“It’s the most wonderful time of the year! With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you “Be of good cheer!” It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

No doubt for many folks Andy William’s hap-hap-happy Christmas crooning about good cheer, caroling, marshmallows, mistletoe, hearts a-glowing, and when loved ones are near… is truer than true! But, alas, sometimes it’s not as hap-hap-happy as it could, or somehow should be, right?

For many, more than ever actually, Christmas is about a “holiday spike” in the daily struggle to live in the tension, the in-between place, of the crush of despair and the crèche of hope.

There’s Hope… And Lots of It!
There’s a built-in paradox, a tension, buried deep within (the universe and) the heart of Christmas. It’s at the heart of why Jesus Christ took the unspeakably loving and sacrificial steps to leave the timeless and harmonious realms of the Trinity to be “illegitimately born” to peasant family, from a backwater town called Nazareth, and on the run for His life until He was finally flogged to pieces and crucified by the very people who preached the predictions of His coming… to save them!

The “redemptive paradox” I’m referring to can be seen in many, many ways throughout the Bible, but, for the purposes of this Training Table fare, I would beseech those gathered who are running the good race (Hebrews 12:1) to consider one of the most important aspects of what Jesus came to do… or, equally as important, came NOT to do:

“(Jesus said) Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’ (Micah 7:6).

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).

That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Finally, someone who’s willing to pull the curtain back on what Christmas is REALLY like for lots of folks, right?!

But, “Wait just a minute now! This is pretty radical.” you say? Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace, Mercy Mild, little children all cozied-up on His lap, baby bah-bah, furry little lambs bleating at His feet, the palsy-walsy guy who just loves us up… no matter what. THAT Jesus is said to be quoted as promoting such abysmal family discord, cross-bearing, ready-to-die loyalty, and bloodied self-loosing/self-discovering sacrifice?!

Geez, how about this for getting one’s noggin whiplashed worse than Aunt Thelma’s “Christmas Stars Eggnog”—one part nog and three parts Kentucky Bourbon?!

Got Peace? True, Deep, Unassailable Peace?
Whether we describe ourselves people of faith or not, we can all exist somewhere in this “in-between space” I referred to above: somewhere between the crush of despair and the crèche of hope. We may have a big brokenness OR a hint of a hurt sequestered away within our heart. And we may have a waxing and waning assurance of everlasting hope OR a constant feeling of desperation and hopelessness. But living somewhere along the spectrum of “the space in between despair and hope” is not conducive to an abiding peace, is it?

Be at Peace! Or, put another way, do not worry—which is exactly what The Babe Born in Bethlehem said at the end of His most replete and famous address, The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25)!

There is a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:4-7) in the paradox. And Jesus, in everything that He was about, lovingly and forthrightly sought to use the Sword of Truth to cut through the fog and polarize our hearts—so humankind could distinguish between having a sort of false peace… apart from Him… or completely at peace being devoted to Him. There is a vast gulf fixed between these two sorts of “peace”. And God loves each of us so much He will not leave us wondering why our hearts may be aching so—in small or large ways!

Devoid of Jesus’ polarization of the heart (and the emotions and actions associated with our core beliefs), we will live lives akin to standing in line everyday for the “Magic Mountain Emotional Ambivalence Thriller-Killer”: Not simply the scariest rollercoaster imaginable, but a ride that is an absolute killer of the heart. The heart: Jesus made it; He desires to save, purify, and inspire it for service.

But we have to say “ENOUGH!”, “get out of the line”, admit we need help, contact a faithful friend, and look more deeply into His claims. We cannot allow pride or any illusions about being in control of our life to leave us looking like Edvard Munch’s, The Scream … deep down inside our heart.

All “Peace”… Is Not True Peace!
Our hearts are such that we can make a pact with “the peace of the world, our sinful habits, or the ways of the devil”. This is the sort of peace that is at war within, and destroys everything in its path!

It’s the “peace at any price” that dares not intervene (or polarize) when marriages and families are being destroyed by generational dysfunction and deeply rooted co-dependencies (Matthew 10:234-39); a “self-centered peace” that enables narcissism at the cost of millions of anonymous children who dare to end the peace by screaming for help (Psalm 127:3-5); an “uninterrupted noisy peace” of techno-clutter that drowns out the din of a desperate plea for calming of the heart (Psalm 46:10); an “it’s the economy stupid peace” that allows for the destruction of a civilization in return for a rusted and moth-eaten security (Matthew 6:19); a “truth-supplanting peace” wrapped in expediency and political correctness, and resulting in a countless loss of life (Romans 1:18-32).

The Deeper Peace in the Paradox? It’s About Ascendancy, Identity, and Priority.
The peace that Jesus was born for, died for, and resurrected for—and He desires more than anything that we partake in it… as well as being part and parcel of the tapestry of the completed, “Shalom Peace” which will occur when He returns to make all things new (Revelation 21)—is three-fold: Ascendancy, Identity, and Priority.

Peace unsurpassed… is the peace that Jesus is advocating for in the polarizing passage above (Matthew 10:34-39). When anyone loves someone else enough, we too will take on the tough task of helping them polarize their thinking. There is no long-lasting peace without going through the pain involved in polarizing our core beliefs, emotional ambivalences, and choices to live a better life.

There’s only one sort of peace our hearts are made for: Not just a piece, but the whole! Jesus’ use of some attention-grabbing hyperbole about family and the real cost of discipleship is meant to help us realize that when we love anything more than Him—even or especially something good—our hearts will never, ever experience the sort of peace HE wants so much to provide… that He was born, crucified, and resurrected… for you and me (See also: Mark 9:42-50; Luke 14:26).

Please enjoy the foundational Bible passages below—about God and His children—that Jesus wants you and me to know… BY HEART, IN TRUE PEACE!

Please get in touch with and listen carefully to your emotions as they are the best indicator of “what’s upstream”: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me—(so that I will seek to love You more than anything)” (Psalm 51:10—parenthesis added).

God’s Ascendancy
“In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1).

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 4:31).

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…” (Psalm 46:1-2).

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 14:17).

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).

Our Identity
“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139).

“Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Our Priority
“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12).

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16).

See you back at The Training Table on December 25th for a special Christmas Night Banquet, “True Grace in the Extreme—For Serving on the Extremities”.

May God richly bless you with surpassing peace,
JohnDoz

Welcome back to the table! Exhausted yet excited by “running the good race” (Hebrews 12:1)? Praise God if you’re “feeling the burn”, yet joyous in the spirit from fighting the good fight, and hungry for some replenishing fare!

Let’s get the ingredients straight before we enjoy a feast of the heart together today: When we consider “The Hymn of a Hungry Heart” the first thing that may come to mind in regards to “hymns” is a classic, “high and lofty” piece of music akin to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, “Amazing Grace”, or “Rock of Ages”. Perhaps the remembrance comes with all the trimmings like stained glass, a pipe organ, “your pew”, vestments, a blue or red hymnal quickly thumbed through to find the correct page… and perhaps, for some of us, the faint scent of incense wafting in the somewhat stilted air.

I would like to offer another, broader, yet deeper definition of the word “hymn” for your consideration, “a song or ode in praise or honor of a god, a deity, a nation, a belief, etc.”

You see, we lift up our voices (“the outflow of the heart”—Luke 6:45) in adoration to lots of things don’t we? In fact, I would go so far as to say that when we sing most songs, we’re unwittingly “lifting our voice in praise” to words, ideas, ideologies that we’re not even aware of. Just consider the sights and sounds of non-stop shopping… the grand irony… AND the faint harmony well in the background of the credit card carnage, “Come unto Him, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (The Messiah Hymn, Part One).

Listen to the hymn, “the heavy yoke made light in the perfect gift”… was born on Christmas day!

Or, put it this way, when we take a closer look, we can be surprised sometimes about what we’re “singing praises to”, right? But our hearts are surely aware of what ideas we might be “sifting through the grid of our faith”… without our being aware of it! Spiritually speaking, “we are what we give honor and praise to”. More in a bite…

Now, a “Hungry Heart” may be more obvious, but, for the sake of a plumb line, please consider a definition like, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord” (Augustine, “Confessions”, Book One, Chapter One). Or perhaps, “Our hearts are hungry… famished… empty… fear-full… alone until…”. We could go on for a long time, could we not? The heart of EveryMan is created with a hunger… for something. Every heart has an appetite for something. But is it praise-worthy?

Perhaps you have heard another offering by one of history’s most brilliant men, the famous philosopher and mathematician Pascal (1623-1662) as he wrote (likely inspired by God, Augustine, and state of his own faith journey) in his Pensees, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a True Happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This man tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God Himself.”

Now, for me anyway, that’s an expression of a “hunger of reason, self-awareness and need… as glorious as a hymn”! But that’s just me. How about you?

The Two Categories of Hymns
Before we take a moment to consider a few “HOLY hymns of a hungry heart”, allow me to serve up another morsel to chew on: I believe that the two categories for “hymns of a hungry heart” are, a) “the hymns that satisfy, appease, and assuage the hunger” and, b) “the hymns that exacerbate, vex, and worsen the hunger”.

For the sake of brevity, allow me to offer two “hymns” (one song, one poem) that comes to mind in “Category A”. You might be familiar with them: “My Way”, by Frank Sinatra. The lyrics are well worth the read, but allow me to offer the first two stanza’s:

“And now, the end is near,
And so I face the final curtain.
My friends, I’ll say it clear;
I’ll state my case of which I’m certain.

I’ve lived a life that’s full –
I’ve travelled each and every highway.
And more, much more than this,
I did it myyyyy waaaay!

Can’t you just hear Frank’s melodious crooning… of self-satisfied stoicism, a declaration of “freedom” and no regrets of any sort… And, at least for me, by the time you reach the song’s final crescendo of an immutable “My Way or the Highway”, a sense of stark loneliness in the crowd of fellow MyWayers comes to mind.

The poem I’m thinking of is a hymn to a similar god of pride, “Invictus”, by William Henley. Check out the entire poem. Following is the final stanza that you might be familiar with:

“I Am The Captain Of My Soul!
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul!”

Yes, much the same as the fist of the devout atheist Friedrich Nietzsche, raised at God as he lay gasping on his deathbed. It gives one pause, does it not?

So, “Category A” is comprised of hymns to self. Honestly, incessant hymns to self will only harden the heart and leave one with hunger pangs galore! Please understand, the deeper issue is NOT “singing praises to or about bad things”, but rather it’s “singing praises to making good things… only things”! Sex, drugs (for healing), rock and roll… guns, family, money, power, status… can all be seen as good.

So, imagine all the “hymns” to these GOOD things which have been transformed into ONLY things, and you have a list of what is in “Category A”: Hymns of praise to an idol—that demands of us just as much as God, but is utterly devoid of His manifold mercies. It’s a long list. It’s self-serving. It’s the “musical fare of many hearts”. And yet “hymns” none the less: Words matter. The pen is indeed much mightier than the sword.

Spending Precious Moments in “Category B”
Christian, in general I would place every “hymn of the born-again and hungry heart” in three (oft times over-lapping) categories: The BIRTH, the DEATH, and the RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ. (And, if not directly about Jesus, it’s a mere vestige of what each of these three categories consist of for the life of any author!)

Please consider just a few. And I would WHOLE-HEARTEDLY encourage you to download the music and the lyrics for these and other sorts of hymns.

There are more “hymns” raised to the glory of God than any other category of music. My Dad was an avid banjo player. He loved a great melody and the carefully crafted lyrics that tell stories of all sorts. I was extremely blessed to be raised in a home of music, and the classic melodies of the 30’s and 40’s. I lived in the heyday of the 60’s and had many life-time experiences of being present when the greatest bands of that era came… and went.

I tell you this to relate how impossible it is to just offer just a few titles below. There are thousands of worthy hymns raised to the glory of God!

Please take some time in this and every season to revitalize your heart (the core beliefs of your faith) by allowing “The Hymns of a Born-Again and Hungry Heart” to do their work: To sustain, to transform it to the glory of God and the blessings of His people—to serve, for the main duties and details of our Belief, our Obedience, and our Love of God and neighbor.

Jesus’ Birth

  • For Unto Us A Child Is Born, J. S. Bach, Messiah
  • It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Edmund Sears
  • I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Casting Crowns

Jesus’ Death

  • When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Isaac Watts
  • Jesus Freak, Newsboys
  • By His Wounds, Brian Littrell, Mac Powell, mark Hall, Steven Curtis Chapman

Jesus’ Resurrection

  • It Is Well with My Soul, Horatio G. Spafford
  • A On Mission, Carriers of the Cross, Against the Grain
  • See What A Morning Brings, Apostle’s Creed

Perhaps you have some favorites in all/all of the above “Category B” hymns. Please do share.

Until we ‘sup again, may God richly bless you and yours. Be sure to be ready to pull up a chair next week when we’ll consider, “The Tension of the Crush and the Crèche”.

JohnDoz

It may occur to you that this has to be either an offering from a “consonance addict” who comes up with the best sounding words first and then shoehorns a meaning into them; or, it’s a “Which One Doesn’t Fit” game (which one?); or it’s a really weird acronym that could fill the reader with all the hope a human being could ever ask for! We shall see…

As we’re accustomed to at The Training Table, this meal has all the ingredients necessary to “run the good race” (Hebrews 12:1): meaty protein, slow-burning carbs, cleansing roughage, refreshing spring water, carefully chosen spices to keep us awake and aware, and a community of fellow marathoners. Yum!!

The Full Meal Deal… In Every Season: Celebrate The Reason!
Even though this meal warrants many courses to flesh out all of the marvelous truths therein, please (ten-fold) take some time to fully digest how redeeming, real, relational, and revitalizing the God of the Bible is. He is like no other god. Perhaps THIS season of Advent might be the advent of a whole new season of faith for you… and for those whom your life might influence. Your “perhaps” may be today.

Speaking as someone like myself—who is nearing the eighth anniversary of my dad’s suicide on Christmas night—“presuming upon a perhaps” can be a very, very dire mistake. Allow me to lovingly remind you, we have no guarantees for tomorrow. There’s no day like the present… to enter into God’s eternal now… and see and celebrate the amazing and unique story He has planned for each one of us!

Figs: The Covering for the Most Corrosive Condition
“In the beginning…” God the Father was completely satisfied with the work He had initiated, and the community of the Trinity had completed (Genesis 1-2). But, the gullibility of Eve and the (more irresponsible) silence of Adam (Genesis 3) resulted in the shattering of a relationship with God which infected ALL relationships since that “seminal” time. The very first sign, symbol, and “snag” (the first thing he grabbed for) in Adam’s relinquishment of his leadership was a fig leaf covering his manhood—as he hid from God in the garden, and hardened every day thereafter.

Ever since this time every human being who has ever been born has donned this common covering… to hide the core of sin and the consequence of shame. Shame. Most of us have such a deep familiarity with the word, the memories, the emotions, that it has bred a certain contempt, has it not?

Now, by means of my original parents’ in the garden cover-up, and my biological parents doing the best they knew how from their own parents and other influences, I was brought up in a shamed-based home. The details are available and alarming, but for me the most fundamental feeling associated with this malady is not simply an all-too-common, true and/or false guilt… for having been a fun, highly fallible, and often freaked-out child… but the clear sense of indelible guilt.

Indelible guilt. Does that concept mean much to you? Right off the top, what comes to mind when you consider “indelible guilt”? I can remember like it was yesterday specific instances of a shooting pain upon hearing… again… “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” Like any child who is instinctively trusting and unwittingly compliant, I completely consigned myself to this “ought” in my life—until shame became a “Precious”(Sméagol-Gollum, Lord of the Rings) deep rooted within my heart: An idol construct from the very pit of hell… spread abroad in the realms of heaven… spoiling all seen and unseen reality. That’s a deep, deep problem… So the solution must be pretty grand as well.

Recall, if you will, a famous line dealing with the very same challenge of indelible guilt: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One, two… Why, then, ’tis time to do it well. Oh, hell is murky! There’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh!, Oh!, Oh!” (Lady Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1—and EveryMan’s wont to scrub-up the indelible guilt by his or her own meritable elbow grease).

The shame Adam and Eve felt as they attempted to hide from, and harden to, the very person Who breathed and shaped them into existence—and knew well what Adam’s manhood consisted of—is the very same strain of sin and shame found in the spiritual DNA of all of humanity. No form of “redemptive government, commerce, humanistic helps, social programs, education, space travel, science, technology, family structure, hospital, health, religion (RE: man’s attempts to define and reach out to God)…” you name it in the realms of earthly fixes… has ever, could ever, reverse the curse of the fig leaf… or indelible shame… the inherited sin and acts of sinfulness of all mankind. The doctrine of thoroughgoing (See: “Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and the Punishment thereof”) sin is alive and well—yes, even though the daily news, any subject matter behavioral experts, and very few churches will bring it up.

“Fig leaf shame” (grasping for a covering for sin) is the most corrosive condition a human heart can experience: It alienates Mankind from God and Mankind from one another as well. As you might sense, it actually reverses (turns 180 degrees) the principle and relationship(s) that the entirety of the Bible is based upon: “Love God with your whole heart… Love neighbor as self…” (Deuteronomy 6; Matthew 22:36-40). The flip-flop? “Hide from, harden to, and hate God with all your heart, and mistrust and mistreat your neighbor… as yourself.”

Fast-forward through every image of earthly carnage one could find: The foliage of fig leaves is the fashion of The Fall!

From the deafening din of shameful music lyrics, to the deafening silence of ManyMan’s inability to speak into the chaos; from the sexual promiscuity of an insecure teen, to the eradication of shame in the sexual revolution; from a culture of crowded isolation, to the virtual world of transfixed, misplaced transparency; from the deepest, darkest fear of emotional intimacy, to the explosion of pornography–or “having sex without the vulnerability”; from arms that dare not hug, to an unimpeded arms race; from more self-help than ever, to more self-destruction by far; from Oprah-as-god, to God as supplier of “My Favorite Things”… the list goes on ad infinitum.

Now, if anyone were to think, “Geez, what a bummer this guy is! What a wet blanket on my hope for the human race via a self-esteem regimen! What an unproductive and depressing slam for the human potential movement!”

Please Consider This: ANY point of view short of the Bible’s “thesis” of God’s perfect creation, Original and Personal Sin… Shame… AND the plan God has in place for reversing the curse, (below) must, logically-speaking, have a far, far lower and manifestly darker theory of mankind than does the Bible. After all, what signs of success in “evolving” or “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps” or “disappearing age lines”… can we point to that offer some real hope for mankind? A truly meaningful to the human heart, a lasting, eternal HOPE of any kind must begin by being REAL.

As we will see below, there is only one God… one Redeemer… One Father…Who has a plan in place: But, like our progenitors in the garden, God loves us too much to take away our free will to choose well… or to choose poorly. God’s mercy lasts forever; and both heaven and hell are under God’s manifold mercies! Please don’t try and take indefinite advantage of God’s mercy: When we’re called to stand face-to-face with God, under the heart-piercing gaze of an intimately loving Father, a fig leaf will indeed shatter all the style rules!

And if you are, by repentance and faith, already under the provision of Father God’splan of salvation, please use this sustenance to run the good race—as did Pheidippides in the first marathon: as a messenger of the good news!

Fathers: The Primacy of the Father’s Person and Plan
Since the last three servings of this meal serve to interrelate and reinforce one another, let’s pick up the pace—while avoiding skimming the surface! Please consider using the content and Bible passages to deepen and divulge your faith and praise to others.

Even though the Trinity is made up of three persons with equally vital relationships and roles within the Godhead, I want to make a special appeal to the God the Father Who we tend to know little of, often-times revere little, and imagine far littler than the awesome Father and First Cause and Crescendo Who He really is.

Please understand, the reason I’m so ardent about touching on some of the Father God’s attributes is to help anyone I can with not only the trust in the antidote for total depravity of sin and the indefatigable figginess of shame we’ve reviewed above, but to drill down into how our own fathers, how being a father, the importance of “father”… anything fatherly…is to living a radically fulfilling life!

God the Father’s attributes are stunning: God the Father is… solitary (Exodus 15:11), all-knowing (Daniel 2:22; Psalm 139), all-present (Jeremiah 23:23-24), all-powerful (Luke 1:37; Ephesians 3:20), supreme (2 Chronicles 20:6; Psalm 2:9), sovereign (Isaiah 46:10; Psalm 135:6), immutable (Psalm 119:89; Hebrews 6:17), holy (1 John 1:5; Revelation 15:4), utterly faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9; Lamentations 3:22-23), perfectly good (Genesis 1:31; Luke 2:14), patient (Psalm 86:15; Acts 14:16-17), grace-full (Ephesians 2:8-10; 2 Timothy 1:9), merciful (Psalm 136:1; Acts 17:25), loving (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 1 John 4:8), truth-full (Romans 1:18; 1 Peter 1:22-23), wrathful (Deuteronomy 32:39-41; Romans 1:18-32), causes contemplation (Job 11:7-9; Habakkuk 3:17-18), and real (John 1:3-10; Romans 1:20-21; Hebrews 11:1, 13). And dozens more for each attribute…

Now, if we could go into the necessary details of God the Father’s attributes—which we regularly should—we would be NOT only awestruck by the unfathomable breadth and depth of God the Father, but we would be much more aware of our utter puniness and complete unworthiness, by comparison. We would not, for one millisecond, think we could stroll into God the Father’s presence with a Starbuck’s-coffee-casualness or “it’s-all-about-grace” presumption that God owes me anything… but incineration. Approaching the throne of Godeven and especially under graceshould fill us with reverence and the deepest respect.

I wonder if we can feel, in the very center of our hearts, what it cost God the Father to close the gap between His unassailable attributes AND our total depravity.

God the Father, as the uninitiated initiator of His redemptive plan, was absolutely heartsick when He heard Adam from afar, hiding in the noonday sun, as ashamed and fearful as one could ever be. And God the Father, within a few sentences of each other, condemned and saved Adam and all who would believe in Him—by means of the atoning sacrifice of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ (Genesis 3:15; Hebrews 9).

Let’s get down to the basics: God the Father loves you and me so much (John 3:16) that He had a plan in place since before time (don’t dwell in the mystery, apply the promise) to not only remove the fig leaf and ALL the consequences in every realm of our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual beings, but adopt us as His very own children!

Once we are in Christ, we are not only a whole new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17—wrap your heart around that promise), but we have all the freedoms to BE TRANSPARENT AND UNASHAMED ABOUT, a) any/all tears we had shed as children of troubled homes (all are to varying degrees; b) any/all idols we have carefully enthroned in our heart; c) any/all secrets that are fueled by our now-defunct, and harmful self-concepts; d) any/all struggles to break the inherited silence of Adam, or the perceived inadequacies of Eve; and e) any/all barriers or boundaries of the world, the flesh, or the devil on our purpose and passion to change the world! Father wounds can be replaced by Father Wonder… in Christ and over time. (NOTE: “any/all” does not infer we can reach perfection before The Return of The King.)

Please Consider This: In regards to a father’s role, the realms of forgiveness, and reconciliation (to touch on a reference to my own shame-based family above), the lion’s share of shaming was poured out by my mom—for the reasons outlined in my book, The Weeping, the Window, the Way. BUT, the shame and silence of my dad, his (understandable) inability to come to my defense, his role to thrust the shield of faith between me and the onslaught of deadly arrows (inadvertently) aimed at my heart, was a very, very important reality for me to see… and to fully forgive… and to set a new course for my story… for being a son of the God, a son of my father and mother, a husband, a father myself, a brother, a friend… a person.

I was born-again (John 3:7) when I was 31 years old, but it has taken me a great deal of time, redemptive pain, and unspeakable joy to get so many things worked out… about how God the Father, purely out of His glory and by no indebtedness to anyone, loves me, loves us, so much that He knows each hair upon our head, each thought upon our heart, each breath… just as He knows each downy feather that falls from a bird, or the quake from a single blade of grass!

Feathers: The Intimacy of the Infinite
To further instill in us how much God the Father (Son and Holy Spirit) loves each of us, the Bible (God’s Owner Manual for Mankind) includes a variety of passages I would like to offer… your heart… as a feast… for running the good race. St. Augustine said, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

“God will cover you with his feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Psalm 91:4).

“The LORD your God in the midst of you is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest in his love, He will joy over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

“(Jesus said) Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 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? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life(Matthew 6:25-27).

With so much anxiety for yesterday, and so much worry for tomorrow, we hardly have any room for joy, for fully living life in “TODAY…” (Psalm 95:7-8). In Christ, our Father in Heaven knows us just as we are, and loves us just the same: Nothing on earth can supersede this promise… unless we give our consent to do so—which happens in our weaker moments as we’re thrown back to the version of our selves (the old man) before God intervened.

In reality, the fig leaf before God’s presence has been removed, and therefore we a truly free before men. Shame and grace are incompatible. But this does happen in real life, on any given day, in an instant. We have to practice our faith, “work out our salvation” (Philippians 2). Let us now be fruitful…in Shalom peace, serving joy, and an open-handed urgency… that won’t quit!

Fruit: The Juicy Beauty of Life-Giving Grace
And to finally further instill how “figs, fathers, feathers, and fruitfulness” are ALL part of the same redemptive plan of God… “supremely punctuated” on Christmas day… they ALL fit…

Once we have been saved, then we have been sent. Many in the Western Church—reared in the self-help culture that can easily confuse ends and means: We can easily mistake salvation as an end, and it is, in fact, the means: To partner with God and realize and redeem earth as it will be in heaven (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 5)!

The plan God has in place to equip us to “work with Him to redeem the world” is this: The Life by the Spirit in Fruitfulness! Please note how this amazing passage reverberates throughout much of the “chow we’ve chewed on above”.

A Fruitful Life by the Spirit
St. Paul wrote, “You my brothers and sisters, were called to be free (no fig leaf or shame, only faith in Christ). But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love (right relationship restored). For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other (shame manifest in a power to will).

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (no shame). For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whateveryou want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law (indelible shame, covered in the cross).

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:13-32—parenthesis added).

As Christians, when we wake each day in gracious obedience to the sacrifice our namesake paid for us. As we seek to use the Core Values (behaviors) of The Fruit of the Spirit in all we do, we will, guaranteed, axiomatically, organically, empowered by the Spirit, and purposefully… change the world… for time… and for eternity!

Now, this is the way to remember this feast served up at The Training Table today, an unforgetable acronym:

“F.F.F.F!”  Either the sound of the wind being taken OUT of your sails… if you believe this to be false… Or the wind FILLING your sails… if you have now, or have earlier, embraced this offering as the True Truth—and seek to live it in word and deed every day.

Written by Father God in His Bible, relayed by me a sinner saved by grace, and reliable for all Mankind.

I will be praying for the “F.F.F.F… FILLING!”

See you next week when we’ll sup on, “The Hymn of a Hungry Heart”.
JohnDoz

This is an analogy.

Granted, not many analogies begin by giving the reader a heads-up of this sort. But this is an important enough analogy that I want to be as clear and empathic as possible.

Yvon Chouinard, in his most recent movie “180 South” and throughout his life, said, “The adventure doesn’t begin until something goes wrong.” I couldn’t agree more! And, when something does go wrong—which is inevitable—what’s the best plan of attack to make things right?

It was a fateful back-country, hut-to-hut ski trip some 30+ years ago. I had led, guided, and recreated on many such ski trips before. For the most part, all of them went just fine. (Music darkens slightly… the quiet grows into a void that begs to be filled…)

But when this particular ski trip started to go bad… it went really bad. But amidst the chaos, I remembered the call: That I was prepared, and had planned to rely on the good, the tried, and the true.

On this particular three-day trip, I was acting as the leader-guide as well as a friend to many, but not all, on the trip. Leader-guide and friend: a balance one doesn’t always anticipate will be defined and tested during an “adventure”—or when things go bad.

No Problemville… When “It’s All Good”
Our first day’s ski-climb up out of Aspen went as expected. It was a moderate-to-easy gain in elevation in a six-mile-long first day to the first warm and inviting hut, the McNamara Hut*. The weather was great; a clear and cold Colorado Bluebird day; and a weather forecast for some moderate-to-heavy snowfall the following two days.

The group of about twelve friends hailed mostly from the Boulder area. We had a great time our first night at the hut. Wood-burning stoves ablaze, knickers, “poly-pro tops”, slippers, and the occasional top cap for visiting the outdoors for the fresh night air, maybe a moonlit ski… or caring for the cold outhouse necessities.

The dinner the group had packed-in was grand. The wine was warming. Close friends of many years were, in the grandest and most pleasing way, in their element!

Early the next morning it was obvious we were in for some snowy but beautiful backcountry skiing to the next hut, Margy’s Hut. Again, not a long ski of about seven miles, but some tricky up’s and down’s through the trees and on trails that would be slick underneath, snow-covered on top, and easy to “catch an edge” should anyone have difficulty negotiating the trail with a sizeable backpack on their back.

In Reality, It’s Rarely All Good for Long
And difficulties did one skier have…Not far out of the hut, Dawn had one of those “stupid”—like it didn’t even seem like she actually fell—falls. But it was immediately obvious she had torn something very badly in her knee joint. Dawn was out of commission, and not going anywhere but to the ER, any which way we could get her there… fast. The numbing and swelling that was creeping into her knee and foot indicated the tear was a bad one. And being in the pre-cell phone era, an ol’ fashioned mountain rescue was in play.

When Chaos Threatens? You Better Have Already Prepared, Know the Basics… And Not Try All-Things New and Different!
Fortunately, the basics of mountain rescue and emergency medical training kicked in immediately for me. Beyond “the ABC’s” (Awake? Breathing? Continue Care.), we were able to stabilize, ice pack, keep warm using a sleeping bag and emergency foil blanket, lightly medicate for pain and swelling, hydrate, feed, and pack-in Dawn for what would likely be a very long rest of the day into the evening and increasing cold.

Since I was now acting as guide and rescue leader, I had to give the balance of the group the best directions to the next hut, and tell them that I would hopefully be meeting them later that night after Dawn was secured and safe. One of the other stronger skiers, Peter, offered to assist in the rescue.

Well, to make an exciting story a bit shorter so we can get to the application of a very important analogy, I skied back to our first day’s hut and grabbed a full-length rescue toboggan that I knew was stored there.

After securing Dawn and many hours of breaking trail in the new, heavy snow fall, losing control of the rescue toboggan twice as we were all pulled down a steep hill-side we had to traverse to get to the valley floor in Lenado—where we would contact the EMT’s in Aspen… It was nearly six hours before Dawn and Peter were secure in the ambulance and heading home.

Digging Deeper: A Trust and Temerity… for the Tried and True
Solo now, I had decided to begin an entirely new jaunt to our second hut by a different route and (hopefully) meet the balance of the group there… so I hoped. I knew the trip would be long and hard as I was now breaking trail solo, after a very long day. My strategy?

I dug deeper into the basics! And didn’t even consider trying something new.

One sure sign of wisdom and preparedness is the lack of a disarming sense of surprise when things go wrong. For me (highly fallible in many challenging situations and refined by making many mistakes), this principle went like this:

I was trained, tried, and fit for the long effort; I knew my limits; I got hydrated and had plenty more water to drink; I had the right equipment; I was plenty warm (but not too warm for dehydration and sweating-freezing sake) at the core level; I was amply supplied with “accessible carbohydrates” (the ones my body needed for the job); I knew the six or so mile trail well enough (by sight of by feel) to find my way in the dark; and, very importantly, I was fully prepared to dig-in and sleep in the snow if it all went bad.

It was about four hours later when I finally reached the second hut… and the very surprised and welcoming hugs and hollers of all the fine folks cozied-up inside! Being prepared, trusting, staying focused, calm, sticking with the basics, and placing one ski in front of the other had paid off. (Oh, and lest you wonder how my present-day faith in God played a role, it didn’t exist at the time of this adventure.)

The Analogy Pay-Off: When (not if) Challenges Come, When is “NEW” Better, or Much Worse?
Even though it’s more complicated than we can fully ingest “at the table together”, suffice it to say that when most organizations (of one person or thousands) experience a challenge of any kind, there is a tendency to introduce “new and exciting ideas” in order to get things back on track. (RE: Bright shiny toys or “a business trip fling” during the mid-life crisis… another management shake-up during a business downturn… “too big to fail” dogma… “get the consultants in again”…)

This, I believe, is a dire mistake based on a variety of issues but the most important handful is that leadership has,

a) Historically been remiss in realistically, transparently, and continuously tracking their successes, missteps, and areas of opportunity and improvement in the context of a tried, true, and vital: Vision, Mission, set of Core Values, and a Market and Customer-Centric planning process. Challenges + no context = scramble for something new.

b) A misguided sense that “new” always equates to “exciting and motivating”. Challenges + “new” = inappropriate and unnecessary demands for immediate adjustments and course correction.

c) An instinctual (and likely unknown) sense of embarrassment (lack of self-awareness and humility) when pondering how to get folks “back to the basics”… when “the basics” have been so infrequently relied upon, seldom communicated, or completely unrecognized and unrewarded in the past. Challenges + “Vision vertigo” = “new direction kneejerk”, pasta throwing, distractions.

d) A potentially “concretized set of beliefs/behaviors” that surrounds leadership—with little room for countercultural, outside the organizational box, yet Vision-based ideas. Challenges + “mini-me’s” = “organizational enabling”… it’s complicated and rarely productive.

“So… Let’s try something new…”“So… Let’s try something new…” “So… Let’s try something new…”
Be very careful: each refrain may be setting the organization up for another, “’So… Let’s try something new…’” whiplash that (in the vast majority of cases) it cannot… it will not… foster or sustain greatness.

NOTE: Right smack dab in the midst of any challenge… is a time when most every aspect of the organization (including a very injured, pain-ridden and anxious Dawn… by analogy) is the least likely to be capable of hearing or following the beat of a different drummer; the words or explanations of a new paradigm; the vision of a brand new journey; the motivation of new ideas… that are evidently supposed to be neatly packaged with all the intrinsic trust and empowerment that only comes with time-tested principles.

Don’t misunderstand, the change management principles I’m supporting say, “Change is good, but not always for the different, but rather, for the deeper!

The “Life-As-Adventure” Bottom-Line
Good to great leaders… back-country skiers… interesting people… will fully embrace, and be awake each day to the reality and difficulties associated with “The adventure doesn’t begin until something goes wrong.” As we all know, it’s quite easy to say that we know and love that philosophy of life, but it’s quite another thing to live it!

Please consider these closing truisms:

  1. The very best preparation for the unavoidable challenges of life is the proactive, preemptive preparedness of formulating and executing one’s Vision, Mission, and Core Values each and every day. The gales will come; the keel is deep; True North never changes… and a good lifeboat is acquired and equipped before setting sail!
  2. Regardless of whether every cultural indicator tells us “boring equates to a mortal sin”, and “shallowness is the key to a happy-go-lucky-life”, the truth is that formulating and moving ever-deeper into the execution of one’s Vision (Mission, Core Values) is by far the most exciting adventure a human being can ever take. Boldly, yet humbly, with trust, agility and compassion… please… go where few men and organizations have gone before!
  3. Please take the time ASAP, if not sooner, to answer three questions, “If you were on trial for formulating and executing your own personal or corporate Vision, Mission, Core Values, and a Market and Customer-Centric planning process, would there be enough evidence to convict you? If you were found lacking in this regard, would you commit to making it a priority in the next month? Regardless of your answers, would you consider answering the questions within a small community of folks who might be interested in an adventure?”
  4. Today, “A Trust and Temerity… for the Tried and True” falls on the deafness created by the din of new, exciting, titillating, immediate, “my fingerprint on the organization”, nuanced, convenient, compromise, and self-… glorification or protection. And none of these can ever equate to enduring greatness… or simply living a life of breath-taking adventure… fully seen, true, awake, alive, everlasting… Amen!

See you back at The Training Table soon! On the menu for next week, “Figs, Fathers, Feathers, and Fruit”, based upon The Book of Mark 8:38.

Run the race! Stay the course! Be adventurous!
JohnDoz

Welcome back to The Training Table. So glad you’ve decided to maintain the best spiritual nutrition while you’re running the good race (Hebrews 12:1)!!

Undoubtedly, the feast set before us may be one of the most unusual and potentially long-lasting Thanksgiving messages you will ever ingest. Please chew on it for a time… well beyond the holidays!

I’m a creature of habit in many areas of my life. One such habit is my daily route for my cycling road rides. My ride begins on the same road every time. Depending on lots of things, the route may vary considerably along the way, and it usually ends along the same route as well. Boring? Far, far from it: For me, cycling is just a means, not an end!

So, at the beginning of every road ride I get a great reminder and blessing of seeing a very big sign, at a very specialized facility—pictured in the adjacent photo: St. John’s Mercy… Heart Hospital. What comes to mind when you first think of this?

The Bible and the “Heart Hospital”: The Maker is the Most Qualified Physician!
As everyone is well-aware, the hospital is generally a place we hope to avoid—unless employed there, or we’re visiting a loved one or friend, and even at that, it’s often not an easy place to be for most of us, is it?

[Hospitals specializing in heart medicine are, by far, one of the fastest growing and busiest treatment specialties in the world. That’s because heart problems top the list of all medical maladies. But that’s another, big, and important topic of its own. If you’re interested in an “unexpected resource”, check out “Deadly Emotions”, by Dr. Don Colbert.]

Whenever I glance up from my bike and read the big Heart Hospital sign, I think of several of the 1,500+ passages from the Bible about the heart. God created and cares deeply about our heart!

By far, the passage that bubbles-up most frequently is one of my favorite Bible passages, Ezekiel 11:17-21. It’s one we all should be full of a deep awareness of , and thanks for each and every day: It’s one of the Bible’s most concise yet robust articulations of God’s redemptive plan—in a macro (God’s people and all mankind) and a micro (each one of us) sense:

“Thus says the Lord God ‘I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And when they come there, they will remove from it all itsdetestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them.I will remove from them their heart of stone, and give them a heart of flesh. That they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them.And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I willbring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord GOD.”

Brealking It Down… In Thanks!
Please take careful note that the God of the Bible is the only God who has created our heart, and He has mercifully provided a very clear 5-step process for curing it, and caring for it—in the Heart Hospital of His Trinity, Love, and Truth!

From The Book of Ezekiel, Chapter 11:17-21, give thanks for “God’s Heart Hospital”. Please note, whenever we go to the hospital there’s a method in place to get things in order. It’s called triage: “A process in which things are ranked in terms of importance or priority.”

The Bible, God speaking through men, is well-reasoned and abundantly clear about how God’s Heart Hospital is prioritized:

1) Give Thanks… For God’s Unmerited Mercy and Compassion*
“Thus says the Lord God (to a rebellious and heard-hearted people): ‘I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you (back) the land of Israel” (verse 17—parenthesis added).

2) Give Thanks… For Repentance, The Necessity of Seeing and Removing Idols
“And when they come there, they will remove from it all itsdetestable things and all its abominations” (verse 18).

3) Give Thanks… For Holy Spirit’s Supernatural Work in the Heart
“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them.I will remove from them their heart of stone, and give them a heart of flesh” (verse 19).

4) Give Thanks… For God’s Commandments, Our Recommitment to God Motivated by Gratitude
“That they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them.And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (verse 20).

5) Give Thanks… For A God Who Loves and Respects Us So Much That He Will Not Cross Our Will
“But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I willbring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord GOD” (verse 21).

*NOTE: God’s mercy and compassion always precedes the law—but it does not eliminate the law. Not one thing we could ever do, but only the mercy of God, re-gathers His people—we who have been scattered by our obstinate hearts and distrust of God. It’s only His promised compassion and forgiveness that makes our return to Him remotely possible.

The Law of “First Things First”
Beloved of God, if we can maintain our first and foremost focus and priorities based upon the Bible message above, ALL ELSE—whether in enraptured bliss or in the most deep and desperate darkness—will be enshrouded with thankfulness, hope, and Shalom rest.

For God’s Heart Hospital, and His preventive care of discipleship, please… give thanks!

Thank-Full… Until we ‘sup again,
JohnDoz

Growth in Maturity and “Re-Creative Influence”
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15).

Suffering and Sanctified for Doing Good… As a Witness
“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be full of fear (anxiety for yesterday or worry for tomorrow). But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3: 14-15—parenthesis added).

Yes, I’m “Pedaling the Persons and the Power”!
As I took a late-afternoon bike ride yesterday, the sunset, the refreshing coolness of the winter-coming air, and the splashes of fall color filled my heart, spirit, and senses.

As I have a habit of doing during my bike rides, I began to address and praise God in cadence with my pedal strokes as Trinity in a mantra of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…” followed by acknowledging various attributes and blessings of The Trinity—completely one, and yet particularized by the various “responsibilities” each person of the Trinity has within the Godhead and His redemptive plan.

Usually First Amongst My Praises of the Trinity…  Is Creation
The Father thought, the Son spoke, and the Holy Spirit fluttered creation, out of nothing, into existence (Genesis 1+2, other places throughout the Bible).

Please pause and dwell upon this for a moment… Have you considered, and re-considered this reality before? Have you gone the extra step and coupled the second big truth onto this one? God created and now He sustains… in the minutest details imaginable… based upon His Trinity Love and Truth.

Like yeast in the loaf, this unspeakably profound and simply beautiful reality began to enfold itself more and more into my heart as I pedaled up a familiar, long, painstaking, and pleasing hill. (I love hills… “Sick”, you claim? Yes indeed!)

Near the top of the hill, as the acids and endorphins surged and intermingled throughout my body, I was reminded that this creative act of God was motivated and fueled by God’s “Trinity… in TRUTH and in LOVE”.

God spoke creation into existence based upon “speaking the truth in love, and loving (itself first, and mankind second) truthfully”. For us, this is reflected in Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 3:15, amongst others like Luke 16, Matthew 7; 2 Corinthians 13; Philippians 2; Colossians 1; Hebrews 12, and many more.

Please hang in there…

When WE speak the truth in love and love others truthfully, even though we do not have the same ability the Godhead did and does to “create all of creation out of nothing”, we DO have the God-endowed, Christ-imparted, and Spirit-driven ability to influence reality not just for time (for the glory of God and blessing of His people), but for all eternity!!

Hearts (our faith and beliefs), spirits (our emotions), and lives (our actions lived out) are quite literally “re-created” (transformed, changed, evolved, conformed) by means of this action WE can take… just as God did “In the beginning…”!!!

The Gravity, the Glory, of Our Words
Do you sense the import of what we’re reminded of here? The magnitude is not the same, but the ministry we are called to is just as true, profound, required, and impactful in many similar ways.

Whether sitting around a campfire, or “sitting in the fire of difficult relationships”, taking the most mundane and the most crucial relationship and/or conversations to the level of speaking God’s truth in love will (guaranteed and promised by the Godhead) transform the world… in time and in eternity. It’s kind of big is it not?!

The Heart of the Matter, Is a Matter of the Heart
If we believe this reality in the heart of our hearts, live and practice it each day, repent when we mess up in some way, share the “re-creative glory and stories” with others, and go after it again… God’s creative persons and power will continue to create, and create, and re-create… right before our eyes, until Jesus returns, and forever thereafter.

And we will all be outlandishly blessed (ten thousand-fold) not only in seeing God “re-create in and through us” in so many ways while we’re here in this redeemed yet broken world, but throughout all of eternity—as we will be given the blessing of seeing how our present-day obedience, gratitude, and love of Love and Truth is reflected in our own and other people’s lives when all things have been made new: There will be a very real and tangible connection between time and eternity, dear friends! “Make time” today… it will last forever.

Future Station and Stories
Yes, God will bless us by “account and heavenly station” (Romans 4:12; 1 Peter 4:5) as well as the stories we will share—many of which will be tied to our having been graciously obedient to “being assertive”—or speaking the truth in love, loving others truthfully; always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have… (And other such acts of gratitude-centered obedience, truth, and love.)

Until we intentionally and hungrily take up a place together at the Training Table again, have a blessed… and “re-creative” day… “TODAY…” (Psalm 95:7-8)!

JohnDoz

As the saying goes, “The second oldest religion is humanism.” Ever since The Fall in The Garden of Eden when Satan sowed the seed of doubt (“Did God really say…?”—Genesis 3) and Eve was tempted and took the bait to use her free will (followed by Adam) to disobey God and eat of the forbidden fruit, the heart of all mankind has been inclined towards pride (self-love) and control (self-order) as the two primary “dis-eases” of the heart.

The wellspring of life became polluted and the mainspring of life got “wound so tight” that there is no place one can hide from the incessant sirens of anxiety, worry, and the wide array of other negative emotions associated with the weightiness of setting ourselves up as god.

Now, when one experiences the beginnings of conversion by the power of the Holy Spirit, and a proper and heart-shattering realization of one’s thoroughgoing sinfulness, and the abject necessity for a Savior and Lord in Jesus Christ, the start of ejecting pride and control from God’s rightful throne within the heart begins.

And let me say, for brevity and conversation’s sake, that one of the first manifestations of God (partially—as conversation is just the beginning) re-gaining control of the heart at conversion is that GOD REIGNS! This is called God’s Providence or Sovereignty. And, as we grow more and more mature and Christlike during our journey of faith, more and more of the throne of God is relinquished by us, and given over to God (called sanctification, perseverance, and becoming more holy).

In our contemporary culture, the Providence of God is not only little understood or utilized much in every day life, but is treated as just one of the “throwback beliefs of unenlightened folk” or “a last-ditch effort to get God back on the team when a big win (or the avoidance of a big loss) is most needed”. Hence, the wide array of symptoms of human chaos we see every moment of every day: ejecting God always equates to ejecting order and sanity.

The Heart is Designed to Flourish Under the Reign and Provision of God’s Providence
Again, since this subject is so wide and deep, please allow me to say that the heart, yours and mine, will be debilitated, diseased, and drastically diminished in direct proportion to how much we have placed our faith (in the grand and the granular ways) in The Providence of God.

God knows each heart as its Maker, Lover, and Destiny. He is greatly saddened when we wrest Providence from Him… set ourselves up as little gods… and “steer the car off the cliff every day”!

Here is a sampling of God’s complete providence in governing the world.

  • “I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” (1Kings 17:4)
  • “The Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah” (Jonah 4:6).
  • “God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered” (Jonah 4:7).
  • “I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants” (Exodus 8:21).
  • “He removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21).
  • “He summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread” (Psalms 105:16).
  • “He gave them hail for rain” (Psalms 105:32).
  • “He spoke, and the locusts came” (Psalms 105:34).
  • “The Lord will whistle for . . . the bee that is in the land of Assyria” (Isaiah 7:18).
  • “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33).
  • “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).
  • “Even the wind and the sea obey him” (Mark 4:41).
  • “Even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mark 1:27).
  • “For we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
  •  “God is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).
  • “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

Some of the most beautiful confessional statements of God’s providence are found in the Heidelberg Catechism:
What do you mean by the Providence of God? (Question 27)
The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.

What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by his Providence does still uphold all things? (Question 28)
That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.

Please take some time to deeply reconsider—in the Bible, your own heart, and in the confines and comforts of a trusted Christian community—the Providence of God. Please be explicit about any adjustments that might be made in getting the wellspring (John 4:10-11, 7:38) and the mainspring (Mathew 4:10; 20:30) of Providence readjusted, more deeply rooted, and continually flourished… in your heart.

If you will take up this challenge, The Fruit of the Spirit will abound in your heart to victory and to vanquish more and more of the negative emotions that kill… each day!

Until we meet at the Training Table again,
JohnDoz

There’s a lot one could point to in the Bible, or about God, “ultimate questions”, and “the great unknown, by-and-by-in-the-sky” stuff of life, death, and in between. For the sake of brevity, let’s call this cloud of grayish matter, “mystery”.

“Mysteryyyyyy”…Even as I say the word, I heard a strange “Alfred Hitchcock echoing-whisper” in the background. Did you hear it?

Pastor Dwight L. Moody once said, “It’s not what I don’t know about the Bible that scares me; it’s what I do know!” And God has mercifully provided much, much more for His creatures to know… that’s worthy of our attention… than what’s not to know.

And yet I’m aware of many folks who tend to focus on the unknowable’s—maybe, just maybe—as the means to avoid the knowable’s, believable’s, and doable’s of the faith. RC Sproul once said, “I find most (apparently) intellectual objections to God and the Bible to actually be moral objections: We simply want to live our life the way we want to live it!”

Now, I don’t know much, period. But here’s one thing I do know: In the Bible Jesus Christ asked the Apostle Peter a question that is the most important question any human being throughout all the ages, past, present, and future can be asked, “’But what about you?” Jesus asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’” (Matthew 16:15).

Jesus Christ: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?
The winning answer to the ultimate question of all questions that the Apostle Peter offered can be found in verse 16 of Matthew 16.

But I want to pose the question in another, loving, yet challenging way: “Have all of us given the historicity, widespread impact, and verifiable claims of Jesus Christ enough thought to eliminate all doubt about whether He was/is a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord and Savior He said He was?”

You see, Jesus Christ has to be “one of the above”. And even though there is lots non-contradictory evidence supporting the truth or falsehood of each one of the categories, liar, lunatic, or Lord, I would plead your indulgence to simply take a gander at some of Jesus’ claims of Himself below.

They might give you pause to look into the issue of “The Ultimate Question” deep enough to rest assured of the right answer… for time, and for eternity. The truth will indeed… set us free!!

“Who Do You Say I Am?”
“The seventy-two [disciples sent by Jesus to evangelize] returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And He (Jesus) said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power ofthe enemy, andnothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:17-20; emphasis added).

[Jesus said,] “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Luke 10:22; emphasis added).

[Jesus said,] “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30; emphasis added).

[Jesus said,] “Whoever hates me hates my Father also” (John 15:23; emphasis added).

“Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”(Mark 14:61-64; emphasis added).

Please consider if these claims were made by any man. They were not made by just any man. But the very same GodMan Who will indeed not have to rehearse this line in anticipation of asking it to EveryMan when each one of us will stand face-to-face in the last day. I was never well-prepared as a student. But this one is one that I’m not going to fail at!

“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:16).

“Bingo! “LORD” Wins!!!” Only a God of mercy provides the answer before the final exam is given… Please rest assured… “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Until we chew on some chow again real soon, “Run the good race…” (Hebrews 12:1),
JohnDoz

Francis A. Schaeffer said, “Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.” (A Christian Manifesto)

Wow, pretty strong words, eh?! What’s your take on this claim? How would you re-cast this statement in a way another person might understand it… feel it… seek to “grow up in it”?

On a very practical level, it might sound like a family-of-origin anecdote like, “No, really, I’m sure my Dad loved me. Yeah, he always told it like it is! Hard and fast. Wham! No pulling any punches…. No way! He always told the truth; even if it hurt. Did he love me? Sure! He didn’t have to tell me he loved me… It was a ‘generational thing’… I’m okay with it… really.”

Hmmmm… Can “orthodoxy without compassion” get ugly?

The Bible says, “Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD; may your love and your truth always protect me.” (Psalm 40:11)

The God of the Bible is the perfect balance of Truth and Love. Justice and Mercy. Holiness and Compassion. Righteousness and Grace.

The Journey to Being “All Being Growed Up”
As Image Bearers of God—gone way awry due to our inherited and personal sinfulness—if we have been born-again by heart-broken repentance and beseeching Jesus Christ to be our rescuer-Savior and the Lord of our life, we also are on an ever-increasing, balance-perfecting journey of living out God’s balance of Truth and Love. Justice and Mercy. Holiness and Compassion. Righteousness and Grace.

And the following is one truthful, loving, powerful, and necessarily polarizing articulation of what this “balance-perfecting journey” looks like. Please take some time this week… every week… to internalize, share with your spiritual community group, and “Go Deep!” with the truth-full yet loving words from St. Paul to the early, infant, growing-up church in Ephesus.

“It was He (Jesus Christ) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Go for broke… at getting all growed up… as you speak the truth in love… becoming more and more like The One Who Spoke in the Beginning… and speaks forever… The God of Love and Truth! Amen.

‘Till we’re gathered at the table again, “Consider then…” (Ecclesiastes 2:11),
JohnDoz

As it pertains to any organization of any kind—ranging from one person to a global company—there’s a very wise rule of thumb that we always need to keep in mind: “The Heart of the Matter is Mission as Mantra”.

Can you recite (or at least access it really fast…) your personal, or your company’s, Vision, Mission, Core Values? Is it relevant, real, and “teethy”–any accountability?

Sustained success for all organizations is tied the relevancy of the Mission—to all external and internal customer-people constituencies.

Leadership is all about the stewardship of the Mission. And, especially in tumultuous times, the number one “mission critical” issue to focus on a two-fold action plan: Mission Remembering and Mission Relevancy.

Mission Remembering—If there is one symptom that we could point to that’s most common and troubling in the hurry, scurry, faster-and-faster-feverish-flurry of this present time, it’s “mission amnesia”: its goes like, “Hey Joe, pass the coffee pot… and remind me again, what in the hell are we here for anyway?!”

If the vernacular offends you, sorry; but NOT knowing why an organization of any kind exists is the most offensive, egregious leadership misstep… and common organizational gap there is! This causes more “heart dis-ease” than any other issue—personally and “corporately”. Devoid of a mission-driven life, we are no more than dead men walking. The only solace is that misery loves company. Please understand, I do not say this flippantly or calously. It’s a heartbreak to pull back this curtain…

Please create, revitalize, or dust-off your Vision, Mission, Core Values ASAP… if not sooner.

Mission Relevancy—Doing a reality check with our external and internal customer-people constituencies to make double-dog-sure we are completely in step with our core customers-people—in the marketplace and in the workplace alike. Where GAPS exist, close them with due diligence and grateful deference to God, and our valued customers-people… fast.

When the Going Gets Tough—Please don’t craft a new, “fresh and exciting” Mission… or some such “handle”… to try and get back on track. Rather, keep the vision vital, E.g., “GO DEEPER” into the current Mission by passionately and humbly “re-weaving” it into every part of the tapestry of your life, or your organization. Oh, and before doing so, please consider apologizing for being so distracted and forgetful. (If you need help in this regard, contact me anytime.)

And When the Going Gets Terrific—Do the same!

In closing, please allow me to remember, “re-relevant”, and revitalize my own personal and “corporate” Vision, Mission, Core Values. The Feast of the Heart is direct from my own heart: Because the heart of the matter, is a matter of the heart: And the Mission is the Mantra! And, in this case, I believe what is most personal, is most universal: Reformation, Revival, and Constructive Revolution is what we’re ALL (as flawed yet refurbished Image Bearers) about.

The Feast, John Dozier Vision
Feast of the Heart exists to help bring about Christ-centered reformation, revival, and constructive revolution so that God will be glorified and people blessed.

Mission
Reformation—we seek to abide by and serve up the true truth of the Bible.
Revival—we seek to model biblical Christians living in word and deed.
Constructive Revolution—we seek to spread the true gospel right where God has planted us with urgency, compassion, and radical self-abandonment.

Core Values
Truth—The Realities of the World, the Culture, and the Customer.
Trust—Mutual Respect, Test Every Assumption, and Be Accountable.
Teamwork—Customer-Centered, Pulling Together, Results.

Until we ‘sup again, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8),
JohnDoz

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