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DSCN0131 1If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:13)

“Mo, mo.”

With his hand outstretched and a one word vocabulary, our toddler grandson asked me to pick more blackberries. How could I resist those chubby, purple-stained cheeks? Of course I hand-fed him the sweetest plump fruits, and also taught him about the dangerous thorns.

The Bible says God only gives good gifts, the plump sweet fruit of blessing. I agree with that truth in my head, but my heart secretly rages. Why does my wife have multiple sclerosis and my granddaughter suffer kidney disease? Isn’t God at least partly responsible for the misery in our world?

No, he’s not. A chain reaction was triggered by sin in the garden of Eden and it’s fueled by every human being since. The multiplied dysfunction of life is entirely the result of mans’ mistakes, not God’s. He creates the berries, we make the thorns.

I can’t throw humanity’s mud at God and expect it to stick. Our heavenly Father is goodness. All through man’s long history of failure, God’s character has remained perfect goodness. He eagerly shares his good gifts with those who ask and teaches us the danger of the thorns.

I asked God for more wealth and he gave me treasure in heaven, because God gives juicy berries, not spiky thorns. I asked for more popularity and he gave me eternal family, because he gives berries, not thorns. I asked for more health and he gave new vitality to my spirit, berries, not thorns. I must learn to ask rightly.

My grandson understood the formula. He knew what to ask for so I could never refuse his, “Mo, mo.”

Now it’s my turn to ask for more, and ask correctly.

Prayer: Father God, please give me more of your Spirit.

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Faith Muscle

IMGP7559Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold - gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away - and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)

A hunched man sat outside his house gazing into the stunted pines and granite crags of China’s Yellow Mountains.

“I was a porter for fifty years,” he explained through my translator. “Every day I carried goods up sixty thousand steps to the top.”

The man before me was a knot of muscles developed from five decades of hauling loaded buckets, balanced from a pole across his shoulders. Most locals I met played mahjong tiles everyday, but this gentle soul had done something extraordinary with his life. He’d carried bricks and parcels up more than one billion stairs.

Faith is a muscle that atrophies without exercise. When there’s no resistance from trials in life, my faith in God gets weak and flabby. Hardship makes me pray and trust God until my faith increases. Trials build up faith, and faith builds up glory.

Faith is my most valuable strength. I may be a deeply religious person and have an impeccable service record, but those don’t move the heart of God like faith in his Son. My heavenly Father wants to see a well developed, highly sculpted faith in my life. He wants my time on earth to be extraordinary, not mahjong-boring, but soaring-faith glorious.

Back in the Yellow Mountains I gave my new friend the gospel message, which he eagerly received. But he gave me something of almost equal value in return. He demonstrated that living a significant life requires overcoming significant hardship. If he’d loitered among the mahjong players instead of fighting the gravity of those stairs everyday, we would’ve never been touched by his incredible story or spurred on to glorious faith.

Prayer: Master Trainer, use trials to build up my most holy faith.

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Strangler Fig

a1d4bf8925ffdae5012c3de7320f50f6I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)

We camped in Africa’s Zambezi Valley as hyenas yipped about devilish pranks, lions roared with proud grunts, and crocodiles held their deadly silence. But the creation that arrested my attention was a curious tree. Clumps of pale-green leaves looked tired amidst the canopy. Fat shoots ran down the original trunk and fanned to the soil. Two trees melded into one.

Our host explained that it was a strangler fig. It began as a common acacia but a fig tree grew around the host taking over nutrients and water until it assumed the shape of the old tree. The strangler became a verdant habitat for everything from honeybees to monkeys.

I used to be a homely acacia. I had a second-rate existence. Then the Spirit blew his seed into the axis of my branches, the hollow point of my greatest need. The gospel germinated and roots drew up truth. A new form of life grew on top of the old. I still have my unique shape, but now my days are full of abundance. 

Tufts of the original me poke out. They agree in theory the fig self is better, but they won’t volunteer for the upgrade. Each branch, every leaf must be choked then regrown. Fear must expire under the strength of trust, and hatred must die by the hand of love. It’s a slow but needed strangulation of a lesser me.

The fig me stands tall and majestic, but there’s no room for pride in the recreated fruit or the habitat to the hurting. The new life of the fig is the life of Jesus and the boast is in him.

Prayer: Jesus, take over and live strong.

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