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)

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

swept clean by grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us rejoice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praying “A, B, C’s”

“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)

Sometimes enlightenment comes gushing out of the most remarkably unexpected sources.  Like a freely flowing artesian water well, the life-giving refreshment offered by such an epiphany awakens and revitalizes our once stagnant consciousness.

Recently I was caught entirely off-guard by a revelation in the form of a prayer adorably delivered by my not quite three-year-old granddaughter.  When it came time to say the blessing, she eagerly volunteered and said, as best I recall:  “A…B…C…D…H…K…M…T…amen!”

Yes, of course, as you might imagine, all the adults chuckled to themselves with knowing winks in that surprising moment upon hearing her recount the alphabet as best she knew how.  How can you not be enchanted by a toddler’s delightfully offbeat prayer efforts? 

However, as cute as such a child’s prayer is, we’re often quick to dismiss them as having very little significance given the source.  After all, there are no prominent spiritual ingredients or ideas embodied in reciting the “A, B, C’s,” so why give it another minute of thought? 

All I can say to that is, “Thank you, Lord, for prompting me to have second thoughts!”

As I later reflected on it, I realized that my granddaughter’s unlikely prayer unveiled a slumbering truth.  Simply put, she was excited to share the excellent and acceptable instruction she had been receiving.  In doing so, she honored the Lord by demonstrating she was positively improving her mind just as God intends for His children to do.

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  Colossians 3:17 (NKJV)

My granddaughter’s notably unorthodox prayer is a gentle reminder that our waking moments are continuous prayers.  As such, throughout the day, we have the ongoing opportunity to honor and glorify Him by doing things His way, as found in the plans and instructions given to us through the Bible.  Our very lives are walking prayers.

 “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light  (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:8-10 (NKJV)

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19: 14 (NKJV)

“I am convinced that, if we protect our minds by dwelling on the right things, it brings God glory. It also protects us from unnecessarily allowing ourselves to be tempted. The Bible is clear on what we ought to think.”  Victor Nunez

“But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.”  Proverbs 4:18 (NKJV)

When we consistently pursue the acceptable “A, B, C’s” in our Father’s sight, He is pleased, and His heart smiles with joy.  When we do this, we choose Him and the extraordinary life He envisions for us.

“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)

Friend, I’m confident my granddaughter’s lifestyle prayer brought a smile to our Lord’s heart.  May each of our “A, B, C prayer” choices we have to make throughout the day equally please Him, and abundantly so!

 “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.’” Matthew 25:23 (NKJV)

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Fernando Ortega, “Let the Words of My Mouth (Psalm 19:14, Philippians 4:8)” from the album, “The Shadow of Your Wings: Hymns and Sacred Songs.”

the bear truth about riding the spiritual fence

OK, I confess.  I have to admit I’ve struggled specifically with this particular post more than most.  Why?  In an interesting twist of irony it’s because I’ve been riding the fence about, well,  writing about riding the fence.

My writing problems were not about the “what” so much as they were about the “how.”  The struggle was all about finding the correct approach as to how best to write about this subject.  I started this post multiple times only to be unhappy with my efforts so into the digital trash bin each attempt would go.

How did I finally gain writing traction?  The Lord pointed out something to me that had been staring me in the face the whole time:  Simply put, Jesus didn’t pull any punches when he addressed the issue of people riding the fence when it comes to spiritual matters, and particularly so about Himself, so why should I?  My previous efforts had all failed because I was watering things down.  I was sugar-coating His message.  I was trying to be safe.  While He is direct, I was being indirect, thus the discomforting disconnect between my writing and my inspiration.

“We are either in the process of resisting God’s truth or in the process of being shaped and molded by His truth.”  Charles Stanley

Jesus speaks very plainly and openly about those who attempt to ride the spiritual fence between Heaven and earth.  Why?  Because He knows He can’t afford to be or say anything less than that for our sakes and the sake of God’s Kingdom.  If He were to do so He wouldn’t be true to us or Himself.  Therein lies the lesson He desires to pass along to us when dealing with this subject.

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

Like the bear looking for an easy meal of birdseed on our fence, we cannot allow ourselves to be lured away from His truth.  It’s unnatural for the bear to balance precariously on a fence for a meal of birdseed, and likewise, so it is also unnatural for believers, His followers, to take up unsteady and mistaken positions on matters He has addressed in His Word.

The world is like the cat in the photo, intently watching to see if we will be true to what we say we believe, or will we show ourselves to be the outstanding hypocrites they hope and believe us to be?

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”  C.S. Lewis

When our words and actions do not mesh the truth is suppressed.  If we know the truth yet don’t stand up for the truth of what value are we to a dying world that is being deceived?  Do we not add to the veil of deception when we fail to speak the truth?  Rather than helping others find the truth, we become part of the lie that holds them captive.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?  It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”  Matthew 5:13 (NKJV)

Why do we take up such awkward positions that place us most uncomfortably, if we’re being honest, in between two opposing forces?  Sadly, far too often I must admit that I can relate to the pressures King Saul speaks about as found in 1 Samuel 15:24 (NKJV), “Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.”

Is there a root cause for our fear of people’s opinions?  I believe there is.   Surely our lack of understanding as to the true nature of God is exposed when we acquiesce in fear to people and choose the world’s ways over His ways. 

Too few believers spend meaningful time in His Word and enjoy quality alone time with Him.  When this happens our relationship with Him lacks sufficient depth and intimacy.  Take heart, though, because it’s not meant to be this way.  He desires to be in a relationship with you more than you can imagine.  “Be-loved” His beloved!

“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NKJV)

Think about it.  We will go to bat for good friends, but scarcely, if at all, lift a finger for someone who is little more than an acquaintance.  Is it any wonder, then, that when push comes to shove regarding our beliefs concerning God and His ways that we find ourselves aligning with the world over Him?  We align ourselves with what we are familiar with and know, it’s as plain and simple as that.  My friends, it doesn’t have to be this way.  He has given us the right path to follow and how to stay on that track.  Ignorance of who He is and what His Word says is not a reasonable excuse.

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

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

Today, more than ever, we as believers are faced with mounting pressure to choose the world’s ways over the Lord’s by saddling up and riding the fence of compromise that only serves to dilute His truths.  God’s Kingdom-truth is that when this happens there is no fence riding occurring, but instead, if we truly look with our hearts and eyes, we will find that we have fallen off of the fence and have landed squarely on the opposite side of the fence from where we’re supposed to be with Jesus.

But…is all hope lost, is it too late if we find ourselves on the wrong side of the spiritual fence from Him due to our compromises, our agreements that we have made with the world in the past, some possibly as recently as even today?  Joyfully the answer is a resounding “No!”

“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)

“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?”  Matthew 18:12 (NKJV)

So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us take heart and rightly choose Him over the world when we’re tempted, and even encouraged, to take up sides against Him by coming into agreement with the world.  Be reminded by the writer of Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV) who extols us to avoid finding ourselves on the wrong side of the fence saying, “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.”

Let us always be mindful of how Jesus described Himself in John 14:6 (NKJV) saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

And that, my friend, is the bare truth.  The question is how will we choose to handle this truth?

 

Jadon Lavik, “My Father’s World” from the album, “Roots Run Deep”

flying with God

“There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?”  John 6:9 (NIV)

 The Lord has a remarkable way of turning our way of thinking and understanding upside down and on its head, doesn’t He?  What is all too quickly assessed by human thinking as an undesirable exception to the normal, or put another way, what we see as not enough or imperfect, becomes exceptional when placed in His hands.

“Then Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place.  So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.  And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.  So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.’ Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.  Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘ This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.'” John 6:10-14 (NKJV)

My wife dearly loves butterflies.  We’ve been especially thrilled these past few weeks to have witnessed the Monarch butterfly life transformation take place.  Much to our delight this remarkable process has played out before our eyes time and time again progressing from eggs to caterpillars to chrysalis to the miraculous emerging of beautiful Monarch butterflies.  We learned soon enough, however, that this remarkable process doesn’t always end with a perfectly formed Monarch flying off into the sunset.

Curly Sue’s journey as a Monarch took a different route than normal because she cannot fly.  Doing a bit of research after the fact we discovered that sometimes for various reasons a Monarch’s wings don’t properly unfold after leaving the confines of the chrysalis.  When that happens they become fixed in shapes that prevent flight from ever happening.  Curly Sue’s wings have an unmistakable curl along the edges that’s obviously not supposed to be there.  Thus the name “Curly Sue.”

Unlike her brothers and sisters Curly Sue will never experience being buoyed along by warm, gentle breezes that carry her to an endless parade of flowers.  Her fate seemed sealed as time and time again my wife and I would find her pitifully flipping and flopping about in our front yard as she unsuccessfully tried to fly during her first 24 hours.  Our hope was that somehow her wings would finally straighten out.

On the second day my tenderhearted wife was unable to watch the chaotic gyrations continue any longer.  She decided Curly Sue would come inside and spend whatever time she had left in our house with us.   Curly Sue has been with us for about 2 weeks now living in her castle…aka a plastic bug container we found at the local pet shop… on our living room coffee table.

Each day Curly Sue feeds on fresh cut flowers from our yard and is able to stretch her legs whenever my wife holds her gently in her hands.  On sunny days my wife takes her to the back yard and places her on one of the flowers there.  “She needs to be outside in the sun,” my wife will say in this delightfully nurturing “warm chicken soup” sort of tone.

Curly Sue never stops trying to fly.  Several times a day she’ll assertively flap her wings all to no avail causing her to flip upside down after traveling only mere inches.  Curly Sue is definitely not a quitter.  She is a model of determination, perseverance, and optimism.  I’ve decided with each attempt at flying she’s thinking, “This time I will fly!”

“Are you going to be OK when she’s no longer with us? “ I asked my wife as she was carefully cradling Curly Sue in her hands taking her on yet another trip to the backyard.  Pausing for just a moment my wife quietly replied, “Yes, but I will miss her. I feel sorry for her because she’s never going to get to fly like she was meant to do…she’ll never get to have babies…like all the others,” her voice trailing off.  It was at that point that an ephiphany entered my mind.  “Maybe she has a different mission than the others, you know?  What if she is here especially for you to love on and enjoy…yes…to give you joy?” I mused.

Yes, it’s true that Curly Sue was meant to fly, but since her wings didn’t develop normally she has been prevented from ever flying in the traditional sense like the vast majority of butterflies do.  Funny thing is, though, in an unexpected twist in our understanding of what flying is, we have realized that Curly Sue has been flying all along.  How so? Miraculously she has managed to unquestionably fly straight into my wife’s heart as no other normally developed Monarch ever could.

Until our eyes were opened just a few days ago we lacked the vision needed to appreciate and understand that Curly Sue was not flightless after all.  We have realized that with her uniquely curled wings she has still soared in improbable ways and into places that are impossible for other butterflies to reach.

If you fly differently than others then shouldn’t you expect the destinations you are able to reach to also be different from what others can achieve?  It’s true as believers that we all collectively strive towards the same eternal finish line, but no individual path, no individual mission is necessarily the same.  After all, He has made each of us unique in our own special ways, hasn’t He?

“For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function,  so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”  Romans 12:4-5 (NKJV)

Let’s put our shields down here for a moment and be honest enough to admit that we each have our own unique set of curled wings of some sort, don’t we?  It’s a bit cheesy I know, but isn’t it true that we all could be known as a “Curly You” since we all have our own imperfections and weaknesses?  And now you know one of my faults:  I can’t help myself when it comes to word play no matter how cringe-worthy it may turn out.  What else can I say? The shot was there, so I took it.

Our individual flying style depends on who God has purposed us to be.  For some, flight is instantly recognizable as flying by the strictest definition of the word.  Sometimes, however, it may be unrecognizable as flight to not only others, but even more sadly, in our own eyes, as we wistfully focus on what we think flying is supposed to look like from our unhappy seat on the ground.  All too often we lament over what we can’t do while never taking the time to ask the Lord what special plans He has for us that we can do.

I don’t know about you, but this experience with Curly Sue has reminded me just how narrow minded I can be.  In this case, God has broadened my mind and brought me into alignment with His far-reaching thoughts about flying.

If you were to ask my wife about all the butterflies she’s watched flying and flitting about, she’ll joyfully take the opportunity to tell you about imperfect and flightless Curly Sue, and, I might add, the only butterfly she ever named.  Why?  Because Curly Sue accomplished what no other so called “normal” butterfly could ever do:  she flew straight into her heart curled wings and all.  In fact, that flight wouldn’t have even happened without those curled wings.

We look at ourselves and see all of our shortcomings, all of our perceived inadequacies, and we think we have nothing of meaning, nothing of significance, nothing of value to offer to others.  When we do this we terribly underestimate what the Lord has planned for us to do in our lifetimes by His own strength.

We say we can’t fly and without Him it’s true we can’t.  But with Him, well, He says we can fly.  C.H. Spurgeon eloquently captures this truth saying, “God does not need your strength; He has more than enough power of His own.  He asks your weakness: He has none of that himself, and He is longing, therefore, to take your weakness, and use it as an instrument in His own mighty hand.”

Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?  So he said to Him, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.  And the Lord said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.’” Judges 6:14-16 (NKJV)

The Lord has made you special and unique.  You offer something that the world around you is lacking and desperately needs.  Would you stop and consider that maybe, just maybe, your weaknesses in His hands are His very special provision to meet that distinct need?

Embrace who you are in the Lord’s Kingdom, curled wings and all, so that you may fly and soar into other’s hearts according to His good purposes.  It’s sky high time we open our eyes and understand that it is flight not as the world sees and says, but as He sees and says.

I don’t know how much longer Curly Sue will be physically here with us, but I can say without a doubt that the lessons the Lord has taught both my wife and I through this imperfect, but oh so brave, little butterfly will fly forever in our hearts even after she is physically gone.   And so I must ask you, don’t we all want to matter for eternity’s sake?

Friend, I encourage you to fully embrace who God has not only made you to be, but said you to be and become.  In His gentle hands fly as only you can into those special hearts that He has purposed for you to reach saying to yourself, “Yes, thank you, Lord, for Your grace to fly.  No longer am I grounded by my own limited vision as I once was.  Today I am flying according to Your good sight for Your glory.  Whose hurting heart would You have me fly into today and speak life, so that they too can soar in the heavens with You?”

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

 

“Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns from the Album “Casting Crowns”

trucks top rescue

(photo courtesy of Mindi H.)

“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have then perished in my affliction.”  Psalm 119:92

“What do you think?  If a man has one hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine, go to the mountains, and seek that which as gone astray?”  Matthew 18:12

Not long ago our friend, Mindi, shared an experience with me about when God sent her life giving hope and encouragement in a most unexpected and unlikely way during an extremely sad and very difficult time in her life.

Some years ago Mindi’s job was cleaning the bathrooms at a truck stop.  She described it as “doing a filthy job in a filthy place.”  You can only imagine what it must have been like—what she had to deal with day in and day out. 

One day, despite the appalling physical conditions surrounding her, she confessed with head bowed low that she was so hungry that she was considering eating half-eaten food that had hopefully been left behind in the trash can in the nasty restroom she was about to clean. 

Brushing away the tears of hopelessness in her eyes she opened up the door to the restroom to begin her job when she was completely startled by the unanticipated presence of a bird sitting on the sink in the restroom.

Describing that moment, she said, “The bird just sat there sweetly looking at me, tenderly reminding me God was with me, watching over me. Instantly my focus was changed from my circumstances to Him. It was a deeply beautiful moment when I truly felt…well, not so alone.”

Isn’t it wonderful how stories of hope restored like Mindi’s make us feel not so alone, too?  Even when it seems all is lost and we have been forgotten God reminds us in Psalms 34:18 that He is there for us saying, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 

Echoing Mindi’s experience Rick Warren  beautifully observes, “Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days—when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you’re out of options, when the pain is great—and you turn to God alone.”  Amen, brother, amen.

In the midst of your brokenness He still lovingly calls out to you, “Where are you?” just as He did with Adam and Eve in the garden.  Ever the prodigal child’s Father, He longs for you to return to Him and in so doing run to your side and embrace you, desiring to fill you with hope and joy, all the while wiping away your tears in a beautiful, shared moment of tender worship and intimacy no matter where you might be…even if it’s in a highly unlikely place of worship such as a filthy restroom at a truck stop. 

Are you surprised He, the creator of the universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, would choose to show up for you in such a place? Are there valleys so uncomfortably and painfully low in your life that you believe the Lord will not meet you there? 

Deep down you think to yourself, “He would never come here…no, not to such a dark, ugly, shadow-filled place as I’m now in.” Let us prayerfully reconsider such thoughts.

In “Within and Without” Ann Voscamp puts it this way: “The secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.”  Isn’t this what David is saying in Psalm 23:4? “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” 

The truth is the very opposite of what those negative w-hiss-pers in your head are trying to persuade you to believe about Him: there is nowhere…NOWHERE…He will not go to be with you…to rescue you.  Indeed, Jesus declares, in Matthew 28:20b, “And surely I am with you ALWAYS, to the very end of the age.” 

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.  If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” Psalm 139:7-12

 

Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (radio version)

the win(d)s of grace

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one should boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 (WEB)

Grace…

…is something the Lord has placed on my heart a lot the past few months. It’s funny how the Lord has a way of bringing things to my attention that are in need of…ahem…”additional refinement,” so to speak.  Such was the case on my most recent trip to the grocery store.

Yesterday I found myself standing in the “10 items or less” express line behind a couple with a seemingly endless stack of groceries piled up like a mountain in front of the register. The closest they came to the magic number of 10 was with their two shopping carts.

Now then, the Lord knows I am prone to having “not the sharpest tool in the shed” moments from time to time.  He also knows exactly what pushes my anger buttons.  This was one of those “perfect storm” times that combined both of these elements. 

So, just to be sure even I, dull shovel that I am, wouldn’t miss the subject of the day’s lesson He saw fit to having it plastered on the offending lady’s green t-shirt in bold letters, “G  R  A  C  E” standing directly in front of me.  No way could I miss it, which was His point all along as I reflect back on the events as they unfolded.  From where I stood in this motionless line He obviously had convinced the lady responsible for this avalanche of groceries to wear a “Grace wins every time” t-shirt when she got dressed that morning.

“Good thing for her she’s got THAT shirt on,” I impatiently thought to myself as a variety of potential verbal attacks went through my mind. Biting my tongue I stood there in back-burner simmering mode while the cashier went about her job.

As the lady finished paying for her groceries she turned around, looked me squarely in the eyes and apologized in the most sincere and nicest, most humble way possible explaining she and her husband had no idea they’d gotten in the express line.   

In an instant my bad attitude towards her fell and spread out all over the floor like a ripped open box of hundreds of tiny humble pies as the voice inside my head gently reminded me, ”You know you’ve made plenty of mistakes yourself haven’t you? How many times have you needed grace extended to you in moments like this in which you’ve offended others? How many times has God extended His grace to you?”

My contrite reply to her came instantly as the Lord quickly brought to my mind something I’d just read in Max Lucado’s book “Grace Happens Here.” Simply put, Lucado says, “Give grace, one more time. Be generous, one more time.” 

And in that One on one on one moment the utterly refreshing miracle of grace happened…yet one more glorious time.

Grace.  We all want it.  We all need it.  Desperately.

Friends, let’s not just be receivers of grace, but let us also be givers of grace…one more time…to one more person…and may we do so generously.

Like a delightful and unexpected breeze that brings welcomed relief from the oppressive summer heat may the cup of His overflowing grace you’ve eagerly welcomed and received into your own life be poured out on those around you today.  When we do that we find out that “Grace really does win every time.”

“As each has received a gift, employ it in serving one another, as good managers of the grace of God in its various forms.”  1 Peter 4:10 (WEB)

accountability is a deal braker

“Search me, God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the everlasting way.”  Psalm 139:23-24 (WEB)

As I pulled into the church parking lot for my weekly meeting with my mentor, 2Tim (as I like to call him), I was surprised to see the flashing lights of a deputy sheriff’s car in the church’s front parking lot.  My second and greater surprise, however, was that the car the deputy had pulled over belonged to 2Tim!  “What in the world?” I thought to myself.  It turns out 2Tim had been pulled over because one of his brake lights was out unbeknownst to him.  The officer didn’t issue him a ticket, fortunately, and only wished to inform 2Tim the light was out and needed to be replaced.  Who knows how long the brake light had been out up to that point, and how much longer it would’ve stayed that way had the deputy not pulled him over?  While the brake light being out is not a seemingly big deal, driving without both brake lights could actually lead to a dangerous situation in certain circumstances so 2Tim and I both agreed as the deputy pulled away that this was one of those “blessings in disguise.”

Isn’t this so often the case in our own spiritual walk as well?  I can’t help but wonder what issues I have in my own life that I’m unaware of that need to be addressed so that I can make it right with the Lord?  So many times we are literally blind to some of our own spiritual failings.  The bottom line is that unless a “deputy” comes along to speak much needed truth into my life I’m very likely going to keep on driving merrily, but ignorantly, along as I go about my day to day life oblivious to the fact I’m crossways with the Lord in a particular area of my life.  The bottom line is we each need “deputies” in our lives provided by the Lord to make us aware of the shortcomings, or sins, we are fostering in our lives that are in need of our attention.   Yes, we’re talking about accountability to another person, someone you can trust and confide in, who loves you, and most importantly loves the Lord first and foremost.

The enemy would thoroughly enjoy seeing us continue on down our path of blindness, of course.  Isolation is a key ploy of his to help ensure we stay on that wrong path.  We are not meant to fight the good fight alone.  Ecclesiates 4:12 (WEB) tells us, “If a man prevails against one who is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  So, do you have an accountability “deputy” friend in your life?  Do you have a 2Tim? If not, ask the Lord to send such a friend your way realizing that a relationship of this sort is also very much a two-way street of hope and promise for the both of you.  Simply put, remember to brake for accountability before your lack of accountability breaks you.  Lord, we thank you for sending dear and close Christian brothers and sisters into our lives to help us navigate our way through this life as we seek to please You, amen!

“A man of many companions may be ruined, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Proverbs 18:24 (WEB)

A life danced to the rhythm of God’s wisdom in a Byrd’s song

vapors turn turn turn touchup edit

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV)

 Turn!

  “Lord, make me know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am.  Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreath; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity.  Selah. Surely every man walketh in a vain shew” Psalm 39:4-6a (KJV)

 Turn!

“Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.  For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” James 4:14 (KJV)

 Turn!

My longtime close friend and fellow explorer of life’s byways, both real and imagined, Russell, passed away a week ago.  Our friendship goes all the way back to the days of junior high school.  My favorite memory from those days is the times we would spend riding our bikes through the woods exploring trails together alongside other good friends as if we were all some sort of heroic band of New World explorers boldly going where no man had gone before, to borrow Captain Kirk’s famous opening line from one of our shared favorite TV series, Star Trek.

It was unimportant and of no significance to any of us that the wild universe we were exploring was the wooded area adjacent to where we all lived.  No, as far as we were all concerned we were on the outer reaches of the galaxy discovering strange new worlds just as the opening Star Trek monologue so enticingly beckoned us to do. It was a wonderful siren’s call and we were all willingly spellbound.

The only thing holding us back from our appointed mission on those Saturdays was the lengthening shadows of dusk that, sadly, occurred far earlier than any of us ever wanted them to in our sun-shielded galaxy of planets populated with towering, mysterious beings whose outstretched arms branched out and sought to capture, or worse, any uninvited explorers such as ourselves.

What exciting and amazingly uncluttered with life’s demands good times those were.  As the song goes, “we thought they’d never end.”  But, sadly they did come to an end. Russell’s dad was transferred to another state before we were able to embark on the next grand adventure of exploring the looming and mysterious galaxy known as high school together.

Years passed with no contact between the two of us.  It wasn’t until decades later that we finally reconnected thanks to the internet.  Russell took a chance and left an anonymous post on a social media site looking for people that had graduated in our year of graduation from our once shared hometown high school.  I stumbled over his post one day and decided to take a chance and reply not knowing who was on the other end.

Imagine our surprise when we realized exactly who had just stepped back into our lives after such a long and silent absence. Oswald Chambers has a quote from his great devotional work, “My Utmost For His Highest” that I dearly love and that fits so well into the context of such an unlikely “lost then found” reunion between two friends:  “Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?”

As I reflect on the lasting effects and impact of our renewed friendship stemming from that unexpected reunion I am certain this was no chance or random coincidence.  To think otherwise isn’t a viable possibility.  How can a gift that keeps on giving owe its very existence to anything other than divine providence?

As cliché as it may sound our friendship was something akin to Lennon-McCartney, or perhaps Rodgers and Hammerstein.  At times I’m sure it was also like Abbot and Costello, or Laurel and Hardy.  Penn and Teller come to mind as well.  In my mind Russell could’ve easily been either Lennon or McCartney while I, even on my best days, was merely a shadow of the other half of the team.  Regardless of who was who all of these famous duos or teams shared a common bond of creative chemistry.  Spontaneous combustion was just a lone spark away from igniting a burst of creative energy in each of these pairs. And so it was between the two of us.

Remarkably this close friendship was rekindled and forged fairly quickly over a relatively short period of time through emails that ended up spanning many years marked by only an occasional phone call.  He loved to write.  I love to write. It was that simple.

Russell managed to bring out in me a creative side that few others have yet been able to access. He had this ability of encouraging me to step outside of my comfort zone.  I never feared rejection or ridicule when I did so.  When I think of Russell the phrase “freedom to be me” quickly comes to mind.  Each email volley presented a wonderful opportunity to boldly go where I’d never been before on a variety of subjects and yes, do so creatively.

We played off of each other with rare ease on a variety of subjects.  His knowledge on a wide range of subjects never ceased to amaze me. Our email duet was reminiscent of that wonderful back and forth volley between banjo and acoustic guitar found in the song, “Dueling Banjos” and it always left us grinning ear to ear.

So many times on so many subjects, but especially so when it came to music, he would be the teacher and I would be the student.  How was it possible for him to be so well versed and aware of so many artists and songs that I was not?  I used to say to him, “Russell, there you go again.  You’ve saved me from my Neanderthal existence by pulling me out from under my rock and into the light of day…thank you…again!”  He’d always reply with a laugh, but not with the laugh of superiority.  No, it was never like that.  It was always the laugh of someone who delighted and enthusiastically embraced the joy of seeing another person suddenly experiencing the epiphany of a great beauty or mystery that has just been revealed.  I loved how he expanded my otherwise flat, vanilla sort of world into an amazing multi-colored and textured sphere.  It was obvious  he genuinely loved being such a gracious guide.

 “And God said, Let there be light:  and there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” Genesis 1:3-4 (KJV)

“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)

I am thankful God sent Russell’s light to speak life into me.  His light will continue to burn brightly within me.  That warm glow I feel in my heart whenever I think of him and our friendship remains a great gift.

As I reflect on all of this I have to ask myself a few questions. “Do I speak and act in such a way that brings warmth into other people’s lives? Will that warmth continue after I’m gone?  Do my words and actions say I truly understand there may not be another day beyond this one, and, most importantly, is there any glimpse of Jesus at all to be found in me by others?”  In short, “What sort of lamp on a lamp stand am I in this dark and cold world?”

Eternal Lord, the time You have given each of us on this earth is short. Let us understand and embrace how truly fleeting our lives are so that we may humbly live in purposeful and joyful fellowship with You and with those You have so generously and graciously sprinkled into our lives along the way. May we joyfully walk the path You have set before us making the most of this day that You have given us realizing we may not come this way again. Today is the day to speak life into those whom You have surrounded us with, both those we love and who love us, and those we have only just met for there may be no other earthly day granted to us beyond this one.  My friend understood these truths of Yours. May I understand them as well. Lord, I thank you for sending him my way, and into so many other lives as well.  I thank you for the life-giving impact our friendship brought me and continues to bring.  Because of my friend’s walk I can truly say it’s a life well lived if after that life is over here on this earth it continues to speak life into those of us who remain behind.  What a marvelous gift!  Thank you that my friend’s light was indeed a lamp on a lamp stand that spoke life into myself and others, all to Your glory.  May we in turn pass along the light and warmth of Your love as well.  In Your Son’s name, Amen.

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