content?meant

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)

 Content.”  Now there’s an interesting word.  What’s the meaning or significance of this word as it applies to your life?

“Well, that depends on which ‘content’ you’re asking about,” you say. “With the word standing there all alone, I can’t be fully content to tell you the answer to that question until I know the full content of what you have in mind since it could be one of two possibilities. At the very least, you’re going to have to use it in a sentence; otherwise, I’m going to keep bouncing back and forth between the two choices.  So, you tell me, which one are you talking about here?”

To that, I enthusiastically jump to my feet and reply, “Both!”

Now that we’re on our feet, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page regarding the distinct meanings of these two identically spelled but differently pronounced words.  The Cambridge Dictionary defines “content” as “everything that is contained within something.” It also informs us that the other pronunciation of “content” means “pleased with your situation and not hoping for change or improvement.

Our level of contentment is determined by how content or satisfied we are with the contents of our lives.  Generally speaking, when we perceive our content or the components to be favorable, we’re content.  But when the contents of our life take a turn for the worse, we become woeful or even fearful. 

In a sense, these two words relate to each other a bit like our feet.  In one scenario, they work together in harmony like finely tuned, graceful dance partners, serenely gliding across the floor.  Or, conversely, they’re like two left feet noisily and clumsily stepping all over each other on the dance floor, which frequently results in a memorable faceplant of viral social media proportions.  By the way, I fall into the latter category of these two as I’m no Fred Astaire.

For many of us, when a significant component of our lives that we’ve come to depend upon falters, so do we. Experiencing the loss of a job, relationship troubles, financial issues, or an impending health crisis, to name a few, are undoubtedly challenging turns of events that threaten our well-being.  The Apostle Paul certainly experienced various potentially life-altering and, at times, life-threatening circumstances.  No doubt he had more than his fair share of the scars to prove it, too.

“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”  2 Corinthians 11:25-27 (NIV)

Theologians generally agree that Paul wrote about those trials about six years before he penned the following words in Philippians:

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  Philippians 4:11-12 (NIV)  

These verses in Philippians stand in stark contrast to the world’s perspective of contentment.  Paul’s steadfastness and confidence are even more remarkable, considering he wrote them while being unjustly confined in prison.  How was he able to avoid falling into despair regardless of the situation?  Why doesn’t he have two left feet?  What is the secret he has found?

Paul’s ability to be content in all circumstances did not just magically and suddenly appear one day in his spiritual arsenal.  No, far from it.   Each of his visible and invisible scars wrought from his experiences became graduation diplomas of trust and understanding in the Lord’s plans for his life beautifully and lovingly engraved on his heart. 

Does the relationship between “content” and “content” as they influence our contentment not exist for Paul?  At first glance, it might perhaps seem they’re disconnected, but given a bit more thought, the answer is an emphatic “no!”  The difference is Paul can confidently say what he does because of the eternal Who that fills his life up, rather than the temporal whats that fills up the majority of most other people’s lives.

“To know something in your head is one thing; to feel it in your heart is another.  And I think most Christians are trying to be happy without a sense of the Presence.  The Presence is here, but the sense of the Presence is absent.  The sense of the Presence is absent and that yearning you see is a desire to be nearer to God.” A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God.

Paul is content because he fully embraces the sovereignty and presence of God in his life.  He understands that so long as his life is full of the Lord, Who is good beyond measure, his outward conditions are of little consequence.  The when, where, how, and why of his circumstances are no longer uncomfortable mysteries tormenting him.  He recognizes his place in God’s hand.  And that gives him hope.

“for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”  Philippians 2:13 (NKJV)

 Paul is a person completely sold out for God.

“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God”  Romans 1:1 (NKJV)

“Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,”  Philippians 2:14-15 (NKJV)

Paul has learned the secret for true contentment.

“I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:13 (NIV)

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy?  Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.” Isaiah 55:2 (NKJV)

“But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ “Matthew 4:4 (NKJV)

“I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:24 (NIV)

In the end, all of the worldly what’s we have come to believe in as necessary to secure our contentment are mere smoke and mirrors.  In them, we stack clay bricks made without straw that cannot possibly support our weight when the storms of life come our way.

“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”  Matthew 7:26-27 (NKJV)

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

Only God, Who is the same today, yesterday, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), is an eternal rock that is utterly dependable.

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.”  Matthew 7:24-25 (NKJV)

 Where are you searching in your quest to secure your contentment? 

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  C. S. Lewis, A Mind Awake:  An Anthology of C. S. Lewis

“My home is in heaven. I’m just passing through this world.”  Billy Graham

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Philippians 3:20 (NKJV)

“Wait a little while, O my soul, wait for the divine promise, and thou shalt have abundance of all good things in heaven.” Thomas a Kempis.

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”  Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV)

“The secret to happiness is to be content no matter the situation.  My life isn’t going to make my happiness.  My happiness is going to make my life.”  Full Count, the movie.

Dear friend, I don’t know where you are or what’s going on in your life, but one thing I do know:  He alone is the Source for true and lasting joy that creates and sustains contentment.  Rest in His glorious Presence for this is where we are meant to be!

He! Is! Worthy! 

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Romans 15:13 (NKJV)

Be Still and Know by Christy Nockels from the album Healer

swept clean by grace

“But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.”  Romans 5:20b (NKJV)

“But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:  ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”  James 4:6 (NKJV)

A broom and a light green pencil lying right beside it are something you don’t see in the middle of the street every morning.   “What’s the story here?” I wondered out loud to myself.  “How did this unlikely pair land in front of my house?”  Answers to these questions and more were nowhere to be found as I stood there contemplating the unusual sight.

There was one thing I did know, however.  No way did I want to try and sweep the entire street even though it could use a good cleaning.  To compound those circumstances, imagine what it’d be like if I attempted to deep clean the road with someone following behind me, circling all the dirt and such that I had missed with the colored pencil.  That’d be an even more enormous “no thank you!” in my book.

As I considered the possibilities of such a hopeless task, a bit of Greek mythology drifted into my mind.  Zeus punished and condemned Sisyphus to roll a boulder up a hill, as you may recall.  Unfortunately, the boulder would roll back down just before reaching the crest, and then the whole process would unmercifully start all over again.   Just as Sisyphus’ task was impossible to complete and was never-ending, so would be my trying to sweep the entire street clean of all the dirt and trash.  I wince at the very thought of that hopeless task.

And that’s when a lightning bolt began to dance around in my head.  It seems there’s much more to the broom and the pencil than I had initially thought.

How many of us try and sweep ourselves clean so that we’re presentable to God?  Both believers and non-believers alike can, and often do, fall victim to this misguided way of thinking that is reliant upon yourself to perform the needed rescue successfully.  Sadly, we regard ourselves and our abilities more highly in this way of thinking than we ought, and in doing so, we give God’s grace, Jesus, our only authentic, viable rescuer, the cold shoulder.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Romans 3:23 (NKJV)

“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12:3 (NKJV)

I know all too well how this process works:  about the time you finish sweeping _____ Street (put your name in the blank) believing you’ve got yourself all cleaned up, along comes a supposed well-intentioned voice armed with a marker pencil, saying,  “Well, yes, that’s an improvement, but you’re still not quite ready to stand before God.  Take a look back at where you’ve been sweeping.  Do you see all those areas in need of attention that you missed that I’ve conveniently outlined for you?   Go back and clean them up, and then you’ll be ready.  You can trust me because I have your best interest at heart.  Now, hop to it; you’re wasting precious time!”

So, off we go with renewed determination back to square one to try and make ourselves right before a perfectly holy God.  The truth is we’ll never be able to clean up ourselves sufficiently in that regard because sinners that we are, there’s no shortage of highlighted problem areas in our lives.  They are like the seemingly unending handkerchiefs a magician pulls out of his or her hat.  Besides, even if we could get it down to but one sin, we’d still come up short.

For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”  James 2:10 (NKJV)

For those among us who are non-believers, the roaring lion seeks to prevent you from ever experiencing God’s grace and mercy through the forgiveness of your sins offered through His Son, Jesus.  If you listen to the voice with the pencil, you’ll be pushing that “Sisyphus” broom for the rest of your life, all to no avail, with only hell to show for it in the end.

Know this, friend, Jesus is the only One capable of cleaning and washing you thoroughly enough to meet God’s standards.  You can scrub yourself as often and as hard as you like, but you can never sweep away all of your sins so that you’re spotless before the Lord.  Even if you’re a “9” on a “one to ten goodness scale,” you’re still one short of perfection.  Let that fact sink in for a minute.

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”  1 John 1:8-10 (NKJV)

How then shall we be rescued?  It’s time to let Jesus take over the sweeping and make you a bonafide “10” in God’s eyes.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV)

“that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:15-18 (NKJV)

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

The broom and the pencil in Jesus’s hands have accomplished what you could not.  He is the Good Samaritan that has graciously provided sweet relief to your former unsettled and wounded soul. 

“So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” Luke 10:34 (NKJV)

You may ask, “What about the pencil?”  Unlike the voice that used it to condemn you constantly, Jesus uses the pencil to commend your faith by writing your name down in His book of life for all eternity.  

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, And the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the Lord And who meditate on His name.”  Malachi 3:16 (NKJV)

Let us rejoice!

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.  Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NKJV)

And what of believers stuck in the loop of similar off-track thinking?  You willingly and eagerly accepted God’s grace at the time of your salvation, rightly recognizing He alone has the power to save you.  But post-conversion, more times than you care to admit, you’ve fallen into a works-oriented pit of despair in a vain attempt to earn or justify the Father’s love.   Friends, I know of this darkness (“grace-full high five”), and I can tell you it is far from the place of freedom He intends for you to enjoy!

What should we do when we find ourselves in such a place?  With a repentant, humble heart, give the broom and the pencil back to Him, for you see they were never meant to be used by your hands in this way.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 (NKJV)

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.” Psalm 23:1-3 (NKJV)

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;”  Luke 4:18 (NKJV)

Let the pencil be a reminder of your need to be firmly grounded in His written word, the Bible, for life through Jesus freely and gloriously abounds within its sacred pages.

“But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4:4 (NKJV)

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

 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  John 1:1 (NKJV)

And again, we can proclaim, How utterly beautiful is a person swept clean by His marvelous grace!” 

 “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”  Ephesians 2:4-7 (NKJV)

“Father, we pray for all of us, that Thou wilt sweep away our self-righteousness, even any little, ragged traces of self-righteousness that may be left.  Save us from ourselves.  Let grace abound from Calvary, and teach us that it is not by grace and something else, but by grace alone, Thy goodness, Thy kindness in Christ Jesus.  This we ask in the name of the Lord who loves us.  Amen.”  (A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God.)

1!1!1!

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

talking trash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  John 3:16-17 (NKJV)

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

ɯʎ ʍɐʎ oɟ ʇɥᴉuʞᴉuƃ

“Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens.” Psalm 123:1 (NKJV)

Say what?!?!  No, that’s not some new sort of language used for this post’s title.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s “my way of thinking” literally turned upside down.  After all, when you’re in a relationship with Jesus, the One who has come to set captives like you and me free, our priorities and perspectives, our very way of thinking, are going to be shaken up.

“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) (note: see also Isaiah 61:1)

Sam Cooke may not have been singing about Jesus in his old song, “A Change Gonna Come,” but the lyrics are spot-on in this case because change is guaranteed when He is involved in your life.  It’s inescapable given the vast differences between a holy, just, loving, and infinite God, our Creator, and ourselves, His created, His children.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.  Isaiah 55:8-9 (NKJV)

If you’re at all like me, then more times than I’d like to admit, I need to be reminded I do not always see things as clearly as I think I do.    In short, I am wholly unqualified to be a measuring stick, and that most notably so when I’m the one in need of measurement.  That True North Measuring Yardstick position thankfully lies solely and rightfully with the Lord, who is holy qualified.

“All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits.” Proverbs 16:2 (NKJV)

A case in point about our eyes being fallible is this post’s photo. There’s more going on with this picture than you might first guess. All is not as it initially appears.  Why would I say that?  Well, that’s because both this post’s title and the photo are upside down.

You may be surprised to learn that this photograph captures a reflection in the water.  I flipped the image around so it would look right-side-up for this post.  Those of you who took a second look at the snapshot before you started reading might have already figured that out.  Suddenly those strange, concentric rings in the sky begin to make a lot more sense once you realize they’re not some freak weather phenomenon but instead are ripples on the water’s surface.

All this to say the obvious: we are prone to make snap, incorrect analyses and judgments.  Why?  Because we unreasonably trust ourselves to a fault, which often leads us to unknowingly not seeing things as they are.  Now that’s a scary thought when you stop and think about it.  So, what are we to do?  Where is hope to be found for our blurry, and at times all-together blind understanding?

“We must rely on the mercy of the only One who is able to turn all that is upside down right side up.” Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

“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.” Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)

When my wayward reasoning sails headlong into the incalculably higher and perfectly pure ways and thoughts of the Rock of Ages, Jesus, a transformative change in my way of thinking occurs.  

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV)

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.  John 10:10 (NKJV)

Growing up, we quickly learn to avoid collisions with rocks as much as possible.  However, colliding with Jesus is the most significant, life-changing impact with a Rock that we will ever experience in our lives.  This remarkable journey begins when we first believe and claim Him as our Savior transporting us from being spiritually dead to alive.  Having welcomed us into His Kingdom, He then continuously refines us throughout our lifetimes.  Knowing and being known by Jesus guarantees we will undergo much-needed changes in our understanding and thus in our actions. We are, after all, as followers of Jesus, His ongoing works in progress in this life.     Can I get a joyful hallelujah?

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

Let me share a story that turned my thinking on its head and, in doing so, revealed the unobstructed, breathtaking view that exists far above the treeline of my limited understanding.   

A couple of years ago, a vacationing family lost their dog not far from where I live.  Somehow the dog managed to escape from the house they were renting, and he was gone before they knew what had happened.  They and a good number of newly met neighbors spent the remainder of their vacation week desperately searching for him.  Despite everyone’s best efforts, the dog remained on the loose, and at the end of the week, the owners reluctantly and tearfully had no choice but to make the long drive back home a few states away without their beloved pet.

About a month after the fact, I spotted one of their “lost dog” flyers at a local store that told their sad story about what had happened.   Animal lover that I am, I immediately empathized with their painful circumstances.  What did I do about it?  Well, I got in my car and searched through the area where the dog had last been spotted, of course.  I did that several times over the next week, all to no avail.

It turns out that, like the upside-down photo, there was more to this adventure than I ever first imagined or understood.  As a child of God, why would one expect anything else?

“Notice that in the tales told in Scripture, whenever God gets hold of a man he takes that man into an adventure of the first order.” John Eldredge, Fathered By God

Although I didn’t find the lost dog I was searching for, I did discover something else was also missing.  Or, rephrased, what was initially lost was not found, but something else of great importance was found to be lost along the way. 

During what turned out to be my last drive-around looking for the off-course dog, I was interrupted by a profound thought that welled up seemingly out of nowhere.  Like a late September gust of wind, it stripped the leaves of my wayward point of view from their branches, saying, “It’s good that your compassion compelled you to search for this family’s lost pet.  If only you were as passionate about sharing Jesus with people.”  And in that instant, I knew that, like the lost dog, I was also wandering far from home.

“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.”  John 15:2 (NKJV)

Indeed, when was the last time I’d been sincerely concerned enough about a person’s spiritual condition that I jumped into action as I did for this lost pet?  Sadly, I couldn’t remember such a time.  Confronted by such an indisputable truth, how do you respond?  My reply then, as it still is today in the midst of sharing this story with you, is one with bowed head in humble silence.

Please understand I’m not saying that my feelings for this lost dog were wrong because they weren’t.  That is not the reason I’m telling you all of this. Like I’ve already said, searching for the dog was about so much more than what it appeared to be.  Instead, I’m relaying this story to highlight a change that I needed to make.  In short, my eyes were opened to truths about myself that I’d been blind to for far too long.

“A person wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.”  Benjamin Franklin

Throughout the majority of my life, I was reclusive when it came to sharing my faith.  My search for the dog aimed a spotlight directly into that dark and all-too silent corner of myself.  I searched for the lost dog by myself, involved no one else, and frankly was comfortable keeping it that way.  Upon hearing that declaration, my former overly-reserved spiritual self would assuredly observe, “If it’s true that no man is an island, then I am a peninsula.”

But, if keeping Jesus to myself was acceptable, why was I being encouraged to be passionate about sharing Him?  The heat from the friction between these two opposite positions demanded an answer to this question.  The Bible has something to say about this issue, of course.

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

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”  Matthew 28:19-20 (NKJV)

Matthew 28:19-20 made me feel incredibly uncomfortable for practically as long as I can remember.  Why?  Well, because instead of enthusiastically pursuing Jesus’s clearly stated mission, I found myself wanting to run away and hide. 

The truth is my detached attitude existed because I was afraid. The fear that gripped me found its roots in thoughts and feelings I instinctively knew were wrong, yet it still bound and restrained me in its chains.  Yes, you can call them strongholds over me if you like.

I can relate to Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus just before His crucifixion. As undeniably awful as Peter’s failure was, at least his actions occurred because he believed his life was in jeopardy.  Sadly, my withdrawal was the product of much lesser reasoning and motivation than that.  

Embarrassingly, the first reason I was afraid to share Jesus was for no more cause other than what others might think or say.  My upbringing resulted in my thinking that personal faith in Christ was indeed precisely that, private, meaning I’m to keep it to myself, period.  Growing up and for a long time afterward, I made it a point to avoid becoming one of “those”  people who injected themselves and their faith into situations and onto people without a personal invitation to do so.  And if you would please make that a written invitation, so much the better.  Silence in this matter was considered a golden virtue.

Secondly, I had bought into the mistaken notion that I should remain silent because I lacked the necessary qualifications to voice my faith.  Perhaps a sample of some of my reasoning will sound familiar to you:  I have no formal Christian education;  I don’t know the Bible as well as I should;  I don’t know how to present the Gospel smoothly and clearly;  I have no business sharing Jesus with anybody because I’ve made lots of my own mistakes along the way;  What if I mess up and get it wrong?

When combined, these misconceptions successfully kept me locked away in the dark.  I accepted these lies as truth for years and saw myself as someone who had no business sharing my faith.  Thinking like this, I was held captive on an endless merry-go-round of self-fulfilling prophecy going nowhere. 

But then an unexpected rescue happened in the middle of my search for the lost dog.  Abruptly awakened from the hypnotic trance of the lies, I was finally ready to get off this spinning ride that had kept me dizzy and off-balance for far too long.  But, how?  

“casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NKJV)

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

The author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, says, “instead of focusing on a goal you want to achieve, focus on the identity you want to have.”   Hmmmm.  My goal is to share my faith.  What if I were to readjust my focus from what I want to accomplish to who I want to be?  Better still, let’s take that thought a significant step further:  What if I began to see myself as He sees me?

The more you reaffirm who you are in Christ, the more your behavior will begin to reflect your true identity. Neil T. Anderson

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  John 1:12-13 (NKJV)

He says I am His child.  And so are you, my brother and sister in Christ!

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. “  2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV)

Studying His Word qualifies me as His approved worker.  And you as well!

“So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21 (NKJV)

He sees me as a voice, a herald, for Him.  And you likewise!

“Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”  Acts 3:6 (NKJV)

“Christ is mine, and I am His” is the one essential attribute I must have that empowers me to share Him with others.  And you are no different!

“that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”  Isaiah 61:3b (ESV)

He has firmly planted me in Christ’s righteousness for His glory.  And you, too!

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 2:4-5 (NKJV)

I am to have Christ’s mind that is concerned about others as well as myself.  And so are you!

It is Jesus’s remarkable healing touch, strength, and purpose that graciously calls and enables us to travel roads that were previously unfamiliar to us.  Gone are the dead-end streets of our choosing, and wide-open are the roads unlike any others with an extraordinary view of life in all directions of His choosing.

“But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”  Mark 10:27 (NKJV)

As we walk these roads, we are to share His life with others we meet along the way who are lost as we, too, once were lost.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,”  Ephesians 3:20 (NKJV)

“Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.”  Hebrews 12:12-13 (NKJV)

“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”  Romans 6:4 (NKJV)

No doubt all you pet lovers are probably wondering whatever became of the lost dog.  Six months after he first went missing, a full-page article in the local newspaper happily reported a most unlikely reunion between the dog and his family thanks to the tireless efforts of concerned neighbors who refused to give up hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”  Galatians 6:9 (NKJV)

I’m humbly and gratefully overwhelmed as I reflect on this entire story’s most unlikely unfolding.   What began as a seemingly “no-big-deal” decision to search for a lost dog turned into an extraordinary adventure of significance concerning a missing, critical aspect of my walk with Jesus that I never saw coming.

Jesus turned my thinking on its head thanks to a stunning, unanticipated plot twist.  Never in a million years did I think when I began looking for the lost dog that Jesus was simultaneously looking for a lost part of me.  Like those neighbors who never gave up on finding the missing dog,  He never gave up on that missing piece of me, a rescue that was years in the making.  And friend, He’s not given up on you either, no matter how far from home you’ve wandered, no matter what part of you is missing. Even now Jesus is calling out to you. Do you hear Him?

“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?  And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.  Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”  Matthew 18:12-14 (NKJV)

Pray with me, please…

Lord, encourage and lead us to ask You to do the impossible, the unlikely, the unanticipated, the out-of-the-ordinary in the ordinary of our lives, even in areas where we are blind or only dimly see.  Turn our world, our thinking, upside down with Your truth so that we rightly see according to Your ways and not ours.  May we always know that Your plans and intentions for us are good, and our future is full of hope because of Your loving presence and sovereignty.  Let the life-transforming ripples of Your love and kindness cause us to walk in the newness of life that only You can provide and, in turn, lovingly share Your good news with others so that they, too, can experience Your life-giving freedom.  We humbly thank You and praise You for Your longsuffering, Your mercy, Your grace, Your unwillingness to leave us as You found us.  Oh Lord, we were indeed lost, and we knew it not, but now we are found, safe and secure in Your strong and loving arms.  Thank You for calling us to experience and to share all Your higher ground has to offer.  We ask all of this in Your Son’s name, our precious Savior, Jesus.  Amen.”

 “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)

Yes indeed, You most certainly have, Lord!  And we are grateful!

1!1!1!

Todd Agnew, “Grace Like Rain” from the album “Grace Like Rain.”

heart-spoken

“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.

Several posts on this site speak to these sorts of heartwarming moments.  Please check out “meanwhile behind the seens,” “diamond in the rough,” or “blanket coverage,” for example,  if you get the chance. “Trucks top rescue” is a post describing another friend’s spiritually meaningful and oh so timely encounter with a dove in an unlikely location during a difficult time in her life.

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)

1!1!1!

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!)

His Sound Affection

“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

Boom!

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.”

eyes toward the Son

“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)

Power Washing

Power Washing

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)

Jesus is the River of Life.  Jordan Feliz, “The River” from the album “The River.”

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  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)

Michael W. Smith, “Washed Away” from the album “Surrounded.”

The Miracle of Him

“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”

blanket coverage

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”