short-sighted

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

Q:  Why do Christians not cross the road?

A:   Because we listen to our eyes.  Metaphorically that causes us to become spiritual chickens standing there motionless, afraid to move, longingly staring in the direction of God’s desired destination for us on the other side of the street.  It’s a matter of faith, or the lack thereof.

Our eyes deceive and paralyze us when it comes to trusting God.  Instructed to scout out the Promised Land, the spies reported what their eyes had seen to Moses when they returned.

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.”  Numbers 13:31 (NKJV)

Caleb also saw the same things the other scouts observed about the land the Lord had promised the Israelites but through the eyes of faith.

Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”  Numbers 13:30 (NKJV)

Taking ground and moving forward for God’s Kingdom is a Spirit-led initiative that the flesh cannot conceive of accomplishing. 

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)

As we all know far too well from personal experience, walking by faith is easier said than done.  What prevents us from stepping out in faith?

It’s a matter of focus.

We recently visited the local zoo with our two young granddaughters.  Soon enough, we came to one of our favorite attractions.  The elevated wooden walkway is something we love to do because it gives you an unobstructed and uncrowded view from both sides of various animals as you walk along its meandering track high above the different enclosures.

However, we ran into a problem immediately after climbing the stairs to begin our adventure.  After being carried up the stairs, our 16-month-old, “Little C,” said she wanted to walk too.  And that’s when all forward motion came to a complete stop.  As soon as she set foot on the boardwalk, she froze,  unwilling to move.  To her eyes, the spaces between the boards made walking way too risky of a proposition, even though the slats comprised most of the walking surface.  All she could see were Grand Canyon-sized gaps, gaps, and more gaps.

As followers of Jesus, are we different from this toddler regarding our efforts to walk by faith?  Sadly the answer is far too often “no.”  The good news is we’re not alone or the first to grapple with our shortcomings in this regard, as we’ve already seen with the Israelites and as evidenced by the following familiar story:

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.  25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.  27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  33 Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:22-33 (NKJV)

Like Peter, the Israelites, and Little C, when faced with new and unexpected challenges, we’re predisposed to focus on the uncertainty of the gaps along the path we’re traveling instead of the certainty of the One who holds everything in His hands.

Indeed, it all boils down to this: it’s a matter of where, or rather Whom, we choose to place our focus.

“Focus on giants-you stumble.  Focus on God-your giants tumble.”  Max Lucado

We either remain motionless and stagnant, held captive by what’s right in front of our eyes, or move forward in trust as an onward marching Christian soldier for Jesus.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

The good news is Little C discovered she could trust the boards to hold her up, that the gaps didn’t have the final say as to whether or not she would fall to the ground.  She learned that lesson one small step at a time after finally taking that critical first step of faith.  After all, the first step is the hardest.

My friend, trust God…….and……take…….that…….step…….!

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

I pray your focus is on the Lord, the firm foundation, the One who loves you and is altogether trustworthy as you take those steps of faith toward fulfilling your role in His Kingdom.  May your efforts overflow with His glorious presence.

“There’s some task which the God of all the universe, the great Creator, your redeemer in Jesus Christ has for you to do, and which will remain undone and incomplete until by faith and obedience you step into the will of God.”  Alan Redpath

“Seeing is never believing: we interpret what we see in the light of what we believe. Faith is confidence in God before you see God emerging; therefore the nature of faith is that it must be tried.”  Oswald Chambers, He Shall Glorify Me, 494 R

Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9 (NKJV)

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“Walk By Faith” by Jeremy Camp from the album “Carried Me The Worship Project”

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.”

singing in the pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

said apart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Lord, may my heart be Yours!

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

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

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

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

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

Perspective

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“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”  Colossians 3:2 (NKJV)

Who would’ve ever thought the Lord would use a Snoopy bobblehead to teach me a thing or two?  Snoopy has now been on “my cover” twice in a row.  It’s safe to say I did not see that one coming!

At the beginning of each year, a specific word in tandem with just the right verse becomes my guidepost of sorts to help guide me through the coming year.   Last year my word was “grateful.”

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV)

Time marches on, as they say, so this brings us to my word for 2022, of course.  Typically it comes to my prayerful attention through various means and ways sometime in the first week or two of the new year.  This time, however, in a first, it surprisingly appeared right before  2021 was officially over.  My 2022 word?  Yes, you’ve no doubt guessed it already from the title of today’s post:  “Perspective.”  And not just any kind of perspective, but godly perspective.

“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)

“The greatest tragedy for any human being is to go through their entire lives believing the only perspective that matters is their own.”  Doug Baldwin

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

It’s fair to say this is an area of my life in need of attention as the Lord wasted no time providing me with a teaching moment in the early goings of 2022.

On the very first Monday of this new year, I had no sooner settled down at my desk upstairs to begin my work than my phone started ringing.  Looking down, I saw my wife’s name on caller ID.  I had just finished lunch not 5 minutes earlier with her, mind you.  “What in the world?” I thought to myself, already feeling a bit of frustration swelling up in me since we had just spent an hour or so together.  Her voice sounded more urgent than usual when I picked up the call, though, exclaiming, “Come here!  Now!  I need to tell you something!” 

As I walked a bit begrudgingly down the stairs, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was that was so important for her to tell me now, yet wasn’t important enough during our lunch to tell me about it then.  “Doesn’t she know I have work to do?” I thought to myself with a tinge of self-proclaimed importance iced with a bit of dismissiveness as to the likelihood that whatever she has to say would turn out to be significant enough to justify the interruption.  Yes, embarrassingly, I know this is not a good look for me.

Arriving in the living room, she pointed to the opposite end of the couch with an outstretched finger.  “Sit!” she commanded.  As I sat down, my mind began to race.  “Oh boy,” I mused, “This doesn’t sound good.  What have I done?

Before I could even speak, she put her finger to her mouth and whispered, “Shhhhhh…listen!  Don’t say a word.  What do you hear?”  “OK,” I thought to myself, “I’ll play along, although I have no idea whatsoever where this is going.”  And then, within the quietness, a faint but steady and distinct “tap…tap…tap” sound came to my ears.  “Do you hear it?” she asked.  “Yes,” I replied.  “It’s that tap…tap…tap sound…right?”  Glancing in the direction of the sound, I immediately recognized its source.  “It’s coming from bobblehead Snoopy as his head is going up and down,”  I stated matter of factly.  And yes, at this point, you’d be right thinking my level of excitement was nonexistent compared to that of my wife’s, which seemed to be building by the minute.

Undaunted by my lack of enthusiasm, she excitedly replied, “Yes!  But I didn’t know that at first.  I thought it was the leaky kitchen faucet dripping again.”  She then went on to explain that she had just gotten all comfy on the couch with a blanket and a magazine for some much-needed quiet time winding down from her very early morning job when she became increasingly aware of the irritating sound.  She tried her best to ignore it, but that only made it louder in her mind. 

Unable to disregard the annoying sound any longer, she got up from the couch in somewhat of a frustrated huff and walked the few steps into the kitchen to turn off the faucet.  Only then did she discover the real reason for the noise was bobblehead Snoopy.  “And then something fantastic happened,” she exclaimed.  “I wasn’t annoyed anymore.  No, I felt just the opposite…I felt…soothed.  After all, you know how Snoopy’s constantly bobbing head always manages to brighten our mood, ” she announced as I nodded my head in agreement.  Then before I could even speak, she quickly added with a starry twinkle in her eyes and an octave higher voice, “My PERSPECTIVE changed once I realized it was Snoopy and not the faucet making that sound!  Isn’t that crazy amazing?!?!

Suddenly,  her reason for interrupting my work became crystal clear.  And just like that, I was no longer annoyed at having my work disturbed.  Instead, a soothing wave of encouragement and delight washed over me.  You see, like my wife, my perspective of the circumstances changed for the better, too.

“Sometimes the best thing to do is to take a step back and get a little bit of a different perspective and re-evaluate things.”  Austin Aries

And so, it would seem we’ve now reached the logical end of this post.  Surprisingly, however, that is not the case.  You see, this story is like a quilt the Lord is weaving, and as it turns out, the quilt is incomplete.  A vital part is missing that I haven’t previously considered until now.  What’s the missing piece?  “Prosperity,” which is my wife’s word for 2022.

As I sit here writing, I must confess that I am experiencing an abundance of prosperity in my life at this time.  How so?  As a husband, my heart is joyful because of my wife’s unbridled excitement to share her experience with my word for 2022.   As a writer, I can also tell you that telling stories like this always makes my heart smile, even dance.  And, last but certainly not least, as a child of God, I’m overwhelmed by His desire, kindness, and patience to teach me a still better way, His way.  In short, I feel incredibly blessed in terms of prosperity right now.

Upon reading that last observation, the world will likely say, “Hey!  What you’re describing is not prosperity because there’s no mention of wealth!”  To that, I reply, “But, I am wealthy in other ways that don’t involve money.  Can’t you see that?  Like so many other things in this life, grasping the true meaning of prosperity requires the proper perspective.  Where then can such truth be found?  There are our ways and viewpoints, but then there is the Lord’s perspective shining gloriously above all else.”

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

Help us to accept our grief as pain that will empower us to live; our uncertainty as a difficult opportunity to discover unknown dreams and directions; our illnesses as a strong light which helps us see at last our health; our loneliness as the most authentic beginning of human love and solidarity.  Help us, not to be Pollyanna pieties but sincere seekers for wholeness of life.  Help us to open the door of the morning and say:  what happens, let all of it be a blessing.  Amen.”   (Singer of Seasons, Beverly Sawyer)

You see, my friend, it’s all a matter of perspective regarding how we perceive our circumstances and lives.  There are our limited, selfish, earthbound ways and viewpoints, and then there are those of the Lord’s that gloriously know no bounds.

“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.”  C.H. Mackintosh

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John 1:5 (ESV)

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Blessings by Laura Story from the album “Blessings.

Light headed

“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)

And just like that, it turns out my most recent post, which I had thought would be my last post of the year, isn’t the last one, after all.  Surprize (wink)!  What can I say?  When the light of inspiration strikes, it buoyantly sets into motion a creative adventure with the Lord like none other for me.  I pray it is the same for you.

Recently we bought a cheap solar-powered Snoopy bobblehead.  We weren’t looking for him at the time, mind you, because he wasn’t even on our shopping list.  However, there he was on a shelf alongside a host of other bobbleheads, all seemingly laser-focused on capturing our attention with their almost hypnotic up and down movements.  It was like a bobblehead flash mob, but with one standout “star” in our eyes.  How could we resist, given that we love Snoopy and all things Charlie Brown?   Encouraged by Snoopy’s eager, nodding approval, we decided the right thing to do was take him home with us, and so we did.

Snoopy’s new home is on our kitchen counter-top.  Much to my delight, I’ve discovered that my daylight conversations with him are always positive and uplifting.  Indeed, watching his head always nod affirmatively is something that brightens my day.

I’ve noticed a few other things about Snoopy since he’s come to live with us.  One, when the lights are off, he’s motionless and has nothing to say.  Two, his head starts bobbing almost immediately as soon as the lights come on.  Lastly, the longer the lights are on, the more pronounced his head bobs up and down.  In short, no light amounts to no enthusiasm whatsoever, while more light equals visible, unmistakably passionate movement.

We can say the same about our walk with the Lord, can’t we?

“You were placed on earth to know God.  Everything else is secondary.”  Greg Laurie

The amount of enthusiasm, devotion, and passion we have for God and His Kingdom directly depends on how much and how often we bask in His light through prayer, Bible study, and other spiritually edifying choices that all result in authentic worship experience.

“Keep on being faithful, because God honors faithfulness.  Not bigness, but faithfulness.  Not the great crowds, not the great set-up, but faithfulness in the place He put you.”  Billy Graham

The truth is we are brought to a spiritual standstill when we are outside God’s presence and alone in the dark.   Our forward motion is non-existent. 

“If we are unexcited Christians, we should go back and see what is wrong.”  Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

Just as you do in all relationships, you have to invest time and energy in your relationship with God to reap the rewards; otherwise, negative consequences will arise.

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  John 4:24 (NKJV)

“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.”  Matthew 12:30 (NKJV)

And so, the stage is set for the dramatic divide between darkness and light, stagnation and forward progress.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.”  Romans 8:5 (NKJV)

The more quality time we spend with Him, inevitably, the greater our enthusiasm and desire for all things of God.  His light amplifies our motion on His behalf and in His direction. 

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  James 4:8 (NKJV)

“The Bible is the only book whose author is always present when one reads it.” Anonymous

“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)

The question on the table for all of us throughout each day is, “Are you headed in the Light direction?” Will we choose to nod in affirmation of Jesus, or will we stand stoically silent in the dark?

“Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.” Luke 6:48 (NKJV)

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“Two Sets of Jones” by Big Tent Revival from the album “Big Tent Revival.”

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.

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