…NAILED IT…

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

4 Surely
 He
 has borne
 our griefs
And carried

 our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But

He
 was 
wounded
 for our transgressions,
He
 was 
bruised
 for our iniquities;
The chastisement

 for our peace 
was upon
 Him,
And

by
His 
stripes
 we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on

 Him
 the iniquity of us all.
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.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people

He
 was
stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death, Because He

had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge

 My righteous Servant
 shall justify many,
For He shall bear

their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because

He
 poured out
 His soul unto
death,  
     and He was numbered with the transgressors,
And

 He
bore the sin
of many,
And made intercession

 for the transgressors.”
 (Isaiah 53, NKJV)

…nailed it…

nailed it WP edit

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”

 

(br)oak(en) for righteousnessk

“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. So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: 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”

 

cloudy, with a 100% chance of miracles

“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

appealing to your heart

“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.”

the grace-full high five

“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.

“YOU…you…you…DO…do…do…NOT…not…not…MEASURE…measure…measure…UP…up…up…NEVER…never…never…HAVE…have…have…NEVER…never…never…WILL…will…will… LOSER…loser…loser…”

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)

truck stop rescue

(photo courtesy of Mindi H.)

“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

 

Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (radio version)

Three as One

“One thing I have asked of Yahweh, that I will seek after, that I may dwell in Yahweh’s house all the days of my life, to see Yahweh’s beauty, and to inquire in his temple.”  Psalm 27:4 (WEB)

True Beauty, can you be in its presence and ever be the same again?  Noble Beauty grabs you and won’t let go, nor do you want it to let go of you.  And rightly so.  Pure Beauty is transformative as it holds your fluttering, breathless heart completely captive with a fiercely compelling tenderness that cannot, that will not, be denied.  It is an admirable and excellent loveliness that possesses depth without limits.  Why else do we return again and again to drink from True Beauty’s praiseworthy cup of purple mountains’ majesty?  So deep is it that one time is immensely satisfying, but never enough, nor is a thousand times.  Is one sunrise enough?  One sunset?  As more is revealed the more of Authentic Beauty we desire with great longing…and the more it graciously gives of itself such that we are willingly swept along True Beauty’s redemptive path.

As I walked down the road contemplating His beauty as the unfading Rose a prayer tugged at my heart.  “Lord, would you reveal even more of Your beauty to me?  Would You grant me a greater understanding of You?”  Arriving at the cul-de-sac a few minutes later I stood there and surveyed my surroundings.  There really wasn’t that much to see that I hadn’t already seen before on previous walks to the same spot.  Yes, the light breeze was nice, as was the sun shining through the trees, and all the birds were singing like usual, too.  By all accounts this was a lovely, but ordinary day.  But, then, suddenly three birds burst out of nowhere flying in what appeared to be impossibly close quarters to one another.  They flew spontaneously yet did so with the precision of a well-rehearsed marching band as they bobbed and weaved through the air in remarkable harmony and rhythm with one another.  It was as if they knew beforehand what the other would do.  Their dance in mid-air was joyfully synchronized such that it had the appearance of the breath of life itself.  Captivated, I could not take my eyes away from the beauty circling round about me.

“But ask the animals, now, and they shall teach you; the birds of the sky, and they shall tell you. Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach you. The fish of the sea shall declare to you. Who doesn’t know that in all these, Yahweh’s hand has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?” Job 12:7-10 (WEB)

As I watched these birds it occurred to me that these three absolutely delighted in each other’s company.  They were completely and utterly enthralled with one another.  At that moment another thought crossed my mind: the remarkable dance of these birds across the sky is but a tiny glimpse into the beauty, mystery, and the pure joy of harmony and purpose shared by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The unity of the Trinity relationship is of such transcendent beauty and bliss that there can be no doubt that Our. Heavenly. Father. Is. Relational. At. His. Very. Core.

The splendor of the Trinity is multi-faceted.  There is beauty upon beauty. There is even more here still yet to be revealed. What is this forthcoming beauty? Incredibly, it’s that we, His created, are invited to take our place in Their extraordinary harmony and magnificent dance by embracing a vibrant, intimate relationship with Him.  We, His sons and daughters, have been offered the astonishing opportunity to take the outstretched, nail-scarred hand of the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords and soar across His creation in His arms.

“God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  Genesis 1:26a (WEB)

Surely, then, this is a Beauty like none other beckoning us to experience all it has to offer.  Indeed, there is no other invitation as exceedingly beautiful and gracious as this.  Let us rejoice and praise Him for it’s an incomparable Beauty of unity, fellowship, and love that our Savior has already fervently prayed over us.

“Not only for these do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, that they may also be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me.  The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one;   I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me.  Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me be with me where I am, that they may see my glory, which you have given me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world.  Righteous Father, the world hasn’t known you, but I knew you; and these knew that you sent me.  I made known to them your name, and will make it known; that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  John 17:20-26 (WEB)

Lord, sweep me away along True Beauty’s path of life with You!

 

Doxology by Stars Go Dim

beauty at the point of suffering

“Yahweh is my shepherd: I shall lack nothing.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even 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 loving kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Yahweh’s house forever.”  Psalm 23 (WEB)

 

Suffering.                                                                                                          Beauty.

 

Worlds apart in our minds…and in our hearts…are suffering and beauty.  So opposite are these two conditions that to intimately juxtapose them so that they are face to face with one another seems all-together not just unlikely but wrong.  Just as oil and water don’t mix likewise are suffering and beauty we say to ourselves.   Surely they are so vastly different from one another that they are better and more comfortably comprehended as if they exist on opposite sides of the ocean from one another.  Where there is pain, where there is suffering, there can be no beauty.  We are so convinced this is truth such that there can be no other understanding to our way of thinking.  After all have we not seen with our very own eyes and felt with our very own hearts from our personal vantage point in the watch tower known as experience that overlooks the paths we and so many others have trod that this is so?

Try as we might to avoid all the thorns sooner or later we are pierced.  No matter how hard we try there are some thorns in this life which simply cannot be avoided.  One day this dark, heartless rider takes us by force, carries us away, and unmercifully thrusts us directly onto the razor sharp point of a thorn.  It doesn’t matter why the rider came, it only matters that he did.  Cut, bleeding, and deeply wounded by the thorn’s presence the pain runs rampant throughout our entire being.  Pressed up against the crumbling, thorn-covered cliff’s edge precariously perched high above the unyielding rocks covering the valley floor far below our hearts long for mercy and deliverance.  Engulfed by our pain night and day we desperately search the all-too-blurry horizon through tear-filled eyes for signs of sweet, life-sustaining, live-giving hope galloping heroically towards us and again our past experiences remind us, as if on cue, of the great chasm that exists between

suffering                                                   and

beauty.

If only such a suffocating expanse of hopelessness could be bridged.   It’s not like we haven’t tried to make that journey, of course.  After all, pain and suffering seek relief, no, it is far more than that…they demand relief, and so countless times and in countless ways we have tried to cross this abyss,  all to no avail, all to our detriment.   Sadly, in our own attempts to obtain relief we eventually find that all too often what we once held the reins to now cruelly reigns over us:

(Johnny Cash, Hurt)

But, then God.

What humanity is unable to do the Lord accomplishes.   Only He is able to bring these two polar opposites together in such an extraorodinary way so as to create the spirit-lifting rhythm, melody, and soothing notes of harmony that we so desperately seek in the midst of our sufferings.  Only He can unite suffering and beauty in such a miraculous way that an even greater beauty of breathtaking signficance and transcendence is revealed.  It is a beauty like no other that lavishes our hearts and souls with the deliciously  honeysuckle sweet scent of hope which we so desperately seek in the depths of our sufferings.  As surely as the air we deeply inhale after a cleansing summer shower is wonderfully new, fresh, and utterly pleasant so is the message of hope delivered by His grace and mercy that is found in our Savior’s love for us.   Take heart, sister, take heart, brother, Jesus, our infinite Drop of living water overflowing with hope, comes to those who cry out to Him in their lowest and darkest times of need.

“Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit.”  Psalm 34:18 (WEB)

“Jesus answered her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  John 4:13-14 (WEB)

Poised and perfectly balanced on the sharp point of our suffering like the delicate drop of water at the end of the thorn Jesus compassionately offers His own beauty, joy, and hope to us in our time of heartache for He, too, has personally experienced the anguish and misery from life’s thorns, thorns that were ours and not His to bear.

“So Pilate then took Jesus, and flogged him.  The soldiers twisted thorns into a crown, and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple garment.  They kept saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  and they kept slapping him.”  John 19:1-3 (WEB)

Laid low in the darkness will we embrace the hope and beauty offered to us by the One, our precious Drop of Living Water, who willingly places Himself right on the very tip end of the thorn that is the source of our anguish?  Will we embrace His presence and know that we are not alone no matter how dark the dark, how excruciating the pain?   He has come to breathe life into our breaking hearts for His desire is to set us free, but we must begin to understand that there is a bigger story at work here beyond ourselves.  Certainly He understood this in His own life as He stumbled through angry crowds broken and beaten carrying a cross on His way to Calvary, didn’t He?  He trusted His Father to speak life into what appeared to thousands of eyes surrounding Him that day to be a one-way, dead-end street with absolutely no hope.  And so must we in the presence of thorns.   Only then can we find ourselves in His arms swaying to a melody of joy and undeniable hope that is unknown and foreign to the world.   Only then can we find the Beauty of Beauties waiting to be revealed within our suffering.  Only then can we experience transformative intimacy with Him.

“But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered for a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”  1 Peter 5:10 (WEB)

The beauty of His precious hope is ever before us.  It surrounds us.  Even in the midst of our being crushed it is present.  Surely, then, the words from that old familiar hymn ring even more sweetly in the warm and radiant sunrise of the wonderful promise of His healing presence in our lives as His precious children:

“This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long,

this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”

Why?  Because,  “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” for then, and only then, is it truly “well with my soul.”

(Francis Blight, My Hope is Built on Nothing Less)