“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)
“Content.” Now there’s an interesting word. What’s the meaning or significance of this word as it applies to your life?
“Well, that depends on which ‘content’ you’re asking about,” you say. “With the word standing there all alone, I can’t be fully content to tell you the answer to that question until I know the full content of what you have in mind since it could be one of two possibilities. At the very least, you’re going to have to use it in a sentence; otherwise, I’m going to keep bouncing back and forth between the two choices. So, you tell me, which one are you talking about here?”
To that, I enthusiastically jump to my feet and reply, “Both!”
Now that we’re on our feet, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page regarding the distinct meanings of these two identically spelled but differently pronounced words. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “content” as “everything that is contained within something.” It also informs us that the other pronunciation of “content” means “pleased with your situation and not hoping for change or improvement.”
Our level of contentment is determined by how content or satisfied we are with the contents of our lives. Generally speaking, when we perceive our content or the components to be favorable, we’re content. But when the contents of our life take a turn for the worse, we become woeful or even fearful.
In a sense, these two words relate to each other a bit like our feet. In one scenario, they work together in harmony like finely tuned, graceful dance partners, serenely gliding across the floor. Or, conversely, they’re like two left feet noisily and clumsily stepping all over each other on the dance floor, which frequently results in a memorable faceplant of viral social media proportions. By the way, I fall into the latter category of these two as I’m no Fred Astaire.
For many of us, when a significant component of our lives that we’ve come to depend upon falters, so do we. Experiencing the loss of a job, relationship troubles, financial issues, or an impending health crisis, to name a few, are undoubtedly challenging turns of events that threaten our well-being. The Apostle Paul certainly experienced various potentially life-altering and, at times, life-threatening circumstances. No doubt he had more than his fair share of the scars to prove it, too.
“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 11:25-27 (NIV)
Theologians generally agree that Paul wrote about those trials about six years before he penned the following words in Philippians:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:11-12 (NIV)
These verses in Philippians stand in stark contrast to the world’s perspective of contentment. Paul’s steadfastness and confidence are even more remarkable, considering he wrote them while being unjustly confined in prison. How was he able to avoid falling into despair regardless of the situation? Why doesn’t he have two left feet? What is the secret he has found?
Paul’s ability to be content in all circumstances did not just magically and suddenly appear one day in his spiritual arsenal. No, far from it. Each of his visible and invisible scars wrought from his experiences became graduation diplomas of trust and understanding in the Lord’s plans for his life beautifully and lovingly engraved on his heart.
Does the relationship between “content” and “content” as they influence our contentment not exist for Paul? At first glance, it might perhaps seem they’re disconnected, but given a bit more thought, the answer is an emphatic “no!” The difference is Paul can confidently say what he does because of the eternal Who that fills his life up, rather than the temporal whats that fills up the majority of most other people’s lives.
“To know something in your head is one thing; to feel it in your heart is another. And I think most Christians are trying to be happy without a sense of the Presence. The Presence is here, but the sense of the Presence is absent. The sense of the Presence is absent and that yearning you see is a desire to be nearer to God.” A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God.
Paul is content because he fully embraces the sovereignty and presence of God in his life. He understands that so long as his life is full of the Lord, Who is good beyond measure, his outward conditions are of little consequence. The when, where, how, and why of his circumstances are no longer uncomfortable mysteries tormenting him. He recognizes his place in God’s hand. And that gives him hope.
“for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13 (NKJV)
Paul is a person completely sold out for God.
“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God” Romans 1:1 (NKJV)
“Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” Philippians 2:14-15 (NKJV)
Paul has learned the secret for true contentment.
“I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 (NIV)
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.” Isaiah 55:2 (NKJV)
“But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ “Matthew 4:4 (NKJV)
“I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:24 (NIV)
In the end, all of the worldly what’s we have come to believe in as necessary to secure our contentment are mere smoke and mirrors. In them, we stack clay bricks made without straw that cannot possibly support our weight when the storms of life come our way.
“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand:27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” Matthew 7:26-27 (NKJV)
“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)
Only God, Who is the same today, yesterday, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), is an eternal rock that is utterly dependable.
“Thereforewhoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25 (NKJV)
Where are you searching in your quest to secure your contentment?
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” C. S. Lewis, A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis
“My home is in heaven. I’m just passing through this world.” Billy Graham
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20 (NKJV)
“Wait a little while, O my soul, wait for the divine promise, and thou shalt have abundance of all good things in heaven.” Thomas a Kempis.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV)
“The secret to happiness is to be content no matter the situation. My life isn’t going to make my happiness. My happiness is going to make my life.” Full Count, the movie.
Dear friend, I don’t know where you are or what’s going on in your life, but one thing I do know: He alone is the Source for true and lasting joy that creates and sustains contentment. Rest in His glorious Presence for this is where we are meant to be!
He! Is! Worthy!
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NKJV)
Be Still and Know by Christy Nockels from the album Healer
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 (NKJV)
Influence. It’s something we all possess, so that makes every one of us influencers to some degree. Regardless of the amount of sway we hold with others, how seriously do we take that responsibility? More pointedly, to what end is our influence wielded? Is it for ourselves or something more significant?
“In thismanner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Yourname. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10 (NKJV)
“How many of your plans take an unending future into account?” John Eldredge, The Journey of Desire
As believers, how might we conduct ourselves differently if we envisioned ourselves more conscientiously as “end-fluencers” with our eye on the future instead of mere influencers focused on the here and now?A perspective of thinking about tomorrow instead of today emphasizes a heightened big-picture awareness of our potential personal impact on all of those the Lord puts within our reach.
“Teach me the happy art of attending to things temporal with a mind intent on things eternal.” Christlikeness, from the Valley of Vision
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot
Essentially, in this forward-thinking, other-centered mindset, we become investors with genuine “skin in the game” regarding other people. Or to borrow my purposeful misspelling methods one more time, as “end-vestors” in people. In doing so, we are putting aside our needs and wants and taking personal responsibility for helping guide others to be everything God has called them to be.
“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:1-4 (NKJV)
Allow me to share an example of an authentic “end-fluencer” with you. The stirring words of my mentor, 2 Tim, as I like to call him, continually ring out loud and clear in my head like Christmas morning church bells gloriously chiming for all to hear, “I want my life to count for eternity!”
“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)
“while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NKJV)
2Tim has been passionately and faithfully pursuing a life of eternal significance since becoming a believer as an eleven-year-old boy. These words have been his consistent mission statement for decades, shaping all of his choices along the way. They have been his ever-present rudder steering him in the way he should go. When these are your marching orders to be carried out coram Deo (before the face of God), there is only room for integrity, character, and honor.
“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)
Over the years, hundreds of people have learned to be disciple-makers directly under 2Tim’s hands-on, watchful and purposeful teaching as he pours himself into equipping others to lead in the same manner. The Biblical truth of what he teaches is delightfully contagious, end-fluencing those disciples, who in turn teach others what they have learned. And so it goes like a baton passed from one relay team runner to the next in a never-ending, ever-growing circle of Spirit-connected hearts to encourage people to participate in furthering God’s Family proactively.
“Not that I have already attained or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14 (NKJV)
How many have been impacted by 2Tim’s discipleship ministry, directly or indirectly? That’s impossible to say, of course, but it’s likely in the thousands. It’s what inevitably happens when reproducers reproduce, as he loves to say.
“And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2 (NKJV)
So, the question inevitably becomes for each of us as sons and daughters of God, as followers of His beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus, are you an influencer, or are you an end-fluencer?
“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, 20 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)
“Speak the Name” by Koryn Hawthorne from the album “Unstoppable.”
“But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” Romans 5:20b (NKJV)
“But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” James 4:6 (NKJV)
A broom and a light green pencil lying right beside it are something you don’t see in the middle of the street every morning. “What’s the story here?” I wondered out loud to myself. “How did this unlikely pair land in front of my house?” Answers to these questions and more were nowhere to be found as I stood there contemplating the unusual sight.
There was one thing I did know, however. No way did I want to try and sweep the entire street even though it could use a good cleaning. To compound those circumstances, imagine what it’d be like if I attempted to deep clean the road with someone following behind me, circling all the dirt and such that I had missed with the colored pencil. That’d be an even more enormous “no thank you!” in my book.
As I considered the possibilities of such a hopeless task, a bit of Greek mythology drifted into my mind. Zeus punished and condemned Sisyphus to roll a boulder up a hill, as you may recall. Unfortunately, the boulder would roll back down just before reaching the crest, and then the whole process would unmercifully start all over again. Just as Sisyphus’ task was impossible to complete and was never-ending, so would be my trying to sweep the entire street clean of all the dirt and trash. I wince at the very thought of that hopeless task.
And that’s when a lightning bolt began to dance around in my head. It seems there’s much more to the broom and the pencil than I had initially thought.
How many of us try and sweep ourselves clean so that we’re presentable to God? Both believers and non-believers alike can, and often do, fall victim to this misguided way of thinking that is reliant upon yourself to perform the needed rescue successfully. Sadly, we regard ourselves and our abilities more highly in this way of thinking than we ought, and in doing so, we give God’s grace, Jesus, our only authentic, viable rescuer, the cold shoulder.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 (NKJV)
“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12:3 (NKJV)
I know all too well how this process works: about the time you finish sweeping _____ Street (put your name in the blank) believing you’ve got yourself all cleaned up, along comes a supposed well-intentioned voice armed with a marker pencil, saying, “Well, yes, that’s an improvement, but you’re still not quite ready to stand before God. Take a look back at where you’ve been sweeping. Do you see all those areas in need of attention that you missed that I’ve conveniently outlined for you? Go back and clean them up, and then you’ll be ready. You can trust me because I have your best interest at heart. Now, hop to it; you’re wasting precious time!”
So, off we go with renewed determination back to square one to try and make ourselves right before a perfectly holy God. The truth is we’ll never be able to clean up ourselves sufficiently in that regard because sinners that we are, there’s no shortage of highlighted problem areas in our lives. They are like the seemingly unending handkerchiefs a magician pulls out of his or her hat. Besides, even if we could get it down to but one sin, we’d still come up short.
“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” James 2:10 (NKJV)
For those among us who are non-believers, the roaring lion seeks to prevent you from ever experiencing God’s grace and mercy through the forgiveness of your sins offered through His Son, Jesus. If you listen to the voice with the pencil, you’ll be pushing that “Sisyphus” broom for the rest of your life, all to no avail, with only hell to show for it in the end.
Know this, friend, Jesus is the only One capable of cleaning and washing you thoroughly enough to meet God’s standards. You can scrub yourself as often and as hard as you like, but you can never sweep away all of your sins so that you’re spotless before the Lord. Even if you’re a “9” on a “one to ten goodness scale,” you’re still one short of perfection. Let that fact sink in for a minute.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8-10 (NKJV)
How then shall we be rescued? It’s time to let Jesus take over the sweeping and make you a bonafide “10” in God’s eyes.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV)
“that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:15-18 (NKJV)
“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 callson the name of theLordshall be saved.” Romans 10:10-13 (NKJV)
The broom and the pencil in Jesus’s hands have accomplished what you could not. He is the Good Samaritan that has graciously provided sweet relief to your former unsettled and wounded soul.
“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.” Luke 10:34 (NKJV)
You may ask, “What about the pencil?” Unlike the voice that used it to condemn you constantly, Jesus uses the pencil to commend your faith by writing your name down in His book of life for all eternity.
“Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, And the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the Lord And who meditate on His name.” Malachi 3:16 (NKJV)
Let us rejoice!
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. 8 For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NKJV)
And what of believers stuck in the loop of similar off-track thinking? You willingly and eagerly accepted God’s grace at the time of your salvation, rightly recognizing He alone has the power to save you. But post-conversion, more times than you care to admit, you’ve fallen into a works-oriented pit of despair in a vain attempt to earn or justify the Father’s love. Friends, I know of this darkness (“grace-full high five”), and I can tell you it is far from the place of freedom He intends for you to enjoy!
What should we do when we find ourselves in such a place? With a repentant, humble heart, give the broom and the pencil back to Him, for you see they were never meant to be used by your hands in this way.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 (NKJV)
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.” Psalm 23:1-3 (NKJV)
“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)
Let the pencil be a reminder of your need to be firmly grounded in His written word, the Bible, for life through Jesus freely and gloriously abounds within its sacred pages.
“But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4:4 (NKJV)
“Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105 (NKJV)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 (NKJV)
And again, we can proclaim, “How utterly beautiful is a person swept clean by His marvelous grace!”
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7 (NKJV)
“Father, we pray for all of us, that Thou wilt sweep away our self-righteousness, even any little, ragged traces of self-righteousness that may be left. Save us from ourselves. Let grace abound from Calvary, and teach us that it is not by grace and something else, but by grace alone, Thy goodness, Thy kindness in Christ Jesus. This we ask in the name of the Lord who loves us. Amen.” (A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God.)
“Grace Upon Grace” by Matthew West, from the album, “Brand New.”
Wherever a power washer is employed, a dramatic and significant change for the better happens as evidenced by this recent photo taken by Steve Wiggins.
It’s an obvious difference-maker that results in a startling night and day, dark and light, dirty and clean contrast between the before and after.
And this for perishable, earthly things in desperate need of thorough cleaning. How much more urgent is the heart-wrenching cry for the necessary cleansing embodied in our eternal souls for those who seek an everlasting relationship with God?
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 (NKJV)
“Not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:9 (NKJV)
Unclean and incapable of saving ourselves, how, then, can we ever hope to come into His holy presence?
Unwilling to leave us in our hopeless state of darkness, God has graciously provided us with the means of a soul-scrubbing, power-washing rescue, a pathway leading directly to Him.
What is this unique pathway?
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 (NKJV)
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NKJV)
What is Jesus’s mission here on earth?
“to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.” Acts 26:18 (NKJV)
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begottenSon, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Romans 3:16-17 (NKJV)
Has your soul been set free by the Lamb of God’s sacrifice?
“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.” Romans 8:9-10 (NKJV)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” Ephesians 2:8 (NKJV)
“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:13-14 (NKJV)
Where do you stand spiritually? Are you still in the “before Jesus” darkness, or have you stepped into the “after Jesus” light of His power washing grace?
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:19-22 (NLT)
“To live Coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. This phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of God.” R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries
Psalm 23 (NKJV)
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
What if this is the last post I ever have the opportunity to write?
What if reading this is your last opportunity to do anything?
In just a few hours I will undergo surgery. It is a minor surgery that doesn’t involve matters of life and death as so many others will endure this very same day all across this globe we all call home. Yet, it still causes me to pause and take a longer, deeper look at what is most important.
What thoughts run through your mind after reading these questions? Are they balls and chains that weigh you down, buzz-kills if you will, or do you view them instead as unlikely wings that, when firmly attached to Him (“Grounded Flight of Freedom”), allow you to soar in ways and into places you never imagined possible? When the latter occurs, a whole new world of previously unrecognized opportunities to be “Flying with God”presents themselves.
To live absent or oblivious to the underlying truth behind such questions is to miss out on living abundantly. To live in their sweet presence, however, is to experience “a life danced to the rhythm of God’s wisdom in a Byrd’s song.” Indeed, acknowledging this truth allows us to live each day to the fullest. This understanding ironically ushers us into a previously unseen world of incredible possibilities. What seems at first blush to be uncomfortably confining is ultimately found to be incredibly liberating.
Can nature’s song sound any purer than if you consider it from the perspective of recognizing you may never hear its captivating melodies again? Can the sky be any bluer than with such a mindset? The night stars twinkle so brightly? A flower’s bloom smell any sweeter? Can the touch, the look, the sounds of those you love be any more profoundly moving than when you humbly acknowledge it could be your last time?
My friend, this post has continued to grow far beyond what I originally envisioned. At first, I strongly resisted this expansion, wanting to keep this post as concise as possible, which admittedly is always an ongoing challenge for me. However, what began as a bubbling spring on a hillside has blossomed into a full-fledged waterfall. It is a captivating sight. I cannot look away. The vibrant current transports me along its purposeful path towards adventures only it knows at this moment. I am like a child on Christmas morning. My smile stretches from head to toe, and back again.
With renewed vision, I see that He would have me paint a much different picture than I originally intended. Quite frankly, it’s a picture I have needed to see as so often I’m prone to see the tree but not the forest. “It’s the view from 20,000 feet high” as my mentor, 2Tim, likes to say from time to time. After all, the Lord cannot be constrained to the earth-bound muddlings of the likes of someone like myself. The great I AM is thankfully so much more than my small-minded, narrow “God-in-the box” notions.
Each post I make addresses something He is teaching me, something I need to understand more fully. This latest endeavor continues in that vein. My hope and prayer are that you, as a fellow voyager, will walk away from this journey with a more profound and revolutionary awareness of His sweet presence in your life as well. In turn, may you be “contagious, unstoppable, and revolutionary” in your walk of faith, as John Eldredge notes in his book, “All Things New.”
Sprinkled throughout this post are links to past compositions already present on this site. Alone, these posts are but singular notes. Considered together, however, they become a captivating melody, if you will allow me to be so bold as to use that description. Yes, the view from 20,000 feet is quite extraordinary and humbling. In moments like this, I enjoy telling people, “Nobody weaves a quilt like the Lord, nobody!”
“We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow.”B.J. Neblett
Embracing a grander perspective is vital to ensuring our walk with Him remains headed in His direction, and not one of our choosing. If we focus solely on the tough times as completely individual pieces with no interconnectivity, we risk losing sight of not only the larger quilt He is weaving, but even more significantly, the Weaver Himself.
My fellow adventurer, where is hope to be found under a narrow, fragmented perspective? If we are to experience “tapping into hope,” then we must remain vigilant, trusting that there is a much bigger picture than the circumstances staring us immediately in the face. Hearts aligned with the Lord are then able to discover and embrace the hope lying just beneath the surface within the “Beauty is in the ayes of His beholders,” for example.
Walking with the Lord through the garden of your life, can you imagine a more breathtaking lifetime adventure than this? Surely there is nothing more mysterious, more beautiful, more revealing than this remarkable experience shared with the Living God, your Creator, your Salvation, the Author and Perfecter of your faith.
Each step, each bend, each vista, both large and small, is like a breath of fresh air after a cleansing summer rain when He is by your side. It’s seeing things as if you’re gloriously experiencing them for the very first time as a wide-eyed child. “Three in one” was such an experience. Yes, this odyssey with the Lord is nothing short of extraordinary. It overflows with sacred and noteworthy moments that span the variety of seasons that add vibrant color and meaningful depth to our lives. It’s like Dorothy stepping out of her former black and white world into the spectacular explosion of color, sights, and sounds that is the Land of Oz.
As you explore the winding path with the Lord, there inevitably comes the time when He pauses, puts His arm around your shoulder, and looks off into the distance. Pointing with His finger towards the distant horizon, He says to you with great anticipation in His voice, “Look there, my child. Do you see that?”
Squinting mightily, you peer off in the direction of His outstretched finger. “Lord, I’m looking, but I’m unable to make out what it is that You want me to see.” “I know, child. It’s OK that you can’t see it yet, but I wanted you to know I have already provided and planned something marvelous for you. The closer we get to it, the clearer it will become for you. It’s so lovely and magnificent!” He replies. “Oh! It sounds spectacular! How I wish I could see it, Lord!” you exclaim. “You will not be disappointed, I promise!” He whispers into your ear as He grasps your shoulder even more tightly. Gazing off into the distance, an ever-broadening, glowing smile of immense satisfaction appears on His face as He turns His attention back to you. It’s a smile that instantly warms your entire being.
Continuing, He adds, “I’m excited for you to see it and to share this adventure with you. It’s a long journey to get there, but I’ll be there every step of the way with you so you’ll never be alone. I must tell you, though, that there may be times when the temptation to think and feel otherwise might present itself. There will also be times in which you seem not to be making any progress. Don’t worry, though, because (S)Parking Lots have their good purposes. Remember to pursue My Word that it will always be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (Psalm 119:105.) Welcome My presence moment by moment with open arms so that you may enjoy its full and “sound affect”on you. Surround yourself with brothers and sisters of spiritual character and integrity (Hebrews 10:25.) Allow their iron to sharpen your iron (Proverbs 27: 17) Be encouraged by their stories like “Truck stop rescue”in which they have experienced My presence (Joshua 4:4-7) and unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3.) Listen carefully, my child, fear not for I will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6.) Have faith that I’m always there beside you working on your behalf “behind the seens.” Together, we will go on this quest that will be incredibly challenging at times but immensely rewarding. Keep your eyes always on Me so that you stay the course and do not falter (Hebrews 12:1-3.). Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. (Matthew 11:29, NKJV) In the end, the effort will seem light when compared to the great reward I have in store for you (Philippians 3:13-15.) You will not be disappointed. How does that sound to you?”
Listening intently, you subconsciously rise on your tip-toes in hopes of obtaining a more precise view only to come up short in your effort yet again. “Lord, I still can’t make out what You want me to see. Is there something wrong with me that I can’t see it?” you ask with a slight bit of uncertainty in your voice. “No, my child,” comes His soothing voice. “Many others also find themselves exactly where you are now standing. They also express similar concerns. You are a “diamond in the rough” just as they are. The time has come for you to move forward if you want to discover what lies in the distance. You must move beyond this place in which you have become comfortable. You must move courageously in faith towards what is unknown to you but known to Me.”
It’s fair to say that so long as we’re comfortable most of us are quite happy to stay exactly where we are. Two of my favorite quotes come to mind. The first is from the movie, “Morgan” in which Dr. Alan Shapiro, played by Paul Giamatti, says, “I have found comfort to be a possible thorn in the side of revelation.” The second quote is by John Maxwell. It reiterates the same basic idea as the first. “If we are growing, we are always going to be outside of our comfort zone.”
Of this much, I am sure: His plans and purposes for our lives are far more significant and grander than you or I can imagine. To allow us to languish in comfort when we are as yet unfinished lumps of clay would fall well short of who He is and who He has purposed us to be. His love for His children presses us onward and upward toward mountain peaks instead of little hills.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4 (NKJV)
To grow, you have to go; it’s as simple as that. An old familiar saying puts it like this: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” Stagnation is quite unlikely to happen when you’re moving. No way is the Lord going to allow His people to become covered in moss. Even God’s own Son, our Lord, and Savior, Jesus, was always on the move.
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” Luke 9:58 (NKJV)
Ironically, we all strive mightily to be comfortable, but once obtained, it is comfort itself that too often hinders and thwarts our spiritual progress. We have misunderstood “happiness.”
In Desiring God, John Piper explains, “The very longing for contentment that ought to drive us to simplicity of life and labors of love contents itself instead with the broken cisterns of prosperity and comfort.”
“Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches-feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8-10 (NKJV)
“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing…” Revelation 3:17a (NKJV)
What is the remedy for our chasing of things that offer only temporary relief in our search for happiness? How can we avoid falling into the deadly trap of filling the “broken cisterns of prosperity and comfort?” The answer? We must be firmly grounded in Him. Cultivate your relationship with Him with all your might. The better you know Him, the more you will experience His peace and joy and the things of this world will lose their grip on you.
“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life.” Psalm 119:92-93 (NKJV)
The Psalm 119:92-93 author experienced a life-threatening event. Ironically, in the throes of his wrestling match with death, however, he miraculously found life. The thorn of affliction, although unidentified, was the catalyst for such an epiphany.
This much is sure: the truth and wisdom found in verses like this were purposefully wrought on the rocky shores of adversity and desperation far, far away from the safe, moss-covered harbor of comfort. “Faith rubber meets the rowed” happens outside the bounds of a comfortable sanctuary. To enjoy the abundant life God intends for us, we must look beyond the walls of comfort.
What do you think? Was the Psalm 119:92-93 trial too great of a price to pay for such a life-altering revelation? For something that creates deeper trust, intimacy, and dependency upon the Father? For something that ultimately glorifies God?
Let’s consider Joseph’s story, as told in Genesis. He unexpectedly found himself at the bottom of a dark pit at the hands of none other than his brothers, who then sold him to strangers. His treasured coat of many colors had been stripped from him. And what about those marvelous dreams he had boasted so freely about to his family? Instead of his brothers bowing down at his feet as foretold by the dreams, he now found himself staring up at their feet. Surely at that moment, he must have felt as if his whole world had suddenly collapsed around him.
Yet not only did Joseph survive this and other challenging situations that followed, but he thrived. How was this possible?
How we view troublesome circumstances that we encounter along life’s path dictates whether we survive and thrive, as Joseph did, or experience ruin and heartache. When we face setbacks, do we see the pits as bottom-less, or as bottom-more? It would be easy and for an excellent reason to call such a place, “despair.” Or perhaps it would be better named “prepare?” Our answer to these questions is critical and reflective of one’s perspective, one’s worldview.
“It’s time that you take a close look at your God concept. Your God concept is what you think about God and how you feel about Him. These beliefs and feelings become a type of filter in your brain. Inevitably you will not live with the facts of your life but the interpretation of the facts of your life.” Paul Marc Goulet
“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” C.H. Mackintosh
The world, apart from God, is predisposed to view such dreadful pits as dead-end roads lacking hope that ultimately leads to nowhere good. Alternatively, an eternal perspective that embraces the sovereignty and flawless character of God believes there is ample reason to hope and, therefore, not give up, regardless of the circumstances.
Astonishingly, this hole was the improbable and unlikely beginning of his Coram Deo journey to becoming the much-admired, God-centered “Genesis 50:20” Joseph. Therefore, wisdom accompanied by faith instructs us, His children, to not be too hasty regarding our perception of our circumstances at any given moment, and instead beckons us to view our conditions in this world with Romans 8:28-30 in full view at all times. Why is this viewpoint so critical? Joseph became humbly teachable at the bottom of that pit, and so must we in order to become useful in God’s Kingdom.
To what end, such a profound transformation as Joseph underwent? And for what purpose? The Westminster Shorter Catechism #1 answers these questions: Q1-“What is the chief end of man? A1-Man’s chief end is to glorify God, by enjoying Him forever.”
Unwavering faith grows when a person experiences first hand His intimate presence and ongoing provision. Trials amplify this learning process. As the saying goes, “Faith isn’t fact until it’s tested.” Tested faith joyfully proclaims and shares what it knows to be true. It is no longer a mindless faith that timidly whispers of what it does not genuinely know, but rather it becomes a passionate voice crying out in the wilderness that He is none other than who His Word proclaims Him to be. He has come to set the captives free! Yes?
Psalm 23 is an overflowing fountain heralding God’s Kingdom built upon King David’s tested faith and personal relationship with Him. We are to be fountains overflowing with His living water, as well. I can’t speak for you, but the still, small Voice in my heart whispers, “How well does your fountain flow?”
“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”Matthew 4:4 (NKJV)
A loaf of bread can momentarily satisfy a person’s physical hunger, but the Word of God nourishes the starving soul forever.
“When our body needs energy, we eat food. But when our soul needs hope, what do we feed it? Promises…. Our souls are designed to be nourished by God’s ‘precious and very great promises.’” (2 Peter 1:4, NIV) Jon Bloom
How priceless, then, are situations that teach this ageless truth and create deeper intimacy with Him? If you have been to such a heavenly place wherein you have been entirely dependent upon Him, then this portion of the journey is familiar to you.
Genuine freedom and wisdom are not acquired cheaply. What price an authentic life? What price freedom? Our Savior paid the ultimate price to secure our freedom. Is it any surprise, then, that our transformation into His likeness is costly as well?
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” Luke 9:24 (NKJV)
Judging from my own life experiences, I can confidently attest that the Lord is the actual source of such wisdom regarding the importance of our moving beyond our comfort zones. What, then, are the circumstances that have taken me outside the comforts of a hammock gently swinging beneath lush shade trees? What is the landscape of the pit I am now experiencing?
I am momentarily stepping aside from the plot to tell you a portion of my story. It is not to whine or complain, mind you. No, not at all. Nor is it to elicit pity. Instead, I feel the need to inform you of my immediate circumstances, given its relevancy to this discussion.
I am at an age that is generally perceived to be associated with retirement. Retirement in the foreseeable future is off the table for me, however. About three and a half years ago, I was laid off by my former almost two-decades-long employer as a result of a severe downturn in the oil and gas business. Three days after my layoff, my partner experienced the same fate. A half-year later, my partner and I were blessed to most improbably give birth to a drilling and exploration company. We have primarily provided the “sweat equity” while a group of investors has provided the funding for this startup company. The life expectancy of this enterprise was for two years, based on our partners’ level of financial investment. Miraculously we are now one year beyond that expected expiration even though we have yet to produce one dollar of revenue to date despite our best efforts to the contrary.
As you might guess, COVID-19 has only served to compound our problems like it has for so many. My partner and I have given everything we have and more to this effort, yet we stand on the brink of a cliff. The hourglass sand is trickling away with scant few grains remaining as you might correctly surmise. If grains of sand each represent a month, then we are down to only two remaining grains. The dream will become that distant “Wylie Coyote” puff of smoke and dust at the base of the cliff from the Roadrunner Cartoon series if we’re unable to establish a revenue stream quickly. Financial ruin is on our doorstep. At my age, how can one possibly hope to ever recover from such a devastating loss? Will my wife and I find ourselves living under a bridge for the rest of our years? These are questions that growl more loudly with each passing day. In short, we need a parting of the Red Sea sort of miracle.
My relationship with the Lord has deepened remarkably throughout this experience. I can honestly tell you that the reward of intimacy with Him I continue to receive is well worth the price. Truthfully, I wouldn’t change any of this part of my journey if it meant losing Him. I have gained so much more of Him through this valley. He is my Rock, my Refuge, my Strength. It is He that keeps me in unlikely peace amid this storm-filled pit. I am blissfully dependent upon Him.
“In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19 (NKJV)
And so we return to where we earlier left our journey gazing at the distant horizon. There is but one remaining question that must be asked: “Do you trust Me?”
That is THEE question before all of us, His children, wouldn’t you say? How do you respond to Him? Will you go with Him to discover this distant, unknown beauty so that He may reveal it to you? Or will you play it safe according to your understanding and remain firmly planted right where you are? Will you be “per-sway did or per-sway-dead?”
The great I AM now knocks at the door of your heart, beckoning you to follow Him. Perhaps your response to the question is predicated upon your knowing how this adventure ends. For those that need an answer, I have good news for you. You don’t have to remain in the dark any longer. He has already given to each of us, His children, the remarkable answer to that question. Be encouraged by His words.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30 (NKJV)
The Transformed You, my brother, and sister in Christ is the distant, gleaming beauty on the horizon at the end of the trail that He seeks to show you. It is your metamorphosed beauty bearing His Son’s likeness and clothed with His righteousness that He aims to bring to your attention. What was once unknown and unrecognizable to you has all been graciously revealed beforehand! Therefore, consider solemnly “the few-ture”awaiting you. Regardless of your current circumstances, do you now sense the heartbeat of hope and meaningful purpose rising within you?
“to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3 (ESV) (emphasis mine)
There is but one true beauty responsible for this life-changing transformation leading to our being “(br)oak(en) for righteousness.” Jesus, the “unfading Rose,” the One who has redeemed us and set us free, the One to whom we owe all, the One who willingly took our place that day on the cross, He is the reason. Rejoice friends for He has made our destiny sure. I say again, rejoice!
“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)
Will you accept His offer to lovingly guide you through the hills and valleys of your lifetime as King David declares in Psalm 23? The first and last steps of your Coram Deo adventure in search of the destiny He has purposed and planned for you can successfully begin and end only one way: trusting Him.
In the end, He is what matters. Do you trust Him?
“Only Jesus” by Casting Crowns from the album “Only Jesus”
OK, I confess. I have to admit I’ve struggled specifically with this particular post more than most. Why? In an interesting twist of irony it’s because I’ve been riding the fence about, well, writing about riding the fence.
My writing problems were not about the “what” so much as they were about the “how.” The struggle was all about finding the correct approach as to how best to write about this subject. I started this post multiple times only to be unhappy with my efforts so into the digital trash bin each attempt would go.
How did I finally gain writing traction? The Lord pointed out something to me that had been staring me in the face the whole time: Simply put, Jesus didn’t pull any punches when he addressed the issue of people riding the fence when it comes to spiritual matters, and particularly so about Himself, so why should I? My previous efforts had all failed because I was watering things down. I was sugar-coating His message. I was trying to be safe. While He is direct, I was being indirect, thus the discomforting disconnect between my writing and my inspiration.
“We are either in the process of resisting God’s truth or in the process of being shaped and molded by His truth.” Charles Stanley
Jesus speaks very plainly and openly about those who attempt to ride the spiritual fence between Heaven and earth. Why? Because He knows He can’t afford to be or say anything less than that for our sakes and the sake of God’s Kingdom. If He were to do so He wouldn’t be true to us or Himself. Therein lies the lesson He desires to pass along to us when dealing with this subject.
“He who is not with Me is against me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” Matthew 12:30 (NKJV),
Like the bear looking for an easy meal of birdseed on our fence, we cannot allow ourselves to be lured away from His truth. It’s unnatural for the bear to balance precariously on a fence for a meal of birdseed, and likewise, so it is also unnatural for believers, His followers, to take up unsteady and mistaken positions on matters He has addressed in His Word.
The world is like the cat in the photo, intently watching to see if we will be true to what we say we believe, or will we show ourselves to be the outstanding hypocrites they hope and believe us to be?
“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” C.S. Lewis
When our words and actions do not mesh the truth is suppressed. If we know the truth yet don’t stand up for the truth of what value are we to a dying world that is being deceived? Do we not add to the veil of deception when we fail to speak the truth? Rather than helping others find the truth, we become part of the lie that holds them captive.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” Matthew 5:13 (NKJV)
Why do we take up such awkward positions that place us most uncomfortably, if we’re being honest, in between two opposing forces? Sadly, far too often I must admit that I can relate to the pressures King Saul speaks about as found in 1 Samuel 15:24 (NKJV), “Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.”
Is there a root cause for our fear of people’s opinions? I believe there is. Surely our lack of understanding as to the true nature of God is exposed when we acquiesce in fear to people and choose the world’s ways over His ways.
Too few believers spend meaningful time in His Word and enjoy quality alone time with Him. When this happens our relationship with Him lacks sufficient depth and intimacy. Take heart, though, because it’s not meant to be this way. He desires to be in a relationship with you more than you can imagine. “Be-loved” His beloved!
“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NKJV)
Think about it. We will go to bat for good friends, but scarcely, if at all, lift a finger for someone who is little more than an acquaintance. Is it any wonder, then, that when push comes to shove regarding our beliefs concerning God and His ways that we find ourselves aligning with the world over Him? We align ourselves with what we are familiar with and know, it’s as plain and simple as that. My friends, it doesn’t have to be this way. He has given us the right path to follow and how to stay on that track. Ignorance of who He is and what His Word says is not a reasonable excuse.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105 (NKJV)
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV)
Today, more than ever, we as believers are faced with mounting pressure to choose the world’s ways over the Lord’s by saddling up and riding the fence of compromise that only serves to dilute His truths. God’s Kingdom-truth is that when this happens there is no fence riding occurring, but instead, if we truly look with our hearts and eyes, we will find that we have fallen off of the fence and have landed squarely on the opposite side of the fence from where we’re supposed to be with Jesus.
But…is all hope lost, is it too late if we find ourselves on the wrong side of the spiritual fence from Him due to our compromises, our agreements that we have made with the world in the past, some possibly as recently as even today? Joyfully the answer is a resounding “No!”
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Luke 4:18 (NKJV)
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?” Matthew 18:12 (NKJV)
So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us take heart and rightly choose Him over the world when we’re tempted, and even encouraged, to take up sides against Him by coming into agreement with the world. Be reminded by the writer of Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV) who extols us to avoid finding ourselves on the wrong side of the fence saying, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Let us always be mindful of how Jesus described Himself in John 14:6 (NKJV) saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
And that, my friend, is the bare truth. The question is how will we choose to handle this truth?
Jadon Lavik, “My Father’s World” from the album, “Roots Run Deep”
“There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” John 6:9 (NIV)
The Lord has a remarkable way of turning our way of thinking and understanding upside down and on its head, doesn’t He? What is all too quickly assessed by human thinking as an undesirable exception to the normal, or put another way, what we see as not enough or imperfect, becomes exceptional when placed in His hands.
“Then Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.’ Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘ This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.'” John 6:10-14 (NKJV)
My wife dearly loves butterflies. We’ve been especially thrilled these past few weeks to have witnessed the Monarch butterfly life transformation take place. Much to our delight this remarkable process has played out before our eyes time and time again progressing from eggs to caterpillars to chrysalis to the miraculous emerging of beautiful Monarch butterflies. We learned soon enough, however, that this remarkable process doesn’t always end with a perfectly formed Monarch flying off into the sunset.
Curly Sue’s journey as a Monarch took a different route than normal because she cannot fly. Doing a bit of research after the fact we discovered that sometimes for various reasons a Monarch’s wings don’t properly unfold after leaving the confines of the chrysalis. When that happens they become fixed in shapes that prevent flight from ever happening. Curly Sue’s wings have an unmistakable curl along the edges that’s obviously not supposed to be there. Thus the name “Curly Sue.”
Unlike her brothers and sisters Curly Sue will never experience being buoyed along by warm, gentle breezes that carry her to an endless parade of flowers. Her fate seemed sealed as time and time again my wife and I would find her pitifully flipping and flopping about in our front yard as she unsuccessfully tried to fly during her first 24 hours. Our hope was that somehow her wings would finally straighten out.
On the second day my tenderhearted wife was unable to watch the chaotic gyrations continue any longer. She decided Curly Sue would come inside and spend whatever time she had left in our house with us. Curly Sue has been with us for about 2 weeks now living in her castle…aka a plastic bug container we found at the local pet shop… on our living room coffee table.
Each day Curly Sue feeds on fresh cut flowers from our yard and is able to stretch her legs whenever my wife holds her gently in her hands. On sunny days my wife takes her to the back yard and places her on one of the flowers there. “She needs to be outside in the sun,” my wife will say in this delightfully nurturing “warm chicken soup” sort of tone.
Curly Sue never stops trying to fly. Several times a day she’ll assertively flap her wings all to no avail causing her to flip upside down after traveling only mere inches. Curly Sue is definitely not a quitter. She is a model of determination, perseverance, and optimism. I’ve decided with each attempt at flying she’s thinking, “This time I will fly!”
“Are you going to be OK when she’s no longer with us? “ I asked my wife as she was carefully cradling Curly Sue in her hands taking her on yet another trip to the backyard. Pausing for just a moment my wife quietly replied, “Yes, but I will miss her. I feel sorry for her because she’s never going to get to fly like she was meant to do…she’ll never get to have babies…like all the others,” her voice trailing off. It was at that point that an ephiphany entered my mind. “Maybe she has a different mission than the others, you know? What if she is here especially for you to love on and enjoy…yes…to give you joy?” I mused.
Yes, it’s true that Curly Sue was meant to fly, but since her wings didn’t develop normally she has been prevented from ever flying in the traditional sense like the vast majority of butterflies do. Funny thing is, though, in an unexpected twist in our understanding of what flying is, we have realized that Curly Sue has been flying all along. How so? Miraculously she has managed to unquestionably fly straight into my wife’s heart as no other normally developed Monarch ever could.
Until our eyes were opened just a few days ago we lacked the vision needed to appreciate and understand that Curly Sue was not flightless after all. We have realized that with her uniquely curled wings she has still soared in improbable ways and into places that are impossible for other butterflies to reach.
If you fly differently than others then shouldn’t you expect the destinations you are able to reach to also be different from what others can achieve? It’s true as believers that we all collectively strive towards the same eternal finish line, but no individual path, no individual mission is necessarily the same. After all, He has made each of us unique in our own special ways, hasn’t He?
“For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” Romans 12:4-5 (NKJV)
Let’s put our shields down here for a moment and be honest enough to admit that we each have our own unique set of curled wings of some sort, don’t we? It’s a bit cheesy I know, but isn’t it true that we all could be known as a “Curly You” since we all have our own imperfections and weaknesses? And now you know one of my faults: I can’t help myself when it comes to word play no matter how cringe-worthy it may turn out. What else can I say? The shot was there, so I took it.
Our individual flying style depends on who God has purposed us to be. For some, flight is instantly recognizable as flying by the strictest definition of the word. Sometimes, however, it may be unrecognizable as flight to not only others, but even more sadly, in our own eyes, as we wistfully focus on what we think flying is supposed to look like from our unhappy seat on the ground. All too often we lament over what we can’t do while never taking the time to ask the Lord what special plans He has for us that we can do.
I don’t know about you, but this experience with Curly Sue has reminded me just how narrow minded I can be. In this case, God has broadened my mind and brought me into alignment with His far-reaching thoughts about flying.
If you were to ask my wife about all the butterflies she’s watched flying and flitting about, she’ll joyfully take the opportunity to tell you about imperfect and flightless Curly Sue, and, I might add, the only butterfly she ever named. Why? Because Curly Sue accomplished what no other so called “normal” butterfly could ever do: she flew straight into her heart curled wings and all. In fact, that flight wouldn’t have even happened without those curled wings.
We look at ourselves and see all of our shortcomings, all of our perceived inadequacies, and we think we have nothing of meaning, nothing of significance, nothing of value to offer to others. When we do this we terribly underestimate what the Lord has planned for us to do in our lifetimes by His own strength.
We say we can’t fly and without Him it’s true we can’t. But with Him, well, He says we can fly. C.H. Spurgeon eloquently captures this truth saying, “God does not need your strength; He has more than enough power of His own. He asks your weakness: He has none of that himself, and He is longing, therefore, to take your weakness, and use it as an instrument in His own mighty hand.”
“Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you? So he said to Him, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house. And the Lord said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.’” Judges 6:14-16 (NKJV)
The Lord has made you special and unique. You offer something that the world around you is lacking and desperately needs. Would you stop and consider that maybe, just maybe, your weaknesses in His hands are His very special provision to meet that distinct need?
Embrace who you are in the Lord’s Kingdom, curled wings and all, so that you may fly and soar into other’s hearts according to His good purposes. It’s sky high time we open our eyes and understand that it is flight not as the world sees and says, but as He sees and says.
I don’t know how much longer Curly Sue will be physically here with us, but I can say without a doubt that the lessons the Lord has taught both my wife and I through this imperfect, but oh so brave, little butterfly will fly forever in our hearts even after she is physically gone. And so I must ask you, don’t we all want to matter for eternity’s sake?
Friend, I encourage you to fully embrace who God has not only made you to be, but said you to be and become. In His gentle hands fly as only you can into those special hearts that He has purposed for you to reach saying to yourself, “Yes, thank you, Lord, for Your grace to fly. No longer am I grounded by my own limited vision as I once was. Today I am flying according to Your good sight for Your glory. Whose hurting heart would You have me fly into today and speak life, so that they too can soar in the heavens with You?”
“Then Peter said, ‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you; in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’” Acts 3:6 (NKJV)
“Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns from the Album “Casting Crowns”
“Whohas believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 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. 3 He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 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. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth. 8 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. 9 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)
for you…and for me…seven centuries later…
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NKJV)
And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center. (John 19:17-18, NKJV)
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, NKJV)
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:14-17, NKJV)
So, Isaiah’s question remains: “Who has believed our report?” Do you believe? Do you know the One whom Isaiah the Prophet foretold almost 700 years beforehand would die for you…and does He know you? His outstretched arms await you…………..
“Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me) by Casting Crowns from the album “Hymns of Faith”
“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)
Q: What do you get when you cross a banana peel with the beach?
A: A precious gift of memories of my father that comfort and warm my grieving heart in just the right way by tenderly reminding me that I am deeply loved and cared for by my Heavenly Father who knows my deepest needs.
This new year, 2020, had barely welcomed its very first dawn when I received a call from my brother telling me our father had passed away in his sleep only an hour or so earlier. Although we all knew his passing was on the horizon I don’t think any of us expected it quite so soon. After all, we had just had a family meeting with the hospital staff just the day before in which we discussed possible next steps as to how to proceed for his care over the coming days and weeks. We all also understood that his passing from this life into the next could possibly stretch out to months or perhaps even longer. He’d had a really good day two days before he passed and that certainly colored our thoughts with optimism and hope that perhaps his life here with us still held the promise of more time. It was only after his passing that something the doctor had told us in that family meeting the day before gained its rightful understanding and wisdom in our eyes. Simply put the doctor had told us it’s not at all unusual for people at the end of life to experience what is known as “the last hurrah.” And such was the case with my dad two days prior to his passing when he unexpectedly set up in bed, interacted with those around him, asked for some apple juice to drink, ate some Christmas pear, and followed it all up with a bowl of ice cream.
We live a 10 hours long car drive away from my parent’s home. We had just made the return trip home after having spent several days visiting friends and family over Christmas. Part of that time was spent with my mom and dad. After spending what would be graciously understood later in hindsight as my last hour or so with my dad…a “sweet parting” as my wife later called it…the day before his passing we had driven back home and only been in bed a few hours when we were awakened by my brother’s call on that New Year’s Day morning. That morning then became a fuzzy blur of tear filled telephone calls made to our own children, my dad’s grandchildren. Eventually the morning mercifully gave way to the afternoon and my wife suggested we go and take a walk on the beach. I resisted at first, but fortunately she persisted convincing me it would be good for both of us to “put our toes in the sand the first day of the new year especially with how it all began just a few hours earlier” as she described it. She gently reminded me that my dad would’ve loved going to the beach so off we went. We didn’t have to wait long to realize how right she was with that thought.
My dad, and my mom, loved the beach and everything about it. Each visit was an open ended invitation to adventure to their way of thinking. They began their new life together by spending their honeymoon along the beach at Gulf Shores. They visited the beach whenever and wherever possible afterwards. Later, they were transferred to Jamaica for a few years by the company my dad worked for which gave them access to beaches they’d only dreamed about visiting before. He loved snorkeling along the reefs off the northern shore which was only a relatively short drive from where they lived. Shell hunting while snorkeling was priceless treasure hunting as far as he was concerned. Indeed, even the rocks of the “rock beach” as they named it, were of great fascination and delight to them. Over time they collected hundreds of multi-colored rocks that were transported back to the states for a much anticipated later date with the rock tumbler/polisher. Fresh water lake beaches were sources of great exploration opportunities for my parents, too. Who knows what interesting shaped piece of driftwood awaited them just up ahead? Yes, the beach, any beach, was a heavenly adventure on earth as far as my dad, and my mom, was concerned.
Secondly, although it’s not anything seemingly related to the beach, I can’t begin to tell you how much my dad loved bananas. And not just to eat them either, although he did enjoy eating them, especially if they appeared as a banana split. I guess you could say he was obsessed with them to the point that anything having to do with bananas was always associated with him by our family and friends. Birthday cards were pretty much required to be of the “banana” variety of some sort. The last birthday card we sent him had two bananas on it that danced to music when you opened up the card. He loved it so much he shared it with their friends at the senior center where they lived. At the end of WWII he had a photo taken while overseas showing him eating a banana with the caption on the back simply reading, “Me eating a banana.” I can’t begin to tell you the number of times he serenaded our family with the “Chiquita Banana” song. We still all know that song by heart, by the way. “When they’re flecked with brown and have a golden hue, that’s when ‘nannies’ (his slang) are good for you!” he’d laughingly sing to us all. One of the longtime favorite toys in their grandkid’s toy box at their house is a harmonica shaped like a banana. So, to this day whenever any of us walk by the bananas in the produce section we automatically think of dad, or Paw, as the grandkids called him.
“Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His highest)
My wife and I had been walking along the beach on that New Year’s Day afternoon looking for shells for only a short time when she yelled at me to come quickly to see what she had found. Catching up to her she pointed down to her find, and, yes, there it was. Perhaps by now you may have guessed that what she was excitedly pointing to was a banana peel. The fact that it was mixed in amongst a collection of shells, my dad’s precious jewels, made it even more delightful. Although we’ve walked many a mile on the beach since moving to the area 7 years ago neither my wife nor I could think of another time we’ve come across a banana peel before so this was a definite first for us, and for our friends whom we have shared this story with as well. As you can no doubt imagine the timing of this latest treasure find could not have been any more poignant for us as we both stood there staring at the sight of the old banana peel mingled together with the shells along the water’s edge. We both spontaneously laughed out loud at the sight as tears of sadness gave way to tears of gratitude as we were lovingly embraced by the Lord’s great compassion, tenderness, and kindness towards us in this our time of heartache. Immediately our hearts felt warmer and our spirits were lifted as reassuring waves of memories of my dad enjoying earthly beaches combined with thoughts of him now delighting in heavenly beaches oh so gently caressed us.
“The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (NIV)
And indeed…He is…and does.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NIV)
The promise of His presence. Is there any greater hope than this?
Mercy Me, “I Can Only Imagine”, from the album “Almost There.”
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV)
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Matthew 7:21-23 (NKJV)
“For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.’
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:3-11(NKJV)
“that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” John 3:15-21 (NKJV)