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Valley of Decision

 This morning in our FYV Fellowship Matthew study, the location of this spot came up. I sent the following email to the leaders of the group in response and thought you might be interested as well. I hadn’t listened to Gene Little’s words in awhile, but they are timely perhaps and true. I invite you to listen with ears that hear, and see what you hear? For yourself?  Blessings
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More recent visit with my editor and friend – Jerusalem

Greetings Friends,

Good to be with you this morning.

I would not be clear on where the Valley of Jehoshaphat was myself except for a personal trip I took to Israel in 2017, when my lodging host in Jerusalem in a serendipitous fashion offered to take me to some of his favorite off-the-beaten-path places. Here’s what happened as he handed me his phone when arriving at the rim of the valley at Teqoa, and said “Record what I’m about to say.” I did, and that was that! Take one, take only, on the spur of the moment, without warning, then off to see Herodium, and his favorite, lesser-visited, Jerusalem sites. :):)  After getting home I added the introductory music, photos, title and sent it back to him. Since that’s a hobby of mine. Enjoy!
https://youtu.be/8_FgqGDbpdE

https://bibleatlas.org/tekoa.htm

“For behold, in those days and at that time,
When I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem,
I will also gather all nations,
And bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
And I will enter into judgment with them there
On account of My people, My heritage Israel,
Whom they have scattered among the nations;
They have also divided up My land.” Joel 3:1-2

From The Mt of Olives across the Kidron Valley
Most likely Joel’s Valley of Jehoshaphat

Many think this prophecy about the Valley of Jehoshaphat is the same location as the Valley of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron 20:20). After looking into it, I think they are a few miles separated geographically, but maybe not that different spiritually. His blessings as you ponder… or study further… and His grace to you and yours.

Addendum

After trading emails back and forth with Alan, a men’s Bible study leader, and doing more research the following came to light.

I never knew their was a reference of the Kidron Valley also being called the “the Valley of Jehoshaphat.” That’s where the confusion or debate comes from I would guess. This started in the 300’s A.D.? The ancient Jewish sources say there was no valley by that name. Wikipedia may have it as close as anyone, with their three insights or possibilities.

[1] The judgment we discussed will likely be in the Kidron Valley, between Jerusalem’s Eastern Gate and the Mt of Olives, which Joel called “The Valley of Jehoshaphat” for some reason. Perhaps symbolically? As the LORD vanquished Jehoshaphat’s attackers in his day. Certainly that’s what Joel heard the Spirit say to write. Maybe it was known as such to people in his day, and has been lost in antiquity? There is after all, much mystery in the Word… seemingly on purpose at times! As well as, much revealed!

[2] Jehoshaphat witnessed the LORD’s promised deliverance in his day near Teqoa… about 10 miles south.

The Word is always understood better in community with illumination by the same Spirit Who breathed it. 🙂 Grace be with you all.

Therefore Immanuel

Christmas Morning Sunrise

Therefore the LORD Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son and she will call His name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

This verse hit me with unusual force this morning. The beautiful prose strikes one softly, but also hard and true. After one considers its beauty and message for just a few seconds — and its peace with its mystery — the question arises…

What’s the there for?

I’ve studied Isaiah the past two years, so I know. King Ahaz of Judah is being threatened and terrorized by threats of conquest by two dark kingdoms working together to war against him and remove him from office.

The LORD sends His prophet, Isaiah, with a message to the king and the people whose “hearts shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.” The LORD’s message is, “The enemy’s plan will not stand nor shall it come to pass.”

He also adds, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.”

“Ask a sign for yourself. Make it hard,” says the LORD to the king.

“I will not ask, nor test the LORD,” says the king back to the Lord’s prophet.

It sounds pious and wise, but it’s full of disobedience, disbelief, and really “testing” the LORD, Who instructed him to ask for a sign.

The prophet responds with, “Therefore the LORD Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will birth a son — Immanuel.”

~~~

Don’t doubt it! Believe that the LORD Himself will rise up against your enemies, and you will be spared. You will stand.

There is a coming sign recorded in the ancient texts around 700 B.C.. There was a son born to a virgin around 2-3 B.C., and we now recon time by His appearing and work.

He lives… with us … within us.

Immanuel

~~~

Isaiah 6 sets the stage for all believers — seeing the LORD, high and lifted up.

Maybe in a year or years when a godly king is gone, the government is in turmoil, and you’re learning not to trust in man, or even yourself anymore.
But “God in us — God with us — Immanuel.”

“The holy seed is in it’s stump, “says the LORD to His prophet at the end of Isaiah 6.

Isaiah 6 sets the stage.
Isaiah 7 gives the promise of help, deliverance, and power. Immanuel.
Isaiah 8 shows the outcome of the scenario.

We don’t have 2000 years of church history — but 50 years repeated 40 times. Not 4000 years of Jewish history — but 50 years repeated 80 times.

God’s judgment comes upon the culture swiftly — so much so it will catch them unaware and add to the terror and tenor of the recompense, which will appear merciless, but it was chosen by them. They forgot God to serve themselves and their idols, and thus fell into the traps and clutches of the enemy.

Yet to those of the house of faith He writes? (Isaiah 8:16)

“Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.”

And the disciples respond, “I will wait for the LORD Who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob; I will even look eagerly for Him.”

“Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, Who dwells on Mount Zion.”

“Immanuel” appearing first in Isaiah 7:14 and three times in Scriptures is a beautiful Name, a beautiful thought, and a beautiful reality. “God, the Mighty One, is with us.”

Merry Christmas!

“Immanuel” Article by Jeff Benner

Immanuel” Article by Paul Summer

Immanuel” Article by Jack Zavada

A Final Hallelujah

Of course this isn’t to be my final Hallelujah, as far as I know; but my final thoughts after a week of reflection, study, and mediation on the poem and melody of Leonard Cohen entitled simply and profoundly, Hallelujah.

Of note to me, the song is going round and round in my head in this Christmas season 2019. I’m not sure why? But it gives me joy, peace, pause, and wonder.

I’ll share with you the best article I’ve found about the song, a 2015 Newsweek article by Zach Schonfeld. It’s insightful though written primarily about the song’s musical attributes and its popularity, from a secular point of view.

Schonfeld notes, “The album on which it appeared, the murky, mid-career Various Positions, had been rejected wholesale by Columbia Records in the U.S., and when it finally was released, “the song was still generally ignored,” as Alan Light notes in his 2012 book The Holy or The Broken.

The Holy or the Broken? That’s an insightful title for a book about the song. It’s also telling that the album on which it first appeared was entitled “Various Positions” isn’t it? Since he’s Jewish, to begin with, and the song, albeit quite short, addresses simply and profoundly the issues of God, the Bible, human sexuality, the philosophy of life and one’s earth journey, admissions of struggle and failures, and yet seems to somehow point to God as the answer from start to finish. Purposely it would seem, and honestly, in a mysterious and understated way. And people definitely have “various positions” on these issues— he did apparently.

Light would go on to say, “John Cale and Jeff Buckley, then dozens and hundreds of others lifted the song out of obscurity” but it is “something more mysterious that cemented its status as a modern standard, appearing on American Idol and in synagogue services in equal measure. It has become ubiquitous. Tallying versions by Cohen and plenty of others, Light estimates “Hallelujah” has been listened to hundreds of millions of times on YouTube alone.

The Newsweek article goes on to list “60 notable recordings of it that are readily available online and ranking them from worst to best.” 🙂 Feel free. For our purposes here I’m going to list and link my two favorites at the bottom, then one in Cohen’s own voice, as well as the lyrics he settled on and a few quotes that reflect on the man.

Etymology of Hallelujah

It doesn’t seem right to leave the song without a good look at the meaning of its famous title and course. It’s a Hebrew word lifted directly from that ancient language and dropped into English, simply transliterated as “praise the LORD.”

Wikipedia adds, “In the Hebrew Bible hallelujah is actually a two-word phrase, not one word. The first part, hallelu, is the second-person imperative masculine plural form of the Hebrew verb hillel. However, “hallelujah” means more than simply “praise Jah” or “praise Yah”, as the word hallel in Hebrew means a joyous praise in song, to boast in God.

In Psalm 148:1 the Hebrew says “הללו יה halelu yah”. It then says “halelu eth-YHWH” as if using “yah” and “YHWH” interchangeably. The word “Yah” appears by itself as a divine name in poetry about 49 times in the Hebrew Bible (including halelu yah), such as in Psalm 68:4–5 “who rides upon the skies by his name Yah” and Exodus 15:2 “Yah is my strength and song”. It also often appears at the end of Israelite theophoric names such as Isaiah “yeshayah(u), Yahweh is salvation” and Jeremiah “yirmeyah(u), Yahweh is exalted”. The word hallelujah occurring in the Psalms is therefore a request for a congregation to join in praise toward God. It can be translated as “Praise Yah” or “Praise Jah, you people”.

With Cohen’s Hebrew roots and his love for poetry, there can be no doubt the word was well understood and meaningfully used with sincere intentionality. When it’s sung and heard, it seems all creation and the Creator pause with a heart smile to take note. The best is yet to be.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6)

Hallelujah הללויה

Hallelujah – Pentatonix
Regina Spektor
Leonard Cohen
Hallelujah Lyrics

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”

Leonard Cohen

“Hallelujah” Summary

Oddly, the summary I’m going to share is from the notes I wrote in one sitting after reading the lyrics before beginning all the meditation.

Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen is:
A hauntingly beautiful melody
Introducing
A true confession.
A humble confession.
To all mankind
From a fellow, broken pilgrim
About a hidden God.

Whose love is an
Open Secret.

Too holy and too precious to
Be passed flippantly around.
But for the hungry, humble heart
There to be found.

All of this
Given by the God of Grace
To His broken vessel.

It’s the only kind He has.
…But he who falls on this Rock
Will be broken. (Matt 21:44)

Cohen seemed to struggle by himself…
To know the Maker, Creator,
Sustainer of All.

All the verses from Cohen’s
Cutting room floor (80 or more)
Would bear this out.

A struggle largely unfulfilled
But grasped at
To find the One Who
Put eternity in our hearts.

Love is not a victory march,
Rather it’s hard fought.

Perhaps a priest at the end?
A Cohen at last?

Like Sampson fulfilling the purposes
Of God for his life,
After a mighty struggle marked with
Many failings.

His song leaves us to decide if it is a
Holy or Broken Hallelujah?
And also to ponder the difference .

With a victorious note at the end
He acknowledges the futility of
Being one’s own king.

The many heartbreaks, disillusions,
And disappointments of a life
Without faith.

Yet one senses at the end
A possible “Return of the Prodigal” (Luke 15:11)
Or at least an acknowledgment
Of a glimmer of faith
In the Father, the Name, the beautiful Light —

The Lord of Song

Hallelujah

The Star of Bethlehem by Rick Larson
Cloverton’s Christmas Hallelujah
Hallelujah – Pentatonix

Christmas Hallelujah

Part Two of Two

Then a summary of the priest’s life comes in the last verse, along with his final confession. You may ask, “Why did you call Cohen a priest?”

The name Cohen in Hebrew denotes a priest. To be a priest may have been a call on his life or his job description from the Lord? His destiny? To make God known to the people and to pronounce forgiveness, restoring relationships between God and men. It is a high calling.

Yet the calling is not that different from that of David or Sampson or any of us. To know God and make him known, in the time and place God plants us. (Acts 17:22-32)

All He requests from us is an invitation to let him tabernacle within us. (Revelation 3:20 and Isaiah 66:1-2) To be His image bearers again and anew. Then we have this treasure in earthen vessels. (II Cor 4:7) And let him be the light that dwells in us and shines through the brokenness of our lives, bringing healing to us and all who behold it.

As someone has accurately said, “No one can go back and make a new start my friend. But anyone can start from now, and make a brand new end.”

Whether Cohen made a brand new start or came to know the Light or made peace with the Light is unknown. That is a mystery known only to God, like so many others. But the summary of his life in his song and his final confession in verse four gives me hope that he did.

It’s a humble confession and one that finishes strong!

“I did my best, it wasn’t much. I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch. I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you. And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song, with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.”

It’s almost as if he said, “I tried to live life on my own and figure out God on my own. I wasn’t successful, and I’ve told you as much. In fact I failed and it all went wrong.”

Then there is the blazing, strong confession at the end. Sort of like Job’s confession when he said, “I know that my Redeemer lives and He will stand at last on the earth.” (Job 19:25-27) Cohen says. “I’ll stand before the Lord of Song.” There will be a reckoning with the Almighty which he gently, and beautifully addresses as “the Lord of Song,” since he is a musician, but one senses he knows Him to be Lord of All.

“With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.”

“God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few.” (Ecc 5:2)

Then follows the ending, the gentle, powerful refrain; not twice this time but four times, followed by a single, “Hallelujah”—“Glory to the Lord,” as Cohen defined it.”

My dad was a wildlife officer for forty years, also an accomplished hunter, naturalist, outdoorsman, trapper, and explorer. He was at home in the woods, and the deeper the better. If he came across a wet sandy spot, a mud hole, or any watering hole; he could tell you every animal that had been by the place and about how long ago.

I’m at home in the spiritual woods and feel with some degree of accuracy I can see someone’s spiritual tracks and identify them. Jesus said, “You shall know them by their fruit.” And Solomon said, “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters, but a man of understanding will draw them out.”

Leonard Cohen’s spiritual foot prints are complex and a little confusing, but telling.

As many people find his song depressing as find it hopeful. Many wonder how these words could have been written by a man of faith, yet with such admitted failure and questionable fruit in his life. Many see echoes of the thief on the cross, and an epiphany in his life.

It’s plain to any biblically-knowledgeable person, Cohen knew his Bible and had perhaps seen some deeper things about the Lord; as well as the end of life for every human being.

The Preacher says, “God has placed eternity in the human heart.”

Leonard Cohen gave voice and words to that reality. And it’s a voice and reality we humans recognize, whether we understand it or not.

It’s baffling to some and beautiful to others. It’s a mystery, like something God would do or say — a parable of Jesus or an instruction from the throne of God to the prophet Isaiah as recorded in Isaiah chapter 6.

The fact that Cohen recognized that about God and wrote like this is telling within itself. It’s evidence that he knew something of the understated ways and purposes of God.

Most telling for me is that at the end, he seems to throw himself, all that he is, on the mercy of God. And that my friend is the only safe and worthwhile place to throw oneself.

“I beseech you…by the mercies of God” writes Paul the first century Jew and Christian.

Covering the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle of Israel, there rested the all important “mercy seat “over the law, the manna and the rod of Aaron that budded. The very presence of God with man. Emmanuel.

Yes, Leonard Cohen’s life is a mystery of sorts, especially his spirituality and standing before God. It is. Maybe it is so for a reason. His life is like his song.

But I sense strongly that God loved Leonard Cohen, even has he ran away from Him. And journeyed far away from Him. In His merciful and all-seeing eyes He found something good in Cohen’s heart towards God.

God gifted him with this melody, I believe, and helped him pen these words. A modern parable of the kingdom of God perhaps. Something a priest can tell the people who want to know, about God. Millions and millions of people. Let him who has ears to hear, hear.

Thank you Leonard Cohen for painting your real life picture in song, a picture of us all, before God. Perhaps the strongest picture since Jesus painted with words the prodigal son and the incredible father in the trilogy of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coins, and the Lost Son. (Luke 15)

Hallelujah

The Star of Bethlehem by Rick Larson
Cloverton’s Christmas Hallelujah
Hallelujah – Pentatonix

Hallelujah Christmas

Part One of Two

The Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah” has really captured me for some reason in this Christmas season 2019. I’ve read about it and listened to several versions, my current favorite by Pentatonix, but including the Christmas version by Cloverton. I’ve printed the lyrics, meditated on them, and journaled about what I’ve seen for several days.

It seems it may be related to the verse we used on our Christmas cards this year, Isaiah 9:2. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Seems like I’ve been led to focus more on the broken hallelujah, and a house swept clean? How did we get where we are? Do we stay here? Or journey on in His love, power, presence, and grace? Celebrating Christ and Christmas? Immanuel? God with us?

On the same day I journaled those thoughts, December 10, I also journaled this quote from Bob Goff from his devotional calendar.

“Following Jesus is about having your paradigms shift as you navigate a wide range of emotions while living the big life Jesus invites us into.”

These thoughts seem like a fitting prelude or introduction to:

Hallelujah

(Song & Lyrics by Leonard Cohen 1934-2016)

I really see this song as a modern day parable or poem set to hauntingly-beautiful music that affects the human spirit immediately and demands attention — then politely gives the hearer the opportunity to hear no more if they wish. “But you don’t really care for music do you?”

Still it invites and draws the hearer immediately onward into a room of questions about life’s meaning with its successes and failures. Also the activity of the Holy with the continuing questions that arise from all of this.

Then follows the beautiful, one-word course so prevalent in King David’s collections of songs, “Hallelujah.”

The story gets stronger in the second verse as Cohen struggles with faith and reason— the supernatural meets the natural — the material meets the Eternal.

Immediately follows sexual temptation and seduction; the giving away of one ’s strength, destiny, and calling for one of this worlds’s greatest natural pleasures — but not according to God’s plan or ways. And the admission of this failure.

Here, one surely sees this is personal. This is autobiographical. This is too close, too intimate, too heartfelt not to be. We all feel it. We all know it. We all have experienced it in some shape form or fashion, with the sense of failure it brings. The sense of loss. The sense of shame.

What else touches us so deeply and personally in our earth journey as our sexuality? Common and mysterious as it is.

Then comes and follows immediately the hauntingly beautiful refrain; the one word course in Hebrew…”Hallelujah… Hallelujah”… Soft… Sweet… Soothing… Truthful… Honest… Real.

A word lifted unchanged from the ancient Hebrew language and placed into almost every language of the world; unaltered. A word not threatening, not objectionable, but soothing, peaceful, true. It seems easy on the lips, the ears, the heart — something our spirits find whole, good, true — even transcendent, and readily acceptable.

The third verse takes us back to life on earth. There comes more accusations from the enemy of our souls and those he influences and controls. And the human need we feel to defend ourselves, if we’re living in our own strength and not trusting God for our defense, our deliverance, our salvation.

But didn’t Cohen capture how we feel? And in so few words? If we’re honest and vulnerable about it. Like he is.

“You say I took the name in vain, I don’t even know the name, but if I did, well, really—what’s it to you?”

In this humble, honest confession we can all empathize. We don’t really know Him like we’d like to. And can He be known really? It’s personal—very personal. So “what’s it to you?”

Yet one senses Cohen has known the Name in some measure, and that has affected him deeply. His brilliant, deep-cutting insights into David and Sampson betray that fact, as does his next words in verse three.

“There is a blaze of light in and every word, it doesn’t matter what you’ve heard, the holy or the broken hallelujah.”

Ah ha! There it is. Did you catch it? “The holy or the broken hallelujah.”

There may be two kinds of hallelujah? But I think really only one, as far as humans are concerned. The broken variety. Or, if you can see it, by his power and demonstrated goodwill in sending Jesus and the Holy Spirit, a broken hallelujah restored, and set apart, which is the meaning of “holy.”.

But, “it doesn’t matter which you’ve heard” “the holy or the broken hallelujah,” “there’s a blaze of light in every word.” (John 1)

I want to pause here a moment to consider the broken. Because CR (Celebrate Recovery) comes to mind as the clearest picture of this “broken hallelujah” in my realm today, and thus far in my human journey, and I believe in the community of faith called the church.

A broken vessel is required really to let the light in; and then once it’s held within to let the blaze of light out. To be seen by others, beckoning them to come to the Light and experience the Light for themselves.

So we’re challenged to recall our knowledge of the Holy or our ignorance of the Same, and give credence to the Light we’ve seen in creation, the Word, or others around us. However it has been observed, “it doesn’t matter which you heard. The holy or the broken hallelujah.”

That soothing, that real, that transcendent hallelujah comes softly in the refrain. “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.”

… To Be Continued…

The Star of Bethlehem by Rick Larson
Cloverton’s Christmas Hallelujah
Hallelujah – Pentatonix

Book Club 2020

Along with four good men and good friends, we’re starting a book club for the new year. Its main purpose is to meet initially twice a month and share lives while encouraging each other in our own spiritual lives to seek the Lord.

The name 2020 is two fold in its meaning. Of course it’s the Year of Our Lord 2020 A.D. And it’s about vision, 20/20, seeing things clearly, from God’s perspective, as He shares with us, in and about our day and times.

We’ve begun our introductory meetings and an introductory book this month to get established. And I’ll include an ever-expanding list of books that have come to our attention as possible good reads below.

While good books will serve as a catalyst for discussion and vision, the main purpose of our group is friendship, listening, speaking and praying into one another’s lives. May I humbly suggest you find a few friends, and do something similar this year, and soon.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Pursuit of God

Beautiful Outlaw

The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness

Holy Sexuality and the Gospel

Waking the Dead

Fearless

Out of a Far Country

The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings

Scattered Servants: Unleashing the Church

Hell: A Final Word

Grace Works

In the media arena let me also list a few videos or movies we might consider watching together soon.

The Star of Bethlehem

Hell And Mr. Fudge

Patterns of Evidence: Exodus


Finishing Strong…Like a Child

Finishing Strong!

As I’ve entered the so-called retirement years, this phrase has come to me several times, and at times has become my mantra for trying to plan or order my life, especially spiritually, which is to me the most important, meaningful, and rewarding field of endeavor. “Finishing well” is another phrase  I’ve heard kicked around by my peers trying to express the same goal or thought. 

Canoeing the Buffalo River with Friends Spring 2019

In one sense it sounds right. And I’m sure there is some merit to it, in the sense of focus. One must stay focused on the most important target if he or she is to have any chance of hitting it.

But even the phrases “finishing strong” or “finishing well” seem for me today in some early morning moments of clarity to bely pride in me. Like I can do something significant for the Lord, or that He needs me.

Let’s be clear, and honest. He doesn’t.

Now He may want something from us, or enjoy it when we are walking in truth and healthy relationships. We’ll perhaps get to that later or another time. But He doesn’t need us. He tells us many times in Scripture He’s quite Self sufficient, Other from His creation and created beings, Whole and happy and content within Himself.

Several verses of Scripture and thoughts flood my mind to support those thoughts. But at the top of the list is Isaiah 66:1-2. 

Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,” Says the Lord. “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” (Isaiah 66:1–2, NKJV)

These are among the last words recorded of Isaiah, perhaps the greatest Hebrew prophet, certainly the greatest writing prophet. From the last chapter of his amazing book and life in a rather dark time for Israel and Judah, 700 years before Christ and the New Testament. It was a time of idolatry, spiritual blindness and apostasy in God’s people. It was a time marked by unhealthy relationships with their God and with each other. Sound familiar or pertinent?

Sure it does! If you have any spiritual sight or senses left. If you compare the mores of our culture to those that please the Creator from His Word and those of the USA today. It’s cause for alarm, and perhaps panic, if you have any sense from human history of what follows when this situation exists in a nation or among nations.

The American way, the humanistic way, is to start trying to fix it! Let’s analyze how we got here, or maybe just analyze the problems and tackle them until we fix them. It sounds so right, and it’s who we are and what we do, isn’t it?

But this trait can also show us who we’ve become. Man trying to be like God, or believing he is like God? This is a simple definition of secular humanism, perhaps the oldest religion, originating in the garden. 

“… in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” (Genesis 3:5, NKJV)

Humanism is subtle and it is a part of who we are from creation. God’s people are to be humans but not secular humanist, saying “We have no need of Him,” or like a two year old, “I can do it by myself!” These are lies; substantiated in the Bible and in human history. We do need Him. It was and is always a part of His plan for us. To come to some maturity, yes, but to always need Him, trust Him, and be in relationship with Him.

We are created in His image, but we are not like Him. He is totally Other. He’s the God of all He created and we are not.

One of my favorite and most important spiritual mentors, Charles Simpson, recently said,  “They tell us now there are about one hundred billion galaxies, containing about one hundred billion stars each. I don’t know who counted them? And isn’t it like human beings, we discover something, and we act like we made it. “ Telling isn’t it?

I also had the privilege and honor of visiting with Charles for a couple days recently with three other brothers, for friendship, fellowship, and spiritual counsel. In a private time with him, I mentioned this thought of “finishing strong.” He quickly said something like, “I’ve never preached a sermon on it or thought much about it.” That’s telling. About me.

And it brings me back to how I should be living, and my focus, in this chapter and maybe all chapters of my life? Not like I have to fix big cultural or church problems, or do something significant for God?

Compare the lie giving birth to secular humanism in the garden to what David said in the Psalms. 

O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.” (Psalm 131:1–2, NASB95)

This was “a man after God’s own heart” who “accomplished God’s purposes in his generation.” He was also Israel’s greatest king, save One.

And that King, would say that becoming like a little child would be very important. Little children are very trusting, and learning, and humble, and know they have needs. They also know the relationship with the people who gave them life and care for them is precious and most important.  So then, the way up appears down. Perhaps living life and seeing life from the height of a bended knee? Or like a little child?

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1–4, NASB95)

To be continued…

I think I’ll go outside and play!


Honduras 2019

I just returned from a week long trip to Honduras, Jan 16-23, with friends from Louisiana, Colorado, and California. There were eleven of us, 7 men and 4 women. The bulk of the team and it’s leadership was from the West Monroe, Louisiana, area. Our intentions were to teach a group of 20-30 village pastors from the surrounding mountains from the Bible and a book, “The School of Obedience,” by Andrew Murray, as requested by their pastor and leader, Dairo Deluca, in a two day conference at a remote mission house in the mountains. We also came to preach the gospel, pray for the sick, visit a prison to share the Gospel and distribute some needed supplies, then visit two villages with preaching, teaching, prayer, music, large boxes of food for families, and toys for the children.

It was a very enjoyable, successful, rewarding trip on many fronts. Unexpectedly in degree, because I’ve been to Honduras seven times now in the past five years, and five times with this team. I can’t really put my finger on the reason, but these trips seem to get more and more special and intriguing.

I continue to be amazed and impressed with what God is doing in this country and with these people. The people impress me too, with their humility, hospitality, transparency, and simple joy in living.

Honduras is in Central America about a three hour flight south from Houston. It’ s the second largest country in CA, slightly larger than Tennessee, beautiful, mostly mountainous, with both a Caribbean and Pacific coast. According to Operation World, Honduras is “one of the Western hemisphere’s poorest countries,” with “widespread unemployment, low wages, and long lasting devastation from  Hurricane Mitch (1998)”… making it a country of great need.“ Thirty-seven percent of the population is under fifteen years old.” So there are lots of needs and opportunities to serve children in Honduras.

Operation World further reports that “Honduras has experienced five decades of evangelical growth. In 1960, evangelicals numbered 32,000 and were 1.7% of the population. They are now 1,750,000 and 23%, and growth shows little sign of stopping. Some polls show that up to 36% of the population identify with evangelical beliefs.” Local pastor Dario tells us more recent statistics show the number to be 45%. These statistics make me believe God’s heart and ear is turned to the people there, and the people are responding.

This infusion of truth from the Gospel and the resultant teaching of truth from the Bible, along with God’s love,  will transform this country, as it will any country and has historically, from the inside out.

The attractive lady sitting next to me on the airplane on the trip down was from Austin, TX, and had been to Honduras several times. She was traveling alone this time to spend two weeks at an orphanage where her purpose was to “refresh the workers, and love on the kids.” There were also several small groups on the plane wearing Christian t-shirts coming to serve. This has been the case every time I’ve come here. Maybe you’ve not heard about this on CNN. 🙂

Each year this group breaks up the long van ride back to the airport by stopping for rest and reflection for the night at the seaside city of Tela. Besides swimming, walking the beach, reading with the sounds of the surf, and enjoying some good food; the team meets and shares with each other their defining moment or moments of the trip. Let me end this post by sharing mine from my journal. Other reflections will follow in future blogs, I’m sure.

“The first thing that comes to mind is the twilight at Los Enquentros two nights ago. A sizable group of women walking down the road with heavy boxes of rice on their heads. I know that may sound strange for a defining moment but it just hit me: [1] The beauty of it [2] How other worldly it seemed and surreal [3] How happy they were with the gifts and to see their children happy and amused with toys [4] The joyful children [5] The curious attention they all paid to Mario while he preached his heart out minutes earlier [6] No idea what their thoughts were? [7] But we were in a village in the mountains of Honduras, preaching the gospel, praying for the sick, feeding the poor, loving on children and their parents [8] Are you kidding me? [9] Topped off by six boxes of rice being tossed back in Dario’s truck as we drove away with six grown women running like school girls, laughing and climbing in the back of the moving pickup with three men from the US — a truck that died on the bridge, then twice more in a short distance, before stopping to let them out as they unloaded the rice themselves before we could help — in front of their homes on the main gravel road, in the early evening darkness, right in front of two soldiers in starched fatigues with automatic rifles standing in the middle of the road. You can’t make this stuff up! The end.”

“The need, the joy, the love, the strangeness of the encounters, the leading and provision of the Lord. How the Spirit had us each doing our own thing but completely a team — comfortable and glad to serve and depend on each other. 🙂 How beautifully peaceful it all seemed. The end, again.”

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“How priceless is Your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. They feast on the abundance of Your house; you give them drink from Your river of delights.” Psalms 36:7-8

A Champion, Prophet, Friend

On the eve of tonight’s national championship game, my mind turns to another champion. A friend of mine that has been on my mind and heart all week.

In Memory of a Prophet, Priest, and Friend
Justin Blasingame
1957-2017

“Justin Guy Blasingame, 59, of Alma passed away June 15, 2017, in Montana.…”

So starts the obituary of one of my very best friends who continued his eternal life into the next realm about one year ago while on a mission trip to an Indian reservation in Montana.

This year I went to the same place to honor Justin and commemorate his life of friendship and service to the King. In my journal for July 31st I wrote, “I’m going today to Zortman, MT, and the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation where Justin died about one year ago — for six days of spiritual focus — and prayer — asking and listening — and serving the people there — some who know You and most who do not. Lord have mercy. A prayer. Amen.”

Later I wrote, “I’m going to Montana also, maybe foremost, to honor Justin and pray for what was important to him and in a small measure carry on his work … And to thank God for the privilege of having such a friend. :):)”

Daily during my time to prayer walk, and at times in between, I would walk up a nearby mountain overlooking our camp and the Rocky Boy reservation praying for Justin’s family by name, and for the people he had come to serve.

One day while picking up trash I stopped to visit with Bethany, one of our volunteer youth leaders, who remarked with her big heart and beautiful smile, “Justin is the reason we’re all here, really.” I knew that’s why I was there, but her statement was true and impacted me.

Later in camp I was telling pastor, PhD candidate, John from Georgia about the Bethany conversation, and repeated the thought coming to me at that very moment, “Like Sampson, perhaps, Justin may have accomplished more in his death than he did in his life.” John and Nolan nodded a hardy “Amen” as they wandered off to their next task.

While I don’t really see how that could be true considering what I knew and valued about Justin’s life. And considering the big crowds at his home going services. And all the people coming up to his spiritual, faithful, beautiful wife Flora, telling her of a time when Justin came up to them and spoke a word of prophecy or encouragement over them that so impacted their lives that they never forgot it. I suppose it could be true in the sense that “more” can mean “in addition to.”

And of course anything is possible with God! We know from Scripture that “little is much, when God is in it.” And “don’t despise the day of small beginnings.”

Rest in peace dear friend Justin. And I mean “rest” in the new way I’ve seen it lately. Like God rested on the seventh day after six days of creation — not because He was tired or needed rest, but because He was finished. Or like Jesus last words on the cross,, “It is finished.” His supremely important work of redemption was finished for all who believe, with Jesus’ last words and with His sacrifice.

Godspeed and joy to your family Justin, those who continue in the gift of earth life and living. May the Lord lift up His countenance on them and be gracious to them. May He turn His face toward them and give them peace. Amen.

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“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.” Hebrews 4:9-16(KJV)

“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’” Matthew 25:21-23 (NKJV)