flying with God

“There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?”  John 6:9 (NIV)

 The Lord has a remarkable way of turning our way of thinking and understanding upside down and on its head, doesn’t He?  What is all too quickly assessed by human thinking as an undesirable exception to the normal, or put another way, what we see as not enough or imperfect, becomes exceptional when placed in His hands.

“Then Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place.  So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.  And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.  So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.’ Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.  Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘ This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.'” John 6:10-14 (NKJV)

My wife dearly loves butterflies.  We’ve been especially thrilled these past few weeks to have witnessed the Monarch butterfly life transformation take place.  Much to our delight this remarkable process has played out before our eyes time and time again progressing from eggs to caterpillars to chrysalis to the miraculous emerging of beautiful Monarch butterflies.  We learned soon enough, however, that this remarkable process doesn’t always end with a perfectly formed Monarch flying off into the sunset.

Curly Sue’s journey as a Monarch took a different route than normal because she cannot fly.  Doing a bit of research after the fact we discovered that sometimes for various reasons a Monarch’s wings don’t properly unfold after leaving the confines of the chrysalis.  When that happens they become fixed in shapes that prevent flight from ever happening.  Curly Sue’s wings have an unmistakable curl along the edges that’s obviously not supposed to be there.  Thus the name “Curly Sue.”

Unlike her brothers and sisters Curly Sue will never experience being buoyed along by warm, gentle breezes that carry her to an endless parade of flowers.  Her fate seemed sealed as time and time again my wife and I would find her pitifully flipping and flopping about in our front yard as she unsuccessfully tried to fly during her first 24 hours.  Our hope was that somehow her wings would finally straighten out.

On the second day my tenderhearted wife was unable to watch the chaotic gyrations continue any longer.  She decided Curly Sue would come inside and spend whatever time she had left in our house with us.   Curly Sue has been with us for about 2 weeks now living in her castle…aka a plastic bug container we found at the local pet shop… on our living room coffee table.

Each day Curly Sue feeds on fresh cut flowers from our yard and is able to stretch her legs whenever my wife holds her gently in her hands.  On sunny days my wife takes her to the back yard and places her on one of the flowers there.  “She needs to be outside in the sun,” my wife will say in this delightfully nurturing “warm chicken soup” sort of tone.

Curly Sue never stops trying to fly.  Several times a day she’ll assertively flap her wings all to no avail causing her to flip upside down after traveling only mere inches.  Curly Sue is definitely not a quitter.  She is a model of determination, perseverance, and optimism.  I’ve decided with each attempt at flying she’s thinking, “This time I will fly!”

“Are you going to be OK when she’s no longer with us? “ I asked my wife as she was carefully cradling Curly Sue in her hands taking her on yet another trip to the backyard.  Pausing for just a moment my wife quietly replied, “Yes, but I will miss her. I feel sorry for her because she’s never going to get to fly like she was meant to do…she’ll never get to have babies…like all the others,” her voice trailing off.  It was at that point that an ephiphany entered my mind.  “Maybe she has a different mission than the others, you know?  What if she is here especially for you to love on and enjoy…yes…to give you joy?” I mused.

Yes, it’s true that Curly Sue was meant to fly, but since her wings didn’t develop normally she has been prevented from ever flying in the traditional sense like the vast majority of butterflies do.  Funny thing is, though, in an unexpected twist in our understanding of what flying is, we have realized that Curly Sue has been flying all along.  How so? Miraculously she has managed to unquestionably fly straight into my wife’s heart as no other normally developed Monarch ever could.

Until our eyes were opened just a few days ago we lacked the vision needed to appreciate and understand that Curly Sue was not flightless after all.  We have realized that with her uniquely curled wings she has still soared in improbable ways and into places that are impossible for other butterflies to reach.

If you fly differently than others then shouldn’t you expect the destinations you are able to reach to also be different from what others can achieve?  It’s true as believers that we all collectively strive towards the same eternal finish line, but no individual path, no individual mission is necessarily the same.  After all, He has made each of us unique in our own special ways, hasn’t He?

“For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function,  so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”  Romans 12:4-5 (NKJV)

Let’s put our shields down here for a moment and be honest enough to admit that we each have our own unique set of curled wings of some sort, don’t we?  It’s a bit cheesy I know, but isn’t it true that we all could be known as a “Curly You” since we all have our own imperfections and weaknesses?  And now you know one of my faults:  I can’t help myself when it comes to word play no matter how cringe-worthy it may turn out.  What else can I say? The shot was there, so I took it.

Our individual flying style depends on who God has purposed us to be.  For some, flight is instantly recognizable as flying by the strictest definition of the word.  Sometimes, however, it may be unrecognizable as flight to not only others, but even more sadly, in our own eyes, as we wistfully focus on what we think flying is supposed to look like from our unhappy seat on the ground.  All too often we lament over what we can’t do while never taking the time to ask the Lord what special plans He has for us that we can do.

I don’t know about you, but this experience with Curly Sue has reminded me just how narrow minded I can be.  In this case, God has broadened my mind and brought me into alignment with His far-reaching thoughts about flying.

If you were to ask my wife about all the butterflies she’s watched flying and flitting about, she’ll joyfully take the opportunity to tell you about imperfect and flightless Curly Sue, and, I might add, the only butterfly she ever named.  Why?  Because Curly Sue accomplished what no other so called “normal” butterfly could ever do:  she flew straight into her heart curled wings and all.  In fact, that flight wouldn’t have even happened without those curled wings.

We look at ourselves and see all of our shortcomings, all of our perceived inadequacies, and we think we have nothing of meaning, nothing of significance, nothing of value to offer to others.  When we do this we terribly underestimate what the Lord has planned for us to do in our lifetimes by His own strength.

We say we can’t fly and without Him it’s true we can’t.  But with Him, well, He says we can fly.  C.H. Spurgeon eloquently captures this truth saying, “God does not need your strength; He has more than enough power of His own.  He asks your weakness: He has none of that himself, and He is longing, therefore, to take your weakness, and use it as an instrument in His own mighty hand.”

Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?  So he said to Him, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.  And the Lord said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.’” Judges 6:14-16 (NKJV)

The Lord has made you special and unique.  You offer something that the world around you is lacking and desperately needs.  Would you stop and consider that maybe, just maybe, your weaknesses in His hands are His very special provision to meet that distinct need?

Embrace who you are in the Lord’s Kingdom, curled wings and all, so that you may fly and soar into other’s hearts according to His good purposes.  It’s sky high time we open our eyes and understand that it is flight not as the world sees and says, but as He sees and says.

I don’t know how much longer Curly Sue will be physically here with us, but I can say without a doubt that the lessons the Lord has taught both my wife and I through this imperfect, but oh so brave, little butterfly will fly forever in our hearts even after she is physically gone.   And so I must ask you, don’t we all want to matter for eternity’s sake?

Friend, I encourage you to fully embrace who God has not only made you to be, but said you to be and become.  In His gentle hands fly as only you can into those special hearts that He has purposed for you to reach saying to yourself, “Yes, thank you, Lord, for Your grace to fly.  No longer am I grounded by my own limited vision as I once was.  Today I am flying according to Your good sight for Your glory.  Whose hurting heart would You have me fly into today and speak life, so that they too can soar in the heavens with You?”

“Then Peter said, ‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you; in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’”  Acts 3:6 (NKJV)

 

“Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns from the Album “Casting Crowns”

…NAILED IT…

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

4 Surely
 He
 has borne
 our griefs
And carried

 our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But

He
 was 
wounded
 for our transgressions,
He
 was 
bruised
 for our iniquities;
The chastisement

 for our peace 
was upon
 Him,
And

by
His 
stripes
 we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on

 Him
 the iniquity of us all.
7 He
was
oppressed and
 He
was
afflicted, Yet 
He
opened not His mouth;
He

was
 led
as a lamb
 to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people

He
 was
stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death, Because He

had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge

 My righteous Servant
 shall justify many,
For He shall bear

their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because

He
 poured out
 His soul unto
death,  
     and He was numbered with the transgressors,
And

 He
bore the sin
of many,
And made intercession

 for the transgressors.”
 (Isaiah 53, NKJV)

…nailed it…

nailed it WP edit

for you…and for me…seven centuries later…

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  (John 1:29, NKJV)

 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center. (John 19:17-18, NKJV)

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,  (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, NKJV)

 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:14-17, NKJV)

So, Isaiah’s question remains:  “Who has believed our report?” Do you believe?  Do you know the One whom Isaiah the Prophet foretold almost 700 years beforehand would die for you…and does He know you?  His outstretched arms await you…………..

 

“Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me) by Casting Crowns from the album “Hymns of Faith”

 

(br)oak(en) for righteousnessk

“To grant to those who mourn in Zion-to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”  Isaiah 61:3 (ESV)

What exactly does an “oak of righteousness” look like?  Do you see it as this great, towering, beautifully shaped tree with a massive trunk and limbs that spread out over an almost inconceivably large area?  This is how I envisioned such an “Isaiah 61:3” tree for the longest time.  And why not, you might very well ask?  It seems to be a quite reasonable vision to adopt in my mind’s eye given its origin and purpose doesn’t it?  After all, we are talking about a tree planted and cared for along the way by the Lord Himself.  It’s quite easy to imagine the form of such a glorious tree as being a Mary Poppins sort of tree, “practically perfect in every way.”  Why, we could call it a “poster tree” or a “model tree” so magnificent in its appearance it must surely be.  This vision of an “Isaiah 61:3” tree, then, became my mental image destination expressed in my prayers and longed for in my heart over the past several years.

How I envision an “oak of righteousness” is no small matter because I’ve learned along the way that how my heart responds to various things going on in my life, specifically the difficult circumstances, is tied strongly to my expectations which in turn are linked to hope.  “See the ball, be the ball” is a favorite expression these days and it applies here as well.  Just substitute “tree” for “ball” and you’re there.  If my sincere prayer is to become an “oak of righteousness” then isn’t it fair to say that it greatly matters what I envision when I imagine such a tree in my heart and mind?  Therefore, as a believer it’s entirely reasonable to ask myself if my “mental paintings” of such a tree are Biblically sound or not.

“Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.” “Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.” Genesis 37:5-7, 9 (NKJV)

What do you suppose Joseph’s expectations were following these two God-breathed dreams?  I can’t say for sure about Joseph, but if I had been visited by such dreams I’m confident in saying that my daydreams…my expectations…my hopes… afterwards would’ve soared high above the clouds and far beyond even to the moon and the stars.  I would’ve been like a hot air balloon soaring upwards without even the tiniest hint of a sand bag being present to even dare slow my imagined rapid ascent.

To borrow a familiar phrase, however:  what goes up must come down, and this is especially true when pride itself has been shown to be present.

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  Proverbs 16:18 (NKJV)

“So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. 24 Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it.”  Genesis 37: 23-24 (NKJV)

“Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.”  What’s your reaction to these lyrics by James Taylor from his song, “Fire and Rain?”  From day one years ago when I first heard this phrase these words have captivated me.  The visual imagery of crushed expectations and lost hope conveyed by these few words upon my heart is stunningly precise in its poignant message.  Certainly Joseph could’ve related all too painfully well to these lyrics from the bottom of the pit now having found himself so very far away from the dreamy scenario of the bowing wheat sheaves, moon, and stars that had once delighted him and filled him with so much hope.  I’m guessing Joseph couldn’t wait for such an incredibly bright future to come.

So, how do you safely navigate what appears to be an abruptly cruel and unexpected end to your glorious parade of expectations?  What do you do when you find yourself slogging through a terrifying detour, knee deep in an unmapped, dark and foreboding swamp with no exit sign over a single hollowed out half-dead tree to be found in any direction?  How do you not panic and keep your spiritual  nose above the water?  I can only imagine what thoughts and questions must’ve been racing through Joseph’s mind at the bottom of this dark hole.  “But… but…but…God…what about those dreams you gave me?  Were those dreams real or just something created by my own imagination?  This is NOT at all how I thought things were going to unfold.  Why has this happened to me?  Something is off here! HELP!”

And indeed, something is “off.”  When our expectations do not match up exactly with the Lord’s ways we find our once bright hope growing uncomfortably dim and vulnerable to attack.   It’s our very nature to think we’ve got God figured out, especially so when we see Him on the move in our lives.  We then impetuously leap ahead fully confident we’ve got Him and the whole situation already mapped out.  In doing so we erect an unrealistic outwardly beautiful oak of righteousness in our minds according to a design of our own making that is not fully engaged with His truth, purposes, and plans.  And therein great danger crouches in wait for us. This zone of friction between our truth and God’s truth is nothing new:

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him.  For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJV)

Years later in the story we find Joseph, a rightly pruned and inwardly beautiful oak of righteousness, standing before his kneeling, formerly unmerciful and conniving brothers sincerely uttering one of the most heart-touching proclamations in all of the Bible, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”  Genesis 50:20 (NKJV)

Talk about a 180 over the course of Joseph’s life.  How did such a remarkable change take place in this man of God’s heart?

 “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”  Hebrews 12:6 (NKJV)

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:2, 5 (NKJV)

We must therefore be vigilant and mindful that there is a personal cost to be found in the pruning as the Lord transforms us to become an oak of righteousness bearing fruit for His good purposes and glory.  To think otherwise is to tempt the crouching lion patiently awaiting you up around the next dimly lit intersection of your journey.   Unless we actively engage and daily employ the wisdom found in Psalm 119:105 (NKJV), “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” we risk becoming dinner for the lion.  Or did you think his roar was for another?

I love this quote by Charles Spurgeon: “God does not need your strength; He has more than enough on His own.  He asks for your weakness; He has none of that.”  Let us be careful thinking we know what a beautiful oak of righteousness should look like.  My thinking has been turned inside out and upside down about this.  I now realize such a tree is indeed exceedingly beautiful and immensely strong, but not outwardly as I once considered, but rather in its inner most parts.  Outwardly it bears the glorious marks and scars of a life beautifully transformed for Christ’s sake resulting in a less than ideal appearance according to the world.  Yes, my early visions of such a tree were shallowly rooted lacking understanding.   A true Isaiah 61:3 tree’s outward appearance can’t help but reflect the Lord’s careful and purposeful pruning made beautiful in its scars through the inward strength and intimacy created when someone has been around the block of life a time or two with the Lord.   As the saying goes, “That’s gonna leave a mark.”  And indeed what beautiful marks they are in the Lord’s hands are they not?

Lord, bend and prune me as You see fit like You did so long ago with Your servant Joseph, so that I too will one day be an oak of righteousness, a planting of Yours, that You may be glorified according to Your purposes and plans for my life.  When I am tempted to doubt and lose hope when my preconceived vision of how things are supposed to look don’t line up with Your truth and purposes, bring to my mind and heart these verses: “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  Romans 8:28-29 (NKJV).  “Let me seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Your sight.Micah 6:8 In Your Son, our Savior’s name, amen!

Lauren Daigle, “Trust in You” from the album “How Can It Be”

 

cloudy, with a 100% chance of miracles

“Listen to this, Job, stop and consider God’s wonders.  Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash?  Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?”  Job 37:14-16 (WEB)

In the 2009 animated film, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” an inventor creates a machine that is capable of causing all sorts of food to fall from the clouds like rain thus relieving the suffering town of its hard times which consisted of having only sardines to eat.  Unfortunately things go haywire with the machine resulting in the town being threatened to be buried alive in an avalanche of food leaving the townsfolk wondering if maybe “just sardines” wasn’t so bad afterall.  The early hope of deliverance from sardines by the new possibility of meatballs instead became an impending disaster of terrible proportions leaving the beleaguered little town fearful of clouds.  Can you blame them?

Are we any different than this make believe town when it comes to the clouds in our lives?  When our lives get uncomfortably crowded with ominous clouds our attitudes and thoughts can take on a decidedly doom and gloom outlook right underneath our very noses.  As the steel gray gloom of towering clouds wears on us we naturally seek relief from our fears and concerns.  Where can hope…real hope…be found under such circumstances?  “Surely the promise of the crystal blue sky of the hoped for miracle that I seek exists somewhere, but obviously not here where I am,” we begin to declare to ourselves as we observe the menacing cloud for weeks and months on end.   “If hope is not here, then where can it be found?  And furthermore, since hope for a miracle doesn’t seem to be here, then why am I here in such a place having to endure this oppressive situation for so long?  Do You not care about me anymore, Lord?”

Let me be uncomfortably transparent here.  Right now at this very moment I am in great need of a parting of the Red Sea sort of miracle.  It’s been that way for going on several years now.  From where I sit the need for this miracle to come to pass grows alarmingly with each passing day and week.  It’s like I’m riding in a speeding car headed straight towards a 1000’ cliff edge drop just up ahead that grows ever closer with each passing moment.  My hope has been ruthlessly attacked along the way as you might’ve guessed by now.  It’s been frequently ambushed and left bruised and bleeding along the side of the road by ruthless bandits.  The story of the beaten traveler in the Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:25-37) comes to mind causing my heart to cry out, “Where is my Good Samaritan?”  Indeed, not long ago I came across Proverbs 13:12 (WEB) which says,  “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when longing is fulfilled, it is a tree of life.”  I’ve read this scripture many times before, but now I can truthfully say I have a much deeper understanding and appreciation for the pain deferred hope can inflict upon one’s heart.  It is an ever growing, insatiable  impact crater gnawing unmercifully away at my heart.   Words like squashing and paralyzing come to mind to name but a few.  So does soul-crushing.   It is a malignancy that erodes my deepest parts.  Make no mistake, hope deferred can be a very dark pit of a place to find yourself.   It is a place none of us want to know very well.

As my journey of hope awaiting this miracle has continued  a new, uninvited, and most unwelcomed traveling companion has taken up residence on my shoulder cozied up next to my ear.  This insistent, growling rasp of a whisper delights in providing me with a completely unsolicited play-by-play narrative of my journey.  The voice knows the first half of Proverbs 13:12 well and uses it against me.  This avalanche of taunts and accusations ignores the second part that speaks of fulfilled longings.  Instead it seeks to reinforce the first part with a piercing Hollywood villain sort of laugh, “This road you are now traveling is going nowhere you really want to go.  It leads to disaster.  There is no rescue coming.  Forget Him because He’s forgotten you.  You have no Good Samaritan in your future. Frankly, the truth is you’re not worth any sort of miracle at all.  None! Look, there’s an exit just up ahead.  Take it and be done with this madness and spare yourself all the additional heartaches that are sure to come.”  As mile after mile slowly goes by the whisper grows even more insistent.  Yet despite its repugnant tone the message the voice is selling to my wounded heart becomes disturbingly more and more alluring with each bypassed exit ramp.  How is it that all exit signs on this faith journey always  beckon and urge you to take the  “Short Cut” and abandon your earlier desired destination?  “He, your God, is no more than cumbersome and unhelpful baggage” the voice hisses.  “Ditch the extra weight.  He is obviously not trustworthy.  He doesn’t care about you.”   And as I wistfully watch one exit ramp after another slowly slide past me as if it’s in slow motion through the passenger side window I wonder, “Why is He so silent?  Why is He not acting?”

In times like this how utterly welcome it would be to be reminded that the Lord is indeed still very much present and in the miracle business.  I am alarmed at how easily I have forgotten meanwhile, behind the seens.  “Yes, I could certainly  use a double, extra-large portion of that sort of encouragement again right about now, please, Lord.”

A quote comes to mind:  “Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” Perhaps C.H. Mackintosh is onto something here? What if the reassurances I’m seeking have been right in front of me for the entire time of this long and difficult journey?  What if I were to look in the direction of the clouds themselves?  Seriously?  Why would I possibly want to do that?  Afterall, the clouds serve as a constant reminder to me of my circumstances.  To be quite honest, it’s been easier to look away from the clouds.  Why stare at something that brings pain to my heart?  But what if I were to consider the clouds in a different light?  What if there is more to them than meets the eye?  Is it possible my understanding of these clouds that fill up my sky has been too narrow causing me to overlook the miracle of His presence?  To doubt His presence?  Has my lack of understanding of these clouds in my life caused my hope to be deferred thus making my heart more vulnerable to attacks along the way?  Is there a different perspective to take that will allow me to grasp something of eternal significance and value that will refresh my weary heart other than the hopeless one that has attached itself to me like a giant barnacle?

Lord, I need Your perfect insight and not my clouded sinsight!

Scientists tell us the average cumulus cloud weighs in at just over 1 million pounds.  1 million pounds!  The average car tips the scales at 2871 pounds so the next time you see an average sized cloud imagine 350 cars floating above your head!  Such immense weight seemingly suspended effortlessly above our heads surely is a miracle in and of itself is it not?  How is this feat accomplished?  Composed of millions and millions of tiny droplets of water, clouds float majestically in the sky suspended by a sustaining upflow of warm air.  The cloud’s weight is dispersed so efficiently throughout these tiny particles that despite its immense weight the cloud is held aloft.  Essentially, then, the larger more obvious phenomenon known as a cloud is itself composed of millions and millions of smaller particles all working together in perfect harmony to carry the load.  Or put another way, there are a dizzying number of smaller miracles tucked away inside the larger more visible miracle.   Who knew?  Obviously I didn’t.

Sadly, I’ve realized I haven’t fully perceived His ongoing presence in the midst of my circumstances.  My attention has been elsewhere.  I’ve been focused on THE miracle, or lack thereof so far.  In doing so I have been circumstance-centered and not God-centered. I have been tunnel visioned.  I have focused my time and energy on my perceived specific larger need.  This has caused me to overlook the many smaller miracles that have occurred along the way as I have awaited the fulfillment of THE miracle.  I have focused on the forest and have missed the beautiful trees within the forest.  Because I have dismissed the “commonplace” I have not recognized Him along the way and in doing so I have subtly undercut my own faith and trust in Him.   To overlook these smaller testimonies to His beauty and presence is like not seeing that single bright yellow flower waving in the breeze that stands between myself and the distant purple mountain’s majesty isn’t it?  Am I alone in this?  Sadly, no.

“They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders that You did among them.” Nehmiah 19: 17a, (NKJV)  

Back in the day I once participated in running a few marathons and other long distance events.  If I wanted to complete the longer training runs in preparation for the upcoming event I had to stay hydrated so I would place water at certain intervals along my training route.  This was especially true for training in the heat of the summer.  Keeping that in mind do we really believe our heavenly Father would set us out on difficult paths alone and without His spiritual encouragement along the way?  His Word speaks to the contrary:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 (NKJV)

 “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6 (NKJV)

So long as our gaze is solely fixed and intent on THE miracle we run the great risk of overlooking the other ways He provides for us along the way.  What a loss it is to miss the “mini” miracles He has so generously sprinkled along the way for us on our journey through life.

“You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth, And gave them water for their thirst.  Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness; They lacked nothing; Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.”  Nehmiah 19: 20-21 (NKJV)

The truth is most days I fail to recognize the miracle of His presence and provision in so many ways as I go about my day to day living waiting on THE miracle to finally happen.  If you’re like me, then, is it any wonder our hearts become so distressed?  Pause for a moment with me and consider each and every breath that gives us life, for example. Or how about the lunch with good friends you just enjoyed?  The joy of a hug from a friend or family member?  Or the roof over your head and the food on your table?   Being greeted by an overjoyed pet after a long day at work?  When you think about it this list could go on and on, couldn’t it?  When was the last time you stepped aside and paused from your busy day and thanked Him for His greatness, strength, and the goodness of His provision that lovingly embraces you in a myriad of less than obvious ways each and every day?  To see these we must be intentional lest they escape us.  Let us no longer be blind to such “lesser” miracles because they occur in the arena of what we view as the commonplace.  Let us no longer take them for granted without so much as a “thank you, Lord.”

Through Your inspired Word we ask You to open our eyes and our hearts, our very minds and souls to Your presence, Lord, in all the circumstances of our lives, big and small, that our hearts may be strengthened.  Grant us Your perfect insight in place of our clouded and imperfect sinsight that we may see with eternal perspective. We praise You for all the miracles that You provide us with on our journey through this life.  Each one is no less a miracle than the other in that they all proclaim and testify to Your kind and loving presence in our lives.  Forgive us when we overlook them for in doing so we have overlooked You.  Indeed, where would we find ourselves without You, Lord?   Help us to be ever-mindful of Your generosity and kindness in all things so that we continually give You the rightful praise that is Yours.   May we with continually grateful hearts acknowledge that You are our ever-present One True Provision.  Refresh our hearts once again with Your nourishment.  You, and You alone are our Silver Lining around and in every cloud in our lives.  In Jesus’s name…Amen!

“The Lord is my portion, says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him.”  Lamentations 3:24 (NKJV)

 “But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4:4 (NKJV)

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” Psalm 32:8 (NKJV)

“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have then perished in my affliction.”  Psalm 119:92 (NKJV)

 

Lauren Daigle, Look Up Child, from the album Look Up Child

appealing to your heart

“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”  Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

Q:  What do you get when you cross a banana peel with the beach?

A:  A precious gift of memories of my father that comfort and warm my grieving heart in just the right way by tenderly reminding me that I am deeply loved and cared for by my Heavenly Father who knows my deepest needs.

This new year, 2020, had barely welcomed its very first dawn when I received a call from my brother telling me our father had passed away in his sleep only an hour or so earlier.  Although we all knew his passing was on the horizon I don’t think any of us expected it quite so soon.  After all, we had just had a family meeting with the hospital staff just the day before in which we discussed possible next steps as to how to proceed for his care over the coming days and weeks.  We all also understood that his passing from this life into the next could possibly stretch out to months or perhaps even longer.  He’d had a really good day two days before he passed and that certainly colored our thoughts with optimism and hope that perhaps his life here with us still held the promise of more time.  It was only after his passing that something the doctor had told us in that family meeting the day before gained its rightful understanding and wisdom in our eyes.  Simply put the doctor had told us it’s not at all unusual for people at the end of life to experience what is known as “the last hurrah.”  And such was the case with my dad two days prior to his passing when he unexpectedly set up in bed, interacted with those around him, asked for some apple juice to drink, ate some Christmas pear, and followed it all up with a bowl of ice cream.

We live a 10 hours long car drive away from my parent’s home.  We had just made the return trip home after having spent several days visiting friends and family over Christmas.   Part of that time was spent with my mom and dad.  After spending what would be graciously understood later in hindsight as my last hour or so with my dad…a “sweet parting” as my wife later called it…the day before his passing we had driven back home and only been in bed a few hours when we were awakened by my brother’s call on that New Year’s Day morning.  That morning then became a fuzzy blur of tear filled telephone calls made to our own children, my dad’s grandchildren.  Eventually the morning mercifully gave way to the afternoon and my wife suggested we go and take a walk on the beach.  I resisted at first, but fortunately she persisted convincing me it would be good for both of us to “put our toes in the sand the first day of the new year especially with how it all began just a few hours earlier” as she described it.   She gently reminded me that my dad would’ve loved going to the beach so off we went.  We didn’t have to wait long to realize how right she was with that thought.

My dad, and my mom,  loved the beach and everything about it.  Each visit was an open ended invitation to adventure to their way of thinking.  They began their new life together by spending their honeymoon along the beach at Gulf Shores.  They visited the beach whenever and wherever possible afterwards.  Later, they were transferred to Jamaica for a few years by the company my dad worked for which gave them access to beaches they’d only dreamed about visiting before.  He loved snorkeling along the reefs off the northern shore which was only a relatively short drive from where they lived.  Shell hunting while snorkeling was priceless treasure hunting as far as he was concerned.   Indeed, even the rocks of the “rock beach” as they named it, were of great fascination and delight to them.  Over time they collected hundreds of multi-colored rocks that were transported back to the states for a much anticipated later date with the rock tumbler/polisher.  Fresh water lake beaches were sources of great exploration opportunities for my parents, too.  Who knows what interesting shaped piece of driftwood awaited them just up ahead?  Yes, the beach, any beach, was a heavenly adventure on earth as far as my dad, and my mom, was concerned.

Secondly, although it’s not anything seemingly related to the beach, I can’t begin to tell you how much my dad loved bananas.  And not just to eat them either, although he did enjoy eating them, especially if they appeared as a banana split.  I guess you could say he was obsessed with them to the point that anything having to do with bananas was always associated with him by our family and friends.  Birthday cards were pretty much required to be of the “banana” variety of some sort.  The last birthday card we sent him had two bananas on it that danced to music when you opened up the card.  He loved it so much he shared it with their friends at the senior center where they lived.   At the end of WWII he had a photo taken while overseas showing him eating a banana with the caption on the back simply reading, “Me eating a banana.”  I can’t begin to tell you the number of times he serenaded our family with the “Chiquita Banana” song. We still all know that song by heart, by the way.  “When they’re flecked with brown and have a golden hue, that’s when ‘nannies’ (his slang) are good for you!” he’d laughingly sing to us all.  One of the longtime favorite toys in their grandkid’s toy box at their house is a harmonica shaped like a banana.  So, to this day whenever any of us walk by the bananas in the produce section we automatically think of dad, or Paw, as the grandkids called him.

“Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?”  (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His highest)

My wife and I had been walking along the beach on that New Year’s Day afternoon looking for shells for only a short time when she yelled at me to come quickly to see what she had found.  Catching up to her she pointed down to her find, and, yes, there it was.  Perhaps by now you may have guessed that what she was excitedly pointing to was a banana peel.  The fact that it was mixed in amongst a collection of shells, my dad’s precious jewels, made it even more delightful.  Although we’ve walked many a mile on the beach since moving to the area 7 years ago neither my wife nor I could think of another time we’ve come across a banana peel before so this was a definite first for us, and for our friends whom we have shared this story with as well.  As you can no doubt imagine the timing of this latest treasure find could not have been any more poignant for us as we both stood there staring at the sight of the old banana peel mingled together with the shells along the water’s edge.  We both spontaneously laughed out loud at the sight as tears of sadness gave way to tears of gratitude as we were lovingly embraced by the Lord’s great compassion, tenderness, and kindness towards us in this our time of heartache.    Immediately our hearts felt warmer and our spirits were lifted as reassuring waves of memories of my dad enjoying earthly beaches combined with thoughts of him now delighting in heavenly beaches oh so gently caressed us.

“The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

And indeed…He is…and does.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Revelation 21:4 (NIV)

The promise of His presence.  Is there any greater hope than this?

 

Mercy Me, “I Can Only Imagine”, from the album “Almost There.”

the (s)parking lot

“See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

 I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’”  Lamentations 3:24 (NIV)

There is a bigger picture beyond what we can see.

A couple of years ago I helped my son-in-law, Andrew, return the rental truck and trailer to the rental agency after their move to a new city.  According to the GPS the rental business was only a short 15 minute drive away from their new apartment thanks to the nearby highway.  “Piece of cake,” we both thought.  As it turned out, however, it took us twice as long to get to the rental place as we originally thought it would.  Why?  Well, that’s because the parking lot turned out to be a time whirlpool.  Leaving the parking lot should’ve taken us only a minute but ended up taking a whole lot more time and effort thanks to a neighbor who had inadvertently parked their truck in just the wrong position relative to our rental rig sometime during the night.  It was no longer a simple matter of merely pulling straight out of the parking lot like we had originally planned to do the night before.  So, in order to get out of the parking lot Andrew had to pull up only a few feet, turn the wheels a bit, then back up, turn the wheels and so on and so on.  Back and forth he’d go more times than we could count before we were finally able to break free of the parking lot log jam.  It was very reminiscent of that funny movie scene in which Austin Powers (played by Mike Meyers) found himself in a golf cart crazily positioned sideways in a very narrow and restrictive hallway.   In both examples a whole lot of maneuvering was required to make just a small amount of forward progress.  In map view as far as the GPS was concerned we hadn’t gone anywhere.

How many times has each of us experienced something like what Andrew and I endured in the parking lot when it comes to realizing goals in our lives?  All too often it seems that where it is that you want to go or what you desire to possess is sometimes tantalizingly “just right over there.” It’s in sight and the way to get there appears to be straightforward and uncomplicated.  Sometimes the prize is so close, in fact, that you can practically taste it.  It feels like it’s literally right there for the taking.  All you have to do is reach out your hand and… “Hold on there a minute.  Not so fast!” says an uninvited voice from out of nowhere.  “But…but…but…now wait a minute,” you exclaim out loud, your words seasoned with a fair amount of indignation just like your next door neighbor’s “private drive” sign.  “What do you mean ‘not so fast?’  It’s. Right. There! ” you pointedly observe.   “It’s really quite simple, my little motor boat,” says the unwavering voice referring to the sputtering sounds coming out of your mouth.  “There are some things you need to understand and learn first before moving ahead so things are going to have to slow down.”  Upon hearing those words your heart automatically sinks.

 Honestly now, who among us enjoys going slow?

Far too often we tell ourselves we’re all ready to take possession of our goal or the object of our affection before we’re actually ready to do so.  We think we’re prepared for what lies ahead.  We believe we are ready and capable of handling highway speeds, but the truth is there are some things we need to learn in the parking lot and apply to our lives before we can safely handle the demands of the highway.  Learning in the early stages of most things is painfully slow going just like Andrew and I experienced in the parking lot example.  It was frustrating for us to get hung up in the parking lot like we did, especially so realizing that the highway was only a few minutes away.  No doubt about it the parking lot is not at all flashy when compared to the obvious forward progress one can make out on the highway.  The highway is always beckoning and teasing us with the lure of our making great, clearly visible forward progress strides, but the truth is if you get ahead of yourself and take on the highway before you’re actually ready the potential for disaster goes way, way up.

There’s a good reason the Lord made us so that we first crawl, then walk, and finally run.  He has only our best intentions at heart in doing so and the same is true in our lives regarding the spiritual maturing He is undertaking with us in preparation for our position in His earthly Kingdom as well as His heavenly Kingdom.   In other words there is much more going on than what we can see.  There is a larger purpose, a bigger picture to the story in which each of us have been given a unique, important role to play.  Hebrews 11, the “faith chapter,” is replete with such stories reminding us of this truth is it not?   Faith such as described here was forged over a lifetime in many of these our long ago brothers and sisters.  Lest we forget, our very own Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ, didn’t officially begin His ministry (the highway) until the age of 30, and this well after He had been found by his parents amazing the Jewish elders and leaders in the synagogue at the young age of 12 with his questions and answers (the (s)parking lot) as found in Luke 2:41-52.

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”  Luke 2:52 (NIV)

While it’s easy to become frustrated and impatient during what feels like an eternity in the Lord’s parking lot in which forward progress often feels more like 2 steps forward, 3 steps back, let’s learn to appreciate and be grateful for everything He is teaching us in this critical stage of our journey towards the fulfillment of His purposes and plans for us.  Let us no longer see parking lots as uncomfortable periods of no to little outward progress that if given the choice we would likely choose to bypass, but rather as sparking lots in which we recognize that He is creating a rock solid foundation within us capable of withstanding the loads and challenges inherently found out on the highways.  In short, as the well-known saying goes, “He is equipping the called.”  And that, brothers and sisters, is definitely something we can all rejoice over for out of the spark nurtured by His gentle hand in our early “crawling” stages comes an enduring and brightly burning flame that will not be extinguished by highway speeds.  Let us therefore be content to grow in Him according to His ways and timing and not be overly anxious to set foot on the highway until He gives us the go ahead to do so.

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”  Joshua 1:8 (NIV)

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”  Colossians 2:7 (NKJV)

Broken Perspective

“As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal there will be those who will delight to offer affront to your idol.”  A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

I try to tell you with everything I’ve got

It is you who are stubborn, but I am not.

Not a word I’ve said do you hear,

Am I not making myself crystal clear?

I roll my eyes because of what you’re missing

it’s obvious you do not know how to listen.

You quickly reply with your own agenda,

unable to see that my purpose is only to mend ya.

If you would just see things my way,

then all your troubles would go away, today.

You know your position has no merit,

Your speaking is useless, I can hardly bear it.

Please know that my ears are tightly shut

I cannot and will not hear one more but.

This is my sacred and righteous ground

upon which my retreat will never be found.

Your thoughts are unbending so we have not passed “Go”

Another payday prevented for us all, thanks to you, my foe.

Perhaps one day you will be as enlightened as I

and then that distant hill we will climb together up high.

And from that lofty top you will clearly see

that our problems have come from you, and not from me.

 

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Matthew 7:3-5 (NKJV)

“with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Ephesians 4:2-3 (NKJV)

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”  1 Peter 3:8-9 (NKJV)

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”  Philippians 2:3 (NKJV)

the grace-full high five

“Do not let all kinds of strange teachings lead you into the wrong way.  Your hearts should be strengthened by God’s grace, not by obeying rules about foods, which do no help those who obey them.”  Hebrews 13:9 (NCV)

Can we just get raw here for a few uncomfortable (for me), transparent moments?  Here we go.

“YOU…you…you…DO…do…do…NOT…not…not…MEASURE…measure…measure…UP…up…up…NEVER…never…never…HAVE…have…have…NEVER…never…never…WILL…will…will… LOSER…loser…loser…”

These are ominous echoes that are all too familiar for me.  They have a painfully jagged-edged resonance about them that carve steep and rugged canyons deep into my soul whenever the opportunity to speak occurs.  These echoes have a hair trigger so it doesn’t take much to unleash their cascading torrents of discouragement and accusation upon me.   As the familiar saying goes, “that’s gonna leave a mark.”  And indeed these merciless reverberations do.  Every. Single. Time.   After all, how can the end of a cracking whip not leave some sort of wound, some sort of a scar on this heart of mine?

I must admit that my fear of failure coupled with an even stronger need for acceptance makes me an easy target for such a whip.  I am the head-bent-low straggler trailing the herd.  For someone like me who desperately wants to earn another’s approving nod and smile this means I must perform to some particular level of expectation in order to win that person’s acceptance.  As my thinking goes, failure to be successful very likely translates into my not being accepted.  So, the idea of “failure” is more than just an unpleasant word to me. The thoughts and feelings it stirs in me make this ugly combination not only a robber of my confidence but a cruel, whip-bearing dungeon task-master as well as goading me onwards to attempting to scale unrealistic Mt. Everest sized goals.   The very idea of the possibility of falling short of “the mark” in a variety of circumstances makes me want to silently slip away into the safety of some dark corner of a room where with any luck at all I’ll go unnoticed.  This is especially true in social situations in which I don’t know anyone in the room.   Out of direct sight is a good place to be for someone like me who deep down has come to believe the echoes have been right all along when they relentlessly proclaim:  You…you…you…have…have…have… little…little…little…to…to…to…offer…offer…offer…So…so…so…Why…why…why…would…would…would…anyone…anyone…anyone…want…want…want…to…to…to…talk…talk…talk…to…to…to…you…you…you?  It’s a stomach-churning revolving door endlessly stuck in “Groundhog Day” mode just like in the movie starring Bill Murray.  Round and round I go, where I come out is always the same.  Self-fulling prophecy in all its false glory I suppose.  Years of echoes from a variety of sharp-tongued whips will convince a person to hide and when necessary disguise their true self for fear of rejection.  I’m guessing many of my friends would be surprised to read this, but that’s only a testimony as to my mask wearing skills that have been carefully crafted to hide my perceived deficiencies.  Little do most realize I am actually the Alone Ranger.

So pervasive is this negative thinking that it has alarmingly bled over into my spiritual life as well.   In his book, Grace Happens Here, Max Lucado succinctly captures my dilemma by saying, “We find it easier to trust the miracle of resurrection than the miracle of grace.  We so fear failure that we create the image of perfection, lest heaven be even more disappointed in us than we are.  The result?  The weariest people on earth.”    Indeed.  I must admit that although I wholeheartedly embraced His grace at the time of my salvation ever since then I’ve been wearing myself out attempting to earn His love through my works.  In doing so I have cast His marvelous gift of grace as wrought by His Son into the ditch alongside the road.  In place of His grace I picked up the mask.  Apart from His grace my fear of failure coupled with my desire to earn His acceptance as someone else had literally worked my relationship with Him into an incredibly uncomfortable and tight fitting corner that was being continuously surrounded by thick coats of paint that would never dry.  The not-so-merry-go-round of trying to live up to my own self-imposed demands and expectations in order to please the Lord was literally crushing me and preventing my relationship with Him from being all that it could be.  Over time being the masked man takes a toll on a person, you know? Hindsight now tells me that if you wear a mask long enough you can become so comfortable wearing it that much of the time you no longer even realize it’s on.  Now there’s a scary thought.

“What a wretched man I am!  Who will deliver me out of the body of this death?”  Romans 7:24 (WEB)

Sensing my years-long problem that was slowly eating its way through me, my mentor and dear friend, 2Tim, put it this way, “You are in need of a good solid dose of grace.”  Amen! Truer words have never been spoken to me.  Fortunately, the rest of the story is that I am not the Alone Ranger after all.  No, not at all.  Thankfully there is Another far greater than myself who is full of compassion and kindness.  One who is unwilling to allow me to continue wearing my mask and oh so gently removes it and the weighty chains associated with it.

 Let me tell you a story.

As my wife and I walked down the fishing pier I was captivated by several birds flying alongside the railings. They were hunting for dinner. Tirelessly they would hover over a small patch of ocean in hopes of spotting the tell-tale glistening of a fish swimming just beneath the water’s surface.  When a flash caught their eye in the water 20 feet or so below them they would courageously nose dive straight down without any hesitation. Sometimes, however, at the very last second for whatever reason, they would abruptly pull up just before smashing into the water and immediately return to their original hunting position.  Other times they would dive head first directly into the water and then quickly bounce back up into the air with their wings flapping furiously to regain the lost altitude.  This was a wonderful, non-stop ballet for the most part that continued for as long as we were there.  Surprisingly in spite of their best efforts they often came up empty with no fish.  Whoa!  Stop right there.   It was exactly at this “ah hah” moment that truth smacked me right between the eyes.  Hear me out! Isn’t it fair to say that these birds have been perfectly designed to do what they’re doing?  Who can answer this question with anything other than a resounding “yes?”  So, doesn’t it follow then, that if these incredibly gifted creatures are not successful at catching a fish each and every time they try then why should I allow myself to be subject to the unyielding taskmaster of perfection as I do?

Let’s reimagine the story now.  In this version Jesus is standing there on the pier watching the birds hunting for dinner.  And guess what? You’re one of the birds.  Spying a gleam of silver in the water below you plunge head first into the water.  A second later you reappear out of the water, but with no fish.  As you reposition yourself you glance over at Jesus and the two of you make eye contact.  What is Jesus’ reaction?  Do you see Him rolling His eyes in disapproval and then turning His back on you because you failed to catch anything?  Can you honestly see Him being angry or disgusted with your unsuccessful effort?  No, I can’t either.  His reaction is most certainly just the opposite, in fact.   I wholeheartedly believe He completely delights in your sincere trying.  I see Him laughing and grinning out of sheer enjoyment as He watches you, His creation, diligently going about your business.  His reaction is not based on whether or not your mouth is full or empty.  Surely He rejoices and celebrates over each of your attempts regardless of the outcome doesn’t He?  So, let’s finish playing this out now.  As the two of you make eye contact He grins at you with a smile that lights up even the darkest of wet paint surrounded corners, gives you an approving wink with a contagious twinkle in His eye, and then encourages you to try again with a gentle nod of His head back towards the water.   Nourished by His acceptance and encouragement your resolve to keep on fishing skyrockets.  What just happened?  In that shining moment, that glorious grace-filled moment of encouragement and approval in which time seemed to stand still, the accusing echoes began to fade away sapped of their strength, power, and control over you.   Friend, let this scene play out in your head and heart as many times as it takes until, like me, you’re finally able to be William Wallace’s Braveheart crying out,  “F r e e d o m!!!”  If ever a hopeless captive has been compassionately set free in the warmth of His grace it is now.

Let’s look at yet another story about fishing.

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘I’m going fishing.’ They told him, ‘We are also coming with you.’  They immediately went out and entered the boat.  That night they caught nothing.  But when day had already come, Jesus stood on the beach, yet the disciples didn’t know that it was Jesus.  Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Children, have you anything to eat?’  They answered Him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’  They cast it therefore, and now they weren’t able to draw it in for the multitude of fish.  That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It’s the Lord!’” John 21:3-7 (WEB)

For those of you like me who have had perfectionism’s boot on your throat pressed down even more tightly by the need for acceptance, have lost sight of the true meaning and beauty of grace, and have determined to fight this battle alone how do you see this story in John now? Put yourself in the boat along with the others.  Is there anything in these verses that comes even close to suggesting that Jesus scoffed at you and the rest of the disciple’s lack of fishing success?  He certainly didn’t turn His back on any of you because you hadn’t caught any fish.  He didn’t roll His eyes at your empty nets.  He didn’t say anything like, “You people are just awful.  You should seriously look into another way of making a living.”  No, quite the opposite is true, in fact.  In these verses He’s encouraged you all to keep on fishing, but this time to do it on the other side of the boat.  Stop.  Something just amazing happened, did you catch it?  Not only did He offer encouragement, but He offered something far, far greater.  He offered Himself.  He got involved in your efforts by inviting you to follow His lead.  He came alongside you and gave divine direction.  Why would He do this?  Because He is relational at His very core and as mind boggling as it is, we were created to do “life” with Him, side by side.  He delights in shepherding us and being an active part of our lives.  The truth of the matter is that if we were to always be successful at everything we do then wouldn’t it be our nature to see ourselves as having no need of Him?   As it turns out our inadequacies are opportunities for closeness with Him.   Why?  Because it’s in our weaknesses that we are made strong through Him just as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12.  Why?  Because it’s all for His glory, and not ours.  Perfectionism is all about our own glory.  To pursue or be driven by perfectionism in order to make ourselves “worthy” to be in His presence is as far as the east is from the west is regarding grace’s redeeming role in our lives taking us further away from Him.  There’s some true irony for you, eh?  In my quest to be perfect so that I can become acceptable and able to draw near to Him I actually distance myself from Him because…”I’m not good enough.”  That’s been the merciless goal of perfectionism all along…to separate me from My Savior.  The truth is it’s never been about me and what I’ve done regarding my ongoing relationship with Him.  No.  It always has been and always will be about what He’s done first and foremost.  Grace speaks life.   Grace truly is amazing.  Grace high fives you.  Grace sets you free!  “Hallelujah!”

“I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.”  Psalm 139:14 (NKJV)

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)

 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.  So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.  Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.”  1 Corinthians 3:6-8 (NKJV)

the few-ture

the few, the plowed, the saved

the few

 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV)

  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”   Matthew 7:21-23 (NKJV)

the plowed

“For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.  And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:

‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.’

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?   But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.  Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?  For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.  Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:3-11(NKJV)

the saved

“that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”  John 3:15-21 (NKJV)

truck stop rescue

(photo courtesy of Mindi H.)

“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have then perished in my affliction.”  Psalm 119:92

“What do you think?  If a man has one hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine, go to the mountains, and seek that which as gone astray?”  Matthew 18:12

Not long ago our friend, Mindi, shared an experience with me about when God sent her life giving hope and encouragement in a most unexpected and unlikely way during an extremely sad and very difficult time in her life.

Some years ago Mindi’s job was cleaning the bathrooms at a truck stop.  She described it as “doing a filthy job in a filthy place.”  You can only imagine what it must have been like—what she had to deal with day in and day out.  One day, despite the appalling physical conditions surrounding her, she confessed with head bowed low that she was so hungry that she was considering eating half-eaten food that had hopefully been left behind in the trash can in the nasty restroom she was about to clean.  Brushing away the tears of hopelessness in her eyes she opened up the door to the restroom to begin her job when she was completely startled by the unanticipated presence of a bird sitting on the sink in the restroom. Describing that moment, she said, “The bird just sat there sweetly looking at me, tenderly reminding me God was with me, watching over me. Instantly my focus was changed from my circumstances to Him. It was a deeply beautiful moment when I truly felt…well, not so alone.”

Isn’t it wonderful how stories of hope restored like Mindi’s make us feel not so alone, too?  Even when it seems all is lost and we have been forgotten God reminds us in Psalms 34:18 that He is there for us saying, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Echoing Mindi’s experience Rick Warren  beautifully observes, “Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days—when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you’re out of options, when the pain is great—and you turn to God alone.”  Amen, brother, amen.

In the midst of your brokenness He still lovingly calls out to you, “Where are you?” just as He did with Adam and Eve in the garden.  Ever the prodigal child’s Father, He longs for you to return to Him and in so doing run to your side and embrace you, desiring to fill you with hope and joy, all the while wiping away your tears in a beautiful, shared moment of tender worship and intimacy no matter where you might be…even if it’s in a highly unlikely place of worship such as a filthy restroom at a truck stop.  Are you surprised He, the creator of the universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, would choose to show up for you in such a place? Are there valleys so uncomfortably and painfully low in your life that you believe the Lord will not meet you there?  Deep down you think to yourself, “He would never come here…no, not to such a dark, ugly, shadow-filled place as I’m now in.” Let us prayerfully reconsider such thoughts. In “Within and Without” Ann Voscamp puts it this way: “The secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.”  Isn’t this what David is saying in Psalm 23:4? “Yea, 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.”  The truth is the very opposite of what those negative w-hiss-pers in your head are trying to persuade you to believe about Him: there is nowhere…NOWHERE…He will not go to be with you…to rescue you.  Indeed, Jesus declares, in Matthew 28:20b, “And surely I am with you ALWAYS, to the very end of the age.” 

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.  If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” Psalm 139:7-12

 

Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (radio version)