content?meant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Paul is a person completely sold out for God.

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

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

Paul has learned the secret for true contentment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He! Is! Worthy! 

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

Be Still and Know by Christy Nockels from the album Healer

ɯʎ ʍɐʎ oɟ ʇɥᴉuʞᴉuƃ

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

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

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed;”  Luke 4:18 (NKJV) (note: see also Isaiah 61:1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”  John 15:2 (NKJV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?  And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.  Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”  Matthew 18:12-14 (NKJV)

Pray with me, please…

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

 “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.’” Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

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

1!1!1!

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

Under His (re)Construction

When it rains, it pours, as the old saying goes. Let’s reword that a bit for spiritual purposes. “When He reigns, He pours!” To be clear, however, please understand it’s not a question of whether or not He is reigning since He is sovereign all of the time and in all circumstances, of course. Instead, this intentional rewording proclaims He is capable of accomplishing more than we can ever begin to imagine all of the time.  The limitations imposed are ours and not His.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21 (NKJV)

If one exclamation point is instructive, then certainly a second one is even better. Such is the framing of this latest post. The first exclamation point, “His Sound Affection,” is barely a few days old, and now comes this second one hot on the heals of the first and an even older post beyond that, as well.

Yes, the use of “heals” rather than “heels” is very much intentional in this well-known phrase because the Lord is white-hot when it comes to His commitment towards healing (building) His children.  Exchanging these identically pronounced words in this particular instance seems very right and thought-provoking to me.  Indeed, our Lord, Jesus, endured so much for our healing.

“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.” Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV)

Let’s take a short detour down one more side street before diving fully into today’s post for just a moment. I can’t help but wonder what remarkable things we miss when we choose to bypass pathways that present themselves to us because they appear to be “out of our way.”   Yes, this is but another way of saying, “let’s stop and smell the roses.”

Given that we are discussing exclamation points, it’s fascinating to note the “!” physical location on a computer keyboard relative to another symbol’s location.   If you look at your keyboard, you’ll see the “!” and the “1” share the same key.  Coincidence?  Maybe so.  But maybe not. 

From my perspective, I find it extremely interesting that there is but the One (1) God, who, if we were to assign a punctuation mark to in an attempt to describe Him, must undoubtedly be an exclamation point (!) to my way of thinking.  After all, He is exceptional and worthy of nothing less!  Will you ever look at your keyboard in the same way again now that you’re aware of that shared association?  I can’t, and it’s my hope you won’t be able to either.

In my previous post, we discussed how we are an “ongoing project that is very much under His construction.” Today’s post is a continuation, an exclamation, if you will, of that thought.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve enjoyed watching the new two-story townhome construction that is ongoing less than a minute’s walk from our house. All of the ebbs and flows of building construction fascinate me.  Great strides are made at various times, followed by periods where things seem to stand still.  All in all, it’s an intriguing and compelling process to observe.

After what seemed like forever, it finally came time to install the windows into the roughed-in townhomes. However, the workers didn’t install all of the window units leaving a few holes glaringly unfinished. Much to my amazement, those holes stayed that way for a long time following the initial window installation. It was nothing but neglect as far as I was concerned.

I couldn’t figure out why the workers were seemingly ignoring this part of the job for the longest time.  The window units themselves were on site, yet the holes for the windows remained dark and unfinished for an uncomfortably long time as far as I was concerned.  Over the next few weeks, the roofers, electricians, and the heating and air conditioner workers all came and went.

Every day I’d walk by the building site and wonder, “What in the world were the builders thinking leaving these holes open like this?  There those few unplaced window units are stacked up in the garage; go ahead and install them for heaven’s sake!”

My lack of building construction understanding is showing here.  How little I truly understand about the entire process.  If you’re more familiar with construction than I am, then you’ve probably already figured out why those holes were left unfinished in the first place.  And it’s an excellent reason, by the way.

In 20-20 hindsight, I now understand the window openings were left undone so that large, heavy materials, such as sheetrock, in this case, could be delivered through them via a monstrous, telescoping loader to the upstairs portion of the townhomes.  Let me now state the obvious:  it turns out the builders knew so much more than I ever gave them credit for knowing by leaving the window openings undone.  In other words, they knew what they were doing all along.

There’s a simple but essential principle to take away from this lesson, spiritually speaking.  Aren’t we all guilty of that same sort of off-base thinking at one time or another when it comes to examining what God is doing in our lives as well?  I have to admit there are times when I think the Lord has gotten things out of order in the middle of the construction phase He has underway.  And that not just concerning His plans for me, but for other people and their circumstances as well. 

When I see unfinished openings, it concerns me.  “Put the window in, now.  The opening is ready, and the parts are here ready to go.” I say.  The Master Builder replies, “Be patient.  I have my excellent reasons to leave it incomplete at this moment.  I’m still working in this area, and there is much to be accomplished.  There is more to this unfinished hole than you realize.  The opening needs to remain as it is for now.”

“Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’? Isaiah 45:9 (NKJV)

A few years ago, I discussed pretty much this same issue in my post entitled, “the (s)Parking lot.” I’m a slow learner, it seems. Is that why I’m again revisiting that few-year-old post for that very same reason? Hmmmmm. Or, is there something more to this struggle beyond my being a slow learner, which I’ve thought to be primarily a patience issue? Is it possible there’s more to the unfinished spiritual window opening as I’ve previously understood it this entire time?

And suddenly, I now realize there is so much more to this hole beyond my battle with impatience.”   Yes, I see the issue behind the issue more clearly now.  My struggle with patience finds its beginning with a still more profound problem.   I also struggle with giving up control to Him. 

“There is more going on in your life than you can ever see.  I see the big picture while you can only focus on only a small portion of the (re)construction project I know as you. You’re going to have to trust me for all of it, both the big and the little picture.  When you do that, you’ll find you have a lot more patience along the way.”

Carrie Underwood, “Jesus Take the Wheel,” from the album, “Some Hearts.”

Lord, Help me remember that I am Your building project that is very much a work in progress.    I’ve got a considerable number of barnacles attached to me that You’re in the process of removing from me, as well.  In their place, You are creating within me beauty as only You can create, and doing that right requires Your perfect timing.  Forgive me for my impatience as You work to build me into the person You have called me to be.  Help me to let go of my ways so that I can more fully know Your ways, for the work of Your hands is good, Lord.   Mold me and shape me after Your will.  Your purposes, not mine, Your plans, not mine, Your way, not mine.  You are my Creator, and I am Your created.  In Jesus’ name, amen 1!1!1!1!1!1!1!1!1!

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

“Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.  I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify Your name forevermore.”  Psalm 86: 11-12 (NKJV)

Casting Crowns, “In The Hands Of The Potter” from the album, “Only Jesus.”

His Sound Affection

“So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  Romans 10:17 (WEB)

“Insistence on security is incompatible with the way of the cross…So to follow Jesus is always to accept at least a measure of uncertainty, danger, and rejection for His sake.”  John R. W. Stott

Almost exactly two years ago, I posted sound affects.  Yes, in case you’re wondering, the use of “affects” not “effects” is very much intentional in that post’s title.   God is always present, but the world’s noisy commotion does its very best to divert our attention elsewhere.  If we’re going to “hear” Him and be affected by what we hear, we must make a conscious effort to include Him in our daily lives.

“The call of God is not just for a select few but for everyone.  Whether I hear God’s call or not depends on the condition of my ears, and exactly what I hear depends on my spiritual condition.”  Although I had not yet stumbled upon this particular quote by Oswald Chambers at the time, “Per-sway-did or per-sway-dead?” was written from a very similar mindset.  I love the Lord’s quilt weaving that is neither bound by time nor location!

My previous thoughts expressed in the original post gained a much-needed exclamation point of emphasis this morning as I walked down our street towards the waters of the sound.  Not only are we invited to hear Him but to dive fully into Him and experience all He has to offer.  It is a most welcome and timely invitation to intimacy.

 “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Psalm 34:8 (NKJV)

This morning the surf’s distant roar from waves crashing against the Gulf-side of the beach was still quite evident so long as you paid attention, just as it was back in 2018.  What struck me this time, however, is that is all you can hear.  When you’re standing more than a mile away from the surf line, the roar is an indistinct, constant, radio-station-static-like sound. If you’ve ever experienced the joy of being on the beach, you know each wave creates a beautiful crescendo of sound all its own, distinct and separate from the others, as it breaks along the shore.  It’s a stark contrast of sounds generated from the same source.

And so it likewise is concerning our communication and thus our relationship with God.  Being within hearing distance and hearing His “roar” is a much-needed and welcome step in the right direction.  However, the simple truth is that our relationship with the Lord grows by leaps and bounds when we come close enough to realize He is singing over us.  He is calling us home to Himself.  It is the dramatic night and day difference between being merely “aware of Him” and intimately “knowing Him, and being known by Him.”

“Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me.” Psalm 42:7 (NKJV)

In his YouVersion devotional, “Discover Your True Self,” Chip Ingram rightly observes, “If you’ll take a step toward God, He will take every other step toward you, no matter how many it takes.” But you have to respond.”

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8a (NKJV)

This verse conveys a conditional promise.  Yes, God will draw near to you, but we must respond by taking a step towards Him first for this to occur.  As human beings, we face somewhat of a problem here regarding that crucial first step.  On the one hand, when things are going well for us, our attitude is often complacency towards God.  We’re not necessarily inclined to make that step happen when the sun is out.  Yet, when times are tough and foreboding, we frequently look upon God with suspicion and wariness.  It’s a double-edged sword all too often.

In “How to Have Intimacy with God,” Jon Bloom addresses these issues this way: “Trust is at the heart of intimacy. The more we trust someone, the closer we let them get to us. The degree to which trust is compromised in a relationship is the degree to which intimacy evaporates.  This is as true in our relationship with God as it is in our relationships with other human beings. Our experience of God’s nearness or distance is not a description of his actual proximity to us, but of our experience of intimacy with him. Scripture shows us that God is intimate with those who trust him. The more we trust God, the more intimately we come to know him. A felt distance from God is often due to a disruption in trust, such as a sin or disappointment.” (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-have-intimacy-with-god)

Ridgelines are topographic drainage divides that divert water towards one watershed basin or the other.  Challenging circumstances like where I now find myself are spiritual ridgelines challenging me to trust or not trust the Lord.  Balancing at the very top of the divide is not possible.  Unlike the drop of water precariously poised at the ridgeline, I have a choice to make.

Friends, it’s always true that whatever you read here is born out of my experiences of “walking around the block of life a time or two with the Lord,” as I like to describe it.  Simply put, what I share here with you first finds its genesis in my walking.   Today’s “exclamation point” couldn’t have come at a better time for me.

My relationship with the Lord has come under brutal attack the past few weeks.   Disappointment has reared its ugly head in an unveiled and bold attempt to persuade me that He is not trustworthy.  Feelings of abandonment have tried to capsize and sink my faith. 

A couple of weeks ago, my three-year-old startup company experienced a crushing disappointment when our bid to acquire another company’s interest failed.  Our efforts to do so were months in the making.  Had we been successful in that effort, our company would’ve finally succeeded at getting our heads above water.

Going into the bidding process, we were confident our nearly-empty-timeline hourglass for our company I mentioned in “The Miracle of Him” was finally going to be replenished by a large supply of sand grains once we secured the properties.  Such was our hoped-for expectations regarding the potential impact of this acquisition.

And what an impact it was, too, of the worst possible sort.  James Taylor’s poignant lyrics from his song, “Fire and Rain,” capture the depths of my disappointment upon first learning we had come up short in our attempt to secure the deal.  In that song, he sings, “Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.” There was nothing but smoldering wreckage as far as the eye could see after that utterly distressing phone call informing me we had failed.

Things have not gone at all as I imagined they would go with my startup company these past three years.  I watched God create this business opportunity out of seemingly nothing in 2017.  Where once there was nothing, He miraculously provided.  No, I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I mistakenly thought we’d experience success reasonably early on, especially since we had His apparent blessings.  However, my expectations have not matched up very well with the reality of how things have gone since we’ve been in business.  To say I’m intimately familiar with disappointment at this point is an understatement.

More times than I can count, my business partner and I have discussed a quote by Mike Tyson, the world’s former heavyweight boxing champion. “Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the mouth.” Indeed.  Say what you want to say about Mr. Tyson, but he’s punched a truth ticket with this one.

As a believer, what do you do, what do you believe, when you find yourself flat on your back yet one more time drowning in a nauseating sea of swirling stars after a vicious, lip-splitting punch in the mouth?   Do you believe the Lord’s affections and intentions for you are sound even in the face of relentless disappointment? Alarmingly, spurred on by this latest crushed expectation, I have found myself straddling an unexpected spiritual ridgeline.   

In response to my concerns, the Lord lovingly answers with questions of His own, saying, “Who do you believe Me to be?  Do you believe My plans for your life are good?  Do you believe I care for you?  Do you trust Me?” The truth is that His questions are reminders, invitations to experience greater intimacy with Him by trusting Him when life inevitably gets messy and complicated. 

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NKJV)

“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.”  C. H. Mackintosh

Boom!

My struggles revolve around my unrealized expectations, which have caused me to focus on my uncomfortably lengthy circumstances rather than Him.  Mercenaries known as sadness, panic, disillusionment, and self-pity have relentlessly stormed my castle walls.  What am I to do in the face of this onslaught?

One of my go-to verses these past several years has been Lamentations 3:24 (NKJV), which says, “The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!’”  It’s worth noting that other translations substitute “wait” for “hope.”  Now that potential financial disaster is staring me squarely in the face, have I been guilty of only talking a good game with this verse?  I said I would wait on Him in this season because He is worth waiting on, but that was several very long and hard years ago.   Did I mean that or not?  Has my trust in Him been misplaced?

 “Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’” Exodus 32:1 (NKJV)

“It’s easy to love and trust God when life is good, but when things fall apart is when you find out what we truly believe.”  Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (the devotional)

Am I so different than the Israelites?  Sadly, I am not.  My impatience is showing, along with other less desirable traits of mine.  The problem lies with me, not Him.   

A fire has a way of refining and purifying like no other means.

A couple of pertinent quotes from movies I’ve recently watched have caught my attention.  They share a recurring theme that fits rather nicely here. “Sometimes you gotta tear something down so you can build it back up again” (Joshua). “Any story that’s good has to go wrong before it gets good.” (Storm Boy)

Revisiting Lamentations 3:24 in light of these quotes is the smart thing to do, especially so when bathed in the truth espoused by Romans 8:28-29 (NKJV), which says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  

And so I am graciously reminded that I’m an ongoing project that is very much under His construction.  As a rule, what building projects aren’t messy along their way to being completed?  To expect otherwise is a mistake that makes me vulnerable to a whole host of issues, the likes of which I’m now experiencing. 

My attention has wrongly been on my circumstances and not on Him.  Lord, reframe and refocus my perspective and my attention to You!

Josh Baldwin, “Evidence” from the album, “Evidence.”

 “Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; and Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:4-7 (NKJV)

Recall and revisit the evidence of His provision and presence!  Of course! Yes! I may be hanging on by a thread, but I know Who holds the thread!

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”  Corrie Ten Boom

Heavenly Father, I have experienced Your ongoing presence in so many different ways these past years.   Lord, You rightly instructed the Israelites to employ Jordan Stones as remembrances of Your provision for generations to come that they would keep You always in their hearts.  I ask You to refresh my mind and spirit, too!  Immerse me in Your goodness, mercy, and grace!  Fill me to overflowing with Your presence so that I will know You more deeply.  Lord, my faith and trust have waivered because I took my eyes off of You. Please forgive me.   Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.  May I always seek first Your Kingdom and Your righteousness. In Jesus’ name, amen.

My fellow brother and sister in Christ, have you heard His song, the sound of His voice calling out to you?  His affection for each of us is more beautiful and sound than you and I could ever imagine.  He is calling you to Himself in the midst of whatever your circumstances are in this moment.  Do you hear His voice?  Do not be afraid; take that first step towards Him, for He is altogether trustworthy!

“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (NKJV)

“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)

Third Day, “Sound of Your Voice” from the album, “Move.”

Coram Deo: an unparalleled adventure

“To live Coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. This phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of God.” R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries

Psalm 23 (NKJV)

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

What if this is the last post I ever have the opportunity to write?

What if reading this is your last opportunity to do anything?

In just a few hours I will undergo surgery.  It is a minor surgery that doesn’t involve matters of life and death as so many others will endure this very same day all across this globe we all call home.  Yet, it still causes me to pause and take a longer, deeper look at what is most important.

What thoughts run through your mind after reading these questions?  Are they balls and chains that weigh you down, buzz-kills if you will, or do you view them instead as unlikely wings that, when firmly attached to Him (“Grounded Flight of Freedom”), allow you to soar in ways and into places you never imagined possible?  When the latter occurs, a whole new world of previously unrecognized opportunities to be “Flying with God”presents themselves.

To live absent or oblivious to the underlying truth behind such questions is to miss out on living abundantly.  To live in their sweet presence, however, is to experience “a life danced to the rhythm of God’s wisdom in a Byrd’s song.”  Indeed, acknowledging this truth allows us to live each day to the fullest.  This understanding ironically ushers us into a previously unseen world of incredible possibilities.  What seems at first blush to be uncomfortably confining is ultimately found to be incredibly liberating.

Can nature’s song sound any purer than if you consider it from the perspective of recognizing you may never hear its captivating melodies again?  Can the sky be any bluer than with such a mindset?  The night stars twinkle so brightly?  A flower’s bloom smell any sweeter?  Can the touch, the look, the sounds of those you love be any more profoundly moving than when you humbly acknowledge it could be your last time?

My friend, this post has continued to grow far beyond what I originally envisioned.  At first, I strongly resisted this expansion, wanting to keep this post as concise as possible, which admittedly is always an ongoing challenge for me.  However, what began as a bubbling spring on a hillside has blossomed into a full-fledged waterfall.  It is a captivating sight.  I cannot look away.  The vibrant current transports me along its purposeful path towards adventures only it knows at this moment.  I am like a child on Christmas morning.   My smile stretches from head to toe, and back again.

With renewed vision, I see that He would have me paint a much different picture than I originally intended.   Quite frankly, it’s a picture I have needed to see as so often I’m prone to see the tree but not the forest.  “It’s the view from 20,000 feet high” as my mentor, 2Tim, likes to say from time to time.  After all,  the Lord cannot be constrained to the earth-bound muddlings of the likes of someone like myself.  The great I AM is thankfully so much more than my small-minded, narrow “God-in-the box” notions.

Each post I make addresses something He is teaching me, something I need to understand more fully.  This latest endeavor continues in that vein.    My hope and prayer are that you, as a fellow voyager, will walk away from this journey with a more profound and revolutionary awareness of His sweet presence in your life as well.  In turn, may you be “contagious, unstoppable, and revolutionary” in your walk of faith, as John Eldredge notes in his book, “All Things New.”

Sprinkled throughout this post are links to past compositions already present on this site.  Alone, these posts are but singular notes.   Considered together, however, they become a captivating melody, if you will allow me to be so bold as to use that description.  Yes, the view from 20,000 feet is quite extraordinary and humbling.  In moments like this, I enjoy telling people, “Nobody weaves a quilt like the Lord, nobody!”

“We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow.”B.J. Neblett

Embracing a grander perspective is vital to ensuring our walk with Him remains headed in His direction, and not one of our choosing.  If we focus solely on the tough times as completely individual pieces with no interconnectivity, we risk losing sight of not only the larger quilt He is weaving, but even more significantly, the Weaver Himself.

My fellow adventurer, where is hope to be found under a narrow, fragmented perspective?  If we are to experience “tapping into hope,”  then we must remain vigilant, trusting that there is a much bigger picture than the circumstances staring us immediately in the face.   Hearts aligned with the Lord are then able to discover and embrace the hope lying just beneath the surface within the “Beauty is in the ayes of His beholders,” for example.

Walking with the Lord through the garden of your life, can you imagine a more breathtaking lifetime adventure than this?  Surely there is nothing more mysterious, more beautiful, more revealing than this remarkable experience shared with the Living God, your Creator, your Salvation, the Author and Perfecter of your faith.

Each step, each bend, each vista, both large and small, is like a breath of fresh air after a cleansing summer rain when He is by your side.  It’s seeing things as if you’re gloriously experiencing them for the very first time as a wide-eyed child.  “Three in one” was such an experience.  Yes, this odyssey with the Lord is nothing short of extraordinary.  It overflows with sacred and noteworthy moments that span the variety of seasons that add vibrant color and meaningful depth to our lives.  It’s like Dorothy stepping out of her former black and white world into the spectacular explosion of color, sights, and sounds that is the Land of Oz.

As you explore the winding path with the Lord, there inevitably comes the time when He pauses, puts His arm around your shoulder, and looks off into the distance.  Pointing with His finger towards the distant horizon, He says to you with great anticipation in His voice, “Look there, my child. Do you see that?”

Squinting mightily, you peer off in the direction of His outstretched finger. “Lord, I’m looking, but I’m unable to make out what it is that You want me to see.” “I know, child. It’s OK that you can’t see it yet, but I wanted you to know I have already provided and planned something marvelous for you.  The closer we get to it, the clearer it will become for you.  It’s so lovely and magnificent!” He replies. “Oh! It sounds spectacular!  How I wish I could see it, Lord!” you exclaim. “You will not be disappointed, I promise!” He whispers into your ear as He grasps your shoulder even more tightly.  Gazing off into the distance, an ever-broadening, glowing smile of immense satisfaction appears on His face as He turns His attention back to you.  It’s a smile that instantly warms your entire being.

Continuing, He adds, “I’m excited for you to see it and to share this adventure with you.  It’s a long journey to get there, but I’ll be there every step of the way with you so you’ll never be alone.  I must tell you, though, that there may be times when the temptation to think and feel otherwise might present itself.   There will also be times in which you seem not to be making any progress.  Don’t worry, though, because (S)Parking Lots have their good purposes.   Remember to pursue My Word that it will always be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (Psalm 119:105.) Welcome My presence moment by moment with open arms so that you may enjoy its full and “sound affect”on you.  Surround yourself with brothers and sisters of spiritual character and integrity (Hebrews 10:25.)  Allow their iron to sharpen your iron (Proverbs 27: 17)  Be encouraged by their stories like “Truck stop rescue”in which they have experienced My presence (Joshua 4:4-7) and unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3.)  Listen carefully, my child, fear not for I will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6.)  Have faith that I’m always there beside you working on your behalf “behind the seens.”  Together, we will go on this quest that will be incredibly challenging at times but immensely rewarding.  Keep your eyes always on Me so that you stay the course and do not falter (Hebrews 12:1-3.).  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.  (Matthew 11:29, NKJV)  In the end, the effort will seem light when compared to the great reward I have in store for you (Philippians 3:13-15.)   You will not be disappointed. How does that sound to you?”

Listening intently, you subconsciously rise on your tip-toes in hopes of obtaining a more precise view only to come up short in your effort yet again. “Lord, I still can’t make out what You want me to see. Is there something wrong with me that I can’t see it?” you ask with a slight bit of uncertainty in your voice.  “No, my child,” comes His soothing voice.  “Many others also find themselves exactly where you are now standing. They also express similar concerns.   You are a “diamond in the rough” just as they are.  The time has come for you to move forward if you want to discover what lies in the distance.  You must move beyond this place in which you have become comfortable.  You must move courageously in faith towards what is unknown to you but known to Me.”

It’s fair to say that so long as we’re comfortable most of us are quite happy to stay exactly where we are.  Two of my favorite quotes come to mind.  The first is from the movie, “Morgan” in which Dr. Alan Shapiro, played by Paul Giamatti, says, “I have found comfort to be a possible thorn in the side of revelation.”  The second quote is by John Maxwell.  It reiterates the same basic idea as the first.  “If we are growing, we are always going to be outside of our comfort zone.”

Of this much, I am sure: His plans and purposes for our lives are far more significant and grander than you or I can imagine.  To allow us to languish in comfort when we are as yet unfinished lumps of clay would fall well short of who He is and who He has purposed us to be.  His love for His children presses us onward and upward toward mountain peaks instead of little hills.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4 (NKJV)

To grow, you have to go; it’s as simple as that.  An old familiar saying puts it like this:  “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”  Stagnation is quite unlikely to happen when you’re moving.  No way is the Lord going to allow His people to become covered in moss.  Even God’s own Son, our Lord, and Savior, Jesus, was always on the move.

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’”  Luke 9:58 (NKJV)

Ironically, we all strive mightily to be comfortable, but once obtained, it is comfort itself that too often hinders and thwarts our spiritual progress.  We have misunderstood “happiness.”

In Desiring God, John Piper explains, “The very longing for contentment that ought to drive us to simplicity of life and labors of love contents itself instead with the broken cisterns of prosperity and comfort.”

“Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches-feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.”  Proverbs 30:8-10 (NKJV)

“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing…”  Revelation 3:17a (NKJV)

What is the remedy for our chasing of things that offer only temporary relief in our search for happiness?  How can we avoid falling into the deadly trap of filling the “broken cisterns of prosperity and comfort?”  The answer? We must be firmly grounded in Him.  Cultivate your relationship with Him with all your might.  The better you know Him, the more you will experience His peace and joy and the things of this world will lose their grip on you.

“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.  I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life.” Psalm 119:92-93 (NKJV)

The Psalm 119:92-93 author experienced a life-threatening event.  Ironically, in the throes of his wrestling match with death, however, he miraculously found life.  The thorn of affliction, although unidentified, was the catalyst for such an epiphany.

This much is sure:  the truth and wisdom found in verses like this were purposefully wrought on the rocky shores of adversity and desperation far, far away from the safe, moss-covered harbor of comfort.   “Faith rubber meets the rowed”  happens outside the bounds of a comfortable sanctuary.  To enjoy the abundant life God intends for us, we must look beyond the walls of comfort.

What do you think?  Was the Psalm 119:92-93 trial too great of a price to pay for such a life-altering revelation?  For something that creates deeper trust, intimacy, and dependency upon the Father?  For something that ultimately glorifies God?

Let’s consider Joseph’s story, as told in Genesis.  He unexpectedly found himself at the bottom of a dark pit at the hands of none other than his brothers, who then sold him to strangers.  His treasured coat of many colors had been stripped from him.   And what about those marvelous dreams he had boasted so freely about to his family?  Instead of his brothers bowing down at his feet as foretold by the dreams, he now found himself staring up at their feet.  Surely at that moment, he must have felt as if his whole world had suddenly collapsed around him.

Yet not only did Joseph survive this and other challenging situations that followed, but he thrived.  How was this possible?

How we view troublesome circumstances that we encounter along life’s path dictates whether we survive and thrive, as Joseph did, or experience ruin and heartache.   When we face setbacks, do we see the pits as bottom-less, or as bottom-more?  It would be easy and for an excellent reason to call such a place, “despair.”  Or perhaps it would be better named “prepare?” Our answer to these questions is critical and reflective of one’s perspective, one’s worldview.

“It’s time that you take a close look at your God concept.  Your God concept is what you think about God and how you feel about Him.  These beliefs and feelings become a type of filter in your brain.  Inevitably you will not live with the facts of your life but the interpretation of the facts of your life.”  Paul Marc Goulet

“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.”  C.H. Mackintosh

The world, apart from God, is predisposed to view such dreadful pits as dead-end roads lacking hope that ultimately leads to nowhere good.  Alternatively, an eternal perspective that embraces the sovereignty and flawless character of God believes there is ample reason to hope and, therefore, not give up, regardless of the circumstances.

Astonishingly, this hole was the improbable and unlikely beginning of his Coram Deo journey to becoming the much-admired, God-centered “Genesis 50:20” Joseph.  Therefore, wisdom accompanied by faith instructs us, His children, to not be too hasty regarding our perception of our circumstances at any given moment, and instead beckons us to view our conditions in this world with Romans 8:28-30 in full view at all times.   Why is this viewpoint so critical?  Joseph became humbly teachable at the bottom of that pit, and so must we in order to become useful in God’s Kingdom.

To what end, such a profound transformation as Joseph underwent?  And for what purpose?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism #1 answers these questions:  Q1-“What is the chief end of man?  A1-Man’s chief end is to glorify God, by enjoying Him forever.”

Unwavering faith grows when a person experiences first hand His intimate presence and ongoing provision.  Trials amplify this learning process.  As the saying goes, “Faith isn’t fact until it’s tested.”  Tested faith joyfully proclaims and shares what it knows to be true.  It is no longer a mindless faith that timidly whispers of what it does not genuinely know, but rather it becomes a passionate voice crying out in the wilderness that He is none other than who His Word proclaims Him to be.  He has come to set the captives free!  Yes?

Psalm 23 is an overflowing fountain heralding God’s Kingdom built upon King David’s tested faith and personal relationship with Him.  We are to be fountains overflowing with His living water, as well.  I can’t speak for you, but the still, small Voice in my heart whispers, “How well does your fountain flow?”

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

A loaf of bread can momentarily satisfy a person’s physical hunger, but the Word of God nourishes the starving soul forever.

“When our body needs energy, we eat food. But when our soul needs hope, what do we feed it? Promises…. Our souls are designed to be nourished by God’s ‘precious and very great promises.’” (2 Peter 1:4, NIV) Jon Bloom

How priceless, then, are situations that teach this ageless truth and create deeper intimacy with Him?  If you have been to such a heavenly place wherein you have been entirely dependent upon Him, then this portion of the journey is familiar to you.

Genuine freedom and wisdom are not acquired cheaply.  What price an authentic life?  What price freedom? Our Savior paid the ultimate price to secure our freedom.  Is it any surprise, then, that our transformation into His likeness is costly as well?

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”  Luke 9:24 (NKJV)

Judging from my own life experiences, I can confidently attest that the Lord is the actual source of such wisdom regarding the importance of our moving beyond our comfort zones.  What, then, are the circumstances that have taken me outside the comforts of a hammock gently swinging beneath lush shade trees?  What is the landscape of the pit I am now experiencing?

I am momentarily stepping aside from the plot to tell you a portion of my story.  It is not to whine or complain, mind you.  No, not at all.  Nor is it to elicit pity.  Instead, I feel the need to inform you of my immediate circumstances, given its relevancy to this discussion.

I am at an age that is generally perceived to be associated with retirement.  Retirement in the foreseeable future is off the table for me, however.  About three and a half years ago, I was laid off by my former almost two-decades-long employer as a result of a severe downturn in the oil and gas business.  Three days after my layoff, my partner experienced the same fate.  A half-year later, my partner and I were blessed to most improbably give birth to a drilling and exploration company.  We have primarily provided the “sweat equity” while a group of investors has provided the funding for this startup company.  The life expectancy of this enterprise was for two years, based on our partners’ level of financial investment.  Miraculously we are now one year beyond that expected expiration even though we have yet to produce one dollar of revenue to date despite our best efforts to the contrary.

As you might guess, COVID-19 has only served to compound our problems like it has for so many.  My partner and I have given everything we have and more to this effort, yet we stand on the brink of a cliff.  The hourglass sand is trickling away with scant few grains remaining as you might correctly surmise.  If grains of sand each represent a month, then we are down to only two remaining grains.  The dream will become that distant “Wylie Coyote” puff of smoke and dust at the base of the cliff from the Roadrunner Cartoon series if we’re unable to establish a revenue stream quickly.  Financial ruin is on our doorstep.   At my age, how can one possibly hope to ever recover from such a devastating loss?  Will my wife and I find ourselves living under a bridge for the rest of our years?  These are questions that growl more loudly with each passing day.  In short, we need a parting of the Red Sea sort of miracle.

My relationship with the Lord has deepened remarkably throughout this experience.  I can honestly tell you that the reward of intimacy with Him I continue to receive is well worth the price.   Truthfully, I wouldn’t change any of this part of my journey if it meant losing Him.   I have gained so much more of Him through this valley.   He is my Rock, my Refuge, my Strength.  It is He that keeps me in unlikely peace amid this storm-filled pit.  I am blissfully dependent upon Him.

“In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.”  Psalm 94:19 (NKJV)

And so we return to where we earlier left our journey gazing at the distant horizon.  There is but one remaining question that must be asked: “Do you trust Me?”

That is THEE question before all of us, His children, wouldn’t you say?  How do you respond to Him?  Will you go with Him to discover this distant, unknown beauty so that He may reveal it to you?  Or will you play it safe according to your understanding and remain firmly planted right where you are?  Will you be “per-sway did or per-sway-dead?”

The great I AM now knocks at the door of your heart, beckoning you to follow Him.  Perhaps your response to the question is predicated upon your knowing how this adventure ends.  For those that need an answer, I have good news for you.  You don’t have to remain in the dark any longer.  He has already given to each of us, His children, the remarkable answer to that question.  Be encouraged by His words.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”  Romans 8:28-30 (NKJV) 

The Transformed You, my brother, and sister in Christ is the distant, gleaming beauty on the horizon at the end of the trail that He seeks to show you.  It is your metamorphosed beauty bearing His Son’s likeness and clothed with His righteousness that He aims to bring to your attention.  What was once unknown and unrecognizable to you has all been graciously revealed beforehand!  Therefore, consider solemnly “the few-ture”awaiting you.  Regardless of your current circumstances, do you now sense the heartbeat of hope and meaningful purpose rising within you?

“to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”  Isaiah 61:3 (ESV)
(emphasis mine)

There is but one true beauty responsible for this life-changing transformation leading to our being “(br)oak(en) for righteousness.”  Jesus, the “unfading Rose,” the One who has redeemed us and set us free, the One to whom we owe all, the One who willingly took our place that day on the cross, He is the reason.  Rejoice friends for He has made our destiny sure.  I say again, rejoice!

“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)

Will you accept His offer to lovingly guide you through the hills and valleys of your lifetime as King David declares in Psalm 23?  The first and last steps of your Coram Deo adventure in search of the destiny He has purposed and planned for you can successfully begin and end only one way:  trusting Him.

destiny6 WP straighten edit

In the end, He is what matters.  Do you trust Him?

“Only Jesus” by Casting Crowns from the album “Only Jesus”

the (s)parking lot

“See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

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

There is a bigger picture beyond what we can see.

A couple of years ago I helped my son-in-law, Andrew, return the rental truck and trailer to the rental agency after their move to a new city.  According to the GPS the rental business was only a short 15 minute drive away from their new apartment thanks to the nearby highway. “Piece of cake,” we both thought. 

As it turned out, however, it took us twice as long to get to the rental place as we originally thought it would.  Why?  Well, that’s because the parking lot turned out to be a time whirlpool. 

Leaving the parking lot should’ve taken us only a minute but ended up taking a whole lot more time and effort thanks to a neighbor who had inadvertently parked their truck in just the wrong position relative to our rental rig sometime during the night.  It was no longer a simple matter of merely pulling straight out of the parking lot like we had originally planned to do the night before. 

In order to get out of the parking lot Andrew had to pull up only a few feet, turn the wheels a bit, then back up, turn the wheels and so on and so on.  Back and forth he’d go more times than we could count before we were finally able to break free of the parking lot log jam.  It was very reminiscent of that funny movie scene in which Austin Powers (played by Mike Meyers) found himself in a golf cart crazily positioned sideways in a very narrow and restrictive hallway.   

In both examples a whole lot of maneuvering was required to make just a small amount of forward progress.  In map view as far as the GPS was concerned we hadn’t gone anywhere.

How many times have we experienced something like what Andrew and I endured in the parking lot when it comes to realizing goals in our lives?  Too numerous to count is my answer.

All too often it seems that where it is that you want to go or what you desire to possess is sometimes tantalizingly “just right over there.” It’s in sight and the way to get there appears to be straightforward and uncomplicated. 

Sometimes the prize is so close, in fact, that you can practically taste it.  It feels like it’s literally right there for the taking.  All you have to do is reach out your hand and… “Hold on there a minute.  Not so fast!” says an uninvited voice from out of nowhere.  “But…but…but…now wait a minute,” you exclaim out loud, your words seasoned with a fair amount of indignation just like your next door neighbor’s “private drive” sign.  “What do you mean ‘not so fast?’  It’s. Right. There! ” you pointedly observe.   “It’s really quite simple, my little motor boat,” says the unwavering voice referring to the sputtering sounds coming out of your mouth.  “There are some things you need to understand and learn first before moving ahead so things are going to have to slow down.”  Upon hearing those words your heart automatically sinks.

Honestly now, who among us enjoys going slow?

Far too often we tell ourselves we’re all ready to take possession of our goal or the object of our affection before we’re actually ready to do so.  We think we’re prepared for what lies ahead.  We believe we are ready and capable of handling highway speeds, but the truth is there are some things we need to learn in the parking lot and apply to our lives before we can safely handle the demands of the highway. 

Learning in the early stages of most things is painfully slow going just like Andrew and I experienced in the parking lot example.  It was frustrating for us to get hung up in the parking lot like we did, especially so realizing that the highway was only a few minutes away. 

No doubt about it the parking lot is not at all flashy when compared to the obvious forward progress one can make out on the highway.  The highway is always beckoning and teasing us with the lure of our making great, clearly visible forward progress strides, but the truth is if you get ahead of yourself and take on the highway before you’re actually ready the potential for disaster goes way, way up.

There’s a good reason the Lord made us so that we first crawl, then walk, and finally run.  He has only our best intentions at heart in doing so and the same is true in our lives regarding the spiritual maturing He is undertaking with us in preparation for our position in His earthly Kingdom as well as His heavenly Kingdom.   

In other words there is much more going on than what we can see.  There is a larger purpose, a bigger picture to the story in which each of us have been given a unique, important role to play.  Hebrews 11, the “faith chapter,” is replete with such stories reminding us of this truth is it not?   Faith such as described here was forged over a lifetime in many of these our long ago brothers and sisters.  

Lest we forget, our very own Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ, didn’t officially begin His ministry (the highway) until the age of 30. This was well after He had been found by his parents amazing the Jewish elders and leaders in the synagogue at the young age of 12 with his questions and answers. He, too, needed to experience His own (s)parking lot as found in Luke 2:41-52.

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”  Luke 2:52 (NIV)

It’s easy to become frustrated and impatient during what feels like an eternity in the Lord’s parking lot. When forward progress often feels more like 2 steps forward, 3 steps back it’s often frustrating. We need to learn to appreciate and be grateful for everything He is teaching us in this critical stage of our journey towards the fulfillment of His purposes and plans for us. 

Let us no longer see parking lots as uncomfortable periods of no to little outward progress that if given the choice we would likely choose to bypass, but rather as sparking lots in which we recognize that He is creating a rock solid foundation within us capable of withstanding the loads and challenges inherently found out on the highways.

And what exactly is that foundation? Simply put, it’s an ongoing, vibrant, intimate relationship with Him. All things flow from this fountain.

As the well-known saying goes, “He is equipping the called rather than calling the equipped.” And that, brothers and sisters, is definitely something we can all rejoice over for out of the spark nurtured by His gentle hand in our early “crawling” stages comes an enduring and brightly burning flame that will not be prematurely extinguished by highway speeds. 

Let us therefore be content to grow in Him according to His ways and timing and not be overly anxious to set foot on the highway until He gives us the go ahead to do so.

Now then, who among us is ready to try their hand at parallel parking?

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”  Joshua 1:8 (NIV)

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”  Colossians 2:7 (NKJV)