waiting alone in the wilderness, did he fear for his own safety? Think of the patience and faith it took for the young man to remain there for Moses’ return.

The rest of the Israelites, however, lost both faith and patience. They all had seen the glory of the Lord like a consuming fire on Mt. Sinai’s summit and seventy-three of them had gazed on God and eaten with Him! In spite of the miracles they’d experienced, they lost faith and grew impatient. Fearing Moses wouldn’t return and wanting to set their own time frame for events, they fashioned another god to lead them.

We think of Joshua as a scout, military strategist, leader, statesman, and a man of great faith but do we ever think of him as a man of patience? Yet, the same man who waited forty days alone in the wilderness had to wait an extra forty years before setting foot in Canaan! His faith and patience, however, were rewarded when he arrived in the Promised Land.

Faith and patience go hand in hand. If we have patience, we won’t lose faith in God’s plan as did the Israelites. If we have faith, we can be patient, even when things take longer than expected, as they did for Joshua.

My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy, because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you patience. [James 1:2-3 (NCV)]

Be like those who through faith and patience will receive what God has promised. [Hebrews 6:12b (NCV)]

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