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)

1!1!1!

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)

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)

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

God-in-the-box

 

Handcrafted: “to make (something) by manual skill.”  (Dictionary.com); “make skillfully by hand.” (online Dictionary)

When it comes to certain worldly goods the notion of “handcrafted” normally carries much weight and is viewed as being very desirable. Why?  Because typically anything that is handcrafted implies a level of care, skill, and expertise in the construction of certain products that a machine simply cannot provide.  Anything handcrafted is viewed as “extra special” in this sense.  Not surprisingly people will pay more for such skillfully made items.   After all, who hasn’t paused over the words, “Hand stitched Italian leather” with admiration and desire?

But what if we carry the pursuit of “handcrafted” into certain areas we have absolutely no business of doing so?  Genesis 1:27 (NKJV) says, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  This is such a familiar and well-known verse to so many people.  Suppose we were to reverse this message, this truth, though?  What if we were to interchange the words “God” and “man” with each other?” When we reverse the verse it becomes, “So man created God in his own image; in the image of man he created Him; male and female they created Him.”  I know…yikes, right?!?!

While this rearrangement no doubt makes everyone uncomfortable, as well it should, is there not some degree of truth to be found here if we’re being perfectly honest with ourselves?  When we hold up to the light how we relate to Jesus in our own lives are there not certain areas we either knowingly or unknowingly deem to be untouchable and “off-limits” to Him, or even worse instruct and counsel Him as to how to proceed?  It is in these areas we force our own desired and created reality of who we believe Him to be upon Him.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NKJV)

Having Him tucked away all nice and tidy in a box with a crank handle that plays a catchy little tune just before He pops back into our lives is, well, so much more comfortable isn’t it?  Seriously now, who doesn’t like the idea of having a God-in-the-box just sitting there on the shelf readily available to us whenever and however we need Him? And when we do that have we not made Him in our own image?

In his book, “Beautiful Outlaw,” John Eldredge muses, “Our experience of Jesus is limited most often by the limits we put on him!”  Indeed.

“Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there.  When He had come to His own country, He taught them in the synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?  Is this not the carpenter’s son?  Is not His mother called Mary?  And His brothers James, Simon, and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us?  Where did this Man get all these things?’ So they were offended at Him.  But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.’ Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”  Matthew 13:53-58 (NKJV)

Jesus, our Lord and our Savior, the One who has come to set us, the captives, free, has a pointed and penetrating question for you and for me as found Matthew 16:15 (NKJV) which you will find at the end of this writing.  But, don’t get ahead of yourself and skip down to it because this is no ordinary question that we should answer it hastily and without reverent consideration.  No, my friend, this is THE seminal question of our lives.  Our place in eternity hangs in the balance as well as the path we take in the here and now.

How we answer this question affects the lives of those around us as well.  This is no small matter, this question and our answer to it.   Turning your attention to the image once again, I urge you to be thoughtful and introspective searching the depths of your heart as you examine your life for signs that you have lost your way by making yourself the Creator rather than the created.

Are there areas of your life where you have turned the table of Genesis 1:27 upside down and limited the unlimited God by placing Him in a box straight out of your own comfort zone rather than the true Jesus of the Bible?  Yet another insightful quote by John Eldredge from his book “Beautiful Outlaw” speaks to this when he says, “You will find Jesus pretty much as you expect to.”

In an effort to be vulnerable and transparent with you I embarrassingly must confess that when this God-in-the-box concept first entered my mind I vividly recall thinking, “Hmmmm…I wonder who this is intended for?”  Such was my pride that it wasn’t until sometime later that I realized it was intended for me, of course.  After all, it’s so much easier to see other’s shortcomings and faults rather than my own.  I’d be glad to show you yours when you have the time, by the way.

Pop goes the weasel.  Uncomfortable?  Fine.  A simple flick of the wrist and He’s securely stowed away back in the box.  Silence feels so much more golden when it’s accomplished according to our own terms.

So, now the time has come for Jesus’s question.  Now, imagine for the next few moments that it’s just you and Jesus alone together in a beautiful, tranquil place with no other distractions.  Make it your favorite spot, one that feels sacred in its impact and importance to you.  We all have places like that in our hearts and minds.  Places that make you whisper out of sheer reverence if you can even speak at all.  Go there with the words of 1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJV) front and center in your mind and most importantly engraved on your heart, “but the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him.  For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’”   That’s your heart He’s looking at, by the way.

Ever so gently Jesus takes you by the hand, looks deeply and earnestly into your eyes in an incredibly intimate one-on-one moment, pauses, and then gently parts the silence with a voice that penetrates the very depths of your soul asking,

who do you say

 

Natalie Grant, “King of the World” (Be One, Deluxe Version)

 

 

 

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