just 1 more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  John 3:16 (NKJV)

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

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

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

a window with a view

“What or whom we worship determines our behaviour.”  John Murray

The eclectic line of people silently stretched as far as the eye could see away from the building.  Persons from all walks of life were present: the old, the young, the rich, the poor, the powerful, and the powerless, some with hats in hand and heads bowed low, others with their noses up in the air.   From time to time, the building’s front doors would open, but only long enough to admit the next one waiting in line to enter.

Once inside, each person found themselves alone in a large, silent auditorium illuminated by a single window.   A sense of reverence permeated the room.   “Hello, is anyone there?” they half-whispered as their eyes anxiously scanned the room for a felt but not seen presence.  The silence quickly returned as the faint echoes of their question disappeared.  Hearing no reply, they turned their attention to the light offered by the window, which drew them ever closer.  A few pressed their noses against the glass, while others stood back at varying distances gazing at the outside world they had just left.  Suddenly a voice, remarkable in its gentle nature, enveloped the entire room, saying, “What are your thoughts about the world as you look through the window?  What do you see?”

So many people, so many uniquely individual answers to the question, as one might guess.  Yet, despite the diversity found in such a large crowd, their answers leaned in one of two directions.

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Some pursue the world as if it’s a prize or trophy to be obtained for personal gain without regard for the cost.  It’s an enticing but ultimately deceptive take-no-prisoners lifestyle approach that leaves misery and regret in its wake sooner or later.

“The world is my oyster.”  (A well-known, slightly modernized quote from Shakespeare’s, The Merry Wives of Windsor)

I can’t help but think about the “old” Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dicken’s beloved “A Christmas Carol” before he experienced the visitation of the three Christmas spirits.

“Oh!  But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!  Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”  Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Now there’s some irony for you, eh?  Those who view the world as their oyster for the taking become an oyster themselves, desperately clutching a pearl of their making, unwilling and afraid to share it with anyone else.

“We become what we behold.”  William Blake, Jerusalem

Is such a solitary oyster-like existence all that surprising, given such persons view themselves as life’s singular, all-important reference point around which the world orbits?  The voracious flock of seagulls from the animated movie “Finding Nemo” immediately come to mind, loudly squawking, “Mine, mine, MINE!” as they coveted the objection of their affection.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:21 (NKJV)

And therein lies sadness and danger if the treasures we hold near and dear to us are solely self-serving.

“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”  Matthew 16:26 (NKJV)

“We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living but not a life. We’ve added years to life, not life to years.” George Carlin

In due course, the knife called unavoidable pries the precious pearl from deep within the oyster loose, it now intended for another’s hands. How can we be so foolish and short-sighted?

For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  1 Timothy 6:7 (NKJV)

Ah, but this is graciously no ordinary window that beckons us ever nearer to embrace the life-changing view of the world it offers.  Perhaps you noticed the cross in the window immediately, as did I.  It reminds us that a vibrant relationship with God through Jesus is the gateway to truth and meaning as we go about our daily lives interacting with the world through eyes, hearts, and minds other than our own.

“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)

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV)

Jesus is the window, the True North we seek, through which radiant hope shines for a darkened and despairing world.

All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door.  If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 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 10:8-10 (NKJV)

He shows us a still better way of viewing and engaging with the world.

“I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak.  And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”  Acts 20:35 (NKJV)

“It’s about how we can love people, how we can make a difference for other people.  I really believe in God’s economy, which is different than how we talk about our economy.  In our economy, in order to have more, you take more.  But in God’s economy-you give more.”  Tim Tebow

And now it is your turn to enter through the doors into the room set aglow by the light streaming in through the single window.  As you gaze out through the window, the gentle voice asks, “What are your thoughts about the world as you look through the window?  What do you see?”

 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Matthew 6:31-33 (NKJV)

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Start Right Here by Casting Crowns (single version)

Aim high-“X” marks the spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  Romans 12:2 (NKJV)

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.  Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

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

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

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

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

to grant to those who mourn in Zion-to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called, an oak of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified!  (Isaiah 61:3, ESV)

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

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  John 14:27 (NKJV)

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

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Romans 8:29 (NKJV)

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)

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

Surprize!!!

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”  James 1:17 (NKJV)

What’s one thing God and cats have in common?

Before I give you my answer, note that I’m in no way putting God and cats on equal footing.   God is the creative force here; cats are the products of His efforts.  Creator and created, big difference!  The root of this question stems from the idea that what an artist creates cannot help but say something about the artist.   Hence, cats have something to tell us about God, the Creator.

“The personality of the artist leaks through their work. God included. He reveals himself through nature, as the Scriptures testify.” John Eldredge from Beautiful Outlaw (highlight mine)

So, here’s my one-word answer to that question that you may or may not have seen coming based on the title of today’s post:  surprise.  Surprised?

A cat’s uncanny ability to show up in some of the most unexpected places and ways always elicits a reaction from those fortunate enough witnesses.  More times than not, whenever something unforeseen happens, it’s downright startling, as in “Whoa, I did NOT see that coming!”

Not that long ago, I was walking through our kitchen and was completely caught off-guard by our cat, Ringo (yes, after the Beatle!), staring out at me from one of our kitchen cabinets that had accidentally been left open.  Even today, it’s a treasured memory that continues to refresh my soul for its disruption of my otherwise unremarkable, vanilla day because it serves as a priceless reminder that I gloriously don’t have everything figured out, especially when it comes to God.

Surprises like this are a gift because they awaken the once wide-eyed but now all-too-deeply slumbering child adventurer in me.  I don’t know about you, but it’s a joy whenever my much younger self shows up because doors to possibilities suddenly appear that my deadened, cookie-cutter adult self either won’t or can’t conceive of as even existing.  My earlier “God-in-the-box” post touched on this issue.

“and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:3 (NKJV)

“On worship: ‘For many, Christianity has become the grinding out of general doctrinal laws from collections of biblical facts.  But childlike wonder and awe have died.  The scenery and poetry and music of the majesty of God have dried up like a forgotten peach at the back of the refrigerator.’”  John Piper, Desiring God

Such a delightful interruption in my day is a trumpet’s call to be open-minded about just how much more extraordinary, grander, and more mysterious God is than my pedestrian, earth-bound, more “mature” thoughts will comfortably allow.

“Jesus rarely comes where we exect Him; He appears where we we least expect Him, and always in the most illogical connections. The only way a worker can keep true to God is by being ready for the Lord’s surprise visits.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest

And with those truths front and center, it also leads me to contemplate His brighter-than-the-sun, absolutely pure Holiness.  Could the chasm of differences between the Lord and myself be any more stark and dramatic?   To that, I gratefully exclaim, “Wonderfully not!”

“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)

“No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.”  1 Samuel 2:2 (NKJV)

Our God is not in the least bit humdrum, nor is He passive and ambivalent to the goings-on of this world as some would suggest.  Since the foundation, He has been actively involved in His creation, including, of course, His purposeful commitment to the ongoing, ever-deepening One-on-one relationships with His children.

“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)

Given the vast differences between God and ourselves in tandem with His desire to conform us to the image of His Son, our Savior, Jesus, we have every reason to anticipate that God should and will upend our ways. 

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

He will upset our status quo for His good purposes.

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

In the lives of believers, disruptions of all shapes and sizes that lead to the changes He desires to take place in us as proclaimed by scripture should be considered “normal” to expect, shouldn’t they be?

“We do not so much search the Word of God as the Word of God searches us.”  Barry Black, US Senate Chaplain

What sort of God would He be if He didn’t boggle our worldly minds, challenge our mistaken beliefs, expose our tightly-held, wayward assumptions, and overturn our oh-so-carefully but far-too-often selfishly set tables?

 “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.”  Matthew 21:12 (NKJV)

My friends, Jesus is an utterly beautiful disrupter of our doggedly-entrenched worldly condition for good reasons.

“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)

Praise God because He is so much more than we dare think or imagine whose generosity knows no bounds.

“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, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21 (NKJV)

He has, after all, given us a surprize beyond measure, Jesus, in a most surprising but oh-so-delightful, completely God-like way.

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”  Isaiah 7:14 (NKJV)

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6 (NKJV)

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16 (NKJV)

It is no surprise that Jesus didn’t come in the form or way that the world expected.  Even to this very day, He continues to give Himself as the ultimate prize to all those who would believe in Him.  And that, dear brother and sister, I pray brings you immeasurable joy and delight every day of the year, especially during this Christmas season.  May God’s surprises continually refresh and bless you in the most remarkable, hope-inspiring ways throughout the remainder of this year and those to follow according to His good and perfect will.   

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  John 14:27 (NKJV)

“Praise the Lord” by Crowder from the album “Prodigal Son (Deluxe Edition).”

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.

preauxvision

With God, an ocean of unfathomable possibilities exists right behind us; all we need to do is turn around for a new perspective.

If the late Cajun chef and beloved humorist, Justin E. Wilson, could see “provision” spelled as “preauxvision,” he would most likely enthusiastically exclaim, “Hoo-wee, dat’s sum unexpected Cajun flavoring mixed right in there, I gah-rown-tee (guarantee)!”

True to his love for preparing Cajun cuisine, Mr. Wilson once told the Associated Press, “Cajun cooking is the ability to take what you have and create a good dish and season it right.”  Or, put another way, in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, even the most improbable ingredients prepared with the proper seasoning in just the right way can make your taste buds get up and dance.

“Blessings sometimes show up in unrecognizable disguises. ”  Janette Oke

And so it also is with God’s unexpected provision in our lives.  Indeed, the Lord is capable of making the unlikely, the seemingly impossible, happen.  He is, after all, the Master Chef of all creation.

“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)

Using just the right seasonings of His mercy, grace, wisdom, and love, our Heavenly Father can take all of our circumstances and create something good out of them.  Even those that appear to be utterly hopeless and bewildering from our perspective.

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”  Psalm 34:8 (NKJV)

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.  Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”  Genesis 50:20 (NKJV)

Let me share a story of an unlikely provision in my life from last year amid the pandemic with you.

If you’ve read my bio, you’re already aware my business partner and I began a start-up oil and gas exploration business a few years ago.  Although our goal is simple, the pile of bones of many who have gone before us testifies how truly challenging it is.   Our task is to identify drilling locations with the hopes of ultimately finding and producing an economic accumulation of oil.  Each barrel of oil found and sold becomes the lifeblood that provides the revenue stream we need to survive.   

So, how have we done?  In the three to four years we’ve been in business so far, we’ve been abysmally unsuccessful in this endeavor.  To date, we have produced zero barrels of oil despite our best efforts, which have been bathed in unceasing prayer by myself and many others along the way. I can assure you this was not how I imagined or expected things to go believing that we would be successful within the first year or so.  In short, our prayers seemingly went unanswered, much to everyone’s growing dismay.  But, oh, this is where it gets exciting in the face of such outwardly disappointing results.

“May we be strengthened with the understanding that being blessed does not mean that we shall always be spared all the disappointments and difficulties of life.”  Heber J. Grant 

Last year due to the pandemic, oil commodity prices plummeted to less than zero, hitting a record low of around -$38.00 per barrel.

Following that unbelievable oil price collapse, I wondered how we could ever possibly survive this historical low point for the industry.  However, my anxious thoughts were suddenly brought to a screeching halt by a staggering realization that raced triumphantly through my mind.  Simply put, it dawned on me that had all our prayers been answered according to our expectations and desires, everything would’ve come crashing down around us, abruptly ending in bankruptcy.  You see, there would’ve been no way our fledgling company could have financially survived taking an extended negative price hit on selling our oil.  But, astonishingly, because we had no production during the price crash, we lost nothing and were able to continue to stay in business.  How crazy is this turn of events?

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

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)

Gone were my aching questions about why our prayers for success had gone unanswered.   Suddenly my doubts and fears disappeared and gave way to words of praise for Him for this unexpected form of provision.  In an instant, the Lord used a shocking turn of events to lead me to thank Him for not answering my prayers according to my expectations but instead for answering them His way.  Friends, there’s no other way to say it, but, “Dat’s sum dance-and- praise-worthy preauxvision as only the Lord can provide, I gah-rown-tee!”

 “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:19 (NKJV)

“He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. 30 Then they are glad because they are quiet; So He guides them to their desired haven.”  Psalm 107:29-30 (NKJV)

Gratefully, He is exceedingly superior to me in every way.  Amen?  Amen!

“O Lord, You are my God. I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, For You have done wonderful things; Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.”  Isaiah 25:1 (NKJV)

 “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, 12 To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.”  Psalm 30:11-12 (NKJV)

Lord, I’ll trust in You with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways I’ll acknowledge You, and You’ll direct my paths. You alone know best because Your ways are higher than my ways, and Your thoughts are higher than my thoughts. Without faith it’s impossible to please You, so I’ll draw near to You and believe that You reward those who seek You. God, You call me blessed because I have not seen, yet I still believe. You always keep Your promises, and You don’t change like shifting shadows. You’re my dwelling place, my helper, my strength, and my defense. You are mighty, robed in majesty, armed with strength, compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love. You made the heavens, formed the dry land, and Your renown endures through all generations. You won’t slumber but will watch over my life. You fashioned the ear, formed the eye, and determine the number of stars and call them each by name. God, You are the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, and there is no one in all the world like You. (YouVersion original devotional, Praying God’s Truth Over My Fears)

He is by Crowder from the album “Milk and Honey.”

a chip on His shoulders

 “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”  1 Corinthians 6:20 (NKJV)

Have you ever purposefully bought something you knew was defective?  I never thought I’d find myself doing that, but that’s what happened a few days ago.  And unexpectedly, there was Jesus wonderfully right in the middle of my conversation with the cashier about my improbable purchase.

If you read my last post, “Humilability,” then you already know I’ve had the Japanese art form known as Kintsugi on my mind.  So much so that I decided I wanted to try my hand at it.  I was in the process of buying something at the last minute for my art-venture when a “refreshing summer rain” moment of understanding in the checkout lane occurred.

Let me refresh your mind about Kintsugi before moving on with this story.

Kintsugi is a Japanese art form that takes shattered pottery and makes it whole by mending the broken pieces together with glue typically containing silver, gold, or platinum.   Upon completion, the revitalized object becomes more valuable and desirable than it was initially.  Those who follow this style of art delight in the object’s history as revealed by the repaired joints.  In other words, the rejuvenated vessel tells a story of hope through its rebirth that is cause for much celebration.

Returning to the story, I had already bought everything I thought I needed for my project but still had one last stop to make for my wife before heading home.  She had asked me to buy a clay pot, so I stopped by the local gardening center knowing they would have a good selection.  While looking for just the right clay pot for her, I noticed a chipped and cracked one.  As soon as I did, a light bulb immediately went off in my head, and I realized it’d be a great addition to my collection of Kintsugi project material. Why smash up something in perfect shape when I could break up something that was already flawed?   So, I happily picked up the broken pot along with a good one for my wife and headed to the checkout lane.

After a short wait in line, I placed the two pots I wished to purchase on the counter.  As the cashier scanned the items, she paused over the broken one and looked up at me with a questioning expression on her face. 

Cashier: “Did you know this pot is broken?”

Me: “Yes.”

Cashier: “And you still want it?”

Me: “Yes, I have plans for it.”

No sooner had those words been said when a spiritual sonic boom stirred my soul, recrystallizing the reality of a precious gift I far too often fail to acknowledge and cherish rightly.  Indeed, just as I had plans for the broken pot, how much more so does Jesus have plans for broken me?

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV)

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

There is a huge difference, of course, in the method of payment for these items.  Jesus purchased me with His life, while all I did was hand over a few dollars for the flowerpot.  He gave all, I gave little.

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  John 15:13 (NKJV)

Before I stepped into the picture, the trash heap was that defective clay pot’s only future where it would join countless other items also considered worthless and of no use.  However, the funny thing now is it sits next to me on my bookshelf in plain sight as a treasured reminder of where I’d be right now without Jesus.  There now was no way I was going to bust it up as I had initially planned after being gifted with such a beautiful flash of insight.  God has such a wholly (holy!) excellent way of turning my thoughts and plans upside down, you know?  

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV)

How did this broken pot land in a position of honor in my office instead of lost in a landfill?  Simply put, I had plans for it where no one else did and was then willing and able to do something about it.  That is the sole reason this little clay pot has a new home beside me.

“Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  Isaiah 43:19 (NKJV)

As a believer, the soul (yes, that’s purposeful spelling on my part) reason I now have an eternal future overflowing with hope is that Jesus saw my need and was willing and able to do something about it.

“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)

“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)

He put my brokenness, my chips, if you will, on His shoulders at great cost to Himself.  And He’s done the same for you.

“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.”  Isaiah 53:6 (NKJV)

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

What are the Lord’s plans for you, my brother and sister in Christ, and for me?  He has prepared a place of honor for us with Him.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  John 14:3 (NKJV)

“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”  John 14:2 (NKJV)

But there’s more, so much more.  It’s beyond astonishing when you think about it!  

 “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)

Have you sincerely thanked God today for His active presence in your life, for the priceless gift of rebirth out of brokenness He has bestowed upon you through His Son, our Savior, Jesus?

“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)

Come to the Table by Sidewalk Prophets from the album “Something Different.”

humilability

(hue-mill-uh-bill-uh-tea)

-the ability to employ selfless compassion and empathy for others as a grateful expression of God’s love.

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  Matthew 12:30-31 (NKJV)

One need look no further than a cat frantically chasing a laser pointer’s wildly zigzagging dot skimming across the floor for visual confirmation that motion attracts attention like little else.  After all, movement is typically associated with life, which, as we all know, is the ultimate visual attention-getter. 

A few mornings ago, a familiar and friendly sight enticingly beckoned me to come nearer for a closer look.  Just as it did a few years earlier, a solitary movement tantalizingly framed within a multitude of stillness captivated my attention.  No way could the cat in me walk away, then or now.   

As I drew closer, much to my curiosity’s delight, I realized that the movement I was observing was wonderfully unique from what I had previously experienced and written about a few years ago in per sway-dead or per sway-did.  Instead of an entire plant moving to the beat of the faint wind as it happened then, this time, however, the motion radiated from a single blade of tall grass that, upon closer examination, revealed an unexpected and intriguing feature. 

What was so surprising about this lone blade of dancing grass?  In a word: brokenness.  The stalk was broken and bent about two-thirds of the way up.  This imperfection resulted in a visually compelling motion resembling bowing at the waist whenever the slightest whisper of a breeze stirred the air.

Curiously a nearby similarly broken blade remained fixed and unmoving.  Hmmmm.  It’s fair to say that, yes, where this motion was concerned, the break was essential, but it was also apparent that the location played a pivotal role, as well.  If this were not so, then clearly, both broken blades standing so close to each other would have exhibited motion rather than just the one.

I find the irony so captivating here that the motion catching my eye emanated from something broken and flawed.  As we all know, the world is not particularly kind regarding things judged damaged or not measuring up.  The truth is it can be downright cold and cruel towards anything it perceives as not rising to its standards of desirability or perfection.  But, take heart, friend, because the good news for all of us “less-than” sorts is that the Lord has an entirely different perspective than the world does.

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;”  1 Corinthians 1:27 (NKJV)

Each of us has experienced brokenness in our lives.  Some more, some less, but the bottom line is we are all broken in some way.  The worldly method of handling our damages is to try and hide them by pushing them out of sight.  Essentially we attempt to avoid attention by immobilizing or disguising those damaged areas of our lives in hopes of blending in with everyone else.  “It’s the safe thing to do,” says our ego, which quickly tries to seal the deal on that thought by adding, “Trust me because I know what’s best for you.” 

To reveal our brokenness to the world exposes our weaknesses, and who wants to do that knowing we’ll most likely become the object of ridicule at the very least?  So, we go into stealth mode, closing and locking the door tightly behind us as best and as fast as possible.

Sadly, when we go into hiding, we subject the world and ourselves to yet another day of being held captive by shame and fear.  This thinking is in direct opposition to our calling as God’s children, however.  As believers, we’re called to more, so much more than being invisible.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16 (NKJV)

It’s time, brothers and sisters, to step out of the dark and into His light.  We need to embrace the life-changing potential that sincere, godly humility offers to the imprisoned and isolated of this world and to ourselves along the way.

“Think not that humility is weakness; it shall supply the marrow of strength to thy bones.  Stoop and conquer; bow thyself and become invincible.”  Charles Spurgeon

 “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:6-7 (NKJV)

Humility is the ability to generously apply a mending salve of compassion and understanding to the world’s endless sea of walking wounded.  It finds its beginning in the refining fires of our healing and restoration.  It is not man contrived false humility that focuses on self, mind you.  No!  Genuine humility gives up the steering wheel to God and climbs cheerfully into the back seat so that someone else can sit in the front seat.  Oh, and just in case you’re asking, “Are we there yet?” there’s nothing to worry about; God will tell you every time whenever you’re there.  He is, after all, the Driver and the GPS, so sit back and pay close attention to what’s going on around you because it’s likely you’ll come upon another weary soul in need of what the Lord can offer them through you now that you’re not the driver.

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Philippians 2:4 (NKJV)

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  Galatians 6:2 (NKJV)

Jesus has shown us the way forward, of course.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:45 (NKJV)

Like the blade of grass bends in the slightest presence of the wind, the humble heart also gratefully bows at the very thought of the healing, mercy, grace, and love it has received from the Lord.  In doing so, such a heart rightfully honors the Deliverer and His intentions regarding other’s needs, all the while trumpeting they’re a part of a much larger and grander story.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.”  2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NKJV)

 “Rare are those men or women who have glimpsed God and whose insights transform others ever afterward.  They wrestle with their humanity in a way that helps others wrestle with theirs.  They give freely of what they know with contagious joy.”  Stephen Mansfield

I can’t help but think of that familiar saying attributed to John Bradford back in the 1600s, “There but for the grace of God, go I,” uttered while he was watching a group of prisoners pass by on their way to their executions.  When it comes to our own lives, who among us can honestly testify any differently about our rescue by the Lord’s hand?  Indeed, humility worn properly is a garment of incalculable worth lovingly stitched together by His nail-scarred hands with the threads of God’s love, mercy, and grace.  It rightly honors and glorifies God.   

“Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.”  Luke 8:39 (NKJV)

“who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,”  2 Timothy 1:9 (NKJV)

Is it not pride driven by what others might think of us that keeps us from sharing with others who are hurting the comfort and provision God has generously bestowed upon us in our times of need?  Delivered from our captivity and now safe in His embrace, where is our compassion for distressed and weary people?  Or, perhaps our once grateful heart has grown selfishly cold and turned a blind eye?  Considering all He has done for us, how can we as believers remain stoically detached and motionless in the face of the suffocating darkness others confront?

 “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”  1 John 3:16 (NKJV)

Humilability flows freely from the heart of Jesus to you and then through you to others.  It recognizes this isn’t about you; it’s very much about the other person.

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

A humility-led person walks a mile beside a wounded soul trudging up a seemingly impossibly steep hill in their worn, tear-stained shoes and does so silently if that’s what’s needed.  Only when the time is right is the silence broken, saying, “Friend, you’re not alone.  I know something about what you’re going through because I’ve been there, too.“  Truthfully, who better to offer much-needed compassion and understanding to a person dealing with heartache than one who has experienced not only similar pain but Jesus’s subsequent rescue?

 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy  and to walk humbly with your God.”  Micah 6:8 (NIV)

In Japan, there is an art form known as Kintsugi in which shattered pottery is made whole by mending the broken pieces back together with glue typically containing silver, gold, or platinum.   Upon completion, the revitalized object becomes more valuable and desirable than it was initially.  Those who follow this art form delight in the object’s history as revealed by the repaired joints.  In other words, the rejuvenated vessel tells a story that is worthy of celebration.

Like a Kintsugi vase, our mended brokenness, our scars, also tell an extraordinary story of redemption if we will but give them a voice.  It’s a remarkable testimony of rebirth that lifts the name of Jesus, our Healer, our Savior, high for all to see.  

Consumed by brokenness, do we become lifeless and distant from God like the static, unmoving grass, or do we embrace life by bowing before Him in grateful recognition and trust in honor of what He has done and will do with our brokenness?  Our ability to exercise humility steps forward by acknowledging the One who has healed us, for you see, only He can speak life into and through our brokenness.  How will you respond to His whisper?  Which broken blade of grass will you be?

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21:5 (NKJV)

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  Colossians 3:12 (NIV)

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“Scars” by I Am They from the album “Trial and Triumph.”

swept clean by grace

“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. 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, 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 calls on the name of the Lord shall 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. 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. 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.” 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, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 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.)

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“Grace Upon Grace” by Matthew West, from the album, “Brand New.”

talking trash

“Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’  And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’”  Revelation 21:5 (NKJV)

 “I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all. That is something that you cannot say aloud, or perhaps even think.”  Sigmund Freud

We’ve all heard it said, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  I was recently blessed to consider this well-worn statement from a spiritual perspective.

Black bears are a pretty standard sight where I live.  They routinely show up in all of the various neighborhoods in the area in search of food.  Their favorite target?  The practically unlimited and readily available buffet of residential trash cans. 

As you might guess, bears are sloppy diners.  They’re never worried about the mess their uninvited foraging leaves behind, which can be pretty substantial if they happen upon a heavily loaded garbage can.

A few weeks ago, the bears treated themselves to an early breakfast at the front of our subdivision.  The aftermath of the bear’s morning celebration stretched from one side of the road to the other, resulting in one resident, a lady, pretty overwhelmed with the clean-up task in front of her.

Upon seeing her predicament, I decided the right thing to do would be to lend her a helping hand.  I have to tell you that I did so with some reluctance because I knew this was a recurring problem for this family.  After all, they were known by all the neighbors never to secure their garbage cans overnight.  In other words, this wasn’t their first post-bear-buffet-clean-up rodeo.

To further add to my less-than-pure motives, as I was picking things up, another neighbor came up to me to point out there were more piles of garbage “over there between those houses and be sure not to miss them.”  And yes, you’d be right in guessing I got a bit Clint Eastwood-squint-eyed upon hearing that comment.  Fortunately, the sunglasses I was wearing at the time did an excellent job of hiding my displeasure over such a “helpful” suggestion.  She quickly added that she had wanted to help pick up, but her husband told her it wasn’t her problem to fix.  Again, let me applaud the unsung and often overlooked advantages wearing sunglasses brings to the table in such situations.

All that to say, my heart’s attitude had become increasingly in the wrong place as I worked my way through the piles of garbage randomly strewn about multiple front yards.  There was a growing grumbling and mumbling on my part each time I picked up a piece of trash. “This really isn’t my problem, so what am I doing here cleaning up someone else’s trash?”

And that’s when a whisper graciously redirected my attention from me to Jesus, saying, “Aren’t you thankful Jesus saw you as so much more than ‘not His trash, not His problem?’  How blessed you are that He didn’t walk away from your sinful mess but instead chose to give Himself up for you willingly.”

I can’t begin to tell you how wonderfully humbling that clarifying moment was for me.  My entire outlook changed from one of oppression to liberation.  My efforts were no longer burdensome, but instead, there was a newfound blessing to be experienced in the task that lay stretched out before me.  Who knew picking up trash could be so joyful? 

“Jesus Christ knows the worst about you. Nonetheless, He is the one who loves you the most.”  A. W. Tozer

Friend, let there be no doubt in your mind and heart that when Jesus sees you, He doesn’t see you as the world does, or even perhaps as you see yourself.  You are not worthless trash that is better left untouched on the side of the road.  You are His creation of immeasurable value that is worth touching.  To Jesus, you are not just any treasure; you are His treasure, the reason He came into this world.

“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.”  John 3:16-17 (NKJV)

Casting Crowns, “Love Moved First” from the album, “Only Jesus.”

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