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 righteousnessk

“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)

truck stop rescue

(photo courtesy of Mindi H.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (radio version)

Three as One

“One thing I have asked of Yahweh, that I will seek after, that I may dwell in Yahweh’s house all the days of my life, to see Yahweh’s beauty, and to inquire in his temple.”  Psalm 27:4 (WEB)

True Beauty, can you be in its presence and ever be the same again?  Noble Beauty grabs you and won’t let go, nor do you want it to let go of you.  And rightly so.  Pure Beauty is transformative as it holds your fluttering, breathless heart completely captive with a fiercely compelling tenderness that cannot, that will not, be denied.  It is an admirable and excellent loveliness that possesses depth without limits.  Why else do we return again and again to drink from True Beauty’s praiseworthy cup of purple mountains’ majesty?  So deep is it that one time is immensely satisfying, but never enough, nor is a thousand times.  Is one sunrise enough?  One sunset?  As more is revealed the more of Authentic Beauty we desire with great longing…and the more it graciously gives of itself such that we are willingly swept along True Beauty’s redemptive path.

As I walked down the road contemplating His beauty as the unfading Rose a prayer tugged at my heart.  “Lord, would you reveal even more of Your beauty to me?  Would You grant me a greater understanding of You?”  Arriving at the cul-de-sac a few minutes later I stood there and surveyed my surroundings.  There really wasn’t that much to see that I hadn’t already seen before on previous walks to the same spot.  Yes, the light breeze was nice, as was the sun shining through the trees, and all the birds were singing like usual, too.  By all accounts this was a lovely, but ordinary day.  But, then, suddenly three birds burst out of nowhere flying in what appeared to be impossibly close quarters to one another.  They flew spontaneously yet did so with the precision of a well-rehearsed marching band as they bobbed and weaved through the air in remarkable harmony and rhythm with one another.  It was as if they knew beforehand what the other would do.  Their dance in mid-air was joyfully synchronized such that it had the appearance of the breath of life itself.  Captivated, I could not take my eyes away from the beauty circling round about me.

“But ask the animals, now, and they shall teach you; the birds of the sky, and they shall tell you. Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach you. The fish of the sea shall declare to you. Who doesn’t know that in all these, Yahweh’s hand has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?” Job 12:7-10 (WEB)

As I watched these birds it occurred to me that these three absolutely delighted in each other’s company.  They were completely and utterly enthralled with one another.  At that moment another thought crossed my mind: the remarkable dance of these birds across the sky is but a tiny glimpse into the beauty, mystery, and the pure joy of harmony and purpose shared by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The unity of the Trinity relationship is of such transcendent beauty and bliss that there can be no doubt that Our. Heavenly. Father. Is. Relational. At. His. Very. Core.

The splendor of the Trinity is multi-faceted.  There is beauty upon beauty. There is even more here still yet to be revealed. What is this forthcoming beauty? Incredibly, it’s that we, His created, are invited to take our place in Their extraordinary harmony and magnificent dance by embracing a vibrant, intimate relationship with Him.  We, His sons and daughters, have been offered the astonishing opportunity to take the outstretched, nail-scarred hand of the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords and soar across His creation in His arms.

“God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  Genesis 1:26a (WEB)

Surely, then, this is a Beauty like none other beckoning us to experience all it has to offer.  Indeed, there is no other invitation as exceedingly beautiful and gracious as this.  Let us rejoice and praise Him for it’s an incomparable Beauty of unity, fellowship, and love that our Savior has already fervently prayed over us.

“Not only for these do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, that they may also be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me.  The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one;   I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me.  Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me be with me where I am, that they may see my glory, which you have given me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world.  Righteous Father, the world hasn’t known you, but I knew you; and these knew that you sent me.  I made known to them your name, and will make it known; that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  John 17:20-26 (WEB)

Lord, sweep me away along True Beauty’s path of life with You!

 

Doxology by Stars Go Dim