just 1 more

“Please, Lord, help me get one more.” Desmond Doss’s (played by Andrew Garfield in the movie Hacksaw Ridge) prayer as he single-handedly returned again and again to an active and deadly WWII battlefield with the sole purpose of rescuing one more wounded and hopeless soldier.

I recently reconnected with a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years for lunch.  After paying for my food, the cashier gave me a number for my order, but I paid no attention to it at the time.  It wasn’t until I placed it face-up on my table to let the server know which order was mine that I became aware my number was “99.”  As soon as I did, a delightful warmth embraced my heart, and a smile spontaneously etched itself across my face.

“Oh yes, Lord, I see You!”  I chuckled aloud, unable to contain my delight as I immediately connected the biblical story of the shepherd who leaves the flock of 99 behind in search of the one lost sheep and my having lunch with my long-lost friend.  “99 is the perfect number for lunch with my missing friend!  Thank You, Father!”

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.  Luke 15:4-7 (NKJV)

As I contemplated that well-known story, God graciously reminded me of His wondrous love for me.  Jesus left the 99 and began His decades-long quest for me, a lost, broken, and rebellious sheep in desperate need of rescue.  He refused to abandon me in the wilderness despite enduring the worst the world I was a part of could throw at Him on His rescue mission.  Bruised and beaten, hanging on the cross, Jesus fixed His gaze lovingly and compassionately upon my brokenness as I wallowed in the sludge of a battlefield thick with the musky stench of my rebellion against God.   Yet, even so, He gloriously persevered for my sake rescuing me for all eternity.

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

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,

Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.  Isaiah 53 (NKJV)

My dear brothers and sisters already in Christ’s “99,” I pray your heart overflows with thanksgiving and praise as you reflect on Jesus’s steadfast, boundless, relentless, life-giving, sacrificial love for you.

14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:14-19 (NKJV)

If you don’t know Jesus yet, may today be the day He brings you home to join the flock.  No matter how far away you’ve roamed, no matter what you’ve done, please know that you are not beyond His reach of love and grace.

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.  John 3:16 (NKJV)

Even now, He’s calling out for you, the one lost sheep.  Do you hear His voice?  It is my prayer you do.  Call out to Him!

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Romans 10:9-13 (NKJV)

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“Living Hope” by Phil Wickham from the album “Living Hope.”

Aim high-“X” marks the spot

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matthew 6:19-21 (NKJV)

“What are you aiming at in your heart of hearts?”  Jordan Peterson

When I spotted the X-shaped jet contrails in the sky as I was driving, the Will Smith-Chris Rock “slap” debacle at this year’s Oscars was fresh on my mind.  Disappointment and sadness hovered over me as my mind replayed Mr. Smith’s unfortunate actions.  An opportunity to rise above circumstances by demonstrating a better way to handle friction in one’s life had landed with a resounding and uncomfortable Humpty Dumpty thud.  What a mess and a cautionary tale about the vital importance of keeping one’s eye where it belongs.  Indeed, what hope does a person have to hinder negative, harmful, God-dishonoring actions?

As I considered the implications of the solitary “X’s” location in the sky relative to Smith’s regrettable confrontation, the notion, “You’ve gotta aim high,” came to mind.  I suppose some will say to that, “Well, of course, you do!”  For me, however, this visual cue was an oh-so-timely and welcome reminder of where a person’s attention needs to be focused lest they land in pieces on the ground too.

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

A heart focused on the wrong things will get you in trouble sooner or later.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.  Matthew 14:29-30 (NLT)

As a sinner saved by grace, it’s imperative to take your eyes off this world and focus your sights heavenward towards Jesus.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  Colossians 3:1-2 (NKJV)

Talking about aiming high is one thing, but employing God-honoring actions takes things to a new level of significance and impact.  Of course, words matter, so we should always be mindful of them, but physical steps accompanied by words that line up with biblical principles are compelling and winsome in the love light they bring to a dark world.

My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.  1 John 3:18 (NKJV)

And how are we to accomplish what is not natural to us?  Through our individual strength and power?  Through our resolve and determination?  Hardly.  We see where that sort of thinking can get a person.   Yes, we’re all aware we must be intentional, but purposeful towards what end exactly?  As my good friend Steve B. says, “Keep the main thing the main thing.  First things first.  And that’s Jesus.”

As I pondered the “X,” I couldn’t help but notice its location suspended between heaven and earth, as if visualizing the role of Jesus, who bridges the gap between holy God and sinful man. 

For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.  1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NKJV)

Knowing and being known by Jesus is the key to living your best life, the life God has in mind for you.

I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.  John 15:5 (NKJV)

How does one go about “abiding in Christ?”  If you want to abide in Christ, a change in thinking is needed.

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)

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)

Where can you find such trustworthy guidance?  Let’s turn our attention to the “X” again for the answer.  Perhaps you’ve already thought,  “X marks the spot for buried treasure!”  As a lover of maps, this was my very next thought following the “aiming high” inspiration.

Ah yes, but this is no ordinary earth-bound “X,” so it stands to reason the treasure chest of valuables it brings attention to is extraordinary too, priceless actually.  No regular shovel will get this celestial job done.  A shovel of a different sort is required to unearth the bounty this treasure has to offer.  Let me encourage you to grab the shovel of perseverance and hope firmly with both hands and dig with all of your might.  You will not be disappointed.  Trust that your faithful and obedient digging will reap the rewards of God’s promises found in the treasure trove of wisdom and truth awaiting you in God’s Word, the bible.  

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;  but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.  Psalm 1:1-3 (NKJV)

Can you imagine being like such a magnificent tree?!?!

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, an oak of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified!  (Isaiah 61:3, ESV)

Oh yes, this most certainly is a treasure like non-other, far and above anything the world can offer.

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)

Upon what path does the Lord send you to accomplish such a remarkable transformation?

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)

As I bring this post to a close, there is one final thought I’d like to share with you about the giant “X” in the sky. Perhaps you’ve already considered it. I’d be delighted to know you have. What does “X” stand for in Hebrew? Yes, “Christ.” Indeed, Jesus stands right in front of us for all to see. Do you see Him? I pray you do because He already has His eye on you.

My friend, aim your heart at Jesus in all you do.  Run to Him, the treasure of all treasures, and as you do so, may you find the rest in His loving embrace of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love you so desperately seek.

That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Colossians 2:2-3 (NKJV)

Lord, “Fill the garden of my soul with the wind of love, that the scents of the Christian life may be wafted to others; then come and gather fruits to thy glory.  So shall I fulfill the great end of my being-to glorify thee and be a blessing to men.”  In Jesus’ name.  ( The Valley of Vision, Things Needful, edited by Arthur Bennett)

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.  2 Peter 1:5-7 (NKJV)

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.  Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)

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 “Abide in Me” by Andrew Marcus from the album “Abide in Me.”

singing in the pain

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,  and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails,  and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields,  and the cattle barns are empty, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!  I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!”  Habukkuk 3:17-18 (NLT)

When I think about birds, two things immediately come to mind:  flying and singing.  Indeed most people would say a bird unable to either fly or sing is, well, less of a bird, especially so if it was no longer capable of flying.  I can’t help but wonder out loud, though, “Is it possible God sees such a bird as ‘more than’ when all we see is ‘less than?'”

What would your answer be if I were to ask you to tell me two vital things about yourself that are integral to who you are, like we just mentioned about birds regarding flying and singing?  Do you have those attributes firmly in mind?  Good.  Imagine what it would be like if something happened and you lost one of the two traits for an undetermined length of time.  In other words, you don’t know whether the loss is temporary or permanent.  What might your attitude be?  Your outlook?  What emotions might you experience?  Would you shake your fist at God?  Or would you praise Him despite your circumstances?

“It’s easy to love and trust God when life is good, but when things fall apart is when you find out what we truly believe.”  Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (the devotional)

Let me tell you a remarkable story about a lady and a bird as told to me by my wife last week.  One of her Facebook friends originally shared the story as I understand it.  It’s a story that points the way forward towards higher ground for all who find themselves struggling to keep their heads and their hopes up in deep, stormy waters.  I hope you will be as touched by it as I continue to be.

“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.”  A. W. Tozer

Before I begin this story, let me first make mention of God’s photo provision before I ever heard this story. A few days earlier, we had a bird fly into one of our windows at the back of our house. Stunned from the impact, it fell on the outdoor couch between the seat back and the cushions. This situation was unusual because it was a cardinal rather than the typical dove we usually see. Intrigued by this uncommon occurrence, I took the photo. Little did I know at that time that I’d need an image of a cardinal sitting in an unusual setting for a story I’d be inspired to share a few days later. And yes, for all you fellow bird lovers out there, I’m happy to report that the bird fully recovered and was gone just a few minutes later after I took the picture.

As the story goes, it seems this lady was driving down the street at the beginning of a hectic day filled with appointments when she happened upon a cardinal sitting in the middle of the road. The bird didn’t attempt to fly off as she drove closer, so she pulled off to the side and parked her car for a closer look at this unexpected sight. Realizing something must be wrong for the bird to act like that, she gently scooped it up and placed it in a cardboard box she happened to have in her car. Instead of going ahead with her busy schedule, she immediately drove to an animal shelter, hoping someone could help the bird out. The person examining the bird explained to her that, most likely, the bird had a broken clavicle (collarbone) and had only a 50-50 chance of recovery from this severe and excruciating injury. If she wanted to help, the best thing for her to do would be to take the bird home, nurse it as best she could, and then wait and see what happens, realizing the bird may not ever fly again or possibly die. Not surprisingly, the lady decided to take the bird home with her.

In an unexpected twist on the drive home, the lady said she and the bird shared a “moment” of sorts as they made eye contact. And then, to the lady’s delight and amazement, the cardinal broke out into a song and continued to sing most of the rest of the way home. Happily, the bird healed over the next several weeks, and as instructed, the lady took it back to where she found it and released it back into its home territory.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass.  It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”  Vivian Greene

You know, friend, I’ve thought about this story a lot since first hearing it. Do you want to know what tugs at my heartstrings about it? It’s the bird still singing despite the pain, despite being unable to fly, and despite finding itself in strange and threatening surroundings. I have to ask, “Would I still sing under such difficult and painful circumstances where I’ve lost something of great value, something I consider to be part of who I am? Do I have the faith and trust in God to sing His praises during challenging times that shake me to my very core?”

“Faith isn’t fact until it’s tested.”  Steve Wiggins, Groundworks Ministry

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”  Corrie ten Boom

The story of an underdog facing seemingly insurmountable odds stirs my heart like none other.  This tale is that kind of story, and it brings to mind that old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  God has called us to make lemonade with Him no matter our circumstances.  Why?  For His glory.  Do you know Him to be a good, good Father?  Do you believe He is sovereign?  Your willingness to sing His praises even while surrounded by lemons depends upon Who you believe God to be and the degree of intimacy you have with Him.

“There is a correlation between our sense of security and the depth of our understanding of God’s love.”  David Jeremiah

Ah, yes, if we but truly grasped the unsurpassed depth of God’s love for us, we would never be shaken, and our days would overflow with waterfalls of heartfelt singing.

“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “’Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’”  Mark 9:24 (NKJV)

I’ve taken the liberty of changing a few words from an iconic song (Singin’ in the Rain) to help illustrate this story’s takeaways.  The original word is noted in parentheses.  And, yes, of course, this song is the source of inspiration for this post’s title.

I’m singin’ in the pain (rain)
Just singin’ in the pain (rain)
What a glorious feeling
I’m happy again
I’m laughin’ at clouds
So dark up above
The Son’s (sun’s) in my heart
And I’m ready for love
Let the stormy clouds chase
Everyone from the place
Come on with the pain (rain)
I’ve a smile on my face
I’ll walk down the lane
With a happy refrain
Just singin’
Singin’ in the pain (rain)”


Writer/s: Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown
Publisher: BMG Rights Management, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

When the painful times come into our lives, and Jesus assures us they will, may we find the courage, trust, and faith to sing His praises despite the heartaches.  He has, after all, overcome the world.  Do we believe God to be sovereign?  Let all who know this to be true be of good cheer.

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

 “But I will sing of Your power; Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; For You have been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble.”  Psalm 59:16 (NKJV)

“The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.”  Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible

I’m blessed and inspired, as I hope you are as well, by this moving and encouraging story about the cardinal singing amid a life-threatening storm. Yes, these are the type of stories that thrill and lift my heart above the stormy waters that threaten to capsize and sink me. May I live an authentic and vibrant “more than” life that points others to God even during dark and treacherous times. Because of You, Jesus, I can sing it is well with my soul. Let us sing His praises, my friend.

 “Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”  Acts 16:22-25 (NKJV)  (emphasis mine)

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Soul’s Anthem (It Is Well) by Alisha Mino and John Rose

said apart

 “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,”  Ephesians 1:17-18 (NKJV)

Shhhhhhhh, close your eyes and be mindful of the whispers of your soul.  There…do you feel it…that unmistakable longing found in the wellspring of your heart? Ah yes, that call.  You know it as well as I do.  It’s a yearning for beauty, truth, and purity that beckons you to move ever closer.

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”  Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

Dorothy of Kansas expresses this deeply embedded desire for eternity within all our hearts in song in the beloved movie “The Wizard of Oz.”  It’s an upward call to experience the vibrant, heavenly colors of a life lived abundantly that eclipses the uncomfortable sterility of an all-too grey world focused on self.  For non-believers, that call to “somewhere over the rainbow” is to be with God; for believers, it is the call to become the person God intends you to be through an ongoing intimate relationship with Him.

Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland from the album “Over the Rainbow, The Very Best of Judy Garland”

“but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”  1 Peter 1:15-16 (NKJV)

“May I view and long after holiness as the beauty and dignity of the soul.”  The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

Before moving on, we need to pause a moment and consider the difference between righteousness and holiness; it’s a mistake to speak of these two terms as if they’re the same because they are not.  We become righteous when we accept Jesus as our Savior through double-imputation:  our sins are placed on Him while His sinless nature covers us.   We will never become more righteous than we are at the moment of our salvation.

“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”  Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV)

Holiness, however, is the Holy Spirit-led process of sanctification that begins at our conversion.

“Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find His mind described in Scripture.  It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment, hating what He hates, loving what He loves, and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word.”  J. C. Ryle

As we travel the life-long path towards holiness God has set out before us, the fruits of the Spirit are to be made manifest within His children.

“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,”  Matthew 3:8 (NKJV)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.  Ephesians 5:22-23 (NKJV)

Let us praise God that He is unwilling to leave us as He found us.  He has placed this quest for holiness, our call to Christlikeness, within each believer’s heart. 

“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)

For what purpose does God pursue our holiness?  Jesus says we are in the world, not of the world, yet here we purposefully are as God’s heralds.   The truth is the more you look like Christ, the less you will look like the world.  And that’s not only good but necessary under His plans.

“They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.”  John 17:16-18 (NLT)

According to His purposes, God uses holiness to “set apart” us from the world.

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”  1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV)

“Let your Christianity be so unmistakable, your eye so single, your heart so whole, your walk so straightforward, that all who see you may have no doubt whose you are, and whom you serve.”  J. C. Ryle

Can we be truly effective as His ambassadors, His voices crying out in the wilderness if we resemble the world?  As believers, it’s essential to ask, “How does the world see us?”  Are we recognizable as different, as “set apart” from it?  As holy?  If not, then why not?

While we could discuss various lifestyle areas that would prove helpful in answering these questions, let’s look at just one today, namely our manner of speech.  Does what we say or talk about cause the world to see us as “said apart” from it?  Or, do they hear us as one of their own?  Do the words coming out of our mouths confirm or deny our claim of being a child of God?

“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)

Take a look at this post’s introductory photo again.  I spotted the toothbrush in a hotel’s landscaping early one morning while I was out walking our dogs.  Can you imagine how filthy it must be?  Beyond the nastiness of its surroundings, the brush’s history is entirely questionable, too.  The idea of ever using it as an actual toothbrush is repulsive.  Yet, considering how abysmally low our society has stooped in its manner of speech, isn’t it reasonable to wonder how many would ever notice how disgusting this brush is if used as intended?

“It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence.” C. S. Lewis

The truth is the world is awash with “four-letter” rhetoric and angry, hateful discourse.   When unleashed, it takes all within earshot unwillingly captive as if it’s a raucous chainsaw violating the serene solitude of an alpine meadow at dawn.  Safe havens removed from its grip are few and far between these days. Unfortunately, the world’s influence is so strong that it has managed to creep into some professing Christian’s lives as well, myself included in days now mercifully long past.  Given these circumstances, perhaps we should call this misplaced brush a “truthbrush” instead?  Brothers and sisters, we are called to the higher ground of beauty and not to a quagmire of ugliness!  Do you know this to be true?

“Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.”  James 3:10-12 (NKJV)

As God’s children, we are the “happy little bluebirds” Dorothy sings about so longingly.  Our heavenly Father calls us to much more in this life than to wallow in the darkness of some murky, oppressive, and stagnant swamp.   It’s a noble call to aim high and choose His beauty over the world’s standards, to choose His ways by speaking in such a way that leads and points ourselves and others to the top of God’s mountain high above the swampy lowlands.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

But how do we proceed, Lord?  How do we stay true to the path that leads to higher ground?

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

“Take my heart and hold it in Thy hand; write upon it reverence to thyself with an inscription that time and eternity cannot erase.”  The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

Yes, Lord, may my heart be Yours!

When we speak, friends, let it be for God’s glory.  Let us delight our Father with our voices at all times and in all circumstances.   So, what say you?  Will you determine to be “said apart” for His glory?

“May every part of my character and conduct make a serious and amiable impression on others, and impel them to ask the way to the Master.”  Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”  Ephesians 5:24-25 (NKJV)

May it be ever so, Lord! In Jesus’s name, amen!

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Let the Words of My Mouth” by Fernando Ortega from the album “The Shadow of Your Wings:  Hymns and Sacred Songs.”

Out of the shadows

 “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”  John 8:12 (NKJV)

Though they cannot speak, our shadows have something to say about us.

Standing beside a stream a few autumns ago, I was immediately drawn to the appearance of my shadow as it stretched out into the water.  Where the water was shallow, the silhouette of my head and body was sharp and crisp.  However, my shadow became increasingly indistinct in the deeper water and diffused to the point my outstretched arm became progressively unrecognizable.  Indeed, where the water was deeper still, the shadow of my hand wasn’t distinguishable at all, so wrapped up it was in the depths.

Such is my relationship with Jesus.  As a believer standing in His living water, am I in the shallow or deep water, or somewhere between the two?  Am I ankle-deep with a lot of me still visible, or am I deep enough that Jesus, at least in part, can at long last be seen?  The shadow I cast in this world tells the tale of my condition.

So long as we remain in the shallows, our shadows more times than not have something more to say about us and less about Jesus.  And uncomfortably so, I might add.

“Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ And so said all the disciples.”  Matthew 26:35 (NKJV)

“But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  Matthew 16:23 (NKJV)

Can you relate to Peter’s failings?  I know I certainly can.

Fortunately, God is mercifully unwilling to leave us as He found us.  You see, He has plans for you and me far beyond our becoming converted believers.  He has nothing less in His sights than our becoming conformed believers.

“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)

How can a person not be blown away by the very thought of God intending us to bear the image of the One who set us free, our Savior, Jesus?  The mere thought of such an astonishing plan should cause us to erupt into praise spontaneously every time it comes to mind!

 Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”  Psalm 103:1-5 (NKJV)

This view of our destiny is so breathtaking it’s tantalizing to linger here, perhaps even stop altogether and forever bask in its warm glow.  But, after a moment’s pause, we must keep going, for we have not arrived at our destination yet.

    The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   

    But I have promises to keep,   

    And miles to go before I sleep,   

    And miles to go before I sleep.

   (Robert Frost, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening)

“but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14 (NKJV)

What is the purpose of this journey that beckons us onward like none other?

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”  1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV)

A herald magnifying the Lord, this is God’s purpose for our lives.  How incredible is that calling?  As before, I find myself stepping aside and pausing to breathe in as deeply as possible this magnificent view’s sweet aroma.   And yet again, I am called to return to the path He has laid out before me.  

All worthwhile plans come with instructions to ensure their success, and most certainly, this is no exception.  So, where should our adventure of faith begin? The same place it should end:  the Bible. 

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  Romans 10:17 (NKJV)

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Psalm 119:105

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV)

I have to ask, “What sort of quest shares the same beginning and end?”  The obvious response is, “Only those that run in circles, which means they end up going nowhere.”   Ah, but this is no ordinary undertaking at all, of course, so circular thinking has no place where the Lord’s plans are concerned.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

It is no secret that one must wade through the shallows to get to the deep.  Shortcuts don’t happen on our way to meaningful spiritual maturity as God seeks to achieve His purpose and plans for our lives through an ever-deepening relationship with Him.  As I noted a few years ago in (S)Parking Lot, we must persevere and be patient as God’s plans for us unfold.  We cannot get ahead of ourselves.  More importantly, we cannot get ahead of God.

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

God transforms us step by step as we hike the hills and valleys along our lifelong trail.  One need only examine the lives of a few such notable biblical figures like Joseph (Old Testament), Moses, King David, Jonah, Ruth, Peter, and Paul to realize our pilgrimage into Christlikeness is a long-ranging process.  But happen it surely will because just as the tides are subject to the moon, so too is God’s will for the upward call of His children. 

“Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me.”  Psalm 42:7 (NKJV)

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”  2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV)

By the grace of God’s Spirit, I inevitably become less, and Jesus becomes more.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”  John 3:30 (NKJV)

I end, Christ gloriously begins.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)

Our Christlikeness doesn’t reach its zenith until we pass from this life into the next.  I can’t help but wonder what the appearance of a genuinely godly person’s shadow might be like in this life, though, can you?  God has graciously given us a glimpse of such a person.

“so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.”  Acts 5:15 (NKJV)

Now that is a shadow born out of the Spirit’s deep waters that shades people with the light of Jesus! 

Peter, while wallowing in the shallows, denied Jesus no less than three times.  Jesus also rebuked him for his all-too earthly point of view that lacked heavenly understanding.  Yet now, we later see a radically different Peter who radiated Jesus so much that people sought out his shadow.

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”  2 Timothy 2:13 (NASB 1995)

I ask you, “Who does this sort of thing?”  Only God, friends, only God.

That’s good news for you and me because that means God will bring about meaningful, world-impacting change in our lives, too.  But we must move by faith into His deeper waters.  

 “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  2 Corinthians 5:7 (NKJV)

“but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  John 4:14 (NKJV)

Wait, did you hear that?  Shhhh.  Yes, there it is, a still, quiet voice welling up from deep within our souls, asking, “What does your shadow have to say to the world about Jesus?”  Friend, the Lord calls you and me out of the shallows and into the deep.  It is time to let go and let Him.

Lord, out of the shadows of our lives flows Your life-giving light of love.  May it be ever so!  Lead me out of the shallow and into Your depths so that the fruit of Your Spirit blossoms in me, bringing forth love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control for against such You have said there is no law.  May people see the shadow of Jesus and not mine wherever You would have me, Your herald go, for Your glory.  In Jesus’s name, amen!

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah 6:8 (NKJV)

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Less Like Me” by Zach Williams from the album “Rescue Story.

ɯʎ ʍɐʎ oɟ ʇɥᴉuʞᴉuƃ

“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 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.   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)

“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 Atomic Habits, 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 the will 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!

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Todd Agnew, “Grace Like Rain” from the album “Grace Like Rain.”

Praying “A, B, C’s”

“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)

1!1!1!

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.”

eyes toward the Son

“The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.” Revelation 21:23 (NKJV)

Before I begin, so there’s no question stirring around in the back of your mind, this photo, as shown here, accurately captures the scene just as I saw it.  Aside from cropping the picture, I’ve not done anything to enhance the image.  In short, what you see here is what I saw.

A simple but profound and ageless truth dawned on me as I sat there on the beach, watching two people play in the surf with the sun shining directly behind them:  Eyes focused in the Son’s direction cannot distinguish skin color because the light is so bright.

This truth quickly expanded beyond skin color to include any other feature worldly thinking uses all too frequently in its vain attempts to categorize people.

The underlying, foundational truth is that when our hearts and minds are rightly on Jesus, His brightness is so glorious that the diversions of this world that result in harmful division and cruelty amongst ourselves no longer matters and is revealed for the utter darkness it is.

“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” John 12:46 (NKJV)

“God’s Kingdom isn’t divided into areas of important people and areas of little people. In God’s sight, everyone’s needful.”A. W. Tozer

“For there is no partiality with God.” Romans 2:10 (NKJV)

What, then, remains for us to say about these two people seen in the photo?  What is most vital for us to understand and apply now that the Son’s light has removed everything the world counts as worth fighting about and beating our chests over?  Yet another fundamental truth emerges in answering this question:  at the end of the day, relationships are everything; they are what truly matter.  

Our Lord is relational at His very core, so it should come as no surprise that this illumination has led us straight to the subject of relationships. Jesus has a few words to share with us regarding how we’re supposed to behave towards others, of course.

“And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31 (NKJV)

Can you imagine a world in which people genuinely cared for and respected one another?  In a world spilling over with anger, hate, prejudice, jealousy, envy, pride, and selfishness, how can such a world ever hope to be filled with compassion and love?  Such a radical change in direction begins one person at a time through that individual’s right relationship with God.

“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.” Mark 12:30 (NKJV)  

How can we love God so wholeheartedly? There is but One way to begin this journey of a lifetime.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.  John 14:6 (NKJV)

When we embrace (note this is doing and not just saying!) Him as Lord of our lives, “Yielding to Jesus will break every form of slavery in any human being,” proclaims  Oswald Chambers.

“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)

Indeed, as our heavy chains fall to our feet, we are at long last able to look beyond ourselves towards others with eyes of compassion and concern, for He has given us His own servant’s heart.

But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.  And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.  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 10:42-45 (NKJV)

When we have true fellowship with Him, the misshapen glass walls of hate we have constructed come tumbling down in His glorious light.  Have you yielded to Him?  If so, serve your neighbors.  Has He broken your chains?  Serve your neighbors.  Do you love Him?  Serve your neighbors.

Who exactly is your neighbor?

“But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:29-37 (NKJV)

“Only a life lived for others is worthwhile.” Albert Einstein

As this comes to a close, allow me to share another A. W. Tozer quote with you.“God’s looking for people thru whom He can do the impossible. What a pity that we plan only things we can do by ourselves.”

We all want to see the world changed for the better.  Left to ourselves and our strength, not only is it an impossible task, but a most likely misguided one as well since we invariably look at others as being the problem.

“But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:26 (NKJV)

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”  Luke 6:41-42 (NKJV)

Let’s begin this sought after change first with ourselves by diligently pursuing a deeper, more intimate relationship with our heavenly Father.  As our love for Him grows, so does our love for others.   Who knows what miracle He will accomplish with a yielded son or daughter whose focus is on the light of His glory and grace?

Jadon Lavik, “Turn Your Eyes” from the album, “Roots Run Deep.”

Postscript:  Here it is, the day after uploading this post. I’d be robbing you of a blessing if I didn’t offer these additional thoughts to you, my friends.

Although I’ve been aware of this song for years, it did not play a part in my original inspiration to write this post, as one might be so inclined to think.  I stumbled upon this song after “auditioning” many others as my writing drew to a close.  Yes, it’s the icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned.

It’s uplifting to note that this post’s central theme is an uncanny match for the message proclaimed in this beloved hymn’s chorus written by Helen Howarth Lemmel in 1922, almost 100 years ago.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”

The song may be old and my inspiration to write on this subject newly born, but the Lord’s message remains wonderfully unchanged.  It is spectacularly new every morning, generation after generation!   Let us praise Him!

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

the bear truth about riding the spiritual fence

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”

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)

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