No Blueprint

I was the first in my family to go to college.  And to earn a master’s degree.  I don’t say that to be boastful, but grateful.  My point is that in order to pursue doing something no one in my family had done before, it required me to sort of figure things out along the way, with no blueprint to follow.  A blueprint serves as a design diagram, a way to construct something based on a step-by-step plan.  Without anyone ahead of me to follow step-by-step, I had to proceed by faith and at times I felt uncertain and at times I felt overwhelmed.  My guess is many of you had to do the same thing at some point in life, and many of you felt those same ways.

It seems trite to say it, but there are a lot of situations in life that we encounter when we don’t have a blueprint to follow.  With no blueprint, challenging circumstances can be all the more fearsome, confusing … even daunting.  Some of us, understandably, might encounter such a situation and decline to proceed further.  There have been times in my life when I’ve done exactly that.

In the Bible, Noah found himself in a “no blueprint” situation.  Genesis 6:9, 11-16

This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.

Now God saw that the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence.  God observed all this corruption in the world, for everyone on earth was corrupt.  So God said to Noah, “I have decided to destroy all living creatures, for they have filled the earth with violence. Yes, I will wipe them all out along with the earth!  Build a large boat from cypress wood and waterproof it with tar, inside and out. Then construct decks and stalls throughout its interior.  Make the boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high.  Leave an 18-inch opening below the roof all the way around the boat. Put the door on the side, and build three decks inside the boat—lower, middle, and upper.”

You want to talk about a daunting task?  How about building a boat for a cataclysmic act that God is going to take to destroy all of His creation?  Scripture never mentions that Noah had any prior boat-building experience.  It never mentions any of his ancestors doing so.  It never mentions that Noah had ever previously experienced a flood, let alone a worldwide, destructive flood.  It doesn’t even mention whether or not Noah had tools or skills to build anything at any time.  I don’t want to read anything into scripture that isn’t plain on the face of the text, but one could imagine any of these facts … if not all of them … might be true.

Nevertheless, Noah is directed by the Lord to build not just a boat, but an enormous ship, big enough to fill with his family and “a pair of every kind of animal.”  What?  Every kind of animal!  I like to watch a lot of nature shows, but I still can’t imagine how many “every kind of animal” is.  To top it off, God reminds him … just in case … “be sure to take on board enough food for your family and for all the animals.”  Oh my!

Poor Noah!  He must have had no clue what he was doing.  He must have felt overwhelmed by this massive command from God.  He had no blueprint, no example to work from, no prior experience, no one around him he could go to for help.  He couldn’t even head over to Home Depot to seek guidance or take a class in ark building.

So, what did Noah do?  Genesis 6:22

So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.

There are some compelling, powerful words in there.  Don’t miss them.  Noah did everything God commanded him to do.  In fact, Noah did it exactly as God commanded him to do it.  Everything.  Exactly.  You mean, he had never likely built any boat before and he had never likely even seen a flood and yet he jumped in to precisely the immense task God assigned to him in faith?  Yep.

So must we.  The Bible tells us that Noah “walked in close fellowship with God.”  Because he did, he had developed a faith and a trust in God, that God knew what He was doing at all times even when Noah had no idea.  Numerous times in my life, I encountered situations when I had no clue … which decision to make, which direction to go, how to deal with a problem, etc.  God, however, always knew and always knows.  Many times, I had no blueprint.  Many times, no doubt you will have no blueprint too.  It can be disturbing and perilous.

The key to making it through with no blueprint is to follow the model that Noah demonstrated, step-by-step.  Interestingly, even when we don’t have a blueprint, Noah quite in fact provides us one … 1) walk closely with God, and 2) do everything exactly the way God commands us.

In a way, it seems simple.  But for all of us that have had our backs against the wall after being asked the present-day equivalent of preparing for a flood, building an ark, and assembling every animal on the face of the earth, we know that finding the gumption to take colossal risks and ambiguous steps on indeterminate paths feels anything but simple.

However, God meets us in exactly those places.  When we walk closely with Him and do precisely what He commands us, He does the rest.  God met Noah, provided the means and skills to build a gigantic ark, directed the animals to him, brought the flood, dispersed the water after over a year, and landed Noah, his family, and all those animals on safe, solid ground.  God WAS the blueprint.  He will be our blueprint too.  Let’s prayerfully seek ways to walk more closely with Him, and to do everything exactly the way He directs us to.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Big Small

Most of the time, the difference between something big and something small is not controversial.  Oh, I know that there are certain times where characteristic measurements might be a little subjective.  Someone feeling “a lot” of pain might feel differently than the same pain would feel for another person.  But a blue whale, it seems to me, is objectively big, while a flea is objectively small.  Yes, there are exceptions to those I suppose … like for me, the smallest of insects seem enormous and scary because I have an inherent fear of most of them.  Living in Texas pushes that fear to the absolute limit!

Something also objectively big … well, someone … is God.  While that’s mostly universally understood it sometimes doesn’t seem universally applied.

God is big.  That seems like the ultimate understatement of understatements.  I mean, we’re talking about the One who spoke the universe into existence.  You know, the universe that is so vast that it can clearly be stated that our brains are not able to actually perceive the size of it.  That mind-blowingly enormous universe, which houses stars (billions of them in fact) that make our own sun seem the size of an atom came as a result of the mere word that God spoke.  God is big.

And yet, God can also be small.  What do I mean by that?  Let’s have a look …

Psalms 8:3-4

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?

Isaiah 40:26-28

Look up into the heavens.  Who created all the stars?  He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name.  Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.  O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?  O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?  Have you never heard?  Have you never understood?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.  He never grows weak or weary.  No one can measure the depths of his understanding.

Luke 12:7

“What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins?  Yet God does not forget a single one of them.  And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

There are a lot of ways I think the truth about God is often misconstrued.  Our understanding of who He is, His bigness, and His smallness are crucial to our ability to relate to Him and more importantly to have relationship with Him.

Some people think God is too big to care about the small things or that He’s too big to be known.  But when we truly consider such a position, that’s not a big God, that’s a small God.  Let’s reason though it … a God that is able to speak creation, the universe, etc., into existence seems to me to be a God who can do anything.  In fact, the Bible teaches us this is the case (Matthew 19:26, Job 42:2), that God is omnipotent (all powerful).  If He is able to do anything, it seems to me that he can do little things as well as big ones.  Logically, it must be true, since a God that can do ALL things must be able to do big things and small things, since those both are a part of ALL things.  In a similar manner, a God that can do all things can do in us – His creation – what needs to be done for us to be able to know Him.  I’m not saying that we can know all things about Him, but we can know Him, we can relate to Him, we can have a relationship with Him.  He gives us that ability … by virtue of His ability.

Therefore, we can say that He is so big that He cares enormously about the small stuff.  That bigness makes Him able to be intimately focused on the details of our lives.  And what a blessing that is!  The God who is infinitely bigger than we can imagine can care infinitely about everything in your life and my life.  That big small factor is so powerful.  He can care about our health, our family, our finances, our job, our fears, our pain, our past, our future, our present … and on and on and on.  Not only is He so big that He can, He’s so big that He does!

And yet, that big small factor also has to anchor us in some other crucial truths that can help us through our circumstances.  That is, while he absolutely cares about everything we care about (the small), we also have to remember that He also knows infinitely more than we do including the “not yet” stuff.  That is, the things that haven’t happened and the way He will carry out the days of our lives in view of the days of every other life in His creation (the big).  That gives me peace, knowing that with the cares about my health, my family, my finances, my job, my fears, my pain, my past, my future, my present … He is working all things together for good (Romans 8:28) even if those things aren’t the things I want.  He is big, and I am small.  He knows big, and I only know small.

For those reasons, we can take comfort.  We know in the bigness of who God is, the bigness of the challenges of life are ultimately quite small.  He can handle them.  He is handling them presently.  Let’s trust our BIG God to handle the big things of our lives, so that the reality of how small they are to Him will transform them to feel small for us.

“Even the very hairs on your head are numbered.”  Regrettably, for me that’s a small thing and the Bible says our big God cares even for THAT.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

No free falling

I’ve probably mentioned this in the past, but growing up, my favorite cartoons were the Bugs Bunny Looney Tunes cartoons.  Saturday mornings were usually filled with a variety of kids shows, and in those days we didn’t have an awful lot more to do if it was too early to go out and play, or if the weather was bad or whatever.  Yeah, cue the “old guy” jokes.  In terms of cartoon characters, it wasn’t just Bugs that I enjoyed, as there were always a number of other characters that were featured. 

Among my favorites was the Road Runner.  He never spoke, but he always put the fake on his nemesis, Wile E. Coyote.  Wile E. always thought he was outsmarting Road Runner, but somehow Road Runner always got the better of him.  The funniest parts where when Wile E. would be chasing Road Runner and they would arrive at the end of a cliff.  Somehow, Road Runner would be able to go off the end of the cliff and float long enough to watch Wile E. fall, only for Road Runner to take a giant step back onto solid ground (it’s a cartoon, after all).  Needless to say, after a second or two for effect, Wile E. would free fall to his eventual (but temporary – again, this is a cartoon, folks) doom to a distant but resounding “POW” indicating the contact with the ground below.

If you or I walked off the edge of a cliff (please do NOT do so), our fate would be no different than Wile E.’s.  We’d free fall straight to our demise, courtesy of gravity.  If we, like the many times Wile E. would, tried to employ some means of running or launching ourselves off the cliff, we might achieve some distance past the cliff, but we would free fall, nonetheless.  However, if we found a means to lift or propel ourselves … something like wings to help us fly … we would actually be able to jump off a cliff and soar.  We would not free fall destructively, we would be able to experience exhilaration.  But it requires an active choice to implore wings and choose flight, rather than free falling.

The same is true of our relationships in life.  We can’t just commence a relationship and jump off the proverbial cliff of acquaintance without doing anything more to keep it soaring.  It would just fall to its relational doom and die.  Even if we took a good long running leap, we might make it a little farther, but we would fall all the same.  There has to be a means to propel our relationship, to fly rather than fall, to employ an active attitude and a proactive posture toward flight.  In a marriage, for instance, we can’t just go to the altar on our wedding and say, “I do” without having a mentality of a daily “I do today” every day thereafter.  That’s flying, not free falling.  Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?  But how can we do this?  God gives us a clear sense in Isaiah 40:29-31

He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.  Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion.  But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint.

I’m pretty sure I can say with confidence that none of us have wings already.  So, there’s nothing we can do on our own power to successfully free fall off a cliff and somehow fly.  As the passage in Isaiah reminds us, though, we have a God on whom we can call and who will be the wings we need to fly.

So let me try to tie a knot on this clunky message.

When we are in relationship, in a marriage, a friendship, whatever, we can’t just initiate the relationship and just let it free fall from there.  It needs to have lift, it needs to be kept aloft, it needs to fly in order to travel from its starting point to its destination.  In a marriage, it means there needs to be devoted, dedicated, disciplined investment after the “I do.”  Isaiah 40:31 reminds us that if we call upon the Lord to be the means of the flight we need, He will.  He will give us the ability to travel, to be exhilarated in our journey, and to safely arrive at our final destination.  Rely on … or as the passage says, trust in … Him, and He will carry us like wings would.  Keep Him out of the relationship, and it’s a free fall straight down to a distant but resounding “POW” indicating the contact with the ground below.”  Psalms 63:7-8 says the same thing …

Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.  I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.

We can’t free fall safely off a cliff, and we can’t enter into marriage without making a constant and daily commitment to relying on God to lift us with wings to journey to a final and magnificent destination.  It’s not our natural ability in either case.  We have no choice to but rely on God.  If we don’t, we shouldn’t be surprised when we free fall and feel the deadly impact.

It’s no different in our relationship with Jesus.  If we accept His free offering of salvation but we never rely on Him to lift us, to help us fly and journey to our final destination, we will free fall.  Let me make sure I don’t mislead by way of my analogy, though … if we choose to have a relationship with Christ but free fall rather than fly, He assures us it won’t be to our utter doom and demise.  He catches us at the bottom and while our free fall may not destroy us, it also won’t produce fruitfulness.  And that is indeed to our demise in the sense of starving ourselves of the type of life we could otherwise live.  And just like free falling for Wile E. Coyote, that is a tragedy.

In our relationships, in our marriages, and even more so in our walk with the Lord … free falling causes nothing but pain and possibly destruction.  Trusting in, and being obedient to, God’s ways in carrying out those relationships will help Him to lift us as though He was giving us wings so that we can fly.  It requires intentionality and it requires a recognition that flying is not in our nature and it is not a skill we possess on our own.  We have to rely on the One who can help us fly by His power.  In our faith journey, it’s the same as not saying “I do” only one time in our marriage, but to starting every single day, “I do today.”  It’s communing with Him and conversing with Him just the same as we should in a marriage.  To make it to our desired end, we have to be intentional, to trust God, to ask Him to give us wings to fly … rather than free fall … so we can make it all the way to our final destination and not an inch short of it.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Moldy Cheetos

Smorgasbord.

It’s a funny-sounding word that yet probably brings up some pretty delectable images of incredible spreads of food.  When I think of a smorgasbord I visualize an enormous, long table filled with foods of all sorts … meats and cheeses, fruits and breads, literally everything you can think of, in amounts that I could only aspirationally. in my wildest dreams, make a meaningful dent in … as though there is never enough of an appetite to take it all in.  Maybe it brings up similar images for you.

And then … I think of a time when I was a kid, maybe in middle school, when I found a bag of Cheetos that somehow got left behind in my homeroom desk.  I opened up the bag thinking I’d uncovered some hidden treasure only to find a most horrific and disgusting sight.  A full bag of greenish, orangeish, blackish “stuff” that perhaps at one time was the delicious, cheesy goodness that is Cheetos.  But instead now it only brought nausea and gag reflex.  Please forgive if these are not helpful visuals for you.  As you would expect, there is a point to all this.

And it’s just this … if you were confronted with the opportunity to partake in the most amazing smorgasbord you ever saw, wouldn’t you jump at the chance?  Think of every food you love being part of it, prepared just the way you love it, and plenty to go around not just for you but for everyone you would want to have join you.  All your favorite foods accompanied by all your favorite people.  Wouldn’t that be the best thing ever?  Wouldn’t you probably jump at the chance?  Who wouldn’t?

It would certainly beat opening up a who-knows-how-old bag of moist, moldy, discolored Cheetos, wouldn’t it?  I mean who in the world when confronted with the most incredible smorgasbord experience would instead choose moldy Cheetos?

Answer:  Spiritually, we would, and I sometimes think we do every day.

You see, God desires the best for His children.  After all, He created us for the purpose of communing with us, bringing maximum glory to Himself and also maximum blessing to each and all of us.  It’s not about us, but that’s what makes it all the more incredible that He wants to lavish us with His love.  We read in so many places in scripture …

Psalms 16:11

You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.

Revelation 3:20

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.

Matthew 7:9-11

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead?  Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not!  So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

And yet, instead of us marveling in humility over the generosity of His invitation to the most incredible smorgasbord we could ever imagine, many of us would rather grab the old, moldy, disgusting bag of Cheetos and why?  Because it’s ours.  Because we can.  Because we fear that if we attend the smorgasbord, we are somehow losing our independence and control. 

I think we all think we would love that independence and control.  People talk all the time about being “in control” of their own destiny, being “captain of their own ship,” and all sorts of impressive and self-inspiring characteristics.  But as great as the independence and control sound, they yield, at best, moldy Cheetos.

There are so many times when I look at my choices and wonder why in the world I would choose moldy Cheetos rather than the smorgasbord.  In other words, why did I once again choose less than God’s best for me and choose what my flesh thought it preferred?  It’s silly and senseless.

Proverbs 16:1

We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer.

God always offers smorgasbord.  The problem is, we look at it and belittle it and undervalue it.  Perhaps it’s because sometimes we only get to view a small portion of it, and we figure it’s not worth partaking especially when we have this whole bag of our own.  Set aside of course the fact that the whole bag that we have contains nothing more than moldy Cheetos.  It’s ours, and that’s all we care about.

God may sometimes not reveal the entire smorgasbord, and so we’re forced to exercise faith that He offers a banquet for the ages.  We can choose His banquet, but it requires us to leave behind, and preferably discard, our bag.  And I can tell you, sometimes I really struggle to let go of my bag of moldy Cheetos.

But let go we must, in order to enjoy the smorgasbord God provides us.  The best thing is this … not only does God offer us a smorgasbord, but He offers to join us at the smorgasbord.  In fact, He Himself is the one that put it together, and the smorgasbord that He offers you is perfectly comprised of the perfect things for you … the very things that are your favorites and that fill you with joy.  And even better, He offers me that which is perfectly composed for me.  The things that are my favorites, that will fill me with joy.  And the joy he offers you and me … all of us … is joy that is perfectly full for each of us.  And all we have to do is drop our personal bag of moldy Cheetos in the trash, and choose to accept the magnificent smorgasbord He offers us.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Piece be with you

One of the activities our family likes, probably more than we realize, is doing puzzles.  I guess the fun of working through them has always been there, but we go through periods of time when it wouldn’t seem so.  Recently, during a trip to Estes Park, Colorado with my wife to celebrate our 25th anniversary, we were joined by our mentors.  While just hanging out with them is a blessing (and entertainment) enough, there was a pretty imposing 1,500-piece puzzle at the house we were staying at that looked challenging enough that we were willing to take it on.

I don’t know if you’ve ever taken on a 1,500-piece puzzle (before then, I hadn’t) but it’s quite time consuming and intense, especially for someone as competitive as me.  We spent the better part of three-plus days painstakingly working on a complex photo we were trying to recreate.  Each of us took on relatively different roles at different times, sometimes taking a singular piece and trying to ascertain its position based on matching it up to the picture on the box.  The joy of getting more and more of the image recreated on the table with all the pieces coming together grows nearly exponentially, particularly after three-plus days, late nights, and times when you near futility.

You get down to the short strokes.  You can clearly see that you’re a mere few steps … single-digit pieces … away from being complete.  If you’re like me, you start to do a little cocky victory dance.  And then … you realize, as we did, that you’re missing the last piece.  Incredulously, you look everywhere.  On the table, under the box (both the top and the bottom), on the floor, on the chairs, in your pockets, heck … even outside!  Nonetheless you realize, in a crestfallen way, that you’re missing that last piece.  It’s incredibly frustrating and exasperating.

Here’s the application … without that last piece, the puzzle is incomplete.  You have a clear sense it depicts the overall image, but it’s not complete.  It’s missing the final piece.  Even if you had another puzzle piece you couldn’t use it to fill the hole.  Not just any puzzle piece will do; it needs to be the puzzle piece that was designed and destined to be there.  Just because it’s a puzzle piece doesn’t mean it’s THE puzzle piece.

It’s a lot like life …

Ecclesiastes 3:11

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

You see, we are designed to be complete.  Our physical, mental, and emotional existence is often what most of us consider to be the totality of ourselves.  But the Bible clearly teaches us that we are designed with eternity in our hearts.  Like the lyrics from a song I remember from perhaps 20 years ago, “there’s a God-shaped hole in all of us.”  We are designed with the recognition that a key piece to make us complete is eternity, our spiritual reality.  In the most important way, we need that final piece to feel whole … and without it, no matter what we think or do, we are inherently incomplete.  Just like the single piece missing from a 1,500-piece puzzle … just 0.07 percent of the total … 99.93 percent complete makes it 100 percent incomplete.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, and I suspect too many of us do not, only the piece that was designed and destined to be there will suffice to complete the spiritual wholeness in us; the most important part of us.  We can’t just go grab a piece from some other puzzle and try to place it there.  It might be a puzzle piece, sure, but it’s not THE puzzle piece.

Jesus talked about that spiritual puzzle piece in numerous places, and fortunately, He helped us identify what THE puzzle piece is.

John 15:5

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

Folks, so many of us try to fill that gap in the puzzle with a variety of pieces, but none of them are THE piece.  Those pieces will never actually fit.  They’re puzzle pieces perhaps, but they aren’t the pieces that are designed and destined to fit the hole that is in the puzzle (e.g., the God-shaped hole in us).  Trying to force it to fit just causes frustration and exasperation, and never actually solves the problem.  The puzzle piece is missing.

Unlike when my wife and friends and I were searching fruitlessly for that last piece, THE piece for our lives, Jesus, isn’t lost or hidden.  He’s right in front of us in plain sight.

Matthew 11:28-30

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Revelation 3:20

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.

The puzzle piece we need in order to finally be complete is right there for the taking.  He bids us just to pick Him up and place Him right in the gap that only He can fill.  To be THE piece for us once and for all.  The fruitless searching for other nonconforming, dissatisfying pieces can be over.

Unless you have that piece be with you, you will never have that peace be with you.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

One degree off

There’s a concept in aviation called the “1 in 60 rule,” which basically states that for every one degree of being off course, over a 60-mile distance, a plane will miss its destination by one mile.  That is, a little bit of being off course over the long haul equals a significant miss in terms of where the plane was intending to go.  When a plane takes off, it seems simple enough … point yourself to where you’re going and hit it.  Not so much.

You see, while conditions in the air are considered in the plotting of a course … things like the direction of and intensity of wind, among many other things … these factors are anything but consistent during flight.  Wind speeds change, the direction of the winds changes, barometric pressure changes, temperature changes, etc., etc.  This means that pilots (autopilots, these days) need to constantly be making course corrections and changes to adapt and to ensure they remain on course.  Why is it a constant correction process?  Because, as the 1 in 60 rule suggests, if you wait too long to make course corrections, the corrections get too large or become too significant to change without substantially elongating the trip, using too much fuel, and similar other undesirable outcomes.  From being just one degree off!  Hence, it is far better to make small, frequent changes to stay on course.

Life is the same way.  At some level, I think we all want to stay on course.  We seek to have strong character, do the right things, stay away from selfish and poor behaviors, and generally try to fly an uneventful route in our lives.  But small deviations in those routes can lead to really large variations in the quality of our lives and in the circumstances and consequences to which our actions lead.  Beyond that, the environment around us changes unpredictably and frequently.  The forces of wind and weather, figuratively speaking of course, change dramatically and without warning.  We have an enemy that loves when we get settled into a static flight plan and rhythm, because catching us unaware is his best tactic for pushing us off course.

I reckon that most of us, when we have deviance in our life’s flight plan, don’t intend to make huge variations, and perhaps infrequently do we.  Most often, it seems, we make small changes, take small shortcuts, fall victim to small compromises, but in the long-term life’s 1 in 60 rule kicks in and if we don’t make frequent, timely course corrections, before we know it our life has veered way off course.  While we had an initial heading to Hawaii, before we know it, we’re flying over Siberia.

God, above all, knows our propensity to miss the mark.  He knows we’ll get blindsided by the enemy’s wares and that the sin nature that resides in us can sometimes fall victim to the sinful environment around us.  It’s a terrible and violent concoction unless we ensure we are constantly course-correcting.

So much did God know it that He gave us the Bible, His Owner’s manual for our lives, to help us chart out a correct and true course.  In that Owner’s manual, He also shows His love and care for us, by reminding us how to make the minor, frequent, necessary course corrections we need. 

Isaiah 1:18-20

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord.  “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.  If you will only obey me, you will have plenty to eat. But if you turn away and refuse to listen, you will be devoured by the sword of your enemies.  I, the Lord, have spoken!”

1 John 1:8-9

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

Ezekiel 18:30-32

“Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions, says the Sovereign Lord. Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you!  Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel?  I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live!

It’s inevitable that a plane gets pushed off course.  It’s inevitable for us in life too.  No matter what we do, no matter how much we try, we will never stay on course.  God desires – and requires – that we stay on course.  Completely on course … not just more on course than the other guy / gal.  And yet He knows we can’t and won’t.  That doesn’t mean He excuses our getting off course.  Just the opposite!  It’s abhorrent to Him.  But He also extended not only a hand of rescue but sent His very Son to take the full penalty of our collective – past, present, and future – course deviations on our behalf.

But the pain and anguish and consequences of our one degree off are immutable.  For those, God gives us the way to correct our course, and reminds us in His word to simply choose those course corrections a little at a time.  He reminds us, in fact He pleads with us … make a quick change … choose holiness … follow Me … live your life My way.  Before the impact gets bigger, more painful, worse.  It’s truly the heart of a Father.

And therein lies the secret for you and me.  Little course corrections regularly.  It’s why the practice of daily Bible reading, daily prayer, daily communion with our Savior is so incredibly important.  Those are our course corrections!  Straight out of the Owner’s manual, conveyed directly by the Owner Himself.  Without those corrections the deviation from our destination can be enormous.  We’ve perhaps seen, or maybe even have been, people who let far too much course deviation build up and before we know it we have no idea where we are or how we’ve gotten there.  The great thing … the Owner’s manual, and the Owner, are never, ever far away.  They are never ineffectual, never irrelevant, never outdated, never overmatched.

The passages above are just a small sampling of the hundreds if not thousands of places our Father not only pleads with us to stay on course, but also offers myriad ways to experience course correction.  Whether we’re one degree off, or so far off that we’re heading in the wrong direction, there is never a time when He won’t allow us to correct all the way back on course.  Most people, it seems, see God as some mean-spirited ogre who is just waiting for us to mess up so He can cast us into hell.  Nothing could be further from the truth or from His character.  In fact, He wanted so much not to live without us that He sent His Son to die for us.

The course corrections are all there in the Owner’s manual.  But here’s the thing … they can’t do us any good if we don’t seek the course corrections or if we don’t put the course corrections into action.  Knowing what the course correction is is not the same thing as actually making the course correction.  I pray if you are one degree off, like many of us are much of the time, you will remember the 1 in 60 rule and apply it to your life.  Go to the Owner’s manual, seek the course correction, and put it into action.  Make the small, frequent changes and avoid getting way off course!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Pencils

Have you ever looked at some of the most famous paintings in history and wonder about the brush that did the painting?  How about when you tasted the best dessert you’ve ever eaten, have you wondered about the spoon or whisk used to mix the batter?  When Willie Mays made “the catch” at the Polo Grounds in New York (I was a huge fan of his when I was a kid) did you wonder about the glove that he used, or when Michael Jordan hit arguably his most famous shot to knock the Cleveland Cavaliers from the playoffs in 1989, do you wonder about the ball that fell through the net?  When you read a poem by Maya Angelou or a play by William Shakespeare, did you wonder about the pencil (or quill in Shakespeare’s case in all likelihood) that was used to write those incredible works?

Unless you’re … detailed, let’s just say … you probably have never once considered any of these things, and you’re not likely to start now.  I can’t blame you.  I rarely think about such things either.  None of us do.  That’s because the brush, the whisk, the glove, the ball, and the pencil are implements or tools.  Left to themselves, they quite literally can do nothing.  But, in the hands of a skilled artisan, in some cases in the examples above incomparably talented artisans, some of the most memorable and world-changing constructs can be accomplished.  We don’t venerate the pencil we venerate the user of the pencil.  And with good reason.

And yet, we tend to over-focus on the pencils in our human experience, including when we are the pencil.  How?  We find an example in Romans 1:19-20, 25

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.  For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. 

Verse 25 says that “they” worshipped the created things, not the Creator of things.  The “they” is us.  We do it, and we do it all the time.  I know I do.

Anytime I have achieved something or done something well, I can assure you I have taken credit for it.  I’ve patted myself on the back.  I’ve notched myself higher in the “I’m pretty awesome” club.  My pride meter creeps ever higher.  Don’t get me wrong, when we set out to do things that are noteworthy, and particularly when we take actions to the benefit of others, some degree of acknowledgement is warranted.  But the proper acknowledgement, and the appropriate apportionment of attribution, is important.  I’m just the pencil.  There’s a pencil User who deserves all the credit.

That’s because left to myself, I can’t do anything.  No matter what character trait of mine I credit, of my own volition it does not exist.  My gifts, my talents, my experience, my education, and even my effort are only available to me because God provided them and allowed for them.  There is nothing that I have and nothing that I do that He didn’t give me.  I can regress as far back as I want and can never quite get to the point where something is of myself.  No matter how far back I look, my skills, traits, and abilities are not there because of anything I’ve done.  No more than the works of Shakespeare are there in any way because of anything the pencil did.

So whether it’s my accomplishments, or it’s the amazing drumming of Buddy Rich when he was alive, or the painting of Michelangelo, or the world-changing work of Martin Luther King, Jr., all were possible ONLY because they were pencils in the skillful hands of the ultimate Writer.

Please don’t misunderstand, though.  This is NOT to diminish the invaluable contributions of the likes of the aforementioned people.  Quite the opposite.  Each of these folks (and those mentioned above) were unique, designed for a job that in many ways only they could accomplish.  Think of it this way, they were perhaps pencils fit to use identifiably for writing a masterpiece, or for drawing a rich, vivid picture, or for measuring perfectly a cut of wood for the perfect structure, or for solving a complex mathematical formula previously thought unresolvable.  They were perfectly and discretely positioned for the work and in that sense were valuable beyond measure.

But it’s in their use in the right hands by the right user that they realize their purpose.  In that way does their merit and value become fully revealed.  The pencils are incredibly important.  But the user of the pencil is the one who brings meaning and purpose to the pencil.

You and I are pencils.  It doesn’t mean that we have no value.  It actually means we have infinite value.  But it’s only in the hands of the One Who can fully elicit our worth, Who can create something with us that we could not create on our own.  God has formed each of us as pencils, but pencils of different types, with different colors and textures, for different purposes, for different uses, and to apply at different times.  Whether you are a pencil that will create a Shakespearian classic and I’m a pencil that measures the location of a cut on a two-by-four, we each have equal value.  That’s because the Hands of the User of the pencil is the one who fulfills 100 percent of our potential.  Because of Him, each of us pencils has immense and infinite worth, because He is the one who brings our worth to fruition. 

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

100 percent

 

If you knew you had only 30 minutes left to live, how would you live that 30 minutes differently?  It’s a question perhaps none of us have thought about, and fortunately none of us have been forced to.  Truth be told, which of us know without a doubt that we have more than 30 minutes left?  None of us can actually be certain of that, if we’re totally honest, and yet few if any of us live as though it might be true.  I include myself in that observation.  I can sincerely say that when I wake up in the morning most days I take that for granted.  The fact that I woke up?  Yes, exactly.  If I were truly cognizant of the fact that the very act of waking up is a gift … which it is … I would more earnestly arise with Psalms 118:24 on my lips –

This is the day the Lord has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it.

The thing is, all of us have only 30 minutes left.  The only question is when does that 30-minute countdown start?  

In 2007, I was asked to speak at the memorial service for a sweet little girl whose family were neighbors of ours.  She passed away at eight years, four months, and three days old.  That was the entirety of her life, and yet I shared that day what I truly meant … that we had the opportunity that day to remember not the things she didn’t accomplish but the things she did.  You see, even at that incredibly young age, as awful as her passing into eternity was in temporal terms (and it was), that little girl who fought for three years a cancer that ultimately prevailed was victorious in many ways that many of us often miss.  It’s about 100 percent.

 

James 4:14

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

Psalms 90:12

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.

Ephesians 2:10

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Psalms 139:13-16

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.  Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.  You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.  You saw me before I was born.  Every day of my life was recorded in your book.  Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

 

These passages talk in part about two inescapable concepts: the finite and short nature of our lives, and the fact that no matter how finite and short our lives might be, God intends for them to have purpose.  God’s desire is that we live whatever number of days He grants us to 100 percent.  That is, to passionately live out our lives to accomplish 100 percent of our purpose.  To live with 100 percent intentionality.  To be grateful for 100 percent of the time we have.

In other words, it’s not about the time we don’t get here on earth.  It’s about the time we do get.  It’s not about what we don’t get to do in life, it’s about what we do get to do.  It’s not about how much life we live, it’s about how we live the lives we get.  That was true of that little girl, and it’s true for you and me.

Life IS short.  There’s no questioning that.  As I sit here well into the 2nd half of my life, I can say with no hesitation that the 53 years of my life behind me have gone by in what seems to be the blink of an eye.  If I am granted 20 more years, I’m sure the 73 years of my life behind me at that point will seem no less the snap of a finger in retrospect.  But the Ephesians 2 and Psalms 139 passages above show quite clearly that time is not the measuring stick of impact while we’re here on earth.  God has lain before us some number of days, short or long, in order for us to accomplish kingdom purposes.  What gives God most glory is also what He most desires to give us most good … that is, to live 100 percent of our lives at 100 percent of our purpose.

Tim McGraw’s song, “Live Like You Were Dying,” is a song about 100 percent …

I went skydiving, I went Rocky Mountain climbing, I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu.  And I loved deeper, And I spoke sweeter, And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.  And he said, “Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.

Now, whether skydiving or climbing or bull riding is your thing or not isn’t particularly the point.  It speaks to me more about the intensity of moments and the focus on difference making every chance we get.  That’s 100 percent.  It’s neglecting nothing and no one.  It’s adding legacy in short snippets of time.  It’s recognizing the hugeness of small encounters.  It’s honoring the value of otherwise overlooked people.  It’s showing people that would never see otherwise the love of their Creator.

100 percent means not wasting time or opportunities.  I remember when I was a very young driver (and a cocky one at that), realizing I was low on gas in my old 1974 Volkswagon Beetle.  In my arrogance and in my questionable prioritization of other things in life, I kept driving though I knew my gas tank was getting emptier and emptier.  As I finally capitulated and made my way nervously to the gas station (fearing I wouldn’t make it), I pulled in and drove up to the station just as the last of the fuel in my car was being consumed.  I literally coasted with what little momentum I had to the tank.  Barely.  In a way, it was satisfying … knowing that I made it with no margin for error … but also knowing that I used everything in the tank.  The same is true when I do a really hard workout and put my all into it.  I feel ground down to a nub when it’s done, but there’s a huge sense of satisfaction that is impossible to detach.

That’s 100 percent.  It means using every drop of gas in the tank of our lives, ending on fumes.  It means working hard with every moment to feel that satisfaction of being done with something hard and taxing, but good.  We will all live 100 percent of our lives.  That’s what we have allotted to us.  None of us will have a shortage and none of us get overtime.  We get 100 percent.  That’s it.  What matters, then, is how will we use our 100 percent? 

Will we live it like there’s only 30 minutes left?  Will we dedicate ourselves to living out God’s purpose and plan for our lives?  Will we love others the way the Bible tells us HE loves them?  Imagine what our world would be like if we did.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Eye of the beholder

cross eyed

It seems like the past several months we keep being shown the worst of society.  No matter where we look, what news channel, what websites, whatever, it’s an at times overwhelming sense of the dregs of society.  The media bend the curve, but it seems each of them bend the curve toward humanity’s least proud behaviors.  Obviously, that must pay the bills for them, and yet it can be demoralizing in the extreme.  In candor, I’ve significantly diminished my consumption of news in all forms, including social media, over the past few months.  It just feels at times like too much.  Too much negative.  Too much weight.

I don’t mean to sound depressing, and I fully recognize that the emphasis of news has generally tended toward the negative more than the positive.  At least in my fifty-something years of life that seems to be the case.  The old adage that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” seems to hit the mark.  At some level, we see what we look for, and if anything is true in our world of immediately-accessible information, one thing is for sure … we can choose to get bogged down in the negative news of the day.  But we can also find better.

We can see the part of our humanity that does take time to love and help and bless one another the way the Bible commands us to.  There is ample evidence that society consists in more than just the dregs.  If we have the eyes to see, we can find numerous examples of folks doing the right things by other folks.  It’s truly in the eye of the beholder.  We … you and I … are the beholders.

If we look hard enough, there are some cool and heartwarming examples of all kinds of people doing all kinds of good.  I’m not advocating us sticking our heads in the sand or covering up our eyes and ears to avoid seeing the harsh realities around us.  We actually have to be aware of what’s real and true.  But I guess my point is, we should seek not only a real view, but a complete view.

Like the musician in New Orleans who is trading people in the area trumpets for their guns, just to get guns out of the hands of kids.  A sweet couple from Texas who have beaten multiple health challenges together motivated by not missing an anniversary celebration together.  A quick search will find many more sources and I suspect I’ll be checking those more often and enjoying some good news more frequently.

But more than that … clearly it’s important to see the good that’s out there, and to focus on it being in the eye of the beholder.  What’s more important, in my estimation, is to be the right types of folks doing the right types of things.

Truly we can conclude that the beauty in our world is in the eye of the beholder, but what if each of us commits to more frequently being those who do beautiful things in our world that other beholders can behold?  If the journey of a thousand miles really begins with a single step, could it be true as well that transforming what is seen of our world with the eye of the beholder begins with a single one of us choosing to do a single act of selflessness?  Could that actually have the benefit of bending the most important curve there is to bend?  Could that help change the narrative?  You bet!  But how can we do that?

Colossians 3:16-17

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.  And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

2 Chronicles 16:9a

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

These two passages aptly help us decipher both why we should do it and how we should do it.

Why do we do it?  We do it to please God, and to bless His people.  There’s an important clarification that I should make, though; we don’t do such things to somehow earn God’s favor.  We can’t do anything to earn His favor.  He gives us His favor freely (His grace and His mercy), simply out of His infinite love for us.  We can’t add to that or subtract from it.  We do it as a consequence of His love.  And whether or not it’s seen or unseen by other people, it’s seen by HIM.

How do we do it?  It’s actually something we don’t do by our own accord.  It’s by His power, by His strength, at work in our lives.  When we’re fully committed to Him, He supernaturally gives us an ability to accomplish more with even our small gestures and actions.  It’s kind of like trying to lift a really heavy weight … we might be able to do it on our own, but with help we can lift quite a bit more.

Sounds impossible?  Matthew 19:26 reminds us, “Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

The bottom line …

If there’s something we need more of right now, it’s to behold good news.  To view the good that is actually happening out there, even if it’s not what generates news ratings or stirs up viewers on a website.  Moreover, we can contribute and add to the good.  We need to provide the eyes of the beholders with faith-filled love and service that is actually worth beholding.  The eye of the beholder is ultimately dependent on you and me contributing good to behold.  We do it for God and we do it by God.  All He asks us to do is to be available for His work.  Anytime we do so, the eye of the beholder … our eyes … will see His glory and handiwork.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

HUA!

A U.S. Army Rangers

Though I’ve never served in the military, there are many elements of it that have always captured my respect and intrigue.  Certainly, those who have served … you have my utmost and eternal gratitude.  One of my favorite aspects is the Army’s practice of saying “hooah!” as a way to communicate a number of things, primarily as an affirmative acknowledgement of instruction or order.  In fact, some have explained that the meaning of “hooah!” can often be expressed as the acronym, “HUA,” or short for “Heard.  Understood.  Acknowledged.”

The past few months for me have felt incredibly heavy.  With the strife that our country … in fact, our world … has been going through, I guess it isn’t all that surprising.  Perhaps like many of you, the cacophony of societal yelling and hollering (a Texas form of “yelling,” haha) has caused me to taper off the degree to which I watch the news and engage in social media.  It seems today that so many folks are so busy yelling and screaming, there is no way they could actually be listening to one another.  And if they’re not listening, there’s no way they can be hearing.  If they’re not hearing, I would assert it’s impossible to gain understanding.  And what could be more important today then each of us trying to understand one another just a little bit better?

This is what drew me to the concept of HUA.  As I read a little more about the possible meanings of the phrase, the clarity of the utility of the “heard, understood, and acknowledged,” relative to our society struck me.  I can tell you, I could certainly apply the concepts far more in my marriage, as my wife could (and would) attest!  But it’s the power of the simplicity of the phrase that moved me, not to mention that it fits like a glove in the same frame as an admonition from one of my favorites books of scripture … James 1:19-20

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.  Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.

I can’t imagine a more appropriate verse to guide the supposed “dialog” that is going on in our country on the health front or the racial front.  You only have to look to our “leaders” in government to see that neither side of the aisle gives the slightest ear to the other side.  Just accusatory arguing and shouting, which certainly can’t activate hearing, understanding or acknowledging.  And at least for me, there are far too few examples of where HUA has been applied in our day and age.

Yet, James (the brother of Jesus) aptly reminds us that we should be quick to listen.  The connectedness of this to the next gem is profound, because if we are indeed quick to listen, by definition we are slow to speak.  And if we do both of those I daresay the slow to get angry portion is simply a natural byproduct.  What would our world look like these days if more people were slow to get angry?

Actually, James answers that question when he rightly points out, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.”  I wish I could put one of those head exploding emojis in this message at this point.  Is there anything that could be clearer from God’s word?  Is there anything that could be, frankly, more important today?  While I am not here trying to claim that the global pandemic we’re undergoing the past several months has to do with unrighteousness per se, I have to wonder how much of our response to it and reaction to it could be far more edifying to one another if we simply heard, understood, and acknowledged one another more, and allowed God to work in our lives to produce not our anger but His righteousness.  All the more if we apply HUA to the “one anothers” in our world even if they don’t look like us.

It seems all too often these days that we tend to demand that others listen to and hear us.  But look more closely at the passage from James 1, above.  It isn’t an admonition to yell and scream to force others to hear us.  It’s a command to us, that we stop and hear others.  Imagine if our politicians in Washington, DC, the state houses, and cities throughout America stopped talking long enough to listen to and hear one another, let alone “we the people?”  They’re too busy demanding that others hear them.  And, so as not to be pointing fingers unduly, so are we.  And more accurately … I have to say … so am I.  This is not intended to be an indictment on others, it’s meant to serve as an encouragement to all of us, me chiefly.  I don’t say these things because they don’t apply to me, I say these things because they do, and I above all need to practice them.  Again, just ask my wife.  😎

One of the other aspects of the explanation of the meaning of HUA is that it can mean anything but “no.”  In other words, it must always be an affirmation that one has heard, understood, and acknowledged the instruction or otherwise what they heard.  It means we can’t say, “no” to lending an ear to someone, to listen until we hear, and to hear so we can acknowledge what we heard.

Some might say, “Why bother?  I’m never going to get that person to come to my side of the discussion!”  That’s not the point.  HUA does not mean “agreement.”  It doesn’t mean convincing someone of something or pointing out your rightness or their wrongness.  How do you know you’re right in the first place?  Just because we agree with ourselves doesn’t make our point of view right.  And even if we are “right” wouldn’t our rightness be enhanced and strengthened by exercising a little HUA so someone else’s perspective can better inform and maybe even bolster our own?  Anyhow, you and I can absolutely HUA one another without agreeing on everything.  We can disagree and … as they say … disagree agreeably.  To my mind, the only way we can do that is to be able to say that we have heard, understood, and acknowledged one another.

Another reason to HUA is to show our love and respect for one another.  After all, Jesus made it quite clear in Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Those, according to Jesus the Creator of the universe, are the MOST important commandments … commandments that are indelibly tied to one another, intertwined with one another, and integral to one another.  We show our love for God by showing our love for His people.  Even people with whom we don’t agree.  Especially with people with whom we don’t agree.  I can’t think of a better way to love our neighbor as ourselves than to say HUA! as often as we have the opportunity.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR