short-sighted

 For we walk by faith, not by sight.  2 Corinthians 5:7 (NKJV)

Q:  Why do Christians not cross the road?

A:   Because we listen to our eyes.  Metaphorically that causes us to become spiritual chickens standing there motionless, afraid to move, longingly staring in the direction of God’s desired destination for us on the other side of the street.  It’s a matter of faith, or the lack thereof.

Our eyes deceive and paralyze us when it comes to trusting God.  Instructed to scout out the Promised Land, the spies reported what their eyes had seen to Moses when they returned.

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.”  Numbers 13:31 (NKJV)

Caleb also saw the same things the other scouts observed about the land the Lord had promised the Israelites but through the eyes of faith.

Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”  Numbers 13:30 (NKJV)

Taking ground and moving forward for God’s Kingdom is a Spirit-led initiative that the flesh cannot conceive of accomplishing. 

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)

As we all know far too well from personal experience, walking by faith is easier said than done.  What prevents us from stepping out in faith?

It’s a matter of focus.

We recently visited the local zoo with our two young granddaughters.  Soon enough, we came to one of our favorite attractions.  The elevated wooden walkway is something we love to do because it gives you an unobstructed and uncrowded view from both sides of various animals as you walk along its meandering track high above the different enclosures.

However, we ran into a problem immediately after climbing the stairs to begin our adventure.  After being carried up the stairs, our 16-month-old, “Little C,” said she wanted to walk too.  And that’s when all forward motion came to a complete stop.  As soon as she set foot on the boardwalk, she froze,  unwilling to move.  To her eyes, the spaces between the boards made walking way too risky of a proposition, even though the slats comprised most of the walking surface.  All she could see were Grand Canyon-sized gaps, gaps, and more gaps.

As followers of Jesus, are we different from this toddler regarding our efforts to walk by faith?  Sadly the answer is far too often “no.”  The good news is we’re not alone or the first to grapple with our shortcomings in this regard, as we’ve already seen with the Israelites and as evidenced by the following familiar story:

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.  25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.  27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  33 Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:22-33 (NKJV)

Like Peter, the Israelites, and Little C, when faced with new and unexpected challenges, we’re predisposed to focus on the uncertainty of the gaps along the path we’re traveling instead of the certainty of the One who holds everything in His hands.

Indeed, it all boils down to this: it’s a matter of where, or rather Whom, we choose to place our focus.

“Focus on giants-you stumble.  Focus on God-your giants tumble.”  Max Lucado

We either remain motionless and stagnant, held captive by what’s right in front of our eyes, or move forward in trust as an onward marching Christian soldier for Jesus.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

The good news is Little C discovered she could trust the boards to hold her up, that the gaps didn’t have the final say as to whether or not she would fall to the ground.  She learned that lesson one small step at a time after finally taking that critical first step of faith.  After all, the first step is the hardest.

My friend, trust God…….and……take…….that…….step…….!

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

I pray your focus is on the Lord, the firm foundation, the One who loves you and is altogether trustworthy as you take those steps of faith toward fulfilling your role in His Kingdom.  May your efforts overflow with His glorious presence.

“There’s some task which the God of all the universe, the great Creator, your redeemer in Jesus Christ has for you to do, and which will remain undone and incomplete until by faith and obedience you step into the will of God.”  Alan Redpath

“Seeing is never believing: we interpret what we see in the light of what we believe. Faith is confidence in God before you see God emerging; therefore the nature of faith is that it must be tried.”  Oswald Chambers, He Shall Glorify Me, 494 R

Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9 (NKJV)

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“Walk By Faith” by Jeremy Camp from the album “Carried Me The Worship Project”

just 1 more

“Please, Lord, help me get one more.” Desmond Doss’s (played by Andrew Garfield in the movie Hacksaw Ridge) prayer as he single-handedly returned again and again to an active and deadly WWII battlefield with the sole purpose of rescuing one more wounded and hopeless soldier.

I recently reconnected with a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years for lunch.  After paying for my food, the cashier gave me a number for my order, but I paid no attention to it at the time.  It wasn’t until I placed it face-up on my table to let the server know which order was mine that I became aware my number was “99.”  As soon as I did, a delightful warmth embraced my heart, and a smile spontaneously etched itself across my face.

“Oh yes, Lord, I see You!”  I chuckled aloud, unable to contain my delight as I immediately connected the biblical story of the shepherd who leaves the flock of 99 behind in search of the one lost sheep and my having lunch with my long-lost friend.  “99 is the perfect number for lunch with my missing friend!  Thank You, Father!”

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.  Luke 15:4-7 (NKJV)

As I contemplated that well-known story, God graciously reminded me of His wondrous love for me.  Jesus left the 99 and began His decades-long quest for me, a lost, broken, and rebellious sheep in desperate need of rescue.  He refused to abandon me in the wilderness despite enduring the worst the world I was a part of could throw at Him on His rescue mission.  Bruised and beaten, hanging on the cross, Jesus fixed His gaze lovingly and compassionately upon my brokenness as I wallowed in the sludge of a battlefield thick with the musky stench of my rebellion against God.   Yet, even so, He gloriously persevered for my sake rescuing me for all eternity.

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.

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.

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)

My dear brothers and sisters already in Christ’s “99,” I pray your heart overflows with thanksgiving and praise as you reflect on Jesus’s steadfast, boundless, relentless, life-giving, sacrificial love for you.

14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:14-19 (NKJV)

If you don’t know Jesus yet, may today be the day He brings you home to join the flock.  No matter how far away you’ve roamed, no matter what you’ve done, please know that you are not beyond His reach of love and grace.

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.  John 3:16 (NKJV)

Even now, He’s calling out for you, the one lost sheep.  Do you hear His voice?  It is my prayer you do.  Call out to Him!

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. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Romans 10:9-13 (NKJV)

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“Living Hope” by Phil Wickham from the album “Living Hope.”

Aim high-“X” marks the spot

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)

“What are you aiming at in your heart of hearts?”  Jordan Peterson

When I spotted the X-shaped jet contrails in the sky as I was driving, the Will Smith-Chris Rock “slap” debacle at this year’s Oscars was fresh on my mind.  Disappointment and sadness hovered over me as my mind replayed Mr. Smith’s unfortunate actions.  An opportunity to rise above circumstances by demonstrating a better way to handle friction in one’s life had landed with a resounding and uncomfortable Humpty Dumpty thud.  What a mess and a cautionary tale about the vital importance of keeping one’s eye where it belongs.  Indeed, what hope does a person have to hinder negative, harmful, God-dishonoring actions?

As I considered the implications of the solitary “X’s” location in the sky relative to Smith’s regrettable confrontation, the notion, “You’ve gotta aim high,” came to mind.  I suppose some will say to that, “Well, of course, you do!”  For me, however, this visual cue was an oh-so-timely and welcome reminder of where a person’s attention needs to be focused lest they land in pieces on the ground too.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.  Proverbs 16:18 (NKJV)

A heart focused on the wrong things will get you in trouble sooner or later.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.  Matthew 14:29-30 (NLT)

As a sinner saved by grace, it’s imperative to take your eyes off this world and focus your sights heavenward towards Jesus.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  Colossians 3:1-2 (NKJV)

Talking about aiming high is one thing, but employing God-honoring actions takes things to a new level of significance and impact.  Of course, words matter, so we should always be mindful of them, but physical steps accompanied by words that line up with biblical principles are compelling and winsome in the love light they bring to a dark world.

My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.  1 John 3:18 (NKJV)

And how are we to accomplish what is not natural to us?  Through our individual strength and power?  Through our resolve and determination?  Hardly.  We see where that sort of thinking can get a person.   Yes, we’re all aware we must be intentional, but purposeful towards what end exactly?  As my good friend Steve B. says, “Keep the main thing the main thing.  First things first.  And that’s Jesus.”

As I pondered the “X,” I couldn’t help but notice its location suspended between heaven and earth, as if visualizing the role of Jesus, who bridges the gap between holy God and sinful man. 

For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.  1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NKJV)

Knowing and being known by Jesus is the key to living your best life, the life God has in mind for you.

I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.  John 15:5 (NKJV)

How does one go about “abiding in Christ?”  If you want to abide in Christ, a change in thinking is needed.

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)

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.  Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

Where can you find such trustworthy guidance?  Let’s turn our attention to the “X” again for the answer.  Perhaps you’ve already thought,  “X marks the spot for buried treasure!”  As a lover of maps, this was my very next thought following the “aiming high” inspiration.

Ah yes, but this is no ordinary earth-bound “X,” so it stands to reason the treasure chest of valuables it brings attention to is extraordinary too, priceless actually.  No regular shovel will get this celestial job done.  A shovel of a different sort is required to unearth the bounty this treasure has to offer.  Let me encourage you to grab the shovel of perseverance and hope firmly with both hands and dig with all of your might.  You will not be disappointed.  Trust that your faithful and obedient digging will reap the rewards of God’s promises found in the treasure trove of wisdom and truth awaiting you in God’s Word, the bible.  

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;  but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.  Psalm 1:1-3 (NKJV)

Can you imagine being like such a magnificent tree?!?!

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, an oak of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified!  (Isaiah 61:3, ESV)

Oh yes, this most certainly is a treasure like non-other, far and above anything the world can offer.

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  John 14:27 (NKJV)

Upon what path does the Lord send you to accomplish such a remarkable transformation?

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)

As I bring this post to a close, there is one final thought I’d like to share with you about the giant “X” in the sky. Perhaps you’ve already considered it. I’d be delighted to know you have. What does “X” stand for in Hebrew? Yes, “Christ.” Indeed, Jesus stands right in front of us for all to see. Do you see Him? I pray you do because He already has His eye on you.

My friend, aim your heart at Jesus in all you do.  Run to Him, the treasure of all treasures, and as you do so, may you find the rest in His loving embrace of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love you so desperately seek.

That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Colossians 2:2-3 (NKJV)

Lord, “Fill the garden of my soul with the wind of love, that the scents of the Christian life may be wafted to others; then come and gather fruits to thy glory.  So shall I fulfill the great end of my being-to glorify thee and be a blessing to men.”  In Jesus’ name.  ( The Valley of Vision, Things Needful, edited by Arthur Bennett)

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.  2 Peter 1:5-7 (NKJV)

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.  Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)

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 “Abide in Me” by Andrew Marcus from the album “Abide in Me.”

singing in the pain

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,  and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails,  and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields,  and the cattle barns are empty, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!  I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!”  Habukkuk 3:17-18 (NLT)

When I think about birds, two things immediately come to mind:  flying and singing.  Indeed most people would say a bird unable to either fly or sing is, well, less of a bird, especially so if it was no longer capable of flying.  I can’t help but wonder out loud, though, “Is it possible God sees such a bird as ‘more than’ when all we see is ‘less than?'”

What would your answer be if I were to ask you to tell me two vital things about yourself that are integral to who you are, like we just mentioned about birds regarding flying and singing?  Do you have those attributes firmly in mind?  Good.  Imagine what it would be like if something happened and you lost one of the two traits for an undetermined length of time.  In other words, you don’t know whether the loss is temporary or permanent.  What might your attitude be?  Your outlook?  What emotions might you experience?  Would you shake your fist at God?  Or would you praise Him despite your circumstances?

“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)

Let me tell you a remarkable story about a lady and a bird as told to me by my wife last week.  One of her Facebook friends originally shared the story as I understand it.  It’s a story that points the way forward towards higher ground for all who find themselves struggling to keep their heads and their hopes up in deep, stormy waters.  I hope you will be as touched by it as I continue to be.

“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.”  A. W. Tozer

Before I begin this story, let me first make mention of God’s photo provision before I ever heard this story. A few days earlier, we had a bird fly into one of our windows at the back of our house. Stunned from the impact, it fell on the outdoor couch between the seat back and the cushions. This situation was unusual because it was a cardinal rather than the typical dove we usually see. Intrigued by this uncommon occurrence, I took the photo. Little did I know at that time that I’d need an image of a cardinal sitting in an unusual setting for a story I’d be inspired to share a few days later. And yes, for all you fellow bird lovers out there, I’m happy to report that the bird fully recovered and was gone just a few minutes later after I took the picture.

As the story goes, it seems this lady was driving down the street at the beginning of a hectic day filled with appointments when she happened upon a cardinal sitting in the middle of the road. The bird didn’t attempt to fly off as she drove closer, so she pulled off to the side and parked her car for a closer look at this unexpected sight. Realizing something must be wrong for the bird to act like that, she gently scooped it up and placed it in a cardboard box she happened to have in her car. Instead of going ahead with her busy schedule, she immediately drove to an animal shelter, hoping someone could help the bird out. The person examining the bird explained to her that, most likely, the bird had a broken clavicle (collarbone) and had only a 50-50 chance of recovery from this severe and excruciating injury. If she wanted to help, the best thing for her to do would be to take the bird home, nurse it as best she could, and then wait and see what happens, realizing the bird may not ever fly again or possibly die. Not surprisingly, the lady decided to take the bird home with her.

In an unexpected twist on the drive home, the lady said she and the bird shared a “moment” of sorts as they made eye contact. And then, to the lady’s delight and amazement, the cardinal broke out into a song and continued to sing most of the rest of the way home. Happily, the bird healed over the next several weeks, and as instructed, the lady took it back to where she found it and released it back into its home territory.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass.  It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”  Vivian Greene

You know, friend, I’ve thought about this story a lot since first hearing it. Do you want to know what tugs at my heartstrings about it? It’s the bird still singing despite the pain, despite being unable to fly, and despite finding itself in strange and threatening surroundings. I have to ask, “Would I still sing under such difficult and painful circumstances where I’ve lost something of great value, something I consider to be part of who I am? Do I have the faith and trust in God to sing His praises during challenging times that shake me to my very core?”

“Faith isn’t fact until it’s tested.”  Steve Wiggins, Groundworks Ministry

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

The story of an underdog facing seemingly insurmountable odds stirs my heart like none other.  This tale is that kind of story, and it brings to mind that old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  God has called us to make lemonade with Him no matter our circumstances.  Why?  For His glory.  Do you know Him to be a good, good Father?  Do you believe He is sovereign?  Your willingness to sing His praises even while surrounded by lemons depends upon Who you believe God to be and the degree of intimacy you have with Him.

“There is a correlation between our sense of security and the depth of our understanding of God’s love.”  David Jeremiah

Ah, yes, if we but truly grasped the unsurpassed depth of God’s love for us, we would never be shaken, and our days would overflow with waterfalls of heartfelt singing.

“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “’Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’”  Mark 9:24 (NKJV)

I’ve taken the liberty of changing a few words from an iconic song (Singin’ in the Rain) to help illustrate this story’s takeaways.  The original word is noted in parentheses.  And, yes, of course, this song is the source of inspiration for this post’s title.

I’m singin’ in the pain (rain)
Just singin’ in the pain (rain)
What a glorious feeling
I’m happy again
I’m laughin’ at clouds
So dark up above
The Son’s (sun’s) in my heart
And I’m ready for love
Let the stormy clouds chase
Everyone from the place
Come on with the pain (rain)
I’ve a smile on my face
I’ll walk down the lane
With a happy refrain
Just singin’
Singin’ in the pain (rain)”


Writer/s: Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown
Publisher: BMG Rights Management, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

When the painful times come into our lives, and Jesus assures us they will, may we find the courage, trust, and faith to sing His praises despite the heartaches.  He has, after all, overcome the world.  Do we believe God to be sovereign?  Let all who know this to be true be of good cheer.

“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)

 “But I will sing of Your power; Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; For You have been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble.”  Psalm 59:16 (NKJV)

“The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.”  Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible

I’m blessed and inspired, as I hope you are as well, by this moving and encouraging story about the cardinal singing amid a life-threatening storm. Yes, these are the type of stories that thrill and lift my heart above the stormy waters that threaten to capsize and sink me. May I live an authentic and vibrant “more than” life that points others to God even during dark and treacherous times. Because of You, Jesus, I can sing it is well with my soul. Let us sing His praises, my friend.

 “Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”  Acts 16:22-25 (NKJV)  (emphasis mine)

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Soul’s Anthem (It Is Well) by Alisha Mino and John Rose

said apart

 “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,”  Ephesians 1:17-18 (NKJV)

Shhhhhhhh, close your eyes and be mindful of the whispers of your soul.  There…do you feel it…that unmistakable longing found in the wellspring of your heart? Ah yes, that call.  You know it as well as I do.  It’s a yearning for beauty, truth, and purity that beckons you to move ever closer.

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”  Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

Dorothy of Kansas expresses this deeply embedded desire for eternity within all our hearts in song in the beloved movie “The Wizard of Oz.”  It’s an upward call to experience the vibrant, heavenly colors of a life lived abundantly that eclipses the uncomfortable sterility of an all-too grey world focused on self.  For non-believers, that call to “somewhere over the rainbow” is to be with God; for believers, it is the call to become the person God intends you to be through an ongoing intimate relationship with Him.

Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland from the album “Over the Rainbow, The Very Best of Judy Garland”

“but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”  1 Peter 1:15-16 (NKJV)

“May I view and long after holiness as the beauty and dignity of the soul.”  The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

Before moving on, we need to pause a moment and consider the difference between righteousness and holiness; it’s a mistake to speak of these two terms as if they’re the same because they are not.  We become righteous when we accept Jesus as our Savior through double-imputation:  our sins are placed on Him while His sinless nature covers us.   We will never become more righteous than we are at the moment of our salvation.

“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)

Holiness, however, is the Holy Spirit-led process of sanctification that begins at our conversion.

“Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find His mind described in Scripture.  It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment, hating what He hates, loving what He loves, and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word.”  J. C. Ryle

As we travel the life-long path towards holiness God has set out before us, the fruits of the Spirit are to be made manifest within His children.

“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,”  Matthew 3:8 (NKJV)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.  Ephesians 5:22-23 (NKJV)

Let us praise God that He is unwilling to leave us as He found us.  He has placed this quest for holiness, our call to Christlikeness, within each believer’s heart. 

“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)

For what purpose does God pursue our holiness?  Jesus says we are in the world, not of the world, yet here we purposefully are as God’s heralds.   The truth is the more you look like Christ, the less you will look like the world.  And that’s not only good but necessary under His plans.

“They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.”  John 17:16-18 (NLT)

According to His purposes, God uses holiness to “set apart” us from the world.

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”  1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV)

“Let your Christianity be so unmistakable, your eye so single, your heart so whole, your walk so straightforward, that all who see you may have no doubt whose you are, and whom you serve.”  J. C. Ryle

Can we be truly effective as His ambassadors, His voices crying out in the wilderness if we resemble the world?  As believers, it’s essential to ask, “How does the world see us?”  Are we recognizable as different, as “set apart” from it?  As holy?  If not, then why not?

While we could discuss various lifestyle areas that would prove helpful in answering these questions, let’s look at just one today, namely our manner of speech.  Does what we say or talk about cause the world to see us as “said apart” from it?  Or, do they hear us as one of their own?  Do the words coming out of our mouths confirm or deny our claim of being a child of God?

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”   Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)

Take a look at this post’s introductory photo again.  I spotted the toothbrush in a hotel’s landscaping early one morning while I was out walking our dogs.  Can you imagine how filthy it must be?  Beyond the nastiness of its surroundings, the brush’s history is entirely questionable, too.  The idea of ever using it as an actual toothbrush is repulsive.  Yet, considering how abysmally low our society has stooped in its manner of speech, isn’t it reasonable to wonder how many would ever notice how disgusting this brush is if used as intended?

“It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence.” C. S. Lewis

The truth is the world is awash with “four-letter” rhetoric and angry, hateful discourse.   When unleashed, it takes all within earshot unwillingly captive as if it’s a raucous chainsaw violating the serene solitude of an alpine meadow at dawn.  Safe havens removed from its grip are few and far between these days. Unfortunately, the world’s influence is so strong that it has managed to creep into some professing Christian’s lives as well, myself included in days now mercifully long past.  Given these circumstances, perhaps we should call this misplaced brush a “truthbrush” instead?  Brothers and sisters, we are called to the higher ground of beauty and not to a quagmire of ugliness!  Do you know this to be true?

“Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.”  James 3:10-12 (NKJV)

As God’s children, we are the “happy little bluebirds” Dorothy sings about so longingly.  Our heavenly Father calls us to much more in this life than to wallow in the darkness of some murky, oppressive, and stagnant swamp.   It’s a noble call to aim high and choose His beauty over the world’s standards, to choose His ways by speaking in such a way that leads and points ourselves and others to the top of God’s mountain high above the swampy lowlands.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

But how do we proceed, Lord?  How do we stay true to the path that leads to higher ground?

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

“Take my heart and hold it in Thy hand; write upon it reverence to thyself with an inscription that time and eternity cannot erase.”  The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

Yes, Lord, may my heart be Yours!

When we speak, friends, let it be for God’s glory.  Let us delight our Father with our voices at all times and in all circumstances.   So, what say you?  Will you determine to be “said apart” for His glory?

“May every part of my character and conduct make a serious and amiable impression on others, and impel them to ask the way to the Master.”  Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”  Ephesians 5:24-25 (NKJV)

May it be ever so, Lord! In Jesus’s name, amen!

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Let the Words of My Mouth” by Fernando Ortega from the album “The Shadow of Your Wings:  Hymns and Sacred Songs.”

Light headed

“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’”  John 8:12 (NKJV)

And just like that, it turns out my most recent post, which I had thought would be my last post of the year, isn’t the last one, after all.  Surprize (wink)!  What can I say?  When the light of inspiration strikes, it buoyantly sets into motion a creative adventure with the Lord like none other for me.  I pray it is the same for you.

Recently we bought a cheap solar-powered Snoopy bobblehead.  We weren’t looking for him at the time, mind you, because he wasn’t even on our shopping list.  However, there he was on a shelf alongside a host of other bobbleheads, all seemingly laser-focused on capturing our attention with their almost hypnotic up and down movements.  It was like a bobblehead flash mob, but with one standout “star” in our eyes.  How could we resist, given that we love Snoopy and all things Charlie Brown?   Encouraged by Snoopy’s eager, nodding approval, we decided the right thing to do was take him home with us, and so we did.

Snoopy’s new home is on our kitchen counter-top.  Much to my delight, I’ve discovered that my daylight conversations with him are always positive and uplifting.  Indeed, watching his head always nod affirmatively is something that brightens my day.

I’ve noticed a few other things about Snoopy since he’s come to live with us.  One, when the lights are off, he’s motionless and has nothing to say.  Two, his head starts bobbing almost immediately as soon as the lights come on.  Lastly, the longer the lights are on, the more pronounced his head bobs up and down.  In short, no light amounts to no enthusiasm whatsoever, while more light equals visible, unmistakably passionate movement.

We can say the same about our walk with the Lord, can’t we?

“You were placed on earth to know God.  Everything else is secondary.”  Greg Laurie

The amount of enthusiasm, devotion, and passion we have for God and His Kingdom directly depends on how much and how often we bask in His light through prayer, Bible study, and other spiritually edifying choices that all result in authentic worship experience.

“Keep on being faithful, because God honors faithfulness.  Not bigness, but faithfulness.  Not the great crowds, not the great set-up, but faithfulness in the place He put you.”  Billy Graham

The truth is we are brought to a spiritual standstill when we are outside God’s presence and alone in the dark.   Our forward motion is non-existent. 

“If we are unexcited Christians, we should go back and see what is wrong.”  Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

Just as you do in all relationships, you have to invest time and energy in your relationship with God to reap the rewards; otherwise, negative consequences will arise.

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  John 4:24 (NKJV)

“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.”  Matthew 12:30 (NKJV)

And so, the stage is set for the dramatic divide between darkness and light, stagnation and forward progress.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.”  Romans 8:5 (NKJV)

The more quality time we spend with Him, inevitably, the greater our enthusiasm and desire for all things of God.  His light amplifies our motion on His behalf and in His direction. 

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  James 4:8 (NKJV)

“The Bible is the only book whose author is always present when one reads it.” Anonymous

“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)

The question on the table for all of us throughout each day is, “Are you headed in the Light direction?” Will we choose to nod in affirmation of Jesus, or will we stand stoically silent in the dark?

“Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.” Luke 6:48 (NKJV)

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“Two Sets of Jones” by Big Tent Revival from the album “Big Tent Revival.”

Out of the shadows

 “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”  John 8:12 (NKJV)

Though they cannot speak, our shadows have something to say about us.

Standing beside a stream a few autumns ago, I was immediately drawn to the appearance of my shadow as it stretched out into the water.  Where the water was shallow, the silhouette of my head and body was sharp and crisp.  However, my shadow became increasingly indistinct in the deeper water and diffused to the point my outstretched arm became progressively unrecognizable.  Indeed, where the water was deeper still, the shadow of my hand wasn’t distinguishable at all, so wrapped up it was in the depths.

Such is my relationship with Jesus.  As a believer standing in His living water, am I in the shallow or deep water, or somewhere between the two?  Am I ankle-deep with a lot of me still visible, or am I deep enough that Jesus, at least in part, can at long last be seen?  The shadow I cast in this world tells the tale of my condition.

So long as we remain in the shallows, our shadows more times than not have something more to say about us and less about Jesus.  And uncomfortably so, I might add.

“Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ And so said all the disciples.”  Matthew 26:35 (NKJV)

“But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  Matthew 16:23 (NKJV)

Can you relate to Peter’s failings?  I know I certainly can.

Fortunately, God is mercifully unwilling to leave us as He found us.  You see, He has plans for you and me far beyond our becoming converted believers.  He has nothing less in His sights than our becoming conformed believers.

“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)

How can a person not be blown away by the very thought of God intending us to bear the image of the One who set us free, our Savior, Jesus?  The mere thought of such an astonishing plan should cause us to erupt into praise spontaneously every time it comes to mind!

 Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”  Psalm 103:1-5 (NKJV)

This view of our destiny is so breathtaking it’s tantalizing to linger here, perhaps even stop altogether and forever bask in its warm glow.  But, after a moment’s pause, we must keep going, for we have not arrived at our destination yet.

    The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   

    But I have promises to keep,   

    And miles to go before I sleep,   

    And miles to go before I sleep.

   (Robert Frost, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening)

“but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14 (NKJV)

What is the purpose of this journey that beckons us onward like none other?

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”  1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV)

A herald magnifying the Lord, this is God’s purpose for our lives.  How incredible is that calling?  As before, I find myself stepping aside and pausing to breathe in as deeply as possible this magnificent view’s sweet aroma.   And yet again, I am called to return to the path He has laid out before me.  

All worthwhile plans come with instructions to ensure their success, and most certainly, this is no exception.  So, where should our adventure of faith begin? The same place it should end:  the Bible. 

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

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Psalm 119:105

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV)

I have to ask, “What sort of quest shares the same beginning and end?”  The obvious response is, “Only those that run in circles, which means they end up going nowhere.”   Ah, but this is no ordinary undertaking at all, of course, so circular thinking has no place where the Lord’s plans are concerned.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

It is no secret that one must wade through the shallows to get to the deep.  Shortcuts don’t happen on our way to meaningful spiritual maturity as God seeks to achieve His purpose and plans for our lives through an ever-deepening relationship with Him.  As I noted a few years ago in (S)Parking Lot, we must persevere and be patient as God’s plans for us unfold.  We cannot get ahead of ourselves.  More importantly, we cannot get ahead of God.

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

God transforms us step by step as we hike the hills and valleys along our lifelong trail.  One need only examine the lives of a few such notable biblical figures like Joseph (Old Testament), Moses, King David, Jonah, Ruth, Peter, and Paul to realize our pilgrimage into Christlikeness is a long-ranging process.  But happen it surely will because just as the tides are subject to the moon, so too is God’s will for the upward call of His children. 

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

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”  2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV)

By the grace of God’s Spirit, I inevitably become less, and Jesus becomes more.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”  John 3:30 (NKJV)

I end, Christ gloriously begins.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)

Our Christlikeness doesn’t reach its zenith until we pass from this life into the next.  I can’t help but wonder what the appearance of a genuinely godly person’s shadow might be like in this life, though, can you?  God has graciously given us a glimpse of such a person.

“so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.”  Acts 5:15 (NKJV)

Now that is a shadow born out of the Spirit’s deep waters that shades people with the light of Jesus! 

Peter, while wallowing in the shallows, denied Jesus no less than three times.  Jesus also rebuked him for his all-too earthly point of view that lacked heavenly understanding.  Yet now, we later see a radically different Peter who radiated Jesus so much that people sought out his shadow.

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”  2 Timothy 2:13 (NASB 1995)

I ask you, “Who does this sort of thing?”  Only God, friends, only God.

That’s good news for you and me because that means God will bring about meaningful, world-impacting change in our lives, too.  But we must move by faith into His deeper waters.  

 “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  2 Corinthians 5:7 (NKJV)

“but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  John 4:14 (NKJV)

Wait, did you hear that?  Shhhh.  Yes, there it is, a still, quiet voice welling up from deep within our souls, asking, “What does your shadow have to say to the world about Jesus?”  Friend, the Lord calls you and me out of the shallows and into the deep.  It is time to let go and let Him.

Lord, out of the shadows of our lives flows Your life-giving light of love.  May it be ever so!  Lead me out of the shallow and into Your depths so that the fruit of Your Spirit blossoms in me, bringing forth love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control for against such You have said there is no law.  May people see the shadow of Jesus and not mine wherever You would have me, Your herald go, for Your glory.  In Jesus’s name, amen!

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah 6:8 (NKJV)

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Less Like Me” by Zach Williams from the album “Rescue Story.

preauxvision

With God, an ocean of unfathomable possibilities exists right behind us; all we need to do is turn around for a new perspective.

If the late Cajun chef and beloved humorist, Justin E. Wilson, could see “provision” spelled as “preauxvision,” he would most likely enthusiastically exclaim, “Hoo-wee, dat’s sum unexpected Cajun flavoring mixed right in there, I gah-rown-tee (guarantee)!”

True to his love for preparing Cajun cuisine, Mr. Wilson once told the Associated Press, “Cajun cooking is the ability to take what you have and create a good dish and season it right.”  Or, put another way, in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, even the most improbable ingredients prepared with the proper seasoning in just the right way can make your taste buds get up and dance.

“Blessings sometimes show up in unrecognizable disguises. ”  Janette Oke

And so it also is with God’s unexpected provision in our lives.  Indeed, the Lord is capable of making the unlikely, the seemingly impossible, happen.  He is, after all, the Master Chef of all creation.

“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)

Using just the right seasonings of His mercy, grace, wisdom, and love, our Heavenly Father can take all of our circumstances and create something good out of them.  Even those that appear to be utterly hopeless and bewildering from our perspective.

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

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.  Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”  Genesis 50:20 (NKJV)

Let me share a story of an unlikely provision in my life from last year amid the pandemic with you.

If you’ve read my bio, you’re already aware my business partner and I began a start-up oil and gas exploration business a few years ago.  Although our goal is simple, the pile of bones of many who have gone before us testifies how truly challenging it is.   Our task is to identify drilling locations with the hopes of ultimately finding and producing an economic accumulation of oil.  Each barrel of oil found and sold becomes the lifeblood that provides the revenue stream we need to survive.   

So, how have we done?  In the three to four years we’ve been in business so far, we’ve been abysmally unsuccessful in this endeavor.  To date, we have produced zero barrels of oil despite our best efforts, which have been bathed in unceasing prayer by myself and many others along the way. I can assure you this was not how I imagined or expected things to go believing that we would be successful within the first year or so.  In short, our prayers seemingly went unanswered, much to everyone’s growing dismay.  But, oh, this is where it gets exciting in the face of such outwardly disappointing results.

“May we be strengthened with the understanding that being blessed does not mean that we shall always be spared all the disappointments and difficulties of life.”  Heber J. Grant 

Last year due to the pandemic, oil commodity prices plummeted to less than zero, hitting a record low of around -$38.00 per barrel.

Following that unbelievable oil price collapse, I wondered how we could ever possibly survive this historical low point for the industry.  However, my anxious thoughts were suddenly brought to a screeching halt by a staggering realization that raced triumphantly through my mind.  Simply put, it dawned on me that had all our prayers been answered according to our expectations and desires, everything would’ve come crashing down around us, abruptly ending in bankruptcy.  You see, there would’ve been no way our fledgling company could have financially survived taking an extended negative price hit on selling our oil.  But, astonishingly, because we had no production during the price crash, we lost nothing and were able to continue to stay in business.  How crazy is this turn of events?

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

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)

Gone were my aching questions about why our prayers for success had gone unanswered.   Suddenly my doubts and fears disappeared and gave way to words of praise for Him for this unexpected form of provision.  In an instant, the Lord used a shocking turn of events to lead me to thank Him for not answering my prayers according to my expectations but instead for answering them His way.  Friends, there’s no other way to say it, but, “Dat’s sum dance-and- praise-worthy preauxvision as only the Lord can provide, I gah-rown-tee!”

 “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:19 (NKJV)

“He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. 30 Then they are glad because they are quiet; So He guides them to their desired haven.”  Psalm 107:29-30 (NKJV)

Gratefully, He is exceedingly superior to me in every way.  Amen?  Amen!

“O Lord, You are my God. I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, For You have done wonderful things; Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.”  Isaiah 25:1 (NKJV)

 “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, 12 To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.”  Psalm 30:11-12 (NKJV)

Lord, I’ll trust in You with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways I’ll acknowledge You, and You’ll direct my paths. You alone know best because Your ways are higher than my ways, and Your thoughts are higher than my thoughts. Without faith it’s impossible to please You, so I’ll draw near to You and believe that You reward those who seek You. God, You call me blessed because I have not seen, yet I still believe. You always keep Your promises, and You don’t change like shifting shadows. You’re my dwelling place, my helper, my strength, and my defense. You are mighty, robed in majesty, armed with strength, compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love. You made the heavens, formed the dry land, and Your renown endures through all generations. You won’t slumber but will watch over my life. You fashioned the ear, formed the eye, and determine the number of stars and call them each by name. God, You are the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, and there is no one in all the world like You. (YouVersion original devotional, Praying God’s Truth Over My Fears)

He is by Crowder from the album “Milk and Honey.”

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. Content in and through Jesus 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

end-fluencer

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16 (NKJV)

Influence.  It’s something we all possess, so that makes every one of us influencers to some degree.  Regardless of the amount of sway we hold with others, how seriously do we take that responsibility?  More pointedly, to what end is our influence wielded? Is it for ourselves or something more significant?

“In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Matthew 6:9-10 (NKJV)

“How many of your plans take an unending future into account?”  John Eldredge, The Journey of Desire

As believers, how might we conduct ourselves differently if we envisioned ourselves more conscientiously as “end-fluencers” with our eye on the future instead of mere influencers focused on the here and now?  A perspective of thinking about tomorrow instead of today emphasizes a heightened big-picture awareness of our potential personal impact on all of those the Lord puts within our reach.

“Teach me the happy art of attending to things temporal with a mind intent on things eternal.” Christlikeness, from the Valley of Vision

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”  Jim Elliot

Essentially, in this forward-thinking, other-centered mindset, we become investors with genuine “skin in the game” regarding other people.  Or to borrow my purposeful misspelling methods one more time, as “end-vestors” in people.  In doing so, we are putting aside our needs and wants and taking personal responsibility for helping guide others to be everything God has called them to be.

“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Philippians 2:1-4 (NKJV)

Allow me to share an example of an authentic “end-fluencer” with you.  The stirring words of my mentor, 2 Tim, as I like to call him, continually ring out loud and clear in my head like Christmas morning church bells gloriously chiming for all to hear, “I want my life to count for eternity!” 

“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)

“while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NKJV)

2Tim has been passionately and faithfully pursuing a life of eternal significance since becoming a believer as an eleven-year-old boy.  These words have been his consistent mission statement for decades, shaping all of his choices along the way.  They have been his ever-present rudder steering him in the way he should go.   When these are your marching orders to be carried out coram Deo (before the face of God), there is only room for integrity, character, and honor.  

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

Over the years, hundreds of people have learned to be disciple-makers directly under 2Tim’s hands-on, watchful and purposeful teaching as he pours himself into equipping others to lead in the same manner. The Biblical truth of what he teaches is delightfully contagious, end-fluencing those disciples, who in turn teach others what they have learned.  And so it goes like a baton passed from one relay team runner to the next in a never-ending, ever-growing circle of Spirit-connected hearts to encourage people to participate in furthering God’s Family proactively.

“Not that I have already attained or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14 (NKJV)

How many have been impacted by 2Tim’s discipleship ministry, directly or indirectly?  That’s impossible to say, of course, but it’s likely in the thousands.  It’s what inevitably happens when reproducers reproduce, as he loves to say.

“And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2 (NKJV)

So, the question inevitably becomes for each of us as sons and daughters of God, as followers of His beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus, are you an influencer, or are you an end-fluencer?

“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, 20 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)

1!1!1!

 “Speak the Name” by Koryn Hawthorne from the album “Unstoppable.”

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