The bare truth

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

Friends,

Change has arrived in my life with a thunderclap’s terrifying suddenness and a tsunami’s unforgiving fierceness.

A few months ago, my startup business ended abruptly and harshly when our last project proved unsuccessful.  My business partner and I knew the venture would make or break our five-year-old business.  It broke us.  We always thought we’d be successful until the day we weren’t.  We put everything we had and more into our business, yet we still fell short.

On September 1st, I received a paycheck; on October 1st, I did not.  So, as you might guess, the past several weeks have been a mad dash focused on replacing our lost income stream.   I’ve sent out resumes, emails, text messages, filled out applications, made lots of phone calls and spent countless hours online searching for employment, starting with my industry expertise and radiating to employment parts unknown.  It has been time and energy-consuming.

But the Lord continues to provide for us even amid this sudden storm.

God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, You find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, You let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. Psalm 23:1-3 (MSG)

My wife immediately found a job; my search for a full-time position took longer. In the interim, a seasonal, part-time job delivering packages for a well-known global-sized corporation came my way.  I’m grateful to have had that opportunity, as it’s been an eye-opening and humbling experience.  Let me say that delivering packages on time and to the correct location is much easier said than done.  My hat is off to all who do this sort of work day in and day out.

Next week, November 17th, I will begin work at a job in a brand new career field.  If you had told me ten years ago, or even five, what my career trajectory would look like, I would’ve told you, “You’re crazy…ain’t gonna happen.”   Yet, I am on the cusp of a new career path I never saw coming, especially since I’m at the age where many of my peers have already retired.  There is no other explanation but to say, “Only God, only God!”  Indeed, God’s provision is remarkable; His quilt weaving is unmatched.

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

Every new job is time-demanding, especially when you embark on a path you have no real experience navigating.  Indeed, the mountain standing before me is daunting, with a steep learning curve that will undoubtedly require crawling on all fours at times to reach the summit.  But I’m eager to begin the climb the Lord has graciously prepared for me to traverse.

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) 

From the onset, I typically have managed to write only one, and sometimes two, new articles a month for my site due to the consuming nature of my startup business. However, I’m anticipating my near-term future productivity to be even less so as I learn the ropes for my new position.

For those of you who regularly bless me with your presence here, please know I have no intention of shutting this site down. Because of these new demands it is likely my posts will be even fewer and farther between for the foreseeable future. I will continue praying for you daily, just as I always have. And it is now my turn to ask you for prayers for wisdom, strength, courage, trust, and faith as my wife and I look to Him for our daily needs in an unfamiliar landscape.

Give us this day our daily bread.  Matthew 6:11 (NKJV)

So, you’re probably wondering, “What’s up with the photo of the car with the cross?”

Our neighbor’s car was attacked by a black bear foraging for food several weeks ago.  It seems some food was accidentally left in the trunk overnight, and the aroma demanded the bear check it out.  The next day’s morning light revealed a dangling rear panel.  My neighbor’s immediate solution to the problem was to tape the car back together again.

Although the cross-shaped tape is a temporary fix for my neighbor’s car, the overarching truth in our lives is that Jesus is The Ever-Present Living Answer to all life throws at us all of the time.   Whether a bear unexpectedly dismantles your vehicle, your business fails, or any of a thousand other difficult situations arises, the glorious sunrise of hope abides in Jesus.  As the saying goes, “Hope has a name, and it’s Jesus!”  Rest in Him, my friends; rest in Him.

May the God of peace himself make you entirely pure and devoted to God; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept strong and blameless until that day when our Lord Jesus Christ comes back again.  1 Thessalonians 5:23 (TLB)

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“Give Me Jesus” by Fernando Ortega from the album “Home.”

“Nothing Else” by Cody Carnes from the album “Nothing Else.”

In His wake up call

“Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.  I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify Your name forevermore.”  Psalm 86:11-12 (NKJV)

“There are no ‘if’s” in God’s world.  And no places that are safer than other places.  The center of His will is our only safety.”  Corrie ten Boom

We often wonder, “Why is it sometimes so difficult, if not impossible, to hear God?”  Yes, this question is familiar to all, myself included, especially lately I might add.  We strain mightily to hear Him, yet His voice sometimes seems faint or nonexistent.  In those times, it’s as if we’re in the uncomfortable, disquieting soundless vacuum of space.  And make no mistake, as we all know it’s a tough spot to find oneself.

To You I will cry, O Lord my Rock:  Do not be silent to me, lest, if You are silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.  Psalm 28:1 (NKJV)

Before we dive in, please understand we’re approaching this issue solely from the perspective of a believer and not that of a non-believer.  The Bible is crystal-clear in its distinction between the two in this regard.

He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”  John 8:47 (NKJV) 

As believers, we expect to hear from God, so it’s particularly alarming and disquieting when we don’t.   In these situations, typically, the next question out of our mouths is, “God, where are You?”  It’s a heartfelt, emotional inquiry often stemming from our circumstances but one that is not rooted in Biblical truth.  How I wish I had recognized this error in my thinking much earlier in my life.

He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered.  Proverbs 28:26 (NKJV)

When searching for the truth, we shouldn’t rely on our feelings, especially during difficult situations.  Instead, we should look to the scriptures for the clarity we seek because God’s Word is trustworthy, and as we all know, our emotions resemble the ever-changing weather at times.

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

Where hope is concerned, our negative emotions are a dead-end street, and we must not allow them to bind us in chains, no matter how loudly they demand our attention. The hope we seek exists when we stand on The Rock of Age’s promises and nowhere else.

“Therefore whoever 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)

Putting aside the supposed truths your emotions are trying to get you to buy, what does the Bible say about where we stand with God?

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39 (NKJV)

If reading Paul’s heartfelt conviction about God’s presence and intentions towards us isn’t enough, Jesus, our Savior, assures us we are by no means alone, now and forever.

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)

Rest assured, sister and brother, God is indeed present with His children, even if our feelings vigorously proclaim otherwise.  Do not fall for the enemy’s lie that God has abandoned you leaving you all alone. 

Friends, it’s time for those tempted to think they’re no longer on our Father’s radar to change their understanding and perspective by knowing God more deeply through His Word.  Embrace that He sees you and trust that He loves you and is with you!

“Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.”  C.H. Mackintosh

The Lord gave me this memorable quote a few years ago.  I’m just now beginning to appreciate the refreshing, hope-filled perspective it offers.   Here’s the thing, it’s taken a while, but I’ve finally accepted that I tend to be more emotional than most guys.  I don’t work as hard to hide it as I used to, which is a good thing, but now that I know this about myself, I’m more aware that I’m particularly vulnerable to my emotions putting a bit in my mouth and controlling me.  In the past, whenever they spoke, I listened with a mindset already pre-conditioned to give them the lead.  That’s been my MO for about as long as I can remember, and it’s no easy ride, I can tell you, as they’ve taken me over some pretty rough terrain.

Being carried away by your negative emotions is a perilous place for any believer to be.  Why?  Because nothing less than your relationship with God is at stake.  The loudest voice in the pit is often our emotions:  “Woe is me!  God has abandoned me!” As I’ve already said, listening solely to your feelings is a quick way to find yourself unmercifully bound and gagged in the pit with hope nowhere to be found.

Employing the wisdom in CHM’s quote, flip-flops one’s thinking in all the right ways so that when you find yourself in a dark hole, you are no longer the easy pickings for the enemy you once were via your emotional state.  In wonderfully stark, hope-filled contrast, the Bible promises that He is still present, loves me, and has only the best intentions for me.

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

So, we can rest knowing God is with us, but given this truth, why is He sometimes silent? Remarkably, who other than God has so much to say, even through silence?  His silence speaks volumes at times and grabs our attention.  When He is silent, we know something is amiss.  Indeed, how we long to hear our Heavenly Father’s voice, for we are as though dead without it.

To You I will cry, O Lord my Rock: Do not be silent to me, Lest, if You are silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.  Psalm 28:1 (NKJV)

Could God be speaking, but for some reason, we don’t hear Him?  Perhaps there are times He is not as silent as we perceive.  Maybe the problems we experience hearing from the Lord sometimes result from our whereabouts relative to Him.  Or, as realtors like to remind both buyers and sellers alike when it comes to property values, “Location, location, location!” 

If you look closely just to the left of the center in the photo, you’ll see a woman walking in the opposite direction on the sidewalk.  Admittedly she’s hard to see, but even from this distance, I could still hear the music she was listening to on her cell phone when I took the photo.  “Hmmmm.  That’s odd,” I thought, “I could barely hear the music when she had passed me by only steps away a few minutes earlier, but now I hear it quite well from way up the street.” 

Why, do you suppose I could hear her music more plainly some distance away as opposed to barely being able to discern it when she was mere feet away from me?

The science of sound waves tells us the difference maker was the wind.  The volume level I heard depended upon whether I was upwind or downwind of the source of the music.  I could easily hear the music playing when I was downwind from a considerable distance away.   Yet when I was upwind, even though only a few feet away, the volume of the music was noticeably lower and, therefore, much harder to hear.    

How well we hear the Lord’s voice depends upon our location relative to Him.  Are you downwind, or are you upwind of our Father?  Are you in His will, or are you not?

Hearing from God is best accomplished downwind, which places us securely in His wake instead of the lonely, harsh silence experienced from being upwind, running ahead of Him, and plowing new ground the Lord has not trod.   Let us always be mindful that He, not us, is the One supremely qualified to carve and craft new pathways.

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)

Construction zones are usually noisy and busy with activity.  If you’re hacking your way through the wilderness with a chainsaw, is it any wonder you can’t hear the Lord when He’s speaking?  Or how about the noise of the backhoe you’re operating while digging the new river’s course?  Furthermore, even if you do manage to excavate the river channel, where will you get the water to fill it?  It is a desert, after all.  It’s worth saying again, “He is well qualified for this task, and we are not.”   

Where exactly are God’s construction zones located?  Where is this wilderness and desert the Lord intends to make both accessible and livable?  To be sure, He has many construction projects in the works, but one, in particular, is pivotal to His plans.

Oh yes, you know what I’m talking about here because it is the wilderness of our untamed hearts and the parched, inhospitable deserts of our minds He seeks to repurpose. 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  Ezekiel 36:26 (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)

To be sure, we are no small transformation project, but our Heavenly Father is more than able to accomplish the task at hand.  Simply put, “The Lord is unwilling to leave us as He found us.”  Now that is something all of us “works in progress” should all be excitedly shouting about from the rooftops with a hearty “Amen, praise God!”

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. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Romans 8:28-29 (NKJV)

For these dramatic changes to take place within us, He must lead

And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.”  Deuteronomy 31:8 (NKJV)

…and we must follow in His footsteps…

If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.  If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.  John 12:26 (NKJV)

trusting He is directing our steps for His good purposes

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)

…even in the face of evil.

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)

Buoyed by our lack of comprehension and swept away by our unbridled enthusiasm, we are prone to impetuously run ahead of the Lord, which interferes with our ability to hear and understand Him clearly, even if we’re only a few steps away.

The famous saying from the vintage TV series, Get Smart comes to mind when agent Maxwell Smart says as he’s holding up his thumb and finger to help emphasize the point, “Missed it by THAT much!”  Continuing this thinking, it’s also worth mentioning another famous expression, “An inch is as good as a mile,” regarding the importance of being on target.  In other words, close to the bullseye is still a miss.  The bottom line is if we desire to hear what the Lord is saying, the place to be is downwind in His wake and not upwind, even in the slightest, running ahead of Him.

Running ahead of God, now there’s a subject I can speak about with some authority of late.  For the past month or so, I’ve given much thought and prayer to the differences between “audacious faith” and “presumptuous faith” and how they have impacted my life over the past five years.  I’ll not get into the details here, as that will be the subject of a later post.  I only mention it because this tendency to take the reigns (purposeful misspelling, think about it) from God is, I fear, not something uniquely “me” but something many, if not all, struggle with in our lives at various times.

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Robert Robinson, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

However, lest we become discouraged by our shortcomings, it’s noteworthy to recognize that even the Apostle Peter was guilty of getting out in front of the Lord, supposing he knew Jesus’s destination.  Here’s how that all played out:

“You are the Christ. The Son of the Living God.”  “Jesus answered him and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.’  Matthew 16:16-18 (NKJV)

Boom! Peter nailed it, culminating with Jesus lauding his audacious faith.  And just like that, Peter finds himself in cotton so tall it’s easy to become lost if he isn’t careful to check his ego at the door.  Let’s see how Peter handles things following Jesus’s uplifting commendation. 

“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. 22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  Matthew 16:21-23 (NKJV) (emphasis mine)

As it turns out, Peter became lost in the tall cotton of his vanity, exchanging his audacious faith for presumptuous faith that egotistically dared to presume to know God’s will and intended destination.  In a short period, Peter experiences Jesus’s affirmation only to be followed up by a stern rebuke in which he’s associated with Satan and his evil plans.  Wow, talk about extreme high and low bookends!

Yet, as we all know, all was not lost with Peter despite such failings.  He was not cast aside and abandoned as worthless in Jesus’s eyes.  No, far from it; Jesus’s steadfast love and godly plans for Peter remained.

And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James.  Mark 5:37 (NKJV)

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.  John 21:15-17 (NKJV)

Let’s be encouraged that there is a way forward upon realizing we are upwind of the Lord’s will.  Though they may seem impossible to overcome, even the giant monkey wrenches we’ve managed to throw into the works from our self-appointed leadership role are incapable of derailing God’s plans.  How small would you have to believe God is if our mistakes could do that?

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)

Thankfully, He is graciously willing and more than able to overcome our failings and even use them for His glory when we approach Him in a posture of genuine humility and repentance.

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV)

My fellow “Lead Dogs,” it’s time to get back in line downwind and in the wake of God Almighty where we belong so that when He speaks to us through the Bible, we hear His voice loudly and clearly.  He has much to teach us, lest we think otherwise.

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

Paradoxically, a life continually laid bare before the Lord for His name’s sake devoted to following Jesus makes such a person a much-needed leader among God’s children and in His Kingdom.

So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”  Matthew 20:16 (NKJV)    

Indeed, what about David caused God to call him a “man after My own heart?” (1 Samuel 13:14)

And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’  Acts 13:22 (NKJV)  (emphasis mine)

My friend, let this be His wake up call to His beloved children that we may live in the exceeding abundance of His will.  As we take our place in the wake of the Lord’s glory, delighting in His presence, let’s begin this day anew, refreshed and filled with hope, eager to follow as He leads, for when we do, we’ll once again hear the sweet sound of His voice say, “This is the way, walk in it.”  (Isaiah 30:21, NKJV)

“Get into the habit of saying, ‘Speak, Lord,’ and life will become a romance.” Oswald Chambers

Just imagine the possibilities!

He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”  Matthew 13:9 (NKJV)

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“The Sound of Your Voice” by Third Day from the album “Move.”

short-sighted

 For we walk by faith, not by sight.  2 Corinthians 5:7 (NKJV)

Q:  Why do Christians not cross the road?

A:   Because we listen to our eyes.  Metaphorically that causes us to become spiritual chickens standing there motionless, afraid to move, longingly staring in the direction of God’s desired destination for us on the other side of the street.  It’s a matter of faith, or the lack thereof.

Our eyes deceive and paralyze us when it comes to trusting God.  Instructed to scout out the Promised Land, the spies reported what their eyes had seen to Moses when they returned.

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.”  Numbers 13:31 (NKJV)

Caleb also saw the same things the other scouts observed about the land the Lord had promised the Israelites but through the eyes of faith.

Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”  Numbers 13:30 (NKJV)

Taking ground and moving forward for God’s Kingdom is a Spirit-led initiative that the flesh cannot conceive of accomplishing. 

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)

As we all know far too well from personal experience, walking by faith is easier said than done.  What prevents us from stepping out in faith?

It’s a matter of focus.

We recently visited the local zoo with our two young granddaughters.  Soon enough, we came to one of our favorite attractions.  The elevated wooden walkway is something we love to do because it gives you an unobstructed and uncrowded view from both sides of various animals as you walk along its meandering track high above the different enclosures.

However, we ran into a problem immediately after climbing the stairs to begin our adventure.  After being carried up the stairs, our 16-month-old, “Little C,” said she wanted to walk too.  And that’s when all forward motion came to a complete stop.  As soon as she set foot on the boardwalk, she froze,  unwilling to move.  To her eyes, the spaces between the boards made walking way too risky of a proposition, even though the slats comprised most of the walking surface.  All she could see were Grand Canyon-sized gaps, gaps, and more gaps.

As followers of Jesus, are we different from this toddler regarding our efforts to walk by faith?  Sadly the answer is far too often “no.”  The good news is we’re not alone or the first to grapple with our shortcomings in this regard, as we’ve already seen with the Israelites and as evidenced by the following familiar story:

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.  25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.  27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  33 Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:22-33 (NKJV)

Like Peter, the Israelites, and Little C, when faced with new and unexpected challenges, we’re predisposed to focus on the uncertainty of the gaps along the path we’re traveling instead of the certainty of the One who holds everything in His hands.

Indeed, it all boils down to this: it’s a matter of where, or rather Whom, we choose to place our focus.

“Focus on giants-you stumble.  Focus on God-your giants tumble.”  Max Lucado

We either remain motionless and stagnant, held captive by what’s right in front of our eyes, or move forward in trust as an onward marching Christian soldier for Jesus.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

The good news is Little C discovered she could trust the boards to hold her up, that the gaps didn’t have the final say as to whether or not she would fall to the ground.  She learned that lesson one small step at a time after finally taking that critical first step of faith.  After all, the first step is the hardest.

My friend, trust God…….and……take…….that…….step…….!

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

I pray your focus is on the Lord, the firm foundation, the One who loves you and is altogether trustworthy as you take those steps of faith toward fulfilling your role in His Kingdom.  May your efforts overflow with His glorious presence.

“There’s some task which the God of all the universe, the great Creator, your redeemer in Jesus Christ has for you to do, and which will remain undone and incomplete until by faith and obedience you step into the will of God.”  Alan Redpath

“Seeing is never believing: we interpret what we see in the light of what we believe. Faith is confidence in God before you see God emerging; therefore the nature of faith is that it must be tried.”  Oswald Chambers, He Shall Glorify Me, 494 R

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)

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“Walk By Faith” by Jeremy Camp from the album “Carried Me The Worship Project”

just 1 more

“Please, Lord, help me get one more.” Desmond Doss’s (played by Andrew Garfield in the movie Hacksaw Ridge) prayer as he single-handedly returned again and again to an active and deadly WWII battlefield with the sole purpose of rescuing one more wounded and hopeless soldier.

I recently reconnected with a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years for lunch.  After paying for my food, the cashier gave me a number for my order, but I paid no attention to it at the time.  It wasn’t until I placed it face-up on my table to let the server know which order was mine that I became aware my number was “99.”  As soon as I did, a delightful warmth embraced my heart, and a smile spontaneously etched itself across my face.

“Oh yes, Lord, I see You!”  I chuckled aloud, unable to contain my delight as I immediately connected the biblical story of the shepherd who leaves the flock of 99 behind in search of the one lost sheep and my having lunch with my long-lost friend.  “99 is the perfect number for lunch with my missing friend!  Thank You, Father!”

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.  Luke 15:4-7 (NKJV)

As I contemplated that well-known story, God graciously reminded me of His wondrous love for me.  Jesus left the 99 and began His decades-long quest for me, a lost, broken, and rebellious sheep in desperate need of rescue.  He refused to abandon me in the wilderness despite enduring the worst the world I was a part of could throw at Him on His rescue mission.  Bruised and beaten, hanging on the cross, Jesus fixed His gaze lovingly and compassionately upon my brokenness as I wallowed in the sludge of a battlefield thick with the musky stench of my rebellion against God.   Yet, even so, He gloriously persevered for my sake rescuing me for all eternity.

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of]sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,

Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.  Isaiah 53 (NKJV)

My dear brothers and sisters already in Christ’s “99,” I pray your heart overflows with thanksgiving and praise as you reflect on Jesus’s steadfast, boundless, relentless, life-giving, sacrificial love for you.

14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:14-19 (NKJV)

If you don’t know Jesus yet, may today be the day He brings you home to join the flock.  No matter how far away you’ve roamed, no matter what you’ve done, please know that you are not beyond His reach of love and grace.

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)

Even now, He’s calling out for you, the one lost sheep.  Do you hear His voice?  It is my prayer you do.  Call out to Him!

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 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 10:9-13 (NKJV)

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“Living Hope” by Phil Wickham from the album “Living Hope.”

a window with a view

“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 “A Christmas 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. 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. 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 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Matthew 6:31-33 (NKJV)

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Start Right Here by Casting Crowns (single version)

Aim high-“X” marks the spot

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. 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 spot for 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, 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, 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)

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 “Abide in Me” by Andrew Marcus from the album “Abide in Me.”

singing in the pain

“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)

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Soul’s Anthem (It Is Well) by Alisha Mino and John Rose

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.

“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).”

soaring thoughts for sore minds

“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; 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)

1!1!1

“You Raise Me Up-Acoustic” by Selah from the album “You Raise Me Up: Greatest Hits.”

a chip on His shoulders

 “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?”

Me: “Yes.”

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 the plans 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.”

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