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)
“Walk By Faith” by Jeremy Camp from the album “Carried Me The Worship Project”
“What or whom we worship determines our behaviour.” John Murray
The eclectic line of people silently stretched as far as the eye could see away from the building. Persons from all walks of life were present: the old, the young, the rich, the poor, the powerful, and the powerless, some with hats in hand and heads bowed low, others with their noses up in the air. From time to time, the building’s front doors would open, but only long enough to admit the next one waiting in line to enter.
Once inside, each person found themselves alone in a large, silent auditorium illuminated by a single window. A sense of reverence permeated the room. “Hello, is anyone there?” they half-whispered as their eyes anxiously scanned the room for a felt but not seen presence. The silence quickly returned as the faint echoes of their question disappeared. Hearing no reply, they turned their attention to the light offered by the window, which drew them ever closer. A few pressed their noses against the glass, while others stood back at varying distances gazing at the outside world they had just left. Suddenly a voice, remarkable in its gentle nature, enveloped the entire room, saying, “What are your thoughts about the world as you look through the window? What do you see?”
So many people, so many uniquely individual answers to the question, as one might guess. Yet, despite the diversity found in such a large crowd, their answers leaned in one of two directions.
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Some pursue the world as if it’s a prize or trophy to be obtained for personal gain without regard for the cost. It’s an enticing but ultimately deceptive take-no-prisoners lifestyle approach that leaves misery and regret in its wake sooner or later.
“The world is my oyster.” (A well-known, slightly modernized quote from Shakespeare’s, The Merry Wives of Windsor)
I can’t help but think about the “old” Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dicken’s beloved “AChristmas Carol” before he experienced the visitation of the three Christmas spirits.
“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Now there’s some irony for you, eh? Those who view the world as their oyster for the taking become an oyster themselves, desperately clutching a pearl of their making, unwilling and afraid to share it with anyone else.
“We become what we behold.” William Blake, Jerusalem
Is such a solitary oyster-like existence all that surprising, given such persons view themselves as life’s singular, all-important reference point around which the world orbits? The voracious flock of seagulls from the animated movie “Finding Nemo” immediately come to mind, loudly squawking, “Mine, mine, MINE!” as they coveted the objection of their affection.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 (NKJV)
And therein lies sadness and danger if the treasures we hold near and dear to us are solely self-serving.
“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:26 (NKJV)
“We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living but not a life. We’ve added years to life, not life to years.” George Carlin
In due course, the knife called unavoidable pries the precious pearl from deep within the oyster loose, it now intended for another’s hands. How can we be so foolish and short-sighted?
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 1 Timothy 6:7 (NKJV)
Ah, but this is graciously no ordinary window that beckons us ever nearer to embrace the life-changing view of the world it offers. Perhaps you noticed the cross in the window immediately, as did I. It reminds us that a vibrant relationship with God through Jesus is the gateway to truth and meaning as we go about our daily lives interacting with the world through eyes, hearts, and minds other than our own.
“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)
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV)
Jesus is the window, the True North we seek, through which radiant hope shines for a darkened and despairing world.
All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 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 10:8-10 (NKJV)
He shows us a still better way of viewing and engaging with the world.
“I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:35 (NKJV)
“It’s about how we can love people, how we can make a difference for other people. I really believe in God’s economy, which is different than how we talk about our economy. In our economy, in order to have more, you take more. But in God’s economy-you give more.” Tim Tebow
And now it is your turn to enter through the doors into the room set aglow by the light streaming in through the single window. As you gaze out through the window, the gentle voice asks, “What are your thoughts about the world as you look through the window? What do you see?”
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.33 Butseek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matthew 6:31-33 (NKJV)
Start Right Here by Casting Crowns (single version)
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. 2 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 spotfor 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, 3 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, 2 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)
“Abide in Me” by Andrew Marcus from the album “Abide in Me.”
“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 thismanner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Yourname. 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, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 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)
“Speak the Name” by Koryn Hawthorne from the album “Unstoppable.”
“The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.” Revelation 21:23 (NKJV)
Before I begin, so there’s no question stirring around in the back of your mind, this photo, as shown here, accurately captures the scene just as I saw it. Aside from cropping the picture, I’ve not done anything to enhance the image. In short, what you see here is what I saw.
A simple but profound and ageless truth dawned on me as I sat there on the beach, watching two people play in the surf with the sun shining directly behind them: Eyes focused in the Son’s direction cannot distinguish skin color because the light is so bright.
This truth quickly expanded beyond skin color to include any other feature worldly thinking uses all too frequently in its vain attempts to categorize people.
The underlying, foundational truth is that when our hearts and minds are rightly on Jesus, His brightness is so glorious that the diversions of this world that result in harmful division and cruelty amongst ourselves no longer matters and is revealed for the utter darkness it is.
“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” John 12:46 (NKJV)
“God’s Kingdom isn’t divided into areas of important people and areas of little people. In God’s sight, everyone’s needful.”A. W. Tozer
“For there is no partiality with God.” Romans 2:10 (NKJV)
What, then, remains for us to say about these two people seen in the photo? What is most vital for us to understand and apply now that the Son’s light has removed everything the world counts as worth fighting about and beating our chests over? Yet another fundamental truth emerges in answering this question: at the end of the day, relationships are everything; they are what truly matter.
Our Lord is relational at His very core, so it should come as no surprise that this illumination has led us straight to the subject of relationships. Jesus has a few words to share with us regarding how we’re supposed to behave towards others, of course.
“And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31 (NKJV)
Can you imagine a world in which people genuinely cared for and respected one another? In a world spilling over with anger, hate, prejudice, jealousy, envy, pride, and selfishness, how can such a world ever hope to be filled with compassion and love? Such a radical change in direction begins one person at a time through that individual’s right relationship with God.
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.” Mark 12:30 (NKJV)
How can we love God so wholeheartedly? There is but One way to begin this journey of a lifetime.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6 (NKJV)
When we embrace (note this is doing and not just saying!) Him as Lord of our lives, “Yielding to Jesus will break every form of slavery in any human being,” proclaims Oswald Chambers.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
Indeed, as our heavy chains fall to our feet, we are at long last able to look beyond ourselves towards others with eyes of compassion and concern, for He has given us His own servant’s heart.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 (NKJV)
When we have true fellowship with Him, the misshapen glass walls of hate we have constructed come tumbling down in His glorious light. Have you yielded to Him? If so, serve your neighbors. Has He broken your chains? Serve your neighbors. Do you love Him? Serve your neighbors.
Who exactly is your neighbor?
“But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:29-37 (NKJV)
“Only a life lived for others is worthwhile.” Albert Einstein
As this comes to a close, allow me to share another A. W. Tozer quote with you.“God’s looking for people thru whom He can do the impossible. What a pity that we plan only things we can do by ourselves.”
We all want to see the world changed for the better. Left to ourselves and our strength, not only is it an impossible task, but a most likely misguided one as well since we invariably look at others as being the problem.
“But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 (NKJV)
“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Luke 6:41-42 (NKJV)
Let’s begin this sought after change first with ourselves by diligently pursuing a deeper, more intimate relationship with our heavenly Father. As our love for Him grows, so does our love for others. Who knows what miracle He will accomplish with a yielded son or daughter whose focus is on the light of His glory and grace?
Jadon Lavik, “Turn Your Eyes” from the album, “Roots Run Deep.”
Postscript: Here it is, the day after uploading this post. I’d be robbing you of a blessing if I didn’t offer these additional thoughts to you, my friends.
Although I’ve been aware of this song for years, it did not play a part in my original inspiration to write this post, as one might be so inclined to think. I stumbled upon this song after “auditioning” many others as my writing drew to a close. Yes, it’s the icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned.
It’s uplifting to note that this post’s central theme is an uncanny match for the message proclaimed in this beloved hymn’s chorus written by Helen Howarth Lemmel in 1922, almost 100 years ago.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”
The song may be old and my inspiration to write on this subject newly born, but the Lord’s message remains wonderfully unchanged. It is spectacularly new every morning, generation after generation! Let us praise Him!
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Hebrews 13:8 (NKJV)
“To live Coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. This phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of God.” R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries
Psalm 23 (NKJV)
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
What if this is the last post I ever have the opportunity to write?
What if reading this is your last opportunity to do anything?
In just a few hours I will undergo surgery. It is a minor surgery that doesn’t involve matters of life and death as so many others will endure this very same day all across this globe we all call home. Yet, it still causes me to pause and take a longer, deeper look at what is most important.
What thoughts run through your mind after reading these questions? Are they balls and chains that weigh you down, buzz-kills if you will, or do you view them instead as unlikely wings that, when firmly attached to Him (“Grounded Flight of Freedom”), allow you to soar in ways and into places you never imagined possible? When the latter occurs, a whole new world of previously unrecognized opportunities to be “Flying with God”presents themselves.
To live absent or oblivious to the underlying truth behind such questions is to miss out on living abundantly. To live in their sweet presence, however, is to experience “a life danced to the rhythm of God’s wisdom in a Byrd’s song.” Indeed, acknowledging this truth allows us to live each day to the fullest. This understanding ironically ushers us into a previously unseen world of incredible possibilities. What seems at first blush to be uncomfortably confining is ultimately found to be incredibly liberating.
Can nature’s song sound any purer than if you consider it from the perspective of recognizing you may never hear its captivating melodies again? Can the sky be any bluer than with such a mindset? The night stars twinkle so brightly? A flower’s bloom smell any sweeter? Can the touch, the look, the sounds of those you love be any more profoundly moving than when you humbly acknowledge it could be your last time?
My friend, this post has continued to grow far beyond what I originally envisioned. At first, I strongly resisted this expansion, wanting to keep this post as concise as possible, which admittedly is always an ongoing challenge for me. However, what began as a bubbling spring on a hillside has blossomed into a full-fledged waterfall. It is a captivating sight. I cannot look away. The vibrant current transports me along its purposeful path towards adventures only it knows at this moment. I am like a child on Christmas morning. My smile stretches from head to toe, and back again.
With renewed vision, I see that He would have me paint a much different picture than I originally intended. Quite frankly, it’s a picture I have needed to see as so often I’m prone to see the tree but not the forest. “It’s the view from 20,000 feet high” as my mentor, 2Tim, likes to say from time to time. After all, the Lord cannot be constrained to the earth-bound muddlings of the likes of someone like myself. The great I AM is thankfully so much more than my small-minded, narrow “God-in-the box” notions.
Each post I make addresses something He is teaching me, something I need to understand more fully. This latest endeavor continues in that vein. My hope and prayer are that you, as a fellow voyager, will walk away from this journey with a more profound and revolutionary awareness of His sweet presence in your life as well. In turn, may you be “contagious, unstoppable, and revolutionary” in your walk of faith, as John Eldredge notes in his book, “All Things New.”
Sprinkled throughout this post are links to past compositions already present on this site. Alone, these posts are but singular notes. Considered together, however, they become a captivating melody, if you will allow me to be so bold as to use that description. Yes, the view from 20,000 feet is quite extraordinary and humbling. In moments like this, I enjoy telling people, “Nobody weaves a quilt like the Lord, nobody!”
“We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow.”B.J. Neblett
Embracing a grander perspective is vital to ensuring our walk with Him remains headed in His direction, and not one of our choosing. If we focus solely on the tough times as completely individual pieces with no interconnectivity, we risk losing sight of not only the larger quilt He is weaving, but even more significantly, the Weaver Himself.
My fellow adventurer, where is hope to be found under a narrow, fragmented perspective? If we are to experience “tapping into hope,” then we must remain vigilant, trusting that there is a much bigger picture than the circumstances staring us immediately in the face. Hearts aligned with the Lord are then able to discover and embrace the hope lying just beneath the surface within the “Beauty is in the ayes of His beholders,” for example.
Walking with the Lord through the garden of your life, can you imagine a more breathtaking lifetime adventure than this? Surely there is nothing more mysterious, more beautiful, more revealing than this remarkable experience shared with the Living God, your Creator, your Salvation, the Author and Perfecter of your faith.
Each step, each bend, each vista, both large and small, is like a breath of fresh air after a cleansing summer rain when He is by your side. It’s seeing things as if you’re gloriously experiencing them for the very first time as a wide-eyed child. “Three in one” was such an experience. Yes, this odyssey with the Lord is nothing short of extraordinary. It overflows with sacred and noteworthy moments that span the variety of seasons that add vibrant color and meaningful depth to our lives. It’s like Dorothy stepping out of her former black and white world into the spectacular explosion of color, sights, and sounds that is the Land of Oz.
As you explore the winding path with the Lord, there inevitably comes the time when He pauses, puts His arm around your shoulder, and looks off into the distance. Pointing with His finger towards the distant horizon, He says to you with great anticipation in His voice, “Look there, my child. Do you see that?”
Squinting mightily, you peer off in the direction of His outstretched finger. “Lord, I’m looking, but I’m unable to make out what it is that You want me to see.” “I know, child. It’s OK that you can’t see it yet, but I wanted you to know I have already provided and planned something marvelous for you. The closer we get to it, the clearer it will become for you. It’s so lovely and magnificent!” He replies. “Oh! It sounds spectacular! How I wish I could see it, Lord!” you exclaim. “You will not be disappointed, I promise!” He whispers into your ear as He grasps your shoulder even more tightly. Gazing off into the distance, an ever-broadening, glowing smile of immense satisfaction appears on His face as He turns His attention back to you. It’s a smile that instantly warms your entire being.
Continuing, He adds, “I’m excited for you to see it and to share this adventure with you. It’s a long journey to get there, but I’ll be there every step of the way with you so you’ll never be alone. I must tell you, though, that there may be times when the temptation to think and feel otherwise might present itself. There will also be times in which you seem not to be making any progress. Don’t worry, though, because (S)Parking Lots have their good purposes. Remember to pursue My Word that it will always be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (Psalm 119:105.) Welcome My presence moment by moment with open arms so that you may enjoy its full and “sound affect”on you. Surround yourself with brothers and sisters of spiritual character and integrity (Hebrews 10:25.) Allow their iron to sharpen your iron (Proverbs 27: 17) Be encouraged by their stories like “Truck stop rescue”in which they have experienced My presence (Joshua 4:4-7) and unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3.) Listen carefully, my child, fear not for I will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6.) Have faith that I’m always there beside you working on your behalf “behind the seens.” Together, we will go on this quest that will be incredibly challenging at times but immensely rewarding. Keep your eyes always on Me so that you stay the course and do not falter (Hebrews 12:1-3.). Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. (Matthew 11:29, NKJV) In the end, the effort will seem light when compared to the great reward I have in store for you (Philippians 3:13-15.) You will not be disappointed. How does that sound to you?”
Listening intently, you subconsciously rise on your tip-toes in hopes of obtaining a more precise view only to come up short in your effort yet again. “Lord, I still can’t make out what You want me to see. Is there something wrong with me that I can’t see it?” you ask with a slight bit of uncertainty in your voice. “No, my child,” comes His soothing voice. “Many others also find themselves exactly where you are now standing. They also express similar concerns. You are a “diamond in the rough” just as they are. The time has come for you to move forward if you want to discover what lies in the distance. You must move beyond this place in which you have become comfortable. You must move courageously in faith towards what is unknown to you but known to Me.”
It’s fair to say that so long as we’re comfortable most of us are quite happy to stay exactly where we are. Two of my favorite quotes come to mind. The first is from the movie, “Morgan” in which Dr. Alan Shapiro, played by Paul Giamatti, says, “I have found comfort to be a possible thorn in the side of revelation.” The second quote is by John Maxwell. It reiterates the same basic idea as the first. “If we are growing, we are always going to be outside of our comfort zone.”
Of this much, I am sure: His plans and purposes for our lives are far more significant and grander than you or I can imagine. To allow us to languish in comfort when we are as yet unfinished lumps of clay would fall well short of who He is and who He has purposed us to be. His love for His children presses us onward and upward toward mountain peaks instead of little hills.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4 (NKJV)
To grow, you have to go; it’s as simple as that. An old familiar saying puts it like this: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” Stagnation is quite unlikely to happen when you’re moving. No way is the Lord going to allow His people to become covered in moss. Even God’s own Son, our Lord, and Savior, Jesus, was always on the move.
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” Luke 9:58 (NKJV)
Ironically, we all strive mightily to be comfortable, but once obtained, it is comfort itself that too often hinders and thwarts our spiritual progress. We have misunderstood “happiness.”
In Desiring God, John Piper explains, “The very longing for contentment that ought to drive us to simplicity of life and labors of love contents itself instead with the broken cisterns of prosperity and comfort.”
“Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches-feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8-10 (NKJV)
“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing…” Revelation 3:17a (NKJV)
What is the remedy for our chasing of things that offer only temporary relief in our search for happiness? How can we avoid falling into the deadly trap of filling the “broken cisterns of prosperity and comfort?” The answer? We must be firmly grounded in Him. Cultivate your relationship with Him with all your might. The better you know Him, the more you will experience His peace and joy and the things of this world will lose their grip on you.
“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life.” Psalm 119:92-93 (NKJV)
The Psalm 119:92-93 author experienced a life-threatening event. Ironically, in the throes of his wrestling match with death, however, he miraculously found life. The thorn of affliction, although unidentified, was the catalyst for such an epiphany.
This much is sure: the truth and wisdom found in verses like this were purposefully wrought on the rocky shores of adversity and desperation far, far away from the safe, moss-covered harbor of comfort. “Faith rubber meets the rowed” happens outside the bounds of a comfortable sanctuary. To enjoy the abundant life God intends for us, we must look beyond the walls of comfort.
What do you think? Was the Psalm 119:92-93 trial too great of a price to pay for such a life-altering revelation? For something that creates deeper trust, intimacy, and dependency upon the Father? For something that ultimately glorifies God?
Let’s consider Joseph’s story, as told in Genesis. He unexpectedly found himself at the bottom of a dark pit at the hands of none other than his brothers, who then sold him to strangers. His treasured coat of many colors had been stripped from him. And what about those marvelous dreams he had boasted so freely about to his family? Instead of his brothers bowing down at his feet as foretold by the dreams, he now found himself staring up at their feet. Surely at that moment, he must have felt as if his whole world had suddenly collapsed around him.
Yet not only did Joseph survive this and other challenging situations that followed, but he thrived. How was this possible?
How we view troublesome circumstances that we encounter along life’s path dictates whether we survive and thrive, as Joseph did, or experience ruin and heartache. When we face setbacks, do we see the pits as bottom-less, or as bottom-more? It would be easy and for an excellent reason to call such a place, “despair.” Or perhaps it would be better named “prepare?” Our answer to these questions is critical and reflective of one’s perspective, one’s worldview.
“It’s time that you take a close look at your God concept. Your God concept is what you think about God and how you feel about Him. These beliefs and feelings become a type of filter in your brain. Inevitably you will not live with the facts of your life but the interpretation of the facts of your life.” Paul Marc Goulet
“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” C.H. Mackintosh
The world, apart from God, is predisposed to view such dreadful pits as dead-end roads lacking hope that ultimately leads to nowhere good. Alternatively, an eternal perspective that embraces the sovereignty and flawless character of God believes there is ample reason to hope and, therefore, not give up, regardless of the circumstances.
Astonishingly, this hole was the improbable and unlikely beginning of his Coram Deo journey to becoming the much-admired, God-centered “Genesis 50:20” Joseph. Therefore, wisdom accompanied by faith instructs us, His children, to not be too hasty regarding our perception of our circumstances at any given moment, and instead beckons us to view our conditions in this world with Romans 8:28-30 in full view at all times. Why is this viewpoint so critical? Joseph became humbly teachable at the bottom of that pit, and so must we in order to become useful in God’s Kingdom.
To what end, such a profound transformation as Joseph underwent? And for what purpose? The Westminster Shorter Catechism #1 answers these questions: Q1-“What is the chief end of man? A1-Man’s chief end is to glorify God, by enjoying Him forever.”
Unwavering faith grows when a person experiences first hand His intimate presence and ongoing provision. Trials amplify this learning process. As the saying goes, “Faith isn’t fact until it’s tested.” Tested faith joyfully proclaims and shares what it knows to be true. It is no longer a mindless faith that timidly whispers of what it does not genuinely know, but rather it becomes a passionate voice crying out in the wilderness that He is none other than who His Word proclaims Him to be. He has come to set the captives free! Yes?
Psalm 23 is an overflowing fountain heralding God’s Kingdom built upon King David’s tested faith and personal relationship with Him. We are to be fountains overflowing with His living water, as well. I can’t speak for you, but the still, small Voice in my heart whispers, “How well does your fountain flow?”
“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”Matthew 4:4 (NKJV)
A loaf of bread can momentarily satisfy a person’s physical hunger, but the Word of God nourishes the starving soul forever.
“When our body needs energy, we eat food. But when our soul needs hope, what do we feed it? Promises…. Our souls are designed to be nourished by God’s ‘precious and very great promises.’” (2 Peter 1:4, NIV) Jon Bloom
How priceless, then, are situations that teach this ageless truth and create deeper intimacy with Him? If you have been to such a heavenly place wherein you have been entirely dependent upon Him, then this portion of the journey is familiar to you.
Genuine freedom and wisdom are not acquired cheaply. What price an authentic life? What price freedom? Our Savior paid the ultimate price to secure our freedom. Is it any surprise, then, that our transformation into His likeness is costly as well?
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” Luke 9:24 (NKJV)
Judging from my own life experiences, I can confidently attest that the Lord is the actual source of such wisdom regarding the importance of our moving beyond our comfort zones. What, then, are the circumstances that have taken me outside the comforts of a hammock gently swinging beneath lush shade trees? What is the landscape of the pit I am now experiencing?
I am momentarily stepping aside from the plot to tell you a portion of my story. It is not to whine or complain, mind you. No, not at all. Nor is it to elicit pity. Instead, I feel the need to inform you of my immediate circumstances, given its relevancy to this discussion.
I am at an age that is generally perceived to be associated with retirement. Retirement in the foreseeable future is off the table for me, however. About three and a half years ago, I was laid off by my former almost two-decades-long employer as a result of a severe downturn in the oil and gas business. Three days after my layoff, my partner experienced the same fate. A half-year later, my partner and I were blessed to most improbably give birth to a drilling and exploration company. We have primarily provided the “sweat equity” while a group of investors has provided the funding for this startup company. The life expectancy of this enterprise was for two years, based on our partners’ level of financial investment. Miraculously we are now one year beyond that expected expiration even though we have yet to produce one dollar of revenue to date despite our best efforts to the contrary.
As you might guess, COVID-19 has only served to compound our problems like it has for so many. My partner and I have given everything we have and more to this effort, yet we stand on the brink of a cliff. The hourglass sand is trickling away with scant few grains remaining as you might correctly surmise. If grains of sand each represent a month, then we are down to only two remaining grains. The dream will become that distant “Wylie Coyote” puff of smoke and dust at the base of the cliff from the Roadrunner Cartoon series if we’re unable to establish a revenue stream quickly. Financial ruin is on our doorstep. At my age, how can one possibly hope to ever recover from such a devastating loss? Will my wife and I find ourselves living under a bridge for the rest of our years? These are questions that growl more loudly with each passing day. In short, we need a parting of the Red Sea sort of miracle.
My relationship with the Lord has deepened remarkably throughout this experience. I can honestly tell you that the reward of intimacy with Him I continue to receive is well worth the price. Truthfully, I wouldn’t change any of this part of my journey if it meant losing Him. I have gained so much more of Him through this valley. He is my Rock, my Refuge, my Strength. It is He that keeps me in unlikely peace amid this storm-filled pit. I am blissfully dependent upon Him.
“In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19 (NKJV)
And so we return to where we earlier left our journey gazing at the distant horizon. There is but one remaining question that must be asked: “Do you trust Me?”
That is THEE question before all of us, His children, wouldn’t you say? How do you respond to Him? Will you go with Him to discover this distant, unknown beauty so that He may reveal it to you? Or will you play it safe according to your understanding and remain firmly planted right where you are? Will you be “per-sway did or per-sway-dead?”
The great I AM now knocks at the door of your heart, beckoning you to follow Him. Perhaps your response to the question is predicated upon your knowing how this adventure ends. For those that need an answer, I have good news for you. You don’t have to remain in the dark any longer. He has already given to each of us, His children, the remarkable answer to that question. Be encouraged by His words.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30 (NKJV)
The Transformed You, my brother, and sister in Christ is the distant, gleaming beauty on the horizon at the end of the trail that He seeks to show you. It is your metamorphosed beauty bearing His Son’s likeness and clothed with His righteousness that He aims to bring to your attention. What was once unknown and unrecognizable to you has all been graciously revealed beforehand! Therefore, consider solemnly “the few-ture”awaiting you. Regardless of your current circumstances, do you now sense the heartbeat of hope and meaningful purpose rising within you?
“to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3 (ESV) (emphasis mine)
There is but one true beauty responsible for this life-changing transformation leading to our being “(br)oak(en) for righteousness.” Jesus, the “unfading Rose,” the One who has redeemed us and set us free, the One to whom we owe all, the One who willingly took our place that day on the cross, He is the reason. Rejoice friends for He has made our destiny sure. I say again, rejoice!
“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)
Will you accept His offer to lovingly guide you through the hills and valleys of your lifetime as King David declares in Psalm 23? The first and last steps of your Coram Deo adventure in search of the destiny He has purposed and planned for you can successfully begin and end only one way: trusting Him.
In the end, He is what matters. Do you trust Him?
“Only Jesus” by Casting Crowns from the album “Only Jesus”
“The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8 (WEB)
A rose in its prime is treasured the world over for its remarkable beauty. For a few moments our lives are graced and inspired by its presence. But, it’s a beauty not meant to last for very long. As it fades away before our very eyes we are reminded that there is but one beauty that transcends time, a beauty that never fades away, a beauty that when intimately embraced in our lives grows ever more beautiful over time. How can it not? He alone is the one true Rose of Sharon that loves you without ceasing and has promised to never leave your side.
I ask you, “Is there another Rose that is as true, as noble, as pure, as lovely, as of such good report, as virtuous, and as praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8) other than Jesus? After all, there is no other Rose who died, was buried, and then rose three days later to set you, His dearly beloved, free. Can there be anything more breathtakingly beautiful than the unfading Rose of our salvation?
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8 (WEB)
“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines out.” Psalm 50:2 (WEB)
Jason Upton, “Jesus, You’re Beautiful” (from the album “A Table Full of Strangers, vol 2”)
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV)
“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)
“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)
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)