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”

truck stop rescue

(photo courtesy of Mindi H.)

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

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

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

Some years ago Mindi’s job was cleaning the bathrooms at a truck stop.  She described it as “doing a filthy job in a filthy place.”  You can only imagine what it must have been like—what she had to deal with day in and day out.  One day, despite the appalling physical conditions surrounding her, she confessed with head bowed low that she was so hungry that she was considering eating half-eaten food that had hopefully been left behind in the trash can in the nasty restroom she was about to clean.  Brushing away the tears of hopelessness in her eyes she opened up the door to the restroom to begin her job when she was completely startled by the unanticipated presence of a bird sitting on the sink in the restroom. Describing that moment, she said, “The bird just sat there sweetly looking at me, tenderly reminding me God was with me, watching over me. Instantly my focus was changed from my circumstances to Him. It was a deeply beautiful moment when I truly felt…well, not so alone.”

Isn’t it wonderful how stories of hope restored like Mindi’s make us feel not so alone, too?  Even when it seems all is lost and we have been forgotten God reminds us in Psalms 34:18 that He is there for us saying, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Echoing Mindi’s experience Rick Warren  beautifully observes, “Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days—when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you’re out of options, when the pain is great—and you turn to God alone.”  Amen, brother, amen.

In the midst of your brokenness He still lovingly calls out to you, “Where are you?” just as He did with Adam and Eve in the garden.  Ever the prodigal child’s Father, He longs for you to return to Him and in so doing run to your side and embrace you, desiring to fill you with hope and joy, all the while wiping away your tears in a beautiful, shared moment of tender worship and intimacy no matter where you might be…even if it’s in a highly unlikely place of worship such as a filthy restroom at a truck stop.  Are you surprised He, the creator of the universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, would choose to show up for you in such a place? Are there valleys so uncomfortably and painfully low in your life that you believe the Lord will not meet you there?  Deep down you think to yourself, “He would never come here…no, not to such a dark, ugly, shadow-filled place as I’m now in.” Let us prayerfully reconsider such thoughts. In “Within and Without” Ann Voscamp puts it this way: “The secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.”  Isn’t this what David is saying in Psalm 23:4? “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”  The truth is the very opposite of what those negative w-hiss-pers in your head are trying to persuade you to believe about Him: there is nowhere…NOWHERE…He will not go to be with you…to rescue you.  Indeed, Jesus declares, in Matthew 28:20b, “And surely I am with you ALWAYS, to the very end of the age.” 

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

 

Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (radio version)

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 greatly 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)