A Crown Pursued

photo-1460396380617-a1fdc2ffa5c4[2]Although I live near a race track in Florida, I have never been to one. But the Belmont race of the 2015 Triple Crown in New York intrigued me. Possibly for three reasons, because it’s the coveted trophy, the American Pharoah was trained in Florida, and the misspelling of his name.

His name “American Pharoah” was verified to be legally entered, though misspelled, The origin of the name is significant to the owner Ahmed Zayat because of his Egyptian-American background.

American Pharoah was transported from Kentucky to train at McKathan Brothers near Citra, Florida. There his jockey had to learn the horse’s responses to him and he to the horse. He had to know when to restrain him and when to give him free reign, each responding with confidence to the other. In a sense, learning to trust each other.

Trust is built as we involve our lives more in Christ Jesus and confidence between himself and his followers when he assures us that “I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10: 14b).

Although the jockey did not realize it, he and American Pharoah race for God’s pleasure and delight as they were created to do. And God takes this same delight in us,  His runners. The jockey and his horse have a course and we have a course. Hebrews says, Let us run “the race marked out for us” (12:1c). We have already been registered in the race by God and assigned our course of “running.”

When we think of American Pharoah running the track, we are reminded of Genesis 1:25c, “And God said that it was good.” Yet God says “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear him.” Psalm 147:10-11a.

The Apostle Paul shouts out, “We are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). It could be paraphrased, We are winning a most glorious victory or We win the supreme victory. His love encourages us to persevere in our race.

Encouraging us all to complete our race reminds us that not just one, but all, run Christ’s race and can be winners. In fact, we can be triple crown winners.

So how are we doing in our triple crown pursuit today? Are we running, filled with the persistent and energizing life of our Savior?

Deny, Take, Follow

Sorry for the blog scrambling. Don’t know how it happened. Hopefully this will be clearer.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mark 8:34).

Today my wife and I saw a man on a sidewalk dragging a wooden cross on his shoulder.

Is that what Jesus meant, “Take up your cross and follow me?”

Well, this much we do know. Cross bearing does not mean denying yourself some pleasure nor enduring some tragedy in life, as a loss of a job, a disease, or dysfunctional family.”

When Jesus says, “Deny yourself” (34a), He means a daily giving Him your road map, your GPS, and saying, “Jesus, you drive and navigate me completely from this moment.”
When Jesus says, “Take up your cross” (34b), He means a daily submitting to His will. It’s a picture of a condemned criminal under Roman rule being forced to carry the cross bar on his shoulder to the place of crucifixion. He knew he was not coming back!

When Jesus says, “Follow me” (34c), He means embracing His lifestyle and thought patterns. As a child we played the game “Simon Says.” We imitated completely what Simon said. Transfer that concept and you’ll better understand “follow me.” In this game of life, it means not my will, but your will, Lord. In everything!

So Christians, where are we in our daily denying, daily taking, and daily deciding to follow Jesus? Or in the words of The Message, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat. I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how” (Mark 8:34).

Each day let Jesus stay in the driver’s seat and cease to make self the object of your actions. Resolve that Jesus will be the center of your life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, our heavenly catalyst, these are hard decisions. Satan would want nothing more than for us to be the master of our souls. Forgive us when we’re tempted to get back into the driver’s seat to self-drive our lives. Saturate our minds with your lifestyle so that we are strengthened to surrender self, to hoist our cross, and run after you no matter the cost. Amen.

God’s Epitaph

As I recently reflected on the Easter celebration, I speculated that if Jesus had needed an epitaph for the three days he was in the tomb, it could have possibly been his victory shout, “It Is Finished,” those three words that shook the earth, split rocks, opened graves, and ripped the heavy temple curtain and gained access into God’s holy presence for humanity.

An epitaph, the inscription on a gravestone, affords an opportunity to leave a testimony of one’s faith.

My wife and I spent some of our leisure summers exploring old cemeteries. We enjoyed reading epitaphs to learn about the individuals, especially about their faith. One of the most humorous ones was the couplet: “As I am now, so you must be; / Therefore, prepare to follow me,” to which another couplet had been added:“ To follow you I’m not content, / Unless I know which way you went.” One, on a child’s gravestone, might seem sentimental to a modern mind, but struck us as appropriate: “Home in the Arms of the Good Shepherd.” A very sobering one was: “Life is a cobweb, / though youth shines like day, / yet death is a broom / who sweeps us all away.” But the most tragic was this one: “I’m already five minutes late for the office.” What a sad way to be remembered–that one’s time at the office seems more important than living life.

During one of those cemetery explorations, we discussed writing our epitaphs. Emily remembered as a new Christian memorizing the seven I AM Scriptures in John, so hers evolved from those Scriptures: “I am with that I AM.” I found it hard to top that one, but I came up with “Gone Home.”

As I reflected on our cemetery visits, it occurred to me that if Jesus walked through the cemetery where I will be buried, I would like for him to carve an epitaph on my gravestone: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23, NIV). I know he could speak it and the words would appear on my stone, but I would like to think he chiseled it himself. That’s the testimony I want. As I read other epitaphs that declare definitive evidence of hope, I pray mine will inspire and encourage others.

When we use and develop what we have been given, Jesus’ hand written words will be the ticket into “the Lord’s joy,” an exuberant dance with pleasure to share to the limits of each faithful servant’s capacity.

Even though time and weather will efface granite memorial stones, the Lord’s epitaphs will not be altered by time, weather, or human effort. Therefore, we live to be faithful so we can anticipate that prayed-for applause, “Good work. You did your job well. From now on be my partner.” (Matthew 25:23, MSG)

A Surprised Provision

We were coming home from my oncology appointment. The news from the CT scan was a bit discouraging and the doctor had decided to try yet another chemo drug.

As Emily got out of the car she commented on how dirty the driveway was. “Could we get a power washer and clean this up, Leon, or is it too much for us to handle?”

“Yes, it is.” I will try to find the name of the man who did it for us a couple of years ago.”

I decided to take a rest before starting on my blog. The doorbell rang and Emily came into the bedroom. “A man named Terry is at the door. He said he would power wash the driveway and sidewalk for $___. Do you want to talk with him?

I went to the door and we discussed the details. He and his brother agreed to power wash the driveway, the sidewalk, the eaves and downspouts (which were also dirty) and even wash the windows.

As they were leaving, I gave them the money, two cokes, two energy bars, my business card, and talked with them about their relationship with the Lord. They occasionally attend a local church and promised me they would read the Gospel material that I gave them, entitled The Purpose of Life.

The Lord’s promise is not only, “He will call upon me and I will answer him” (Psalm 91:15) but even greater, “Your Father knows what you need even before you ask,” (Matt 6:8)

Did God hear Emily’s comment as we were coming into the house, still a bit confused about what the next chemo step would be? Did God send Terry and his brother down our street just 15 minutes later? Did God lead them to answer our concern about the mildew and dirt on the driveway and house? Do we really believe God is always caring for those of us who love Him? Is Psalm 91:15 a very real promise in our everyday lives?

The answer to all of these questions is emphatically “Yes.” He verified today that He cares about each of His beloved children.”

What a perfect picture of His answering before we even utter a prayer for help. Thank you, Lord, for Terry and his brother.

Keep Your Fork

M4VUEW478F0y daughter recently told me a story I could not get out of my mind, so I want to share it.

Usually when family, relatives, and friends view the beloved in the casket, there is silence, hushed sobs, maybe a faint whisper or two, but not at this viewing. Gasps followed by muffled giggles were heard, heads turning, some leaning in for a closer look, one man even removing and cleaning his glasses, and a shared restlessness.

Viewers expected to see folded hands, possibly holding a small black Bible or a rose. Instead an old dinner fork was wedged between her hands.

When her husband detected the unasked question on everyone’s lips, he reverently and humbly approached the casket and began to distribute 5 x 7 floral cards with the message of the fork.

“Growing up on the farm, after the evening meal as mom cleared the table, everyone waited to hear that welcome reminder, ‘Keep your fork.’

“For me, that meant, the best was yet to come, her carrot or chocolate cake, or one of her cherry or apple pies. For years those prayed-for three little words, ‘Keep your fork’ resounded in my mind.

“After the Lord took her home, I found among her funeral arrangements, her request to be buried with a fork in her hand. ‘I want it to be a symbolic reminder that for all who die in the Lord, the best is yet to come’.”

What does that mean?

Here are four of the possibilities she may have had in mind. We are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb for the bride has made herself ready (Rev 19:9); we’ll be in the new paradise, “on each side of the river stood the tree of life, yielding its fruit every month,” a metaphor for everlasting nourishment (Rev 22:2); God the chef will “on this mountain [Zion] prepare a feast of rich food, a banquet of aged wine–the best of meats (Isaiah 25:6); and we’ll savor forever, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth,” an insatiable appetite for the life-changing Word of God (Psalm 119:103).

So when we hear God say, “Keep your fork” and our taste buds start salivating, we’ll fall down in praise and gratitude before Him for the eternal dessert set before us, since the best has finally come.

You are Royalty

Royalty“I thank the Lord for my time in the hospital,” I replied when my doctor asked me in my follow-up appointment how things went. “The nurses treated me royally.”

He was a military doctor and in his usual straightforward no-nonsense way, he said, “Well. Why shouldn’t they? You are royalty.”

I looked at him wondering what he meant. Nobody ever called me royalty.

Then he added, “You’re a child of the King. King Jesus.”

I know he is a believer. But I was still surprised by what he said. He had never said anything like that before.

His response made me think of Romans 8:17. “Now we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,” the King of Kings, since God has adopted us as his sons and daughters. What a blessed
warm, personal relationship, for everything Jesus owns, we own. And you also, dear Christian, are a member of this family.

The Holy Spirit wrapped that gracious, almost unbelievable truth, around my heart one early morning, a few years ago, while leaning on a balcony rail overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The sun splashed reds and yellows across the water and God reminded me of that adoption.

I bequeath to you
   every sunrise I’ve painted,
all originals.

Yes, doctor, we are both royalty.

Cupped in His Hand

One day after school, some of us boys were walking home together, and a sparrow with a broken wing hopped in front of us. “Hey, a moving target,” one of the boys yelled, and they started pelting him with pebbles. He hopped faster to avoid the pebbles, but the boys threw faster and harder, laughing at him, trying to hop away from the stones.

I felt sorry for the bird, so I ran ahead, swooped up the sparrow, and cupped him in my hands. “Oh, look at the bird lover,” one of them said.

I petted the sparrow as another boy said, “Oh, come on, put ’im down, yer spoilin’ all the fun,” and peppered me and the sparrow with pebbles, then joined the others, laughing and tossing pebbles at other things.

I took the sparrow over to the underbrush, put him down, and talked to him. “You’ll be safe here. In a few days your wing will heal enough for you to fly.” He cocked his head up, so I squatted down and continued to talk to him. “Little broken-winged sparrow, the other fellows are gone, and if they knew I was talking with you, they’d probably put me away. But you didn’t fall to the ground without your Heavenly Father noticing you, so you’re in good hands.” I stood up, and, as I watched him hop into the tall grass, I said to him, “I wish my earthly father noticed me that way.”

Hey, our Heavenly Father does. Matt. 10:29

When you feel the pebbles of disappointment, resentment, and abandonment, hurled at you, you can also feel God pick you up, cup you in his tender hands, and reassure you, “You’re safe now. I’ll heal you and protect you through it all. You have my word on it, my eternal Word.”

Have you ever felt God cup you in his hands? Want to share it with someone? Let me know. Leonpippin@gmail.com
*Excerpted from my childhood memoir

Mothers Be Praised!

A Tribute:

Dedicated to mothers, who, like Hannah, Samuel’s mother, “poured out their souls to the Lord,” for their children and promised. “I give [my child] to the Lord” I Sam 1:15, 28.

A Commitment:

“Honor your mother as the Lord has commanded you” (Deut 5:16). Honor is respect and submission to, and reverence for, one’s mother.”

Scripture fingerprints from mothers:

  • From my Memoir, “With a third-grade education, I saw my mother daily reading her Bible.”
  • Rebecca, a godly friend said, “My mother’s regular Bible reading gave her a quiet strength.”
  • A dear friend Barbara shared, “Because of my mother, I’m always in a Bible study group.”

Susanna Wesley’s devotion to Scripture and prayer:

She set aside an hour each day for herself for Scripture reading and prayer. She scheduled a private appointment with each of her ten living children once a week for encouragement. She started a daily school in her home for her children for the purpose of “the saving of their souls.”

A haiku.Image

For your special day with the scripture, “Hannah was praying in her heart [for a son], pouring out her soul to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:13, 15).

 

A mother prays, then

watches her prayed-for butterfly

soar on fragile wings. dlp

 

Let’s Make a Memory:

Sing or read your mother’s favorite hymn.

Read a favorite Psalm of your mother’s to your child.

 

Mothers, this is YOUR day, so celebrate it to the fullest in the Lord. 

I Stood on Holy Ground

What I feared the most might happen, happened.
The night before my first major surgery, Don, a dear brother in the Lord, came to my house to pray with me.
A month prior to his visit I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. Since I dreaded hospitals, surgery, and any disease, I had always eaten a healthy diet, exercised, taken natural supplements, and lived an active lifestyle, but none of those exempted me from cancer. My friend knew of my fears, so he came to support me.
We stood around in a circle, holding hands-Don, his wife, my wife Emily, and me. As Don begged God to give me strength and deliver me from my claustrophobia and anxiety for the surgery, I realized there were no longer four individuals in our circle, but five. Another presence was standing next to me.
The more Don poured out his heart to the Lord God who had joined our prayer circle, the more I was like Moses at the burning bush, hearing God’s voice from the flaming fire, “Take off your shoes for the ground you’re standing on is holy,” the same ground sheep and goats had traveled many times before, made holy by God’s presence. I quietly slid out of my Birkenstocks. The carpet I had walked on many times became holy ground that night under my feet, made holy by His presence. Don’s prayer had transported me into a worshipful holy reality I had never experienced before in my entire life and hallowed the carpet, the room, the night, and the four of us.
God’s holy totality saturated my soul. I trembled, I wept, I worshiped. The Almighty God of Israel, who spent the night with Daniel in the lion’s den, who walked with Daniel’s three companions in the fiery furnace, and who spoke to Moses from the flaming bush, that same God stood with me that night as we prayed.
Don prayed for God’s presence to fill the operating room the next day, but I knew–God was already there waiting for me.
This was, and still is, no fantasy, no dream. It was reality! That night for a few minutes I stood with my loving God–on holy ground.

God and His Eagle

My wife has told me often how moving the last scene of the 1949 World War II movie Battleground was and how surprised to see a Scripture superimposed over soldiers staggering through deep snow: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.” She was thrilled that a movie would use God’s Word as its final message.

In reviewing the use of the “eagle” image in Scripture, my mind asked, Could Creator-God have designed the eagle to use as images (word pictures) of himself? I’m not suggesting that, like the Roman emperor, God has a golden eagle perched on his shoulder or arm of his throne. However, since God created everything for a specific purpose, perhaps there’s a duality at work here, that is, both the bird itself and the image for God to use.

In Isaiah 40.31, “Those that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength,” the verb “renew” captures the idea of “exchange of strength” and means more than just “supports weary people.” God takes our lack of strength and exchanges it for his strength. And the word “eagle” serves, then, as a symbol of spiritual vigor and freedom.

Director William Wellman may not have had a spiritual application in mind when he put Isaiah 40.31 over the last scene of weary, wounded, frostbitten, fatigued soldiers trudging through deep snow hoping that would have their strength renewed like the eagle’s. And when we’re engaged in life’s battles and they leave us injured and defeated, we can remember the promise in Isaiah 40.31 that God longs to exchange his renewal for our failing strength.