Whispers of God . . .
Musings on God in Life
Published monthly columns
by Mark P. Gonzales
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT JOYFUL EASTERS.
So many colors come to my mind when I think of Easter . . .
Yellow is one of the first. Probably because as a small boy back in Austin, Texas, yellow baby chicks were the thing to do around Easter in those days. Do they still do that?
Pink is usually next as it seemed as though every little girl under the age of ten would wear a cute little pink dress for Easter Sunday.
Greens and blues, the pastel kind, were not far behind however as Easter apparel for teen girls and older women usually included these colors along with the ones above. And come to think of it, I believe there was a time baby chicks came in those colors as well!
Dyed Easter eggs would brighten up all of these colors to make them easier to find for all the little ones enjoying a good old fashioned Easter egg hunt.
And then there is Easter red. Red? Aren’t you thinking about Christmas or Valentine’s Day, you may ask? Yes it’s true that red is the highlight color for those two holidays, but in the deepest sense of Easter, red would be a great highlight color as well. Why? Two things . . .
The heart of God. Most people realize that we Christians set aside time every year that we call Easter, to commemorate, appreciate, and celebrate the fact that God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son to earth to live and die on a cross as a way for us to enter into an eternal relationship with Him. Astounding!
The blood of Christ. What most people may not understand is that when the sinless God-man called Jesus Christ allowed Himself to be crucified and spill His innocent blood, in the unseen spiritual realm, that is what will cover, pay for, and cleanse us from our sin, IF we enter into a spiritual, personal covenant relationship (like marriage) with Him.
I know that the idea of being washed and cleansed by the blood of Christ might sound pretty messy. After all, blood is one of the toughest stains to get out, right? But we’re not talking about being cleansed on the outside. We’re talking about being cleansed on the inside. The blood in your veins and arteries is actually cleaning you from the inside out, constantly! And the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse you from the inside out, spiritually. Amazing.
And by the way, I’m not saying we have to jettison our pastel Easter palette. But I am saying let’s not ever forget heart red and blood red as we celebrate Easter.
Grateful for the cross and empty tomb,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT FORGIVING OTHERS.
In my forty years of pastoral ministry, I have noticed that most of us don’t quite understand how forgiveness actually works. We give it a shot by saying things like: “Well okay, I’m sorry,” or, “If I offended you in some way, please forgive me.” The first is a lame statement, and the second is just a masked way of saying, “If you were so overly-sensitive to be hurt by my little thing, then I’m sorry.” Just doesn’t work, does it? So, let me see if I can get you started in seeing what forgiveness really is . . .
“To forgive is to set the captive free, and discover you were the captive!”
“What!?” you may ask. Okay, hang with me here. In Matthew 18, Jesus stunned Peter by saying we are to forgive people “70 times 7,” (a figurative way of saying, “all the time,” and “every time”). Then, after telling a story, Jesus also says that if we don’t forgive, the heavenly Father will allow us to be metaphorically tortured like the unforgiving servant in the story. Wow. So, let’s crystalize the point:
When we fail to forgive people (“I will never forgive ______”), the Lord allows the natural consequence of bitter blaming (an emotional cancer) and resentful gossip (a toxic gas) to hold our hearts and lives captive in what the Bible calls “the snare of the devil.” We are so blind to this; we actually think we are holding the other person captive with our disapproval or even hatred until they come to repent first. Wrong.
If that were true, then you would remain in captivity until the other person got their act together, right? But God has a better way:
First, we are to instantly forgive like Jesus did: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (“Wounded people wound people.”) Second, and harder, is to forgive like Joseph forgave his brothers (Genesis 50) for intentionally selling him into slavery! This can only be done on the supernatural level, for sure, and in a nutshell, that can only come from two confessions in this sequence:
Confessing to God personally. I John 1:9 tells us: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Starting here is crucial as we let the Lord reveal to what degree we may have contributed to the wounding circumstances. When we own it and confess it vertically first, He cleanses us, leads us to forgive the other person, and settles our heart to then humbly confess that to one another. If we approach another without this, we make it worse.
Confessing to others privately. James 5:17 tells us: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Being set free and healed from unforgiving bitterness comes when we start with fervent prayer, and THEN in the resulting spirit of humility, we ask for, grant, and receive each other’s forgiveness in His mercy and grace. When we do, Jesus smiles, Jesus heals us, and our captive hearts are set free! If we don’t, we will stay chained in tortured bitterness
That’s a quick peek at the subject, but if you want to hear more, check out my website at markpg.org. Life is too short to be bitter!
Getting set free with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT CHILD-LIKE TRUST.
As I write this in early January to make deadline, I still have fresh memories of a Christmas celebration like we’ve never had before. Our three sons have grown up, married lovely young ladies who love the Lord like they do, and between them we have two incredible grandsons and four amazing granddaughters. Our oldest grandson, 11, and three of the granddaughters, 3 year old twins and their 3 year old cousin, were able to join us this year — oh, and they brought their parents with them, too. Boys I get, so I had my usual blast with my grandson, but those 3 year old girls . . . well, it was a whole new thing for me.
First, I’d tell you their names, but it doesn’t really matter because “they” were not with us on Christmas. Instead we were graced with “Ana,” “Elsa,” and “Moana,” and later “Ariel” and maybe some other princesses – I can’t keep up. We’re talking beautiful dresses, singing the songs, dancing and twirling, and my sweet wife (who finally has some girls to dote on) made sure we were well stocked with tiaras, bracelets, necklaces, scarfs and the like. It was a princess party kind of Christmas! Never did that before. And I couldn’t stop grinning.
But here’s the second thing. There was a big, constant challenge for me during those three epic days: regular invitations to enter into their magical little girl worlds. Hmmm, never did that before either.
“Papa Mark! Will you have tea with me?”
“Papa Mark! See my ballet steps?”
“Papa Mark! Let’s tuck in my baby.”
“Papa Mark! Want to come into my castle?”
“Papa Mark! Let it go, let it go . . .”
“Papa Mark! Can you skip like this?”
My wife had to help me. I learned. I smiled. I laughed. About 1.5 seconds after each invitation, I was taken in by our little princesses. Wrapped around their little fingers, to be sure. How could I resist? Their joyful hearts, sparkly eyes, and fanciful minds are princess parties waiting to happen wherever they go. And I love that.
As I think about their future, and my grandsons with their equally mesmerizing inner worlds, I pray they never lose that sense of wonder. Yes, the princess and super hero things will drift away as they grow, as they should, but I pray that they will continue to explore their worlds and their Lord with an equal sense of wonder that we should always allow for and cultivate in children. Let’s not try to “grow them up” too fast. Jesus often pointed to the children around Him and said: “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Hmmm, maybe going to princess parties is helping me more than I think!
Twirling and singing with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT CONSTANT CHANGE.
Welcome to 2020! My– how things change!
So while we don’t yet have flying cars like Back to the Future forecast in the eighties, on the other hand, did you ever imagine that most of us would be carrying around Star Trek communicator/computer/camera combos in our pockets called cell phones? Not to mention Star Trek electronic pads, and voice command gadgets to play music, dim lights, and instantly search for any information on any topic on the planet. Amazing. But also dizzying, right?
In fact, studies tell us that the waves of change will not only continue, but they will be bigger and even more frequent than they are now! Surf’s up! Don’t drown! And don’t dismay. Let’s talk.
First, let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that for most of us, change is hard. More studies show that only about 3% of us LOVE change. How exciting! How exhilarating! Bring on those waves! The bigger the better! Let’s ride those puppies!
In some things I am like that, but in other things, I am with the other 97% who need more time to adapt to changes: early adopters (16% need a few weeks); early majority (36% need a few months); late majority (another 36% need almost a year); conscientious objectors (16% will not accept change). Good to know in schools, churches, the workplace, community, etc., right? So, now what?
Secondly, after knowing and admitting this reality about ourselves, start setting your heart on learning how to surf those waves of change. Literally surfing Hawaiian waves might look ridiculously easy on TV, but it takes years of coaching and practice to make the constant micro-adjustments on those slippery boards while riding a wave of water that can kill you!
Changes in life can kill your heart, soul, and joy for the future if you try to “stand firm” and resist those waves. You’ll get bowled over, dragged along the coral reef, sliced up, broken up, and spit out on the beach if you try that. On the other hand, when you choose to learn to surf them instead, well, get ready for a whole new rush and excitement in life! Just take your time to learn—get some coaching — practice regularly — and before you know it for some, a little longer for others, you’ll be singing Beach Boy songs every time a new wave of change shows up!
Surfing with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT DAILY CHORES.
As I write this in my youngest son’s cozy office in his and his wife’s lovely Colorado home, I keep sneaking a peak out of one of the many large windows in his lodge-like home at the breath-taking beauty of a Rocky Mountain range laced with sun-splashed snow, including the local majestic landmark known as Pike’s Peak. Wow.
And yes we went skiing on Tuesday and just returned from snow-shoeing through a mountain forest on this Friday afternoon, so I am still basking in the unmistakable presence and whispers of God through it all. Ahhh . . .
But there has been another tremendous attraction for me during this 5-day getaway to be with my family . . . my two year old grandson, Finn! I’d offer you a couple of dozen pictures of him along with our other four amazing grandchildren, but alas, there’s this space issue for this column. So permit me to give you a glimpse or two . . .
Since my arrival in his home on Monday, I have watched Finn tirelessly do something most of us would almost never expect in any child, or teen for that matter: joyful chores! Really.
Yes, I know that to most families, a joyful chore is an oxymoron, but this boy loves to help his mommy and daddy, not just at the beginning, but all the way through the end – cooking, cleaning, whatever. He is such a finisher, if he is showing me his little train set, he’ll bring me all 18 railway cars, two at a time, until I have the whole set! Then he’ll do it again.
But one of my favorite things is when mommy and daddy ask him to throw away some stray papers off the floor. With pure focus in his little eyes, he will scour the room and put every last scrap in the trash, then, with his well earned triumph, he will spin around, put his tiny hands behind his back and saunter off with an unmistakable spirit of joy at a job well done! I love it. I am amazed . . . before my very eyes I see a mountain sized wonder: a boy and his joyful chores.
You know, when it comes to my every day chores, I think God will truly smile if when I grow up, I can be more like Finn.
Tolerating my chores with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT HEAVY HEARTS
A missionary and a volunteer geologist were visiting a village in India to help them solve a very common problem in much of the world – the lack of clean water. The villagers were having to walk many miles every day just to bring back a very small amount of useable water to try to live on.
As they walked the area in and around the village, just a short mile away the geologist spotted an area that he thought might be a small former creek bed in this dry and dusty land. So, they followed it toward some rocky hills a few hundred yards away until they came to a large depression in front of a small cave opening. The problem was the depression was filled with all kinds of garbage, since it had been the local dumping ground for the village for longer than anyone could remember.
Checking the formation more closely, the geologist suspected that somewhere in that cave could very well be the original source of the water that once supplied the creek they had been following. So, they rallied the villagers to begin the hot, hard, extremely smelly, and dangerous work of clearing out the garbage dump that had also become the home of poisonous snakes and diseased rats.
After several days of work, they were finally able to enter the cave and begin to clear it out until one day, astonishingly, water began to bubble up from a small underground spring that had been buried for years by the cumulative mounds of garbage. With it all removed, the water flowed, the creek was filled, and an ample supply of fresh water was now available for all the nearby villages!
As I think about this in the context of all the churches, pastors, and people I have the privilege of working with, I can’t help but make the connection that all of us, this guy included, have areas in our lives and hearts where we’ve allowed garbage to be dumped over the years. Life is hard. We get hurt, lost, wounded, and then get drawn into a myriad of ways to try to numb ourselves to the pain. Distractions, amusements, and escapes that morph into all kinds of addictions then ensnare us in lifeless, joyless seasons of emotional exile. We’ve plugged up the spring well of love, peace, and joy we were in when, or if, we gave our lives to Christ!
So, why not grab a trusted family member, friend, pastor, mentor and/or counselor to help you dig a bit and clean out some heart garbage, my friend? Life doesn’t have to be a parched and joyless land. The Lord has so much to gush through you, not just for yourself, but for all of those around you as well!
Digging with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT TOUGH DECISIONS.
Though my dad went home to glory several years ago, in many ways he still lives on today in the impact and wisdom he left in my heart and life. One of the many things he poured into me as a young teen that I have often remembered and practiced the last fifty years to my benefit, but also often forgot to my chagrin was this:
“You know, son, you can learn one of two ways in this life: through the school of hard knocks using the trial and error method, or through the school of wise counsel by learning from other people’s errors. It’s your choice, but tuition at the school of hard knocks is far, far more expensive.”
Wow. What was even more impactful to me than that truth itself, was the fact that my dad, though not perfect, did his best to live that way. I have vivid memories of how many people he would talk to and how much research he would do before pursuing a major project, like building a home for our family—twice, or making a big purchase, like a car or a color TV when they first came out. Of course, it drove my impatient little heart crazy that he took so long to make the purchase or start the project, but that just gave him the opportunity to teach me that “Impatience can be a very expensive character trait, son.” But back to the two schools . . .
With three full grown sons, three lovely daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren under 10 years old now, Lindy and I are watching them go through both schools in their life journey, just as we did . . . and still are. Really, you might ask? Aren’t you firmly and exclusively enrolled in the school of wise counsel by now? Uh, no. And why not? Well, because we are still human, and we still have blind spots and wounds from the challenges of life that sometimes jump start us into the trial and error school that gives us more hard knocks and wounds. The only good part of that is that it at least helps us give our offspring more breathing space to bounce in and out of both schools as well. Ahh, such is life.
Be that as it may, we still make ourselves available to offer them a bit of counsel here and there, and we still continue to seek out counsel for ourselves, especially from up above. The Lord is our Wonderful Counselor, you know. And when I think about how much we wince when we see our kids or ourselves paying high tuition costs in the school of hard knocks instead of heeding counsel, I can only imagine how much He winces when His children do the same. But, He is still . . . always . . . right there for us . . . willing to whisper in our ear . . . and save us a lot of pain.
Trying to listen more with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT FEELING TRAPPED.
The other day my lovely wife, Lindy, was listening to a wonderful radio preacher and later reminded me of a classic story he shared about elephants and their single ankle rope on a small stake that amazingly keeps them from running off from the fair ground.
The story involves a passerby asking the nearby trainer why the elephants simply would not yank it out with their obviously superior strength. The answer is that the same size rope and stake had been used on the elephants since they were much younger, smaller, and weaker, when they really were not able to pull free. They were, therefore, conditioned to believe they would always be unsuccessful in their future attempts to break free, even though at some point they had grown big enough and strong enough to do so. Kind of sad, but a great story, isn’t it?
Is that really true, you may ask? I wanted to know that as well. So, with a little digging, I discovered that, while it is indeed true, there are some additional and equally insightful factors beyond the conditioned response.
One story cited accounts of elephants who did break the bond of the rope and stake when a fire broke out. Another cited elephants who would break their normal bonds when they wanted to rush and meet another elephant that had been taken away and now returned. Still another concluded that, as long as the elephants were fed well, kept amused and never abused, there was no reason for the intelligent creatures to even try to break away. Thus, the mere hint of restraint was enough to keep them in place.
So, knowing that Jesus loved to use parables to help us in our lives, I started thinking: “Okay, Lord. What can I learn from all this?”
One takeaway that comes to mind is to keep asking myself if any of the limitations or fears I feel today are rooted in my assumption that my limitations of youth are still at play in my life, even though I have outgrown them, but never realized it. Hmmm. What a subtle prison!
Another is to ask myself if I have a habit of waiting for a fire to erupt before I try to break out of an area of bondage. Hmmm. Maybe I should ask some people I trust if they see any ropes and stakes in my life BEFORE a fire breaks out.
Or, how about this . . . Have I settled for far less achievement and destiny because I let my failures in earlier years convince me that I should be content with lesser goals, since I would never be capable of those attempted dreams, though I’ve grown bigger, stronger, wiser, and potentially more resilient? Hmmm. If I am continually seeing myself as weak and feeble, then I am in serious danger of getting stuck right there. Trapped again!
One last question: Has the ease of my fair ground life, regular feedings, amusements galore, and former successes kept me from experiencing greater heights and freedoms? Yikes! Another prison!
Hey, why don’t we access our growing strength in the Lord and break free of our little ropes and stakes, my friends? There is far more life beyond the fair grounds!
Breaking free with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT REDISCOVERING LIFE.
I am getting a fresh look at small things in this life, especially when I hang out on the floor with our grandkids, four of the five under 2 years old and an extra sharp 8-year-old grandson. Life looks very different from four feet lower than I am used to viewing it, plus, there is something about being on the floor with them that helps me remember all the small things they are discovering from down there . . .
Chair and table legs. Adult knobby knees. Stray dust bunnies. Electrical sockets, with holes! High, no, very high ceilings. Dogs at eye level. Lots of cabinets. Oh, look, drawers too! Electrical cords.
And then there’s the joy of watching them be so amazed at small and simple things like . . .
Ice cubes. Toilet paper. Trash can contents.
Dog food. Squeezing Jello. Pouring out milk.
Tasting everything. Discovering fingers. Pointing fingers. Poking fingers. Sucking fingers. Cardboard. Window blinds. Dropping peas. Making snot bubbles. Squinting eyes. Forming words. Licking glass doors. Grunting. Rolling. Waddling. Throwing. Cuddling. Giggling. Fighting sleep. Pulling hair. Poking noses. Stretching ears. Wiggling toes. Stumbling. Falling. Crying. And making all kinds of noise, especially when they are together!
Lindy and I love it, and every time we think of them and what they are discovering in such small increments, it makes us smile. And then I remember . . .
No matter how old we are, we will always be children of God, and as His children, I believe He takes even more delight in us as we stumble through the small things in life, than we do with our grandkids. With a busy summer with the kids and grandkids at home more, there will be a ton of small things—good and bad – that will be filling the hours, days, and weeks ahead. And they can drive you crazy, or they can lead you to a fresh reminder of the delight of being on the cutting edge of discovery . . . and being a kid again . . . WITH your kids. And every time you do, God will smile, too.
Giggling through the summer with you,
Nests and Nestling
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT EMPTY NESTS.
While they are having a house built out at Babcock Ranch, Lindy and I are getting to host and house one of our sons, his lovely wife, their 9-year-old son, and their 18-month-old daughter for a few months . . . PARTY TIME!
Yep, our empty nest has been reactivated, recharged, reinvigorated, and reenergized!
And we love it! We really do. But, like every good party, there are messes and challenges that are part of the glorious package, especially for those of us in the Fall season of our lives.
Our restful, autumn lives with gently falling leaves of gold, have now been pretty much trumped by four other lives bursting with blooms of springtime color and spectacular summer rains! How quickly we forget our earlier years of zesty child rearing once the pace and rhythm of life slows down. So now,
What was quiet, now is not.
What was orderly, now is not.
What was routine, now is not.
What was predictable, now is not.
Thank you, Lord!
Why do we love the disruption? Because it is a refreshing change for us, and we love seeing our kids and grandkids on the constant and cutting edge of discovery each day. Granted, we get all that in spurts as careful-not-to-interfere grandparents – nowhere close to the 24/7 dynamic the young parents face – but we get to observe the spectacle much more closely in this brief season that they are under our roof. What a gift. The blessings – which far outweigh the minor lifestyle disruption – are already starting to pour in. For example . . .
Watching and fielding our very perceptive grandson’s steady flow of honest questions on just about everything, is fascinating as we see his mind rapidly spinning and processing not just the words in our answers, but the tones, pace, thoroughness, and attitude in the way we share them. Hmmmm . . . . As for our 18-month-old granddaughter . . .
Watching her progressively warm up to us with innocent trust has been touching our hearts immeasurably – like yesterday when our daughter-in-law dropped by my office and carried her wee one in to say hello. As they got near, the little princess raised her toddler arms to me and said: “Up?” – which I couldn’t resist – and the moment she got nestled in my arms, she burrowed into my shoulder to cuddle a while. Ahhhhhhhh . . . a wee bit of heaven on earth!
So, our nest and our routine will be tattered for a while, and we couldn’t be happier. We are building memories and creating bonds that will bless us for years to come. God is so good. And by the way, His delight will be far greater whenever you raise your arms to Him and ask: “Up?” . . . and then nestle into Him for a while.
Creating a nest for nestling,