being clothes-minded towards Him

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known.” I Corinthians 13:12 (WEB)

“He’s got the whole world in His hand, the whole wide world in His hand.”  Who isn’t familiar with this lyric?  We’ve all sung it probably countless of times before beginning back when we were children.  Great, but when push comes to shove in your life because you find yourself in dire straits do these words carry any real weight, any real substance for you?  Do they make a difference in your day that is hanging by a thread of hope stretched impossibly thin?  If you’re a believer like me your immediate reaction to such a question quite possibly smacks of some degree of loftiness, “Well, yes, of course they do, don’t they for you?”  But, here’s the thing, though, in a maddeningly contradictory twist I have to admit that even as I sing “He’s got the whole world in His hands” I sometimes find myself wondering if He actually has me in His hand.  Even though I realize there are some lyrics later on in the song that say He does this question still remains.  I rarely hear those later lines sung, by the way.  All I hear is this first line like it’s on loop in my head so that’s where my attention goes.  It seems that there are times it’s far easier for me to believe He has the whole world in His hand than it is for me to believe He has me in His hand.  Certain circumstances, abnormally difficult circumstances that hover around me like circling vultures, cause me to  wonder if I was indeed in His hand at one time only to have somehow managed to slip through His fingers later.  “Yes, Lord, I know you have the whole world in Your hand, but do You have me there, too?  That’s what I really want and need to know.  To be perfectly blunt and honest with You that’s what matters most to me in this moment in these perplexing and trying circumstances because from where I’m standing it looks like You’ve dropped me.”

Am I the only one that struggles with these questions and doubts?  I’m uncomfortable even talking about this because these admissions force me to take off my Super Believer hero mask.   And, my cape, too.  To put it bluntly, my masquerade has been exposed by this unplanned confession.  I’m not Superman.  I’m not even Clark Kent.  Far from it, in fact.  I’m Clark Bent at least, or even more likely Clark Broken at worst.  I hadn’t planned on having my true identity revealed when I sat down to write, yet here I am like the emperor who was found to be wearing no clothes.  Meaningful transformation begins here in His light, of course.  There can be no healing so long as the enemy successfully keeps me in that dark place that encourages me to continue thinking, “I look pretty good wearing this mask and cape.”  Who’s to say to the contrary, then,  that so long as I stay in the dark that I don’t look like Super-Believer-man?  The truth is, though, that only comic book heroes experience benefits by keeping their true identities hidden in the shadows.  God’s Kingdom needs reshaped and retooled Clark Bents and Brokens, and the only way that sort of transformation can take place is in the warmth of His healing light.  So here I am, Lord, stripped and naked of costumes of my own making and in need of Your real clothes.

“to provide for those who mourn in Zion, to give to them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Yahweh, that he may be glorified.”  Isaiah 61:3 (WEB)

Can you even begin to imagine in your wildest dreams what an asteroid strike impact such a radically transformed group of sincerely outwardly focused, faithful, utterly trusting and healed believers clothed by the Lord would make in this whole wide world?  In his book, “Reformation Years,” John Eldredge answers that question saying, “If you knew in every fiber of your being that nothing is lost, that everything will be restored to you and then some, you would be armored against discouragement and despair.  If your heart’s imagination were filled with rich expectations of all the goodness coming to you, your confidence would be contagious; you would be unstoppable, revolutionary.”    Indeed!  As a believer I hunger to be contagious,  I yearn to be unstoppable, and I long to be revolutionary… don’t you?  Jesus was all of these and more.  But where or how can I obtain such priceless treasure?

This ground I now find myself standing on seems parched of God’s hand even though I know it is He who has led me to this place.  It is He who has ordered my steps.  I am not the first to walk here.  This dust bowl filled with swirling, choking, blinding clouds of doubt and lingering questions accompanied by fist shaking in His direction has been trod before.

“The Egyptians pursued them.  All the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horseman, and his army overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baal Zephon.  When Pharaoh came near, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were very afraid.  The children of Israel cried out to Yahweh.  They said to Moses, ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness?  Why have you treated us this way, to bring us out of Egypt?  Isn’t this the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it were better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.”  Exodus 14: 9-12 (WEB)

Unmasked and cape-less I can now tell you that I used to look with disdain at the Israelites in this situation wondering how in the world they could so quickly and easily question God’s sovereignty and His might in this situation in light of all the miracles he had already performed for them regarding their exodus from Egypt.  Here they are backed up against the Red Sea with the Egyptian army bearing down on them and all they can see is their imminent destruction.  They have gone from praising God on their journey to severely questioning Him in short order.  How swiftly they have forgotten all of His Jordan stone moments of miraculous provision along their way.  Am I any different than these ancient travelers that I have been so quick to condemn and judge for their lack of faith and trust in Him?  Sadly, with my hat in hand and head bowed low as I stare at my shoes, the answer is, no, I am no different. Yes, I may sing, “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” but when the going gets downright nasty and the world seeks to destroy me on this path He has led me on how quickly my song becomes, “He’s got the whole world in His hand, but not me.”

Overwhelming circumstances seem like such an incredibly unlikely place to plant trees of righteousness don’t they? Hope is a scarce commodity to the naked eye and weak heart.  Yet, it is in exactly such dire circumstances where hope in our Father is abundant and ready to be gleaned.  Yes, as improbable as it may seem, this is exactly the soil in which oaks of righteousness grow nourished by His hand that liberally supplies hope and trust to the faint heart.  How does this happen?  Fortunately for the likes of even a Clark Broken of little faith such as me the Lord is not bound by human understanding or standards, or by our little faith not even the size of a mustard seed.  The Lord is incredibly long-suffering isn’t He? He certainly has demonstrated that to me time and time again on this journey of mine.  Continuously my Father rises above all of my questions and doubts and proves Himself to be trustworthy and true…and amazingly patient and kind.

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful.  He can’t deny himself.”  2 Timothy 1:13 (WEB)

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”  Isaiah 55:8-9 (WEB)

“Moses said to the people, ‘Don’t be afraid.  Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today:  for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall never see them again.  Yahweh will fight for you, and you shall be still.’”  Exodus 14: 13-14 (WEB)

Just a few weeks ago my attention was drawn to the reflections seen in the puddles of water left by a recent rain.  A continuous sheet of water on the parking lot would’ve been able to mirror image practically the entire immediate surroundings, but it was the interrupted reflections found in the numerous isolated puddles that caught my imagination that day.  Sensing some inspiration at hand I tried to take photographs from several different angles of various puddles only to be quickly reminded by the Lord as I did so that this scenario visually sums up the differences between the way He sees things as compared to how I see things.  I see my life only in part consisting mainly of upside down bits, pieces, and snippets of the world immediately around me.  Meanwhile He sees everything in its complete entirety and that includes my own very limited vantage point as well.

“while we don’t look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”  2 Corinthians 4:18 (WEB)

A few days passed before I was able to finally sit down to begin collecting my thoughts to begin writing.  As I did so I began to think that perhaps this specific parking lot filled with puddle sized reflections is far too narrowly focused, far too limiting of God, the Creator of the universe.   “Why not use a picture of the entire earth, like a globe, to depict what our Lord sees?” I thought to myself.  “If I did that then I could use a much smaller segment carved out of the big global picture to illustrate what I see for comparison’s sake.”  It was at that moment that the “whole world in His hand” song lyric came into my head.  “Yes sir, things are rolling along just fine now,” I thought.  In a moment of clarity, though, I realized that, no, that’s not the way to go here at all.  Far from it, in fact.  Why do I say that?  Because you see it dawned on me that God was somehow using these parking lot puddle reflections to address my question as to whether or not I’m in His hand even though the answer was not yet apparent to me.  Yes, the world is important to Him, but the plain, beautiful, life-giving truth here is that He sees my much smaller world in incredibly vivid detail, too.  In short, He knows and greatly cares where I live and that means He knows and cares where you live, too.  The photos I originally took that day in the parking lot are from my world, my life as I see it and live it day in and day out.  While the globe and far beyond is certainly well within His reach, it’s well outside of mine.  That’s why I have trouble truly relating to “He’s got the whole world in His hand.” I can’t really grasp the earth in its entirety, but this parking lot on that day was intimate to where I live and what I’m experiencing.  Yes, I exist on and in this whole wide world, but I experience life on just a small portion of it.  And in this moment of “this is where I am, Lord” He’s graciously and generously reminded me that this is where He is, too.

At the time when I took this photo I paid no attention to the fact that the sign said the clearance of the nearby drive-thru was “10’6.”  As I contemplate it now relative to the “whole wide world in His hand” lyric it would be easy to say that measurement seems well short of any sort of ceiling or clearance one would expect our Father to create for me, for you.  It’s certainly no “the sky is the limit” sort of grand arm waving unlimited boundary one might expect to hear as the answer from someone if you were to ask them about what God is capable of accomplishing in your life.  While it’s true that whenever God is involved there are no limitations to the possibilities,  I can, however, emphatically tell you that 10’6” is far greater clearance than I can possibly use or need right here where I am right now.  As far as I’m concerned in this season I’m now in it might just as well say the sky is the limit instead of 10’6”.   The clearance He is giving me here in this spot at this time is far more than I could ever possibly need.  There’s at least 4 feet of extra provision present.  Such extra clearance will allow me to easily pass through with no worries whatsoever of bumping and bruising my head.  I feel unlimited and unrestricted because  He has exceeded my immediate needs has He not?   He gives me what I need plus some.  Of what possible use would it be to me to have a “sky is the limit” sort of clearance from Him in this situation?  It occurs to me that such extravagance at this time in my life is probably just exactly what I don’t need, in fact.  Whether it is a clearance the height of the sky, or 10’6” it is still miraculous and perhaps even more so because I’m able to at least somewhat grasp the nature, kindness, and generosity of His provision.  He has graciously allowed me to see His hand at work.   He is more than capable of providing me with “the sky is the limit” clearance, but it is far too grand for me to comprehend in this season, but not so the 10’6” clearance.  Yes, Lord, I see that you have recognized my needs in this moment exactly where I am, and not only that, You have abundantly exceeded them.  I have room to spare as I pass through where I am because You have made it so with Your hand.

“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’  Jesus answered, ‘Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him.  I must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day.  The night is coming, when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground, made mud with the saliva, anointed the blind man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means ‘Sent’).   So he went away, washed, and came back seeing.  The neighbors therefore, and those who saw that he was blind before, said, ‘Isn’t this he who sat and begged?’ Others were saying, ‘It is he.’  Still others were saying, ‘He looks like him.’ He said, ‘I am he.’  They therefore were asking him, ‘How were your eyes opened?’ He answered, ‘A man called Jesus made mud, anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash.’ So I went away and washed, and I received sight.’”  John 9:1-11 (WEB)

Did you know that numbers “10” and “6” have Biblical meaning?  I was aware certain numbers have meaning in the Bible, but I didn’t know if such was the case for these two numbers so some research was needed.  It turns out this is an intriguing combination.  The number “10” is understood as a perfect and complete number as are 3, 7, and 12.  The phrase “God said” is found 10 times in Genesis 1 testifying to the Lord’s power regarding creation.  Man was created on the sixth day so the number “6” represents man who is weak and dependent on our Heavenly Father.  Without Him we simply wouldn’t exist.  Our very existence, then, testifies about Him.  What is one to make of all of this?   Well, that depends on one’s perspective doesn’t it?  For me, I find this combination interesting because I am now in desperate need of safe passage through my current season of difficulties that are of such magnitude that only God’s creative provision can make that happen.  That probably sounds overly dramatic, but the truth of the matter is this 65 year old’s almost 3 year old startup business is in desperate need of a miracle in order to survive.  My family’s financial future is on the line.  Yes, we are on the ropes as the saying goes.  We need a “but then, God” lightning bolt strike of provision to happen otherwise the sea drowns us, or the army destroys us.  Our future is…in His hands.

I can’t help but suddenly laugh with delight as I listen to myself saying that last sentence because I now realize He’s brought me full circle in my understanding using nothing more than a clearance sign and reflections found in isolated puddles in my church’s parking lot.  Today’s journey has taken a while, but it has been worth every step, every word…and then some.  He has brought me to the place where He has wanted me to be all along.  My Father has gently and generously reminded me that it is only in and because of His hand that I exist in this whole wide world.  I can’t think of a safer, more secure, and glorious place to be in this world than in my Father’s hand, can you?  Father, thank You for there are no clothes that warm my soul and bring true meaning into my life such as Yours do.

“for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  Galatians 3:27 (NIV)

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

“He humbled you, and allowed you to be hungry, and fed you with manna, which you didn’t know, neither did your father’s know; that he might teach you that man does not live by bread only, but man lives by every word that proceeds out of Yahweh’s mouth.”  Deuteronomy 8:3 (WEB)

“Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear.  Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns.  Your heavenly Father feeds them.  Aren’t you of much more value than they?  ‘Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan?  Why are you anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.  They don’t toil, neither do they spin, yet I tell  you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he much more clothe you, you of little faith?  Therefore don’t be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘With what will we be clothed?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given you as well.  Therefore don’t be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Each day’s own evil is sufficient.” Matthew 6:25-34 (WEB)

The One Way in the manger

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.  Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”  Isaiah 7:14 (WEB)

“For to us a child is born.  To us a son is given; and the government will be on his shoulders.  His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, on David’s throne, and on his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from that time on, even forever.  The zeal of Yahweh of Armies will perform this.”  Isaiah 9:6-7 (WEB)

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man, and He came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.  There was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him:  his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”  Daniel 7:13-14 (WEB)

He is so much more than a way in the manger…He is The One Way.

“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 (WEB)

you can’t fake stake

“Beloved, don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  1 John 4:1 (WEB)

Yes, although it’s a little hard to make it out in this photo, that’s our brand-new-to-us Snoopy and Woodstock Christmas blowup yard decoration you see lying there on its side in our front yard.  One recent morning we awoke to colder temperatures, rain, wind…and our blowup rolled over on its side rocking back and forth with each gust of wind.  Sometime during the night when the weather changed the wind managed to pull out several of the stakes that were holding it down so over it went.  When I first put it up a couple of weeks ago I was careful to follow the instructions, especially the part about securely staking it firmly into the ground.  So I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see it flapping around on its side since I’d been so conscientious about setting the stakes just right.  As an extra precaution I usually unplug all of the outside decorations before going to bed, but that particular night I forgot to do that.  I also didn’t bother to check out the weather forecast.  Right now you’re probably thinking that I must not have been that concerned about any of this in the first place otherwise I wouldn’t have forgotten about it on my way to bed.  That’s a reasonable thought that I certainly can’t argue to the contrary.   It’s a point well taken since misplaced confidence, or being overconfident, will get you every time sooner or later.  Unfortunately for Snoopy and Woodstock  I had placed my confidence in the stakes I had set out a week or so ago.  So confident in my work was I that I hadn’t bothered to check on them since.  Dry ground turned soggy from rain changes everything.   My stakes didn’t allow for those kind of conditions.  Out of a total of eight stakes only three of the stakes remained in place that morning as I worked to reset and reposition the blowup after first deflating it.

Smack in the middle of rescuing Snoopy I was reminded of the similarities between this blowup yard decoration and the spiritual importance of exactly where we stake our faith.  If you’ve ever owned an inflatable lawn decoration you know the very first thing you have to do is secure it to the ground with stakes.  Once the stakes are in place and it’s anchored to them you can then turn the blower on to inflate the decoration.  If you’ve not staked it to the ground very well then as soon as any sort of higher than normal wind, especially if it’s accompanied by rain, comes along the risk goes way up for your decoration to take an unplanned trip tumbling down the street visiting various neighbor’s flower beds along the way.  It follows, then, that If you want the blowup to stay in place the most important part of this whole process revolves around the stakes.  And so it is with our relationship with the Lord, as well, isn’t it?  Throughout our lives each of us drive spiritual stakes into the ground depending on them to hold us in place eternally.  As with the blowup we place our complete confidence in these stakes believing we can rely and depend on them to get this eternally significant job done for us.  We anchor our most precious eternal possession, our very souls, to these stakes.  We risk it all on them.  The stakes for each of us are eternally high.  Oh how we pray that they indeed allow us to reach such a glorious height.

We’ve made our choices. Our stakes are in place. The time has now come.  Cue the blower.  As the air begins to circulate inside us we rise and begin to slowly dance swaying to the rhythm of the gentle breeze that accompanies the silent night sky.   The stars are shining brightly.  All is calm, all is bright.  Sooner or later in this world, though, this serenity will be broken because the harsh wind and the lashing rain will come to test our choice of stakes which we have placed our hopes upon for eternity.  Buffeted and contorted by the fierce winds will our stakes be true and hold us in place?  Or will we be uprooted and ripped loose from our misplaced moorings only to be sent tumbling helter- skelter off into the cold darkness far, far, far away from His radiant beams?  Have we mistakenly placed our all on fake stakes that cannot possibly hold us in eternity’s place with our Heavenly Father, or have we found the One true stake of our salvation?  In spite of the storm raging round about us will we at long last securely sleep in the arms of His heavenly peace on this holy night that was created for each of us long before we were even born?  Will we remain steadfastedly in place through the night to be greeted by a new and glorious morning dawn richly overflowing with the pure light of His redeeming grace?  Will we, a weary world, become thrilled with His hope on this divine night of deliverance, fall on our knees, rejoice, and hear the angel voices ?  The answer to all of these questions, as we all know by now, entirely depends upon exactly what, or rather, Whom, we have staked our faith upon, doesn’t it?  Christ the Savior, Holy infant so tender and mild, has indeed been born into this world for your sake.

“There is salvation in none other, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men by which we must be saved!”  Acts 4:11

Have you staked your faith in Him and Him alone?  Once you do all is eternally calm, all is eternally bright, and everlasting glories stream into your life from afar.

“that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God didn’t send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him  He who believes in Him is not judged.  He who doesn’t believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the One and only Son of God.” John 3:15-18 (WEB)

“but these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”  John 20:31 (WEB)

“He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God.’”  Luke 9:20 (WEB)

sound affects

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

Rising much earlier than usual one morning I was surprisingly greeted by the subtle but distinct sound of the ocean waves coming ashore from the Gulf of Mexico which is located a little more than a mile south of our home.  In between the barrier island facing the Gulf and our home is an almost mile wide expanse of water that provides an unobstructed pathway for the faint but wonderful melody of the faraway waves crashing onto the banks of the barrier island’s shore to travel across.  As if custom made for the purposes of this writing this divisional body of water is divinely, from my perspective, called the sound.  Just to the north of us is a heavily traveled 4 lane highway that during normal daytime hours creates a constant humming noise as cars and trucks relentlessly zoom past one another in a frenzied attempt to get to their scheduled destinations on time.  Try as you might during these “NASCAR” hours the din of an all-too-hurry-up, get-it-done-now world completely drowns out the ongoing beautiful symphony of the cascading waves of the Gulf as they rhythmically greet the waiting shoreline.  If you desire to hear the sound of the beach from where I live you must break free from your established and usual daily routine and do something entirely different as I did that particular morning.  Hearing the alluring refrain of the waves requires you to purposefully reposition yourself in some meaningful way relative to them.  You must turn aside from your daily routine that otherwise has been focused on everything but these sounds.  But will you? Is hearing these sounds important enough for you to make such a needed change in your life or will you continue to go on about your day with little to no regard to hearing these sweet sounds?

Now then, what if we were to change things up a bit and apply these circumstances of hearing the sound of the waves to our walk with our Lord?  Simply imagine in your mind and heart we’re no longer talking about hearing distant waves break, but instead we now are talking about our listening for the sounds of the Lord. Are we hearing Him?  Why or why not?  Based on what we have discovered about our hearing the waves in this story it’s about the position we choose to place ourselves in relative to Him regarding whether or not we are able to hear His voice. Jesus is essentially asking us as His followers, “Will you alter what you’re doing by turning aside from _____ (you fill in the blank) to spend time with Me?”

“Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the back of the wilderness, and came to God’s mountain, to Horeb.  Yahweh’s angel appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the middle of a bush.  He looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. Moses said, “I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.”  Exodus 3:1-3 (WEB)

When we make such a conscious choice, as Moses did, we’re essentially saying to Him, “Here I am, Lord. I choose You.”

“When Yahweh saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the burning bush, and said, ‘Moses!  Moses!’  He said, “Here I am.”  Exodus 3:4 (WEB)

Taking that first conscious step in His direction and away from our own worldly selves is so vital, of course.  As His sons and daughters we can confidently rest in the knowledge that God calls out to each of us personally and intimately in ways that speak deeply and individually to us.  After all, as our Creator He knows our hearts so well, better than we do, in fact, so while our own personal experience with the Lord may not quite be the sort of spectacular “in His presence” encounter Moses had with the Lord, it is still no less a miracle, it is still no less personal, it is still no less loving. Simply put, He gets us and understands us as nobody else possibly can.  At this moment He is lovingly watching each of us to see if we will purposely turn aside for Him.  Why? Because He greatly desires to spend meaningful time with us, His much loved children.  While that’s certainly good news it doesn’t stop there.  No, far from it, in fact.  He longs for us to desire to spend time with Him as well.  After all, intimacy is very much a two-way street.  When you choose Him by turning aside you capture His attention.   And as a follower of Christ who among us isn’t affected such that we are moved into action by the sound of that life changing wave of understanding as it completely washes over us?

“Yahweh appeared of old to me, saying, Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love:  therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you.”  Jeremiah 31:3 (WEB)

“Deep calls to deep at the noise of your waterfalls.  All your waves and your billows have swept over me.”  Psalm 42:7 (WEB)

A life danced to the rhythm of God’s wisdom in a Byrd’s song

vapors turn turn turn touchup edit

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV)

 Turn!

  “Lord, make me know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am.  Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreath; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity.  Selah. Surely every man walketh in a vain shew” Psalm 39:4-6a (KJV)

 Turn!

“Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.  For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” James 4:14 (KJV)

 Turn!

My longtime close friend and fellow explorer of life’s byways, both real and imagined, Russell, passed away a week ago.  Our friendship goes all the way back to the days of junior high school.  My favorite memory from those days is the times we would spend riding our bikes through the woods exploring trails together alongside other good friends as if we were all some sort of heroic band of New World explorers boldly going where no man had gone before, to borrow Captain Kirk’s famous opening line from one of our shared favorite TV series, Star Trek.  It was unimportant and of no significance to any of us that the wild universe we were exploring was the wooded area adjacent to where we all lived.  No, as far as we were all concerned we were on the outer reaches of the galaxy discovering strange new worlds just as the opening Star Trek monologue so enticingly beckoned us to do. It was a wonderful siren’s call and we were all willingly spellbound. The only thing holding us back from our appointed mission on those Saturdays was the lengthening shadows of dusk that, sadly, occurred far earlier than any of us ever wanted them to in our sun-shielded galaxy of planets populated with towering, mysterious beings whose outstretched arms branched out and sought to capture, or worse, any uninvited explorers such as ourselves.  What exciting and amazingly uncluttered with life’s demands good times those were.  As the song goes, “we thought they’d never end.”  But, sadly they did come to an end.  Russell’s dad was transferred to another state before we were able to embark on the next grand adventure of exploring the looming and mysterious galaxy known as high school together.

Years passed with no contact between the two of us.  It wasn’t until decades later that we finally reconnected thanks to the internet.  Russell took a chance and left an anonymous post on a social media site looking for people that had graduated in our year of graduation from our once shared hometown high school.  I stumbled over his post one day and decided to take a chance and reply not knowing who was on the other end.  Imagine our surprise when we realized exactly who had just stepped back into our lives after such a long and silent absence. Oswald Chambers has a quote from his great devotional work, “My Utmost For His Highest” that I dearly love and that fits so well into the context of such an unlikely “lost then found” reunion between two friends:  “Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?”  As I reflect on the lasting effects and impact of our renewed friendship stemming from that unexpected reunion I am certain this was no chance or random coincidence.  To think otherwise isn’t a viable possibility.  How can a gift that keeps on giving owe its very existence to anything other than divine providence?

As cliché as it may sound our friendship was something akin to Lennon-McCartney, or perhaps Rodgers and Hammerstein.  At times I’m sure it was also like Abbot and Costello, or Laurel and Hardy.  Penn and Teller come to mind as well.  In my mind Russell could’ve easily been either Lennon or McCartney while I, even on my best days, was merely a shadow of the other half of the team.  Regardless of who was who all of these famous duos or teams shared a common bond of creative chemistry. Spontaneous combustion was just a lone spark away from igniting a burst of creative energy in each of these pairs. And so it was between the two of us.

Remarkably this close friendship was rekindled and forged fairly quickly over a relatively short period of time through emails that ended up spanning many years marked by only an occasional phone call.  He loved to write.  I love to write. It was that simple.  Russell managed to bring out in me a creative side that few others have yet been able to access. He had this ability of encouraging me to step outside of my comfort zone.  I never feared rejection or ridicule when I did so.  When I think of Russell the phrase “freedom to be me” quickly comes to mind.  Each email volley presented a wonderful opportunity to boldly go where I’d never been before on a variety of subjects and yes, do so creatively.  We played off of each other with rare ease on a variety of subjects.  His knowledge on a wide range of subjects never ceased to amaze me. Our email duet was reminiscent of that wonderful back and forth volley between banjo and acoustic guitar found in the song, “Dueling Banjos” and it always left us grinning ear to ear.  So many times on so many subjects, but especially so when it came to music, he would be the teacher and I would be the student.  How was it possible for him to be so well versed and aware of so many artists and songs that I was not?  I used to say to him, “Russell, there you go again.  You’ve saved me from my Neanderthal existence by pulling me out from under my rock and into the light of day…thank you…again!”  He’d always reply with a laugh, but not with the laugh of superiority.  No, it was never like that.  It was always the laugh of someone who delighted and enthusiastically embraced the joy of seeing another person suddenly experiencing the epiphany of a great beauty or mystery that has just been revealed.  I loved how he expanded my otherwise flat, vanilla sort of world into an amazing multi-colored and textured sphere.  It was obvious  he genuinely loved being such a gracious guide.

 “And God said, Let there be light:  and there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” Genesis 1:3-4 (KJV)

“You are the light of the world.  A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16 (NKJV)

I am thankful God sent Russell’s light to speak life into me.  His light will continue to burn brightly within me.  That warm glow I feel in my heart whenever I think of him and our friendship remains a great gift.  As I reflect on all of this I have to ask myself a few questions. “Do I speak and act in such a way that brings warmth into other people’s lives? Will that warmth continue after I’m gone?  Do my words and actions say I truly understand there may not be another day beyond this one, and, most importantly, is there any glimpse of Jesus at all to be found in me by others?”  In short, “What sort of lamp on a lamp stand am I in this dark and cold world?”

Eternal Lord, the time You have given each of us on this earth is short. Let us understand and embrace how truly fleeting our lives are so that we may humbly live in purposeful and joyful fellowship with You and with those You have so generously and graciously sprinkled into our lives along the way. May we joyfully walk the path You have set before us making the most of this day that You have given us realizing we may not come this way again. Today is the day to speak life into those whom You have surrounded us with, both those we love and who love us, and those we have only just met for there may be no other earthly day granted to us beyond this one.  My friend understood these truths of Yours. May I understand them as well. Lord, I thank you for sending him my way, and into so many other lives as well.  I thank you for the life-giving impact our friendship brought me and continues to bring.  Because of my friend’s walk I can truly say it’s a life well lived if after that life is over here on this earth it continues to speak life into those of us who remain behind.  What a marvelous gift!  Thank you that my friend’s light was indeed a lamp on a lamp stand that spoke life into myself and others, all to Your glory.  May we in turn pass along the light and warmth of Your love as well.  In Your Son’s name, Amen.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”  Isaiah 40:8 (NKJV)

“Per-sway-did” or “Per-sway-dead”?

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 13:9 (WEB)

“He said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before Yahweh.’ Behold Yahweh passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rock before Yahweh; but Yahweh was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake; but Yahweh was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake a fire passed; but Yahweh was not in the fire.  After the fire, there was a still small voice.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle, went out, and stood in the entrance to the cave.  Behold a voice came to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”          1 Kings 19:11-13 (WEB)

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”  John 10: 27 (WEB)

There was always some sort of wind blowing in this particular area I once lived in so the breeze that greeted me that winter morning was to be expected as I walked down a familiar stretch of sidewalk with our two dogs.  The breeze that day, however, was particularly light.  It was the kind of breeze you notice if you’re heading into it, but if you’re headed in the same direction with it you don’t notice it much at all.  As I continued walking down the sidewalk my eyes were drawn to the surprising sight up ahead of a wildly vibrating, swaying plant.  It seemed alive so animated were its movements which were akin to one of those inflatable, super-tall, madly flailing dancing characters automobile dealerships use to hopefully arrest your attention.   Fascinating! But what made this scene even more remarkable was that this plant danced alone even though it was surrounded by numerous other plants which stood there unmoved as if they were the plant manifestations of the stoic Easter Island statues.  The lone plant took notice of the faint breeze while all the other plants remained steadfast, unmoved, and locked firmly into place.  The visual contrast between the two groups could not have been any more stark and dramatic. The one danced with unrestrained exuberance as the almost imperceptible wind moved across it, yet the others seemed to be stuck in concrete unwilling and unable to move at all.

Sadly, truth be told though, can the same not be said regarding our response to God’s presence in our lives?  Some are moved to dance in His presence while others remain unmoved even though the breath of God moves across all.  As with the plants the difference between these two different groups of people could not be any more obvious as illustrated by these two scriptures:

“But they refused to listen, and turned their backs, and stopped their ears, that they might not hear.” Zechariah 7:11 (WEB)

 “David danced before Yahweh with all his might; and David was clothed in a linen ephod.”  2 Samuel 6:14 (WEB)

God’s breath, His very presence,  moves across each and every one of us as 2 Peter 3:9 (WEB) points out saying, “The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient with us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  There is opportunity for movement towards Him for all in each of our journeys.  Yet, the truth is only a precious few acknowledge or react to His presence in their lives in a profound and transformed manner.  One is moved to dance in His presence all the while surrounded by others who rigidly standby in complete silence.

“When they had appointed him a day, many people came to him at his lodging.  He explained to them, testifying about God’s Kingdom, and persuading them concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and from the prophets, from morning until evening.  Some believed the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.”  Acts 28:23-24 (WEB)

There is a still small Breeze whispering out to you, beckoning you to move in His direction.  We all have a choice to make.  Will you remain hardened and unflinching in His presence such that you are “per-sway-dead” to remain motionless?  Or are you “per-sway-did” to dance in His presence overflowing with the joy of the Lord?

“Now therefore fear Yahweh, and serve him in sincerity and in truth.   Put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, in Egypt; and serve Yahweh.  If it seems evil to you to serve Yahweh, choose today whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell;  but as for me and my house, we will serve Yahweh.”  Joshua 24:14-15 (WEB)

 The Lord lovingly holds out His hand in invitation for this dance of your life.  Do you hear it?  Do you feel it? Oh my brothers and sisters I pray each of you take His outstretched hand and sway to the rhythm of His life-giving breeze of hope!

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

 “You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do you light a lamp, and put it under a measuring basket, but on the stand; and it shines to all who that are in the house.  Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16 (WEB)

 

So, here we are a few years later and the message remains the same, but this time expressed in a video:  Some “leaves” move in the presence of His voice and are alive, but sadly some are decidedly deaf to His whispers and are dead.

God-in-the-box

 

Handcrafted: “to make (something) by manual skill.”  (Dictionary.com); “make skillfully by hand.” (online Dictionary)

When it comes to certain worldly goods the notion of “handcrafted” normally carries much weight and is viewed as being very desirable. Why?  Because typically anything that is handcrafted implies a level of care, skill, and expertise in the construction of certain products that a machine simply cannot provide.  Anything handcrafted is viewed as “extra special” in this sense.  Not surprisingly people will pay more for such skillfully made items.   After all, who hasn’t paused over the words, “Hand stitched Italian leather” with admiration and desire?

But what if we carry the pursuit of “handcrafted” into certain areas we have absolutely no business of doing so?  Genesis 1:27 (NKJV) says, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  This is such a familiar and well-known verse to so many people.  Suppose we were to reverse this message, this truth, though?  What if we were to interchange the words “God” and “man” with each other?” When we reverse the verse it becomes, “So man created God in his own image; in the image of man he created Him; male and female they created Him.”  I know…yikes, right?!?!

While this rearrangement no doubt makes everyone uncomfortable, as well it should, is there not some degree of truth to be found here if we’re being perfectly honest with ourselves?  When we hold up to the light how we relate to Jesus in our own lives are there not certain areas we either knowingly or unknowingly deem to be untouchable and “off-limits” to Him, or even worse instruct and counsel Him as to how to proceed?  It is in these areas we force our own desired and created reality of who we believe Him to be upon Him.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NKJV)

Having Him tucked away all nice and tidy in a box with a crank handle that plays a catchy little tune just before He pops back into our lives is, well, so much more comfortable isn’t it?  Seriously now, who doesn’t like the idea of having a God-in-the-box just sitting there on the shelf readily available to us whenever and however we need Him? And when we do that have we not made Him in our own image?

In his book, “Beautiful Outlaw,” John Eldredge muses, “Our experience of Jesus is limited most often by the limits we put on him!”  Indeed.

“Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there.  When He had come to His own country, He taught them in the synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?  Is this not the carpenter’s son?  Is not His mother called Mary?  And His brothers James, Simon, and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us?  Where did this Man get all these things?’ So they were offended at Him.  But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.’ Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”  Matthew 13:53-58 (NKJV)

Jesus, our Lord and our Savior, the One who has come to set us, the captives, free, has a pointed and penetrating question for you and for me as found Matthew 16:15 (NKJV) which you will find at the end of this writing.  But, don’t get ahead of yourself and skip down to it because this is no ordinary question that we should answer it hastily and without reverent consideration.  No, my friend, this is THE seminal question of our lives.  Our place in eternity hangs in the balance as well as the path we take in the here and now.

How we answer this question affects the lives of those around us as well.  This is no small matter, this question and our answer to it.   Turning your attention to the image once again, I urge you to be thoughtful and introspective searching the depths of your heart as you examine your life for signs that you have lost your way by making yourself the Creator rather than the created.

Are there areas of your life where you have turned the table of Genesis 1:27 upside down and limited the unlimited God by placing Him in a box straight out of your own comfort zone rather than the true Jesus of the Bible?  Yet another insightful quote by John Eldredge from his book “Beautiful Outlaw” speaks to this when he says, “You will find Jesus pretty much as you expect to.”

In an effort to be vulnerable and transparent with you I embarrassingly must confess that when this God-in-the-box concept first entered my mind I vividly recall thinking, “Hmmmm…I wonder who this is intended for?”  Such was my pride that it wasn’t until sometime later that I realized it was intended for me, of course.  After all, it’s so much easier to see other’s shortcomings and faults rather than my own.  I’d be glad to show you yours when you have the time, by the way.

Pop goes the weasel.  Uncomfortable?  Fine.  A simple flick of the wrist and He’s securely stowed away back in the box.  Silence feels so much more golden when it’s accomplished according to our own terms.

So, now the time has come for Jesus’s question.  Now, imagine for the next few moments that it’s just you and Jesus alone together in a beautiful, tranquil place with no other distractions.  Make it your favorite spot, one that feels sacred in its impact and importance to you.  We all have places like that in our hearts and minds.  Places that make you whisper out of sheer reverence if you can even speak at all.  Go there with the words of 1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJV) front and center in your mind and most importantly engraved on your heart, “but the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at 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.’”   That’s your heart He’s looking at, by the way.

Ever so gently Jesus takes you by the hand, looks deeply and earnestly into your eyes in an incredibly intimate one-on-one moment, pauses, and then gently parts the silence with a voice that penetrates the very depths of your soul asking,

who do you say

 

Natalie Grant, “King of the World” (Be One, Deluxe Version)

 

 

 

faith rubber meets the rowed

“And not only that, but we glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  Romans 5:3-5 (NKJV)

“I’d rather be in a tiny, broken-down rowboat with only half an oar in the middle of a horrific storm with no land in sight if that is where God wants me to be instead of sitting on a beautiful white sandy beach under an umbrella enjoying the shade and light breeze, sipping on a cool drink if that is not where He wants me to be.”

Not that long ago in a far away and distant lifetime that was my unwavering proclamation.  Times  were good with fewer worries or concerns when those words were uttered.  I didn’t say them flippantly or insincerely mind you.  No, I said them each and every time with confidence in their truth.

At the time my relationship with the Lord was strengthening and growing after years of my neglect so the thought expressed by these words was anything but casual.  Yes, I said these words with firmness because I believed I understood the truth they embodied.  I had personally seen God move in our lives in ways I had never imagined before so there was reasonable cause to say them as my confidence in Him continued to grow.   

And then…circumstances changed practically overnight, and I found myself no longer sitting on the beach enjoying the cool shade of the umbrella.  In fact, that beach is nowhere to be seen in any direction from even the crest of the mightiest storm wave that my uncomfortably small rowboat has now found itself precariously perched upon.

“…In the world you will have tribulation…”  John 16:33, partial (NKJV)

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia:  that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.”  2 Corninthians 1:8 (NKJV)

As carefully chosen as these words were they were lacking true depth and grit.  “How so?” you might ask. 

To answer that question the Lord’s perspective must be given voice.  “Really?  I know you believe what you said, but do you really and truly know from the deepest reaches of your heart and soul that what you just said is absolutely true? It’s vital, my child, that when you utter such words that they convey far more than what you think to be true.  You must know beyond a shadow of a doubt they are true.  They must become living words. They must become words with My breath in them that are capable of speaking life into heartache and suffering.  You have experienced the beach with Me as well as a few storms but have you experienced such a storm as you’ve just described with Me?  Until you do these words don’t carry the full weight of My presence.  When you have experienced the truth in these words for yourself then, and only then, can you passionately and effectively share Me with utmost passion and conviction to others in need.”

 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”  2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NKJV)

How do you know what it is you really believe about God until you find yourself in a situation that tests those beliefs? It’s one thing to say you’d choose God and the beat up rowboat in a storm seemingly hell-bent on destroying you from your easy chair on a magnificently delightful beach, but when push comes to shove and you find yourself actually experiencing such a storm, well, isn’t that when you find out exactly what your faith, your trust in Him, what you actually believe about Him, truly looks like? 

There’s a well known phrase that captures this thought: “Faith isn’t fact until it’s tested.”  Indeed.  Each storm that comes our way has value in this regard, but there are those certain storms of storms that take us to places no ordinary storm can.  These are life altaring (purposely misspelled) storms that literally compel you to at long last come face to face with the raw, stripped down guts of your faith. 

Circumstances that are completely beyond your control have a way of making such an improbable and undesirable meeting possible.  After all, how many of us would really be all that comfortable having our faith made completely naked and exposed?  Yet, such a place of desperation where our true foundational faith rubber is brought out of the shadows and into the light by the stark reality of the road being rowed, is absolutely necessary for our own spiritual growth and maturity. 

You say that you know He is faithful, but are you utterly convinced of that?  How can you truly know this unless you yourself have experienced it? How can you speak true life into others who desperately seek hope in their own lives unless you have lived it yourself?

“It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.”  Psalm 119:71 (NKJV)

Even now as I write this it’s literally storming outside as if to help serve as an in-the-moment physical reminder of the severity of my circumstances.  The waves and wind relentlessly pound my little boat tossing and turning it around and around as it bobs helplessly up and down. There is no rest.  There is no relief. 

By default I am the supposed captain of this little boat, but it is not mine to steer.  Captain?  Hardly.  No, I am a drenched, weary, often frightened and reluctant pilgrim and no more.  All appears lost as wave after unrelenting wave crash over and into the boat that I’m desperately clinging to with all of my might.  Surely it will sink and take me along with it!  Where can hope be found in this storm?

 “And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’  So He said, ‘Come.’  And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.  But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’  And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.”  Matthew 14:25-32 (NKJV)

Jesus comes to us in the midst of our storms and invites us to let go of the boat we’re desperately clinging to and join Him.  It’s not until we leave the false safety of the boat, join Him, and then return with Him to the boat that the storm abates. 

Tony Evans says that, “Faith and movement go together, and that if there is no movement there is no evidence of your faith.” We must take that first step of faith towards Him as He beckons to us, “Come.”

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

Why is this sort of experience so important for us as believers?  While it’s tempting to say it’s about us, the truth is it’s not just about us.  There is far more at stake.

Seriously, how can such a defining, wilderness “moment” be only about us?  Surely there is a higher purpose and calling at work here.  Is it possible you’re the glowing, red-hot block of steel that the blacksmith purposefully hammers into a glistening sword?  “Well, maybe,” you reluctantly say, “But why?”  For the answer listen closely to King Darius’s question found in Daniel 6:19-20 (NKJV), “Then the king arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions.  And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice to Daniel.  The king spoke, saying to Daniel, ‘Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually been able to deliver you from the lions?” 

Friends, non-believers and believers alike all want to know the answer to this question: Is. Our. God. Able? Daniel’s faith in our God Who is indeed able and is worthy of all praise and glory couldn’t help but leave an indelible mark in this world as seen in Daniel 6:25-27 (NKJV): “Then King Darius wrote: To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth:  Peace be multiplied to you.  I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.  For He is the living God, and steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall endure to the end.  He delivers and rescues, and He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.”

As tempting as it is to cut the wilderness experience that God is using to shape and mold you short don’t give into the urge to do so.  Would you tell the blacksmith to stop forging the sword before it’s finished?

Resist the impulse to run away never to be heard from or seen again. Instead, embrace Him and together let this storm run its full course believing He has only your best true-self interest at heart.  After all, Jesus knows a thing or two about wilderness experiences.  Could we ask for a more experienced and understanding guide?  Trust Him in this process that has eternal ramifications for not only you, but undoubtedly a host of others. 

As the saying goes, “that’s gonna leave a mark.”  Indeed.  How can it not, and besides, isn’t that the real purpose anyway of such a profound, life altering experience?

What sort of mark on this anxious world will your wilderness faith experience leave concerning hope?  Such precious faith He has now birthed in you can’t help but proclaim hope through your personal experience of God’s unlimited mercy, grace, and love.  It is through your own encounter with Him in your wilderness journey that compels your voice and heart to joyfully sing and reach out to those in need,  “I will lift up my eyes to the hills-from whence comes my help?  My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121:1-2 (NKJV)   

Beauty is in the ayes of His beholders

“And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28, NKJV

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; The humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” Psalm 34:1-3, NKJV

A key question for each of us on our journey through life that we inevitably face is how are we going to handle setbacks when they come our way? As much as we’d all like to experience a Louis Armstrong “nothing but blue skies do I see” sort of life we are not promised that experience as our own lives often times starkly bear witness. In fact, Jesus graciously…yes, graciously…tells us in John 16:33 (NKJV)
that we will experience suffering saying, “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.” It’s gracious because He doesn’t pull any punches and tells us straight up that life is going to be tough at times, but then He also reassures us that not only is His peace available to us, but that we should be of a positive mindset because He has taken the world’s best shot and come out on top. So, as beholders, as active participants in this life, will we shake an angry fist in an “eye for an eye” sort of downward cascading negative reaction on the road that leads to bitterness when faced with a loss or a setback, or will we look to the Lord for His help and perspective in time of need in an “aye for an eye” sort of way? Will we humbly give Him an aye, a yes, to work with even in our suffering?

“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” Psalm 34:18, NKJV

My friend of several years, Nicole, has a prosthetic eye which she’s had for a longer period of time than our several years long friendship. I don’t know the details as to why she has a prosthetic eye, but I do know her heart’s attitude about it as witnessed by a story she shared with me recently. Not long ago Nicole sent out a prayer request for a co-worker of hers for their 5 year old daughter needing to have emergency surgery on one of her eyes. It seems the growth behind one of the little girl’s eyes that was initially thought not to be a tumor, turned out to be a tumor after all requiring immediate surgery. A week prior Nicole’s co-worker, the little girl’s dad, reached out to her about her own experience because he was aware of her prosthetic eye. The family desperately needed Nicole’s first hand advice for their little daughter. Don’t we all seek out those precious voices of experience in such times? After all, words from people “who have lived it” are like gold in times of trouble. In the midst of their conversation Nicole was able to share her faith in Jesus with this family who didn’t know the Lord. It’s fair to say that the road to this conversation was paved by Nicole’s prosthetic eye. Am I saying the Lord purposely took Nicole’s eye just for this conversation to occur years after the fact? No, not at all. But, I am saying that Nicole rightly gave this loss to the Lord rather than becoming embittered by it. You have to surely agree that it’s fascinating that here we have an eye that cannot see according to the world’s perspective, but yet fully sees Him, guiding an eye that can see as the world understands sight, but is nonetheless blind to Him. To put it another way, rather than embracing bitterness over the loss of her eye, Nicole allowed herself to become a yes, an aye, for Him and His purposes well before she could even “see” how He might be able to use her in this supposedly “broken” condition. Brokeness, isn’t it amazing what the Lord can do with what a rebellious and angry world judges to be a loss worthy of fist shaking accusations hurled at God for His lack of presence or lack of compassion, but instead has been freely given to Him for His own good purposes in His own good timing? It’s staggeringly beautiful, truth be told.

The Lord desires that our hope in Him abounds even in the midst of our losses and sufferings to the point our ability to help others will soar when we place our brokeness into His hands. My friend and former pastor, Tim, captures this thought saying, “Ministry is ministering to others right in the middle of your own pain.” Will you now trust Him enough to say “yes” to Him with your life, every bit of your life, even your pain, that He might use you as only He can? Will you allow Him to bring beauty into not only your own life, but other’s lives as well as His willing beholder who says, “Aye, Lord, here I am?”

“The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!” Lamentations 3:24, NKJV

“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

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens me morning by morning, He awakens my ear to hear as the learned.” Isaiah 50:4, NKJV

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

diamond in the rough

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”  Jeremiah 1:5 (NKJV)

O Lord, You have searched me and known me., and you know me.”  Psalm 139:1 (NKJV)

Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask him.”  Matthew 6:8 (NKJV) 

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27 (NKJV) 

“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.”  1 Chronicles 28:9 (NKJV)

Our Heavenly Father knows us so much better than even we know ourselves.  He is our Creator, and we are His created.  He knows each of us deeply and intimately both outwardly and inwardly speaking to each of us intimately in our own personal love language through His Holy Word.  In short, He gets us like no one else possibly can.

If He knows us so well, then what exactly does that mean, or should that mean, in terms of my relationship with Him?  Surely if He knows me so well, then there must be much more to experiencing life with Him than the sterile and uncomfortably distant, arms-length moments I’d grown so accustomed to over so many years, right?  Seriously now, shouldn’t one of the signs or hallmarks of a real and vibrant relationship be intimacy? A few years ago I would’ve jokingly observed that if distance makes the heart grow fonder as the saying goes, then the Lord and I should be really, really close to one another.  Intimacy with God?  Non-existent, obviously, and sad to say something I’d never ever considered to be a real possibility for most of my life.  The truth is that the Lord has always desired a deep, intimate relationship with me, but it was my aloofness and misconceptions about Him that created the distance between the two of us.  Fortunately for me, for all of us, the Lord desires an honest and deep relationship with us and so He has His ways of drawing each of us to Him if we’ll but turn towards Him and not away from Him in those moments. As we at last turn wholeheartedly to Him the door is then finally opened to the possibility of a true One on one “real”-ationship.  What might that look like you ask?  To answer that question I’d like to share with you a moment of intimacy I experienced with Him not that long ago.

Visual imagery and word play have always captured my attention.  It’s the way I’m geared much to the vocal groans of dismay at times of those who know me well.  Even the occasional unsuspecting stranger isn’t spared from my sense of humor that so often revolves around puns and word plays.  A relatively short time ago as I was walking along an all too familiar sidewalk the question as to my own worth was weighing heavily on my heart, more so than usual.  I had lost my job of almost 20 years recently so at the age of 62 I found myself wondering what good the future held.  Indeed, what could be next at my age in terms of a career?  Is there even a next for someone like me?  Next at my age is supposed to be spelled “retirement” isn’t it?  If only that was where I found myself.  So, as I slowly made my way down the sidewalk considering my circumstances the questions  “What do You think of me, Lord?  When You see me what do You see?” spontaneously burst from deep within my heart accompanied by tears rolling down my cheeks.  Remarkably His answer to this new-found longing of my heart was provided a week earlier while walking in the exact same spot.  At that time I had unexpectedly spotted a lost ace of diamonds playing card next to the sidewalk.  To be honest I almost casually dismissed it at the time as it uncharacteristically lay there in the weeds alongside the sidewalk I had walked daily for months.  But the uniqueness of the circumstances at the time caused me to pause, take a quick photo, and then place it in my back pocket without much thought beyond that.  A week later, though, an instant connection of dots was made from His heart to my heart as my Father married this later question of mine to His earlier answer in our own unique, personal love embrace.  So, as I asked that heartfelt question it was immediately answered with a voice in my heart that said,  “Do you remember finding that playing card in the weeds last week? You, My son, are a diamond in the rough, and not just any diamond, but the highest diamond.”  Astonishingly He had provided the answer even before that heartfelt question was ready to be sincerely asked. And why shouldn’t He have been ready with the answer?  Why shouldn’t He be a step ahead of me?  Why shouldn’t He use a wonderful visual word play to get my attention? The words of Isaiah 65:24 (NKJV) ring ever so much more gloriously in moments like this saying, “It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.” Is there anyone like our Lord? After all, He’s known me since before I was born even in my mother’s womb.  He knows the number of hairs on my head.  He knows what I’m going to say before I say it.  He knows when I lay down and when I get up.  He knows the number of my days.  I am His creation.  I am known and deeply loved by My Father who not only sees and loves me for who I am in this moment, but who also sees and loves me as I will one day be.

So, that’s the background to this story.  Nowadays whenever I’m given the opportunity I like to tell it in a slightly different way because it’s what I imagine in my mind whenever I revisit this experience.  Jesus and I are walking down the sidewalk together side by side enjoying one another’s company on a beautiful afternoon.  The conversation volleys back and forth between the two of us with delightful ease just as it does with best friends.  There is an easy going sense of comfort and acceptance.  Up ahead He spots the playing card lying there just off to the right of the sidewalk in the weeds before I ever notice it.  As we approach it, He playfully and gently sticks His elbow into my side and with a laugh says, “Hey!  You see that ace of diamonds playing card lying over there in the weeds?  That’s how I see you!”  And then as we both look at the playing card we then turn to each other in one of those good long eye to eye sort of “I know you and love you” moments good friends often share, belly laugh together in delight, and then continue on our way arm in arm still chuckling about that wonderful opportunity He had to let me know what He thinks and feels about me…after I go back and retrieve the card, of course.

Surely we are all just as deeply loved by our heavenly Father are we not?  Close off the world’s hustle and bustle for just a few moments and go back to that magical day when as a child you and the soft summer shower raindrops danced as one lost in a moment of absolute delight and celebration of one another.   Now, as you joyfully spin round and round with arms outstretched tilt your head back and open your mouth wide as you did that day long ago as a child.  Let each precious word of truth and beauty found in Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV)  gently drop onto your face and into your mouth just like you experienced that magical childhood day.  Not one of His raindrops falls on you without your notice as it caresses your entire being saying,  “The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Are we all not diamonds in the rough with amazing God created potential just waiting to be set free and live according to His purposes in this world?  Is it His desire that His beloved children remain unchanged alongside life’s byways silent and lost in the weeds? He desires to transform each of us by tenderly molding and sculpting us with His great, strong, yet oh so gentle, and loving Hands of Mercy and Grace into the wonderful creation He has always had in mind for us since before we were born.  It is not our vision of ourselves, but rather His vision of who we are that is so vital for each and everyone of us to embrace if the chains that bind us are to be removed.  He has come to set you the captive free, you know.  Lord, help me completely embrace Isaiah 64:8 (NKJV).  But now, O Lord, You are our Father;   We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand.”  May I be soft and yielding clay in your creative hands desiring that You shape me according to Your Heart’s desire for You indeed have a purpose for my life. You…me…as His deeply loved children…are all diamonds in the rough in His eyes.  Each of us have great and immense value in His eyes…enough so that He sent His only begotten Son to die for you.  Will you at last finally let go of your own perception of who you are and allow His hands to mold and transform you as only He can from His diamond in the rough into a beautiful, living and breathing creation in the likeness of His one and only Son?  Oh, the plans He has for you!

2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV), “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”