Gray Skies

Outside of my window
     it’s cloudy and gray.
But one thing I know –
     it won’t stay that way.
I’ve lived long enough
     to know this is true.
The gray skies will leave,
     replaced by the blue.
Yet sometimes they linger,
     seeming never to leave.
Then I must decide,
     do I really believe?

Sometimes it is hard,
     as darkness descends.
To think there is hope
     that this ever ends.
Will sunny days come
     and replace this gloom?
Or is the gray normal
     as I view from this room?
That’s often the problem –
     my point of view.
I need to refocus
     and see things anew.

I know there is purpose
     in skies filled with cloud.
And storms that do come,
     with thunder so loud.
The rain and the snow
     that gray clouds do bring.
Are part of the cycle
     that cause birds to sing.
With only blue skies
     and warm sunny days.
It’s the earth itself
     that soon turns to grays.

Gray skies are one thing,
     but what about me?
Do I get the point
     when darkness I see?
Do I trust my Maker,
     who shines up above,
To use times of darkness
     to show me His love?
When my mind seems filled
     with all of the grays.
Will His refreshing
     still fill me with praise?

As I walk this journey,
     there’s something I’ve learned.
The blue skies are given,
     not something I’ve earned.
But even the darkness,
     God works for my good.
To help me to grow
     and live like I should.
I’m learning to trust Him
     when I can’t see my way.
So that is the rain
     in my cloud of gray!

© 2014 by Tom Lemler

As I was working on some sermon prep and watching some cardinals playing in the brush outside my window under some very gray skies, God put this poem in my mind. While I’m not fond of gray skies outside nor in my brain, I know God uses them for His purposes and will not waste the opportunity to bring growth in my life as I learn to trust Him fully. I pray that this poem is an encouragement to you and accomplishes His purposes for it.

In prayer,

Almost There!

Kayaking on the St. Joe River.

Kayaking on the St. Joe River

I spent a couple of hours in a kayak on the Saint Joseph River yesterday morning.  For me, that is a great way to get away from everything and spend time alone with God relaxing and listening.  There is something special about the peace and quiet on the water that brings a clarity to my mind.

While I hadn’t been in the  kayak since last fall, my typical routine is to put into the river in South Bend, paddle upstream to Mishawaka, then float/paddle back.  It is about a 5 mile round trip and the total time depends on how much I paddle and how much I just float and enjoy the beauty of creation.  On this particular trip, I kept up a pretty steady paddle on the upstream route and on the return I only put the paddle in the water when the river widened out and I lost the main current pulling me downstream.  Did I mention that I hadn’t been in the kayak since last fall? 🙂

Beutter Park FootbridgeThroughout the trip I am looking for bridges because they help me to know an approximate position in relation to the entire trip.  Two of the bridges serve as reminders that I’m “almost there”.  The first is the Beutter Park footbridge in Mishawaka.  When it comes into view I know that the Main Street bridge is just around the bend and my paddling against the current is just about done for the day.  By this point, my arms and shoulders definitely feel the workout and the bridge is a reminder to keep going, it’s not much further.  It is usually through this stretch of river that the current seems strongest and the encouragement to keep at it is needed most.  Knowing that a time of rest is coming keeps me focused on striving toward the goal that will very soon come into view.  Passing under this bridge is cause for a celebration of sorts — I made it this far, I can make it to the end.

IUSB footbridgeThe second bridge that reminds me I’m almost there is the IUSB footbridge in South Bend.  This bridge serves as a reminder that the end of today’s journey is just around the corner.  Interestingly, this is a section that often has very little visible current to draw me downstream and it seems most days there is a headwind that comes across the water that makes sitting back and floating to the finish rather impractical.  But knowing that my destination is just around the corner makes it easier to put the paddle back into the water and finish strong.  It is often a bittersweet moment — it is exciting to have accomplished what I set out to do and finish the course that was laid before me but it has been such a joy that I’m not always ready to leave.  But leave I must, so I celebrate as I pass under this bridge knowing that my journey was a success and the victory of completion is in sight!

I hope you can see there is more to this story than simply a recreational kayak trip on a river.  Are you keeping the proper goals in sight so that you persevere in your journey of life?  Do you hold on to the command and promise of Jesus to take heart, even in troubles that are sure to come, because He has overcome the world?  Are your eyes fixed heavenward on the prize that was purchased for you by the blood of Jesus Christ — the prize that reminds you to finish strong?

I pray that you spend time alone with God today and allow Him to remind you to keep going, you’re almost there!

Amazing GRACE

Today marks the completion of one year, and the beginning of another year, of my being back on the staff of the Deer Run Church of Christ.  It has been an incredible year — a year best described by the words “amazing grace”!  My return to Deer Run was nothing short of the gracious hand of my God upon me, to favor me with His compassion.

My brain seems to be wired in a way that makes verbal conversation difficult — though many believe God has gifted me with an ability to write that can make up for the verbal inadequacies.  As a side note, it is amazing to me that God continues to show up in my preaching and teaching with the ability to speak powerfully through me.  For me, writing is therapeutic — it helps me to see where I’ve been and how far God has carried me.  While I still carry scars and hurts that continue to heal, God has taught me much over the past year.

I know I have a long way to go, but His mercy has helped me be more merciful.  His grace has taught me to be more gracious.  His compassion has led me to be more compassionate.  And perhaps the most difficult of all for me, His love is helping me know how to love.

So, how does this all happen?  What’s the secret?  I think the key to all of these lessons is that God continues to draw me to Himself and surrounds me with people who have a genuine concern for me as a person and as a child of God.  So, what’s so amazing about the grace God has shown me over the past year?

  • Generosity — God has given me the grace of generosity.  A lot can be discovered about a business or organization by looking at the way they treat employees and staff.  While your first thought is likely about financial compensation, an attitude of generosity can be seen in so many details of the way a person is treated.  God has blessed me with an environment that cares about my needs being met.  I am valued by people who are generous with their resources, time, and abilities.  The people around me help me to see the grace of God through their generosity.
  • Rest — God has given me the grace of rest.  Our need for rest was called for and designed by God, yet it is a need that we often ignore.  The year began with God providing the opportunity for a vacation with my family.  For the first time in a very long time, perhaps ever, I was able to sit on a sandy beach and actually fall asleep!  But the rest didn’t stop there.  Throughout the year, God has surrounded me with people who help me to rest when I am away by taking care of things as they happen rather than save them all up for my return.
  • Acceptance — God has given me the grace of acceptance.  Most people have heard that God accepts them just as they are but loves them too much to leave them that way.  Many people doubt God’s acceptance of them because people who claim to represent God will only accept them if they fully conform first.  My family at Deer Run has seen the good, the bad, and they ugly in me and they still accept me.   They see me not only as being valuable to them, but more importantly, they accept me as simply having value for who I am.
  • Compassion — God has given me the grace of compassion.  When we struggle with the pain and sorrow that is part of life, we want to know someone not only understands, but they really feel what we are going through.  God has surrounded me with people who are willing to share together what we are going through — not for the purpose of a pity party, but for the building up of one another through a heart of compassion.  I am part of a team that is walking this road together and we all feel the same bumps and scrapes as we take this journey.
  • Encouragement — God has given me the grace of encouragement.  The people around me at Deer Run are a great encouragement as they allow me to use the various gifts God has put in my life.  Whether I am cleaning, mowing, writing, teaching, preaching, or anything else, I am surrounded by people who encourage me through their words of appreciation.  The willingness of people to help in so many areas and a multitude of ways is also a great encouragement as I know I don’t have to accomplish the necessary tasks alone.

This has been a very brief summary of some of the ways God, and His amazing people at Deer Run, has extended His grace to me over the past year.  While the descriptions of this amazing GRACE that I have experienced over the past year focuses on what God has been doing for me, the real point is that God is using all of it to teach me how to extend His GRACE to others!  

God surrounds me with generous people so that I learn to be more generous.  He gives me times of great rest so I have a greater understanding of the need for others to rest.  He showers me with His acceptance, when I deserve it least, so that I would accept others more freely.  He surrounds me with His compassion so that I will be a more compassionate person in my preaching and teaching, as well as in all of my interaction with people.  He encourages me daily so that I would be better prepared to encourage the people around me.  

As God teaches me these lessons of His amazing grace, I pray that I learn to practice them so that others would learn of His amazing grace through me.

In prayer,

The Ride

The first book is finished,
     it’s hard to believe.
This gift is amazing
     that I did receive.
It happened so quickly,
     it doesn’t seem real.
That God would choose me,
     His truth to reveal.
Yet I am certain,
     His work is not done.
There’s more He keeps giving,
     this was only book one! 

It is surprising
     the work God will do.
When you are encouraged
     to let Him work through you.
The gift of His Spirit
     He gives to us all.
Who surrender to Him,
     and on His name call.
But most of the time,
     it’s so hard to see.
How God’s Spirit works
     in someone like me. 

For almost a year,
     I have had great peace.
From the hurt of my past,
     God gives me release.
He gives me freedom,
     as I seek His face.
And reminds me daily,
     I am in the right place.
He’s freed me from bondage
     of negative talk.
His presence goes with me,
     wherever I walk. 

So whether I’m walking
     on the trails in the woods.
Or walking the hallways
     picking up what I should.
God’s Spirit is with me
     and He fills my mind.
With all kinds of good things
     He wants me to find.
As I discover,
     just what He will give.
He calls me to use it
     in the way that I live. 

There’s more to this poem
     than just God and me.
He gives me these poems
     to help you to see.
God’s gifts to us all,
     He wants us to share.
With the people around us,
     to show that we care.
The gifting within us
     may start as a seed.
It takes encouragement
     to grow into deed. 

The people around me
     have helped me to write.
They help me to trust
     and walk without sight.
That is the great task,
     God gives to us all.
To nurture His calling,
     before people fall.
So when you see others,
     look closely inside.
And help them be ready
     as God leads the ride! 

© 2014 by Tom Lemler

As I was spending time with God this morning praising Him for the amazing work He has done in getting this poetic devotional book into print, this poem filled my mind.  This incredible journey of zero to sixty poems in two months time and the final edit of the book sent to the printer taking place three months to the day from the first poem being given, has me marveling at the work God can do when His Spirit is allowed to work and is fueled by the encouragement of people.  I pray that this poem helps you to see the incredible ride God has in store for you when you listen to Him and the encouragers that He will place around you.  I also pray that it helps you to see the need to be an encourager of the people around you.

In prayer,

The Act of MOVE (Acts 18)

It is a joy to preach through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

As we arrive in Acts 18 in our sermon series we find Paul on the move . . . still!  Throughout his life we find Paul moving from place to place . . . sometimes voluntarily, sometimes unwillingly, and sometimes by force.  As Christians, we often find ourself in the midst of the Act of MOVE and could use some guidance from Paul’s example as we consider how to respond and what we should learn.  This isn’t just a physical move.  Because we are growing in Christ, or at least ought to be, we are constantly involved in this act of move due to that growth.  Let’s look at some of these lessons of the Act of MOVE as we consider Acts 18.

  • Meeting:  Acts 18 opens with Paul on the move from Athens to Corinth and verse two is easy to overlook and completely miss the significance of what happens — Paul met a Jew named Aquila along with his wife, Priscilla.  We read later in the chapter some of the significance of this meeting and how this helps to prepare Priscilla and Aquila to teach Apollos the way of the Lord more accurately.  This is not an isolated occurence.  Everywhere that Paul goes, we read about people that he meets and the influence God has on them through the meeting.  The same thing happens in your life and mine.  As we move about life, we meet people.  The question we ought to consider, and rarely do, is “Why?”.  If we’re paying attention, these meetings that take place can benefit the person we meet, can benefit us, can benefit onlookers to the meeting, or more often be useful for the kingdom in all of these areas.  When we are listening to God throughout the Act of MOVE in our life, the Meetings that God arranges for us take on greater significance as we allow Him to work through them. 
  • Opposition:  I do need to warn you, though; the Act of MOVE brings about more than its share of Opposition.  The act of move means that we are growing and changing.  If you haven’t noticed, very few people are really that fond of change.  Paul was constantly using the meetings that God arranged in his life to talk about the good news of Jesus.  When applied correctly and fully, the good news of Jesus changes people!  Paul constantly face opposition because of the changes that would take place among people who would realize a need to reject an old way of life that they had died to and embrace a new life that they’ve found in Jesus.  Jesus made it pretty plain that if the people who embrace the ways of the world opposed Him, you can be confident that they will oppose you as a disciple of Jesus.  A word of caution:  God also says that He opposes the proud, so when you face opposition for which the source is unclear it is always a good idea to spend time with God in examining any attitudes and actions you may need to change.  Learning to accept and grow through Opposition is a valuable lesson as we grow in the Act of MOVE.
  • Verification: One of the things that people seem to hate the most about the changes and opposition that takes place in the Act of MOVE is the uncertainty.  That is why the act of Verification is such an important part of our embracing the act of move fully.  I can’t help but think that Paul had times of questions, and even doubts, that were intensified by opposition.  I think that is why God shows up in a vision to Paul and verifies that he is doing the right thing and needs to continue speaking about Jesus.  In this chapter, the verification is not only about doing the right thing but also about Paul’s safety.  It is important to note that if you look at the life of Paul, the verification from God isn’t always about safety but it is always about God’s presence being with him.  It is in our times of doubt and discouragement that we need to listen intently to God through His Word and His Spirit as He verifies that we indeed are His child . . . and we’re not alone!  He may use our time with Him to verify that we are at the right place or verify that it is time to move.  Our time with God should be a verification that God is indeed with us in good times and in bad circumstances, as well as everything in between.   When we are growing in the Act of MOVE, our deliberate time with God provides Verification that we are where we ought to be and that God is with us.
  • Encouragement: Throughout the Act of MOVE, we have opportunity after opportunity to be an Encouragement to people from all walks of life and backgrounds.  As Paul moves from place to place, he is not only continually reasoning with people about their need for Jesus, he is encouraging the new believers to remain faithful in leading, speaking, and teaching about the faith which is theirs.  Wherever Paul went he would equip people to be ready for when he would move on and they would be on their own.  His letters are full of encouragement for individuals and bodies of believers that he had been instrumental in establishing.  As he moved to different locations, his role as encourager remained.  You don’t have to look far, many times all it takes is a mirror, to see someone who is discouraged and in need of encouragement.  One of the greatest tools of encouragement is a belief that God can completely transform a life that is surrendered to Him.  You know the work God has done, is doing, and will do in your life; do you believe he can and will do that work in the lives of others?  Do they know you believe that?  When we are deliberate about our attitude during the Act of MOVE, we give Encouragement to people that they are able to escape from the power of sin and death in life and in eternity.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of MOVE?  Do you pay attention to the Meetings God arranges for you?  Are you aware that Opposition to the good news of Jesus is to be expected so that when it comes you are not caught off guard?  Do you faithfully spend time with God, allowing Him through His Word and His Spirit to provide Verification that you are in the right place doing the right thing?  Are you using your life to provide Encouragement to others on a regular basis?  I pray that your response to the Act of MOVE in your life will boldly show the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

HOPE In The Valley

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
     he leads me beside quiet waters, 
      he restores my soul.
     He guides me in paths of righteousness
     for his name’s sake. 
 Even though I walk
     through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
     for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
     they comfort me. 
 You prepare a table before me
     in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
     my cup overflows. 
 Surely goodness and love will follow me
     all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

 Psalm 23 is familiar to many and often looked to for comfort and encouragement in times of grief and great loss.  In preparing to preach recently at Deer Run, God helped me to see a connection between this passage and the statements of Jesus in John 10 where He identifies Himself as the good Shepherd.  As I look at these passages, I see four things that Jesus brings to us so that we can have HOPE in the valley.

I know that often it feels like the time in the valley is so desolate, and you’re so alone, that there can’t possibly be anyone else that is in the valley or could even understand.  Unfortunately, or fortunately depending how you look at it, that is just not true.  We all walk through the valley at times — many times more often than we admit and for most, more often than we like.  Some of our valleys are much easier for others, and ourself, to identify.  In the 23 Psalm, David writes of the “valley of the shadow of death”.  It is one of the reasons this Psalm is used so often to comfort families and loved ones at funeral services as they walk through that valley.  It is a valley that we all walk through from time to time but not the only valley we are likely to experience.  There are the valleys of loneliness, rejection, hurt, anger, illness, poverty, hunger, need, exhaustion, despair, confusion, . . . I hope you get the point, the list goes on and on.  You’ve probably seen yourself in one or more of these valleys as well as others that you have experienced.  The good news is that God can, and wants, to bring HOPE to your valley.

The first quality that God desires to bring to our valley is Healing.  Jesus states that it is not the healthy that need a physician, but the sick.  He came to bring a wellness to the lives of those who realize they are sick — a healing to those who are hurting in the valley.  David describes that in this Psalm as restoring the soul.  As our Shepherd, God wants to bring healing to the innermost part of who we are.  Healing is needed when we walk through our valley.  God’s desire is for us to find and depend on Him as the one who heals.

Secondly, we find Opportunity in the valley.  This can be extremely hard to grasp while we are in the valley but God can use our hardships and heartaches to prepare and refine us for greater things.  It has often been said that an advantage of hitting rock bottom is that there is nowhere to go but up.  While I wouldn’t suggest reaching that point purposefully, as Christians our valleys ought to cause us to evaluate where we are at and to look up.  It is in the valley that we often have the opportunity to learn greater trust and dependence on God.  The life lessons learned in the valley, while often the hardest, are usually not learned anywhere else.  God’s gift of opportunity in the valley is a key component of the hope that we all long for.

Protection in the valley can often seem like a great mystery and contradiction to us — particularly while we are in the valley.  Our mind often thinks that if God were providing protection, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.  As one who had been in the valley numerous times, David realized that even when he walks through the valley of the shadow of death there was no need to fear evil because God was with him.  David spent so much time being tracked down and hunted with Saul trying to kill  him.  He, more than many, understood the protection God could give as he speaks of God preparing a table for him in the presence of his enemies.  I don’t know about you, but for me it takes a great amount of confidence in the One protecting me for me to be able to sit at a table while my enemies are watching.  God’s protecting us from the evil one went all the way to Calvary where the “Good Shepherd” laid down his life for His sheep — you and I.  Holding fast to God as our protector goes a long way in bring hope to our valley.

Additionally, we have Encouragement in the valley.  David realized that the rod and staff of his Shepherd were not meant to harm or frighten him but to bring comfort to his life.  Sometimes it is in our valley that we are quiet and still enough to feel the comfort of God’s rod and staff in our life.  David recognized that God’s presence in  his valley was an encouraging reminder that His goodness and mercy would be with him all the days of his life.  But it didn’t end there.  It was in the valley that he was reminded of the great encouragement that comes with the promise of dwelling in the house of the LORD forever.  Encouragement in the valley provides hope as we recognize the great love and faithfulness of the God we serve.

Do you need HOPE in your valley today?  I pray that you would lean mightily upon God for insight into His Healing, Opportunity, Protection, and Encouragement that He desires for you to have. 

But wait, there’s more!  Whether you are currently in a valley or not, you have a job to do!  Spread the HOPE that God has brought into your life.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians and instructs us to comfort others with the same comfort we have received through Jesus.  Part of the opportunity of our valley is in the receiving of comfort and hope from our LORD so that we in turn can offer comfort and hope to others.  We learn through scripture that Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin.  He walked through the same valleys we find ourselves in.  He knows our sorrows and our pain first hand.  It is through His greatest valley that we find the foundation for HOPE in our valley.

Praying that you and I both receive and share HOPE in the valleys of life.

Back Again . . . Maybe

It has been a while since I have done any writing . . . and even longer since I have written on this particular blog.  My plan is to return to writing on a regular basis — whatever that might mean. 😉

As I thought about this return, I had to consider why it had been so long.  Has God not been teaching me important lessons?  Have I not been listening?  Did I miss the value in what I have learned?  Have I missed the importance of writing down the insights gained no matter what size they appear to me?  Is there no more treasure in this jar of clay worth sharing?

While each of these questions may have some element of truth to them in regard to my not writing, I think the cause is much simpler and more pervasive in its attempt to draw me away from that which is good and right.  A lifestyle of busyness and distraction has been the primary culprit in keeping me from recording and sharing the lessons I have been learning.

It has been nearly 3 years since I have written on this blog and 4 months since I have written elsewhere.  I know that in that time span there are lessons I have forgotten because I did not write them down.  Lessons that I need to be reminded of.  Lessons that others may have benefitted from if I had bothered to share.

Paul wrote to Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.  Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” (1 Timothy 4:13-14)  As I consider the gift of preaching and teaching, of writing and communicating, that God has given me, I want to be careful that I don’t neglect this gift.  I want to use it for the good and benefit of others that they would grow in their relationship with God through His son, Jesus Christ.

So, my encouragement for you is the same admonition God is placing on my heart — discover and use the gift(s) God has given you!  Do not neglect your gift but use it to invest in others to the glory of God!  Encourage others by using your gift.  Encourage others, including me, to use their gift — reminding them gently if they begin to let the busyness and distractions of life sidetrack them.  God has given us the “one anothers” in our life for both our benefit and theirs!  

Praying that we live our life in such a way that people would see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven!