“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)
“Get into the habit of saying, ‘Speak, Lord,’ and life will become a romance.” Oswald Chambers
The use of the word “romance” here in this context is a spiritual show-stopper the more I think about it. Such a romance is a life of excitement, a shared journey of love that is an adventure filled with mystery, surprise, longing, and beauty between God and ourselves. It’s an extraordinary invitation to embark on a remarkable Coram Deo life alongside Him. It is everything we long for, and so much more.
I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10b (NKJV)
Hear what John Eldredge has to say about a life of romance lived in God’s presence from his book, “The Sacred Romance:”
“The Sacred Romance calls to us every moment of our lives…invites us through the laughter of good friends, reaches out to us through the touch of someone we love. We’ve heard it in our favorite music, sensed it at the birth of our first child,been drawn to it while watching the shimmer of a sunset on the ocean. Something calls to us through experiences like these and rouses an inconsolable longing deep within our heart, wakening in us a yearning for intimacy, beauty, and adventure. This longing…fuels our search for meaning, for wholeness, for a sense of being truly alive. And the voice that calls to us in this place is none other than the voice of God.”
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NKJV)
That longing for eternity can be satisfied only by God. Only His voice can meet that need purposefully implanted in the depths of our hearts so that we would seek Him. Oh, but when at long last embraced, the sweetness and beauty of His voice are miraculously transformative.
“And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!” (How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss)
Indeed! The Lord’s presence continually delights and surprises me. His love wonderfully turns me upside down, sideways, and gratefully, every which way but loose, as if I’m a stone joyfully borne along by a sparkling, rapidly flowing river. All that matters is that I am within the loving embrace of His arms of living waters. After all, what about the destination can be of concern when He is the River Boat Captain of my soul?
When you’re in His embrace, you see and understand things differently than the world does. I can’t help but think this is what Oswald Chambers was alluding to when he said in his devotional, My Utmost For His Highest, “Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?” When you know yourself to be in His hand, you see anything, and everything with Him in mind, no matter how big or small something is.
Take, for example, my friend, Nicole. She frequently sees heart shapes in clouds, leaves, and even the icing on a cupcake, to name a few. Nicole recently found a heart-shaped piece of meat hiding underneath the holiday ham when she removed it from the cooking pan.
These heart surprises are always a great encouragement because every time she spots one, it’s a glowing reminder of how much God loves her. Finding one never gets old for her. Each discovery delights her more than the previous one.
Not surprisingly, she’s always on the lookout for these spontaneous “God hugs” because you never really know when or where one will show up. To that end, it’s worth noting that one often shows up just when she needs it most. It’s a much-needed, sweet reminder to her of Whose child she is at just the right moment.
If you’ve ever turned the radio on and immediately found yourself listening to the perfect song to meet your needs in that moment, you know this “God hug” feeling. Or perhaps you’ll come across just the right words in a book, article, movie, devotional, or scripture that seems like a custom fit perfectly tailored for your circumstances.
There’s a thought expressed in the movie August Rush that I find notably engaging and pertinent to this discussion. Evan Taylor( August Rush) as played by Freddie Highmore: “Listen. Can you hear it? The music. I can hear it everywhere. In the wind…in the air…in the light. It’s all around us. All you have to do is open yourself up. All you have to do…is listen.”
Try exchanging “God” for the word “music,” which is no great stretch of the imagination since music finds its very beginning in our Lord. Now, before you move on, reread Evan’s observation with God in mind instead of music and let it flow powerfully into your heart.
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23 (NKJV)
When you recognize you are always in His presence, your world will grow decidedly more hopeful and more beautiful.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
Do you hear His voice, a voice like none other? Are you listening? Oh, how I pray you are.
“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)
This post’s original title was “heartbroken” because that was my first impression upon seeing this heart as pictured above, which I spotted across the street directly in front of my house. Heartbreak and pain practically oozed from it when I first saw it.
As hearts go, this is no visual role model, to be sure. It’s so disfigured as to be almost unrecognizable as such. Questions abound. What about those two holes? Why is this heart composed of two different materials? What does it mean that part is on the grass and the remaining portion is on the concrete? One is left only to likely observe this is a divided heart, ripped into pieces.
Undoubtedly, some will say while looking at the photo, “You call that a heart? That’s no heart! Besides, even if it is whoever heard of a heart wearing a mask?” You and I already instinctively know the answers: “The world has a cruel and heartless way of crushing a person’s heart. The mask is for protection.” We know this because, at various times, we have all endured the heartache and heartbreak the cold hands of this world can inflict upon a person. And we have the scars, wounds, and limps to prove it. We all wear masks of one variety or another in an attempt to protect ourselves from being hurt again. To show our true selves makes us vulnerable to attack, so we hide behind the mask.
When it comes to romance, being heartbroken is not where anyone wants to find themselves, of course. Writing about heartache is not a warm and fuzzy experience, either, as I can readily attest. Indeed, I was conflicted in those efforts from the beginning.
Mercifully, the Lord gently redirected my initial thoughts by bringing to mind one verse in particular in the middle of the night as I wrestled with this sadness. In an instant, He rescued me from drowning in the dark, quicksand-like waters of despair I was experiencing. The hopelessness of “heartbroken” joyously gave way to Jesus’s ever hopeful and life-giving perspective of “heart-spoken.”
“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)
The whispered gift of “heart-spoken” warmly greeted me in those quiet, still, and uncluttered hours of a new day. Joyfully it buoyed my spirit aloft on the wings of hope like an early spring flower emerging from melting winter snow brings. No longer constrained by string, I’m a kite set free to fly where once I could only longingly gaze. Yes, hope forged in the fires of His boundless love is the real message of Christmas that we can rejoice in throughout the entire year.
“For to 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)
What does that hope mean for His children, the captives whose hearts He has come to set free?
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 (NKJV)
‘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)
As we learn to embrace the rhythm of His grace with our new hearts, He is teaching us a dance of freedom we’ve never experienced before according to His good purposes. We are dancing to His music in His arms, each of us in our own special and unique way. Apart from Him, we knew only division; now, a part of Him, our hearts know harmony.
Ever so gently, He tenderly removes the mask we’ve hidden behind. Instinctively we lower our eyes, afraid He will find us ugly and unlovable, just as the world has pronounced us to be. Casting our disguise aside, He reaches out, lifts our chin, and lovingly gazes at our now naked face. Looking deeply into our eyes, He tells us the mask has hidden a wondrous beauty for far too long that He has uniquely created for a time such as this. And, then, the unexpected happens. He begins to sing over you drowning out the world’s curses you once knew all too well. Do you hear Him speaking to your heart? Oh, how I pray you do, my brother and sister, for you are heart-spoken and greatly loved!
“The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV)
Alisha.mp4 “Feel My Love” (Bob Dylan)
(note: Nicole’s good friend sings this cover to Bob Dylan’s song. Heartfelt thanks go out to Alisha for allowing me to use her version of this song. Close your eyes, friends, and listen to this song as if God is singing directly to you. What a blessing!)
“So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17 (WEB)
“Insistence on security is incompatible with the way of the cross…So to follow Jesus is always to accept at least a measure of uncertainty, danger, and rejection for His sake.” John R. W. Stott
Almost exactly two years ago, I posted sound affects. Yes, in case you’re wondering, the use of “affects” not “effects” is very much intentional in that post’s title. God is always present, but the world’s noisy commotion does its very best to divert our attention elsewhere. If we’re going to “hear” Him and be affected by what we hear, we must make a conscious effort to include Him in our daily lives.
“The call of God is not just for a select few but for everyone. Whether I hear God’s call or not depends on the condition of my ears, and exactly what I hear depends on my spiritual condition.” Although I had not yet stumbled upon this particular quote by Oswald Chambers at the time, “Per-sway-did or per-sway-dead?” was written from a very similar mindset. I love the Lord’s quilt weaving that is neither bound by time nor location!
My previous thoughts expressed in the original post gained a much-needed exclamation point of emphasis this morning as I walked down our street towards the waters of the sound. Not only are we invited to hear Him but to dive fully into Him and experience all He has to offer. It is a most welcome and timely invitation to intimacy.
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Psalm 34:8 (NKJV)
This morning the surf’s distant roar from waves crashing against the Gulf-side of the beach was still quite evident so long as you paid attention, just as it was back in 2018. What struck me this time, however, is that is all you can hear. When you’re standing more than a mile away from the surf line, the roar is an indistinct, constant, radio-station-static-like sound. If you’ve ever experienced the joy of being on the beach, you know each wave creates a beautiful crescendo of sound all its own, distinct and separate from the others, as it breaks along the shore. It’s a stark contrast of sounds generated from the same source.
And so it likewise is concerning our communication and thus our relationship with God. Being within hearing distance and hearing His “roar” is a much-needed and welcome step in the right direction. However, the simple truth is that our relationship with the Lord grows by leaps and bounds when we come close enough to realize He is singing over us. He is calling us home to Himself. It is the dramatic night and day difference between being merely “aware of Him” and intimately “knowing Him, and being known by Him.”
“Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me.” Psalm 42:7 (NKJV)
In his YouVersion devotional, “Discover Your True Self,” Chip Ingram rightly observes, “If you’ll take a step toward God, He will take every other step toward you, no matter how many it takes.” But you have to respond.”
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8a (NKJV)
This verse conveys a conditional promise. Yes, God will draw near to you, but we must respond by taking a step towards Him first for this to occur. As human beings, we face somewhat of a problem here regarding that crucial first step. On the one hand, when things are going well for us, our attitude is often complacency towards God. We’re not necessarily inclined to make that step happen when the sun is out. Yet, when times are tough and foreboding, we frequently look upon God with suspicion and wariness. It’s a double-edged sword all too often.
In “How to Have Intimacy with God,” Jon Bloom addresses these issues this way: “Trust is at the heart of intimacy. The more we trust someone, the closer we let them get to us. The degree to which trust is compromised in a relationship is the degree to which intimacy evaporates. This is as true in our relationship with God as it is in our relationships with other human beings. Our experience of God’s nearness or distance is not a description of his actual proximity to us, but of our experience of intimacy with him. Scripture shows us that God is intimate with those who trust him. The more we trust God, the more intimately we come to know him. A felt distance from God is often due to a disruption in trust, such as a sin or disappointment.” (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-have-intimacy-with-god)
Ridgelines are topographic drainage divides that divert water towards one watershed basin or the other. Challenging circumstances like where I now find myself are spiritual ridgelines challenging me to trust or not trust the Lord. Balancing at the very top of the divide is not possible. Unlike the drop of water precariously poised at the ridgeline, I have a choice to make.
Friends, it’s always true that whatever you read here is born out of my experiences of “walking around the block of life a time or two with the Lord,” as I like to describe it. Simply put, what I share here with you first finds its genesis in my walking. Today’s “exclamation point” couldn’t have come at a better time for me.
My relationship with the Lord has come under brutal attack the past few weeks. Disappointment has reared its ugly head in an unveiled and bold attempt to persuade me that He is not trustworthy. Feelings of abandonment have tried to capsize and sink my faith.
A couple of weeks ago, my three-year-old startup company experienced a crushing disappointment when our bid to acquire another company’s interest failed. Our efforts to do so were months in the making. Had we been successful in that effort, our company would’ve finally succeeded at getting our heads above water.
Going into the bidding process, we were confident our nearly-empty-timeline hourglass for our company I mentioned in “The Miracle of Him” was finally going to be replenished by a large supply of sand grains once we secured the properties. Such was our hoped-for expectations regarding the potential impact of this acquisition.
And what an impact it was, too, of the worst possible sort. James Taylor’s poignant lyrics from his song, “Fire and Rain,” capture the depths of my disappointment upon first learning we had come up short in our attempt to secure the deal. In that song, he sings, “Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.” There was nothing but smoldering wreckage as far as the eye could see after that utterly distressing phone call informing me we had failed.
Things have not gone at all as I imagined they would go with my startup company these past three years. I watched God create this business opportunity out of seemingly nothing in 2017. Where once there was nothing, He miraculously provided. No, I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I mistakenly thought we’d experience success reasonably early on, especially since we had His apparent blessings. However, my expectations have not matched up very well with the reality of how things have gone since we’ve been in business. To say I’m intimately familiar with disappointment at this point is an understatement.
More times than I can count, my business partner and I have discussed a quote by Mike Tyson, the world’s former heavyweight boxing champion. “Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the mouth.” Indeed. Say what you want to say about Mr. Tyson, but he’s punched a truth ticket with this one.
As a believer, what do you do, what do you believe, when you find yourself flat on your back yet one more time drowning in a nauseating sea of swirling stars after a vicious, lip-splitting punch in the mouth? Do you believe the Lord’s affections and intentions for you are sound even in the face of relentless disappointment? Alarmingly, spurred on by this latest crushed expectation, I have found myself straddling an unexpected spiritual ridgeline.
In response to my concerns, the Lord lovingly answers with questions of His own, saying, “Who do you believe Me to be? Do you believe My plans for your life are good? Do you believe I care for you? Do you trust Me?” The truth is that His questions are reminders, invitations to experience greater intimacy with Him by trusting Him when life inevitably gets messy and complicated.
“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)
“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” C. H. Mackintosh
My struggles revolve around my unrealized expectations, which have caused me to focus on my uncomfortably lengthy circumstances rather than Him. Mercenaries known as sadness, panic, disillusionment, and self-pity have relentlessly stormed my castle walls. What am I to do in the face of this onslaught?
One of my go-to verses these past several years has been Lamentations 3:24 (NKJV), which says, “The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!’” It’s worth noting that other translations substitute “wait” for “hope.” Now that potential financial disaster is staring me squarely in the face, have I been guilty of only talking a good game with this verse? I said I would wait on Him in this season because He is worth waiting on, but that was several very long and hard years ago. Did I mean that or not? Has my trust in Him been misplaced?
“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’” Exodus 32:1 (NKJV)
“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)
Am I so different than the Israelites? Sadly, I am not. My impatience is showing, along with other less desirable traits of mine. The problem lies with me, not Him.
A fire has a way of refining and purifying like no other means.
A couple of pertinent quotes from movies I’ve recently watched have caught my attention. They share a recurring theme that fits rather nicely here. “Sometimes you gotta tear something down so you can build it back up again” (Joshua). “Any story that’s good has to go wrong before it gets good.” (Storm Boy)
Revisiting Lamentations 3:24 in light of these quotes is the smart thing to do, especially so when bathed in the truth espoused by Romans 8:28-29 (NKJV), which says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”
And so I am graciously reminded that I’m an ongoing project that is very much under His construction. As a rule, what building projects aren’t messy along their way to being completed? To expect otherwise is a mistake that makes me vulnerable to a whole host of issues, the likes of which I’m now experiencing.
My attention has wrongly been on my circumstances and not on Him. Lord, reframe and refocus my perspective and my attention to You!
Josh Baldwin, “Evidence” from the album, “Evidence.”
“Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; and Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:4-7 (NKJV)
Recall and revisit the evidence of His provision and presence! Of course! Yes! I may be hanging on by a thread, but I know Who holds the thread!
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Corrie Ten Boom
Heavenly Father, I have experienced Your ongoing presence in so many different ways these past years. Lord, You rightly instructed the Israelites to employ Jordan Stones as remembrances of Your provision for generations to come that they would keep You always in their hearts. I ask You to refresh my mind and spirit, too! Immerse me in Your goodness, mercy, and grace! Fill me to overflowing with Your presence so that I will know You more deeply. Lord, my faith and trust have waivered because I took my eyes off of You. Please forgive me. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. May I always seek first Your Kingdom and Your righteousness. In Jesus’ name, amen.
My fellow brother and sister in Christ, have you heard His song, the sound of His voice calling out to you? His affection for each of us is more beautiful and sound than you and I could ever imagine. He is calling you to Himself in the midst of whatever your circumstances are in this moment. Do you hear His voice? Do not be afraid; take that first step towards Him, for He is altogether trustworthy!
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (NKJV)
“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)
Third Day, “Sound of Your Voice” from the album, “Move.”
“The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.” Revelation 21:23 (NKJV)
Before I begin, so there’s no question stirring around in the back of your mind, this photo, as shown here, accurately captures the scene just as I saw it. Aside from cropping the picture, I’ve not done anything to enhance the image. In short, what you see here is what I saw.
A simple but profound and ageless truth dawned on me as I sat there on the beach, watching two people play in the surf with the sun shining directly behind them: Eyes focused in the Son’s direction cannot distinguish skin color because the light is so bright.
This truth quickly expanded beyond skin color to include any other feature worldly thinking uses all too frequently in its vain attempts to categorize people.
The underlying, foundational truth is that when our hearts and minds are rightly on Jesus, His brightness is so glorious that the diversions of this world that result in harmful division and cruelty amongst ourselves no longer matters and is revealed for the utter darkness it is.
“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” John 12:46 (NKJV)
“God’s Kingdom isn’t divided into areas of important people and areas of little people. In God’s sight, everyone’s needful.”A. W. Tozer
“For there is no partiality with God.” Romans 2:10 (NKJV)
What, then, remains for us to say about these two people seen in the photo? What is most vital for us to understand and apply now that the Son’s light has removed everything the world counts as worth fighting about and beating our chests over? Yet another fundamental truth emerges in answering this question: at the end of the day, relationships are everything; they are what truly matter.
Our Lord is relational at His very core, so it should come as no surprise that this illumination has led us straight to the subject of relationships. Jesus has a few words to share with us regarding how we’re supposed to behave towards others, of course.
“And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31 (NKJV)
Can you imagine a world in which people genuinely cared for and respected one another? In a world spilling over with anger, hate, prejudice, jealousy, envy, pride, and selfishness, how can such a world ever hope to be filled with compassion and love? Such a radical change in direction begins one person at a time through that individual’s right relationship with God.
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.” Mark 12:30 (NKJV)
How can we love God so wholeheartedly? There is but One way to begin this journey of a lifetime.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6 (NKJV)
When we embrace (note this is doing and not just saying!) Him as Lord of our lives, “Yielding to Jesus will break every form of slavery in any human being,” proclaims Oswald Chambers.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
Indeed, as our heavy chains fall to our feet, we are at long last able to look beyond ourselves towards others with eyes of compassion and concern, for He has given us His own servant’s heart.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 (NKJV)
When we have true fellowship with Him, the misshapen glass walls of hate we have constructed come tumbling down in His glorious light. Have you yielded to Him? If so, serve your neighbors. Has He broken your chains? Serve your neighbors. Do you love Him? Serve your neighbors.
Who exactly is your neighbor?
“But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:29-37 (NKJV)
“Only a life lived for others is worthwhile.” Albert Einstein
As this comes to a close, allow me to share another A. W. Tozer quote with you.“God’s looking for people thru whom He can do the impossible. What a pity that we plan only things we can do by ourselves.”
We all want to see the world changed for the better. Left to ourselves and our strength, not only is it an impossible task, but a most likely misguided one as well since we invariably look at others as being the problem.
“But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 (NKJV)
“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Luke 6:41-42 (NKJV)
Let’s begin this sought after change first with ourselves by diligently pursuing a deeper, more intimate relationship with our heavenly Father. As our love for Him grows, so does our love for others. Who knows what miracle He will accomplish with a yielded son or daughter whose focus is on the light of His glory and grace?
Jadon Lavik, “Turn Your Eyes” from the album, “Roots Run Deep.”
Postscript: Here it is, the day after uploading this post. I’d be robbing you of a blessing if I didn’t offer these additional thoughts to you, my friends.
Although I’ve been aware of this song for years, it did not play a part in my original inspiration to write this post, as one might be so inclined to think. I stumbled upon this song after “auditioning” many others as my writing drew to a close. Yes, it’s the icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned.
It’s uplifting to note that this post’s central theme is an uncanny match for the message proclaimed in this beloved hymn’s chorus written by Helen Howarth Lemmel in 1922, almost 100 years ago.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”
The song may be old and my inspiration to write on this subject newly born, but the Lord’s message remains wonderfully unchanged. It is spectacularly new every morning, generation after generation! Let us praise Him!
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Hebrews 13:8 (NKJV)
Wherever a power washer is employed, a dramatic and significant change for the better happens as evidenced by this recent photo taken by Steve Wiggins.
It’s an obvious difference-maker that results in a startling night and day, dark and light, dirty and clean contrast between the before and after.
And this for perishable, earthly things in desperate need of thorough cleaning. How much more urgent is the heart-wrenching cry for the necessary cleansing embodied in our eternal souls for those who seek an everlasting relationship with God?
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 (NKJV)
“Not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:9 (NKJV)
Unclean and incapable of saving ourselves, how, then, can we ever hope to come into His holy presence?
Unwilling to leave us in our hopeless state of darkness, God has graciously provided us with the means of a soul-scrubbing, power-washing rescue, a pathway leading directly to Him.
What is this unique pathway?
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 (NKJV)
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NKJV)
What is Jesus’s mission here on earth?
“to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.” Acts 26:18 (NKJV)
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begottenSon, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Romans 3:16-17 (NKJV)
Has your soul been set free by the Lamb of God’s sacrifice?
“that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Romans 8:9-10 (NKJV)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” Ephesians 2:8 (NKJV)
“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:13-14 (NKJV)
Where do you stand spiritually? Are you still in the “before Jesus” darkness, or have you stepped into the “after Jesus” light of His power washing grace?
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:19-22 (NLT)
“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23(NKJV)
Friends, at the beginning of the year, my business partner and I agreed that October would most likely be the end of our three-year-old startup company unless we were finally able to generate a revenue stream. The hoped-for income stream has not happened for a variety of reasons. Humanly speaking, we should be six feet under, but we’re still above ground. I shouldn’t be receiving a paycheck today, but I am.
I have the most beautiful three words to share with you as to why: “But then God!” There is no other explanation.
Although I don’t know so many of you personally, I pray for you often. Today, my prayer for you is that you majestically soar to new heights on the wings of the truth found in these three words, “But then God!” Please know that your presence here is a true blessing in my life. You are each a gift given to me by our most gracious Heavenly Father. Most importantly, embrace this truth: our Heavenly Father deeply loves you, His child.
“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. 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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:4-10 (NKJV)
“I Need a Miracle” by Third Day from the album, “Miracle”
Look! There at the very top of the photo, in the center! Now, do you see the cross formed by the wrinkles in the blanket?
Tomorrow will mark a full seven days since my surgery. Since then, 98% of my time has been spent on the couch, trying to find a comfortable position. Sometimes I’ve been successful in those wrestling efforts, and sometimes not.
However and whatever my position, though, I’ve always had my blanket tossed over me. Yes, it keeps me warm, but there’s another reason I like it. Not surprisingly, given my tendency to all-too-easily identify with the Peanuts Cartoon character, Linus, a feeling of security, accompanies my use of it. Hence the phrase, “security blanket, “ of course, which leads me to strongly suspect I’m not the only person on the planet who much enjoys the company of a nice, warm covering. Without it, I feel a bit, well, exposed and vulnerable, to be perfectly blunt about the matter.
Yesterday afternoon as I settled down and threw the covering across my legs for the umpteenth time, I couldn’t help but notice the prominent symbol of the cross that had been formed by the blanket’s wrinkles. In my half-reclining, half-sitting position, it would have been hard to miss since it was directly in my line of sight with the TV.
I wasn’t looking for the cross, mind you, but there it unmistakably was. And at that moment, I was again generously and warmly reminded that even when I’m not on the lookout for Him, He is faithfully always on the lookout for me.
Take heart and rest in His ongoing, loving presence in your lives, for we, my spiritual brothers and sisters, are His beloved children, and are safe and secure under His blanket coverage.
“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.’ He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.” Psalm 91:1-2,4 (NKJV)
“Good, Good Father” by Chris Tomlin from the album, “Good Good Father”
“To live Coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. This phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of God.” R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries
Psalm 23 (NKJV)
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
What if this is the last post I ever have the opportunity to write?
What if reading this is your last opportunity to do anything?
In just a few hours I will undergo surgery. It is a minor surgery that doesn’t involve matters of life and death as so many others will endure this very same day all across this globe we all call home. Yet, it still causes me to pause and take a longer, deeper look at what is most important.
What thoughts run through your mind after reading these questions? Are they balls and chains that weigh you down, buzz-kills if you will, or do you view them instead as unlikely wings that, when firmly attached to Him (“Grounded Flight of Freedom”), allow you to soar in ways and into places you never imagined possible? When the latter occurs, a whole new world of previously unrecognized opportunities to be “Flying with God”presents themselves.
To live absent or oblivious to the underlying truth behind such questions is to miss out on living abundantly. To live in their sweet presence, however, is to experience “a life danced to the rhythm of God’s wisdom in a Byrd’s song.” Indeed, acknowledging this truth allows us to live each day to the fullest. This understanding ironically ushers us into a previously unseen world of incredible possibilities. What seems at first blush to be uncomfortably confining is ultimately found to be incredibly liberating.
Can nature’s song sound any purer than if you consider it from the perspective of recognizing you may never hear its captivating melodies again? Can the sky be any bluer than with such a mindset? The night stars twinkle so brightly? A flower’s bloom smell any sweeter? Can the touch, the look, the sounds of those you love be any more profoundly moving than when you humbly acknowledge it could be your last time?
My friend, this post has continued to grow far beyond what I originally envisioned. At first, I strongly resisted this expansion, wanting to keep this post as concise as possible, which admittedly is always an ongoing challenge for me. However, what began as a bubbling spring on a hillside has blossomed into a full-fledged waterfall. It is a captivating sight. I cannot look away. The vibrant current transports me along its purposeful path towards adventures only it knows at this moment. I am like a child on Christmas morning. My smile stretches from head to toe, and back again.
With renewed vision, I see that He would have me paint a much different picture than I originally intended. Quite frankly, it’s a picture I have needed to see as so often I’m prone to see the tree but not the forest. “It’s the view from 20,000 feet high” as my mentor, 2Tim, likes to say from time to time. After all, the Lord cannot be constrained to the earth-bound muddlings of the likes of someone like myself. The great I AM is thankfully so much more than my small-minded, narrow “God-in-the box” notions.
Each post I make addresses something He is teaching me, something I need to understand more fully. This latest endeavor continues in that vein. My hope and prayer are that you, as a fellow voyager, will walk away from this journey with a more profound and revolutionary awareness of His sweet presence in your life as well. In turn, may you be “contagious, unstoppable, and revolutionary” in your walk of faith, as John Eldredge notes in his book, “All Things New.”
Sprinkled throughout this post are links to past compositions already present on this site. Alone, these posts are but singular notes. Considered together, however, they become a captivating melody, if you will allow me to be so bold as to use that description. Yes, the view from 20,000 feet is quite extraordinary and humbling. In moments like this, I enjoy telling people, “Nobody weaves a quilt like the Lord, nobody!”
“We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow.”B.J. Neblett
Embracing a grander perspective is vital to ensuring our walk with Him remains headed in His direction, and not one of our choosing. If we focus solely on the tough times as completely individual pieces with no interconnectivity, we risk losing sight of not only the larger quilt He is weaving, but even more significantly, the Weaver Himself.
My fellow adventurer, where is hope to be found under a narrow, fragmented perspective? If we are to experience “tapping into hope,” then we must remain vigilant, trusting that there is a much bigger picture than the circumstances staring us immediately in the face. Hearts aligned with the Lord are then able to discover and embrace the hope lying just beneath the surface within the “Beauty is in the ayes of His beholders,” for example.
Walking with the Lord through the garden of your life, can you imagine a more breathtaking lifetime adventure than this? Surely there is nothing more mysterious, more beautiful, more revealing than this remarkable experience shared with the Living God, your Creator, your Salvation, the Author and Perfecter of your faith.
Each step, each bend, each vista, both large and small, is like a breath of fresh air after a cleansing summer rain when He is by your side. It’s seeing things as if you’re gloriously experiencing them for the very first time as a wide-eyed child. “Three in one” was such an experience. Yes, this odyssey with the Lord is nothing short of extraordinary. It overflows with sacred and noteworthy moments that span the variety of seasons that add vibrant color and meaningful depth to our lives. It’s like Dorothy stepping out of her former black and white world into the spectacular explosion of color, sights, and sounds that is the Land of Oz.
As you explore the winding path with the Lord, there inevitably comes the time when He pauses, puts His arm around your shoulder, and looks off into the distance. Pointing with His finger towards the distant horizon, He says to you with great anticipation in His voice, “Look there, my child. Do you see that?”
Squinting mightily, you peer off in the direction of His outstretched finger. “Lord, I’m looking, but I’m unable to make out what it is that You want me to see.” “I know, child. It’s OK that you can’t see it yet, but I wanted you to know I have already provided and planned something marvelous for you. The closer we get to it, the clearer it will become for you. It’s so lovely and magnificent!” He replies. “Oh! It sounds spectacular! How I wish I could see it, Lord!” you exclaim. “You will not be disappointed, I promise!” He whispers into your ear as He grasps your shoulder even more tightly. Gazing off into the distance, an ever-broadening, glowing smile of immense satisfaction appears on His face as He turns His attention back to you. It’s a smile that instantly warms your entire being.
Continuing, He adds, “I’m excited for you to see it and to share this adventure with you. It’s a long journey to get there, but I’ll be there every step of the way with you so you’ll never be alone. I must tell you, though, that there may be times when the temptation to think and feel otherwise might present itself. There will also be times in which you seem not to be making any progress. Don’t worry, though, because (S)Parking Lots have their good purposes. Remember to pursue My Word that it will always be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (Psalm 119:105.) Welcome My presence moment by moment with open arms so that you may enjoy its full and “sound affect”on you. Surround yourself with brothers and sisters of spiritual character and integrity (Hebrews 10:25.) Allow their iron to sharpen your iron (Proverbs 27: 17) Be encouraged by their stories like “Truck stop rescue”in which they have experienced My presence (Joshua 4:4-7) and unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3.) Listen carefully, my child, fear not for I will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6.) Have faith that I’m always there beside you working on your behalf “behind the seens.” Together, we will go on this quest that will be incredibly challenging at times but immensely rewarding. Keep your eyes always on Me so that you stay the course and do not falter (Hebrews 12:1-3.). Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. (Matthew 11:29, NKJV) In the end, the effort will seem light when compared to the great reward I have in store for you (Philippians 3:13-15.) You will not be disappointed. How does that sound to you?”
Listening intently, you subconsciously rise on your tip-toes in hopes of obtaining a more precise view only to come up short in your effort yet again. “Lord, I still can’t make out what You want me to see. Is there something wrong with me that I can’t see it?” you ask with a slight bit of uncertainty in your voice. “No, my child,” comes His soothing voice. “Many others also find themselves exactly where you are now standing. They also express similar concerns. You are a “diamond in the rough” just as they are. The time has come for you to move forward if you want to discover what lies in the distance. You must move beyond this place in which you have become comfortable. You must move courageously in faith towards what is unknown to you but known to Me.”
It’s fair to say that so long as we’re comfortable most of us are quite happy to stay exactly where we are. Two of my favorite quotes come to mind. The first is from the movie, “Morgan” in which Dr. Alan Shapiro, played by Paul Giamatti, says, “I have found comfort to be a possible thorn in the side of revelation.” The second quote is by John Maxwell. It reiterates the same basic idea as the first. “If we are growing, we are always going to be outside of our comfort zone.”
Of this much, I am sure: His plans and purposes for our lives are far more significant and grander than you or I can imagine. To allow us to languish in comfort when we are as yet unfinished lumps of clay would fall well short of who He is and who He has purposed us to be. His love for His children presses us onward and upward toward mountain peaks instead of little hills.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4 (NKJV)
To grow, you have to go; it’s as simple as that. An old familiar saying puts it like this: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” Stagnation is quite unlikely to happen when you’re moving. No way is the Lord going to allow His people to become covered in moss. Even God’s own Son, our Lord, and Savior, Jesus, was always on the move.
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” Luke 9:58 (NKJV)
Ironically, we all strive mightily to be comfortable, but once obtained, it is comfort itself that too often hinders and thwarts our spiritual progress. We have misunderstood “happiness.”
In Desiring God, John Piper explains, “The very longing for contentment that ought to drive us to simplicity of life and labors of love contents itself instead with the broken cisterns of prosperity and comfort.”
“Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches-feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8-10 (NKJV)
“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing…” Revelation 3:17a (NKJV)
What is the remedy for our chasing of things that offer only temporary relief in our search for happiness? How can we avoid falling into the deadly trap of filling the “broken cisterns of prosperity and comfort?” The answer? We must be firmly grounded in Him. Cultivate your relationship with Him with all your might. The better you know Him, the more you will experience His peace and joy and the things of this world will lose their grip on you.
“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life.” Psalm 119:92-93 (NKJV)
The Psalm 119:92-93 author experienced a life-threatening event. Ironically, in the throes of his wrestling match with death, however, he miraculously found life. The thorn of affliction, although unidentified, was the catalyst for such an epiphany.
This much is sure: the truth and wisdom found in verses like this were purposefully wrought on the rocky shores of adversity and desperation far, far away from the safe, moss-covered harbor of comfort. “Faith rubber meets the rowed” happens outside the bounds of a comfortable sanctuary. To enjoy the abundant life God intends for us, we must look beyond the walls of comfort.
What do you think? Was the Psalm 119:92-93 trial too great of a price to pay for such a life-altering revelation? For something that creates deeper trust, intimacy, and dependency upon the Father? For something that ultimately glorifies God?
Let’s consider Joseph’s story, as told in Genesis. He unexpectedly found himself at the bottom of a dark pit at the hands of none other than his brothers, who then sold him to strangers. His treasured coat of many colors had been stripped from him. And what about those marvelous dreams he had boasted so freely about to his family? Instead of his brothers bowing down at his feet as foretold by the dreams, he now found himself staring up at their feet. Surely at that moment, he must have felt as if his whole world had suddenly collapsed around him.
Yet not only did Joseph survive this and other challenging situations that followed, but he thrived. How was this possible?
How we view troublesome circumstances that we encounter along life’s path dictates whether we survive and thrive, as Joseph did, or experience ruin and heartache. When we face setbacks, do we see the pits as bottom-less, or as bottom-more? It would be easy and for an excellent reason to call such a place, “despair.” Or perhaps it would be better named “prepare?” Our answer to these questions is critical and reflective of one’s perspective, one’s worldview.
“It’s time that you take a close look at your God concept. Your God concept is what you think about God and how you feel about Him. These beliefs and feelings become a type of filter in your brain. Inevitably you will not live with the facts of your life but the interpretation of the facts of your life.” Paul Marc Goulet
“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” C.H. Mackintosh
The world, apart from God, is predisposed to view such dreadful pits as dead-end roads lacking hope that ultimately leads to nowhere good. Alternatively, an eternal perspective that embraces the sovereignty and flawless character of God believes there is ample reason to hope and, therefore, not give up, regardless of the circumstances.
Astonishingly, this hole was the improbable and unlikely beginning of his Coram Deo journey to becoming the much-admired, God-centered “Genesis 50:20” Joseph. Therefore, wisdom accompanied by faith instructs us, His children, to not be too hasty regarding our perception of our circumstances at any given moment, and instead beckons us to view our conditions in this world with Romans 8:28-30 in full view at all times. Why is this viewpoint so critical? Joseph became humbly teachable at the bottom of that pit, and so must we in order to become useful in God’s Kingdom.
To what end, such a profound transformation as Joseph underwent? And for what purpose? The Westminster Shorter Catechism #1 answers these questions: Q1-“What is the chief end of man? A1-Man’s chief end is to glorify God, by enjoying Him forever.”
Unwavering faith grows when a person experiences first hand His intimate presence and ongoing provision. Trials amplify this learning process. As the saying goes, “Faith isn’t fact until it’s tested.” Tested faith joyfully proclaims and shares what it knows to be true. It is no longer a mindless faith that timidly whispers of what it does not genuinely know, but rather it becomes a passionate voice crying out in the wilderness that He is none other than who His Word proclaims Him to be. He has come to set the captives free! Yes?
Psalm 23 is an overflowing fountain heralding God’s Kingdom built upon King David’s tested faith and personal relationship with Him. We are to be fountains overflowing with His living water, as well. I can’t speak for you, but the still, small Voice in my heart whispers, “How well does your fountain flow?”
“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”Matthew 4:4 (NKJV)
A loaf of bread can momentarily satisfy a person’s physical hunger, but the Word of God nourishes the starving soul forever.
“When our body needs energy, we eat food. But when our soul needs hope, what do we feed it? Promises…. Our souls are designed to be nourished by God’s ‘precious and very great promises.’” (2 Peter 1:4, NIV) Jon Bloom
How priceless, then, are situations that teach this ageless truth and create deeper intimacy with Him? If you have been to such a heavenly place wherein you have been entirely dependent upon Him, then this portion of the journey is familiar to you.
Genuine freedom and wisdom are not acquired cheaply. What price an authentic life? What price freedom? Our Savior paid the ultimate price to secure our freedom. Is it any surprise, then, that our transformation into His likeness is costly as well?
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” Luke 9:24 (NKJV)
Judging from my own life experiences, I can confidently attest that the Lord is the actual source of such wisdom regarding the importance of our moving beyond our comfort zones. What, then, are the circumstances that have taken me outside the comforts of a hammock gently swinging beneath lush shade trees? What is the landscape of the pit I am now experiencing?
I am momentarily stepping aside from the plot to tell you a portion of my story. It is not to whine or complain, mind you. No, not at all. Nor is it to elicit pity. Instead, I feel the need to inform you of my immediate circumstances, given its relevancy to this discussion.
I am at an age that is generally perceived to be associated with retirement. Retirement in the foreseeable future is off the table for me, however. About three and a half years ago, I was laid off by my former almost two-decades-long employer as a result of a severe downturn in the oil and gas business. Three days after my layoff, my partner experienced the same fate. A half-year later, my partner and I were blessed to most improbably give birth to a drilling and exploration company. We have primarily provided the “sweat equity” while a group of investors has provided the funding for this startup company. The life expectancy of this enterprise was for two years, based on our partners’ level of financial investment. Miraculously we are now one year beyond that expected expiration even though we have yet to produce one dollar of revenue to date despite our best efforts to the contrary.
As you might guess, COVID-19 has only served to compound our problems like it has for so many. My partner and I have given everything we have and more to this effort, yet we stand on the brink of a cliff. The hourglass sand is trickling away with scant few grains remaining as you might correctly surmise. If grains of sand each represent a month, then we are down to only two remaining grains. The dream will become that distant “Wylie Coyote” puff of smoke and dust at the base of the cliff from the Roadrunner Cartoon series if we’re unable to establish a revenue stream quickly. Financial ruin is on our doorstep. At my age, how can one possibly hope to ever recover from such a devastating loss? Will my wife and I find ourselves living under a bridge for the rest of our years? These are questions that growl more loudly with each passing day. In short, we need a parting of the Red Sea sort of miracle.
My relationship with the Lord has deepened remarkably throughout this experience. I can honestly tell you that the reward of intimacy with Him I continue to receive is well worth the price. Truthfully, I wouldn’t change any of this part of my journey if it meant losing Him. I have gained so much more of Him through this valley. He is my Rock, my Refuge, my Strength. It is He that keeps me in unlikely peace amid this storm-filled pit. I am blissfully dependent upon Him.
“In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19 (NKJV)
And so we return to where we earlier left our journey gazing at the distant horizon. There is but one remaining question that must be asked: “Do you trust Me?”
That is THEE question before all of us, His children, wouldn’t you say? How do you respond to Him? Will you go with Him to discover this distant, unknown beauty so that He may reveal it to you? Or will you play it safe according to your understanding and remain firmly planted right where you are? Will you be “per-sway did or per-sway-dead?”
The great I AM now knocks at the door of your heart, beckoning you to follow Him. Perhaps your response to the question is predicated upon your knowing how this adventure ends. For those that need an answer, I have good news for you. You don’t have to remain in the dark any longer. He has already given to each of us, His children, the remarkable answer to that question. Be encouraged by His words.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30 (NKJV)
The Transformed You, my brother, and sister in Christ is the distant, gleaming beauty on the horizon at the end of the trail that He seeks to show you. It is your metamorphosed beauty bearing His Son’s likeness and clothed with His righteousness that He aims to bring to your attention. What was once unknown and unrecognizable to you has all been graciously revealed beforehand! Therefore, consider solemnly “the few-ture”awaiting you. Regardless of your current circumstances, do you now sense the heartbeat of hope and meaningful purpose rising within you?
“to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3 (ESV) (emphasis mine)
There is but one true beauty responsible for this life-changing transformation leading to our being “(br)oak(en) for righteousness.” Jesus, the “unfading Rose,” the One who has redeemed us and set us free, the One to whom we owe all, the One who willingly took our place that day on the cross, He is the reason. Rejoice friends for He has made our destiny sure. I say again, rejoice!
“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)
Will you accept His offer to lovingly guide you through the hills and valleys of your lifetime as King David declares in Psalm 23? The first and last steps of your Coram Deo adventure in search of the destiny He has purposed and planned for you can successfully begin and end only one way: trusting Him.
In the end, He is what matters. Do you trust Him?
“Only Jesus” by Casting Crowns from the album “Only Jesus”
OK, I confess. I have to admit I’ve struggled specifically with this particular post more than most. Why? In an interesting twist of irony it’s because I’ve been riding the fence about, well, writing about riding the fence.
My writing problems were not about the “what” so much as they were about the “how.” The struggle was all about finding the correct approach as to how best to write about this subject. I started this post multiple times only to be unhappy with my efforts so into the digital trash bin each attempt would go.
How did I finally gain writing traction? The Lord pointed out something to me that had been staring me in the face the whole time: Simply put, Jesus didn’t pull any punches when he addressed the issue of people riding the fence when it comes to spiritual matters, and particularly so about Himself, so why should I? My previous efforts had all failed because I was watering things down. I was sugar-coating His message. I was trying to be safe. While He is direct, I was being indirect, thus the discomforting disconnect between my writing and my inspiration.
“We are either in the process of resisting God’s truth or in the process of being shaped and molded by His truth.” Charles Stanley
Jesus speaks very plainly and openly about those who attempt to ride the spiritual fence between Heaven and earth. Why? Because He knows He can’t afford to be or say anything less than that for our sakes and the sake of God’s Kingdom. If He were to do so He wouldn’t be true to us or Himself. Therein lies the lesson He desires to pass along to us when dealing with this subject.
“He who is not with Me is against me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” Matthew 12:30 (NKJV),
Like the bear looking for an easy meal of birdseed on our fence, we cannot allow ourselves to be lured away from His truth. It’s unnatural for the bear to balance precariously on a fence for a meal of birdseed, and likewise, so it is also unnatural for believers, His followers, to take up unsteady and mistaken positions on matters He has addressed in His Word.
The world is like the cat in the photo, intently watching to see if we will be true to what we say we believe, or will we show ourselves to be the outstanding hypocrites they hope and believe us to be?
“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” C.S. Lewis
When our words and actions do not mesh the truth is suppressed. If we know the truth yet don’t stand up for the truth of what value are we to a dying world that is being deceived? Do we not add to the veil of deception when we fail to speak the truth? Rather than helping others find the truth, we become part of the lie that holds them captive.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” Matthew 5:13 (NKJV)
Why do we take up such awkward positions that place us most uncomfortably, if we’re being honest, in between two opposing forces? Sadly, far too often I must admit that I can relate to the pressures King Saul speaks about as found in 1 Samuel 15:24 (NKJV), “Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.”
Is there a root cause for our fear of people’s opinions? I believe there is. Surely our lack of understanding as to the true nature of God is exposed when we acquiesce in fear to people and choose the world’s ways over His ways.
Too few believers spend meaningful time in His Word and enjoy quality alone time with Him. When this happens our relationship with Him lacks sufficient depth and intimacy. Take heart, though, because it’s not meant to be this way. He desires to be in a relationship with you more than you can imagine. “Be-loved” His beloved!
“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NKJV)
Think about it. We will go to bat for good friends, but scarcely, if at all, lift a finger for someone who is little more than an acquaintance. Is it any wonder, then, that when push comes to shove regarding our beliefs concerning God and His ways that we find ourselves aligning with the world over Him? We align ourselves with what we are familiar with and know, it’s as plain and simple as that. My friends, it doesn’t have to be this way. He has given us the right path to follow and how to stay on that track. Ignorance of who He is and what His Word says is not a reasonable excuse.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105 (NKJV)
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV)
Today, more than ever, we as believers are faced with mounting pressure to choose the world’s ways over the Lord’s by saddling up and riding the fence of compromise that only serves to dilute His truths. God’s Kingdom-truth is that when this happens there is no fence riding occurring, but instead, if we truly look with our hearts and eyes, we will find that we have fallen off of the fence and have landed squarely on the opposite side of the fence from where we’re supposed to be with Jesus.
But…is all hope lost, is it too late if we find ourselves on the wrong side of the spiritual fence from Him due to our compromises, our agreements that we have made with the world in the past, some possibly as recently as even today? Joyfully the answer is a resounding “No!”
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Luke 4:18 (NKJV)
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?” Matthew 18:12 (NKJV)
So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us take heart and rightly choose Him over the world when we’re tempted, and even encouraged, to take up sides against Him by coming into agreement with the world. Be reminded by the writer of Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV) who extols us to avoid finding ourselves on the wrong side of the fence saying, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Let us always be mindful of how Jesus described Himself in John 14:6 (NKJV) saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
And that, my friend, is the bare truth. The question is how will we choose to handle this truth?
Jadon Lavik, “My Father’s World” from the album, “Roots Run Deep”
“Whohas believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. 9 And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth. 10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. 11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53, NKJV)
for you…and for me…seven centuries later…
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NKJV)
And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center. (John 19:17-18, NKJV)
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, NKJV)
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:14-17, NKJV)
So, Isaiah’s question remains: “Who has believed our report?” Do you believe? Do you know the One whom Isaiah the Prophet foretold almost 700 years beforehand would die for you…and does He know you? His outstretched arms await you…………..
“Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me) by Casting Crowns from the album “Hymns of Faith”
“To grant to those who mourn in Zion-to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3 (ESV)
What exactly does an “oak of righteousness” look like? Do you see it as this great, towering, beautifully shaped tree with a massive trunk and limbs that spread out over an almost inconceivably large area? This is how I envisioned such an “Isaiah 61:3” tree for the longest time.
And why not, you might very well ask? It seems to be a quite reasonable vision to adopt in my mind’s eye given its origin and purpose doesn’t it? After all, we are talking about a tree planted and cared for along the way by the Lord Himself.
It’s quite easy to imagine the form of such a glorious tree as being a Mary Poppins sort of tree, “practically perfect in every way.” Why, we could call it a “poster tree” or a “model tree” so magnificent in its appearance it must surely be.
This vision of an “Isaiah 61:3” tree, then, became my mental image destination expressed in my prayers and longed for in my heart over the past several years.
How I envision an “oak of righteousness” is no small matter because I’ve learned along the way that how my heart responds to various things going on in my life, specifically the difficult circumstances, is tied strongly to my expectations which in turn are linked to hope. “See the ball, be the ball” is a favorite expression these days and it applies here as well. Just substitute “tree” for “ball” and you’re there.
If my sincere prayer is to become an “oak of righteousness” then isn’t it fair to say that it greatly matters what I envision when I imagine such a tree in my heart and mind? Therefore, as a believer it’s entirely reasonable to ask myself if my “mental paintings” of such a tree are Biblically sound or not.
“Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. 6 So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: 7 There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.” “Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.” Genesis 37:5-7, 9 (NKJV)
What do you suppose Joseph’s expectations were following these two God-breathed dreams?
I can’t say for sure about Joseph, but if I had been visited by such dreams I’m confident in saying that my daydreams…my expectations…my hopes… afterwards would’ve soared high above the clouds and far beyond even to the moon and the stars. I would’ve been like a hot air balloon soaring upwards without even the tiniest hint of a sand bag being present to even dare slow my imagined rapid ascent.
To borrow a familiar phrase, however: what goes up must come down, and this is especially true when pride itself has been shown to be present.
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18 (NKJV)
“So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. 24 Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it.” Genesis 37: 23-24 (NKJV)
“Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.” What’s your reaction to these lyrics by James Taylor from his song, “Fire and Rain?”
From day one years ago when I first heard this phrase these words have captivated me. The visual imagery of crushed expectations and lost hope conveyed by these few words upon my heart is stunningly precise in its poignant message.
Certainly Joseph could’ve related all too painfully well to these lyrics from the bottom of the pit now having found himself so very far away from the dreamy scenario of the bowing wheat sheaves, moon, and stars that had once delighted him and filled him with so much hope.
I’m guessing Joseph couldn’t wait for such an incredibly bright future to come.
So, how do you safely navigate what appears to be an abruptly cruel and unexpected end to your glorious parade of expectations? What do you do when you find yourself slogging through a terrifying detour, knee deep in an unmapped, dark and foreboding swamp with no exit sign over a single hollowed out half-dead tree to be found in any direction? How do you not panic and keep your spiritual nose above the water?
I can only imagine what thoughts and questions must’ve been racing through Joseph’s mind at the bottom of this dark hole. “But… but…but…God…what about those dreams you gave me? Were those dreams real or just something created by my own imagination? This is NOT at all how I thought things were going to unfold. Why has this happened to me? Something is off here! HELP!”
And indeed, something is “off.” When our expectations do not match up exactly with the Lord’s ways we find our once bright hope growing uncomfortably dim and vulnerable to attack.
It’s our very nature to think we’ve got God figured out, especially so when we see Him on the move in our lives. We then impetuously leap ahead fully confident we’ve got Him and the whole situation already mapped out.
In doing so we erect an unrealistic outwardly beautiful oak of righteousness in our minds according to a design of our own making that is not fully engaged with His truth, purposes, and plans. And therein great danger crouches in wait for us. This zone of friction between our truth and God’s truth is nothing new:
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJV)
Years later in the story we find Joseph, a rightly pruned and inwardly beautiful oak of righteousness, standing before his kneeling, formerly unmerciful and conniving brothers sincerely uttering one of the most heart-touching proclamations in all of the Bible, “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)
Talk about a 180 over the course of Joseph’s life. How did such a remarkable change take place in this man of God’s heart?
“For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” Hebrews 12:6 (NKJV)
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 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 15:2, 5 (NKJV)
We must therefore be vigilant and mindful that there is a personal cost to be found in the pruning as the Lord transforms us to become an oak of righteousness bearing fruit for His good purposes and glory. To think otherwise is to tempt the crouching lion patiently awaiting you up around the next dimly lit intersection of your journey.
Unless we actively engage and daily employ the wisdom found in Psalm 119:105 (NKJV), “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” we risk becoming dinner for the lion. Or did you think his roar was for another?
I love this quote by Charles Spurgeon: “God does not need your strength; He has more than enough on His own. He asks for your weakness; He has none of that.” Let us be careful thinking we know what a beautiful oak of righteousness should look like. My thinking has been turned inside out and upside down about this.
I now realize such a tree is indeed exceedingly beautiful and immensely strong, but not outwardly as I once considered, but rather in its inner most parts. Outwardly it bears the glorious marks and scars of a life beautifully transformed for Christ’s sake resulting in a less than ideal appearance according to the world.
Yes, my early visions of such a tree were shallowly rooted lacking understanding. A true Isaiah 61:3 tree’s outward appearance can’t help but reflect the Lord’s careful and purposeful pruning made beautiful in its scars through the inward strength and intimacy created when someone has been around the block of life a time or two with the Lord. As the saying goes, “That’s gonna leave a mark.” And indeed what beautiful marks they are in the Lord’s hands are they not?
Lord, bend and prune me as You see fit like You did so long ago with Your servant Joseph, so that I too will one day be an oak of righteousness, a planting of Yours, that You may be glorified according to Your purposes and plans for my life. When I am tempted to doubt and lose hope when my preconceived vision of how things are supposed to look don’t line up with Your truth and purposes, bring to my mind and heart these verses: “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:28-29 (NKJV). “Let me seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Your sight.” Micah 6:8 In Your Son, our Savior’s name, amen!
Lauren Daigle, “Trust in You” from the album “How Can It Be”