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 to 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”

…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”

 

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 unfading Rose

 “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever.”  Isaiah 40:8 (WEB)

A rose in its prime is treasured the world over for its remarkable beauty.  For a few moments our lives are graced and inspired by its presence.  But, it’s a beauty not meant to last for very long.  As it fades away before our very eyes we are reminded that there is but one beauty that transcends time, a beauty that never fades away, a beauty that when intimately embraced in our lives grows ever more beautiful over time.  How can it not? He alone is the one true Rose of Sharon that loves you without ceasing and has promised to never leave your side.

I ask you, “Is there another Rose that is as true, as noble, as pure, as lovely, as of such good report, as virtuous, and as praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8) other than Jesus?  After all, there is no other Rose who died, was buried, and then rose three days later to set you, His dearly beloved, free.  Can there be anything more breathtakingly beautiful than the unfading Rose of our salvation?

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  Hebrews 13:8 (WEB)

“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines out.”  Psalm 50:2 (WEB)

 

Jason Upton, “Jesus, You’re Beautiful” (from the album “A Table Full of Strangers, vol 2”)

 

Be-loved

 “You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” Song of Songs 4:7 (NIV)

This photo has captivated me since I first saw it a few years ago.  How I wish I could say that I was the photographer that seized this remarkable moment, but I’m not.  No, that honor belongs to my friend, Amber Fletcher.  If one could give love a face, then, for me, the expression on the little girl’s face embodies everything I believe to be true about love.  The purity and unrestrained beauty of wholehearted love is utterly captivating isn’t it?  It’s breathtaking and draws our very souls with a deep yearning and longing.  Who among us doesn’t want to experience such a pure love as both giver and receiver?

Imagine, if you will, from a spiritual perspective that you are one of the two girls in this photo and Jesus is the other girl.  Which of the two do you choose to be?  Which one is Jesus?  If you’re at all like me then you chose to be the younger girl which makes Jesus the older girl, of course.

Why was I so quick to place myself into the young girl’s shoes?  The sad truth is my choice was based not so much on how great my love for Jesus is, although I do love Him, but rather my inability to believe Jesus could love me so absolutely unconditionally like I see in this photo.

In 20-20 hindsight I’m beginning to realize that even though many years ago I said “yes” to His marriage proposal from the cross that night in my living room I never fully embraced all that He had to offer beyond our wedding day.   Strange sounding I know.

I was able to accept that He loved me enough such that He would die for me, but somehow I managed to not allow it to go much further than beyond that point.  I have kept Jesus in sight, but at bay.  I have kept Him at arm’s length allowing no warm embrace between the two of us.   For years and years I have been halfhearted.  I have not been all in.

Yet, even in the face of my unwillingness and rebellion, He has loved me still with “an everlasting love, drawing me ever closer with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).  He has persisted and never given up on our relationship.  He has been faithful while I have not been.

I ask you, “Is there another who is so patient?  Who is so long-suffering? Who is so kind? Who is so forgiving?  Who has not ceased to continually scan the distant horizon in hopes of my complete return to Him?” And as I turn back towards Him, He runs to greet me knowing full well where I have been.

Who is this God?  Who is this Heavenly Father of ours who would run towards me as fast as He possibly can so as to embrace me even though I’m still wearing the dirty, filthy rags that proclaim for all to see all the years of my disobedience apart from Him?  Who am I to Him such that He would do this?  There is but one answer: I am His beloved.

And so, my friend and fellow believer, you are His beloved as well.  Will you allow Him to truly love you from the cross and beyond?

“Yahweh, your God, is among you, a mighty one who will save.  He will rejoice over you with joy.  He will calm you in his love.  He will rejoice over you with singing.”  Zephaniah 3:17 (WEB)

“Aren’t five sparrows sold for two assaria coins?  Not one of them is forgotten by God.  But the very hairs of your head are all counted.  Therefore don’t be afraid.  You are of more value than many sparrows.”  Luke 12: 6-7 (WEB)