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    • By Ragamuffin_John in Ragamusings
      Cooling leaves cover the ground,
      branches get to look profound,
      and the trunks remind trees stay
      upright by supported sway. 
      I see in this a strength, a core
      which endures the winter storm.
      Come next spring the green shall frame
      barrenness, bustle again.
      Lord, you strip me at this hour,
      looks like all my branches cower.
      Help me see the inner strength
      You have promised since You came.
      Frigid frost prickles the blades,
      gray clouds ask if earth is gray.
      And I say, "Don't play the fool;
      behind what you are is blue."
      Heaven knows the gospel song
      will rise in me before too long,
      and the matrix of my life
      with the Savior's peace shall shine.
    • By ksquaker in GOD SQUAD
      My first deployment was to Iraq in 2006. It made several things clear. Before Iraq, my faith was comfortable. It had been tried, tested, and proven, but in a very clean and simple way. My faith was comfortable in seminary, at home, at work, and in the church. But that all changed in Iraq. I saw what it was like to constantly be under attack and understood what it was like to be under the threat of death. Iraq gave me something that most Americans do not experience. Iraq also gave me something that most Christians in the western world do not experience. Iraq changed me, but it also changed my faith for the better.
      One of the major discoveries from my time in Iraq was truly learning the power and importance of prayer. While seminary gave me the tools and the knowledge regarding a solid prayer life, Iraq was the furnace that forged my prayer life into a solid existence.
      Here are four lessons on prayer that helped me down range.
      Share your heart. Be transparent with God. Big or small, lift your prayers to the Lord. The night before flying into the combat zone, I spent two and a half hours in prayer. This was the longest span of time I had ever spoken to God in one setting. I had a lot of ground to cover if this was potentially my last night on earth. Cry out no matter what the concern may be. Philippians 4:6 reminds each of us “. . . in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
      Pray now, not later. Be immediate with prayer. Time is precious, especially in a war zone. If someone shared a prayer request, my new practice was to stop and immediately pray with the person. The location may be on the sidewalk, in the parking lot, at the chow hall, or in the office. There was no reason to wait and the soldier had a need that deserved to be addressed. Hebrews 4:16 shares, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
      Keep it simple. There is no need to be fancy. Wordsmiths have their place, but not on the battlefield. I felt God calling me to pray for aircraft, well the crews and passengers on board. I crafted a simple three point prayer to say every time I heard a helicopter or aircraft departing the base. Jesus reminds us not to have babbling prayers in Matthew 6:7. Prayers are not heard for the sake of many words.
      Have a consistent pattern. My routine was very disjointed in Iraq. The start and end of every day lacked consistency. Unit operations had to happen 24 hours a day and the war didn’t stop. The best time to pray was right before I went to sleep. I could make time to pray once my boots came off. It took a while to find that right recipe, but once I found it the routine stuck. Find a time or habit that can help you make space for prayer. Colossians 4:2 encourages us to, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”
      There are many lessons a veteran will find down range. Theses lessons can benefit our Christian walk. The trials of yesterday make us stronger for tomorrow. May God grant us the calling of Romans 12:12, to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”
    • By c taylor in cm taylor
      In Genesis 11:1-9, after the flood, it states that the whole world was one language. Why not? Three brothers, sons of Noah - one language makes sense. They began to find their own space, but were still united by language. They spoke and thought alike. They came up with an idea. Build a tower “to heaven.” Why? In case of another flood?
                  God saw intents beyond that. Through their unified language, they might even do worse than the ones that perished in the flood because of their wickedness. No, something else needed to be done to prevent those unprecedented levels of wickedness occurring again.
                  God changed their languages so that they were unable to understand one another. The work on the tower ceased. They scattered by finding others whose language they could understand. They became busy building cultures based on their location and culture.
                  I’m wondering though, if language was the only thing that changed. As they found sustainable areas in which to make a life, perhaps there were some other mitigating factors in their geographical choices. In addition to language commonalities, fair skins might have found cooler climates more favorable. Likewise the richer skin tones may have found sunnier places nicer.
                  As we know, they began to learn one another’s languages. So much for that mode of separation. But, was there something else that would keep fences up between groups? Maybe color.
                  Think about it. For all that nations have in common and in which they find unity, the last frontier appears to be color. Imagine if, indeed, it were the last frontier.  Imagine it’s the only thing that keeps people groups separated. All other obstacles have been overcome, or are solidly on the way to being overcome. Except one.
                  Imagine the color thing gone. Most of the humans on earth in some generations to come have that silky curly hair that doesn’t require a perm or enhancer. They have that caramel super latte skin that we so admire (I’ve daydreamed about marrying a friend and making beautiful caramel latte babies). We would find almost nothing to fight about anymore. We are one in language. One in color. One. Well, almost. We’d have to become one in the Lord. Otherwise, it would be Babel all over again. Wouldn’t it?
    • By Mark C McCann in Mark C McCann's Blog
      When I was young I always looked forward to the autumn. Autumn was a time when the cycle of life began to start all over again. Now I know people usually like to think of spring as the season of beginnings, but for me, it was autumn. Maybe it was because in the autumn, the leaves began to turn all sorts of brilliant colors, fall from the trees and crunch under my feet as I walked along. It was like a signal to a magical time of year. Or maybe it was because it was the start of another school year, and another chance to start over making friends and finding my place in my world. But I think the most likely reason of all was that fall was a bittersweet reminder that death is the beginning of birth; that sorrow gives way to serenity, that the grave yields ultimately to new life.
      Autumn had always meant saying good-bye: good-bye to the long warm days of summer, good-bye to another year of life, and good-bye to things that might have been. The sadness of autumn was something that seemed to hold me in a cold and lonely embrace, calling me to release the past and let it drift away like a fallen leaf on the wind. It pointed to the cold and dark days of winter that lay ahead and the depth of contemplation that came out of time spent inside a warm home. In some strange way it meant safety, even though it meant change. And I spent each sad autumn quietly waiting, quietly anticipating the chilling sleep of winter and the newness of spring days to come.
      Jesus said in John 12:24 (NIV), “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” As I look back on the autumns of my life, I see that each small death was really a part of the ongoing mystery of growing in my relationship with my Savior. Each experience was a surrender of a part of myself in death – whether it was death to an old stuffed toy I could no longer carry around, death to the hope that my father would ever be around more than once a month because of his job changes, or death to a place to which I had grown accustomed but from which I was moving away. In all this Christ was preparing me to face the deeper death to self that was to take place in the intimacy of His entering more deeply into my life. I often wondered if each death I endured here on earth brought a tear or a smile from my Savior, or maybe even a solemn pause from the angels. With every death, more of my innocence was lost as it made way for the greater knowledge of life’s ultimate Truth.
      When the time comes for us to experience that deeper death to self, it’s the day-to-day deaths we’ve experienced that enable us to bear the sorrow and the loss and allow Grace to give way to the peace of that passes understanding. You see, God has a plan for each of us: to plant us in the world of sorrow and sin and allow the pressure and pain of the soil of human living to crack open the shell of who we are so that a new birth can take place within us. Once we are broken in the soil of our struggles, we are able to reach upward toward the light of His grace and extend the branches of our souls to receive it with joy. As I look at what my life has been producing, I see the seeds of new life and hope growing within me, ready to be planted in the fertile soil of other souls tilled by the Sower of seeds.
      Change is never easy. The endings that changes bring can tear at the deepest parts of who we are. They often leave us choking in the pressures of life around us, huddling in the dark of confusion and lingering in broken isolation. In our lives and our relationships we experience many transitions and transformations. Children, family and friends grow older and some move on. We put away old ways of doing things and explore new ideas as we learn what living is all about. Sometimes there is pain before joy, but when that joy comes, oh how we drink it in like the seed in the soil.
      In our faith community too, we see many changes, many deaths. We say good-bye to old friends and watch as pastors and programs come and go. Through it all we experience growth. We face many autumns, which give way to springs of renewal. But if we’re faithful to the message of the grain of wheat, we come to see that death produces in our church body an abundant harvest of souls for the Sower. As the church continues to become what Christ intended it to be, we’ll experience this seed-death over and over again. We’ll see God tearing up the soil of traditions and history to make the ground fertile, and watch as He plants the seeds of change in that soil so that we may yield a harvest – thirty, sixty, or a hundred times what has been sown.
      I would like to leave you with one thought. As you look back on your life and think about all the autumns you’ve experienced – whether that is today or sixty years from now – remember this. The surrender of autumn gives way to the sleep of winter and winter, to the rebirth of spring. Know always that there is ultimately one great death to which we are being called, and that is the death to sin and self. One day, we who believe will surrender to that final death and yield to the sorrowful passing through fear and pain to break through to a new beginning in eternity! May God bless you and keep you through the autumns of your lives.
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