Surprize!!!

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”  James 1:17 (NKJV)

What’s one thing God and cats have in common?

Before I give you my answer, note that I’m in no way putting God and cats on equal footing.   God is the creative force here; cats are the products of His efforts.  Creator and created, big difference!  The root of this question stems from the idea that what an artist creates cannot help but say something about the artist.   Hence, cats have something to tell us about God, the Creator.

“The personality of the artist leaks through their work. God included. He reveals himself through nature, as the Scriptures testify.” John Eldredge from Beautiful Outlaw (highlight mine)

So, here’s my one-word answer to that question that you may or may not have seen coming based on the title of today’s post:  surprise.  Surprised?

A cat’s uncanny ability to show up in some of the most unexpected places and ways always elicits a reaction from those fortunate enough witnesses.  More times than not, whenever something unforeseen happens, it’s downright startling, as in “Whoa, I did NOT see that coming!”

Not that long ago, I was walking through our kitchen and was completely caught off-guard by our cat, Ringo (yes, after the Beatle!), staring out at me from one of our kitchen cabinets that had accidentally been left open.  Even today, it’s a treasured memory that continues to refresh my soul for its disruption of my otherwise unremarkable, vanilla day because it serves as a priceless reminder that I gloriously don’t have everything figured out, especially when it comes to God.

Surprises like this are a gift because they awaken the once wide-eyed but now all-too-deeply slumbering child adventurer in me.  I don’t know about you, but it’s a joy whenever my much younger self shows up because doors to possibilities suddenly appear that my deadened, cookie-cutter adult self either won’t or can’t conceive of as even existing.  My earlier “God-in-the-box” post touched on this issue.

“and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:3 (NKJV)

“On worship: ‘For many, Christianity has become the grinding out of general doctrinal laws from collections of biblical facts.  But childlike wonder and awe have died.  The scenery and poetry and music of the majesty of God have dried up like a forgotten peach at the back of the refrigerator.’”  John Piper, Desiring God

Such a delightful interruption in my day is a trumpet’s call to be open-minded about just how much more extraordinary, grander, and more mysterious God is than my pedestrian, earth-bound, more “mature” thoughts will comfortably allow.  And with those truths front and center, it also leads me to contemplate His brighter-than-the-sun, absolutely pure Holiness.  Could the chasm of differences between the Lord and myself be any more stark and dramatic?   To that, I gratefully exclaim, “Wonderfully not!”

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.  ‘For 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 (NKJV)

“No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.”  1 Samuel 2:2 (NKJV)

Our God is not in the least bit humdrum, nor is He passive and ambivalent to the goings-on of this world as some would suggest.  Since the foundation, He has been actively involved in His creation, including, of course, His purposeful commitment to the ongoing, ever-deepening One-on-one relationships with His children.

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

Given the vast differences between God and ourselves in tandem with His desire to conform us to the image of His Son, our Savior, Jesus, we have every reason to anticipate that God should and will upend our ways. 

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

He will upset our status quo for His good purposes.

“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.”  A. W. Tozer

In the lives of believers, disruptions of all shapes and sizes that lead to the changes He desires to take place in us as proclaimed by scripture should be considered “normal” to expect, shouldn’t they be?

“We do not so much search the Word of God as the Word of God searches us.”  Barry Black, US Senate Chaplain

What sort of God would He be if He didn’t boggle our worldly minds, challenge our mistaken beliefs, expose our tightly-held, wayward assumptions, and overturn our oh-so-carefully but far-too-often selfishly set tables?

 “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.”  Matthew 21:12 (NKJV)

My friends, Jesus is an utterly beautiful disrupter of our doggedly-entrenched worldly condition for good reasons.

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

Praise God because He is so much more than we dare think or imagine whose generosity knows no bounds.

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

He has, after all, given us a surprize beyond measure, Jesus, in a most surprising but oh-so-delightful, completely God-like way.

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

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

“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.”  John 3:16 (NKJV)

It is no surprise that Jesus didn’t come in the form or way that the world expected.  Even to this very day, He continues to give Himself as the ultimate prize to all those who would believe in Him.  And that, dear brother and sister, I pray brings you immeasurable joy and delight every day of the year, especially during this Christmas season.  May God’s surprises continually refresh and bless you in the most remarkable, hope-inspiring ways throughout the remainder of this year and those to follow according to His good and perfect will.   

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  John 14:27 (NKJV)

“Praise the Lord” by Crowder from the album “Prodigal Son (Deluxe Edition).”

preauxvision

With God, an ocean of unfathomable possibilities exists right behind us; all we need to do is turn around for a new perspective.

If the late Cajun chef and beloved humorist, Justin E. Wilson, could see “provision” spelled as “preauxvision,” he would most likely enthusiastically exclaim, “Hoo-wee, dat’s sum unexpected Cajun flavoring mixed right in there, I gah-rown-tee (guarantee)!”

True to his love for preparing Cajun cuisine, Mr. Wilson once told the Associated Press, “Cajun cooking is the ability to take what you have and create a good dish and season it right.”  Or, put another way, in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, even the most improbable ingredients prepared with the proper seasoning in just the right way can make your taste buds get up and dance.

“Blessings sometimes show up in unrecognizable disguises. ”  Janette Oke

And so it also is with God’s unexpected provision in our lives.  Indeed, the Lord is capable of making the unlikely, the seemingly impossible, happen.  He is, after all, the Master Chef of all creation.

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

Using just the right seasonings of His mercy, grace, wisdom, and love, our Heavenly Father can take all of our circumstances and create something good out of them.  Even those that appear to be utterly hopeless and bewildering from our perspective.

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

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  Romans 8:28 (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)

Let me share a story of an unlikely provision in my life from last year amid the pandemic with you.

If you’ve read my bio, you’re already aware my business partner and I began a start-up oil and gas exploration business a few years ago.  Although our goal is simple, the pile of bones of many who have gone before us testifies how truly challenging it is.   Our task is to identify drilling locations with the hopes of ultimately finding and producing an economic accumulation of oil.  Each barrel of oil found and sold becomes the lifeblood that provides the revenue stream we need to survive.   

So, how have we done?  In the three to four years we’ve been in business so far, we’ve been abysmally unsuccessful in this endeavor.  To date, we have produced zero barrels of oil despite our best efforts, which have been bathed in unceasing prayer by myself and many others along the way. I can assure you this was not how I imagined or expected things to go believing that we would be successful within the first year or so.  In short, our prayers seemingly went unanswered, much to everyone’s growing dismay.  But, oh, this is where it gets exciting in the face of such outwardly disappointing results.

“May we be strengthened with the understanding that being blessed does not mean that we shall always be spared all the disappointments and difficulties of life.”  Heber J. Grant 

Last year due to the pandemic, oil commodity prices plummeted to less than zero, hitting a record low of around -$38.00 per barrel.

Following that unbelievable oil price collapse, I wondered how we could ever possibly survive this historical low point for the industry.  However, my anxious thoughts were suddenly brought to a screeching halt by a staggering realization that raced triumphantly through my mind.  Simply put, it dawned on me that had all our prayers been answered according to our expectations and desires, everything would’ve come crashing down around us, abruptly ending in bankruptcy.  You see, there would’ve been no way our fledgling company could have financially survived taking an extended negative price hit on selling our oil.  But, astonishingly, because we had no production during the price crash, we lost nothing and were able to continue to stay in business.  How crazy is this turn of events?

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

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)

Gone were my aching questions about why our prayers for success had gone unanswered.   Suddenly my doubts and fears disappeared and gave way to words of praise for Him for this unexpected form of provision.  In an instant, the Lord used a shocking turn of events to lead me to thank Him for not answering my prayers according to my expectations but instead for answering them His way.  Friends, there’s no other way to say it, but, “Dat’s sum dance-and- praise-worthy preauxvision as only the Lord can provide, I gah-rown-tee!”

 “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:19 (NKJV)

“He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. 30 Then they are glad because they are quiet; So He guides them to their desired haven.”  Psalm 107:29-30 (NKJV)

Gratefully, He is exceedingly superior to me in every way.  Amen?  Amen!

“O Lord, You are my God. I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, For You have done wonderful things; Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.”  Isaiah 25:1 (NKJV)

 “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, 12 To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.”  Psalm 30:11-12 (NKJV)

Lord, I’ll trust in You with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways I’ll acknowledge You, and You’ll direct my paths. You alone know best because Your ways are higher than my ways, and Your thoughts are higher than my thoughts. Without faith it’s impossible to please You, so I’ll draw near to You and believe that You reward those who seek You. God, You call me blessed because I have not seen, yet I still believe. You always keep Your promises, and You don’t change like shifting shadows. You’re my dwelling place, my helper, my strength, and my defense. You are mighty, robed in majesty, armed with strength, compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love. You made the heavens, formed the dry land, and Your renown endures through all generations. You won’t slumber but will watch over my life. You fashioned the ear, formed the eye, and determine the number of stars and call them each by name. God, You are the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, and there is no one in all the world like You. (YouVersion original devotional, Praying God’s Truth Over My Fears)

He is by Crowder from the album “Milk and Honey.”

swept clean by grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us rejoice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1!1!1!

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

ɯʎ ʍɐʎ oɟ ʇɥᴉuʞᴉuƃ

“Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens.” Psalm 123:1 (NKJV)

Say what?!?!  No, that’s not some new sort of language used for this post’s title.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s “my way of thinking” literally turned upside down.  After all, when you’re in a relationship with Jesus, the One who has come to set captives like you and me free, our priorities and perspectives, our very way of thinking, are going to be shaken up.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed;”  Luke 4:18 (NKJV) (note: see also Isaiah 61:1)

Sam Cooke may not have been singing about Jesus in his old song, “A Change Gonna Come,” but the lyrics are spot-on in this case because change is guaranteed when He is involved in your life.  It’s inescapable given the vast differences between a holy, just, loving, and infinite God, our Creator, and ourselves, His created, His children.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.  “For 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 (NKJV)

If you’re at all like me, then more times than I’d like to admit, I need to be reminded I do not always see things as clearly as I think I do.    In short, I am wholly unqualified to be a measuring stick, and that most notably so when I’m the one in need of measurement.  That True North Measuring Yardstick position thankfully lies solely and rightfully with the Lord, who is holy qualified.

“All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits.” Proverbs 16:2 (NKJV)

A case in point about our eyes being fallible is this post’s photo. There’s more going on with this picture than you might first guess. All is not as it initially appears.  Why would I say that?  Well, that’s because both this post’s title and the photo are upside down.

You may be surprised to learn that this photograph captures a reflection in the water.  I flipped the image around so it would look right-side-up for this post.  Those of you who took a second look at the snapshot before you started reading might have already figured that out.  Suddenly those strange, concentric rings in the sky begin to make a lot more sense once you realize they’re not some freak weather phenomenon but instead are ripples on the water’s surface.

All this to say the obvious: we are prone to make snap, incorrect analyses and judgments.  Why?  Because we unreasonably trust ourselves to a fault, which often leads us to unknowingly not seeing things as they are.  Now that’s a scary thought when you stop and think about it.  So, what are we to do?  Where is hope to be found for our blurry, and at times all-together blind understanding?

“We must rely on the mercy of the only One who is able to turn all that is upside down right side up.” Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)

When my wayward reasoning sails headlong into the incalculably higher and perfectly pure ways and thoughts of the Rock of Ages, Jesus, a transformative change in my way of thinking occurs.  

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV)

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.  John 10:10 (NKJV)

Growing up, we quickly learn to avoid collisions with rocks as much as possible.  However, colliding with Jesus is the most significant, life-changing impact with a Rock that we will ever experience in our lives.  This remarkable journey begins when we first believe and claim Him as our Savior transporting us from being spiritually dead to alive.  Having welcomed us into His Kingdom, He then continuously refines us throughout our lifetimes.  Knowing and being known by Jesus guarantees we will undergo much-needed changes in our understanding and thus in our actions. We are, after all, as followers of Jesus, His ongoing works in progress in this life.     Can I get a joyful hallelujah?

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

Let me share a story that turned my thinking on its head and, in doing so, revealed the unobstructed, breathtaking view that exists far above the treeline of my limited understanding.   

A couple of years ago, a vacationing family lost their dog not far from where I live.  Somehow the dog managed to escape from the house they were renting, and he was gone before they knew what had happened.  They and a good number of newly met neighbors spent the remainder of their vacation week desperately searching for him.  Despite everyone’s best efforts, the dog remained on the loose, and at the end of the week, the owners reluctantly and tearfully had no choice but to make the long drive back home a few states away without their beloved pet.

About a month after the fact, I spotted one of their “lost dog” flyers at a local store that told their sad story about what had happened.   Animal lover that I am, I immediately empathized with their painful circumstances.  What did I do about it?  Well, I got in my car and searched through the area where the dog had last been spotted, of course.  I did that several times over the next week, all to no avail.

It turns out that, like the upside-down photo, there was more to this adventure than I ever first imagined or understood.  As a child of God, why would one expect anything else?

“Notice that in the tales told in Scripture, whenever God gets hold of a man he takes that man into an adventure of the first order.” John Eldredge, Fathered By God

Although I didn’t find the lost dog I was searching for, I did discover something else was also missing.  Or, rephrased, what was initially lost was not found, but something else of great importance was found to be lost along the way. 

During what turned out to be my last drive-around looking for the off-course dog, I was interrupted by a profound thought that welled up seemingly out of nowhere.  Like a late September gust of wind, it stripped the leaves of my wayward point of view from their branches, saying, “It’s good that your compassion compelled you to search for this family’s lost pet.  If only you were as passionate about sharing Jesus with people.”  And in that instant, I knew that, like the lost dog, I was also wandering far from home.

“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.”  John 15:2 (NKJV)

Indeed, when was the last time I’d been sincerely concerned enough about a person’s spiritual condition that I jumped into action as I did for this lost pet?  Sadly, I couldn’t remember such a time.  Confronted by such an indisputable truth, how do you respond?  My reply then, as it still is today in the midst of sharing this story with you, is one with bowed head in humble silence.

Please understand I’m not saying that my feelings for this lost dog were wrong because they weren’t.  That is not the reason I’m telling you all of this. Like I’ve already said, searching for the dog was about so much more than what it appeared to be.  Instead, I’m relaying this story to highlight a change that I needed to make.  In short, my eyes were opened to truths about myself that I’d been blind to for far too long.

“A person wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.”  Benjamin Franklin

Throughout the majority of my life, I was reclusive when it came to sharing my faith.  My search for the dog aimed a spotlight directly into that dark and all-too silent corner of myself.  I searched for the lost dog by myself, involved no one else, and frankly was comfortable keeping it that way.  Upon hearing that declaration, my former overly-reserved spiritual self would assuredly observe, “If it’s true that no man is an island, then I am a peninsula.”

But, if keeping Jesus to myself was acceptable, why was I being encouraged to be passionate about sharing Him?  The heat from the friction between these two opposite positions demanded an answer to this question.  The Bible has something to say about this issue, of course.

“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)

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”  Matthew 28:19-20 (NKJV)

Matthew 28:19-20 made me feel incredibly uncomfortable for practically as long as I can remember.  Why?  Well, because instead of enthusiastically pursuing Jesus’s clearly stated mission, I found myself wanting to run away and hide. 

The truth is my detached attitude existed because I was afraid. The fear that gripped me found its roots in thoughts and feelings I instinctively knew were wrong, yet it still bound and restrained me in its chains.  Yes, you can call them strongholds over me if you like.

I can relate to Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus just before His crucifixion. As undeniably awful as Peter’s failure was, at least his actions occurred because he believed his life was in jeopardy.  Sadly, my withdrawal was the product of much lesser reasoning and motivation than that.  

Embarrassingly, the first reason I was afraid to share Jesus was for no more cause other than what others might think or say.  My upbringing resulted in my thinking that personal faith in Christ was indeed precisely that, private, meaning I’m to keep it to myself, period.  Growing up and for a long time afterward, I made it a point to avoid becoming one of “those”  people who injected themselves and their faith into situations and onto people without a personal invitation to do so.  And if you would please make that a written invitation, so much the better.  Silence in this matter was considered a golden virtue.

Secondly, I had bought into the mistaken notion that I should remain silent because I lacked the necessary qualifications to voice my faith.  Perhaps a sample of some of my reasoning will sound familiar to you:  I have no formal Christian education;  I don’t know the Bible as well as I should;  I don’t know how to present the Gospel smoothly and clearly;  I have no business sharing Jesus with anybody because I’ve made lots of my own mistakes along the way;  What if I mess up and get it wrong?

When combined, these misconceptions successfully kept me locked away in the dark.  I accepted these lies as truth for years and saw myself as someone who had no business sharing my faith.  Thinking like this, I was held captive on an endless merry-go-round of self-fulfilling prophecy going nowhere. 

But then an unexpected rescue happened in the middle of my search for the lost dog.  Abruptly awakened from the hypnotic trance of the lies, I was finally ready to get off this spinning ride that had kept me dizzy and off-balance for far too long.  But, how?  

“casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NKJV)

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”  Romans 12:2 (NKJV)

The author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, says, “instead of focusing on a goal you want to achieve, focus on the identity you want to have.”   Hmmmm.  My goal is to share my faith.  What if I were to readjust my focus from what I want to accomplish to who I want to be?  Better still, let’s take that thought a significant step further:  What if I began to see myself as He sees me?

The more you reaffirm who you are in Christ, the more your behavior will begin to reflect your true identity. Neil T. Anderson

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  John 1:12-13 (NKJV)

He says I am His child.  And so are you, my brother and sister in Christ!

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. “  2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV)

Studying His Word qualifies me as His approved worker.  And you as well!

“So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21 (NKJV)

He sees me as a voice, a herald, for Him.  And you likewise!

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

“Christ is mine, and I am His” is the one essential attribute I must have that empowers me to share Him with others.  And you are no different!

“that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”  Isaiah 61:3b (ESV)

He has firmly planted me in Christ’s righteousness for His glory.  And you, too!

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 2:4-5 (NKJV)

I am to have Christ’s mind that is concerned about others as well as myself.  And so are you!

It is Jesus’s remarkable healing touch, strength, and purpose that graciously calls and enables us to travel roads that were previously unfamiliar to us.  Gone are the dead-end streets of our choosing, and wide-open are the roads unlike any others with an extraordinary view of life in all directions of His choosing.

“But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”  Mark 10:27 (NKJV)

As we walk these roads, we are to share His life with others we meet along the way who are lost as we, too, once were lost.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,”  Ephesians 3:20 (NKJV)

“Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.”  Hebrews 12:12-13 (NKJV)

“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”  Romans 6:4 (NKJV)

No doubt all you pet lovers are probably wondering whatever became of the lost dog.  Six months after he first went missing, a full-page article in the local newspaper happily reported a most unlikely reunion between the dog and his family thanks to the tireless efforts of concerned neighbors who refused to give up hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”  Galatians 6:9 (NKJV)

I’m humbly and gratefully overwhelmed as I reflect on this entire story’s most unlikely unfolding.   What began as a seemingly “no-big-deal” decision to search for a lost dog turned into an extraordinary adventure of significance concerning a missing, critical aspect of my walk with Jesus that I never saw coming.

Jesus turned my thinking on its head thanks to a stunning, unanticipated plot twist.  Never in a million years did I think when I began looking for the lost dog that Jesus was simultaneously looking for a lost part of me.  Like those neighbors who never gave up on finding the missing dog,  He never gave up on that missing piece of me, a rescue that was years in the making.  And friend, He’s not given up on you either, no matter how far from home you’ve wandered, no matter what part of you is missing. Even now Jesus is calling out to you. Do you hear Him?

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?  And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.  Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”  Matthew 18:12-14 (NKJV)

Pray with me, please…

Lord, encourage and lead us to ask You to do the impossible, the unlikely, the unanticipated, the out-of-the-ordinary in the ordinary of our lives, even in areas where we are blind or only dimly see.  Turn our world, our thinking, upside down with Your truth so that we rightly see according to Your ways and not ours.  May we always know that Your plans and intentions for us are good, and our future is full of hope because of Your loving presence and sovereignty.  Let the life-transforming ripples of Your love and kindness cause us to walk in the newness of life that only You can provide and, in turn, lovingly share Your good news with others so that they, too, can experience Your life-giving freedom.  We humbly thank You and praise You for Your longsuffering, Your mercy, Your grace, Your unwillingness to leave us as You found us.  Oh Lord, we were indeed lost, and we knew it not, but now we are found, safe and secure in Your strong and loving arms.  Thank You for calling us to experience and to share all Your higher ground has to offer.  We ask all of this in Your Son’s name, our precious Savior, Jesus.  Amen.”

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

Yes indeed, You most certainly have, Lord!  And we are grateful!

1!1!1!

Todd Agnew, “Grace Like Rain” from the album “Grace Like Rain.”

trucks top rescue

(photo courtesy of Mindi H.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (radio version)

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