Broken Perspective

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

I try to tell you with everything I’ve got

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

Not a word I’ve said do you hear,

Am I not making myself crystal clear?

I roll my eyes because of what you’re missing

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

You quickly reply with your own agenda,

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

If you would just see things my way,

then all your troubles would go away, today.

You know your position has no merit,

Your speaking is useless, I can hardly bear it.

Please know that my ears are tightly shut

I cannot and will not hear one more but.

This is my sacred and righteous ground

upon which my retreat will never be found.

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

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

Perhaps one day you will be as enlightened as I

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

And from that lofty top you will clearly see

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

 

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

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

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

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

the grace-full high five

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

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

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

These are ominous echoes that are all too familiar for me.  They have a painfully jagged-edged resonance about them that carve steep and rugged canyons deep into my soul whenever the opportunity to speak occurs.  These echoes have a hair trigger so it doesn’t take much to unleash their cascading torrents of discouragement and accusation upon me.

As the familiar saying goes, “that’s gonna leave a mark.”  And indeed these merciless reverberations do.  Every. Single. Time. After all, how can the end of a cracking whip not leave some sort of wound, some sort of a scar on this heart of mine?

I must admit that my fear of failure coupled with an even stronger need for acceptance makes me an easy target for such a whip.  I am the head-bent-low straggler trailing the herd.  For someone like me who desperately wants to earn another’s approving nod and smile this means I must perform to some particular level of expectation in order to win that person’s acceptance.

As my thinking goes, failure to be successful very likely translates into my not being accepted.  So, the idea of “failure” is more than just an unpleasant word to me. The thoughts and feelings it stirs in me make this ugly combination not only a robber of my confidence but a cruel, whip-bearing dungeon task-master as well as goading me onwards to attempting to scale unrealistic Mt. Everest sized goals.

The very idea of the possibility of falling short of “the mark” in a variety of circumstances makes me want to silently slip away into the safety of some dark corner of a room where with any luck at all I’ll go unnoticed.  This is especially true in social situations in which I don’t know anyone in the room.

Out of direct sight is a good place to be for someone like me who deep down has come to believe the echoes have been right all along when they relentlessly proclaim:  You…you…you…have…have…have… little…little…little…to…to…to…offer…offer…offer…So…so…so…Why…why…why…would…would…would…anyone…anyone…anyone…want…want…want…to…to…to…talk…talk…talk…to…to…to…you…you…you? 

It’s a stomach-churning revolving door endlessly stuck in “Groundhog Day” mode just like in the movie starring Bill Murray.  Round and round I go, where I come out is always the same.  Self-fulling prophecy in all its false glory I suppose. 

Years of echoes from a variety of sharp-tongued whips will convince a person to hide and when necessary disguise their true self for fear of rejection.  I’m guessing many of my friends would be surprised to read this, but that’s only a testimony as to my mask wearing skills that have been carefully crafted to hide my perceived deficiencies.  Little do most realize I am actually the Alone Ranger.

So pervasive is this negative thinking that it has alarmingly bled over into my spiritual life as well.   In his book, Grace Happens Here, Max Lucado succinctly captures my dilemma by saying, “We find it easier to trust the miracle of resurrection than the miracle of grace.  We so fear failure that we create the image of perfection, lest heaven be even more disappointed in us than we are.  The result?  The weariest people on earth.”    Indeed.

I must admit that although I wholeheartedly embraced His grace at the time of my salvation ever since then I’ve been wearing myself out attempting to earn His love through my works.  In doing so I have cast His marvelous gift of grace as wrought by His Son into the ditch alongside the road.  In place of His grace I picked up the mask.

Apart from His grace my fear of failure coupled with my desire to earn His acceptance as someone else had literally worked my relationship with Him into an incredibly uncomfortable and tight fitting corner that was being continuously surrounded by thick coats of paint that would never dry.

The not-so-merry-go-round of trying to live up to my own self-imposed demands and expectations in order to please the Lord was literally crushing me and preventing my relationship with Him from being all that it could be.

Over time being the masked man takes a toll on a person, you know? Hindsight now tells me that if you wear a mask long enough you can become so comfortable wearing it that much of the time you no longer even realize it’s on.  Now there’s a scary thought.

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

Sensing my years-long problem that was slowly eating its way through me, my mentor and dear friend, 2Tim, put it this way, “You are in need of a good solid dose of grace.”  Amen! Truer words have never been spoken to me.

Fortunately, the rest of the story is that I am not the Alone Ranger after all.  No, not at all.  Thankfully there is Another far greater than myself who is full of compassion and kindness.  One who is unwilling to allow me to continue wearing my mask and oh so gently removes it and the weighty chains associated with it.

 Let me tell you a story.

As my wife and I walked down the fishing pier I was captivated by several birds flying alongside the railings. They were hunting for dinner. Tirelessly they would hover over a small patch of ocean in hopes of spotting the tell-tale glistening of a fish swimming just beneath the water’s surface.

When a flash caught their eye in the water 20 feet or so below them they would courageously nose dive straight down without any hesitation. Sometimes, however, at the very last second for whatever reason, they would abruptly pull up just before smashing into the water and immediately return to their original hunting position. Other times they would dive head first directly into the water and then quickly bounce back up into the air with their wings flapping furiously to regain the lost altitude.

This was a wonderful, non-stop ballet for the most part that continued for as long as we were there.  Surprisingly in spite of their best efforts they often came up empty with no fish.  Whoa!  Stop right there.   It was exactly at this “ah hah” moment that truth smacked me right between the eyes.

Hear me out! Isn’t it fair to say that these birds have been perfectly designed to do what they’re doing?  Who can answer this question with anything other than a resounding “yes?”  So, doesn’t it follow then, that if these incredibly gifted creatures are not successful at catching a fish each and every time they try then why should I allow myself to be subject to the unyielding taskmaster of perfection as I do?

Let’s reimagine the story now.  In this version Jesus is standing there on the pier watching the birds hunting for dinner.  And guess what? You’re one of the birds.

Spying a gleam of silver in the water below you plunge head first into the water.  A second later you reappear out of the water, but with no fish.

As you reposition yourself you glance over at Jesus and the two of you make eye contact.  What is Jesus’ reaction?  Do you see Him rolling His eyes in disapproval and then turning His back on you because you failed to catch anything?  Can you honestly see Him being angry or disgusted with your unsuccessful effort?  No, I can’t either.  His reaction is most certainly just the opposite, in fact.   I wholeheartedly believe He completely delights in your sincere trying.  I see Him laughing and grinning out of sheer enjoyment as He watches you, His creation, diligently going about your business.  His reaction is not based on whether or not your mouth is full or empty.  Surely He rejoices and celebrates over each of your attempts regardless of the outcome doesn’t He?

So, let’s finish playing this out now.  As the two of you make eye contact He grins at you with a smile that lights up even the darkest of wet paint surrounded corners, gives you an approving wink with a contagious twinkle in His eye, and then encourages you to try again with a gentle nod of His head back towards the water.

Nourished by His acceptance and encouragement your resolve to keep on fishing skyrockets.  What just happened?  In that shining moment, that glorious grace-filled moment of encouragement and approval in which time seemed to stand still, the accusing echoes began to fade away sapped of their strength, power, and control over you.

Friend, let this scene play out in your head and heart as many times as it takes until, like me, you’re finally able to be William Wallace’s Braveheart crying out,  “F r e e d o m!!!”  If ever a hopeless captive has been compassionately set free in the warmth of His grace it is now.

Let’s look at yet another story about fishing.

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

For those of you like me who have had perfectionism’s boot on your throat pressed down even more tightly by the need for acceptance, have lost sight of the true meaning and beauty of grace, and have determined to fight this battle alone how do you see this story in John now?

Put yourself in the boat along with the others.  Is there anything in these verses that comes even close to suggesting that Jesus scoffed at you and the rest of the disciple’s lack of fishing success?

He certainly didn’t turn His back on any of you because you hadn’t caught any fish.  He didn’t roll His eyes at your empty nets.  He didn’t say anything like, “You people are just awful.  You should seriously look into another way of making a living.”  No, quite the opposite is true, in fact.

In these verses He’s encouraged you all to keep on fishing, but this time to do it on the other side of the boat.  Stop.  Something just amazing happened, did you catch it?  Not only did He offer encouragement, but He offered something far, far greater.  He offered Himself.  He got involved in your efforts by inviting you to follow His lead.  He came alongside you and gave divine direction.

Why would He do this?  Because He is relational at His very core and as mind boggling as it is, we were created to do “life” with Him, side by side.  He delights in shepherding us and being an active part of our lives.

The truth of the matter is that if we were to always be successful at everything we do then wouldn’t it be our nature to see ourselves as having no need of Him?

As it turns out our inadequacies are opportunities for closeness with Him. Why?  Because it’s in our weaknesses that we are made strong through Him just as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12.  Why?  Because it’s all for His glory, and not ours.

Perfectionism is all about our own glory.  To pursue or be driven by perfectionism in order to make ourselves “worthy” to be in His presence is as far as the east is from the west is regarding grace’s redeeming role in our lives taking us further away from Him.

There’s some true irony for you, eh?  In my quest to be perfect so that I can become acceptable and able to draw near to Him I actually distance myself from Him because…”I’m not good enough.”  That’s been the merciless goal of perfectionism all along…to separate me from My Savior.  The truth is it’s never been about me and what I’ve done regarding my ongoing relationship with Him.  No.  It always has been and always will be about what He’s done first and foremost.

Grace speaks life.   Grace truly is amazing.  Grace high fives you.  Grace sets you free!  “Hallelujah!”

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

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

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

the few-ture

the few, the plowed, the saved

the few

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

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

the plowed

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

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

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

the saved

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

truck stop rescue

(photo courtesy of Mindi H.)

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

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

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

Some years ago Mindi’s job was cleaning the bathrooms at a truck stop.  She described it as “doing a filthy job in a filthy place.”  You can only imagine what it must have been like—what she had to deal with day in and day out. 

One day, despite the appalling physical conditions surrounding her, she confessed with head bowed low that she was so hungry that she was considering eating half-eaten food that had hopefully been left behind in the trash can in the nasty restroom she was about to clean. 

Brushing away the tears of hopelessness in her eyes she opened up the door to the restroom to begin her job when she was completely startled by the unanticipated presence of a bird sitting on the sink in the restroom.

Describing that moment, she said, “The bird just sat there sweetly looking at me, tenderly reminding me God was with me, watching over me. Instantly my focus was changed from my circumstances to Him. It was a deeply beautiful moment when I truly felt…well, not so alone.”

Isn’t it wonderful how stories of hope restored like Mindi’s make us feel not so alone, too?  Even when it seems all is lost and we have been forgotten God reminds us in Psalms 34:18 that He is there for us saying, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 

Echoing Mindi’s experience Rick Warren  beautifully observes, “Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days—when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you’re out of options, when the pain is great—and you turn to God alone.”  Amen, brother, amen.

In the midst of your brokenness He still lovingly calls out to you, “Where are you?” just as He did with Adam and Eve in the garden.  Ever the prodigal child’s Father, He longs for you to return to Him and in so doing run to your side and embrace you, desiring to fill you with hope and joy, all the while wiping away your tears in a beautiful, shared moment of tender worship and intimacy no matter where you might be…even if it’s in a highly unlikely place of worship such as a filthy restroom at a truck stop. 

Are you surprised He, the creator of the universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, would choose to show up for you in such a place? Are there valleys so uncomfortably and painfully low in your life that you believe the Lord will not meet you there? 

Deep down you think to yourself, “He would never come here…no, not to such a dark, ugly, shadow-filled place as I’m now in.” Let us prayerfully reconsider such thoughts.

In “Within and Without” Ann Voscamp puts it this way: “The secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.”  Isn’t this what David is saying in Psalm 23:4? “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” 

The truth is the very opposite of what those negative w-hiss-pers in your head are trying to persuade you to believe about Him: there is nowhere…NOWHERE…He will not go to be with you…to rescue you.  Indeed, Jesus declares, in Matthew 28:20b, “And surely I am with you ALWAYS, to the very end of the age.” 

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

 

Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (radio version)

Three as One

“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!

 

Doxology by Stars Go Dim

the win(d)s of grace

“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)

Grace…

…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)

beauty at the point of suffering

“Yahweh is my shepherd: I shall lack nothing.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even 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 loving kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Yahweh’s house forever.”  Psalm 23 (WEB)

 

Suffering.                                                                                                          Beauty.

 

Worlds apart in our minds…and in our hearts…are suffering and beauty.  So opposite are these two conditions that to intimately juxtapose them so that they are face to face with one another seems all-together not just unlikely but wrong.

Just as oil and water don’t mix likewise are suffering and beauty we say to ourselves.   Surely they are so vastly different from one another that they are better and more comfortably comprehended as if they exist on opposite sides of the ocean from one another.

Where there is pain, where there is suffering, there can be no beauty.  We are so convinced this is truth such that there can be no other understanding to our way of thinking.  After all, have we not seen with our very own eyes and felt with our very own hearts from our personal vantage point in the watch tower known as experience that overlooks the paths we and so many others have trod that this is so?

Try as we might to avoid all the thorns sooner or later we are pierced.  No matter how hard we try there are some thorns in this life which simply cannot be avoided.

One day this dark, heartless rider takes us by force, carries us away, and unmercifully thrusts us directly onto the razor sharp point of a thorn.  It doesn’t matter why the rider came, it only matters that he did.

Cut, bleeding, and deeply wounded by the thorn’s presence the pain runs rampant throughout our entire being.  Pressed up against the crumbling, thorn-covered cliff’s edge precariously perched high above the unyielding rocks covering the valley floor far below our hearts long for mercy and deliverance.

Engulfed by our pain night and day we desperately search the all-too-blurry horizon through tear-filled eyes for signs of sweet, life-sustaining, live-giving hope galloping heroically towards us and again our past experiences remind us, as if on cue, of the great chasm that exists between

suffering                                                   and

beauty.

If only such a suffocating expanse of hopelessness could be bridged.   It’s not like we haven’t tried to make that journey, of course.  After all, pain and suffering seek relief, no, it is far more than that…they demand relief, and so countless times and in countless ways we have tried to cross this abyss,  all to no avail, all to our detriment.   Sadly, in our own attempts to obtain relief we eventually find that all too often the reins we once held now cruelly reigns over us:

(Johnny Cash, Hurt)

But, then God.

What humanity is unable to do the Lord accomplishes.   Only He is able to bring these two polar opposites together in such an extraorodinary way so as to create the spirit-lifting rhythm, melody, and soothing notes of harmony that we so desperately seek in the midst of our sufferings.  Only He can unite suffering and beauty in such a miraculous way that an even greater beauty of breathtaking signficance and transcendence is revealed.

It is a beauty like no other that lavishes our hearts and souls with the deliciously  honeysuckle sweet scent of hope which we so desperately seek in the depths of our sufferings.  As surely as the air we deeply inhale after a cleansing summer shower is wonderfully new, fresh, and utterly pleasant so is the message of hope delivered by His grace and mercy that is found in our Savior’s love for us.

Take heart, sister, take heart, brother, Jesus, our infinite Drop of living water overflowing with hope, comes to those who cry out to Him in their lowest and darkest times of need.

“Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit.”  Psalm 34:18 (WEB)

“Jesus answered her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  John 4:13-14 (WEB)

Poised and perfectly balanced on the sharp point of our suffering like the delicate drop of water at the end of the thorn Jesus compassionately offers His own beauty, joy, and hope to us in our time of heartache for He, too, has personally experienced the anguish and misery from life’s thorns, thorns that were ours and not His to bear.

“So Pilate then took Jesus, and flogged him.  The soldiers twisted thorns into a crown, and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple garment.  They kept saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  and they kept slapping him.”  John 19:1-3 (WEB)

Laid low in the darkness will we embrace the hope and beauty offered to us by the One, our precious Drop of Living Water, who willingly places Himself right on the very tip end of the thorn that is the source of our anguish?  Will we embrace His presence and know that we are not alone no matter how dark the dark, how excruciating the pain?

He has come to breathe life into our breaking hearts for His desire is to set us free, but we must begin to understand that there is a bigger story at work here beyond ourselves.  Certainly He understood this in His own life as He stumbled through angry crowds broken and beaten carrying a cross on His way to Calvary, didn’t He?

He trusted His Father to speak life into what appeared to thousands of eyes surrounding Him that day to be a one-way, dead-end street with absolutely no hope.  And so must we in the presence of thorns.   Only then can we find ourselves in His arms swaying to a melody of joy and undeniable hope that is unknown and foreign to the world.   Only then can we find the Beauty of Beauties waiting to be revealed within our suffering.  Only then can we experience transformative intimacy with Him.

“But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered for a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”  1 Peter 5:10 (WEB)

The beauty of His precious hope is ever before us.  It surrounds us.  Even in the midst of our being crushed it is present.  Surely, then, the words from that old familiar hymn ring even more sweetly in the warm and radiant sunrise of the wonderful promise of His healing presence in our lives as His precious children:

“This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long,

this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”

Why?  Because,  “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” for then, and only then, is it truly “well with my soul.”

(Francis Blight, My Hope is Built on Nothing Less)

the unfading Rose

 “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever.”  Isaiah 40:8 (WEB)

A rose in its prime is treasured the world over for its remarkable beauty.  For a few moments our lives are graced and inspired by its presence.  But, it’s a beauty not meant to last for very long.  As it fades away before our very eyes we are reminded that there is but one beauty that transcends time, a beauty that never fades away, a beauty that when intimately embraced in our lives grows ever more beautiful over time.  How can it not? He alone is the one true Rose of Sharon that loves you without ceasing and has promised to never leave your side.

I ask you, “Is there another Rose that is as true, as noble, as pure, as lovely, as of such good report, as virtuous, and as praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8) other than Jesus?  After all, there is no other Rose who died, was buried, and then rose three days later to set you, His dearly beloved, free.  Can there be anything more breathtakingly beautiful than the unfading Rose of our salvation?

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  Hebrews 13:8 (WEB)

“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines out.”  Psalm 50:2 (WEB)

 

Jason Upton, “Jesus, You’re Beautiful” (from the album “A Table Full of Strangers, vol 2”)

 

accountability is a deal braker

“Search me, God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the everlasting way.”  Psalm 139:23-24 (WEB)

As I pulled into the church parking lot for my weekly meeting with my mentor, 2Tim (as I like to call him), I was surprised to see the flashing lights of a deputy sheriff’s car in the church’s front parking lot.  My second and greater surprise, however, was that the car the deputy had pulled over belonged to 2Tim!  “What in the world?” I thought to myself.  It turns out 2Tim had been pulled over because one of his brake lights was out unbeknownst to him.  The officer didn’t issue him a ticket, fortunately, and only wished to inform 2Tim the light was out and needed to be replaced.  Who knows how long the brake light had been out up to that point, and how much longer it would’ve stayed that way had the deputy not pulled him over?  While the brake light being out is not a seemingly big deal, driving without both brake lights could actually lead to a dangerous situation in certain circumstances so 2Tim and I both agreed as the deputy pulled away that this was one of those “blessings in disguise.”

Isn’t this so often the case in our own spiritual walk as well?  I can’t help but wonder what issues I have in my own life that I’m unaware of that need to be addressed so that I can make it right with the Lord?  So many times we are literally blind to some of our own spiritual failings.  The bottom line is that unless a “deputy” comes along to speak much needed truth into my life I’m very likely going to keep on driving merrily, but ignorantly, along as I go about my day to day life oblivious to the fact I’m crossways with the Lord in a particular area of my life.  The bottom line is we each need “deputies” in our lives provided by the Lord to make us aware of the shortcomings, or sins, we are fostering in our lives that are in need of our attention.   Yes, we’re talking about accountability to another person, someone you can trust and confide in, who loves you, and most importantly loves the Lord first and foremost.

The enemy would thoroughly enjoy seeing us continue on down our path of blindness, of course.  Isolation is a key ploy of his to help ensure we stay on that wrong path.  We are not meant to fight the good fight alone.  Ecclesiates 4:12 (WEB) tells us, “If a man prevails against one who is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  So, do you have an accountability “deputy” friend in your life?  Do you have a 2Tim? If not, ask the Lord to send such a friend your way realizing that a relationship of this sort is also very much a two-way street of hope and promise for the both of you.  Simply put, remember to brake for accountability before your lack of accountability breaks you.  Lord, we thank you for sending dear and close Christian brothers and sisters into our lives to help us navigate our way through this life as we seek to please You, amen!

“A man of many companions may be ruined, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Proverbs 18:24 (WEB)

return to sin-der

“The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them.”  John Stott

Several weeks ago I was asked if I’d consider becoming a spiritual pen pal with a fellow believer whom I’d never met and who happens to be incarcerated.  Although I’ve never done anything like this before the idea immediately appealed to me so I wrote the letter and sent it on its way eagerly awaiting my new found friend’s first response confident that the Lord had something to teach me through this new relationship.  Weeks went by with no reply much to my growing disappointment, but then just when I had almost given up I finally got my “reply.”  Much to my surprise it was my very own unopened letter being returned to me.  Attached to the letter was an adhesive notice from the prison informing me that the return address information I had provided was not sufficient and couldn’t be delivered.  The problem? I had left off my first name and had only provided my last name on the return portion of the envelope.  Who would’ve ever thought that leaving off my first name could make such a boomerang difference?  Not I obviously.  The bottom line is the prison needs complete information to be supplied on everything and everyone attempting to make contact with anyone on the inside before allowing access.  In other words, they want to know exactly who you are before they’ll welcome you inside.  Supplying only my last name without my accompanying first name simply didn’t get the job done in their eyes because in doing so I was only partially identified.  To their way of thinking my partial compliance was no different than not providing any return address information at all.  Immediately I was reminded of Jesus’s thoughts as found in Revelation 3:15-17 (WEB):  I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were cold or hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth.  Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing;’ and don’t know that you are the wretched one, miserable, poor, blind, and naked;”

Not that long ago I read something captivating that John Eldredge, the Wild at Heart author, said in his latest book, “All Things New” regarding our hearts being transformed by hope you can taste:  “If you woke each morning and your heart leapt with hope, knowing that the renewal of all things was just around the corner—might even come today—you would be one happy person. If you knew in every fiber of your being that nothing is lost, that everything will be restored to you and then some, you would be armored against discouragement and despair. If your heart’s imagination were filled with rich expectations of all the goodness coming to you, your confidence would be contagious; you would be unstoppable, revolutionary.” (emphasis mine)   Those words, “contagious, unstoppable, revolutionary” have stuck with me as if they’re on permanent loop in my very soul since reading them that very first time.  As a believer, who doesn’t want to be contagious, unstoppable, and revolutionary for Jesus?  That, my friend, describes a world impacting soul on fire for the Lord laser focused on matters of eternal significance.  As I thought and prayed over these three qualities I realized I am not contagious, I am not unstoppable, and I am not revolutionary for my Savior.  So, what is holding me back?  The truth is that like the insufficiently addressed returned letter containing only my last name, I am not fully engaged with Jesus.  Or put another way, I’m half-hearted and that’s why my desired destination is not happening.  Again, thoughts of the lack of appeal lukewarm water presents trickle through my mind.  This is a mouthful I’d like to spit out.

Recently I completed a YouVersion devotional by John Bevere based on his book entitled “Killing Kryptonite.”  Although I’ve not yet read the book some of my friends who have told me it’s basically about identifying what’s holding us, and the Church, back from becoming everything God desires us and His bride to be.  In its presence kryptonite renders Superman not just helpless, but can with prolonged exposure, kill him.  Referring to the early Acts church as compared to the modern day church Mr. Bevere asks, “Why are we not seeing the greater works God promised?” He answers that question by saying, “I believe that just like Superman had kryptonite, the church-the collection of individuals who claim to follow Christ-does as well.”  Continuing on Mr. Bevere observes, “The state of the church today, which seems to clearly be at cross purposes to God’s intentions and purposes for our lives as Christ-followers, should frustrate you.”

Now I don’t know about you, but those last three words, “should frustrate you” catch my attention.  In fact, they haunt me, but not for the obvious reason.  No, sadly they pursue me because I realize I am not contagiously, unstoppably, and revolutionarily frustrated with the Church being anemic and therefore unlike the early Acts type of Church.  Saying you’re frustrated is one thing, however, and doing something about it is another.  If you’re truly frustrated then shouldn’t that manifest itself in change being sought that addresses these issues?  Sincere frustration should result in my actively trying to implement change shouldn’t it?  Perhaps I’m not doing something about the Church’s failings as I perceive them to be because the truth is that the Church’s problems begin with me.  How frustrated with my own walk with the Lord am I?  Isn’t that the first question I should be asking before casting any stones towards the Church?  Yes, it’s the painful but much needed “log in my own eye” perspective scripture warns us about.  I can easily see the Church’s problems, but can’t, or worse yet, won’t, see my own.  A good, long, honest look in the mirror of God’s Word confirms this to be true about my own shortcomings in devotion and faithfulness to Him.  How can I even begin to be frustrated with the Church such that I actually attempt to do something about it when my own frustration with myself is minimal at best?  Again, sincere frustration drives heartfelt change, doesn’t it?  Sadly, the evidence at hand says there is only partial frustration, partial conviction for change on my part.  As a result I am forced to admit that I am half-hearted in my devotion to the Lord.  Rephrased, I have to squirm and uncomfortably confess that this is so because the Lord is not my only God.  Ouch, yes, writing those words is painful.  Lord, please forgive me that I have been unfaithful to You!  John Bevere calls these other gods the kryptonites in my life.   Comparatively speaking, I see once again that I am no different than my returned, unopened letter filled with pages of well-intentioned words with their message never delivered, never received because I had withheld a part of my name, a part of who I am.  My words in the letter fell short and remained unread because I was not all in from the very start.  They had no chance from the moment I first wrote them, yet I didn’t perceive that reality until later.  Such words are no different than bodiless bird’s wings (Grounded flight of freedom) unable to soar because they are being held captive by the quicksand of my own half-heartedness.  Is it any wonder that almost no one, friend or stranger alike, seldom asks me as to the reason for the hope that lives and breathes inside of myself?  Perhaps such inquiries rarely happen because that message is not being received in the first place.  Why?  Because delivery cannot successfully take place so long as the message we’re sending begins its journey with anything less than our being wholehearted for Jesus.

My return address was incomplete, and that meant I was not “all in” enough so as to warrant my message contained in the letter successfully reaching my pen pal.  My voice was silenced because I was only half-hearted from the outset.  As I considered all of this the story about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet came to mind as found in John 13:1-17. One part of the story stood out to me in particular.  At one point Peter’s unbridled, wholehearted enthusiasm causes him to spontaneously exclaim, ”Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” This, then, was Peter’s response to Jesus saying to him, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part of me.” Although Peter didn’t completely grasp everything Jesus was saying and doing at the time I think we can all agree that Peter’s unrestrained zest for what Jesus was doing was without equal and was without reserve. The world is in desperate need of “all in” believers like Peter who generously deliver life and hope as found only in Jesus wherever they go.  Such passionate excitement and eye-opening devotion for Jesus is nothing short of contagious, unstoppable, and revolutionary isn’t it?  Imagine for a moment what His Church might look like if we were to be so wholeheartedly abandoned for the Lord as Peter.  Why, the world would never be the same.  People would be naturally drawn to such a church bubbling over with sincerely aligned hearts.  There’d be no mistaking who we are in Christ both inside and outside the walls of the church.  Such a city on a hill would burn brightly as never before beckoning all to come, see, and share in what the Lord is doing wouldn’t it?

Yes, my initial thought that the Lord had much to teach me through this new relationship was indeed true…and all He needed at this early part of the journey was simply a letter marked “return to sender.”  Half-hearted is not getting the job done, friends.  The world needs wholehearted Jesus followers otherwise what we have to say is lukewarm, watered down, and doesn’t stand much of a chance of getting through.  Driven by holy frustration let our voices be contagious, unstoppable, and revolutionary for Him this day because our hearts are all in for Him and Him alone with no other gods before us.  May our united trumpets’ herald be pure, clear, beautiful, and distinct faithfully proclaiming exactly who He is to a world in desperate need of hope.

“The secret of the Christian’s passion is simple:  Everything we do in life we do as to the Lord and not to men.”  David Jeremiah

“Christ did not die to make good works merely possible or to produce a half-hearted pursuit.  He died to produce in us a passion for good deeds.  Christian purity is not mere avoidance of evil, but the pursuit of good.”  John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ

“The Holy Spirit cannot conquer the world with unbelief, nor can He save the world with a worldly Church.  He calls for a crusade, a campaign, and an adventure of saving passion.  For this enterprise He wants a separated, sanctified and sacrificial people.”  Samuel Chadwick

“All other passions build upon or flow from your passion for Jesus.  A passion for souls grows out of a passion for Christ.  A passion for missions builds upon a passion for Christ.  The most crucial danger to a Christian, whatever his role, is to lack a passion of Christ.  The most direct route to personal renewal and new effectiveness is a new all-consuming passion for Jesus.  Lord, give us this passion, whatever the cost!”  Wesley L. Duewel

“One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.”  E.M. Forster

John 13:1-17 (WEB)

13 Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his time had come that he would depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he came from God, and was going to God, arose from supper, and laid aside his outer garments. He took a towel, and wrapped a towel around his waist. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. Then he came to Simon Peter. He said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”

Jesus answered him, “You don’t know what I am doing now, but you will understand later.”

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!”

Jesus answered him, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

10 Jesus said to him, “Someone who has bathed only needs to have his feet washed, but is completely clean. You are clean, but not all of you.”11 For he knew him who would betray him, therefore he said, “You are not all clean.” 12 So when he had washed their feet, put his outer garment back on, and sat down again, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me, ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord.’ You say so correctly, for so I am. 14 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Most certainly I tell you, a servant is not greater than his lord, neither one who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Recommended additional reading:  Psalm 119