“What or whom we worship determines our behaviour.” John Murray
The eclectic line of people silently stretched as far as the eye could see away from the building. Persons from all walks of life were present: the old, the young, the rich, the poor, the powerful, and the powerless, some with hats in hand and heads bowed low, others with their noses up in the air. From time to time, the building’s front doors would open, but only long enough to admit the next one waiting in line to enter.
Once inside, each person found themselves alone in a large, silent auditorium illuminated by a single window. A sense of reverence permeated the room. “Hello, is anyone there?” they half-whispered as their eyes anxiously scanned the room for a felt but not seen presence. The silence quickly returned as the faint echoes of their question disappeared. Hearing no reply, they turned their attention to the light offered by the window, which drew them ever closer. A few pressed their noses against the glass, while others stood back at varying distances gazing at the outside world they had just left. Suddenly a voice, remarkable in its gentle nature, enveloped the entire room, saying, “What are your thoughts about the world as you look through the window? What do you see?”
So many people, so many uniquely individual answers to the question, as one might guess. Yet, despite the diversity found in such a large crowd, their answers leaned in one of two directions.
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Some pursue the world as if it’s a prize or trophy to be obtained for personal gain without regard for the cost. It’s an enticing but ultimately deceptive take-no-prisoners lifestyle approach that leaves misery and regret in its wake sooner or later.
“The world is my oyster.” (A well-known, slightly modernized quote from Shakespeare’s, The Merry Wives of Windsor)
I can’t help but think about the “old” Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dicken’s beloved “AChristmas Carol” before he experienced the visitation of the three Christmas spirits.
“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Now there’s some irony for you, eh? Those who view the world as their oyster for the taking become an oyster themselves, desperately clutching a pearl of their making, unwilling and afraid to share it with anyone else.
“We become what we behold.” William Blake, Jerusalem
Is such a solitary oyster-like existence all that surprising, given such persons view themselves as life’s singular, all-important reference point around which the world orbits? The voracious flock of seagulls from the animated movie “Finding Nemo” immediately come to mind, loudly squawking, “Mine, mine, MINE!” as they coveted the objection of their affection.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 (NKJV)
And therein lies sadness and danger if the treasures we hold near and dear to us are solely self-serving.
“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:26 (NKJV)
“We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living but not a life. We’ve added years to life, not life to years.” George Carlin
In due course, the knife called unavoidable pries the precious pearl from deep within the oyster loose, it now intended for another’s hands. How can we be so foolish and short-sighted?
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 1 Timothy 6:7 (NKJV)
Ah, but this is graciously no ordinary window that beckons us ever nearer to embrace the life-changing view of the world it offers. Perhaps you noticed the cross in the window immediately, as did I. It reminds us that a vibrant relationship with God through Jesus is the gateway to truth and meaning as we go about our daily lives interacting with the world through eyes, hearts, and minds other than our own.
“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)
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV)
Jesus is the window, the True North we seek, through which radiant hope shines for a darkened and despairing world.
All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 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 10:8-10 (NKJV)
He shows us a still better way of viewing and engaging with the world.
“I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:35 (NKJV)
“It’s about how we can love people, how we can make a difference for other people. I really believe in God’s economy, which is different than how we talk about our economy. In our economy, in order to have more, you take more. But in God’s economy-you give more.” Tim Tebow
And now it is your turn to enter through the doors into the room set aglow by the light streaming in through the single window. As you gaze out through the window, the gentle voice asks, “What are your thoughts about the world as you look through the window? What do you see?”
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.33 Butseek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matthew 6:31-33 (NKJV)
Start Right Here by Casting Crowns (single version)
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 (NKJV)
“What are you aiming at in your heart of hearts?” Jordan Peterson
When I spotted the X-shaped jet contrails in the sky as I was driving, the Will Smith-Chris Rock “slap” debacle at this year’s Oscars was fresh on my mind. Disappointment and sadness hovered over me as my mind replayed Mr. Smith’s unfortunate actions. An opportunity to rise above circumstances by demonstrating a better way to handle friction in one’s life had landed with a resounding and uncomfortable Humpty Dumpty thud. What a mess and a cautionary tale about the vital importance of keeping one’s eye where it belongs. Indeed, what hope does a person have to hinder negative, harmful, God-dishonoring actions?
As I considered the implications of the solitary “X’s” location in the sky relative to Smith’s regrettable confrontation, the notion, “You’ve gotta aim high,” came to mind. I suppose some will say to that, “Well, of course, you do!” For me, however, this visual cue was an oh-so-timely and welcome reminder of where a person’s attention needs to be focused lest they land in pieces on the ground too.
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18 (NKJV)
A heart focused on the wrong things will get you in trouble sooner or later.
So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Matthew 14:29-30 (NLT)
As a sinner saved by grace, it’s imperative to take your eyes off this world and focus your sights heavenward towards Jesus.
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. Colossians 3:1-2 (NKJV)
Talking about aiming high is one thing, but employing God-honoring actions takes things to a new level of significance and impact. Of course, words matter, so we should always be mindful of them, but physical steps accompanied by words that line up with biblical principles are compelling and winsome in the love light they bring to a dark world.
My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18 (NKJV)
And how are we to accomplish what is not natural to us? Through our individual strength and power? Through our resolve and determination? Hardly. We see where that sort of thinking can get a person. Yes, we’re all aware we must be intentional, but purposeful towards what end exactly? As my good friend Steve B. says, “Keep the main thing the main thing. First things first. And that’s Jesus.”
As I pondered the “X,” I couldn’t help but notice its location suspended between heaven and earth, as if visualizing the role of Jesus, who bridges the gap between holy God and sinful man.
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NKJV)
Knowing and being known by Jesus is the key to living your best life, the life God has in mind for you.
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. John 15:5 (NKJV)
How does one go about “abiding in Christ?” If you want to abide in Christ, a change in thinking is needed.
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)
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
Where can you find such trustworthy guidance? Let’s turn our attention to the “X” again for the answer. Perhaps you’ve already thought, “X marks the spotfor buried treasure!” As a lover of maps, this was my very next thought following the “aiming high” inspiration.
Ah yes, but this is no ordinary earth-bound “X,” so it stands to reason the treasure chest of valuables it brings attention to is extraordinary too, priceless actually. No regular shovel will get this celestial job done. A shovel of a different sort is required to unearth the bounty this treasure has to offer. Let me encourage you to grab the shovel of perseverance and hope firmly with both hands and dig with all of your might. You will not be disappointed. Trust that your faithful and obedient digging will reap the rewards of God’s promises found in the treasure trove of wisdom and truth awaiting you in God’s Word, the bible.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. Psalm 1:1-3 (NKJV)
Can you imagine being like such a magnificent tree?!?!
to grant to those who mourn in Zion-to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called, an oak of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified! (Isaiah 61:3, ESV)
Oh yes, this most certainly is a treasure like non-other, far and above anything the world can offer.
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)
Upon what path does the Lord send you to accomplish such a remarkable transformation?
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)
As I bring this post to a close, there is one final thought I’d like to share with you about the giant “X” in the sky. Perhaps you’ve already considered it. I’d be delighted to know you have. What does “X” stand for in Hebrew? Yes, “Christ.” Indeed, Jesus stands right in front of us for all to see. Do you see Him? I pray you do because He already has His eye on you.
My friend, aim your heart at Jesus in all you do. Run to Him, the treasure of all treasures, and as you do so, may you find the rest in His loving embrace of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love you so desperately seek.
That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3 (NKJV)
Lord, “Fill the garden of my soul with the wind of love, that the scents of the Christian life may be wafted to others; then come and gather fruits to thy glory. So shall I fulfill the great end of my being-to glorify thee and be a blessing to men.” In Jesus’ name. ( The Valley of Vision, Things Needful, edited by Arthur Bennett)
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 2 Peter 1:5-7 (NKJV)
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, 2 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. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)
“Abide in Me” by Andrew Marcus from the album “Abide in Me.”
“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” Habukkuk 3:17-18 (NLT)
When I think about birds, two things immediately come to mind: flying and singing. Indeed most people would say a bird unable to either fly or sing is, well, less of a bird, especially so if it was no longer capable of flying. I can’t help but wonder out loud, though, “Is it possible God sees such a bird as ‘more than’ when all we see is ‘less than?'”
What would your answer be if I were to ask you to tell me two vital things about yourself that are integral to who you are, like we just mentioned about birds regarding flying and singing? Do you have those attributes firmly in mind? Good. Imagine what it would be like if something happened and you lost one of the two traits for an undetermined length of time. In other words, you don’t know whether the loss is temporary or permanent. What might your attitude be? Your outlook? What emotions might you experience? Would you shake your fist at God? Or would you praise Him despite your circumstances?
“It’s easy to love and trust God when life is good, but when things fall apart is when you find out what we truly believe.” Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (the devotional)
Let me tell you a remarkable story about a lady and a bird as told to me by my wife last week. One of her Facebook friends originally shared the story as I understand it. It’s a story that points the way forward towards higher ground for all who find themselves struggling to keep their heads and their hopes up in deep, stormy waters. I hope you will be as touched by it as I continue to be.
“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.” A. W. Tozer
Before I begin this story, let me first make mention of God’s photo provision before I ever heard this story. A few days earlier, we had a bird fly into one of our windows at the back of our house. Stunned from the impact, it fell on the outdoor couch between the seat back and the cushions. This situation was unusual because it was a cardinal rather than the typical dove we usually see. Intrigued by this uncommon occurrence, I took the photo. Little did I know at that time that I’d need an image of a cardinal sitting in an unusual setting for a story I’d be inspired to share a few days later. And yes, for all you fellow bird lovers out there, I’m happy to report that the bird fully recovered and was gone just a few minutes later after I took the picture.
As the story goes, it seems this lady was driving down the street at the beginning of a hectic day filled with appointments when she happened upon a cardinal sitting in the middle of the road. The bird didn’t attempt to fly off as she drove closer, so she pulled off to the side and parked her car for a closer look at this unexpected sight. Realizing something must be wrong for the bird to act like that, she gently scooped it up and placed it in a cardboard box she happened to have in her car. Instead of going ahead with her busy schedule, she immediately drove to an animal shelter, hoping someone could help the bird out. The person examining the bird explained to her that, most likely, the bird had a broken clavicle (collarbone) and had only a 50-50 chance of recovery from this severe and excruciating injury. If she wanted to help, the best thing for her to do would be to take the bird home, nurse it as best she could, and then wait and see what happens, realizing the bird may not ever fly again or possibly die. Not surprisingly, the lady decided to take the bird home with her.
In an unexpected twist on the drive home, the lady said she and the bird shared a “moment” of sorts as they made eye contact. And then, to the lady’s delight and amazement, the cardinal broke out into a song and continued to sing most of the rest of the way home. Happily, the bird healed over the next several weeks, and as instructed, the lady took it back to where she found it and released it back into its home territory.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Vivian Greene
You know, friend, I’ve thought about this story a lot since first hearing it. Do you want to know what tugs at my heartstrings about it? It’s the bird still singing despite the pain, despite being unable to fly, and despite finding itself in strange and threatening surroundings. I have to ask, “Would I still sing under such difficult and painful circumstances where I’ve lost something of great value, something I consider to be part of who I am? Do I have the faith and trust in God to sing His praises during challenging times that shake me to my very core?”
“Faith isn’t fact until it’s tested.” Steve Wiggins, Groundworks Ministry
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Corrie ten Boom
The story of an underdog facing seemingly insurmountable odds stirs my heart like none other. This tale is that kind of story, and it brings to mind that old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” God has called us to make lemonade with Him no matter our circumstances. Why? For His glory. Do you know Him to be a good, good Father? Do you believe He is sovereign? Your willingness to sing His praises even while surrounded by lemons depends upon Who you believe God to be and the degree of intimacy you have with Him.
“There is a correlation between our sense of security and the depth of our understanding of God’s love.” David Jeremiah
Ah, yes, if we but truly grasped the unsurpassed depth of God’s love for us, we would never be shaken, and our days would overflow with waterfalls of heartfelt singing.
“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “’Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” Mark 9:24 (NKJV)
I’ve taken the liberty of changing a few words from an iconic song (Singin’ in the Rain) to help illustrate this story’s takeaways. The original word is noted in parentheses. And, yes, of course, this song is the source of inspiration for this post’s title.
“I’m singin’ in the pain (rain) Just singin’ in the pain (rain) What a glorious feeling I’m happy again I’m laughin’ at clouds So dark up above The Son’s (sun’s) in my heart And I’m ready for love Let the stormy clouds chase Everyone from the place Come on with the pain (rain) I’ve a smile on my face I’ll walk down the lane With a happy refrain Just singin’ Singin’ in the pain (rain)”
Writer/s: Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown Publisher: BMG Rights Management, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind
When the painful times come into our lives, and Jesus assures us they will, may we find the courage, trust, and faith to sing His praises despite the heartaches. He has, after all, overcome the world. Do we believe God to be sovereign? Let all who know this to be true be of good cheer.
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NKJV)
“But I will sing of Your power; Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; For You have been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble.” Psalm 59:16 (NKJV)
“The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.” Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible
I’m blessed and inspired, as I hope you are as well, by this moving and encouraging story about the cardinal singing amid a life-threatening storm. Yes, these are the type of stories that thrill and lift my heart above the stormy waters that threaten to capsize and sink me. May I live an authentic and vibrant “more than” life that points others to God even during dark and treacherous times. Because of You, Jesus, I can sing it is well with my soul. Let us sing His praises, my friend.
“Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:22-25 (NKJV) (emphasis mine)
Soul’s Anthem (It Is Well) by Alisha Mino and John Rose
“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.
“Jesus rarely comes where we exect Him; He appears where we we least expect Him, and always in the most illogical connections. The only way a worker can keep true to God is by being ready for the Lord’s surprise visits.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest
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).”
“God is infinite, and because God is infinite, you and I can be bold and brave in the universe, just the same as the little boy who is brave when his father is around.” A. W. Tozer, Delighting in God
Recently, my wife and I went out for a later than usual lunch at one of our favorite beachside restaurants. Accompanying us was my unwanted sullen attitude, which only worsened as a long line of other hopeful diners unexpectedly greeted us at our restaurant of choice.
Patience challenged as I was, I suggested we leave and find a place where we could walk right in with no waiting, but my wife brushed right past my attempts to avoid the crowd, cheerfully observing, “What else do we have to do this afternoon?” She was right, of course. It’s just that I didn’t want to hear such positivity as she joyfully, and I begrudgingly took our place at the back of the line.
Why my lousy attitude? Simply put, I was under siege by a ruthless army of restless, negative thoughts feasting on my worries of “what wasn’t yet, but might be.”
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 12:25 (NIV)
Despite the crowd, we somehow ended up getting the table we’d both choose if we were the only people there. Sitting outdoors at this time of year overlooking the beach is nothing short of a breath of fresh air, yet my gloominess refused to budge an inch even in the face of our good seating fortune.
All the while, I was trying to tamp my negativity down to prevent our afternoon from becoming a washout. I felt like I was falling in slow motion off a cliff, yet there was nothing I could seemingly do about it even though I knew better, which made it even worse for me. I was aboard a self-pity train headed fast towards nowhere good that I desperately wanted to jump off of but maddeningly couldn’t. Such a tight spot is so frustrating and debilitating for professing Christians to find themselves in, especially for one who writes about my faith as I do. And with that thought, another chain wrapped itself around my leg.
But then something fortuitously happened out of the blue that completely rearranged and refocused my thinking. Or perhaps I should be bolder and use the word “providentially?”
“Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
We had been watching a dove sitting forlornly on a nearby ceiling fan blade. You see, it couldn’t find its way off the seasonally enclosed deck. While observing the weary bird’s dilemma, I had already ironically thought to myself, “It seems that I’m not the only one trapped today.” If misery loves company, then the dove was my company. Suddenly, the bird left the overhead fan blade and landed directly on my head, much to my and everyone else’s surprise and amusement.
There’s something remarkably transformative whenever you perceive yourself as seen instead of unseen, you know? It’s so encouraging and uplifting. Here’s how my friend, Mindi, put it in my “trucks top rescue“ post when she was battling feelings of abandonment during a rough time in her life, “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.” Amen? Amen!
“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” C. H. Mackintosh
“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)
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)
In that moment of clarity, just as Mindi had experienced, my burdens were left behind as my thoughts also turned away from myself and towards Him. A few short minutes later, with the help of some other diners, the dove also found welcome release from its captivity, as well.
The enemy would have you believe you’re a forgotten castaway adrift on a raft all alone. The truth is just the opposite: the Lord always has His eyes on you because He is always with you, His precious and deeply loved child.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NKJV)
“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.” Psalm 23:4 (NKJV)
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NKJV)
“For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” Isaiah 41:13 (NKJV)
“’ 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 28:20 (NKJV)
This particular day I needed to be reminded of the Lord’s promises. I needed to refocus my attention on Him. Graciously that mindset change was initiated by a dove improbably landing on my head.
“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Colossians 3:2 (NKJV)
As much as I’d like to say my faith is rock-solid 24/7, it’s not. The good news for you and me, though, is that while we have our ups and downs, our heavenly Father never wavers!
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8 (NKJV)
I pray this story is an encouragement and reminder for you to turn your focus on Jesus regardless of your circumstances. When you do so, He gloriously transforms your sore earth-bound thoughts into thoughts that majestically soar heavenwards. May you experience that sweet relief in Him!
“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NKJV)
“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 (NKJV)
“You Raise Me Up-Acoustic” by Selah from the album “You Raise Me Up: Greatest Hits.”
“For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1 Corinthians 6:20 (NKJV)
Have you ever purposefully bought something you knew was defective? I never thought I’d find myself doing that, but that’s what happened a few days ago. And unexpectedly, there was Jesus wonderfully right in the middle of my conversation with the cashier about my improbable purchase.
If you read my last post, “Humilability,” then you already know I’ve had the Japanese art form known as Kintsugi on my mind. So much so that I decided I wanted to try my hand at it. I was in the process of buying something at the last minute for my art-venture when a “refreshing summer rain” moment of understanding in the checkout lane occurred.
Let me refresh your mind about Kintsugi before moving on with this story.
Kintsugi is a Japanese art form that takes shattered pottery and makes it whole by mending the broken pieces together with glue typically containing silver, gold, or platinum. Upon completion, the revitalized object becomes more valuable and desirable than it was initially. Those who follow this style of art delight in the object’s history as revealed by the repaired joints. In other words, the rejuvenated vessel tells a story of hope through its rebirth that is cause for much celebration.
Returning to the story, I had already bought everything I thought I needed for my project but still had one last stop to make for my wife before heading home. She had asked me to buy a clay pot, so I stopped by the local gardening center knowing they would have a good selection. While looking for just the right clay pot for her, I noticed a chipped and cracked one. As soon as I did, a light bulb immediately went off in my head, and I realized it’d be a great addition to my collection of Kintsugi project material. Why smash up something in perfect shape when I could break up something that was already flawed? So, I happily picked up the broken pot along with a good one for my wife and headed to the checkout lane.
After a short wait in line, I placed the two pots I wished to purchase on the counter. As the cashier scanned the items, she paused over the broken one and looked up at me with a questioning expression on her face.
Cashier: “Did you know this pot is broken?”
Cashier: “And you still want it?”
Me: “Yes, I have plans for it.”
No sooner had those words been said when a spiritual sonic boom stirred my soul, recrystallizing the reality of a precious gift I far too often fail to acknowledge and cherish rightly. Indeed, just as I had plans for the broken pot, how much more so does Jesus have plans for broken me?
“For I know theplans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV)
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)
There is a huge difference, of course, in the method of payment for these items. Jesus purchased me with His life, while all I did was hand over a few dollars for the flowerpot. He gave all, I gave little.
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13 (NKJV)
Before I stepped into the picture, the trash heap was that defective clay pot’s only future where it would join countless other items also considered worthless and of no use. However, the funny thing now is it sits next to me on my bookshelf in plain sight as a treasured reminder of where I’d be right now without Jesus. There now was no way I was going to bust it up as I had initially planned after being gifted with such a beautiful flash of insight. God has such a wholly (holy!) excellent way of turning my thoughts and plans upside down, you know?
“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV)
How did this broken pot land in a position of honor in my office instead of lost in a landfill? Simply put, I had plans for it where no one else did and was then willing and able to do something about it. That is the sole reason this little clay pot has a new home beside me.
“Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19 (NKJV)
As a believer, the soul (yes, that’s purposeful spelling on my part) reason I now have an eternal future overflowing with hope is that Jesus saw my need and was willing and able to do something about it.
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 (NKJV)
“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)
He put my brokenness, my chips, if you will, on His shoulders at great cost to Himself. And He’s done the same for you.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6 (NKJV)
“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV)
What are the Lord’s plans for you, my brother and sister in Christ, and for me? He has prepared a place of honor for us with Him.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:3 (NKJV)
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2 (NKJV)
But there’s more, so much more. It’s beyond astonishing when you think about it!
“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)
Have you sincerely thanked God today for His active presence in your life, for the priceless gift of rebirth out of brokenness He has bestowed upon you through His Son, our Savior, Jesus?
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
Come to the Table by Sidewalk Prophets from the album “Something Different.”
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)
“Content.” Now there’s an interesting word. What’s the meaning or significance of this word as it applies to your life?
“Well, that depends on which ‘content’ you’re asking about,” you say. “With the word standing there all alone, I can’t be fully content to tell you the answer to that question until I know the full content of what you have in mind since it could be one of two possibilities. At the very least, you’re going to have to use it in a sentence; otherwise, I’m going to keep bouncing back and forth between the two choices. So, you tell me, which one are you talking about here?”
To that, I enthusiastically jump to my feet and reply, “Both!”
Now that we’re on our feet, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page regarding the distinct meanings of these two identically spelled but differently pronounced words. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “content” as “everything that is contained within something.” It also informs us that the other pronunciation of “content” means “pleased with your situation and not hoping for change or improvement.”
Our level of contentment is determined by how content or satisfied we are with the contents of our lives. Generally speaking, when we perceive our content or the components to be favorable, we’re content. But when the contents of our life take a turn for the worse, we become woeful or even fearful.
In a sense, these two words relate to each other a bit like our feet. In one scenario, they work together in harmony like finely tuned, graceful dance partners, serenely gliding across the floor. Or, conversely, they’re like two left feet noisily and clumsily stepping all over each other on the dance floor, which frequently results in a memorable faceplant of viral social media proportions. By the way, I fall into the latter category of these two as I’m no Fred Astaire.
For many of us, when a significant component of our lives that we’ve come to depend upon falters, so do we. Experiencing the loss of a job, relationship troubles, financial issues, or an impending health crisis, to name a few, are undoubtedly challenging turns of events that threaten our well-being. The Apostle Paul certainly experienced various potentially life-altering and, at times, life-threatening circumstances. No doubt he had more than his fair share of the scars to prove it, too.
“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 11:25-27 (NIV)
Theologians generally agree that Paul wrote about those trials about six years before he penned the following words in Philippians:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:11-12 (NIV)
These verses in Philippians stand in stark contrast to the world’s perspective of contentment. Paul’s steadfastness and confidence are even more remarkable, considering he wrote them while being unjustly confined in prison. How was he able to avoid falling into despair regardless of the situation? Why doesn’t he have two left feet? What is the secret he has found?
Paul’s ability to be content in all circumstances did not just magically and suddenly appear one day in his spiritual arsenal. No, far from it. Each of his visible and invisible scars wrought from his experiences became graduation diplomas of trust and understanding in the Lord’s plans for his life beautifully and lovingly engraved on his heart.
Does the relationship between “content” and “content” as they influence our contentment not exist for Paul? At first glance, it might perhaps seem they’re disconnected, but given a bit more thought, the answer is an emphatic “no!” The difference is Paul can confidently say what he does because of the eternal Who that fills his life up, rather than the temporal whats that fills up the majority of most other people’s lives.
“To know something in your head is one thing; to feel it in your heart is another. And I think most Christians are trying to be happy without a sense of the Presence. The Presence is here, but the sense of the Presence is absent. The sense of the Presence is absent and that yearning you see is a desire to be nearer to God.” A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God.
Paul is content because he fully embraces the sovereignty and presence of God in his life. He understands that so long as his life is full of the Lord, Who is good beyond measure, his outward conditions are of little consequence. The when, where, how, and why of his circumstances are no longer uncomfortable mysteries tormenting him. He recognizes his place in God’s hand. And that gives him hope.
“for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13 (NKJV)
Paul is a person completely sold out for God.
“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God” Romans 1:1 (NKJV)
“Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” Philippians 2:14-15 (NKJV)
Paul has learned the secret for true contentment.
“I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 (NIV)
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.” Isaiah 55:2 (NKJV)
“But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ “Matthew 4:4 (NKJV)
“I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:24 (NIV)
In the end, all of the worldly what’s we have come to believe in as necessary to secure our contentment are mere smoke and mirrors. In them, we stack clay bricks made without straw that cannot possibly support our weight when the storms of life come our way.
“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand:27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” Matthew 7:26-27 (NKJV)
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NKJV)
Only God, Who is the same today, yesterday, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), is an eternal rock that is utterly dependable.
“Thereforewhoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25 (NKJV)
Where are you searching in your quest to secure your contentment?
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” C. S. Lewis, A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis
“My home is in heaven. I’m just passing through this world.” Billy Graham
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20 (NKJV)
“Wait a little while, O my soul, wait for the divine promise, and thou shalt have abundance of all good things in heaven.” Thomas a Kempis.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV)
“The secret to happiness is to be content no matter the situation. My life isn’t going to make my happiness. My happiness is going to make my life.” Full Count, the movie.
Dear friend, I don’t know where you are or what’s going on in your life, but one thing I do know: He alone is the Source for true and lasting joy that creates and sustains contentment. Content in and through Jesus is where we are meant to be!
He! Is! Worthy!
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NKJV)
Be Still and Know by Christy Nockels from the album Healer
“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. 9 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, 9 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 callson the name of theLordshall 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. 8 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. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 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, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 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.)
“Grace Upon Grace” by Matthew West, from the album, “Brand New.”
“Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’” Revelation 21:5 (NKJV)
“I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all. That is something that you cannot say aloud, or perhaps even think.” Sigmund Freud
We’ve all heard it said, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” I was recently blessed to consider this well-worn statement from a spiritual perspective.
Black bears are a pretty standard sight where I live. They routinely show up in all of the various neighborhoods in the area in search of food. Their favorite target? The practically unlimited and readily available buffet of residential trash cans.
As you might guess, bears are sloppy diners. They’re never worried about the mess their uninvited foraging leaves behind, which can be pretty substantial if they happen upon a heavily loaded garbage can.
A few weeks ago, the bears treated themselves to an early breakfast at the front of our subdivision. The aftermath of the bear’s morning celebration stretched from one side of the road to the other, resulting in one resident, a lady, pretty overwhelmed with the clean-up task in front of her.
Upon seeing her predicament, I decided the right thing to do would be to lend her a helping hand. I have to tell you that I did so with some reluctance because I knew this was a recurring problem for this family. After all, they were known by all the neighbors never to secure their garbage cans overnight. In other words, this wasn’t their first post-bear-buffet-clean-up rodeo.
To further add to my less-than-pure motives, as I was picking things up, another neighbor came up to me to point out there were more piles of garbage “over there between those houses and be sure not to miss them.” And yes, you’d be right in guessing I got a bit Clint Eastwood-squint-eyed upon hearing that comment. Fortunately, the sunglasses I was wearing at the time did an excellent job of hiding my displeasure over such a “helpful” suggestion. She quickly added that she had wanted to help pick up, but her husband told her it wasn’t her problem to fix. Again, let me applaud the unsung and often overlooked advantages wearing sunglasses brings to the table in such situations.
All that to say, my heart’s attitude had become increasingly in the wrong place as I worked my way through the piles of garbage randomly strewn about multiple front yards. There was a growing grumbling and mumbling on my part each time I picked up a piece of trash. “This really isn’t my problem, so what am I doing here cleaning up someone else’s trash?”
And that’s when a whisper graciously redirected my attention from me to Jesus, saying, “Aren’t you thankful Jesus saw you as so much more than ‘not His trash, not His problem?’ How blessed you are that He didn’t walk away from your sinful mess but instead chose to give Himself up for you willingly.”
I can’t begin to tell you how wonderfully humbling that clarifying moment was for me. My entire outlook changed from one of oppression to liberation. My efforts were no longer burdensome, but instead, there was a newfound blessing to be experienced in the task that lay stretched out before me. Who knew picking up trash could be so joyful?
“Jesus Christ knows the worst about you. Nonetheless, He is the one who loves you the most.” A. W. Tozer
Friend, let there be no doubt in your mind and heart that when Jesus sees you, He doesn’t see you as the world does, or even perhaps as you see yourself. You are not worthless trash that is better left untouched on the side of the road. You are His creation of immeasurable value that is worth touching. To Jesus, you are not just any treasure; you are His treasure, the reason He came into this world.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begottenSon, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16-17 (NKJV)
Casting Crowns, “Love Moved First” from the album, “Only Jesus.”
“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 theylight 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 andglorify 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 AtomicHabits, 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 thewill 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!
Todd Agnew, “Grace Like Rain” from the album “Grace Like Rain.”