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)

1!1!1!

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”

…NAILED IT…

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

4 Surely
 He
 has borne
 our griefs
And carried

 our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But

He
 was 
wounded
 for our transgressions,
He
 was 
bruised
 for our iniquities;
The chastisement

 for our peace 
was upon
 Him,
And

by
His 
stripes
 we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on

 Him
 the iniquity of us all.
7 He
was
oppressed and
 He
was
afflicted, Yet 
He
opened not His mouth;
He

was
 led
as a lamb
 to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people

He
 was
stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death, Because He

had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge

 My righteous Servant
 shall justify many,
For He shall bear

their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because

He
 poured out
 His soul unto
death,  
     and He was numbered with the transgressors,
And

 He
bore the sin
of many,
And made intercession

 for the transgressors.”
 (Isaiah 53, NKJV)

…nailed it…

nailed it WP edit

for you…and for me…seven centuries later…

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)

 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center. (John 19:17-18, NKJV)

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,  (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, NKJV)

 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 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. (John 3:14-17, NKJV)

So, Isaiah’s question remains:  “Who has believed our report?” Do you believe?  Do you know the One whom Isaiah the Prophet foretold almost 700 years beforehand would die for you…and does He know you?  His outstretched arms await you…………..

 

“Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me) by Casting Crowns from the album “Hymns of Faith”

 

(br)oak(en) for righteousness

“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)

What exactly does an “oak of righteousness” look like?  Do you see it as this great, towering, beautifully shaped tree with a massive trunk and limbs that spread out over an almost inconceivably large area?  This is how I envisioned such an “Isaiah 61:3” tree for the longest time. 

And why not, you might very well ask?  It seems to be a quite reasonable vision to adopt in my mind’s eye given its origin and purpose doesn’t it?  After all, we are talking about a tree planted and cared for along the way by the Lord Himself. 

It’s quite easy to imagine the form of such a glorious tree as being a Mary Poppins sort of tree, “practically perfect in every way.”  Why, we could call it a “poster tree” or a “model tree” so magnificent in its appearance it must surely be. 

This vision of an “Isaiah 61:3” tree, then, became my mental image destination expressed in my prayers and longed for in my heart over the past several years.

How I envision an “oak of righteousness” is no small matter because I’ve learned along the way that how my heart responds to various things going on in my life, specifically the difficult circumstances, is tied strongly to my expectations which in turn are linked to hope.  “See the ball, be the ball” is a favorite expression these days and it applies here as well.  Just substitute “tree” for “ball” and you’re there.  

If my sincere prayer is to become an “oak of righteousness” then isn’t it fair to say that it greatly matters what I envision when I imagine such a tree in my heart and mind?  Therefore, as a believer it’s entirely reasonable to ask myself if my “mental paintings” of such a tree are Biblically sound or not.

“Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.” “Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.” Genesis 37:5-7, 9 (NKJV)

What do you suppose Joseph’s expectations were following these two God-breathed dreams? 

I can’t say for sure about Joseph, but if I had been visited by such dreams I’m confident in saying that my daydreams…my expectations…my hopes… afterwards would’ve soared high above the clouds and far beyond even to the moon and the stars.  I would’ve been like a hot air balloon soaring upwards without even the tiniest hint of a sand bag being present to even dare slow my imagined rapid ascent.

To borrow a familiar phrase, however:  what goes up must come down, and this is especially true when pride itself has been shown to be present.

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

“So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. 24 Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it.”  Genesis 37: 23-24 (NKJV)

“Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.”  What’s your reaction to these lyrics by James Taylor from his song, “Fire and Rain?” 

From day one years ago when I first heard this phrase these words have captivated me.  The visual imagery of crushed expectations and lost hope conveyed by these few words upon my heart is stunningly precise in its poignant message. 

Certainly Joseph could’ve related all too painfully well to these lyrics from the bottom of the pit now having found himself so very far away from the dreamy scenario of the bowing wheat sheaves, moon, and stars that had once delighted him and filled him with so much hope. 

I’m guessing Joseph couldn’t wait for such an incredibly bright future to come.

So, how do you safely navigate what appears to be an abruptly cruel and unexpected end to your glorious parade of expectations?  What do you do when you find yourself slogging through a terrifying detour, knee deep in an unmapped, dark and foreboding swamp with no exit sign over a single hollowed out half-dead tree to be found in any direction?  How do you not panic and keep your spiritual  nose above the water? 

I can only imagine what thoughts and questions must’ve been racing through Joseph’s mind at the bottom of this dark hole.  “But… but…but…God…what about those dreams you gave me?  Were those dreams real or just something created by my own imagination?  This is NOT at all how I thought things were going to unfold.  Why has this happened to me?  Something is off here! HELP!”

And indeed, something is “off.”  When our expectations do not match up exactly with the Lord’s ways we find our once bright hope growing uncomfortably dim and vulnerable to attack.   

It’s our very nature to think we’ve got God figured out, especially so when we see Him on the move in our lives.  We then impetuously leap ahead fully confident we’ve got Him and the whole situation already mapped out. 

In doing so we erect an unrealistic outwardly beautiful oak of righteousness in our minds according to a design of our own making that is not fully engaged with His truth, purposes, and plans.  And therein great danger crouches in wait for us. This zone of friction between our truth and God’s truth is nothing new:

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him.  For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJV)

Years later in the story we find Joseph, a rightly pruned and inwardly beautiful oak of righteousness, standing before his kneeling, formerly unmerciful and conniving brothers sincerely uttering one of the most heart-touching proclamations in all of the Bible, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”  Genesis 50:20 (NKJV)

Talk about a 180 over the course of Joseph’s life.  How did such a remarkable change take place in this man of God’s heart?

 “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”  Hebrews 12:6 (NKJV)

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:2, 5 (NKJV)

We must therefore be vigilant and mindful that there is a personal cost to be found in the pruning as the Lord transforms us to become an oak of righteousness bearing fruit for His good purposes and glory.  To think otherwise is to tempt the crouching lion patiently awaiting you up around the next dimly lit intersection of your journey.  

Unless we actively engage and daily employ the wisdom found in Psalm 119:105 (NKJV), “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” we risk becoming dinner for the lion.  Or did you think his roar was for another?

I love this quote by Charles Spurgeon: “God does not need your strength; He has more than enough on His own.  He asks for your weakness; He has none of that.”  Let us be careful thinking we know what a beautiful oak of righteousness should look like.  My thinking has been turned inside out and upside down about this. 

I now realize such a tree is indeed exceedingly beautiful and immensely strong, but not outwardly as I once considered, but rather in its inner most parts.  Outwardly it bears the glorious marks and scars of a life beautifully transformed for Christ’s sake resulting in a less than ideal appearance according to the world. 

Yes, my early visions of such a tree were shallowly rooted lacking understanding.   A true Isaiah 61:3 tree’s outward appearance can’t help but reflect the Lord’s careful and purposeful pruning made beautiful in its scars through the inward strength and intimacy created when someone has been around the block of life a time or two with the Lord.   As the saying goes, “That’s gonna leave a mark.”  And indeed what beautiful marks they are in the Lord’s hands are they not?

Lord, bend and prune me as You see fit like You did so long ago with Your servant Joseph, so that I too will one day be an oak of righteousness, a planting of Yours, that You may be glorified according to Your purposes and plans for my life.  When I am tempted to doubt and lose hope when my preconceived vision of how things are supposed to look don’t line up with Your truth and purposes, bring to my mind and heart these verses: “And we know that all things work together for good for 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.”  Romans 8:28-29 (NKJV).  “Let me seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Your sight.Micah 6:8 In Your Son, our Savior’s name, amen!

Lauren Daigle, “Trust in You” from the album “How Can It Be”

 

cloudy, with a 100% chance of miracles

“Listen to this, Job, stop and consider God’s wonders.  Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash?  Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?”  Job 37:14-16 (WEB)

In the 2009 animated film, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” an inventor creates a machine that is capable of causing all sorts of food to fall from the clouds like rain thus relieving the suffering town of its hard times which consisted of having only sardines to eat.  Unfortunately things go haywire with the machine resulting in the town being threatened to be buried alive in an avalanche of food leaving the townsfolk wondering if maybe “just sardines” wasn’t so bad afterall.  The early hope of deliverance from sardines by the new possibility of meatballs instead became an impending disaster of terrible proportions leaving the beleaguered little town fearful of clouds.  Can you blame them?

Are we any different than this make believe town when it comes to the clouds in our lives?  When our lives get uncomfortably crowded with ominous clouds our attitudes and thoughts can take on a decidedly doom and gloom outlook right underneath our very noses.  As the steel gray gloom of towering clouds wears on us we naturally seek relief from our fears and concerns.  Where can hope…real hope…be found under such circumstances?  “Surely the promise of the crystal blue sky of the hoped for miracle that I seek exists somewhere, but obviously not here where I am,” we begin to declare to ourselves as we observe the menacing cloud for weeks and months on end.   “If hope is not here, then where can it be found?  And furthermore, since hope for a miracle doesn’t seem to be here, then why am I here in such a place having to endure this oppressive situation for so long?  Do You not care about me anymore, Lord?”

Let me be uncomfortably transparent here.  Right now at this very moment I am in great need of a parting of the Red Sea sort of miracle.  It’s been that way for going on several years now.  From where I sit the need for this miracle to come to pass grows alarmingly with each passing day and week.  It’s like I’m riding in a speeding car headed straight towards a 1000’ cliff edge drop just up ahead that grows ever closer with each passing moment.  My hope has been ruthlessly attacked along the way as you might’ve guessed by now.  It’s been frequently ambushed and left bruised and bleeding along the side of the road by ruthless bandits.  The story of the beaten traveler in the Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:25-37) comes to mind causing my heart to cry out, “Where is my Good Samaritan?”  Indeed, not long ago I came across Proverbs 13:12 (WEB) which says,  “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when longing is fulfilled, it is a tree of life.”  I’ve read this scripture many times before, but now I can truthfully say I have a much deeper understanding and appreciation for the pain deferred hope can inflict upon one’s heart.  It is an ever growing, insatiable  impact crater gnawing unmercifully away at my heart.   Words like squashing and paralyzing come to mind to name but a few.  So does soul-crushing.   It is a malignancy that erodes my deepest parts.  Make no mistake, hope deferred can be a very dark pit of a place to find yourself.   It is a place none of us want to know very well.

As my journey of hope awaiting this miracle has continued  a new, uninvited, and most unwelcomed traveling companion has taken up residence on my shoulder cozied up next to my ear.  This insistent, growling rasp of a whisper delights in providing me with a completely unsolicited play-by-play narrative of my journey.  The voice knows the first half of Proverbs 13:12 well and uses it against me.  This avalanche of taunts and accusations ignores the second part that speaks of fulfilled longings.  Instead it seeks to reinforce the first part with a piercing Hollywood villain sort of laugh, “This road you are now traveling is going nowhere you really want to go.  It leads to disaster.  There is no rescue coming.  Forget Him because He’s forgotten you.  You have no Good Samaritan in your future. Frankly, the truth is you’re not worth any sort of miracle at all.  None! Look, there’s an exit just up ahead.  Take it and be done with this madness and spare yourself all the additional heartaches that are sure to come.”  As mile after mile slowly goes by the whisper grows even more insistent.  Yet despite its repugnant tone the message the voice is selling to my wounded heart becomes disturbingly more and more alluring with each bypassed exit ramp.  How is it that all exit signs on this faith journey always  beckon and urge you to take the  “Short Cut” and abandon your earlier desired destination?  “He, your God, is no more than cumbersome and unhelpful baggage” the voice hisses.  “Ditch the extra weight.  He is obviously not trustworthy.  He doesn’t care about you.”   And as I wistfully watch one exit ramp after another slowly slide past me as if it’s in slow motion through the passenger side window I wonder, “Why is He so silent?  Why is He not acting?”

In times like this how utterly welcome it would be to be reminded that the Lord is indeed still very much present and in the miracle business.  I am alarmed at how easily I have forgotten meanwhile, behind the seens.  “Yes, I could certainly  use a double, extra-large portion of that sort of encouragement again right about now, please, Lord.”

A quote comes to mind:  “Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” Perhaps C.H. Mackintosh is onto something here? What if the reassurances I’m seeking have been right in front of me for the entire time of this long and difficult journey?  What if I were to look in the direction of the clouds themselves?  Seriously?  Why would I possibly want to do that?  Afterall, the clouds serve as a constant reminder to me of my circumstances.  To be quite honest, it’s been easier to look away from the clouds.  Why stare at something that brings pain to my heart?  But what if I were to consider the clouds in a different light?  What if there is more to them than meets the eye?  Is it possible my understanding of these clouds that fill up my sky has been too narrow causing me to overlook the miracle of His presence?  To doubt His presence?  Has my lack of understanding of these clouds in my life caused my hope to be deferred thus making my heart more vulnerable to attacks along the way?  Is there a different perspective to take that will allow me to grasp something of eternal significance and value that will refresh my weary heart other than the hopeless one that has attached itself to me like a giant barnacle?

Lord, I need Your perfect insight and not my clouded sinsight!

Scientists tell us the average cumulus cloud weighs in at just over 1 million pounds.  1 million pounds!  The average car tips the scales at 2871 pounds so the next time you see an average sized cloud imagine 350 cars floating above your head!  Such immense weight seemingly suspended effortlessly above our heads surely is a miracle in and of itself is it not?  How is this feat accomplished?  Composed of millions and millions of tiny droplets of water, clouds float majestically in the sky suspended by a sustaining upflow of warm air.  The cloud’s weight is dispersed so efficiently throughout these tiny particles that despite its immense weight the cloud is held aloft.  Essentially, then, the larger more obvious phenomenon known as a cloud is itself composed of millions and millions of smaller particles all working together in perfect harmony to carry the load.  Or put another way, there are a dizzying number of smaller miracles tucked away inside the larger more visible miracle.   Who knew?  Obviously I didn’t.

Sadly, I’ve realized I haven’t fully perceived His ongoing presence in the midst of my circumstances.  My attention has been elsewhere.  I’ve been focused on THE miracle, or lack thereof so far.  In doing so I have been circumstance-centered and not God-centered. I have been tunnel visioned.  I have focused my time and energy on my perceived specific larger need.  This has caused me to overlook the many smaller miracles that have occurred along the way as I have awaited the fulfillment of THE miracle.  I have focused on the forest and have missed the beautiful trees within the forest.  Because I have dismissed the “commonplace” I have not recognized Him along the way and in doing so I have subtly undercut my own faith and trust in Him.   To overlook these smaller testimonies to His beauty and presence is like not seeing that single bright yellow flower waving in the breeze that stands between myself and the distant purple mountain’s majesty isn’t it?  Am I alone in this?  Sadly, no.

“They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders that You did among them.” Nehmiah 19: 17a, (NKJV)  

Back in the day I once participated in running a few marathons and other long distance events.  If I wanted to complete the longer training runs in preparation for the upcoming event I had to stay hydrated so I would place water at certain intervals along my training route.  This was especially true for training in the heat of the summer.  Keeping that in mind do we really believe our heavenly Father would set us out on difficult paths alone and without His spiritual encouragement along the way?  His Word speaks to the contrary:

“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)

 “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)

So long as our gaze is solely fixed and intent on THE miracle we run the great risk of overlooking the other ways He provides for us along the way.  What a loss it is to miss the “mini” miracles He has so generously sprinkled along the way for us on our journey through life.

“You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth, And gave them water for their thirst.  Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness; They lacked nothing; Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.”  Nehmiah 19: 20-21 (NKJV)

The truth is most days I fail to recognize the miracle of His presence and provision in so many ways as I go about my day to day living waiting on THE miracle to finally happen.  If you’re like me, then, is it any wonder our hearts become so distressed?  Pause for a moment with me and consider each and every breath that gives us life, for example. Or how about the lunch with good friends you just enjoyed?  The joy of a hug from a friend or family member?  Or the roof over your head and the food on your table?   Being greeted by an overjoyed pet after a long day at work?  When you think about it this list could go on and on, couldn’t it?  When was the last time you stepped aside and paused from your busy day and thanked Him for His greatness, strength, and the goodness of His provision that lovingly embraces you in a myriad of less than obvious ways each and every day?  To see these we must be intentional lest they escape us.  Let us no longer be blind to such “lesser” miracles because they occur in the arena of what we view as the commonplace.  Let us no longer take them for granted without so much as a “thank you, Lord.”

Through Your inspired Word we ask You to open our eyes and our hearts, our very minds and souls to Your presence, Lord, in all the circumstances of our lives, big and small, that our hearts may be strengthened.  Grant us Your perfect insight in place of our clouded and imperfect sinsight that we may see with eternal perspective. We praise You for all the miracles that You provide us with on our journey through this life.  Each one is no less a miracle than the other in that they all proclaim and testify to Your kind and loving presence in our lives.  Forgive us when we overlook them for in doing so we have overlooked You.  Indeed, where would we find ourselves without You, Lord?   Help us to be ever-mindful of Your generosity and kindness in all things so that we continually give You the rightful praise that is Yours.   May we with continually grateful hearts acknowledge that You are our ever-present One True Provision.  Refresh our hearts once again with Your nourishment.  You, and You alone are our Silver Lining around and in every cloud in our lives.  In Jesus’s name…Amen!

“The Lord is my portion, says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him.”  Lamentations 3:24 (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 will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” Psalm 32:8 (NKJV)

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

 

Lauren Daigle, Look Up Child, from the album Look Up Child

appealing to your heart

“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)

Q:  What do you get when you cross a banana peel with the beach?

A:  A precious gift of memories of my father that comfort and warm my grieving heart in just the right way by tenderly reminding me that I am deeply loved and cared for by my Heavenly Father who knows my deepest needs.

This new year, 2020, had barely welcomed its very first dawn when I received a call from my brother telling me our father had passed away in his sleep only an hour or so earlier.  Although we all knew his passing was on the horizon I don’t think any of us expected it quite so soon.  After all, we had just had a family meeting with the hospital staff just the day before in which we discussed possible next steps as to how to proceed for his care over the coming days and weeks.  We all also understood that his passing from this life into the next could possibly stretch out to months or perhaps even longer.  He’d had a really good day two days before he passed and that certainly colored our thoughts with optimism and hope that perhaps his life here with us still held the promise of more time.  It was only after his passing that something the doctor had told us in that family meeting the day before gained its rightful understanding and wisdom in our eyes.  Simply put the doctor had told us it’s not at all unusual for people at the end of life to experience what is known as “the last hurrah.”  And such was the case with my dad two days prior to his passing when he unexpectedly set up in bed, interacted with those around him, asked for some apple juice to drink, ate some Christmas pear, and followed it all up with a bowl of ice cream.

We live a 10 hours long car drive away from my parent’s home.  We had just made the return trip home after having spent several days visiting friends and family over Christmas.   Part of that time was spent with my mom and dad.  After spending what would be graciously understood later in hindsight as my last hour or so with my dad…a “sweet parting” as my wife later called it…the day before his passing we had driven back home and only been in bed a few hours when we were awakened by my brother’s call on that New Year’s Day morning.  That morning then became a fuzzy blur of tear filled telephone calls made to our own children, my dad’s grandchildren.  Eventually the morning mercifully gave way to the afternoon and my wife suggested we go and take a walk on the beach.  I resisted at first, but fortunately she persisted convincing me it would be good for both of us to “put our toes in the sand the first day of the new year especially with how it all began just a few hours earlier” as she described it.   She gently reminded me that my dad would’ve loved going to the beach so off we went.  We didn’t have to wait long to realize how right she was with that thought.

My dad, and my mom,  loved the beach and everything about it.  Each visit was an open ended invitation to adventure to their way of thinking.  They began their new life together by spending their honeymoon along the beach at Gulf Shores.  They visited the beach whenever and wherever possible afterwards.  Later, they were transferred to Jamaica for a few years by the company my dad worked for which gave them access to beaches they’d only dreamed about visiting before.  He loved snorkeling along the reefs off the northern shore which was only a relatively short drive from where they lived.  Shell hunting while snorkeling was priceless treasure hunting as far as he was concerned.   Indeed, even the rocks of the “rock beach” as they named it, were of great fascination and delight to them.  Over time they collected hundreds of multi-colored rocks that were transported back to the states for a much anticipated later date with the rock tumbler/polisher.  Fresh water lake beaches were sources of great exploration opportunities for my parents, too.  Who knows what interesting shaped piece of driftwood awaited them just up ahead?  Yes, the beach, any beach, was a heavenly adventure on earth as far as my dad, and my mom, was concerned.

Secondly, although it’s not anything seemingly related to the beach, I can’t begin to tell you how much my dad loved bananas.  And not just to eat them either, although he did enjoy eating them, especially if they appeared as a banana split.  I guess you could say he was obsessed with them to the point that anything having to do with bananas was always associated with him by our family and friends.  Birthday cards were pretty much required to be of the “banana” variety of some sort.  The last birthday card we sent him had two bananas on it that danced to music when you opened up the card.  He loved it so much he shared it with their friends at the senior center where they lived.   At the end of WWII he had a photo taken while overseas showing him eating a banana with the caption on the back simply reading, “Me eating a banana.”  I can’t begin to tell you the number of times he serenaded our family with the “Chiquita Banana” song. We still all know that song by heart, by the way.  “When they’re flecked with brown and have a golden hue, that’s when ‘nannies’ (his slang) are good for you!” he’d laughingly sing to us all.  One of the longtime favorite toys in their grandkid’s toy box at their house is a harmonica shaped like a banana.  So, to this day whenever any of us walk by the bananas in the produce section we automatically think of dad, or Paw, as the grandkids called him.

“Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?”  (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His highest)

My wife and I had been walking along the beach on that New Year’s Day afternoon looking for shells for only a short time when she yelled at me to come quickly to see what she had found.  Catching up to her she pointed down to her find, and, yes, there it was.  Perhaps by now you may have guessed that what she was excitedly pointing to was a banana peel.  The fact that it was mixed in amongst a collection of shells, my dad’s precious jewels, made it even more delightful.  Although we’ve walked many a mile on the beach since moving to the area 7 years ago neither my wife nor I could think of another time we’ve come across a banana peel before so this was a definite first for us, and for our friends whom we have shared this story with as well.  As you can no doubt imagine the timing of this latest treasure find could not have been any more poignant for us as we both stood there staring at the sight of the old banana peel mingled together with the shells along the water’s edge.  We both spontaneously laughed out loud at the sight as tears of sadness gave way to tears of gratitude as we were lovingly embraced by the Lord’s great compassion, tenderness, and kindness towards us in this our time of heartache.    Immediately our hearts felt warmer and our spirits were lifted as reassuring waves of memories of my dad enjoying earthly beaches combined with thoughts of him now delighting in heavenly beaches oh so gently caressed us.

“The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

And indeed…He is…and does.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Revelation 21:4 (NIV)

The promise of His presence.  Is there any greater hope than this?

 

Mercy Me, “I Can Only Imagine”, from the album “Almost There.”