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.”

eyes toward the Son

“The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.” Revelation 21:23 (NKJV)

Before I begin, so there’s no question stirring around in the back of your mind, this photo, as shown here, accurately captures the scene just as I saw it.  Aside from cropping the picture, I’ve not done anything to enhance the image.  In short, what you see here is what I saw.

A simple but profound and ageless truth dawned on me as I sat there on the beach, watching two people play in the surf with the sun shining directly behind them:  Eyes focused in the Son’s direction cannot distinguish skin color because the light is so bright.

This truth quickly expanded beyond skin color to include any other feature worldly thinking uses all too frequently in its vain attempts to categorize people.

The underlying, foundational truth is that when our hearts and minds are rightly on Jesus, His brightness is so glorious that the diversions of this world that result in harmful division and cruelty amongst ourselves no longer matters and is revealed for the utter darkness it is.

“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” John 12:46 (NKJV)

“God’s Kingdom isn’t divided into areas of important people and areas of little people. In God’s sight, everyone’s needful.”A. W. Tozer

“For there is no partiality with God.” Romans 2:10 (NKJV)

What, then, remains for us to say about these two people seen in the photo?  What is most vital for us to understand and apply now that the Son’s light has removed everything the world counts as worth fighting about and beating our chests over?  Yet another fundamental truth emerges in answering this question:  at the end of the day, relationships are everything; they are what truly matter.  

Our Lord is relational at His very core, so it should come as no surprise that this illumination has led us straight to the subject of relationships. Jesus has a few words to share with us regarding how we’re supposed to behave towards others, of course.

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

Can you imagine a world in which people genuinely cared for and respected one another?  In a world spilling over with anger, hate, prejudice, jealousy, envy, pride, and selfishness, how can such a world ever hope to be filled with compassion and love?  Such a radical change in direction begins one person at a time through that individual’s right relationship with God.

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  This is the first commandment.” Mark 12:30 (NKJV)  

How can we love God so wholeheartedly? There is but One way to begin this journey of a lifetime.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.  John 14:6 (NKJV)

When we embrace (note this is doing and not just saying!) Him as Lord of our lives, “Yielding to Jesus will break every form of slavery in any human being,” proclaims  Oswald Chambers.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)

Indeed, as our heavy chains fall to our feet, we are at long last able to look beyond ourselves towards others with eyes of compassion and concern, for He has given us His own servant’s heart.

But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.  And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 (NKJV)

When we have true fellowship with Him, the misshapen glass walls of hate we have constructed come tumbling down in His glorious light.  Have you yielded to Him?  If so, serve your neighbors.  Has He broken your chains?  Serve your neighbors.  Do you love Him?  Serve your neighbors.

Who exactly is your neighbor?

“But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:29-37 (NKJV)

“Only a life lived for others is worthwhile.” Albert Einstein

As this comes to a close, allow me to share another A. W. Tozer quote with you.“God’s looking for people thru whom He can do the impossible. What a pity that we plan only things we can do by ourselves.”

We all want to see the world changed for the better.  Left to ourselves and our strength, not only is it an impossible task, but a most likely misguided one as well since we invariably look at others as being the problem.

“But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:26 (NKJV)

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”  Luke 6:41-42 (NKJV)

Let’s begin this sought after change first with ourselves by diligently pursuing a deeper, more intimate relationship with our heavenly Father.  As our love for Him grows, so does our love for others.   Who knows what miracle He will accomplish with a yielded son or daughter whose focus is on the light of His glory and grace?

Jadon Lavik, “Turn Your Eyes” from the album, “Roots Run Deep.”

Postscript:  Here it is, the day after uploading this post. I’d be robbing you of a blessing if I didn’t offer these additional thoughts to you, my friends.

Although I’ve been aware of this song for years, it did not play a part in my original inspiration to write this post, as one might be so inclined to think.  I stumbled upon this song after “auditioning” many others as my writing drew to a close.  Yes, it’s the icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned.

It’s uplifting to note that this post’s central theme is an uncanny match for the message proclaimed in this beloved hymn’s chorus written by Helen Howarth Lemmel in 1922, almost 100 years ago.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”

The song may be old and my inspiration to write on this subject newly born, but the Lord’s message remains wonderfully unchanged.  It is spectacularly new every morning, generation after generation!   Let us praise Him!

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Hebrews 13:8 (NKJV)

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”

the bear truth about riding the spiritual fence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you think?  If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?”  Matthew 18:12 (NKJV)

So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us take heart and rightly choose Him over the world when we’re tempted, and even encouraged, to take up sides against Him by coming into agreement with the world.  Be reminded by the writer of Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV) who extols us to avoid finding ourselves on the wrong side of the fence saying, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

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

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

 

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

flying with God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

…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”

 

Broken Perspective

“As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal there will be those who will delight to offer affront to your idol.”  A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

I try to tell you with everything I’ve got

It is you who are stubborn, but I am not.

Not a word I’ve said do you hear,

Am I not making myself crystal clear?

I roll my eyes because of what you’re missing

it’s obvious you do not know how to listen.

You quickly reply with your own agenda,

unable to see that my purpose is only to mend ya.

If you would just see things my way,

then all your troubles would go away, today.

You know your position has no merit,

Your speaking is useless, I can hardly bear it.

Please know that my ears are tightly shut

I cannot and will not hear one more but.

This is my sacred and righteous ground

upon which my retreat will never be found.

Your thoughts are unbending so we have not passed “Go”

Another payday prevented for us all, thanks to you, my foe.

Perhaps one day you will be as enlightened as I

and then that distant hill we will climb together up high.

And from that lofty top you will clearly see

that our problems have come from you, and not from me.

 

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Matthew 7:3-5 (NKJV)

“with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Ephesians 4:2-3 (NKJV)

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”  1 Peter 3:8-9 (NKJV)

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

the grace-full high five

“Do not let all kinds of strange teachings lead you into the wrong way.  Your hearts should be strengthened by God’s grace, not by obeying rules about foods, which do no help those who obey them.”  Hebrews 13:9 (NCV)

Can we just get raw here for a few uncomfortable (for me), transparent moments?  Here we go.

“YOU…you…you…DO…do…do…NOT…not…not…MEASURE…measure…measure…UP…up…up…NEVER…never…never…HAVE…have…have…NEVER…never…never…WILL…will…will… LOSER…loser…loser…”

These are ominous echoes that are all too familiar for me.  They have a painfully jagged-edged resonance about them that carve steep and rugged canyons deep into my soul whenever the opportunity to speak occurs.  These echoes have a hair trigger so it doesn’t take much to unleash their cascading torrents of discouragement and accusation upon me.

As the familiar saying goes, “that’s gonna leave a mark.”  And indeed these merciless reverberations do.  Every. Single. Time. After all, how can the end of a cracking whip not leave some sort of wound, some sort of a scar on this heart of mine?

I must admit that my fear of failure coupled with an even stronger need for acceptance makes me an easy target for such a whip.  I am the head-bent-low straggler trailing the herd.  For someone like me who desperately wants to earn another’s approving nod and smile this means I must perform to some particular level of expectation in order to win that person’s acceptance.

As my thinking goes, failure to be successful very likely translates into my not being accepted.  So, the idea of “failure” is more than just an unpleasant word to me. The thoughts and feelings it stirs in me make this ugly combination not only a robber of my confidence but a cruel, whip-bearing dungeon task-master as well as goading me onwards to attempting to scale unrealistic Mt. Everest sized goals.

The very idea of the possibility of falling short of “the mark” in a variety of circumstances makes me want to silently slip away into the safety of some dark corner of a room where with any luck at all I’ll go unnoticed.  This is especially true in social situations in which I don’t know anyone in the room.

Out of direct sight is a good place to be for someone like me who deep down has come to believe the echoes have been right all along when they relentlessly proclaim:  You…you…you…have…have…have… little…little…little…to…to…to…offer…offer…offer…So…so…so…Why…why…why…would…would…would…anyone…anyone…anyone…want…want…want…to…to…to…talk…talk…talk…to…to…to…you…you…you? 

It’s a stomach-churning revolving door endlessly stuck in “Groundhog Day” mode just like in the movie starring Bill Murray.  Round and round I go, where I come out is always the same.  Self-fulling prophecy in all its false glory I suppose. 

Years of echoes from a variety of sharp-tongued whips will convince a person to hide and when necessary disguise their true self for fear of rejection.  I’m guessing many of my friends would be surprised to read this, but that’s only a testimony as to my mask wearing skills that have been carefully crafted to hide my perceived deficiencies.  Little do most realize I am actually the Alone Ranger.

So pervasive is this negative thinking that it has alarmingly bled over into my spiritual life as well.   In his book, Grace Happens Here, Max Lucado succinctly captures my dilemma by saying, “We find it easier to trust the miracle of resurrection than the miracle of grace.  We so fear failure that we create the image of perfection, lest heaven be even more disappointed in us than we are.  The result?  The weariest people on earth.”    Indeed.

I must admit that although I wholeheartedly embraced His grace at the time of my salvation ever since then I’ve been wearing myself out attempting to earn His love through my works.  In doing so I have cast His marvelous gift of grace as wrought by His Son into the ditch alongside the road.  In place of His grace I picked up the mask.

Apart from His grace my fear of failure coupled with my desire to earn His acceptance as someone else had literally worked my relationship with Him into an incredibly uncomfortable and tight fitting corner that was being continuously surrounded by thick coats of paint that would never dry.

The not-so-merry-go-round of trying to live up to my own self-imposed demands and expectations in order to please the Lord was literally crushing me and preventing my relationship with Him from being all that it could be.

Over time being the masked man takes a toll on a person, you know? Hindsight now tells me that if you wear a mask long enough you can become so comfortable wearing it that much of the time you no longer even realize it’s on.  Now there’s a scary thought.

“What a wretched man I am!  Who will deliver me out of the body of this death?”  Romans 7:24 (WEB)

Sensing my years-long problem that was slowly eating its way through me, my mentor and dear friend, 2Tim, put it this way, “You are in need of a good solid dose of grace.”  Amen! Truer words have never been spoken to me.

Fortunately, the rest of the story is that I am not the Alone Ranger after all.  No, not at all.  Thankfully there is Another far greater than myself who is full of compassion and kindness.  One who is unwilling to allow me to continue wearing my mask and oh so gently removes it and the weighty chains associated with it.

 Let me tell you a story.

As my wife and I walked down the fishing pier I was captivated by several birds flying alongside the railings. They were hunting for dinner. Tirelessly they would hover over a small patch of ocean in hopes of spotting the tell-tale glistening of a fish swimming just beneath the water’s surface.

When a flash caught their eye in the water 20 feet or so below them they would courageously nose dive straight down without any hesitation. Sometimes, however, at the very last second for whatever reason, they would abruptly pull up just before smashing into the water and immediately return to their original hunting position. Other times they would dive head first directly into the water and then quickly bounce back up into the air with their wings flapping furiously to regain the lost altitude.

This was a wonderful, non-stop ballet for the most part that continued for as long as we were there.  Surprisingly in spite of their best efforts they often came up empty with no fish.  Whoa!  Stop right there.   It was exactly at this “ah hah” moment that truth smacked me right between the eyes.

Hear me out! Isn’t it fair to say that these birds have been perfectly designed to do what they’re doing?  Who can answer this question with anything other than a resounding “yes?”  So, doesn’t it follow then, that if these incredibly gifted creatures are not successful at catching a fish each and every time they try then why should I allow myself to be subject to the unyielding taskmaster of perfection as I do?

Let’s reimagine the story now.  In this version Jesus is standing there on the pier watching the birds hunting for dinner.  And guess what? You’re one of the birds.

Spying a gleam of silver in the water below you plunge head first into the water.  A second later you reappear out of the water, but with no fish.

As you reposition yourself you glance over at Jesus and the two of you make eye contact.  What is Jesus’ reaction?  Do you see Him rolling His eyes in disapproval and then turning His back on you because you failed to catch anything?  Can you honestly see Him being angry or disgusted with your unsuccessful effort?  No, I can’t either.  His reaction is most certainly just the opposite, in fact.   I wholeheartedly believe He completely delights in your sincere trying.  I see Him laughing and grinning out of sheer enjoyment as He watches you, His creation, diligently going about your business.  His reaction is not based on whether or not your mouth is full or empty.  Surely He rejoices and celebrates over each of your attempts regardless of the outcome doesn’t He?

So, let’s finish playing this out now.  As the two of you make eye contact He grins at you with a smile that lights up even the darkest of wet paint surrounded corners, gives you an approving wink with a contagious twinkle in His eye, and then encourages you to try again with a gentle nod of His head back towards the water.

Nourished by His acceptance and encouragement your resolve to keep on fishing skyrockets.  What just happened?  In that shining moment, that glorious grace-filled moment of encouragement and approval in which time seemed to stand still, the accusing echoes began to fade away sapped of their strength, power, and control over you.

Friend, let this scene play out in your head and heart as many times as it takes until, like me, you’re finally able to be William Wallace’s Braveheart crying out,  “F r e e d o m!!!”  If ever a hopeless captive has been compassionately set free in the warmth of His grace it is now.

Let’s look at yet another story about fishing.

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘I’m going fishing.’ They told him, ‘We are also coming with you.’  They immediately went out and entered the boat.  That night they caught nothing.  But when day had already come, Jesus stood on the beach, yet the disciples didn’t know that it was Jesus.  Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Children, have you anything to eat?’  They answered Him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’  They cast it therefore, and now they weren’t able to draw it in for the multitude of fish.  That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It’s the Lord!’” John 21:3-7 (WEB)

For those of you like me who have had perfectionism’s boot on your throat pressed down even more tightly by the need for acceptance, have lost sight of the true meaning and beauty of grace, and have determined to fight this battle alone how do you see this story in John now?

Put yourself in the boat along with the others.  Is there anything in these verses that comes even close to suggesting that Jesus scoffed at you and the rest of the disciple’s lack of fishing success?

He certainly didn’t turn His back on any of you because you hadn’t caught any fish.  He didn’t roll His eyes at your empty nets.  He didn’t say anything like, “You people are just awful.  You should seriously look into another way of making a living.”  No, quite the opposite is true, in fact.

In these verses He’s encouraged you all to keep on fishing, but this time to do it on the other side of the boat.  Stop.  Something just amazing happened, did you catch it?  Not only did He offer encouragement, but He offered something far, far greater.  He offered Himself.  He got involved in your efforts by inviting you to follow His lead.  He came alongside you and gave divine direction.

Why would He do this?  Because He is relational at His very core and as mind boggling as it is, we were created to do “life” with Him, side by side.  He delights in shepherding us and being an active part of our lives.

The truth of the matter is that if we were to always be successful at everything we do then wouldn’t it be our nature to see ourselves as having no need of Him?

As it turns out our inadequacies are opportunities for closeness with Him. Why?  Because it’s in our weaknesses that we are made strong through Him just as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12.  Why?  Because it’s all for His glory, and not ours.

Perfectionism is all about our own glory.  To pursue or be driven by perfectionism in order to make ourselves “worthy” to be in His presence is as far as the east is from the west is regarding grace’s redeeming role in our lives taking us further away from Him.

There’s some true irony for you, eh?  In my quest to be perfect so that I can become acceptable and able to draw near to Him I actually distance myself from Him because…”I’m not good enough.”  That’s been the merciless goal of perfectionism all along…to separate me from My Savior.  The truth is it’s never been about me and what I’ve done regarding my ongoing relationship with Him.  No.  It always has been and always will be about what He’s done first and foremost.

Grace speaks life.   Grace truly is amazing.  Grace high fives you.  Grace sets you free!  “Hallelujah!”

“I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.”  Psalm 139:14 (NKJV)

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

 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.  So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.  Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.”  1 Corinthians 3:6-8 (NKJV)

trucks top rescue

(photo courtesy of Mindi H.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (radio version)