-the ability to employ selfless compassion and empathy for others as a grateful expression of God’s love.
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Matthew 12:30-31 (NKJV)
One need look no further than a cat frantically chasing a laser pointer’s wildly zigzagging dot skimming across the floor for visual confirmation that motion attracts attention like little else. After all, movement is typically associated with life, which, as we all know, is the ultimate visual attention-getter.
A few mornings ago, a familiar and friendly sight enticingly beckoned me to come nearer for a closer look. Just as it did a few years earlier, a solitary movement tantalizingly framed within a multitude of stillness captivated my attention. No way could the cat in me walk away, then or now.
As I drew closer, much to my curiosity’s delight, I realized that the movement I was observing was wonderfully unique from what I had previously experienced and written about a few years ago in per sway-dead or per sway-did. Instead of an entire plant moving to the beat of the faint wind as it happened then, this time, however, the motion radiated from a single blade of tall grass that, upon closer examination, revealed an unexpected and intriguing feature.
What was so surprising about this lone blade of dancing grass? In a word: brokenness. The stalk was broken and bent about two-thirds of the way up. This imperfection resulted in a visually compelling motion resembling bowing at the waist whenever the slightest whisper of a breeze stirred the air.
Curiously a nearby similarly broken blade remained fixed and unmoving. Hmmmm. It’s fair to say that, yes, where this motion was concerned, the break was essential, but it was also apparent that the location played a pivotal role, as well. If this were not so, then clearly, both broken blades standing so close to each other would have exhibited motion rather than just the one.
I find the irony so captivating here that the motion catching my eye emanated from something broken and flawed. As we all know, the world is not particularly kind regarding things judged damaged or not measuring up. The truth is it can be downright cold and cruel towards anything it perceives as not rising to its standards of desirability or perfection. But, take heart, friend, because the good news for all of us “less-than” sorts is that the Lord has an entirely different perspective than the world does.
“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;” 1 Corinthians 1:27 (NKJV)
Each of us has experienced brokenness in our lives. Some more, some less, but the bottom line is we are all broken in some way. The worldly method of handling our damages is to try and hide them by pushing them out of sight. Essentially we attempt to avoid attention by immobilizing or disguising those damaged areas of our lives in hopes of blending in with everyone else. “It’s the safe thing to do,” says our ego, which quickly tries to seal the deal on that thought by adding, “Trust me because I know what’s best for you.”
To reveal our brokenness to the world exposes our weaknesses, and who wants to do that knowing we’ll most likely become the object of ridicule at the very least? So, we go into stealth mode, closing and locking the door tightly behind us as best and as fast as possible.
Sadly, when we go into hiding, we subject the world and ourselves to yet another day of being held captive by shame and fear. This thinking is in direct opposition to our calling as God’s children, however. As believers, we’re called to more, so much more than being invisible.
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (NKJV)
It’s time, brothers and sisters, to step out of the dark and into His light. We need to embrace the life-changing potential that sincere, godly humility offers to the imprisoned and isolated of this world and to ourselves along the way.
“Think not that humility is weakness; it shall supply the marrow of strength to thy bones. Stoop and conquer; bow thyself and become invincible.” Charles Spurgeon
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7 (NKJV)
Humility is the ability to generously apply a mending salve of compassion and understanding to the world’s endless sea of walking wounded. It finds its beginning in the refining fires of our healing and restoration. It is not man contrived false humility that focuses on self, mind you. No! Genuine humility gives up the steering wheel to God and climbs cheerfully into the back seat so that someone else can sit in the front seat. Oh, and just in case you’re asking, “Are we there yet?” there’s nothing to worry about; God will tell you every time whenever you’re there. He is, after all, the Driver and the GPS, so sit back and pay close attention to what’s going on around you because it’s likely you’ll come upon another weary soul in need of what the Lord can offer them through you now that you’re not the driver.
“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4 (NKJV)
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 (NKJV)
Jesus has shown us the way forward, of course.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 (NKJV)
Like the blade of grass bends in the slightest presence of the wind, the humble heart also gratefully bows at the very thought of the healing, mercy, grace, and love it has received from the Lord. In doing so, such a heart rightfully honors the Deliverer and His intentions regarding other’s needs, all the while trumpeting they’re a part of a much larger and grander story.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NKJV)
“Rare are those men or women who have glimpsed God and whose insights transform others ever afterward. They wrestle with their humanity in a way that helps others wrestle with theirs. They give freely of what they know with contagious joy.” Stephen Mansfield
I can’t help but think of that familiar saying attributed to John Bradford back in the 1600s, “There but for the grace of God, go I,” uttered while he was watching a group of prisoners pass by on their way to their executions. When it comes to our own lives, who among us can honestly testify any differently about our rescue by the Lord’s hand? Indeed, humility worn properly is a garment of incalculable worth lovingly stitched together by His nail-scarred hands with the threads of God’s love, mercy, and grace. It rightly honors and glorifies God.
“Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.” Luke 8:39 (NKJV)
“who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,” 2 Timothy 1:9 (NKJV)
Is it not pride driven by what others might think of us that keeps us from sharing with others who are hurting the comfort and provision God has generously bestowed upon us in our times of need? Delivered from our captivity and now safe in His embrace, where is our compassion for distressed and weary people? Or, perhaps our once grateful heart has grown selfishly cold and turned a blind eye? Considering all He has done for us, how can we as believers remain stoically detached and motionless in the face of the suffocating darkness others confront?
“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” 1 John 3:16 (NKJV)
Humilability flows freely from the heart of Jesus to you and then through you to others. It recognizes this isn’t about you; it’s very much about the other person.
“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)
A humility-led person walks a mile beside a wounded soul trudging up a seemingly impossibly steep hill in their worn, tear-stained shoes and does so silently if that’s what’s needed. Only when the time is right is the silence broken, saying, “Friend, you’re not alone. I know something about what you’re going through because I’ve been there, too.“ Truthfully, who better to offer much-needed compassion and understanding to a person dealing with heartache than one who has experienced not only similar pain but Jesus’s subsequent rescue?
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 (NIV)
In Japan, there is an art form known as Kintsugi in which shattered pottery is made whole by mending the broken pieces back together with glue typically containing silver, gold, or platinum. Upon completion, the revitalized object becomes more valuable and desirable than it was initially. Those who follow this art form delight in the object’s history as revealed by the repaired joints. In other words, the rejuvenated vessel tells a story that is worthy of celebration.
Like a Kintsugi vase, our mended brokenness, our scars, also tell an extraordinary story of redemption if we will but give them a voice. It’s a remarkable testimony of rebirth that lifts the name of Jesus, our Healer, our Savior, high for all to see.
Consumed by brokenness, do we become lifeless and distant from God like the static, unmoving grass, or do we embrace life by bowing before Him in grateful recognition and trust in honor of what He has done and will do with our brokenness? Our ability to exercise humility steps forward by acknowledging the One who has healed us, for you see, only He can speak life into and through our brokenness. How will you respond to His whisper? Which broken blade of grass will you be?
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21:5 (NKJV)
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12 (NIV)
“Scars” by I Am They from the album “Trial and Triumph.”
“Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens.” Psalm 123:1 (NKJV)
Say what?!?! No, that’s not some new sort of language used for this post’s title. If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s “my way of thinking” literally turned upside down. After all, when you’re in a relationship with Jesus, the One who has come to set captives like you and me free, our priorities and perspectives, our very way of thinking, are going to be shaken up.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed;” Luke 4:18 (NKJV) (note: see also Isaiah 61:1)
Sam Cooke may not have been singing about Jesus in his old song, “A Change Gonna Come,” but the lyrics are spot-on in this case because change is guaranteed when He is involved in your life. It’s inescapable given the vast differences between a holy, just, loving, and infinite God, our Creator, and ourselves, His created, His children.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 (NKJV)
If you’re at all like me, then more times than I’d like to admit, I need to be reminded I do not always see things as clearly as I think I do. In short, I am wholly unqualified to be a measuring stick, and that most notably so when I’m the one in need of measurement. That True North Measuring Yardstick position thankfully lies solely and rightfully with the Lord, who is holy qualified.
“All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits.” Proverbs 16:2 (NKJV)
A case in point about our eyes being fallible is this post’s photo. There’s more going on with this picture than you might first guess. All is not as it initially appears. Why would I say that? Well, that’s because both this post’s title and the photo are upside down.
You may be surprised to learn that this photograph captures a reflection in the water. I flipped the image around so it would look right-side-up for this post. Those of you who took a second look at the snapshot before you started reading might have already figured that out. Suddenly those strange, concentric rings in the sky begin to make a lot more sense once you realize they’re not some freak weather phenomenon but instead are ripples on the water’s surface.
All this to say the obvious: we are prone to make snap, incorrect analyses and judgments. Why? Because we unreasonably trust ourselves to a fault, which often leads us to unknowingly not seeing things as they are. Now that’s a scary thought when you stop and think about it. So, what are we to do? Where is hope to be found for our blurry, and at times all-together blind understanding?
“We must rely on the mercy of the only One who is able to turn all that is upside down right side up.” Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)
When my wayward reasoning sails headlong into the incalculably higher and perfectly pure ways and thoughts of the Rock of Ages, Jesus, a transformative change in my way of thinking occurs.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV)
The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10 (NKJV)
Growing up, we quickly learn to avoid collisions with rocks as much as possible. However, colliding with Jesus is the most significant, life-changing impact with a Rock that we will ever experience in our lives. This remarkable journey begins when we first believe and claim Him as our Savior transporting us from being spiritually dead to alive. Having welcomed us into His Kingdom, He then continuously refines us throughout our lifetimes. Knowing and being known by Jesus guarantees we will undergo much-needed changes in our understanding and thus in our actions. We are, after all, as followers of Jesus, His ongoing works in progress in this life. Can I get a joyful hallelujah?
“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 8:29 (NKJV)
Let me share a story that turned my thinking on its head and, in doing so, revealed the unobstructed, breathtaking view that exists far above the treeline of my limited understanding.
A couple of years ago, a vacationing family lost their dog not far from where I live. Somehow the dog managed to escape from the house they were renting, and he was gone before they knew what had happened. They and a good number of newly met neighbors spent the remainder of their vacation week desperately searching for him. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the dog remained on the loose, and at the end of the week, the owners reluctantly and tearfully had no choice but to make the long drive back home a few states away without their beloved pet.
About a month after the fact, I spotted one of their “lost dog” flyers at a local store that told their sad story about what had happened. Animal lover that I am, I immediately empathized with their painful circumstances. What did I do about it? Well, I got in my car and searched through the area where the dog had last been spotted, of course. I did that several times over the next week, all to no avail.
It turns out that, like the upside-down photo, there was more to this adventure than I ever first imagined or understood. As a child of God, why would one expect anything else?
“Notice that in the tales told in Scripture, whenever God gets hold of a man he takes that man into an adventure of the first order.” John Eldredge, Fathered By God
Although I didn’t find the lost dog I was searching for, I did discover something else was also missing. Or, rephrased, what was initially lost was not found, but something else of great importance was found to be lost along the way.
During what turned out to be my last drive-around looking for the off-course dog, I was interrupted by a profound thought that welled up seemingly out of nowhere. Like a late September gust of wind, it stripped the leaves of my wayward point of view from their branches, saying, “It’s good that your compassion compelled you to search for this family’s lost pet. If only you were as passionate about sharing Jesus with people.” And in that instant, I knew that, like the lost dog, I was also wandering far from home.
“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.” John 15:2 (NKJV)
Indeed, when was the last time I’d been sincerely concerned enough about a person’s spiritual condition that I jumped into action as I did for this lost pet? Sadly, I couldn’t remember such a time. Confronted by such an indisputable truth, how do you respond? My reply then, as it still is today in the midst of sharing this story with you, is one with bowed head in humble silence.
Please understand I’m not saying that my feelings for this lost dog were wrong because they weren’t. That is not the reason I’m telling you all of this. Like I’ve already said, searching for the dog was about so much more than what it appeared to be. Instead, I’m relaying this story to highlight a change that I needed to make. In short, my eyes were opened to truths about myself that I’d been blind to for far too long.
“A person wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.” Benjamin Franklin
Throughout the majority of my life, I was reclusive when it came to sharing my faith. My search for the dog aimed a spotlight directly into that dark and all-too silent corner of myself. I searched for the lost dog by myself, involved no one else, and frankly was comfortable keeping it that way. Upon hearing that declaration, my former overly-reserved spiritual self would assuredly observe, “If it’s true that no man is an island, then I am a peninsula.”
But, if keeping Jesus to myself was acceptable, why was I being encouraged to be passionate about sharing Him? The heat from the friction between these two opposite positions demanded an answer to this question. The Bible has something to say about this issue, of course.
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do theylight a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men,that they may see your good works andglorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (NKJV)
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NKJV)
Matthew 28:19-20 made me feel incredibly uncomfortable for practically as long as I can remember. Why? Well, because instead of enthusiastically pursuing Jesus’s clearly stated mission, I found myself wanting to run away and hide.
The truth is my detached attitude existed because I was afraid. The fear that gripped me found its roots in thoughts and feelings I instinctively knew were wrong, yet it still bound and restrained me in its chains. Yes, you can call them strongholds over me if you like.
I can relate to Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus just before His crucifixion. As undeniably awful as Peter’s failure was, at least his actions occurred because he believed his life was in jeopardy. Sadly, my withdrawal was the product of much lesser reasoning and motivation than that.
Embarrassingly, the first reason I was afraid to share Jesus was for no more cause other than what others might think or say. My upbringing resulted in my thinking that personal faith in Christ was indeed precisely that, private, meaning I’m to keep it to myself, period. Growing up and for a long time afterward, I made it a point to avoid becoming one of “those” people who injected themselves and their faith into situations and onto people without a personal invitation to do so. And if you would please make that a written invitation, so much the better. Silence in this matter was considered a golden virtue.
Secondly, I had bought into the mistaken notion that I should remain silent because I lacked the necessary qualifications to voice my faith. Perhaps a sample of some of my reasoning will sound familiar to you: I have no formal Christian education; I don’t know the Bible as well as I should; I don’t know how to present the Gospel smoothly and clearly; I have no business sharing Jesus with anybody because I’ve made lots of my own mistakes along the way; What if I mess up and get it wrong?
When combined, these misconceptions successfully kept me locked away in the dark.I accepted these lies as truth for years and saw myself as someone who had no business sharing my faith. Thinking like this, I was held captive on an endless merry-go-round of self-fulfilling prophecy going nowhere.
But then an unexpected rescue happened in the middle of my search for the lost dog. Abruptly awakened from the hypnotic trance of the lies, I was finally ready to get off this spinning ride that had kept me dizzy and off-balance for far too long.But, how?
“casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NKJV)
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
The author of AtomicHabits, James Clear, says, “instead of focusing on a goal you want to achieve, focus on the identity you want to have.” Hmmmm. My goal is to share my faith. What if I were to readjust my focus from what I want to accomplish to who I want to be? Better still, let’s take that thought a significant step further: What if I began to see myself as He sees me?
The more you reaffirm who you are in Christ, the more your behavior will begin to reflect your true identity. Neil T. Anderson
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13 (NKJV)
He says I am His child. And so are you, my brother and sister in Christ!
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. “ 2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV)
Studying His Word qualifies me as His approved worker. And you as well!
“So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21 (NKJV)
He sees me as a voice, a herald, for Him. And you likewise!
“Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Acts 3:6 (NKJV)
“Christ is mine, and I am His” is the one essential attribute I must have that empowers me to share Him with others. And you are no different!
“that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3b (ESV)
He has firmly planted me in Christ’s righteousness for His glory. And you, too!
“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 2:4-5 (NKJV)
I am to have Christ’s mind that is concerned about others as well as myself. And so are you!
It is Jesus’s remarkable healing touch, strength, and purpose that graciously calls and enables us to travel roads that were previously unfamiliar to us. Gone are the dead-end streets of our choosing, and wide-open are the roads unlike any others with an extraordinary view of life in all directions of His choosing.
“But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” Mark 10:27 (NKJV)
As we walk these roads, we are to share His life with others we meet along the way who are lost as we, too, once were lost.
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,” Ephesians 3:20 (NKJV)
“Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees,and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13 (NKJV)
“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4 (NKJV)
No doubt all you pet lovers are probably wondering whatever became of the lost dog. Six months after he first went missing, a full-page article in the local newspaper happily reported a most unlikely reunion between the dog and his family thanks to the tireless efforts of concerned neighbors who refused to give up hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Galatians 6:9 (NKJV)
I’m humbly and gratefully overwhelmed as I reflect on this entire story’s most unlikely unfolding. What began as a seemingly “no-big-deal” decision to search for a lost dog turned into an extraordinary adventure of significance concerning a missing, critical aspect of my walk with Jesus that I never saw coming.
Jesus turned my thinking on its head thanks to a stunning, unanticipated plot twist. Never in a million years did I think when I began looking for the lost dog that Jesus was simultaneously looking for a lost part of me. Like those neighbors who never gave up on finding the missing dog, He never gave up on that missing piece of me, a rescue that was years in the making. And friend, He’s not given up on you either, no matter how far from home you’ve wandered, no matter what part of you is missing. Even now Jesus is calling out to you. Do you hear Him?
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.Even so it is not thewill of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:12-14 (NKJV)
Pray with me, please…
Lord, encourage and lead us to ask You to do the impossible, the unlikely, the unanticipated, the out-of-the-ordinary in the ordinary of our lives, even in areas where we are blind or only dimly see. Turn our world, our thinking, upside down with Your truth so that we rightly see according to Your ways and not ours. May we always know that Your plans and intentions for us are good, and our future is full of hope because of Your loving presence and sovereignty. Let the life-transforming ripples of Your love and kindness cause us to walk in the newness of life that only You can provide and, in turn, lovingly share Your good news with others so that they, too, can experience Your life-giving freedom. We humbly thank You and praise You for Your longsuffering, Your mercy, Your grace, Your unwillingness to leave us as You found us. Oh Lord, we were indeed lost, and we knew it not, but now we are found, safe and secure in Your strong and loving arms. Thank You for calling us to experience and to share all Your higher ground has to offer. We ask all of this in Your Son’s name, our precious Savior, Jesus. Amen.”
“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)
Yes indeed, You most certainly have, Lord! And we are grateful!
Todd Agnew, “Grace Like Rain” from the album “Grace Like Rain.”
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
Sometimes enlightenment comes gushing out of the most remarkably unexpected sources. Like a freely flowing artesian water well, the life-giving refreshment offered by such an epiphany awakens and revitalizes our once stagnant consciousness.
Recently I was caught entirely off-guard by a revelation in the form of a prayer adorably delivered by my not quite three-year-old granddaughter. When it came time to say the blessing, she eagerly volunteered and said, as best I recall: “A…B…C…D…H…K…M…T…amen!”
Yes, of course, as you might imagine, all the adults chuckled to themselves with knowing winks in that surprising moment upon hearing her recount the alphabet as best she knew how. How can you not be enchanted by a toddler’s delightfully offbeat prayer efforts?
However, as cute as such a child’s prayer is, we’re often quick to dismiss them as having very little significance given the source. After all, there are no prominent spiritual ingredients or ideas embodied in reciting the “A, B, C’s,” so why give it another minute of thought?
All I can say to that is, “Thank you, Lord, for prompting me to have second thoughts!”
As I later reflected on it, I realized that my granddaughter’s unlikely prayer unveiled a slumbering truth. Simply put, she was excited to share the excellent and acceptable instruction she had been receiving. In doing so, she honored the Lord by demonstrating she was positively improving her mind just as God intends for His children to do.
“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17 (NKJV)
My granddaughter’s notably unorthodox prayer is a gentle reminder that our waking moments are continuous prayers. As such, throughout the day, we have the ongoing opportunity to honor and glorify Him by doing things His way, as found in the plans and instructions given to us through the Bible. Our very lives are walking prayers.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:8-10 (NKJV)
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19: 14 (NKJV)
“I am convinced that, if we protect our minds by dwelling on the right things, it brings God glory. It also protects us from unnecessarily allowing ourselves to be tempted. The Bible is clear on what we ought to think.” Victor Nunez
“But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.” Proverbs 4:18 (NKJV)
When we consistently pursue the acceptable “A, B, C’s” in our Father’s sight, He is pleased, and His heart smiles with joy. When we do this, we choose Him and the extraordinary life He envisions for us.
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10 (NKJV)
Friend, I’m confident my granddaughter’s lifestyle prayer brought a smile to our Lord’s heart. May each of our “A, B, C prayer” choices we have to make throughout the day equally please Him, and abundantly so!
“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.’” Matthew 25:23 (NKJV)
Fernando Ortega, “Let the Words of My Mouth (Psalm 19:14, Philippians 4:8)” from the album, “The Shadow of Your Wings: Hymns and Sacred Songs.”
“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)
“Get into the habit of saying, ‘Speak, Lord,’ and life will become a romance.” Oswald Chambers
The use of the word “romance” here in this context is a spiritual show-stopper the more I think about it. Such a romance is a life of excitement, a shared journey of love that is an adventure filled with mystery, surprise, longing, and beauty between God and ourselves. It’s an extraordinary invitation to embark on a remarkable Coram Deo life alongside Him. It is everything we long for, and so much more.
I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10b (NKJV)
Hear what John Eldredge has to say about a life of romance lived in God’s presence from his book, “The Sacred Romance:”
“The Sacred Romance calls to us every moment of our lives…invites us through the laughter of good friends, reaches out to us through the touch of someone we love. We’ve heard it in our favorite music, sensed it at the birth of our first child,been drawn to it while watching the shimmer of a sunset on the ocean. Something calls to us through experiences like these and rouses an inconsolable longing deep within our heart, wakening in us a yearning for intimacy, beauty, and adventure. This longing…fuels our search for meaning, for wholeness, for a sense of being truly alive. And the voice that calls to us in this place is none other than the voice of God.”
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NKJV)
That longing for eternity can be satisfied only by God. Only His voice can meet that need purposefully implanted in the depths of our hearts so that we would seek Him. Oh, but when at long last embraced, the sweetness and beauty of His voice are miraculously transformative.
“And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!” (How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss)
Indeed! The Lord’s presence continually delights and surprises me. His love wonderfully turns me upside down, sideways, and gratefully, every which way but loose, as if I’m a stone joyfully borne along by a sparkling, rapidly flowing river. All that matters is that I am within the loving embrace of His arms of living waters. After all, what about the destination can be of concern when He is the River Boat Captain of my soul?
When you’re in His embrace, you see and understand things differently than the world does. I can’t help but think this is what Oswald Chambers was alluding to when he said in his devotional, My Utmost For His Highest, “Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?” When you know yourself to be in His hand, you see anything, and everything with Him in mind, no matter how big or small something is.
Take, for example, my friend, Nicole. She frequently sees heart shapes in clouds, leaves, and even the icing on a cupcake, to name a few. Nicole recently found a heart-shaped piece of meat hiding underneath the holiday ham when she removed it from the cooking pan.
These heart surprises are always a great encouragement because every time she spots one, it’s a glowing reminder of how much God loves her. Finding one never gets old for her. Each discovery delights her more than the previous one.
Not surprisingly, she’s always on the lookout for these spontaneous “God hugs” because you never really know when or where one will show up. To that end, it’s worth noting that one often shows up just when she needs it most. It’s a much-needed, sweet reminder to her of Whose child she is at just the right moment.
If you’ve ever turned the radio on and immediately found yourself listening to the perfect song to meet your needs in that moment, you know this “God hug” feeling. Or perhaps you’ll come across just the right words in a book, article, movie, devotional, or scripture that seems like a custom fit perfectly tailored for your circumstances.
There’s a thought expressed in the movie August Rush that I find notably engaging and pertinent to this discussion. Evan Taylor( August Rush) as played by Freddie Highmore: “Listen. Can you hear it? The music. I can hear it everywhere. In the wind…in the air…in the light. It’s all around us. All you have to do is open yourself up. All you have to do…is listen.”
Try exchanging “God” for the word “music,” which is no great stretch of the imagination since music finds its very beginning in our Lord. Now, before you move on, reread Evan’s observation with God in mind instead of music and let it flow powerfully into your heart.
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23 (NKJV)
When you recognize you are always in His presence, your world will grow decidedly more hopeful and more beautiful.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
Do you hear His voice, a voice like none other? Are you listening? Oh, how I pray you are.
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27 (NKJV)
This post’s original title was “heartbroken” because that was my first impression upon seeing this heart as pictured above, which I spotted across the street directly in front of my house. Heartbreak and pain practically oozed from it when I first saw it.
As hearts go, this is no visual role model, to be sure. It’s so disfigured as to be almost unrecognizable as such. Questions abound. What about those two holes? Why is this heart composed of two different materials? What does it mean that part is on the grass and the remaining portion is on the concrete? One is left only to likely observe this is a divided heart, ripped into pieces.
Undoubtedly, some will say while looking at the photo, “You call that a heart? That’s no heart! Besides, even if it is whoever heard of a heart wearing a mask?” You and I already instinctively know the answers: “The world has a cruel and heartless way of crushing a person’s heart. The mask is for protection.” We know this because, at various times, we have all endured the heartache and heartbreak the cold hands of this world can inflict upon a person. And we have the scars, wounds, and limps to prove it. We all wear masks of one variety or another in an attempt to protect ourselves from being hurt again. To show our true selves makes us vulnerable to attack, so we hide behind the mask.
When it comes to romance, being heartbroken is not where anyone wants to find themselves, of course. Writing about heartache is not a warm and fuzzy experience, either, as I can readily attest. Indeed, I was conflicted in those efforts from the beginning.
Mercifully, the Lord gently redirected my initial thoughts by bringing to mind one verse in particular in the middle of the night as I wrestled with this sadness. In an instant, He rescued me from drowning in the dark, quicksand-like waters of despair I was experiencing. The hopelessness of “heartbroken” joyously gave way to Jesus’s ever hopeful and life-giving perspective of “heart-spoken.”
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” Luke 4:18 (NKJV)
The whispered gift of “heart-spoken” warmly greeted me in those quiet, still, and uncluttered hours of a new day. Joyfully it buoyed my spirit aloft on the wings of hope like an early spring flower emerging from melting winter snow brings. No longer constrained by string, I’m a kite set free to fly where once I could only longingly gaze. Yes, hope forged in the fires of His boundless love is the real message of Christmas that we can rejoice in throughout the entire year.
“For to us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 (NKJV)
What does that hope mean for His children, the captives whose hearts He has come to set free?
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 (NKJV)
‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
As we learn to embrace the rhythm of His grace with our new hearts, He is teaching us a dance of freedom we’ve never experienced before according to His good purposes. We are dancing to His music in His arms, each of us in our own special and unique way. Apart from Him, we knew only division; now, a part of Him, our hearts know harmony.
Ever so gently, He tenderly removes the mask we’ve hidden behind. Instinctively we lower our eyes, afraid He will find us ugly and unlovable, just as the world has pronounced us to be. Casting our disguise aside, He reaches out, lifts our chin, and lovingly gazes at our now naked face. Looking deeply into our eyes, He tells us the mask has hidden a wondrous beauty for far too long that He has uniquely created for a time such as this. And, then, the unexpected happens. He begins to sing over you drowning out the world’s curses you once knew all too well. Do you hear Him speaking to your heart? Oh, how I pray you do, my brother and sister, for you are heart-spoken and greatly loved!
“The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV)
Alisha.mp4 “Feel My Love” (Bob Dylan)
(note: Nicole’s good friend sings this cover to Bob Dylan’s song. Heartfelt thanks go out to Alisha for allowing me to use her version of this song. Close your eyes, friends, and listen to this song as if God is singing directly to you. What a blessing!)
“To live Coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. This phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of God.” R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries
Psalm 23 (NKJV)
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
What if this is the last post I ever have the opportunity to write?
What if reading this is your last opportunity to do anything?
In just a few hours I will undergo surgery. It is a minor surgery that doesn’t involve matters of life and death as so many others will endure this very same day all across this globe we all call home. Yet, it still causes me to pause and take a longer, deeper look at what is most important.
What thoughts run through your mind after reading these questions? Are they balls and chains that weigh you down, buzz-kills if you will, or do you view them instead as unlikely wings that, when firmly attached to Him (“Grounded Flight of Freedom”), allow you to soar in ways and into places you never imagined possible? When the latter occurs, a whole new world of previously unrecognized opportunities to be “Flying with God”presents themselves.
To live absent or oblivious to the underlying truth behind such questions is to miss out on living abundantly. To live in their sweet presence, however, is to experience “a life danced to the rhythm of God’s wisdom in a Byrd’s song.” Indeed, acknowledging this truth allows us to live each day to the fullest. This understanding ironically ushers us into a previously unseen world of incredible possibilities. What seems at first blush to be uncomfortably confining is ultimately found to be incredibly liberating.
Can nature’s song sound any purer than if you consider it from the perspective of recognizing you may never hear its captivating melodies again? Can the sky be any bluer than with such a mindset? The night stars twinkle so brightly? A flower’s bloom smell any sweeter? Can the touch, the look, the sounds of those you love be any more profoundly moving than when you humbly acknowledge it could be your last time?
My friend, this post has continued to grow far beyond what I originally envisioned. At first, I strongly resisted this expansion, wanting to keep this post as concise as possible, which admittedly is always an ongoing challenge for me. However, what began as a bubbling spring on a hillside has blossomed into a full-fledged waterfall. It is a captivating sight. I cannot look away. The vibrant current transports me along its purposeful path towards adventures only it knows at this moment. I am like a child on Christmas morning. My smile stretches from head to toe, and back again.
With renewed vision, I see that He would have me paint a much different picture than I originally intended. Quite frankly, it’s a picture I have needed to see as so often I’m prone to see the tree but not the forest. “It’s the view from 20,000 feet high” as my mentor, 2Tim, likes to say from time to time. After all, the Lord cannot be constrained to the earth-bound muddlings of the likes of someone like myself. The great I AM is thankfully so much more than my small-minded, narrow “God-in-the box” notions.
Each post I make addresses something He is teaching me, something I need to understand more fully. This latest endeavor continues in that vein. My hope and prayer are that you, as a fellow voyager, will walk away from this journey with a more profound and revolutionary awareness of His sweet presence in your life as well. In turn, may you be “contagious, unstoppable, and revolutionary” in your walk of faith, as John Eldredge notes in his book, “All Things New.”
Sprinkled throughout this post are links to past compositions already present on this site. Alone, these posts are but singular notes. Considered together, however, they become a captivating melody, if you will allow me to be so bold as to use that description. Yes, the view from 20,000 feet is quite extraordinary and humbling. In moments like this, I enjoy telling people, “Nobody weaves a quilt like the Lord, nobody!”
“We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow.”B.J. Neblett
Embracing a grander perspective is vital to ensuring our walk with Him remains headed in His direction, and not one of our choosing. If we focus solely on the tough times as completely individual pieces with no interconnectivity, we risk losing sight of not only the larger quilt He is weaving, but even more significantly, the Weaver Himself.
My fellow adventurer, where is hope to be found under a narrow, fragmented perspective? If we are to experience “tapping into hope,” then we must remain vigilant, trusting that there is a much bigger picture than the circumstances staring us immediately in the face. Hearts aligned with the Lord are then able to discover and embrace the hope lying just beneath the surface within the “Beauty is in the ayes of His beholders,” for example.
Walking with the Lord through the garden of your life, can you imagine a more breathtaking lifetime adventure than this? Surely there is nothing more mysterious, more beautiful, more revealing than this remarkable experience shared with the Living God, your Creator, your Salvation, the Author and Perfecter of your faith.
Each step, each bend, each vista, both large and small, is like a breath of fresh air after a cleansing summer rain when He is by your side. It’s seeing things as if you’re gloriously experiencing them for the very first time as a wide-eyed child. “Three in one” was such an experience. Yes, this odyssey with the Lord is nothing short of extraordinary. It overflows with sacred and noteworthy moments that span the variety of seasons that add vibrant color and meaningful depth to our lives. It’s like Dorothy stepping out of her former black and white world into the spectacular explosion of color, sights, and sounds that is the Land of Oz.
As you explore the winding path with the Lord, there inevitably comes the time when He pauses, puts His arm around your shoulder, and looks off into the distance. Pointing with His finger towards the distant horizon, He says to you with great anticipation in His voice, “Look there, my child. Do you see that?”
Squinting mightily, you peer off in the direction of His outstretched finger. “Lord, I’m looking, but I’m unable to make out what it is that You want me to see.” “I know, child. It’s OK that you can’t see it yet, but I wanted you to know I have already provided and planned something marvelous for you. The closer we get to it, the clearer it will become for you. It’s so lovely and magnificent!” He replies. “Oh! It sounds spectacular! How I wish I could see it, Lord!” you exclaim. “You will not be disappointed, I promise!” He whispers into your ear as He grasps your shoulder even more tightly. Gazing off into the distance, an ever-broadening, glowing smile of immense satisfaction appears on His face as He turns His attention back to you. It’s a smile that instantly warms your entire being.
Continuing, He adds, “I’m excited for you to see it and to share this adventure with you. It’s a long journey to get there, but I’ll be there every step of the way with you so you’ll never be alone. I must tell you, though, that there may be times when the temptation to think and feel otherwise might present itself. There will also be times in which you seem not to be making any progress. Don’t worry, though, because (S)Parking Lots have their good purposes. Remember to pursue My Word that it will always be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (Psalm 119:105.) Welcome My presence moment by moment with open arms so that you may enjoy its full and “sound affect”on you. Surround yourself with brothers and sisters of spiritual character and integrity (Hebrews 10:25.) Allow their iron to sharpen your iron (Proverbs 27: 17) Be encouraged by their stories like “Truck stop rescue”in which they have experienced My presence (Joshua 4:4-7) and unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3.) Listen carefully, my child, fear not for I will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6.) Have faith that I’m always there beside you working on your behalf “behind the seens.” Together, we will go on this quest that will be incredibly challenging at times but immensely rewarding. Keep your eyes always on Me so that you stay the course and do not falter (Hebrews 12:1-3.). Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. (Matthew 11:29, NKJV) In the end, the effort will seem light when compared to the great reward I have in store for you (Philippians 3:13-15.) You will not be disappointed. How does that sound to you?”
Listening intently, you subconsciously rise on your tip-toes in hopes of obtaining a more precise view only to come up short in your effort yet again. “Lord, I still can’t make out what You want me to see. Is there something wrong with me that I can’t see it?” you ask with a slight bit of uncertainty in your voice. “No, my child,” comes His soothing voice. “Many others also find themselves exactly where you are now standing. They also express similar concerns. You are a “diamond in the rough” just as they are. The time has come for you to move forward if you want to discover what lies in the distance. You must move beyond this place in which you have become comfortable. You must move courageously in faith towards what is unknown to you but known to Me.”
It’s fair to say that so long as we’re comfortable most of us are quite happy to stay exactly where we are. Two of my favorite quotes come to mind. The first is from the movie, “Morgan” in which Dr. Alan Shapiro, played by Paul Giamatti, says, “I have found comfort to be a possible thorn in the side of revelation.” The second quote is by John Maxwell. It reiterates the same basic idea as the first. “If we are growing, we are always going to be outside of our comfort zone.”
Of this much, I am sure: His plans and purposes for our lives are far more significant and grander than you or I can imagine. To allow us to languish in comfort when we are as yet unfinished lumps of clay would fall well short of who He is and who He has purposed us to be. His love for His children presses us onward and upward toward mountain peaks instead of little hills.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4 (NKJV)
To grow, you have to go; it’s as simple as that. An old familiar saying puts it like this: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” Stagnation is quite unlikely to happen when you’re moving. No way is the Lord going to allow His people to become covered in moss. Even God’s own Son, our Lord, and Savior, Jesus, was always on the move.
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” Luke 9:58 (NKJV)
Ironically, we all strive mightily to be comfortable, but once obtained, it is comfort itself that too often hinders and thwarts our spiritual progress. We have misunderstood “happiness.”
In Desiring God, John Piper explains, “The very longing for contentment that ought to drive us to simplicity of life and labors of love contents itself instead with the broken cisterns of prosperity and comfort.”
“Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches-feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8-10 (NKJV)
“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing…” Revelation 3:17a (NKJV)
What is the remedy for our chasing of things that offer only temporary relief in our search for happiness? How can we avoid falling into the deadly trap of filling the “broken cisterns of prosperity and comfort?” The answer? We must be firmly grounded in Him. Cultivate your relationship with Him with all your might. The better you know Him, the more you will experience His peace and joy and the things of this world will lose their grip on you.
“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life.” Psalm 119:92-93 (NKJV)
The Psalm 119:92-93 author experienced a life-threatening event. Ironically, in the throes of his wrestling match with death, however, he miraculously found life. The thorn of affliction, although unidentified, was the catalyst for such an epiphany.
This much is sure: the truth and wisdom found in verses like this were purposefully wrought on the rocky shores of adversity and desperation far, far away from the safe, moss-covered harbor of comfort. “Faith rubber meets the rowed” happens outside the bounds of a comfortable sanctuary. To enjoy the abundant life God intends for us, we must look beyond the walls of comfort.
What do you think? Was the Psalm 119:92-93 trial too great of a price to pay for such a life-altering revelation? For something that creates deeper trust, intimacy, and dependency upon the Father? For something that ultimately glorifies God?
Let’s consider Joseph’s story, as told in Genesis. He unexpectedly found himself at the bottom of a dark pit at the hands of none other than his brothers, who then sold him to strangers. His treasured coat of many colors had been stripped from him. And what about those marvelous dreams he had boasted so freely about to his family? Instead of his brothers bowing down at his feet as foretold by the dreams, he now found himself staring up at their feet. Surely at that moment, he must have felt as if his whole world had suddenly collapsed around him.
Yet not only did Joseph survive this and other challenging situations that followed, but he thrived. How was this possible?
How we view troublesome circumstances that we encounter along life’s path dictates whether we survive and thrive, as Joseph did, or experience ruin and heartache. When we face setbacks, do we see the pits as bottom-less, or as bottom-more? It would be easy and for an excellent reason to call such a place, “despair.” Or perhaps it would be better named “prepare?” Our answer to these questions is critical and reflective of one’s perspective, one’s worldview.
“It’s time that you take a close look at your God concept. Your God concept is what you think about God and how you feel about Him. These beliefs and feelings become a type of filter in your brain. Inevitably you will not live with the facts of your life but the interpretation of the facts of your life.” Paul Marc Goulet
“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” C.H. Mackintosh
The world, apart from God, is predisposed to view such dreadful pits as dead-end roads lacking hope that ultimately leads to nowhere good. Alternatively, an eternal perspective that embraces the sovereignty and flawless character of God believes there is ample reason to hope and, therefore, not give up, regardless of the circumstances.
Astonishingly, this hole was the improbable and unlikely beginning of his Coram Deo journey to becoming the much-admired, God-centered “Genesis 50:20” Joseph. Therefore, wisdom accompanied by faith instructs us, His children, to not be too hasty regarding our perception of our circumstances at any given moment, and instead beckons us to view our conditions in this world with Romans 8:28-30 in full view at all times. Why is this viewpoint so critical? Joseph became humbly teachable at the bottom of that pit, and so must we in order to become useful in God’s Kingdom.
To what end, such a profound transformation as Joseph underwent? And for what purpose? The Westminster Shorter Catechism #1 answers these questions: Q1-“What is the chief end of man? A1-Man’s chief end is to glorify God, by enjoying Him forever.”
Unwavering faith grows when a person experiences first hand His intimate presence and ongoing provision. Trials amplify this learning process. As the saying goes, “Faith isn’t fact until it’s tested.” Tested faith joyfully proclaims and shares what it knows to be true. It is no longer a mindless faith that timidly whispers of what it does not genuinely know, but rather it becomes a passionate voice crying out in the wilderness that He is none other than who His Word proclaims Him to be. He has come to set the captives free! Yes?
Psalm 23 is an overflowing fountain heralding God’s Kingdom built upon King David’s tested faith and personal relationship with Him. We are to be fountains overflowing with His living water, as well. I can’t speak for you, but the still, small Voice in my heart whispers, “How well does your fountain flow?”
“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)
A loaf of bread can momentarily satisfy a person’s physical hunger, but the Word of God nourishes the starving soul forever.
“When our body needs energy, we eat food. But when our soul needs hope, what do we feed it? Promises…. Our souls are designed to be nourished by God’s ‘precious and very great promises.’” (2 Peter 1:4, NIV) Jon Bloom
How priceless, then, are situations that teach this ageless truth and create deeper intimacy with Him? If you have been to such a heavenly place wherein you have been entirely dependent upon Him, then this portion of the journey is familiar to you.
Genuine freedom and wisdom are not acquired cheaply. What price an authentic life? What price freedom? Our Savior paid the ultimate price to secure our freedom. Is it any surprise, then, that our transformation into His likeness is costly as well?
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” Luke 9:24 (NKJV)
Judging from my own life experiences, I can confidently attest that the Lord is the actual source of such wisdom regarding the importance of our moving beyond our comfort zones. What, then, are the circumstances that have taken me outside the comforts of a hammock gently swinging beneath lush shade trees? What is the landscape of the pit I am now experiencing?
I am momentarily stepping aside from the plot to tell you a portion of my story. It is not to whine or complain, mind you. No, not at all. Nor is it to elicit pity. Instead, I feel the need to inform you of my immediate circumstances, given its relevancy to this discussion.
I am at an age that is generally perceived to be associated with retirement. Retirement in the foreseeable future is off the table for me, however. About three and a half years ago, I was laid off by my former almost two-decades-long employer as a result of a severe downturn in the oil and gas business. Three days after my layoff, my partner experienced the same fate. A half-year later, my partner and I were blessed to most improbably give birth to a drilling and exploration company. We have primarily provided the “sweat equity” while a group of investors has provided the funding for this startup company. The life expectancy of this enterprise was for two years, based on our partners’ level of financial investment. Miraculously we are now one year beyond that expected expiration even though we have yet to produce one dollar of revenue to date despite our best efforts to the contrary.
As you might guess, COVID-19 has only served to compound our problems like it has for so many. My partner and I have given everything we have and more to this effort, yet we stand on the brink of a cliff. The hourglass sand is trickling away with scant few grains remaining as you might correctly surmise. If grains of sand each represent a month, then we are down to only two remaining grains. The dream will become that distant “Wylie Coyote” puff of smoke and dust at the base of the cliff from the Roadrunner Cartoon series if we’re unable to establish a revenue stream quickly. Financial ruin is on our doorstep. At my age, how can one possibly hope to ever recover from such a devastating loss? Will my wife and I find ourselves living under a bridge for the rest of our years? These are questions that growl more loudly with each passing day. In short, we need a parting of the Red Sea sort of miracle.
My relationship with the Lord has deepened remarkably throughout this experience. I can honestly tell you that the reward of intimacy with Him I continue to receive is well worth the price. Truthfully, I wouldn’t change any of this part of my journey if it meant losing Him. I have gained so much more of Him through this valley. He is my Rock, my Refuge, my Strength. It is He that keeps me in unlikely peace amid this storm-filled pit. I am blissfully dependent upon Him.
“In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19 (NKJV)
And so we return to where we earlier left our journey gazing at the distant horizon. There is but one remaining question that must be asked: “Do you trust Me?”
That is THEE question before all of us, His children, wouldn’t you say? How do you respond to Him? Will you go with Him to discover this distant, unknown beauty so that He may reveal it to you? Or will you play it safe according to your understanding and remain firmly planted right where you are? Will you be “per-sway did or per-sway-dead?”
The great I AM now knocks at the door of your heart, beckoning you to follow Him. Perhaps your response to the question is predicated upon your knowing how this adventure ends. For those that need an answer, I have good news for you. You don’t have to remain in the dark any longer. He has already given to each of us, His children, the remarkable answer to that question. Be encouraged by His words.
“And we know that all things work together for good to 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. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30 (NKJV)
The Transformed You, my brother, and sister in Christ is the distant, gleaming beauty on the horizon at the end of the trail that He seeks to show you. It is your metamorphosed beauty bearing His Son’s likeness and clothed with His righteousness that He aims to bring to your attention. What was once unknown and unrecognizable to you has all been graciously revealed beforehand! Therefore, consider solemnly “the few-ture”awaiting you. Regardless of your current circumstances, do you now sense the heartbeat of hope and meaningful purpose rising within you?
“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) (emphasis mine)
There is but one true beauty responsible for this life-changing transformation leading to our being “(br)oak(en) for righteousness.” Jesus, the “unfading Rose,” the One who has redeemed us and set us free, the One to whom we owe all, the One who willingly took our place that day on the cross, He is the reason. Rejoice friends for He has made our destiny sure. I say again, rejoice!
“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)
Will you accept His offer to lovingly guide you through the hills and valleys of your lifetime as King David declares in Psalm 23? The first and last steps of your Coram Deo adventure in search of the destiny He has purposed and planned for you can successfully begin and end only one way: trusting Him.
In the end, He is what matters. Do you trust Him?
“Only Jesus” by Casting Crowns from the album “Only Jesus”
OK, I confess. I have to admit I’ve struggled specifically with this particular post more than most. Why? In an interesting twist of irony it’s because I’ve been riding the fence about, well, writing about riding the fence.
My writing problems were not about the “what” so much as they were about the “how.” The struggle was all about finding the correct approach as to how best to write about this subject. I started this post multiple times only to be unhappy with my efforts so into the digital trash bin each attempt would go.
How did I finally gain writing traction? The Lord pointed out something to me that had been staring me in the face the whole time: Simply put, Jesus didn’t pull any punches when he addressed the issue of people riding the fence when it comes to spiritual matters, and particularly so about Himself, so why should I? My previous efforts had all failed because I was watering things down. I was sugar-coating His message. I was trying to be safe. While He is direct, I was being indirect, thus the discomforting disconnect between my writing and my inspiration.
“We are either in the process of resisting God’s truth or in the process of being shaped and molded by His truth.” Charles Stanley
Jesus speaks very plainly and openly about those who attempt to ride the spiritual fence between Heaven and earth. Why? Because He knows He can’t afford to be or say anything less than that for our sakes and the sake of God’s Kingdom. If He were to do so He wouldn’t be true to us or Himself. Therein lies the lesson He desires to pass along to us when dealing with this subject.
“He who is not with Me is against me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” Matthew 12:30 (NKJV),
Like the bear looking for an easy meal of birdseed on our fence, we cannot allow ourselves to be lured away from His truth. It’s unnatural for the bear to balance precariously on a fence for a meal of birdseed, and likewise, so it is also unnatural for believers, His followers, to take up unsteady and mistaken positions on matters He has addressed in His Word.
The world is like the cat in the photo, intently watching to see if we will be true to what we say we believe, or will we show ourselves to be the outstanding hypocrites they hope and believe us to be?
“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” C.S. Lewis
When our words and actions do not mesh the truth is suppressed. If we know the truth yet don’t stand up for the truth of what value are we to a dying world that is being deceived? Do we not add to the veil of deception when we fail to speak the truth? Rather than helping others find the truth, we become part of the lie that holds them captive.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” Matthew 5:13 (NKJV)
Why do we take up such awkward positions that place us most uncomfortably, if we’re being honest, in between two opposing forces? Sadly, far too often I must admit that I can relate to the pressures King Saul speaks about as found in 1 Samuel 15:24 (NKJV), “Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.”
Is there a root cause for our fear of people’s opinions? I believe there is. Surely our lack of understanding as to the true nature of God is exposed when we acquiesce in fear to people and choose the world’s ways over His ways.
Too few believers spend meaningful time in His Word and enjoy quality alone time with Him. When this happens our relationship with Him lacks sufficient depth and intimacy. Take heart, though, because it’s not meant to be this way. He desires to be in a relationship with you more than you can imagine. “Be-loved” His beloved!
“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NKJV)
Think about it. We will go to bat for good friends, but scarcely, if at all, lift a finger for someone who is little more than an acquaintance. Is it any wonder, then, that when push comes to shove regarding our beliefs concerning God and His ways that we find ourselves aligning with the world over Him? We align ourselves with what we are familiar with and know, it’s as plain and simple as that. My friends, it doesn’t have to be this way. He has given us the right path to follow and how to stay on that track. Ignorance of who He is and what His Word says is not a reasonable excuse.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105 (NKJV)
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV)
Today, more than ever, we as believers are faced with mounting pressure to choose the world’s ways over the Lord’s by saddling up and riding the fence of compromise that only serves to dilute His truths. God’s Kingdom-truth is that when this happens there is no fence riding occurring, but instead, if we truly look with our hearts and eyes, we will find that we have fallen off of the fence and have landed squarely on the opposite side of the fence from where we’re supposed to be with Jesus.
But…is all hope lost, is it too late if we find ourselves on the wrong side of the spiritual fence from Him due to our compromises, our agreements that we have made with the world in the past, some possibly as recently as even today? Joyfully the answer is a resounding “No!”
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Luke 4:18 (NKJV)
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?” Matthew 18:12 (NKJV)
So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us take heart and rightly choose Him over the world when we’re tempted, and even encouraged, to take up sides against Him by coming into agreement with the world. Be reminded by the writer of Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV) who extols us to avoid finding ourselves on the wrong side of the fence saying, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Let us always be mindful of how Jesus described Himself in John 14:6 (NKJV) saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
And that, my friend, is the bare truth. The question is how will we choose to handle this truth?
Jadon Lavik, “My Father’s World” from the album, “Roots Run Deep”
“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”
“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.
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)
“One thing I have asked of Yahweh, that I will seek after, that I may dwell in Yahweh’s house all the days of my life, to see Yahweh’s beauty, and to inquire in his temple.” Psalm 27:4 (WEB)
True Beauty, can you be in its presence and ever be the same again? Noble Beauty grabs you and won’t let go, nor do you want it to let go of you. And rightly so.
Pure Beauty is transformative as it holds your fluttering, breathless heart completely captive with a fiercely compelling tenderness that cannot, that will not, be denied. It is an admirable and excellent loveliness that possesses depth without limits.
Why else do we return again and again to drink from True Beauty’s praiseworthy cup of purple mountains’ majesty? So deep is it that one time is immensely satisfying, but never enough, nor is a thousand times. Is one sunrise enough? One sunset?
As more is revealed the more of Authentic Beauty we desire with great longing…and the more it graciously gives of itself such that we are willingly swept along True Beauty’s redemptive path.
As I walked down the road contemplating His beauty as the unfading Rose a prayer tugged at my heart. “Lord, would you reveal even more of Your beauty to me? Would You grant me a greater understanding of You?”
Arriving at the cul-de-sac a few minutes later I stood there and surveyed my surroundings. There really wasn’t that much to see that I hadn’t already seen before on previous walks to the same spot. Yes, the light breeze was nice, as was the sun shining through the trees, and all the birds were singing like usual, too. By all accounts this was a lovely, but ordinary day.
But, then, suddenly three birds burst out of nowhere flying in what appeared to be impossibly close quarters to one another. They flew spontaneously yet did so with the precision of a well-rehearsed marching band as they bobbed and weaved through the air in remarkable harmony and rhythm with one another. It was as if they knew beforehand what the other would do. Their dance in mid-air was joyfully synchronized such that it had the appearance of the breath of life itself.
Captivated, I could not take my eyes away from the beauty circling round about me.
“But ask the animals, now, and they shall teach you; the birds of the sky, and they shall tell you. Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach you. The fish of the sea shall declare to you. Who doesn’t know that in all these, Yahweh’s hand has done this,in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?” Job 12:7-10 (WEB)
As I watched these birds it occurred to me that these three absolutely delighted in each other’s company. They were completely and utterly enthralled with one another.
At that moment another thought crossed my mind: the remarkable dance of these birds across the sky is but a tiny glimpse into the beauty, mystery, and the pure joy of harmony and purpose shared by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The unity of the Trinity relationship is of such transcendent beauty and bliss that there can be no doubt that Our. Heavenly. Father. Is. Relational. At. His. Very. Core.
The splendor of the Trinity is multi-faceted. There is beauty upon beauty. There is even more here still yet to be revealed.
What is this forthcoming beauty? Incredibly, it’s that we, His created, are invited to take our place in Their extraordinary harmony and magnificent dance by embracing a vibrant, intimate relationship with Him.
We, His sons and daughters, have been offered the astonishing opportunity to take the outstretched, nail-scarred hand of the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords and soar across His creation in His arms.
“God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Genesis 1:26a (WEB)
Surely, then, this is a Beauty like none other beckoning us to experience all it has to offer. Indeed, there is no other invitation as exceedingly beautiful and gracious as this. Let us rejoice and praise Him for it’s an incomparable Beauty of unity, fellowship, and love that our Savior has already fervently prayed over us.
“Not only for these do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, that they may also be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me be with me where I am, that they may see my glory, which you have given me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world hasn’t known you, but I knew you; and these knew that you sent me. I made known to them your name, and will make it known; that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:20-26 (WEB)
Lord, sweep me away along True Beauty’s path of life with You!
“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (WEB)
…is something the Lord has placed on my heart a lot the past few months. It’s funny how the Lord has a way of bringing things to my attention that are in need of…ahem…”additional refinement,” so to speak. Such was the case on my most recent trip to the grocery store.
Yesterday I found myself standing in the “10 items or less” express line behind a couple with a seemingly endless stack of groceries piled up like a mountain in front of the register. The closest they came to the magic number of 10 was with their two shopping carts.
Now then, the Lord knows I am prone to having “not the sharpest tool in the shed” moments from time to time. He also knows exactly what pushes my anger buttons. This was one of those “perfect storm” times that combined both of these elements.
So, just to be sure even I, dull shovel that I am, wouldn’t miss the subject of the day’s lesson He saw fit to having it plastered on the offending lady’s green t-shirt in bold letters, “G R A C E” standing directly in front of me. No way could I miss it, which was His point all along as I reflect back on the events as they unfolded. From where I stood in this motionless line He obviously had convinced the lady responsible for this avalanche of groceries to wear a “Grace wins every time” t-shirt when she got dressed that morning.
“Good thing for her she’s got THAT shirt on,” I impatiently thought to myself as a variety of potential verbal attacks went through my mind. Biting my tongue I stood there in back-burner simmering mode while the cashier went about her job.
As the lady finished paying for her groceries she turned around, looked me squarely in the eyes and apologized in the most sincere and nicest, most humble way possible explaining she and her husband had no idea they’d gotten in the express line.
In an instant my bad attitude towards her fell and spread out all over the floor like a ripped open box of hundreds of tiny humble pies as the voice inside my head gently reminded me, ”You know you’ve made plenty of mistakes yourself haven’t you? How many times have you needed grace extended to you in moments like this in which you’ve offended others? How many times has God extended His grace to you?”
My contrite reply to her came instantly as the Lord quickly brought to my mind something I’d just read in Max Lucado’s book “Grace Happens Here.” Simply put, Lucado says, “Give grace, one more time. Be generous, one more time.”
And in that One on one on one moment the utterly refreshing miracle of grace happened…yet one more glorious time.
Grace. We all want it. We all need it. Desperately.
Friends, let’s not just be receivers of grace, but let us also be givers of grace…one more time…to one more person…and may we do so generously.
Like a delightful and unexpected breeze that brings welcomed relief from the oppressive summer heat may the cup of His overflowing grace you’ve eagerly welcomed and received into your own life be poured out on those around you today. When we do that we find out that “Grace really does win every time.”
“As each has received a gift, employ it in serving one another, as good managers of the grace of God in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10 (WEB)