peering into the fog

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I suppose it's like the ticking crocodile, isn't it? Time is chasing after all of us.

     ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

 

These are difficult days. Life as we have known it has changed. Plans, dreams, financial portfolios, and aspirations have all been replaced by disappointment and concern. Stores, restaurants, coffee shops, cinemas, churches and schools are empty, the roadways deserted, hope abandoned.

It seems like time has stopped. But it hasn’t.

The clock still ticks, the calendar pages still turn, and life happens. These are not the moments we planned on. This isn’t what we hoped for.  There is no clear picture of when or how this will end. We see through a glass darkly.

What are we to do?

Today, I'm looking to Jesus and taking my cues from a couple of my spiritual heroes, Elisabeth Elliot and Billy Graham.

Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now. Elisabeth Elliot, Keep a Quiet Heart

 

 


All I know . . . (morning devotions)

IMG_6304I have no idea what kind of man he is. All I know is that I was blind and now I can see for the first time in my life! (John 9:25, TPT)

This morning in my Bible study and devotional time I saw a picture of myself—and my former self.

In John 9 (TPT) there is an account of Jesus healing a blind man and it really messed people up! The man was healed and he immediately ran off in joy to tell his friends, family, and the world, his good news.

The onlookers, the Pharisees, the doubters, and the skeptics were buzzing with questions. Who did it? What happened? Was the man really blind? Is this for real?

The people that witnessed the healing say, “Yep, I’ve seen that blind beggar here every day for years and now he can see.”

His parents say, “Yes, that is our son. No, he doesn’t have an identical twin. He was born blind and has been blind his whole life. But don’t ask us, ask him, he’s an adult.”

The (former) blind man said, “A man anointed by eyes with clay, then I washed, and now I can see for the first time in my life!”

The Pharisees, doubters and skeptics asked, “Who did this? Who was this man that opened your blind eyes?”

The (former) blind man replied, “For all I know, he’s a prophet of God!”

Round and round, the grilling continued . . . Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?

Finally, the man who was blind, who lived his entire life in darkness, in isolation, in constant need, who had no hope, no future, and a life of unanswerable questions, spoke up.

He said, “Listen, I’ve already told you multiple times, I don’t know who the man was that healed me. I don’t know what kind of person he is. All I know is this—I was blind and now I can see for the first time in my life!”

Later, Jesus went and found the healed man and they talked. Jesus asked, “Do you believe in the Son of God?”

The man whose blind eyes were healed answered, “Who is he, Master? Tell me so that I can place all my faith in him.”

Jesus replied, “You’re looking right at him. He’s speaking with you. It’s me, the one in front of you now.”

Then the man threw himself at his feet and worshiped Jesus and said, “Lord, I believe in you!”

And that’s when I saw a picture of myself—and my former self.

I once was blind, my life was full of darkness, isolation, constant need. I had no hope, no future, and a life of unanswerable questions. And then Jesus came into my heart and life.

You can ask me all kinds of questions about morality, suffering, politics, theology, the economy, the coronavirus and even death. And all I can say for sure is that once I was blind, but now I can see.

How's your vision this morning? Do you see yourself in the John 9 account? 

In John 9: 39 & 41, TPT Jesus says, "I have come to judge those who think they see and make them blind. And for those who are blind, I have come to make them see. ... If you would acknowledge your blindness, then your sin would be removed."

Today I live by faith in the One who loved me and gave His life for me. He is light in the darkness, He gives sight to the blind and he is Faithful, always and ever Faithful. Sometimes in my morning devotional time I sing. Here’s a little song by Sara Groves about God's faithfulness.

 

 


growing faith in the midst of "shelter in place"

IMG_7649How’s your faith these days? Mine needs some work.

But what does that look like in these days of “shelter in place?” I don’t know about you, but my faith isn’t growing much in the midst of my questions, grieving, stir-craziness, depression, Netflix binges and my endless scrolling through the barrage of “helpful” posts, quips and quotes on social media (. . . like this one).

I need God’s help, and the best way to grow in faith is through God’s Word.

“. . . faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17, NKJV)

Deep reading and Bible study may not be your thing, and even if they are, you may find that type of focus difficult in these days of confining chaos.

Recently, I came across an idea from the life of Billy Graham that is helping me during these trying times. It is strengthening me in my faith by getting me into the Word of God.

The idea comes from an article by Jerry Jenkins titled, “Precious Memories: Billy Graham.” In the article, Jenkins tells about a time when he was meeting with Billy Graham to gather information for the biography that he was writing about Dr. Graham. At one point he asks Graham about how he maintains his own spiritual disciplines (how he grows in his faith) and therein is the gold.

Below is the portion of the article that I found helpful. I pray you find it helpful too.

For our last session, we sat knee to knee across from each other in his modest office. My goal was to see what readers could glean not from all the experiences he had enjoyed as a worldwide Christian leader, but rather from his own personal devotional life.

But, as usual, I broached the subject the wrong way. I began, “People look to you as a spiritual leader, a model, almost like the Protestant pope—”

“Oh, no, they shouldn’t do that…”

“But they do. Many see you as the Christian leader of our time—”

Mr. Graham said, “They really mustn’t do that. When I think of the number of times I’ve failed the Lord, I feel this low,” and he reached and placed his hand flat on the floor.

And I thought, Billy Graham has failed the Lord?

I kept trying to ask the question, basing it on how he was so revered. He would have none of it.

I said, “Well, just tell me how you maintain your own spiritual disciplines.”

Finally, I had hit on something he was eager to talk about. He leaned forward, boring in on me with those piercing blue eyes. “The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing and to search the Scriptures. And I do that.”

I was stunned. “You pray without ceasing?”

“I do,” he said, “and I have every waking moment since I received Christ at age 16. I’m praying right now as I’m talking to you that everything I say will glorify Christ.”

I could barely speak, yet still I wondered if there was takeaway value here. Had he set the bar so high no one could emulate him? When I found my voice, I said, “What form does your searching the Scriptures take?”

Mr. Graham said, “Wherever I am in the world, in someone’s home, my home, a hotel room, here in my office, anywhere, I leave my Bible open where I’ll notice it during the day. Every time I see it, I stop and read a verse or two, or a chapter or two, or for an hour or two. And this is not for sermon preparation; it’s just for my own spiritual nourishment.”

Now we were getting somewhere. Everyone wants a daily devotional life, even if they can’t pray without ceasing. I said, “How do you get back into it if you miss a day or two?”

He cocked his head and squinted. “I don’t think I’ve ever done that.”

“You never miss?”

“No, I said it’s nourishment for my spiritual life, and I don’t want to miss a meal.”

Over his shoulder, on the corner of his desk, lay his open Bible, just as he said.

Did you catch that?

“Wherever I am in the world, in someone’s home, my home, a hotel room, here in my office, anywhere, I leave my Bible open where I’ll notice it during the day."

Wherever we are, even in the midst of "shelter in place," there is a way to grow in faith 


light enough for my next step

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Trust in the Lord with all your heart

and lean not on your own understanding . . .       

(Prov. 3:5, NIV)

These days are unprecedented. There is no personal or experiential understanding to lean on. So, where do I turn? I trust in the Lord. I start the day with Jesus. I need help. To find light enough for my next step on this unknown path I look to His Word, and to words from His saints who have gone before. And then I pray. I call upon the Lord for guidance, strength and the Holy Spirit’s help to live, serve and love like Jesus.

My gleanings from this morning touched on not fretting about tomorrow, being responsible with today, realizing treasure in tribulation and drawing closer to Jesus. God is using these passages to help me today. I share them with you.

Tomorrow makes today’s whole head sick, its whole heart faint. When we should be still, sleeping or dreaming, we are fretting about an hour that lies half a sun’s journey away! — George MacDonald, p. 40

Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now . . .  — Elisabeth Elliot, Keep a Quiet Heart

Without tribulation some of life’s noblest treasures would never be found. Tribulation is the flail which releases the grain from the imprisoning sheaf and gives us the bread of life. — J.H. Jowett, Come Ye Apart, p. 57

The world, the flesh and the devil will put imaginary grief in your way just when Jesus Christ is wanting you to enter into fellowship with His sufferings. — Oswald Chambers, Run Today’s Race, p. 24

God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that. (1 Corinthians 3:8-9, MSG)


praise, at a time like this?

Screen Shot 2020-03-14 at 8.13.53 AMThrough Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise . . . Hebrews 13:15, NIV

Praise? At a time like this?

A sacrifice of praise is a choice; it is not automatic, it does not come easy and it comes at a cost. At times like these, praise is not our first thought or response. Rather, worry, fear, concern and questions fill our minds. Where is the hope?

The Word of God gives me counsel. Its pages are filled with people in need, facing trouble, navigating unknowns, mired in struggle, dealing with disappointments and asking questions. In the very middle of God’s Word we find the Psalms. Interestingly, seventy-percent of the Psalms are laments. Lament is the deep feeling and expression of sorrow and grief.

Surely a time of questions, concerns and lament are upon us.

So, where is the hope in the midst of all this trouble? In short, it’s in Jesus, the one who said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, NIV). Our inclination is to depend on our own efforts, scramble for safety and turn every which way for help, but currently all our “help” is crumbling around us.

“But take heart,” even “though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” Jesus is our help and hope. Look to Him. Call upon His name! (John 16:33 & Ps. 46:2)

Yes, a time of struggle and lament is upon us, but on the other end of lament is praise. The Psalms, of which seventy-percent are lament, are punctuated with an exclamation of praise. The final word (Ps. 150, NIV) in the Psalms says this:

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;

    praise him in his mighty heavens.

Praise him for his acts of power;

    praise him for his surpassing greatness.

Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,

    praise him with the harp and lyre,

    praise him with timbrel and dancing,

    praise him with the strings and pipe,

    praise him with the clash of cymbals,

    praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

In the midst of our struggle, we need help and hope. We need a savior. We need Jesus. Call upon His name and trust in Him, for therein is faith. A good place to start is in praise and worship, even when it doesn’t come easy. Even when it's a sacrifice.

God helped me with this today through the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s singing of “Psalm 150.” Just like you and me, many of the people in the video are in the midst of “trouble,” but they are lifting up a sacrifice of praise to the Lord and therein is joy and hope.

Play this video on the biggest screen you can find and at the loudest volume you can handle! Our hope is in Jesus!

 


the fourth man

Screen Shot 2020-03-07 at 7.26.17 AM“. . . be sure of this: I am with you always”

(The words of the fourth man in Matthew 28:20, NLT)

I just came across a cool song by the 3 Heath Brothers called, "Smell of Smoke." It is based on the third chapter of the book of Daniel in the Bible. Give it a read and keep your eyes peeled for the fourth man. And then check out the song below!

There’s a fourth man in your flame;

everybody watching, they’ll be amazed,

. . . You’ll come out of that fire,

And you won’t even smell of smoke.

 


by inches and minutes

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There is no greater blunder than that of ignoring or despising little things. —Philip S. Moxom

The little things—inches, minutes, moments and decisions—matter. This is evident in Proverbs 6:6-11, where King Solomon contrasts the life of an ant with the life of a sluggard. The ant lives well; the sluggard doesn’t. In both cases, the results are realized in the little things.

In Proverbs 6 we find that little old ant to be a self-starter and a diligent worker that makes a big difference for good. It moves the sand grain by grain, builds a home, gathers food, stores-up supplies and makes a life. The ant is the epitome of discipline and responsibility, and the writer of Proverbs implores us to, “consider its ways and be wise.”

The sluggard’s story is just the opposite—it is a sad tale—a life where nothing gets done. His home is covered with weeds, overgrown with thistles and surrounded by broken down walls (Prov. 24:30-31). It is interesting to note that the sluggard doesn’t decide in one grandiose moment to be lazy, sleep-in, procrastinate, and slug around. It happens gradually, a little bit at a time (or in the case of Netflix—episode by episode).

In Prov. 6:10 (NIV) it says, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,” . . . and the result is tragic! Left unaddressed, little things morph into big problems. The choice to do nothing (which is a choice) leaves the sluggard dirt poor and in dire want and need. And the reality of it all sneaks up on him like a burglary—robbing him of home, health and ultimately his life. That’s the way of the enemy. 

The subtlety of the sluggard’s demise is unnerving. He didn’t want to end up where he did. He didn’t say, “I’m done, I quit, I’m going to take it easy and let the chips fall where they may.” He didn’t choose a life of ruin, loss and regret, but in the midst of a little sleep, slumber and rest, it happened.

Derek Kidner tells us how:

“He [the sluggard] does not commit himself to a refusal, but deceives himself by the smallness of his surrenders. So, by inches and minutes, his opportunity slips away.” (Proverbs, p. 39)

Did you catch that? The sluggard, “deceives himself by the smallness of his surrenders.” The problem with small surrenders is that they seem harmless, but in reality they are deadly. It’s the little things:  the tap of the snooze button, an extra scoop of ice cream, just one more episode, a bit more on the credit card, the careless word, that peek, lapse, laze, loiter, and suddenly—you’re lost—on a path, and in a place, that you never wanted to be.

Small surrenders make you vulnerable. They leave the windows and doors of your home and life wide open, and that gives the thief access to your heart and mind—and consequently, the opportunity of life, real life, slips away.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (The words of Jesus in John 10:10, NIV)

Jesus makes quite a contrast between the thief (enemy) and Himself in John 10:10—much like the difference between the sluggard and the ant—one represents death and the other life.

We need not fall victim to the smallness of our surrenders. There is another gradual, “little by little” process of “becoming,” and it is in our journey with Jesus—it is called holiness. Holiness is immense. It characterizes God and it is what God wants to bring about in our hearts and lives. God offers it, we choose it.

Choose holiness. In the hundreds of little decisions each day, choose holiness.  —John Eldredge

Jesus is our model and our resource for holiness. He says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Growth is never complete in this life—we don’t just “arrive." It starts with just a little bit of faith, time in His Word, and prayer, and it continues and grows as we trust in Jesus and seek Him first. And as we do this, God is faithful. He is always making, conforming and transforming us into the likeness of Christ.

Much like the ant, we are to do the “little by little” that ultimately leads to a life well-lived and thankfully, we don’t do it alone. Jesus bought our salvation with His blood upon the cross and He calls us to life to the full in Him. He never forces, but He beckons, helps, empowers and woos us unto Himself—by inches and minutes—all the way Home.

The little things matter.


you and I are anything but irrelevant

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You and I are anything but irrelevant. Don't let the Enemy tell you any different. We holy fools all bear God's image. We're walking temples of the Spirit, the bashful bride of Christ, living stones in what is going to be grand house, as holy and precious as anything else in the universe, if not more so. God is making us into a Kingdom, a lovely, peaceful one, lit by his love for us flowing toward one another. That's the best gift you have to give.

                                    —Andrew Peterson, Adorning the Dark, p. 16


it really is that simple

IMG_7502Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8, NKJV)

This morning I rushed out the door to meet a friend for coffee, but was stopped because I couldn’t get into my car. I put the key in the handle to unlock the door and I tried to turn it, but it wouldn’t budge. The lock was frozen. I had no way to get into my car. Needless to say, I was late for my coffee appointment.

I have a key fob that opens all four car doors at once with a push of a button, but it had stopped working a couple of years ago, so I went “old school” and resorted to using the key. I didn’t look into the fact that the fob was not working because I thought it was too complex to fix and surely too expensive. I assumed I needed an entirely new key fob, and who knows what else. So, I just got by and used the key to unlock the car.

However, the frozen lock and my nearly missed appointment motivated me to take action. I was ready to pay the price, put in the time and deal with the hassle. Later in the day I called the dealership, told them my story and asked if they had any new key fobs available. The person on the phone said yes, but then he asked, “Did you check the battery?”

Huh? Is it really that simple?

Sure enough, five dollars and five minutes later, my key fob was working again.

This experience reminded me of a conversation I had the other day with a friend that I hadn’t seen in a long time. We unexpectedly ran into each other at a social function and had about five minutes to chat. We briefly talked of work, life, sports . . . and eventually the topic of faith in God came up. My friend said that his faith and relationship with God had become a bit cold and distant of late. He seemed forlorn and disheartened.

I’ve been there. That is a tough, discouraging and lonely place to be. You feel like a failure, and the way back to God seems too complex and too costly.

I wanted to help my friend and my mind immediately went to James 4:8,

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

I shared the verse with him and he paused a moment and asked, “Is it really that simple?”

Our five minutes were up. I could have shared with him about the loving Father that is standing on the road waiting and watching for the prodigal’s return (Luke 15). I longed to tell him that Jesus doesn’t give up on us; He is ever knocking at our heart’s door (Rev. 3:20). I yearned to remind him that God is faithful, even when we aren’t (2 Tim. 2:13). And I wanted to talk with my friend about God’s mercy and grace, which is ours for free because of the extravagant price paid for us by Jesus on the cross.

But I didn’t. That is all for another time, . . . maybe over coffee.

In response to my friend’s question I said,

“Yep, start there. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

It really is that simple.


turned to Him is the best place for us to be

IMG_6146Tears hollow out places in the heart where joy can grow.—Khalil Gibran

In his book, Living Prayer, Robert Benson, talks about confession and repentance as a key to accessing the place of worship—wholly praising and adoring God. We can’t come into worship and truly look to the Lord in praise and adoration if our hearts are clouded with sin, past screw ups, regret and shame. Repentance is not a popular nor a favorite topic. It is uncomfortable. Nobody likes to face the music, admit to the sludge, be vulnerable . . . but it oh so necessary.

The Word of God—the Story of God’s people—is replete with calls to repentance and people repenting. God delights in our repentance and contrition, as it results in our turning to Him. For He knows that turned to Him is the best place for us to be.

When it comes to things that are uncomfortable it’s easy to proclaim, “No Pain No Gain,” in the gym, or to glibly toss out to a fellow struggler Nietzsche’s pithy maxim, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” but when it comes to God, we impose an altogether different standard.

It is difficult for many of us to entertain the idea that hard things, like repentance, trials, and tests are in anyway related to God. I used to be blind in this area—flat out resistant to the idea that God was anything but sunshine and lollipops in our lives (this is hyperbole, but you get the idea). Mine was a warped conception of what the “good Father” looks like and is, but lately, I am growing in my understanding.

Months ago, at the beginning of a very challenging health struggle and medical crucible, I had a Godly person, whom I highly respect, say to me,

“I am praying for you. God is going to help you. This is just a test. Through it God wants to draw you closer to Him and show you His love.”

Huh?

That was the last thing I wanted to hear. I just wanted the struggle to be gone! I wanted the challenge to be over! But it wasn’t. In fact, it went on for many months.

Through this, the concept of “test” began to germinate in my mind. I have been a teacher, educator and professor for most of my life. I have administered hundreds of “tests” to my students. Why would I do this? Is it a sadistic bent? Did I want to stress them out, inflict pain, see them struggle? No! I wanted to help them and grow them.

In the education field the best and most useful type of test used in the context of learning is called a, “formative assessment.” This type of test can be as small as a question in the midst of lesson, as common as a daily assignment, or as big as a research paper. The key is that all of these “tests” are used to form the student—to help them to learn and grow—not to grade them, to rate them or evaluate them. Formative tests are for the student. They show the student what they know, how they are progressing and they give the student insight into what needs to be worked on. These “tests” are challenging, but not stifling. They are not always comfortable, but they are beneficial.

Hmmm . . . As if repentance wasn’t bad enough, now I add to the list of unpopular words the term, test. But I am learning to trust God with the test. Because surely if I, a sinful teacher know how to test my students for good, how much more will the Heavenly Father take the hard things of repentance, trials and tests in my life and use them for good? (i.e., Matthew 7:11)

That brings me to the scriptures that I have been living in of late:

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (James 1:2-4, MSG)

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:6-7, NLT)

. . . thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress. (Psalm 4:1, KJV)

My most recent “test” involved many months of sickness, physical struggle, multiple doctor visits, blood draws, failed attempts to fix things, disappointments, IVs, frustrations, questions, anger, shouts of “why?” and ultimately, surgery.  But I must say that God’s presence was with me and He gave me a deep sense of His peace through it all. Don’t get me wrong, there were tears, lots of them. But now there is joy.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. (Psalm 126:5, NIV)

Through the test, the tears and the struggle, Jesus was so very faithful and good to me. My heart was formed into something fresh, hopeful and alive. The old has gone, the new has come! I have grown in His immense love, I have felt the peace and the presence of God sustaining me, and I have seen the beauty of the Body of Christ through their love and in their prayers lifted to the Lord on my behalf. Truly, in my distress [test] He has enlarged me (Ps. 4;1, KJV).

God is ever working for our good. In Him is love, life and freedom. As Paul says in 2 Cor. 3:17 NLT, Where the Spirit of the Lord there is freedom. God wants us to have that freedom, which is found wholly in Him. Challenges come, via trials and tests, and God uses them for good to grow us and to form us in Him. Sin plagues us, but through the hope and glory of the cross of Christ, God delights to call us to uncomfortable confession and repentance for it results in our turning to Him . . . and He knows that turned to Him is the best place for us to be.