a chip on His shoulders

 “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”  1 Corinthians 6:20 (NKJV)

Have you ever purposefully bought something you knew was defective?  I never thought I’d find myself doing that, but that’s what happened a few days ago.  And unexpectedly, there was Jesus wonderfully right in the middle of my conversation with the cashier about my improbable purchase.

If you read my last post, “Humilability,” then you already know I’ve had the Japanese art form known as Kintsugi on my mind.  So much so that I decided I wanted to try my hand at it.  I was in the process of buying something at the last minute for my art-venture when a “refreshing summer rain” moment of understanding in the checkout lane occurred.

Let me refresh your mind about Kintsugi before moving on with this story.

Kintsugi is a Japanese art form that takes shattered pottery and makes it whole by mending the broken pieces together with glue typically containing silver, gold, or platinum.   Upon completion, the revitalized object becomes more valuable and desirable than it was initially.  Those who follow this style of art delight in the object’s history as revealed by the repaired joints.  In other words, the rejuvenated vessel tells a story of hope through its rebirth that is cause for much celebration.

Returning to the story, I had already bought everything I thought I needed for my project but still had one last stop to make for my wife before heading home.  She had asked me to buy a clay pot, so I stopped by the local gardening center knowing they would have a good selection.  While looking for just the right clay pot for her, I noticed a chipped and cracked one.  As soon as I did, a light bulb immediately went off in my head, and I realized it’d be a great addition to my collection of Kintsugi project material. Why smash up something in perfect shape when I could break up something that was already flawed?   So, I happily picked up the broken pot along with a good one for my wife and headed to the checkout lane.

After a short wait in line, I placed the two pots I wished to purchase on the counter.  As the cashier scanned the items, she paused over the broken one and looked up at me with a questioning expression on her face. 

Cashier: “Did you know this pot is broken?”

Me: “Yes.”

Cashier: “And you still want it?”

Me: “Yes, I have plans for it.”

No sooner had those words been said when a spiritual sonic boom stirred my soul, recrystallizing the reality of a precious gift I far too often fail to acknowledge and cherish rightly.  Indeed, just as I had plans for the broken pot, how much more so does Jesus have plans for broken me?

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV)

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

There is a huge difference, of course, in the method of payment for these items.  Jesus purchased me with His life, while all I did was hand over a few dollars for the flowerpot.  He gave all, I gave little.

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  John 15:13 (NKJV)

Before I stepped into the picture, the trash heap was that defective clay pot’s only future where it would join countless other items also considered worthless and of no use.  However, the funny thing now is it sits next to me on my bookshelf in plain sight as a treasured reminder of where I’d be right now without Jesus.  There now was no way I was going to bust it up as I had initially planned after being gifted with such a beautiful flash of insight.  God has such a wholly (holy!) excellent way of turning my thoughts and plans upside down, you know?  

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV)

How did this broken pot land in a position of honor in my office instead of lost in a landfill?  Simply put, I had plans for it where no one else did and was then willing and able to do something about it.  That is the sole reason this little clay pot has a new home beside me.

“Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  Isaiah 43:19 (NKJV)

As a believer, the soul (yes, that’s purposeful spelling on my part) reason I now have an eternal future overflowing with hope is that Jesus saw my need and was willing and able to do something about it.

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  John 1:29 (NKJV)

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

He put my brokenness, my chips, if you will, on His shoulders at great cost to Himself.  And He’s done the same for you.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  Isaiah 53:6 (NKJV)

“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”  Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV)

What are the Lord’s plans for you, my brother and sister in Christ, and for me?  He has prepared a place of honor for us with Him.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  John 14:3 (NKJV)

“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”  John 14:2 (NKJV)

But there’s more, so much more.  It’s beyond astonishing when you think about it!  

 “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)

Have you sincerely thanked God today for His active presence in your life, for the priceless gift of rebirth out of brokenness He has bestowed upon you through His Son, our Savior, Jesus?

“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)

Come to the Table by Sidewalk Prophets from the album “Something Different.”

humilability

(hue-mill-uh-bill-uh-tea)

-the ability to employ selfless compassion and empathy for others as a grateful expression of God’s love.

“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. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  Matthew 12:30-31 (NKJV)

One need look no further than a cat frantically chasing a laser pointer’s wildly zigzagging dot skimming across the floor for visual confirmation that motion attracts attention like little else.  After all, movement is typically associated with life, which, as we all know, is the ultimate visual attention-getter. 

A few mornings ago, a familiar and friendly sight enticingly beckoned me to come nearer for a closer look.  Just as it did a few years earlier, a solitary movement tantalizingly framed within a multitude of stillness captivated my attention.  No way could the cat in me walk away, then or now.   

As I drew closer, much to my curiosity’s delight, I realized that the movement I was observing was wonderfully unique from what I had previously experienced and written about a few years ago in per sway-dead or per sway-did.  Instead of an entire plant moving to the beat of the faint wind as it happened then, this time, however, the motion radiated from a single blade of tall grass that, upon closer examination, revealed an unexpected and intriguing feature. 

What was so surprising about this lone blade of dancing grass?  In a word: brokenness.  The stalk was broken and bent about two-thirds of the way up.  This imperfection resulted in a visually compelling motion resembling bowing at the waist whenever the slightest whisper of a breeze stirred the air.

Curiously a nearby similarly broken blade remained fixed and unmoving.  Hmmmm.  It’s fair to say that, yes, where this motion was concerned, the break was essential, but it was also apparent that the location played a pivotal role, as well.  If this were not so, then clearly, both broken blades standing so close to each other would have exhibited motion rather than just the one.

I find the irony so captivating here that the motion catching my eye emanated from something broken and flawed.  As we all know, the world is not particularly kind regarding things judged damaged or not measuring up.  The truth is it can be downright cold and cruel towards anything it perceives as not rising to its standards of desirability or perfection.  But, take heart, friend, because the good news for all of us “less-than” sorts is that the Lord has an entirely different perspective than the world does.

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;”  1 Corinthians 1:27 (NKJV)

Each of us has experienced brokenness in our lives.  Some more, some less, but the bottom line is we are all broken in some way.  The worldly method of handling our damages is to try and hide them by pushing them out of sight.  Essentially we attempt to avoid attention by immobilizing or disguising those damaged areas of our lives in hopes of blending in with everyone else.  “It’s the safe thing to do,” says our ego, which quickly tries to seal the deal on that thought by adding, “Trust me because I know what’s best for you.” 

To reveal our brokenness to the world exposes our weaknesses, and who wants to do that knowing we’ll most likely become the object of ridicule at the very least?  So, we go into stealth mode, closing and locking the door tightly behind us as best and as fast as possible.

Sadly, when we go into hiding, we subject the world and ourselves to yet another day of being held captive by shame and fear.  This thinking is in direct opposition to our calling as God’s children, however.  As believers, we’re called to more, so much more than being invisible.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 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)

It’s time, brothers and sisters, to step out of the dark and into His light.  We need to embrace the life-changing potential that sincere, godly humility offers to the imprisoned and isolated of this world and to ourselves along the way.

“Think not that humility is weakness; it shall supply the marrow of strength to thy bones.  Stoop and conquer; bow thyself and become invincible.”  Charles Spurgeon

 “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:6-7 (NKJV)

Humility is the ability to generously apply a mending salve of compassion and understanding to the world’s endless sea of walking wounded.  It finds its beginning in the refining fires of our healing and restoration.  It is not man contrived false humility that focuses on self, mind you.  No!  Genuine humility gives up the steering wheel to God and climbs cheerfully into the back seat so that someone else can sit in the front seat.  Oh, and just in case you’re asking, “Are we there yet?” there’s nothing to worry about; God will tell you every time whenever you’re there.  He is, after all, the Driver and the GPS, so sit back and pay close attention to what’s going on around you because it’s likely you’ll come upon another weary soul in need of what the Lord can offer them through you now that you’re not the driver.

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Philippians 2:4 (NKJV)

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  Galatians 6:2 (NKJV)

Jesus has shown us the way forward, of course.

“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 10:45 (NKJV)

Like the blade of grass bends in the slightest presence of the wind, the humble heart also gratefully bows at the very thought of the healing, mercy, grace, and love it has received from the Lord.  In doing so, such a heart rightfully honors the Deliverer and His intentions regarding other’s needs, all the while trumpeting they’re a part of a much larger and grander story.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.”  2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NKJV)

 “Rare are those men or women who have glimpsed God and whose insights transform others ever afterward.  They wrestle with their humanity in a way that helps others wrestle with theirs.  They give freely of what they know with contagious joy.”  Stephen Mansfield

I can’t help but think of that familiar saying attributed to John Bradford back in the 1600s, “There but for the grace of God, go I,” uttered while he was watching a group of prisoners pass by on their way to their executions.  When it comes to our own lives, who among us can honestly testify any differently about our rescue by the Lord’s hand?  Indeed, humility worn properly is a garment of incalculable worth lovingly stitched together by His nail-scarred hands with the threads of God’s love, mercy, and grace.  It rightly honors and glorifies God.   

“Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.”  Luke 8:39 (NKJV)

“who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,”  2 Timothy 1:9 (NKJV)

Is it not pride driven by what others might think of us that keeps us from sharing with others who are hurting the comfort and provision God has generously bestowed upon us in our times of need?  Delivered from our captivity and now safe in His embrace, where is our compassion for distressed and weary people?  Or, perhaps our once grateful heart has grown selfishly cold and turned a blind eye?  Considering all He has done for us, how can we as believers remain stoically detached and motionless in the face of the suffocating darkness others confront?

 “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”  1 John 3:16 (NKJV)

Humilability flows freely from the heart of Jesus to you and then through you to others.  It recognizes this isn’t about you; it’s very much about the other person.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. “  Philippians 2:3 (NKJV)

A humility-led person walks a mile beside a wounded soul trudging up a seemingly impossibly steep hill in their worn, tear-stained shoes and does so silently if that’s what’s needed.  Only when the time is right is the silence broken, saying, “Friend, you’re not alone.  I know something about what you’re going through because I’ve been there, too.“  Truthfully, who better to offer much-needed compassion and understanding to a person dealing with heartache than one who has experienced not only similar pain but Jesus’s subsequent rescue?

 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy  and to walk humbly with your God.”  Micah 6:8 (NIV)

In Japan, there is an art form known as Kintsugi in which shattered pottery is made whole by mending the broken pieces back together with glue typically containing silver, gold, or platinum.   Upon completion, the revitalized object becomes more valuable and desirable than it was initially.  Those who follow this art form delight in the object’s history as revealed by the repaired joints.  In other words, the rejuvenated vessel tells a story that is worthy of celebration.

Like a Kintsugi vase, our mended brokenness, our scars, also tell an extraordinary story of redemption if we will but give them a voice.  It’s a remarkable testimony of rebirth that lifts the name of Jesus, our Healer, our Savior, high for all to see.  

Consumed by brokenness, do we become lifeless and distant from God like the static, unmoving grass, or do we embrace life by bowing before Him in grateful recognition and trust in honor of what He has done and will do with our brokenness?  Our ability to exercise humility steps forward by acknowledging the One who has healed us, for you see, only He can speak life into and through our brokenness.  How will you respond to His whisper?  Which broken blade of grass will you be?

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21:5 (NKJV)

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  Colossians 3:12 (NIV)

1!1!1!

“Scars” by I Am They from the album “Trial and Triumph.”

content?meant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Paul is a person completely sold out for God.

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

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

Paul has learned the secret for true contentment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He! Is! Worthy! 

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

Be Still and Know by Christy Nockels from the album Healer

swept clean by grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us rejoice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

heart-spoken

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

“Get into the habit of saying, ‘Speak, Lord,’ and life will become a romance.” Oswald Chambers

The use of the word “romance” here in this context is a spiritual show-stopper the more I think about it.  Such a romance is a life of excitement, a shared journey of love that is an adventure filled with mystery, surprise, longing, and beauty between God and ourselves.  It’s an extraordinary invitation to embark on a remarkable Coram Deo life alongside Him.  It is everything we long for, and so much more.

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.  John 10:10b (NKJV)

Hear what John Eldredge has to say about a life of romance lived in God’s presence from his book, “The Sacred Romance:”

“The Sacred Romance calls to us every moment of our lives…invites us through the laughter of good friends, reaches out to us through the touch of someone we love. We’ve heard it in our favorite music, sensed it at the birth of our first child,been drawn to it while watching the shimmer of a sunset on the ocean. Something calls to us through experiences like these and rouses an inconsolable longing deep within our heart, wakening in us a yearning for intimacy, beauty, and adventure. This longing…fuels our search for meaning, for wholeness, for a sense of being truly alive. And the voice that calls to us in this place is none other than the voice of God.”

He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.”  Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NKJV)

That longing for eternity can be satisfied only by God.  Only His voice can meet that need purposefully implanted in the depths of our hearts so that we would seek Him.  Oh, but when at long last embraced, the sweetness and beauty of His voice are miraculously transformative. 

“And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!” (How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss)

Indeed!  The Lord’s presence continually delights and surprises me.  His love wonderfully turns me upside down, sideways, and gratefully, every which way but loose, as if I’m a stone joyfully borne along by a sparkling, rapidly flowing river.  All that matters is that I am within the loving embrace of His arms of living waters.  After all, what about the destination can be of concern when He is the River Boat Captain of my soul?

When you’re in His embrace, you see and understand things differently than the world does.  I can’t help but think this is what Oswald Chambers was alluding to when he said in his devotional, My Utmost For His Highest, “Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?”  When you know yourself to be in His hand,  you see anything, and everything with Him in mind, no matter how big or small something is.

Take, for example, my friend, Nicole.  She frequently sees heart shapes in clouds, leaves, and even the icing on a cupcake, to name a few.  Nicole recently found a heart-shaped piece of meat hiding underneath the holiday ham when she removed it from the cooking pan. 

These heart surprises are always a great encouragement because every time she spots one, it’s a glowing reminder of how much God loves her.   Finding one never gets old for her.  Each discovery delights her more than the previous one.

Not surprisingly, she’s always on the lookout for these spontaneous “God hugs” because you never really know when or where one will show up.  To that end, it’s worth noting that one often shows up just when she needs it most. It’s a much-needed, sweet reminder to her of Whose child she is at just the right moment.

If you’ve ever turned the radio on and immediately found yourself listening to the perfect song to meet your needs in that moment, you know this “God hug” feeling. Or perhaps you’ll come across just the right words in a book, article, movie, devotional, or scripture that seems like a custom fit perfectly tailored for your circumstances.

Several posts on this site speak to these sorts of heartwarming moments.  Please check out “meanwhile behind the seens,” “diamond in the rough,” or “blanket coverage,” for example,  if you get the chance. “Trucks top rescue” is a post describing another friend’s spiritually meaningful and oh so timely encounter with a dove in an unlikely location during a difficult time in her life.

There’s a thought expressed in the movie August Rush that I find notably engaging and pertinent to this discussion.  Evan Taylor( August Rush) as played by Freddie Highmore: “Listen.  Can you hear it?  The music.  I can hear it everywhere.  In the wind…in the air…in the light.  It’s all around us.  All you have to do is open yourself up.  All you have to do…is listen.” 

Try exchanging “God” for the word “music,” which is no great stretch of the imagination since music finds its very beginning in our Lord.  Now,  before you move on, reread Evan’s observation with God in mind instead of music and let it flow powerfully into your heart. 

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”  Matthew 1:23 (NKJV)

When you recognize you are always in His presence, your world will grow decidedly more hopeful and more beautiful. 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

Do you hear His voice, a voice like none other?  Are you listening?  Oh, how I pray you are.

“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)

This post’s original title was “heartbroken” because that was my first impression upon seeing this heart as pictured above, which I spotted across the street directly in front of my house.  Heartbreak and pain practically oozed from it when I first saw it. 

As hearts go, this is no visual role model, to be sure.  It’s so disfigured as to be almost unrecognizable as such.  Questions abound.  What about those two holes?  Why is this heart composed of two different materials?  What does it mean that part is on the grass and the remaining portion is on the concrete?  One is left only to likely observe this is a divided heart, ripped into pieces.

Undoubtedly, some will say while looking at the photo, “You call that a heart?  That’s no heart!  Besides, even if it is whoever heard of a heart wearing a mask?”   You and I already instinctively know the answers: “The world has a cruel and heartless way of crushing a person’s heart.  The mask is for protection.”  We know this because, at various times, we have all endured the heartache and heartbreak the cold hands of this world can inflict upon a person.  And we have the scars, wounds, and limps to prove it.  We all wear masks of one variety or another in an attempt to protect ourselves from being hurt again.  To show our true selves makes us vulnerable to attack, so we hide behind the mask.

When it comes to romance, being heartbroken is not where anyone wants to find themselves, of course.  Writing about heartache is not a warm and fuzzy experience, either, as I can readily attest.  Indeed, I was conflicted in those efforts from the beginning.

Mercifully, the Lord gently redirected my initial thoughts by bringing to mind one verse in particular in the middle of the night as I wrestled with this sadness.  In an instant, He rescued me from drowning in the dark, quicksand-like waters of despair I was experiencing.  The hopelessness of “heartbroken” joyously gave way to Jesus’s ever hopeful and life-giving perspective of “heart-spoken.”

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

The whispered gift of “heart-spoken” warmly greeted me in those quiet, still, and uncluttered hours of a new day.  Joyfully it buoyed my spirit aloft on the wings of hope like an early spring flower emerging from melting winter snow brings.   No longer constrained by string, I’m a kite set free to fly where once I could only longingly gaze.   Yes, hope forged in the fires of His boundless love is the real message of Christmas that we can rejoice in throughout the entire year.

“For to us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 (NKJV)

What does that hope mean for His children, the captives whose hearts He has come to set free?

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”  Ezekiel 36:26 (NKJV)

‘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)

As we learn to embrace the rhythm of His grace with our new hearts, He is teaching us a dance of freedom we’ve never experienced before according to His good purposes.  We are dancing to His music in His arms, each of us in our own special and unique way.   Apart from Him, we knew only division; now, a part of Him, our hearts know harmony.

Ever so gently, He tenderly removes the mask we’ve hidden behind. Instinctively we lower our eyes, afraid He will find us ugly and unlovable, just as the world has pronounced us to be.  Casting our disguise aside, He reaches out, lifts our chin, and lovingly gazes at our now naked face.  Looking deeply into our eyes, He tells us the mask has hidden a wondrous beauty for far too long that He has uniquely created for a time such as this.  And, then, the unexpected happens. He begins to sing over you drowning out the world’s curses you once knew all too well.  Do you hear Him speaking to your heart?  Oh, how I pray you do, my brother and sister, for you are heart-spoken and greatly loved!

“The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”  Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV)

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Alisha.mp4 “Feel My Love” (Bob Dylan)

(note: Nicole’s good friend sings this cover to Bob Dylan’s song.  Heartfelt thanks go out to Alisha for allowing me to use her version of this song.  Close your eyes, friends, and listen to this song as if God is singing directly to you.  What a blessing!)

Under His (re)Construction

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

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

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

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

“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His Sound Affection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boom!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Miracle of Him

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22-23(NKJV)

Friends, at the beginning of the year, my business partner and I agreed that October would most likely be the end of our three-year-old startup company unless we were finally able to generate a revenue stream.  The hoped-for income stream has not happened for a variety of reasons.  Humanly speaking, we should be six feet under, but we’re still above ground.  I shouldn’t be receiving a paycheck today, but I am.

I have the most beautiful three words to share with you as to why: “But then God!” There is no other explanation.

Although I don’t know so many of you personally, I pray for you often.  Today, my prayer for you is that you majestically soar to new heights on the wings of the truth found in these three words, “But then God!”  Please know that your presence here is a true blessing in my life.  You are each a gift given to me by our most gracious Heavenly Father.  Most importantly, embrace this truth:  our Heavenly Father deeply loves you, His child.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),  and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,  not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:4-10 (NKJV)

 

 “I Need a Miracle” by Third Day from the album, “Miracle”

blanket coverage

Look!  There at the very top of the photo, in the center!  Now, do you see the cross formed by the wrinkles in the blanket?

Tomorrow will mark a full seven days since my surgery.   Since then, 98% of my time has been spent on the couch, trying to find a comfortable position.  Sometimes I’ve been successful in those wrestling efforts, and sometimes not.

However and whatever my position, though, I’ve always had my blanket tossed over me.  Yes, it keeps me warm, but there’s another reason I like it.  Not surprisingly, given my tendency to all-too-easily identify with the Peanuts Cartoon character, Linus, a feeling of security, accompanies my use of it.  Hence the phrase, “security blanket, “ of course, which leads me to strongly suspect I’m not the only person on the planet who much enjoys the company of a nice, warm covering.   Without it, I feel a bit, well, exposed and vulnerable, to be perfectly blunt about the matter.

Yesterday afternoon as I settled down and threw the covering across my legs for the umpteenth time, I couldn’t help but notice the prominent symbol of the cross that had been formed by the blanket’s wrinkles. In my half-reclining, half-sitting position, it would have been hard to miss since it was directly in my line of sight with the TV.

I wasn’t looking for the cross, mind you, but there it unmistakably was.  And at that moment, I was again generously and warmly reminded that even when I’m not on the lookout for Him, He is faithfully always on the lookout for me.

Take heart and rest in His ongoing, loving presence in your lives, for we, my spiritual brothers and sisters, are His beloved children, and are safe and secure under His blanket coverage.

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.’ He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.”  Psalm 91:1-2,4  (NKJV)

“Good, Good Father” by Chris Tomlin from the album, “Good Good Father”

Coram Deo: an unparalleled adventure

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

Psalm 23 (NKJV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

destiny6 WP straighten edit

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

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