“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”
“Listen to this, Job, stop and consider God’s wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?” Job 37:14-16 (WEB)
In the 2009 animated film, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” an inventor creates a machine that is capable of causing all sorts of food to fall from the clouds like rain thus relieving the suffering town of its hard times which consisted of having only sardines to eat. Unfortunately things go haywire with the machine resulting in the town being threatened to be buried alive in an avalanche of food leaving the townsfolk wondering if maybe “just sardines” wasn’t so bad afterall. The early hope of deliverance from sardines by the new possibility of meatballs instead became an impending disaster of terrible proportions leaving the beleaguered little town fearful of clouds. Can you blame them?
Are we any different than this make believe town when it comes to the clouds in our lives? When our lives get uncomfortably crowded with ominous clouds our attitudes and thoughts can take on a decidedly doom and gloom outlook right underneath our very noses. As the steel gray gloom of towering clouds wears on us we naturally seek relief from our fears and concerns. Where can hope…real hope…be found under such circumstances? “Surely the promise of the crystal blue sky of the hoped for miracle that I seek exists somewhere, but obviously not here where I am,” we begin to declare to ourselves as we observe the menacing cloud for weeks and months on end. “If hope is not here, then where can it be found? And furthermore, since hope for a miracle doesn’t seem to be here, then why am I here in such a place having to endure this oppressive situation for so long? Do You not care about me anymore, Lord?”
Let me be uncomfortably transparent here. Right now at this very moment I am in great need of a parting of the Red Sea sort of miracle. It’s been that way for going on several years now. From where I sit the need for this miracle to come to pass grows alarmingly with each passing day and week. It’s like I’m riding in a speeding car headed straight towards a 1000’ cliff edge drop just up ahead that grows ever closer with each passing moment. My hope has been ruthlessly attacked along the way as you might’ve guessed by now. It’s been frequently ambushed and left bruised and bleeding along the side of the road by ruthless bandits. The story of the beaten traveler in the Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:25-37) comes to mind causing my heart to cry out, “Where is my Good Samaritan?” Indeed, not long ago I came across Proverbs 13:12 (WEB) which says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when longing is fulfilled, it is a tree of life.” I’ve read this scripture many times before, but now I can truthfully say I have a much deeper understanding and appreciation for the pain deferred hope can inflict upon one’s heart. It is an ever growing, insatiable impact crater gnawing unmercifully away at my heart. Words like squashing and paralyzing come to mind to name but a few. So does soul-crushing. It is a malignancy that erodes my deepest parts. Make no mistake, hope deferred can be a very dark pit of a place to find yourself. It is a place none of us want to know very well.
As my journey of hope awaiting this miracle has continued a new, uninvited, and most unwelcomed traveling companion has taken up residence on my shoulder cozied up next to my ear. This insistent, growling rasp of a whisper delights in providing me with a completely unsolicited play-by-play narrative of my journey. The voice knows the first half of Proverbs 13:12 well and uses it against me. This avalanche of taunts and accusations ignores the second part that speaks of fulfilled longings. Instead it seeks to reinforce the first part with a piercing Hollywood villain sort of laugh, “This road you are now traveling is going nowhere you really want to go. It leads to disaster. There is no rescue coming. Forget Him because He’s forgotten you. You have no Good Samaritan in your future. Frankly, the truth is you’re not worth any sort of miracle at all. None! Look, there’s an exit just up ahead. Take it and be done with this madness and spare yourself all the additional heartaches that are sure to come.” As mile after mile slowly goes by the whisper grows even more insistent. Yet despite its repugnant tone the message the voice is selling to my wounded heart becomes disturbingly more and more alluring with each bypassed exit ramp. How is it that all exit signs on this faith journey always beckon and urge you to take the “Short Cut” and abandon your earlier desired destination? “He, your God, is no more than cumbersome and unhelpful baggage” the voice hisses. “Ditch the extra weight. He is obviously not trustworthy. He doesn’t care about you.” And as I wistfully watch one exit ramp after another slowly slide past me as if it’s in slow motion through the passenger side window I wonder, “Why is He so silent? Why is He not acting?”
In times like this how utterly welcome it would be to be reminded that the Lord is indeed still very much present and in the miracle business. I am alarmed at how easily I have forgotten meanwhile, behind the seens. “Yes, I could certainly use a double, extra-large portion of that sort of encouragement again right about now, please, Lord.”
A quote comes to mind: “Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.”Perhaps C.H. Mackintosh is onto something here? What if the reassurances I’m seeking have been right in front of me for the entire time of this long and difficult journey? What if I were to look in the direction of the clouds themselves? Seriously? Why would I possibly want to do that? Afterall, the clouds serve as a constant reminder to me of my circumstances. To be quite honest, it’s been easier to look away from the clouds. Why stare at something that brings pain to my heart? But what if I were to consider the clouds in a different light? What if there is more to them than meets the eye? Is it possible my understanding of these clouds that fill up my sky has been too narrow causing me to overlook the miracle of His presence? To doubt His presence? Has my lack of understanding of these clouds in my life caused my hope to be deferred thus making my heart more vulnerable to attacks along the way? Is there a different perspective to take that will allow me to grasp something of eternal significance and value that will refresh my weary heart other than the hopeless one that has attached itself to me like a giant barnacle?
Lord, I need Your perfect insight and not my clouded sinsight!
Scientists tell us the average cumulus cloud weighs in at just over 1 million pounds. 1 million pounds! The average car tips the scales at 2871 pounds so the next time you see an average sized cloud imagine 350 cars floating above your head! Such immense weight seemingly suspended effortlessly above our heads surely is a miracle in and of itself is it not? How is this feat accomplished? Composed of millions and millions of tiny droplets of water, clouds float majestically in the sky suspended by a sustaining upflow of warm air. The cloud’s weight is dispersed so efficiently throughout these tiny particles that despite its immense weight the cloud is held aloft. Essentially, then, the larger more obvious phenomenon known as a cloud is itself composed of millions and millions of smaller particles all working together in perfect harmony to carry the load. Or put another way, there are a dizzying number of smaller miracles tucked away inside the larger more visible miracle. Who knew? Obviously I didn’t.
Sadly, I’ve realized I haven’t fully perceived His ongoing presence in the midst of my circumstances. My attention has been elsewhere. I’ve been focused on THE miracle, or lack thereof so far. In doing so I have been circumstance-centered and not God-centered. I have been tunnel visioned. I have focused my time and energy on my perceived specific larger need. This has caused me to overlook the many smaller miracles that have occurred along the way as I have awaited the fulfillment of THE miracle. I have focused on the forest and have missed the beautiful trees within the forest. Because I have dismissed the “commonplace” I have not recognized Him along the way and in doing so I have subtly undercut my own faith and trust in Him. To overlook these smaller testimonies to His beauty and presence is like not seeing that single bright yellow flower waving in the breeze that stands between myself and the distant purple mountain’s majesty isn’t it? Am I alone in this? Sadly, no.
“They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders that You did among them.” Nehmiah 19: 17a, (NKJV)
Back in the day I once participated in running a few marathons and other long distance events. If I wanted to complete the longer training runs in preparation for the upcoming event I had to stay hydrated so I would place water at certain intervals along my training route. This was especially true for training in the heat of the summer. Keeping that in mind do we really believe our heavenly Father would set us out on difficult paths alone and without His spiritual encouragement along the way? His Word speaks to the contrary:
“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)
“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)
So long as our gaze is solely fixed and intent on THE miracle we run the great risk of overlooking the other ways He provides for us along the way. What a loss it is to miss the “mini” miracles He has so generously sprinkled along the way for us on our journey through life.
“You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth, And gave them water for their thirst. Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness; They lacked nothing; Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.” Nehmiah 19: 20-21 (NKJV)
The truth is most days I fail to recognize the miracle of His presence and provision in so many ways as I go about my day to day living waiting on THE miracle to finally happen. If you’re like me, then, is it any wonder our hearts become so distressed? Pause for a moment with me and consider each and every breath that gives us life, for example. Or how about the lunch with good friends you just enjoyed? The joy of a hug from a friend or family member? Or the roof over your head and the food on your table? Being greeted by an overjoyed pet after a long day at work? When you think about it this list could go on and on, couldn’t it? When was the last time you stepped aside and paused from your busy day and thanked Him for His greatness, strength, and the goodness of His provision that lovingly embraces you in a myriad of less than obvious ways each and every day? To see these we must be intentional lest they escape us. Let us no longer be blind to such “lesser” miracles because they occur in the arena of what we view as the commonplace. Let us no longer take them for granted without so much as a “thank you, Lord.”
Through Your inspired Word we ask You to open our eyes and our hearts, our very minds and souls to Your presence, Lord, in all the circumstances of our lives, big and small, that our hearts may be strengthened. Grant us Your perfect insight in place of our clouded and imperfect sinsight that we may see with eternal perspective. We praise You for all the miracles that You provide us with on our journey through this life. Each one is no less a miracle than the other in that they all proclaim and testify to Your kind and loving presence in our lives. Forgive us when we overlook them for in doing so we have overlooked You. Indeed, where would we find ourselves without You, Lord? Help us to be ever-mindful of Your generosity and kindness in all things so that we continually give You the rightful praise that is Yours. May we with continually grateful hearts acknowledge that You are our ever-present One True Provision. Refresh our hearts once again with Your nourishment. You, and You alone are our Silver Lining around and in every cloud in our lives. In Jesus’s name…Amen!
“The Lord is my portion, says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him.” Lamentations 3:24 (NKJV)
“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4:4 (NKJV)
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” Psalm 32:8 (NKJV)
“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have then perished in my affliction.” Psalm 119:92 (NKJV)
Lauren Daigle, Look Up Child, from the album Look Up Child
“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)
Q: What do you get when you cross a banana peel with the beach?
A: A precious gift of memories of my father that comfort and warm my grieving heart in just the right way by tenderly reminding me that I am deeply loved and cared for by my Heavenly Father who knows my deepest needs.
This new year, 2020, had barely welcomed its very first dawn when I received a call from my brother telling me our father had passed away in his sleep only an hour or so earlier. Although we all knew his passing was on the horizon I don’t think any of us expected it quite so soon. After all, we had just had a family meeting with the hospital staff just the day before in which we discussed possible next steps as to how to proceed for his care over the coming days and weeks. We all also understood that his passing from this life into the next could possibly stretch out to months or perhaps even longer. He’d had a really good day two days before he passed and that certainly colored our thoughts with optimism and hope that perhaps his life here with us still held the promise of more time. It was only after his passing that something the doctor had told us in that family meeting the day before gained its rightful understanding and wisdom in our eyes. Simply put the doctor had told us it’s not at all unusual for people at the end of life to experience what is known as “the last hurrah.” And such was the case with my dad two days prior to his passing when he unexpectedly set up in bed, interacted with those around him, asked for some apple juice to drink, ate some Christmas pear, and followed it all up with a bowl of ice cream.
We live a 10 hours long car drive away from my parent’s home. We had just made the return trip home after having spent several days visiting friends and family over Christmas. Part of that time was spent with my mom and dad. After spending what would be graciously understood later in hindsight as my last hour or so with my dad…a “sweet parting” as my wife later called it…the day before his passing we had driven back home and only been in bed a few hours when we were awakened by my brother’s call on that New Year’s Day morning. That morning then became a fuzzy blur of tear filled telephone calls made to our own children, my dad’s grandchildren. Eventually the morning mercifully gave way to the afternoon and my wife suggested we go and take a walk on the beach. I resisted at first, but fortunately she persisted convincing me it would be good for both of us to “put our toes in the sand the first day of the new year especially with how it all began just a few hours earlier” as she described it. She gently reminded me that my dad would’ve loved going to the beach so off we went. We didn’t have to wait long to realize how right she was with that thought.
My dad, and my mom, loved the beach and everything about it. Each visit was an open ended invitation to adventure to their way of thinking. They began their new life together by spending their honeymoon along the beach at Gulf Shores. They visited the beach whenever and wherever possible afterwards. Later, they were transferred to Jamaica for a few years by the company my dad worked for which gave them access to beaches they’d only dreamed about visiting before. He loved snorkeling along the reefs off the northern shore which was only a relatively short drive from where they lived. Shell hunting while snorkeling was priceless treasure hunting as far as he was concerned. Indeed, even the rocks of the “rock beach” as they named it, were of great fascination and delight to them. Over time they collected hundreds of multi-colored rocks that were transported back to the states for a much anticipated later date with the rock tumbler/polisher. Fresh water lake beaches were sources of great exploration opportunities for my parents, too. Who knows what interesting shaped piece of driftwood awaited them just up ahead? Yes, the beach, any beach, was a heavenly adventure on earth as far as my dad, and my mom, was concerned.
Secondly, although it’s not anything seemingly related to the beach, I can’t begin to tell you how much my dad loved bananas. And not just to eat them either, although he did enjoy eating them, especially if they appeared as a banana split. I guess you could say he was obsessed with them to the point that anything having to do with bananas was always associated with him by our family and friends. Birthday cards were pretty much required to be of the “banana” variety of some sort. The last birthday card we sent him had two bananas on it that danced to music when you opened up the card. He loved it so much he shared it with their friends at the senior center where they lived. At the end of WWII he had a photo taken while overseas showing him eating a banana with the caption on the back simply reading, “Me eating a banana.” I can’t begin to tell you the number of times he serenaded our family with the “Chiquita Banana” song. We still all know that song by heart, by the way. “When they’re flecked with brown and have a golden hue, that’s when ‘nannies’ (his slang) are good for you!” he’d laughingly sing to us all. One of the longtime favorite toys in their grandkid’s toy box at their house is a harmonica shaped like a banana. So, to this day whenever any of us walk by the bananas in the produce section we automatically think of dad, or Paw, as the grandkids called him.
“Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His highest)
My wife and I had been walking along the beach on that New Year’s Day afternoon looking for shells for only a short time when she yelled at me to come quickly to see what she had found. Catching up to her she pointed down to her find, and, yes, there it was. Perhaps by now you may have guessed that what she was excitedly pointing to was a banana peel. The fact that it was mixed in amongst a collection of shells, my dad’s precious jewels, made it even more delightful. Although we’ve walked many a mile on the beach since moving to the area 7 years ago neither my wife nor I could think of another time we’ve come across a banana peel before so this was a definite first for us, and for our friends whom we have shared this story with as well. As you can no doubt imagine the timing of this latest treasure find could not have been any more poignant for us as we both stood there staring at the sight of the old banana peel mingled together with the shells along the water’s edge. We both spontaneously laughed out loud at the sight as tears of sadness gave way to tears of gratitude as we were lovingly embraced by the Lord’s great compassion, tenderness, and kindness towards us in this our time of heartache. Immediately our hearts felt warmer and our spirits were lifted as reassuring waves of memories of my dad enjoying earthly beaches combined with thoughts of him now delighting in heavenly beaches oh so gently caressed us.
“The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (NIV)
And indeed…He is…and does.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NIV)
The promise of His presence. Is there any greater hope than this?
Mercy Me, “I Can Only Imagine”, from the album “Almost There.”
“Do not let all kinds of strange teachings lead you into the wrong way. Your hearts should be strengthened by God’s grace, not by obeying rules about foods, which do no help those who obey them.” Hebrews 13:9 (NCV)
Can we just get raw here for a few uncomfortable (for me), transparent moments? Here we go.
These are ominous echoes that are all too familiar for me. They have a painfully jagged-edged resonance about them that carve steep and rugged canyons deep into my soul whenever the opportunity to speak occurs. These echoes have a hair trigger so it doesn’t take much to unleash their cascading torrents of discouragement and accusation upon me.
As the familiar saying goes, “that’s gonna leave a mark.” And indeed these merciless reverberations do. Every. Single. Time. After all, how can the end of a cracking whip not leave some sort of wound, some sort of a scar on this heart of mine?
I must admit that my fear of failure coupled with an even stronger need for acceptance makes me an easy target for such a whip. I am the head-bent-low straggler trailing the herd. For someone like me who desperately wants to earn another’s approving nod and smile this means I must perform to some particular level of expectation in order to win that person’s acceptance.
As my thinking goes, failure to be successful very likely translates into my not being accepted. So, the idea of “failure” is more than just an unpleasant word to me. The thoughts and feelings it stirs in me make this ugly combination not only a robber of my confidence but a cruel, whip-bearing dungeon task-master as well as goading me onwards to attempting to scale unrealistic Mt. Everest sized goals.
The very idea of the possibility of falling short of “the mark” in a variety of circumstances makes me want to silently slip away into the safety of some dark corner of a room where with any luck at all I’ll go unnoticed. This is especially true in social situations in which I don’t know anyone in the room.
Out of direct sight is a good place to be for someone like me who deep down has come to believe the echoes have been right all along when they relentlessly proclaim: “You…you…you…have…have…have… little…little…little…to…to…to…offer…offer…offer…So…so…so…Why…why…why…would…would…would…anyone…anyone…anyone…want…want…want…to…to…to…talk…talk…talk…to…to…to…you…you…you?
It’s a stomach-churning revolving door endlessly stuck in “Groundhog Day” mode just like in the movie starring Bill Murray. Round and round I go, where I come out is always the same. Self-fulling prophecy in all its false glory I suppose.
Years of echoes from a variety of sharp-tongued whips will convince a person to hide and when necessary disguise their true self for fear of rejection. I’m guessing many of my friends would be surprised to read this, but that’s only a testimony as to my mask wearing skills that have been carefully crafted to hide my perceived deficiencies. Little do most realize I am actually the Alone Ranger.
So pervasive is this negative thinking that it has alarmingly bled over into my spiritual life as well. In his book, Grace Happens Here, Max Lucado succinctly captures my dilemma by saying, “We find it easier to trust the miracle of resurrection than the miracle of grace. We so fear failure that we create the image of perfection, lest heaven be even more disappointed in us than we are. The result? The weariest people on earth.” Indeed.
I must admit that although I wholeheartedly embraced His grace at the time of my salvation ever since then I’ve been wearing myself out attempting to earn His love through my works. In doing so I have cast His marvelous gift of grace as wrought by His Son into the ditch alongside the road. In place of His grace I picked up the mask.
Apart from His grace my fear of failure coupled with my desire to earn His acceptance as someone else had literally worked my relationship with Him into an incredibly uncomfortable and tight fitting corner that was being continuously surrounded by thick coats of paint that would never dry.
The not-so-merry-go-round of trying to live up to my own self-imposed demands and expectations in order to please the Lord was literally crushing me and preventing my relationship with Him from being all that it could be.
Over time being the masked man takes a toll on a person, you know? Hindsight now tells me that if you wear a mask long enough you can become so comfortable wearing it that much of the time you no longer even realize it’s on. Now there’s a scary thought.
“What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death?” Romans 7:24 (WEB)
Sensing my years-long problem that was slowly eating its way through me, my mentor and dear friend, 2Tim, put it this way, “You are in need of a good solid dose of grace.” Amen! Truer words have never been spoken to me.
Fortunately, the rest of the story is that I am not the Alone Ranger after all. No, not at all. Thankfully there is Another far greater than myself who is full of compassion and kindness. One who is unwilling to allow me to continue wearing my mask and oh so gently removes it and the weighty chains associated with it.
Let me tell you a story.
As my wife and I walked down the fishing pier I was captivated by several birds flying alongside the railings. They were hunting for dinner. Tirelessly they would hover over a small patch of ocean in hopes of spotting the tell-tale glistening of a fish swimming just beneath the water’s surface.
When a flash caught their eye in the water 20 feet or so below them they would courageously nose dive straight down without any hesitation. Sometimes, however, at the very last second for whatever reason, they would abruptly pull up just before smashing into the water and immediately return to their original hunting position. Other times they would dive head first directly into the water and then quickly bounce back up into the air with their wings flapping furiously to regain the lost altitude.
This was a wonderful, non-stop ballet for the most part that continued for as long as we were there. Surprisingly in spite of their best efforts they often came up empty with no fish. Whoa! Stop right there. It was exactly at this “ah hah” moment that truth smacked me right between the eyes.
Hear me out! Isn’t it fair to say that these birds have been perfectly designed to do what they’re doing? Who can answer this question with anything other than a resounding “yes?” So, doesn’t it follow then, that if these incredibly gifted creatures are not successful at catching a fish each and every time they try then why should I allow myself to be subject to the unyielding taskmaster of perfection as I do?
Let’s reimagine the story now. In this version Jesus is standing there on the pier watching the birds hunting for dinner. And guess what? You’re one of the birds.
Spying a gleam of silver in the water below you plunge head first into the water. A second later you reappear out of the water, but with no fish.
As you reposition yourself you glance over at Jesus and the two of you make eye contact. What is Jesus’ reaction? Do you see Him rolling His eyes in disapproval and then turning His back on you because you failed to catch anything? Can you honestly see Him being angry or disgusted with your unsuccessful effort? No, I can’t either. His reaction is most certainly just the opposite, in fact. I wholeheartedly believe He completely delights in your sincere trying. I see Him laughing and grinning out of sheer enjoyment as He watches you, His creation, diligently going about your business. His reaction is not based on whether or not your mouth is full or empty. Surely He rejoices and celebrates over each of your attempts regardless of the outcome doesn’t He?
So, let’s finish playing this out now. As the two of you make eye contact He grins at you with a smile that lights up even the darkest of wet paint surrounded corners, gives you an approving wink with a contagious twinkle in His eye, and then encourages you to try again with a gentle nod of His head back towards the water.
Nourished by His acceptance and encouragement your resolve to keep on fishing skyrockets. What just happened? In that shining moment, that glorious grace-filled moment of encouragement and approval in which time seemed to stand still, the accusing echoes began to fade away sapped of their strength, power, and control over you.
Friend, let this scene play out in your head and heart as many times as it takes until, like me, you’re finally able to be William Wallace’s Braveheart crying out, “F r e e d o m!!!” If ever a hopeless captive has been compassionately set free in the warmth of His grace it is now.
Let’s look at yet another story about fishing.
“Simon Peter said to them, ‘I’m going fishing.’ They told him, ‘We are also coming with you.’ They immediately went out and entered the boat. That night they caught nothing. But when day had already come, Jesus stood on the beach, yet the disciples didn’t know that it was Jesus. Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Children, have you anything to eat?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ They cast it therefore, and now they weren’t able to draw it in for the multitude of fish. That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It’s the Lord!’” John 21:3-7 (WEB)
For those of you like me who have had perfectionism’s boot on your throat pressed down even more tightly by the need for acceptance, have lost sight of the true meaning and beauty of grace, and have determined to fight this battle alone how do you see this story in John now?
Put yourself in the boat along with the others. Is there anything in these verses that comes even close to suggesting that Jesus scoffed at you and the rest of the disciple’s lack of fishing success?
He certainly didn’t turn His back on any of you because you hadn’t caught any fish. He didn’t roll His eyes at your empty nets. He didn’t say anything like, “You people are just awful. You should seriously look into another way of making a living.” No, quite the opposite is true, in fact.
In these verses He’s encouraged you all to keep on fishing, but this time to do it on the other side of the boat. Stop. Something just amazing happened, did you catch it? Not only did He offer encouragement, but He offered something far, far greater. He offered Himself. He got involved in your efforts by inviting you to follow His lead. He came alongside you and gave divine direction.
Why would He do this? Because He is relational at His very core and as mind boggling as it is, we were created to do “life” with Him, side by side. He delights in shepherding us and being an active part of our lives.
The truth of the matter is that if we were to always be successful at everything we do then wouldn’t it be our nature to see ourselves as having no need of Him?
As it turns out our inadequacies are opportunities for closeness with Him. Why? Because it’s in our weaknesses that we are made strong through Him just as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12. Why? Because it’s all for His glory, and not ours.
Perfectionism is all about our own glory. To pursue or be driven by perfectionism in order to make ourselves “worthy” to be in His presence is as far as the east is from the west is regarding grace’s redeeming role in our lives taking us further away from Him.
There’s some true irony for you, eh? In my quest to be perfect so that I can become acceptable and able to draw near to Him I actually distance myself from Him because…”I’m not good enough.” That’s been the merciless goal of perfectionism all along…to separate me from My Savior. The truth is it’s never been about me and what I’ve done regarding my ongoing relationship with Him. No. It always has been and always will be about what He’s done first and foremost.
Grace speaks life. Grace truly is amazing. Grace high fives you. Grace sets you free! “Hallelujah!”
“I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” Psalm 139:14 (NKJV)
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” 1 Corinthians 3:6-8 (NKJV)
“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have then perished in my affliction.” Psalm 119:92
“What do you think? If a man has one hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine, go to the mountains, and seek that which as gone astray?” Matthew 18:12
Not long ago our friend, Mindi, shared an experience with me about when God sent her life giving hope and encouragement in a most unexpected and unlikely way during an extremely sad and very difficult time in her life.
Some years ago Mindi’s job was cleaning the bathrooms at a truck stop. She described it as “doing a filthy job in a filthy place.” You can only imagine what it must have been like—what she had to deal with day in and day out.
One day, despite the appalling physical conditions surrounding her, she confessed with head bowed low that she was so hungry that she was considering eating half-eaten food that had hopefully been left behind in the trash can in the nasty restroom she was about to clean.
Brushing away the tears of hopelessness in her eyes she opened up the door to the restroom to begin her job when she was completely startled by the unanticipated presence of a bird sitting on the sink in the restroom.
Describing that moment, she said, “The bird just sat there sweetly looking at me, tenderly reminding me God was with me, watching over me. Instantly my focus was changed from my circumstances to Him. It was a deeply beautiful moment when I truly felt…well, not so alone.”
Isn’t it wonderful how stories of hope restored like Mindi’s make us feel not so alone, too? Even when it seems all is lost and we have been forgotten God reminds us in Psalms 34:18 that He is there for us saying, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Echoing Mindi’s experience Rick Warren beautifully observes, “Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days—when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you’re out of options, when the pain is great—and you turn to God alone.” Amen, brother, amen.
In the midst of your brokenness He still lovingly calls out to you, “Where are you?” just as He did with Adam and Eve in the garden. Ever the prodigal child’s Father, He longs for you to return to Him and in so doing run to your side and embrace you, desiring to fill you with hope and joy, all the while wiping away your tears in a beautiful, shared moment of tender worship and intimacy no matter where you might be…even if it’s in a highly unlikely place of worship such as a filthy restroom at a truck stop.
Are you surprised He, the creator of the universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, would choose to show up for you in such a place? Are there valleys so uncomfortably and painfully low in your life that you believe the Lord will not meet you there?
Deep down you think to yourself, “He would never come here…no, not to such a dark, ugly, shadow-filled place as I’m now in.” Let us prayerfully reconsider such thoughts.
In “Within and Without” Ann Voscamp puts it this way: “The secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.” Isn’t this what David is saying in Psalm 23:4? “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.”
The truth is the very opposite of what those negative w-hiss-pers in your head are trying to persuade you to believe about Him: there is nowhere…NOWHERE…He will not go to be with you…to rescue you. Indeed, Jesus declares, in Matthew 28:20b, “And surely I am with you ALWAYS, to the very end of the age.”
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” Psalm 139:7-12