Lessons From the Pond

Garside’s pond was a magnet for us as kids. It was a small pond nestled in a grove of trees at the top of the hill above Peter Dees house. It sat on the side of the road right where the road took a bend. There was nothing fancy about it. Definitely no swimming – it was dark and murky. Not much for fishing either – there was a tremendous amount of algae and the growing things that would grab your line. So, what was the big attraction?

First was that it was secluded for the most part. We could hang out there and not be seen. We would play around the shoreline. One of our favorite things to do was to skip stones and see if we could skip a stone all the way across the pond. Not that the pond was that big – maybe 30 feet across. But skipping a stone that far took talent, and we became pretty good skippers! The second test was how many skips you could do with one stone. I can remember several over 10. Another stone related thing we enjoyed was throwing a rock into the middle of the pond and watching the ripples come out. We used to try and make patterns by throwing rocks into different areas. Not as exciting as today’s video games, but it kept us occupied.

Second was the tadpoles. We loved to seek out tadpoles and watch them with fascination. It wasn’t unusual for us to find a nest of eggs and take some home, and watch as they hatched and became tadpoles. I can’t remember if we were ever able to keep one all the way to the frog stage, but I’m sure we tried several times over. It’s a fascinating thing to do, especially for a 10-year-old. The little eggs would first sprout a tail, then some front legs, and then the rear legs. We could watch them for hours.

But the biggest reason we hung out there was the bullfrogs. These beasts were gigantic and we were hunters. Catching a bullfrog was a talent we developed over time. Ordinary frogs were hard enough. You would see them on a lily pad, or along the shore, and you were sure you could sneak up on them, only to have them jump before you got there. It took stealth to capture even an average frog. And we caught plenty of them.

But the bullfrog, now that was a catch that made you special. These bullfrogs would trumpet their presence with a loud Ribbit that could be heard miles away – I’m sure! And you could kind of tell where it came from. Slowly you would creep that direction listening to him bellow out his presence. Then, as you got closer, no matter how quiet you were, he’d go silent. If you were really good, you might get close enough to see him sitting there. But you had to be fast to catch him. And catch some we did. Catching a bullfrog was a badge of honor to us. I will not tell you what we did with these beasts when we caught them, but it was not very humane – not humane at all.

What great memories!

I was back in Massachusetts a couple years ago, and we went by that old pond. It was much smaller than I remembered, almost more like a marsh than a pond anymore. The trees and brush had overgrown much of what was the pond many decades ago. There was no place for kids to play around the shore anymore – there wasn’t even much of a shore. It made me sad to see one of my favorite places become so un-useful.

Jesus told a parable about a sower who went out to sow his seed. Some seed fell on hard ground and the birds just ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground and never took root. Some fell on ground that then sprouted weeds that choked out the seed. And some fell on good ground and brought a good harvest. Then Jesus explained that this was really about sharing the gospel. Some will just not receive it – like the seed that fell on hard ground. Some will quickly accept the word, but the word will never take root in them and they will fall away., like the seed that fell on rocky ground. And some will accept the word, and start to live for Christ, but will turn away because of the cares of this world, much like the seed suffered at the hand of he weeds. And of course, some accept the word and go on to live for Christ and bring forth a harvest.

The pond reminds me how easily the world can encroach on the beauty of our salvation. It happens slowly, as little things start to distract us from serving the Lord. Maybe something comes up on a Sunday morning that causes us to miss church. Maybe our devotional time is disappearing beneath work or family pressures. Whatever it is, our time with God gets the short end of the stick. The world creeps in, just like the plant life crept into the pond. If we are not careful, our spiritual life can become overgrown with those other things, and we will find ourselves mediocre at best.

Examine your life, as I have been mine, and see where the world is creeping in. Then start to take steps to clear back the weeds, pull the muck out of the water, and restore the pond, restore your life, to a life-giving force once again. It can be done!

Does God Count You Faithful?

This is a reblog from my God’s Maintenance Man Blog.  This blog is found under the Teachings tab at the top of this page.  If you would like to read others in the series on Timothy and Titus, please click on that tab.

 1 Timothy 1:12-14

12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;
13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.

I like to take credit. I like to think I did something myself. It was me who read the Bible and gained the knowledge I have. It was me who began to understand how the Old and New Testament worked together., It was me who figured out how the scripture applies to everyday life. I wrote all these poems and songs through the years. The moving of the Holy Spirit is due to my ability and expertise in putting a worship service together. All these years, I have been slaving away for God and coming up with these thoughts and ideas on how God works in our lives. I did it. Me!

That paragraph is the definition of pride. I did it. I accomplished it. I figured it out. This is where I lived for years, and truly believed the sayings in that paragraph. It caused me to start top think I could disregard all that I had learned and do what I wanted to do. After all, I had done it all for God!

But I soon fell hard, lost my job and almost my family and had to take inventory on my spiritual life. What I found out was what Paul says here. God has enabled me. I do not have the ability within myself to do the things above. It is God in me and through me. That is the only way these things can minister the way they do. That is the only way the right words can get on paper that will touch hearts and heal up wounds of the soul.

You see, I was once very much like Paul. I certainly was a blasphemer, a breaker of all the commandments, a drunkard and drug addict and a person who could care less about God. My own way was the way I would go and no one could tell me I was in the wrong. I had walked away from God in high school and had no plans on coming back to Him. I was a persecutor, maybe not of the saint, but of everyone around me. I would put down, speak badly of, and try to hurt with words anyone that wronged me. I was a smaller guy and not a physical specimen, so I relied on a quick wit. This also made me injurious, like Paul. My words could injure peoples spirits and hearts quicker than a dart being thrown at them. The bigger problem is that they could dodge a dart, but could not avoid my stinging words.

Then grace came in. Love came in. Faith came in. Somehow I found myself driving to Iowa to see my best friend. Clear out of the blue I had decided to make the 1300 mile drive from Massachusetts to Iowa. When I arrived at his house, we had a great reunion, having not seen each other for over a year. He was a Christian, and had tried to sway me a year earlier at our high school reunion. It didn’t work, but it also did not hurt our friendship. Here I was on His doorstep in Iowa. Through the last year we had sent letters back and forth and each one of his letters had a scripture address on it. I had to look it up to see what he was saying. He was a sly old fox (well, not that old. He was a week older than me).

Then he said come to church with us tonight, and I said OK. I had no problem going with him, just don’t give me any of that salvation stuff. Don’t tell me I need saving. I was doing just fine. And I was so wrong. That minister, who was a missionary home on leave, told me I was headed for a burning hell. I did not want to go there! Then he told me there was only one way to avoid it, and that was Jesus Christ, I wanted Jesus. Jesus took me into His arms later that week and saved my soul. His grace covered me completely.

Now He enables me. I do everything I can to keep my thoughts out of this blog, out of the poetry, out of the songs that fill the pages of my web sites. I seek God’s wisdom and His words for these pages, not mine. I have nothing of value to give except my life. These are His words, His thoughts, His songs. I claim no ownership.

Since He has enabled me, it is now up to me to be an open conduit. He has put me into this ministry and now I need to allow His message to flow through me out to you. Paul tells us that the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet (1 Corinthians 14:32). This means God gives us the ability to shut it down or make it flow. We can muzzle the message God gives us to share. We can say “God gave this to me and I’m not going to share it!” We absolutely can. But I do no want to be that person.

My heart’s desire is to be counted faithful. Jesus said that to whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48). The words, songs, melodies and so on come from God. He has given them, for some reason I will never understand, to me. He entrusted me with the ability to hear His voice, and I for one want to make sure He will say I did it well. I could care less if anyone on this earth says the same. I am aware that very few hear God the way I hear Him. Very few have learned to listen as He has taught me to. He holds me accountable for those things He has entrusted to me.

What about you? What gift, or gifts, has God given to you? What talents do you possess? What are you doing with them? I suggest you make a list of all the gifts and talents God has bestowed on you. Some will have just a few items they can think of, others might have many dozen. Pray about it and be thorough. Once you have compiled your list, take each item one by one and ask God if you are doing a good job with that talent. If you’re like me, there are some you are doing well with and others you need to do better.

After this is done, ask God to help you do a better job of ministering in the areas where He has gifted you. Ask Him to enable you to reach more, teach more, love more and touch more. Ask Him to make your light shine so that you might bring Him glory. Give yourself as a living sacrifice for Him so that you might prove the will of God is alive in your life. Be vigilant in your ministry and never back down. This world needs you!

Jesus You’re Amazing

Jesus you’re amazing
You’re everything to me
I was dying in my sin
And then you rescued me

Jesus you’re amazing
You’re more than life to me
When I gave my life to you
You met my deepest need

My need was not for riches
Or for power or for fame
My need was not possessions
Or for fleshly gain

My desperate need was cleansing
Deep down into my soul
And when I gave my life to you
You made me whole

You gave me peace I’d never known
And joy unspeakable
You gave me faith that truly works
And grace unmatchable

You gave forgiveness for my sin
And mercy not deserved
You gave your life so I could live
You taught me how to serve

Jesus you’re amazing
You’re everything to me
I was dying in my sin
And then you rescued me

Jesus you’re amazing
You’re more than life to me
When I gave my life to you
You met my deepest need

When Storm Clouds Gather

                      I love a good storm. I love watching the clouds roll in from a distance and seeing the lightning flashing, and waiting for the thunder to roll.  I love seeing them build as they move closer, higher and higher.  I love the pre-rain smell that fills the air when a thunderstorm gets near.  And then they are here, and the air is filled with rain and lightning and thunder – a magnificent display of God’s power.  It is one of the most awesome things in all of nature. 

When I look at clouds, I think about the storms that can come into our lives.  They come in all shapes and sizes and can affect us in so many different ways.  Sometimes, we can see the storm directly ahead of us, heading our way, but we cannot see a different road to take:

As we listen to the voice of God in these situations, He may tell us to stay on the straight road, and not turn to the right or to the left.  The Israelites were told this as they went through the desert (Num 20:7), or by Jesus in the New Testament (Matt 7:14).  There are times that God knows the battle is before you and He wants you to have faith in Him to see you through.  These times are precious because they really test our faith.  Our inclination is to avoid the storm at all costs.  It looks dangerous.  But if we listen to God’s voice and trust in His strength to get us through, the blessing that is one the other side is well worth it.

Then there are times that storm looms over us.  It is big, and ominous, and scary.  The clouds surrounding the storm hide its intensity, but you can see danger in their formation.  You do not know exactly what is going to happen, you just know this storm, this trial, is going to hit at any time:

You face it with courage and an unmoving faith in God, like a tree planted by the water (Psalm 1:3).  A tree relies on the water for its sustenance and strength.  It sends those roots down deep to gather the water and feed the rest of the tree.  When it is close to the water. It does not worry where that supply will come from, and it will not be moved from that spot.  We need to be like that tree, relying on God to give us the strength to go through the storm, not to avoid it.  The storm is right there, ready to burst, and we praise Him regardless, because we know by faith He will see is through.  He knows what the storm will bring, and He is more than able to help us get to the other side, where the blessings flow.

There are storms that make a lot of noise way off in the distance.  They look like a danger, and we start to worry long before they get near us.  And we hear the thunder rumble, and people tell us we are in for a battle when the storm gets here.  The storm, or trial, looks frightening, and could be devastating when it arrives:

We are told not to fear, or worry about tomorrow (Matt 6:34).  God holds all our tomorrows.  Only He knows what the next hour will bring.  The storm could dissipate and never reach you.  I have watched thunder storms stop on a dime and give out.   I have also seen them part and go around on all sides.  We never know.  So, when that storm is approaching, pray.  Ask God to stop the storm, or to move the storm, that is coming toward your life.  He stilled the waves and the wind (Mark 5:35-41), and He can calm your storm before it even gets to you.  Just ask.

Then there are the storms of life that affect your friends, your family, your neighbors, and, yes, your enemies.  They loom off in the distance and all you can see is the looming clouds.  You are not sure who they are affecting, or what the intensity is, but you know there is a storm over their lives, ether because they told you, or you see the signs of a storms:

This is a time to pray.  We are called to be intercessors (Ezek 22:30-31. Eph 6:18).  This is the highest calling I believe.  To be a prayer warrior for God is a blessing to so many people often those we do not know.  If we are listening to the Spirit, He will tell us people who need prayer throughout our day.  Do you ever have names pop in your head in the middle of the day?  This is the Holy Spirt prompting you to pray for them.  Never, ever doubt that.  How should you pray?  The bible tells us the Holy Spirit will give us the words as groanings that cannot be uttered (Rom 8:26).  Allow God to work through you, and just open yourself up to pray.  He will help you.

And on the other side of that storm is always a blessing.  When we go through trials of faith, we grow in our walk with the Lord.  We become stronger, ready to face bigger trials.  But we also are ready to help others face theirs.  We are more prepared to help someone else who is going through the same storm in their lives.  These storms are meant for our growth, not out harm.  But if we try to get through them on our own, they will probably cause harm.  Either that or we will not make it through, and give up.  If that happens, we will most likely have to face the same storm again.  It is so important we rely on God’s strength to help us through.  He will never fail us.  And we will see the blessing when the storm passes.

Pride Part 1

This is a repost of the first part of a series I did on Pride two years ago. If you would like to read the rest of the series, please click on my teaching sight above and you will see the Pride Series in the menu. The reason I wrote this study was to help people see the hidden pride in their lives and work on bringing it under control.

 In my experience, if your immediate reaction to that statement is that yours is under control, it probably is not. I have been there before, and hope to never again have unrecognized pride in my life. This is a first installment to give you some background. 

One of the most fascinating things about pride is that it hides itself from the individual who is afflicted by it. I bet all of us have seen people who are full of pride and wonder why they don’t take care of that attitude. Don’t they know it is unattractive and a big turn-off? Well, no they don’t. In fact, they don’t even see it. Let me take a moment to share my story with you. 

I was a worship leader, Sunday school teacher, youth minister and fill-in preacher at my church. I also filled in at other churches occasionally. I was looked upon by those around me as having it all together and one that loved the Lord. And I did love the Lord, and I loved ministry. My wife, on the other hand, saw the pride in my life and kept telling me it was there, but I would not listen. In fact, I kept explaining to her that I was a humble servant of God. 

But the real truth lay in the fact that when I was alone, I was living a depraved lifestyle. I will not go into details, but I was not living as a Christian, but as a heathen. The things I was doing were expressly condemned in God’s word, and I knew the Bible. I knew they were wrong. But I thought God would overlook those things. In fact, whenever I had a close call to someone discovering my sinful ways, I always thanked God for “warning” me ahead of time so I could clean things up. 

Well, as we all know, what is kept secret will eventually come out, and mine did. And it cost me big time. In my pride, I violated a major policy in my workplace, one that I had written, and I got caught. I was immediately terminated after 20 years of working for the company. My pastor, who had known about my sin from a previous exposure and had worked hard with me to get deliverance before I started up again, told me I was not welcome in his church any longer unless I got help. And I did get help.

I went to Pure Life Ministries in Kentucky for Eight months. Eight months of hard work, bunk beds, dorm style living and intense bible study. Eight months of counseling which showed me the pride that was so rampant in my life. Eight months of squashing it down and bringing humility to the forefront. Heck, I was so prideful, I was even proud of my pride! When I look back on who I was it sickens me.

When I got home, I spent two years doing no ministry at all. Just sat in the pew and took things in. I learned to listen to my wife, who can spot my pride in a heartbeat. She has been a Godsend in keeping me on the right path. I am a much more reserved, quiet person than I was before. And I like that. 

In this first installment on pride, I will end with this warning. If you are a Christian, and you are doing something that is blatantly sinful, and thinking God will overlook it, that is pride at its worst. God will not overlook disobedience, which is the core of sin. The problem is that if you are reading this and if you are doing what I suggested, you most likely will say that you are not a prideful person.

You will ignore the warning, because your pride will tell you it does not apply.You’re special to God. You don’t have to be perfect. A little sin will keep you humble. That’s why God allows you to keep it.
 
My friend, all of that is hogwash! And if you are telling yourself this is not for you, then you need to seriously ask God to search your heart and try you as if you’re life depended on it, because it does. God hates pride! And He will not allow it into heaven so you better get rid of it now. I will be back with more on pride in the coming days, because without a spirit of humility, a true spirit of reconciliation is impossible. In the next post, we will examine what pride is. I always thought I knew, but found out it takes on forms I was completely unaware of.
 
I hope you’ll come back.
Pete Gardner