Strength in numbers


I hate ants. Seriously hate them. They’re disgusting creatures and I have to admit I wonder why in tarnation (I’m in Texas as I write this so I figured I’d use proper lingo) the Lord created them. I remember when I lived in Texas many years ago I encountered different types of ants than I’d seen before … fire ants. These critters are brutal and for tiny little things pack quite a stinging punch. I remember living in New York as a kid and going outside the city from time to time and they had these black ants that were HUGE. No matter the type, hate them.

But there’s something incredible about them. They are incredibly strong, and they exhibit something superbly important for us … strength in numbers. Proverbs 6:6-8 says, “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter.” Ants do indeed work incredibly well in groups and accomplish a great deal because of their interdependence and reliance on one another. Each has a role, but they also support one another. Therein lies what moved me this week as I read through Psalms 148 – 150 and Proverbs 25 – 28. The application comes from Proverbs 27:9 – 12

Never abandon a friend—either yours or your father’s. When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance. It’s better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away. Be wise, my child, and make my heart glad. Then I will be able to answer my critics. A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.

Now I’m not saying people are like ants (unless you’ve been to New York City recently, in which case that’s exactly how all those folks look to me, particularly when you look at them from high up in a building. But that’s not the point. As I read through the passage above, particularly in light of the stuff going on in our lives and the lives of our friends the past few weeks (see last week’s blog post), it struck me how critical it is that God created us to be community-based beings. Perhaps not exactly like ants, but similar in some ways.

We’re not meant to live in isolation. Especially when it comes to the Christian life. If we go to church without becoming part of and eventually being the church, we’re missing the point. As the passage from Proverbs 27 wisely instructs us, when the disasters of life happen (not “if” but “when”) we have others available to help. When my friend Kevin passed away a couple weeks ago, it was overwhelming to see how many people were in the ICU to pray, console and support Jen and her boys. So much so that the ICU staff had to scoot us away at one point.

Somewhat like ants, when we live in community with one another we can accomplish far more than we can individually and independently. As I’ve noticed over the years, there is always … ALWAYS … someone around that has skills and gifts that I don’t. When it comes to ministry, for instance, I’m a good “idea” guy. I love coming up with ideas for events, ways to minister, etc., but don’t expect me to execute or administer well. I’m not the most organized guy in the world. But when I partner up with Helen … who is masterful at administration and planning, man we are a potent team!

But it’s more than that. When we most exhibit strength in numbers is in the turmoil in life. Things go wrong. Bad stuff happens. It’s unavoidable. It’s in those moments when we see the benefit of others in our lives who walk the roads with us, particularly the bumpy ones.

I’ve heard … not that I’ve actually done this before, mind you … that if you light an ant hill on fire, all the ants come out to jump on it to smother it, often sacrificing their lives. I’m neither advocating lighting ant hills on fire (please do NOT try this at home) nor am I equating challenges in life to fire, but there’s a parallel, isn’t there? My friend who has been struggling with emotional and biochemical issues has literally been smothered in prayer and support as has his wife. I suspect they’d agree that it feels a little like a fire, and certainly quite as painful, and I also guess that they welcome the sense of smothering as folks sacrificially jump on the painful circumstance on their behalf.

One of the principal reasons to be part of a bible teaching church community is this support. Both having the support and most importantly, being this support. I know categorically that if (okay, when) things go awry in my life or in our family, we have literally dozens of folks that we won’t even have to ask for help … they’ll just be help. But they can rest assured that we will ask. There’s NOTHING wrong with asking for the help. In fact, the opposite is true. As the passage above points out, “The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” Being a simpleton is the same as being foolish. So, it’s foolish to not seek help in navigating the tough times in life, to have help available and not seek or accept it.

It’s similarly unwise to not cultivate that type of help. If you’re not part of a church community … a bible teaching community … find one! (email me for suggestions if you need one regardless of where you are) God didn’t create us to live alone and He doesn’t expect us to live alone now. Let’s face it, when we see all the craziness in the world, is there any wonder why it is incredibly important that we all find strength in numbers?

Let’s pray this week for God to help us connect in a meaningful way with a community of bible believing folks. Let’s also go before Him to ask Him how you and I can better serve others as a community. Belonging and being are the critical elements to providing and receiving strength in numbers.

Soli Deo gloria!



I just don’t know …

Business patient

Wow. The last couple weeks have been rough for our country and even here in our community. It goes without saying that the horrific attack in Orlando tips the scales as about the most inconceivably dismaying and haunting event in recent memory. My heart goes out to those affected and yet I can’t get my head around the dreadfulness of it. It only partly helps to know that the maniacal Islamic terrorist who perpetrated the murders is suffering a perpetual and eternal punishment beyond description. Yeah, I realize that probably isn’t how God wants me to look at it, but I’m human.

In the same past couple weeks, we had a friend pass away quite suddenly without any warning, leaving a wife and two teenage boys to wonder how, why, what, etc. I found out another friend is battling a late-stage lymphoma and unfortunately had to be in the hospital getting chemo while his oldest child graduated from high school, relegating my friend to watch it on his phone. Another friend is at this moment in a serious battle with depression and what seems like an imbalance with his psychiatrist-prescribed meds. To say it’s a challenging time for his wife and grown kids is an understatement.

So, if I’m being honest, I have to say … I don’t get it. I just don’t know. I don’t get WHY this stuff happens. How do we get our brains around terrible stuff like this? Is evil on the rise? Is it happening more now than in the past? Well, sincerely, I have no idea. I do know that the Bible promises that in the last of days … and in general … our fallen world will struggle, evil will have a temporary opportunity to advance its territory, and pain, heartache, suffering, and tears will be our plight. For a time.

There’s not really a way to rationally explain the occurrence of tragedies and hardship other than the existence of evil, which never really quite feels satisfactory, but it’s true. The world is a horrific place, but Jesus said it would be.  Unfortunately He was dead-on accurate and correct. However, He CAN help us overcome our enemies, He CAN protect us (eternally if not temporally), and He will be vindicated against evil.

But in the meantime, it doesn’t mean we have a clean and safe world.  Quite the opposite. What do we do with that? As I wrestled with this over the past week, I was glad to be in the Psalms the past six months, and it was in Psalms 145 that God ministered to me as I shook my head in perplexity. Reading through Psalms 142 – 147 and Proverbs 24 … Psalms 145:13-20 spoke to me:

For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule throughout all generations. The Lord always keeps his promises; he is gracious in all he does. The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads. The eyes of all look to you in hope; you give them their food as they need it. When you open your hand, you satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness. The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. He grants the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cries for help and rescues them. The Lord protects all those who love him, but he destroys the wicked.

We can’t see what God sees. We can’t see when God sees. We can’t see how God sees. That is, while the massacre in Orlando was absolutely pure evil perpetrated upon otherwise innocent people, and while the death of our friend was in all ways dismayingly surprising and heartbreaking, and while the late-stage lymphoma my friend is now battling is altogether disappointing and scary, God is not limited to those outcomes exclusively. Can good somehow emerge from these situations? Yes. Are they still bad? Yes. I’m not going to over-Christianize them to say that they’ll turn to good in time. I don’t think bad things necessarily turn to good. I think they’re still bad. However … God can use those bad times to allow good to emerge from the bad.

God “rules throughout all generations.” His rulership never expires, never diminishes, never is threatened. That means over bad situations as well. He “always keeps his promises; he is gracious in all he does.” He “is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness.” He “protects all those who love him, but he destroys the wicked.”

How then is God all these things and yet we have tragedy, death, etc.? Honestly, I just don’t know. Obviously, it’s because there’s sin in the world. As long as God gives us the choice to follow Him and serve Him, there logically also HAS to be a choice not to. That’s sin.   That’s what causes murder, death, disease. It’s unavoidable. I guess the part I just don’t know is what makes people choose not-God. And I guess I just don’t know how God can use these situations as part of a bigger plan that shows us His rulership, that He keeps His promises, that He’s gracious in all He does, righteous in everything He does, and filled with kindness.

But just because I just don’t know doesn’t mean it’s not so. God isn’t limited by my understanding. He’s not revealed by what I see, He’s revealed by what He shows. But by His grace, He uses the evil in this world to let me see what He wants me to see. He perhaps uses the evil in this world to show me who I am to be. Will I someday see how God uses these terrible situations for good? Maybe. Perhaps the response in the community of Orlando will be an overwhelming sense of unity, even among Christians and the gay community who otherwise sometimes might seem at irreconcilable odds. Maybe the response of God’s people there builds a bridge that would have otherwise been unnecessary without the chasm being created by evil. Maybe the support and love shown my buddy’s surviving family will bless them in a way that allows them to minister to others who go through a similar tragedy of losing a husband / father. Maybe my other buddy kicks the crud out of his lymphoma and sends that stupid disease running away in fear and by doing so, helps give hope to others someday. Maybe the fog and weight of my other friend’s depression subsides in such a supernatural way that allows him to minister to others who are battling that very real emotional and biochemical plague. I just don’t know.

God does, though. He’s on the throne still. His heart breaks by the evil and brokenness in our world, but He’s still at work. Someday, it’ll all be worked out and … better than that … restored to its originally-intended state. In the meantime, we’re relegated to sometimes seeing the worst humanity has to offer and just trusting … trusting that God’s got it, and even though we just don’t know … He does. Somehow, that’s got to be enough. It is for me. I pray it would be for you.

Soli Deo gloria!


Live and in-person


I LOVE live music. I love watching it, listening to it, and over the years when I’ve had the chance, I’ve even loved playing it. Nowadays I love watching our son Jared play live, when he’s played with bands over the years, when he plays in the worship team at church, whatever. There’s really nothing like watching a live performance of good music (even mediocre music, frankly). There’s a different feel and a palpable element you get to the music that you don’t get when listening to a studio cut. I guess the difference is similar to the difference between silent movies and “talkies” in the day, or black-and-white movies versus color, or an old-school 13-inch black and white television versus an 80-inch 1080p LCD television these days. It’s almost silly to compare, in my not-particularly-humble opinion.

I’ve also had the occasion to meet many of my musical and sports heroes over the years (but no, I never got to meet Stevie Ray to my huge chagrin).   When the kids ask how I’ve been able to meet so many “famous” people over the years I just remind them how old I am and that statistically, the longer you live on the earth, the more likely you are to meet famous people. They just shake their head in disgust. Understandably. But even in those circumstances, there’s a different depth of experience when you meet people whose work you admire and who are well known for their talents. Sure, not all of those occasions have been as “magical” as I’d dreamed, but many were memories I’ll hold for the rest of my life. Surely, there’s nothing like in-person encounters.

This was my reflection the past couple weeks as I read through Psalms 130-141, and Proverbs 22-23. Well, not exactly to live music and famous people, but to a live and famous God. Bear with me while I dive deeper …

Psalms 135:13-18 reads …

Your name, O Lord, endures forever; your fame, O Lord, is known to every generation. For the Lord will give justice to his people and have compassion on his servants. The idols of the nations are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear, and mouths but cannot breathe. And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them.

There’s an old Bob Dylan song that says, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” While I don’t think old Robert Allen Zimmerman meant to provide fodder for a Christ-centered blog, I do think he struck on a nugget of wisdom in that tune. Ultimately, we all worship someone or something. It might be the universe, it might be ourselves (“gotta look out for number one”), it might be our intellect, it might be money, it might be “happiness,” it might be experiences, etc. One way or the other, as Dylan says, we’re “gonna have to serve somebody.”

What matters most about who we serve (e.g., what we worship) is the worthiness of the object. We are free to serve and idolize whatever and whoever we choose, but the question is whether or not that object is worthy of worship, what can it do for us, and what are the implications of worshipping it?

First off, God makes it very clear (Exodus 20:1-3) that He alone should be the object of our worship … hence the ramifications of our worshipping anything or anyone else are perilously serious. But like the difference between live music and studio music, or being a fan of a music artist or athlete and actually meeting or getting to know them, we have to realize there is a difference in worshipping something or someone and the affect of that worship.

The psalmist above notes this really important distinction. The first and most striking thing to me is how he points out God’s “fame.” Yes, fame. That it’s known to every generation. Have you ever thought about that? With only very, very few exceptions God’s presence is known and felt throughout our world and has been for as long as humans have existed. People have interpreted His identity differently or have objected to His presence or identity, but there’s a universal sense of God … His fingerprint upon every one of us. As some would say, a God-shaped hole within us. His fame is acknowledged. Whether we choose to accept Him or worship Him is a different deal.

If we instead worship other things or people … we have to ask ourselves why. What is it about substitutes or cheap imitations that draws us in? Is it the freedom to define worship as WE feel comfortable? Is it the ability to define our own rules and standards (which is really just worshipping ourselves)?

Whatever we worship other than God is cheap substitute. Powerless. Impotent. Incapable of lasting life change.   Such cheap substitutes – regardless of what they are – have “mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see … ears but cannot hear, and mouths but cannot breathe.” It’s like listening to a scratched-up version of a studio recording on a 13-inch black-and-white television. The sound AND the picture are wholly inadequate when compared to being in a live performance in the front row, center. In fact, the comparison of worshipping God (versus the cheap substitutes we create) would be better than just a live performance, front row, center. It would be like being the ONLY ONE who the band is playing for.

And that’s what our God is like. He’s famous beyond words, but He’s always live and in-person. He is never hidden from us, He is never far away. He is never in black-and-white, He’s never anything other than 1080p HD. His love is resounding, it’s full, and it’s crystal clear.   It’s the realest of “real things.” He’s never fuzzy, staticky or out of focus. Anything or anyone else we may choose to worship or serve is a cheap substitute, like a movie pirated off the big screen in the theater. It’s not even close to the same.

But what’s most amazing is that our infinitely famous God, He’s the artist, the star, the object of our excitement and devotion, but it’s like He plays for a crowd of one. You. And me.

Soli Deo gloria!


Plowing through


“There are no shortcuts in life!”   Man, how many times I’ve said that during the course of our kids’ lives. How many times … even today … God has had to say that in MY life. It’s a natural human tendency. We desire to get to the point, to skip ahead to the finish line, to escape the work to get to the pay, etc. I’d like to say it’s particularly pronounced in young lives, but the more I look around, the more I see it as an epidemic among the masses, young and old alike.

In many regards, the desire to skip ahead is typically pretty trivial. Usually it’s having to wait until the end of the school year … “Oh, I can’t wait until this is OVER!” Or, “I can NOT wait until our wedding day!” But there are other times, more understandable and pronounced times, when skipping ahead is more tangible. Going through the pain of disease or the treatment for cancer, for instance. I remember watching my mom go through her chemo and looking forward to the last one, having it done, and over with. Truly, there are painful seasons in life when we are reasonable to seek their terminus. Yet … that’s not how it works. And, probably with good reason, frankly.

Think about farmers. Their entire existence is about harvesting crops, right? The goal is to plant or grow, and to come up with an increase of crops that can be sold or consumed. The POINT is to get to the end, to be able to take their pick of the product of their significant labor. But, as I was reminded this week in reading through Psalms 124-129, and Proverbs 21, while we want to take our pick of the harvest, there is much that matters in the plowing and planting.

Psalms 126 says:

When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.” Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy! Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert. Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.

Farmers will tell you, there’s NO harvesting without plowing and planting. The difficult, tedious, backbreaking effort is in plowing through and planting seed. The celebratory part is in the harvesting. In fact, in many, many cultures there are celebrations, festivals, parades, and holidays centered around the harvest. Not so for plowing and planting. I can’t say I’ve done an exhaustive search, but I’ve checked and there aren’t any.   Why? Because the end goal is the harvest. The end goal is not plowing, but it’s critically necessary. The end goal is not planting, but try to harvest something without it.

Life is similar. As much as we hate to admit it, the plowing and planting in life are the least enjoyable parts. They’re backbreaking, arduous, painful. They’re not the celebrated times, they’re the “gotta deal with it” times. Why? Because the “gotta deal with it” times are what lead to the harvests in life.

Where are you plowing and planting right now? In other words, in what areas of your life might you be in a season of plowing through and planting seed, and perhaps not realizing that somewhere down the road you’re going to reap the harvest? Whether or not we realize it, all of us are in some measure in the time of plowing, planting, and harvesting in a variety of ways.

The Israelites knew this experience. They lived in exile for a long, long time. In fact, the southern kingdom of Judah was taken away in exile in Babylon, during which time God led the prophet Jeremiah to remind them, basically, to plow and plant for 70 years, because while the harvest was promised, it was not to occur before the plowing and planting (see Jeremiah 29:1-14).

In the sense that they were alerted to their plight, the Israelites were fortunate. It’s not always like that for us. Sometimes the challenge is realizing that we’re in the growth stage, that which is after plowing and after planting, but before harvest. Beyond that, the challenge is being willing to accept that we’re in that stage. But the hardest part is waiting … waiting to get to the harvest. Again, any farmer will tell us that the harvest isn’t plentiful until it’s complete. If we try to pick the crop too early, it’s useless and worthless. It needs to grow to full maturity before it’s harvest-worthy. I guess the same is true for the situations in our lives.

I pray this week that we’ll all ask God to reveal to us the circumstances in our lives that represent the plowing and planting stages, those places of challenge and growth that lead to the eventual harvest. Those are the places where God is accomplishing in us the growth He seeks. Any earlier and the crop of our situations will be useless and worthless; after all, the Farmer knows with impeccable precision when to harvest the crop.

Soli Deo gloria!


Take a load off …

weighed down

I don’t know about you, but I can see them. You know, people that are just weighed down. Weighed down with the burdens of life. Sometimes you can see if manifested in anger and bitterness, but sometimes you can almost literally see the physical weight upon them, scrunching them down almost visibly. I have to admit, I have differing degrees of sympathy for them depending on how their weight is displayed, but that’s more my issue than theirs.

What are those things that weigh us down? I think we all probably could articulate almost innumerable factors. Personally, if I think of the burdens of life that have suppressed my joy over the years, and couple it with what I observe in the people in my life, I could go on and on about them. But they consist, in part, of relationship weights, health weights, job weights, emotional health weights, and on and on and on. No wonder we can be buried under them.   As hard as it is to be weighed down, it’s equally hard to see someone else who is. Especially because we know they don’t need to be … at least I know that now as I’ve walked with Jesus for nearly 20 years.

A 1968 song written by Robbie Robertson of The Band said it well … “Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free; take a load off Fanny, and (and) (and) you can put the load right on me.

I’m obviously not suggesting that Robbie, Levon, Garth, Rick, and Richard were trying to convey Biblical truth in the song “The Weight,” but I do think the applicability is useful as we view a couple passages that moved me the past couple weeks as I read through Psalms 112 – 123 and Proverbs 19 and 20. The specific verses for our application are in Psalms 112 (all of it as a matter of fact) …

Praise the Lord! How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands. Their children will be successful everywhere; an entire generation of godly people will be blessed. They themselves will be wealthy, and their good deeds will last forever. Light shines in the darkness for the godly. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous. Good comes to those who lend money generously and conduct their business fairly. Such people will not be overcome by evil. Those who are righteous will be long remembered. They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them. They are confident and fearless and can face their foes triumphantly. They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. They will have influence and honor. The wicked will see this and be infuriated. They will grind their teeth in anger; they will slink away, their hopes thwarted.

If you’ve ever done heavy weightlifting or watched competitive weightlifting, you know how it looks when those incredible athletes load up hundreds of pounds on a bar and try to lift it in a variety of techniques. Perhaps the one that always blows me away and leaves me awestruck is squats. Probably because of the sheer amount of weight these folks can stack on a bar, rest on their shoulders and bear it crouching all the way down and all the way back up. The thing is, sometimes the weight is too much to complete the whole “back up” part. You’d be amazed how difficult it is to muster the strength to get up when you have a bunch of weight on your shoulders.

Because it’s so difficult, because the weight can be unbearable and unmanageable, there are always spotters nearby.   Spotters are people who stand by, prepared to take the load from the lifter. Because they have a greater ability and power (there are typically at least two of them), they can step in and help with the load when needed, and at times can take the load completely away from the lifter.

I remember lifting in high school and college, always trying to lift more and more weight. If I was doing the bench press, the spotter would stand behind the bench and as I was trying to lift the weight and started to fail, the spotter would place their hands under the bar to help. At times they would simply place their hands there and not even help actually lift anything. Just seeing their hands under the bar would somehow help me to think that they were helping bear the weight and somehow I’d be able to accomplish more. Sometimes they’d actually have to exert themselves. Either way, the bottom line is I was unable in actuality to lift the weight. The weight was too much for me to bear. I had to accept the help, or in extreme circumstances, I’d just need to drop the weight, but only when there was something or someone there to safely catch it.

The Psalms 112 passage is similar. On first glance, it might seem to be saying that if we’re right with God, things are always going to be okay. Sorry to say, but this is not Biblical. Jesus says, in John 16:33b, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” In my view, what the psalmist is saying is that in life we’re not going to be able to lift the weight, but that He’s there to spot us. The psalmist is saying … life’s going to be tough, “unliftable” at times, but with God spotting us, things will feel liftable. They’ll seem easier, doable, achievable, tolerable. Just like in my weightlifting endeavors, when I was unable to lift the weight, with my spotter there I was “able” to do it. And when there were times that I was doing squats, I had the ability to just let go of the bar, to dump the weight, and the spotter would be there to take it from me and put it back on the rack.

No matter what we might think, very often in life we can’t lift the weight. It’s beyond our max much of the time. We can try, and try, and try, and try, and try. But it won’t change our ability to lift it. Sicknesses come and stay. Financial strife is real and sometimes doesn’t get better. Some relationships are broken and don’t get repaired. I’m not trying to be bleak and pessimistic … precisely the opposite!

The TRUTH is, we have a spotter with us all the time. Whether we realize He’s there, He’s there. Whether we acknowledge His presence or not, it doesn’t matter. He’s there. His hands are always under the bar, so we can rely on that fact to give us the extra boost of confidence we need to power through it. Sometimes, we’ll need more than just the confidence boost, and we’ll need to rely on His actual lifting of the bar. Sometimes, we’ll need to just dump the weight outright. Just let it go entirely, knowing fully that He’s not only there, but completely able to take the weight from us. Jesus, our spotter (and SO much more) is saying, “take a load off … it’s free … take a load off … and you can put the load right on Me.”

Soli Deo gloria!


Taking stock

Employees Taking Inventory at an Electronics Warehouse

In business we count our stock, or inventory, as an asset. It consists of those materials and products we store and hold onto until we can put them into use. In some businesses the use is reselling the stock to others who can either consume it or put it to a further use (like taking what we sell them and using it to manufacture or assemble a different final product). In other cases, we hold onto it for a greater purpose of our own, like our own finished products. Either way, it’s something of significant value.

A crucial element of stock or inventory is counting it. Knowing what you have, assessing its value, knowing where it’s located, are all incredibly important in order to capitalize on it for future use. Otherwise, it can be lost or squandered, and in business allowing that is a very costly mistake.

It’s no different with the blessings of God. That was the reminder to me this week as I read through Psalms 106 – 111 and Proverbs 18.

Psalms 106:1-3 reads …

Praise the Lord! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord? Who can ever praise him enough? There is joy for those who deal justly with others and always do what is right.

The Psalmist uses the rhetorical question, “Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord?” to remind us how innumerable the miracles of God are in totality. But that doesn’t mean we should count them in the sense of remembering them. In fact, later in the Psalm, the psalmist reminds us …

Our ancestors in Egypt were not impressed by the Lord’s miraculous deeds. They soon forgot his many acts of kindness to them. Instead, they rebelled against him at the Red Sea.

Sometimes forgetting is the result of not trying to actively remember something … of not taking stock. It means we haven’t counted what we have, we haven’t sought to identify it, locate it, and value it. In a business setting, it’s akin to saying, “Yeah, we have a bunch of stuff back there in the warehouse, but I’m not sure what’s all there.” That’s a sure-fire way to lose what you think you have, and for it to diminish in value simply because it isn’t identified and able to be put to future value-generating use.

Taking stock is important in our spiritual journey also, in order to understand the blessings of God, to put them to use, either for our own ultimate consumption, or perhaps to pass along to others for their eventual consumption. When I think about the many blessings – the miracles, really – of God in my life, I have to wonder if their ultimate purpose was for the time at hand, or if it was for later application. As a for-instance, when I look back to the way that God delivered me from the health maladies 20 years ago that eventually served as the mechanisms for me to understand that He, not I, truly controlled the circumstances of my life, I can see that His deliverance wasn’t necessarily secured for that time. In many ways, they’ve served to equip, empower, and encourage me and others in ways I would never have thought possible back then. If I fail to take stock of them, I rob myself and others of the gifts that God provided in these situations.

Look at the Israelites and the pain and suffering they went through because they forgot to list and value the miracles of God on their behalf. The psalmist in Psalms 106 recounts the cost of the Israelites’ failure to take stock of God’s deliverance from the bondage at the hands of the Egyptians, of the salvation God provided at the Red Sea’s parting, of the provision of food in the midst of the desert. The self-imposed anguish was substantially caused by a failure to take stock of the self-evident miracles God had provided them, as if saying they had no inventory left when just behind them was a warehouse-full.

In life, we have to take stock of God’s miracles, lest we rob ourselves of the riches He provides through them. Riches not just for today, but for profitable purposes beyond what we see and assume. So here’s my encouragement to us all. Give it a try … list out the miracles God has carried out on your behalf. Spend the time necessary to count them … and like in business to count each little thing and each big thing. Ascribe them value … even though we’re not always allowed the opportunity to know the eventual value. Keep track of them so you can locate them when you need them. Why would you need them? Because life happens and at times we need to go back into the store house and pull something off the shelf. It might be dusty, and may perhaps have been sitting on the shelf for a while, but its intended use may very well be exactly the situation you or I are in. The last thing we want to do is leave it unidentified on the shelf, unable to be ascribed the value it could have, good for nothing other than the scrap heap.

Seriously, take me up on the challenge … I’ll join you. Let’s prayerfully spend the time this week to take stock, to count the invaluable assets God has equipped us with for the purposes only He yet knows. Let’s take the time to identify them, to locate them, to track them, and to value them for the wealth and riches they are. We never know when we might have to pull them out of the warehouse, but God forbid that we have them there, need them, and forget that they’re available to us. What a tragic waste that would be. I pray we both take stock!

Soli Deo gloria!


Sensory overload


Having been born in New York, it’s tough for me at times to acknowledge that I really don’t like it there. Don’t get me wrong, my family that still live there make it a most cherished place, but aside from that, there’s really not much there that I enjoy. Perhaps it’s a sign of my advancing age, but regardless it is what it is.

I was in New York City last week for a few days for business meetings and a conference. Not surprisingly, it was just as I’d left it the last time I was there a few months ago. Overwhelming. I stayed nearby to Times Square and traveled through it multiple times as we’d walk to meetings in several places within proximity. I also had the blessing of having coffee with my uncle on my final day there and we sat at a table outside a coffee place in the midst of all the hysteria.

That’s what Times Square seems like to me in a nutshell … hysteria. There’s so much going on. There’s so much to see you can’t see anything. There’s so much to hear you can’t hear anything. There’s so much to smell … never mind, you can smell all of it unfortunately. Individual sounds, images, and smells exist, but they’re lost in the blend of sensory pollution. I’m sure many of you might give me the standard response to my assertions: “What are you talking about? That’s what makes me love it there! The energy is infectious!” Well, there we differ my friends. All but the infectious part.   There’s probably tons of ways to be infected there. 😎

But this sensory overload got me to thinking about the sensory overload in our lives. The sights, sounds, smells, and other seemingly impervious distractions that keep us from sensing the most important sound, that of our God’s voice in the midst of the chaos of normal life. It was the question that tugged at me as I read through Psalms 95 – 106 and Proverbs 16 and 17. Proverbs 16:20-22:

Those who listen to instruction will prosper; those who trust the Lord will be joyful. The wise are known for their understanding, and pleasant words are persuasive. Discretion is a life-giving fountain to those who possess it, but discipline is wasted on fools.

Listening to instruction sounds right enough, and trusting in the Lord as well. I’d love to pursue wisdom from my understanding, but in the midst of the voice of God can sometimes arise a host of disrupting sounds, sights, and stimuli. How do we hear God’s voice among the many voices, noises, distractions, distinctions, and preferences? It’s not that He’s incapable of drowning out the distractions (He is most certainly capable) but our propensity to allow conflicting input is at times insurmountable. The key is not God’s ability to cut through the noise, it’s our desire to hone in on His voice that makes all the difference.

Life is noisy, visually-overwhelming and stinky at times. I can personally attest – at least for me – that I get sidetracked easily. Even just sitting down to write each week is challenging as I try to focus on writing what the Lord puts on my heart. So many thoughts, to-do’s, and interruptions fly by seemingly at light-speed and pollute my attention. So no wonder why the same can happen when seeking God’s voice or when God’s voice seeks us.

Of course, there’s an additional adverse aspect that comes into play.   We have an enemy whose sole desire is to pull our attention away from God’s voice. He’ll throw every distraction possible at us, and he has an unfortunate advantage of knowing which ones work most effectively on you and on me, individually. Couple that with the woes of life and the natural noise that occurs, and is it any wonder we can focus at all?

But we can … God CAN unequivocally cut through the commotion and reach us. He can overcome the overload and can penetrate the pollution. In fact, if we participate readily, there is nothing that can stop God from reaching us.

We have to fine-tune our listening skills. It’s one thing to try to have a conversation in the midst of Times Square on a busy night (is there a night there that isn’t busy???), but if we want to have intimate communication, we have to move to a different locale. So, in listening for God’s voice, we have to position ourselves in the right place. Sure, God can cut through to communicate to us, but our ability to receive the message is severely impaired if we’re not in the right place to receive it. Think about in the old days (those of you that had old days) when we were trying to watch a TV and the reception was terrible. We had to monkey around with those rabbit ears (“rabbit ears” was what we called the antennae at the top of the TV – and yeah, that was an intentional dual-animal entendre) to be able to see a remotely clear picture, and that was the best we usually got … remotely. The issue wasn’t the signal coming from the broadcast center, the issue was the reception on our side.   The same is true for communicating with God. We need to tune in the right way and be in a good receiving place.

So what is impeding the reception on our end? For me, it can often be a situation where I just simply haven’t tried to adjust the rabbit ears … I just left them in the same position assuming the reception would be fine. But like in the TV analogy, my ability to receive the signal is contingent on me changing the way I receive it, moving my antennae in the right way to be able to receive the message. Maybe it’s where I’m trying to listen. Maybe it’s how I’m trying to listen. Maybe it’s when I’m trying to listen. Maybe it’s whether I’m trying to listen. Either way, my part is to change my antennae to receive.

There’s another, simpler, solution at times. Computer support technicians site that sometimes the most important solutions to customers’ problems are the simplest. Like making sure the computer’s on.   Or making sure the power supply is connected (i.e., the thing is plugged in). How about us? If we’re trying to listen for God’s voice, are we even on or plugged in? That is, are we connected to Him in the first place? Trying to listen means knowing Who to listen to, and being close enough to hear. If you aren’t plugged in to God, that’s my prayer for you, and that’s the first and most important step.

This week, let’s pray for an ability to cut through the noise of life and to ask God to remove the external sensory overload, and to overload us only with the sense of His presence and His voice.

Soli Deo gloria!


Give and take … actually, all give


We don’t know. You know? Even when we think we know, at best we only think. If we presume to know what God’s up to in the circumstances and situations of life, we’re fooling ourselves. It’s one of the coolest things about living a life pursuing His will for our lives. And, one of the scariest.

I just started a new job this week. Seems so straightforward, doesn’t it? The process of getting there was anything but. The past couple months have been a series of on-again, off-again, up and down days and weeks. Especially through the past month as I was deciding between two potential opportunities, Helen and I lived through some moments where we literally had to just close our eyes, trust God and take a figurative and actual leap of faith.

At one point a few weeks ago, I’d received an offer for a really good job. The trouble is, I was in the process of working to get a CEO job offer that I was very excited about. But I’d also committed to responding to the offer on the first job by a certain date.   That date came, and I had to either pass on the first job in the hope of getting an offer for the second, or I could accept the first one and wonder what might have been. Of course, there was a chance of coming up with zero jobs … I could pass on the first one and not wind up getting an offer on the CEO job. Helen and I were, I have to admit, both uncertain and a bit stressed.

As we prayed about it, we felt certain that God was asking us to take the bigger step of faith. To essentially pass on the first opportunity and to truly trust Him by pursuing the other. Note that … I was about to walk away from a really good job to pursue a great job that I might not get. So that’s what we did. It felt like an insane thing to do.

What happened? Well fast-forwarding a bit, we essentially declined the first offer to follow the CEO opportunity to closure. But something happened that surprised us. The first company, though very time-sensitive and in a precarious position with other candidates, decided they’d wait for us to follow the CEO opportunity to fruition. It blew our minds.

So we did follow through on the CEO role. And I got an offer … a dream come true in some ways. And … we declined the CEO offer, for various personal and professional reasons, and accepted the first offer. I essentially declined one job to pursue another, only to decline the other and accept the first. More than usual, you may be wondering what in the world the point is. First, let me share a passage from my reading this week from Psalms 88 – 93 and Proverbs 15, specifically in Psalms 91:1-7.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you.

Here, at long last, is the point. God gives even when He takes. The thing is, we can’t always see that He’s giving, when He’s giving, what He’s giving. We often can’t or don’t know what He’s up to. We live within the give and take and the give. We see at most only the least. Our limited perspective at times severely clouds our ability to see beyond our present situation. Let’s look at this passage above a little for some context.

For God to be our “refuge” and our “place of safety,” there must be a need for refuge or something circumstantially that risks our safety. For Him to “rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease,” we must be exposed at times to traps and subjected to at least the potential for disease. For “His faithful promises” to be our “armor and protection,” there must be a need at times for armor and protection. For us not to be “afraid of the terrors of the night,” and “the arrow that flies in the day,” there must be terrors and arrows threatening us.

See my point? Our lives and situations are not always (or often, in my opinion) what we think they are. What we see as “take” … risks to our safety, traps, disease, needs for protection, terrors, arrows … may actually be “give” in process … refuge, safety, rescue, protection, etc. We don’t see what God sees. Our limitations in perspective and time aren’t limitations for Him. We can’t know always what He’s doing or where He’s bringing us as we move through life.

In my job situation it was so often like that. Every time we felt as though God was moving us to a corner where we’d essentially paint ourselves, we found that we had to be in that corner in order to find a door through which He prepared us to go as a result. Many times we realized that we couldn’t get through that door without being painted into the corner. When we felt He was essentially taking something, we realized He was actually giving something. When I effectively decided to do what felt like walking away from a perfectly good job to pursue what I thought might be a better one, only by walking away could I realize that I was walking toward.

That’s the thing about God I’ve probably learned most vividly in this season … that even when we think God is taking, He’s really giving. I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not always obvious and not always evident. But give He continues. In our case, it really wasn’t about the job. It was more about the trust, the realization that as we opened our hands to let something go, we were opening them up to receive. As we let Him do what we thought was “take,” it was to allow for Him to “give.”

Let’s pray this week and ask God to allow us the faith to look at the “take” situations and be willing to accept that they’re probably “give” situations in process. It’s not always easy for us to see it, which is why we need His help to realize that it’s not really “give and take,” it’s really all “give” when it comes to God.

Soli Deo gloria!


My way or the HIGH way


I don’t know everything. To those of you who know me, that’s plainly obvious. Usually, though, I know what I want. Once I decide I want something, I can say that I want what I want, and I want it when I want it. Yeah, that’s probably hard to follow. But the bottom line is that, in my mind, most of the time it’s all about me.

Not to drag you into my self-deprecation, but that’s true of all of us. Whether we’re talking about possessions or something new we want to buy, we want what we want. We don’t want someone intruding on that. We want our way.

What happens when that “way” isn’t exactly clear? How do we break through the ambiguity in order to figure out a decision or a choice? Maybe it’s a purchase or spending decision … do I buy this new car or spend some money on new clothes? Do I put money in my savings account or splurge and give myself that vacation I deserve. What college should I attend? Should we buy a house or rent?

Maybe it’s a personal issue I’m working through … Is this person I’m dating the “one?” Should I try to bridge a gap with a family member from whom I’ve been estranged for a while? Do I confront a friend for something they did or said that wasn’t exactly right or truthful?

How about a professional conundrum … Am I in the right job or career? Which job should I accept? How do I find a job if I’ve been out of work?

Let’s face it, we are confronted constantly by decisions, choices, situations, and circumstances, which often aren’t clear. Many times … we absolutely know and we’ll justify our desire to the ends of the earth. Other times we haven’t the foggiest notion what to do. Whether we’ve decided or are trying to decide, we have one of two ways to guide our thinking, and I got a great reminder of those during my reading this week from Psalms 82-87 and Proverbs 14. In a couple very brief but power-packed verses, Proverbs 14:2, 12, we read …

Those who follow the right path fear the Lord; those who take the wrong path despise him.

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.

I look at each of these verses as somewhat complementary … they’re essentially saying the same thing as one another. They point out that our choices can be made 1) my way, or 2) God’s way. Unless you’re a child and still living under the umbrellas of parents, or unless you’re incarcerated (hopefully you’re not any time soon), those are the only ways to do and to decide.

My way says, “I want what I want, when I want it. I don’t care what anyone else thinks or what anyone else wants, or how my choices affect anyone else.” Sound familiar? It says, “I want that new car that will show how cool I am regardless of whether I can afford it.” It says, “I deserve to …” It says, “I want to buy a house so that everyone will know I’m moving up the ladder.” It says, “I don’t care what my family says about him / her … I know they’re the right one for me because I know better than they do.” It says, “I’m never talking to so-and-so because they disrespected me and I’m never forgiving them for it.” It says, “yeah, I know what I said wasn’t exactly true, but I needed to stretch the truth a tiny bit and no one will be hurt by it.” It says, “I should be making more money … these people don’t appreciate me, and I deserve a raise / promotion.” How do I know these things? Because I’ve uttered those very words more times than I care to admit.

God’s way (the HIGH way) says, “I know you, and I love you. I love you even more than you love yourself. I want to give you what you need even if it’s not what you want or when you want it.” God’s way shows love and blessing to all His creation. It understands the greater good since He knows my heart, your heart, all hearts … He knows all truth, from the beginning of time to the end of time. He knows what’s best for us, way more than we do despite the fact that we think otherwise. God’s way results in our maximum blessing and in His maximum glory. God’s way is Jesus … who left His rightful place on a throne in heaven and put on human skin, surrendered His life, took a brutal, torturous, and merciless beating, and laid down His life for you and me. His life wasn’t taken, it was given. God’s way is selfless and sacrificial. That is clearly not my way. Not often enough, at least.

The differences are glaring. My way is self-focused, self-serving, self-motivated. God’s way … the HIGH way … is other-focused, other-serving, other-motivated. But here’s the thing that distinguishes my way from the HIGH way in the most profound way … when I defer to the HIGH way, both my way and others’ ways are optimized. Only God can solve that enigma, that of what is both best for me and best for others and best for Him. So, it’s not that we give up the best thing for us when we don’t pursue my way, we actually get the best for ourselves by choosing the HIGH way. That’s the amazing thing. Again, only God.

Choosing my way is easy … I just do nothing but let my selfish sin nature do what it’s inherently conditioned to do. Choosing the HIGH way is work. The thing is, though, God meets us most of the way there and makes it easy. How do we pursue the HIGH way? Matthew 7:7-11 tells us. Ask. Pray for His guidance, his counsel through the Holy Spirit. Seek. Open God’s word, the Bible, and look for the answers God has placed throughout to help us find clarity in the obscurity of life. Knock. Request input from wise, godly counsel … friends, family, clergy who are grounded in solid biblical knowledge. God doesn’t hide the answers, they’re right there available to us. The question is, will we choose the right ones?

Will we choose my way, or the HIGH way?

Solid Deo gloria!



Taking the plunge

jumping off a cliff

Trusting God is not always easy. I know. Over the years, there have been multiple times when it feels like trusting God is equivalent to walking to the edge of a cliff indeterminably high above the ground … and diving off. Diving off expecting that God is somewhere between you and the ground, ready to catch you, but you not knowing with any certainty how far you have to fall first. Or in the remote recesses of your mind, not knowing without a doubt that He’ll really, really catch you. Taking that plunge of faith can be harrowing, to say the least.

Over the past couple months, I’ve been unemployed. It was somewhat a welcomed change in that I was commuting 600 miles a week. But it’s still not having a job. In practical terms I can think of few ways to better serve as lessons in trusting God as when we lose a job, and ask Him to provide another. Fortunately, several opportunities have bubbled up over the past number of months and as a family we’ve felt blessed to know that perhaps economic solid ground is in the not-too-distant future. With that said, there is a very bumpy, curvy, pockmarked road one must traverse in navigating a job search, and many times we’ve struggled with the on-again, off-again nature of the process, as well as discerning which opportunities were the right ones to pursue. We’ve prayed for weeks and weeks that God would provide a job and that He would give us clarity on which were the right ones for us.

At the end of the day, however, we just had to take the plunge and jump off the cliff into His waiting hands … somewhere between the top and the bottom.

I was reminded of this fact not just by our recent circumstances, but also as I read the past couple weeks through the Psalms and Proverbs … specifically Psalms 70 – 81 and Proverbs 12 and 13. In particular, Psalms 77:10-15

And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works. O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you? You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. By your strong arm, you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Interlude

The sentiments expressed by Asaph, the author of Psalms 77, is similar to what I’ve felt many times before I recognized the need to “take the plunge” of faith in God. That is, the belief that God is disinterested, or absent, or just perhaps against us somehow. This is what we’d call a “woe is me” mentality. I’ve been there … I’ve been there even recently. I’m not saying getting to this place in some of our circumstances is unreasonable … quite the opposite. Life can dish out some pretty sketchy situations … losing jobs, bad medical diagnoses, financial strife and the like. But just like Asaph writes, often we come back to a recognition that can literally transform the entire mindset we bring. It’s when we really, truly remember who God is, and what God’s done. Not just what He’s done for us, but what He’s done for His people throughout history. It’s at those times when we can take the plunge.

That plunge is the literally jumping off point. Jumping off a cliff of faith. Look, no one in their right mind would knowingly jump off a cliff unless they’re somehow assured of a safe landing. The same is true when we exercise “taking the plunge” faith with God. We’re not jumping off into an abyss … we’re jumping off with a knowledge, assurance, and security that there’s a safe landing below. Knowing that there’s a safe landing is not a lack of faith, however, it’s an expression of it. We still have to take that first step, the one that doesn’t allow us to see clearly that which is going to catch us at the bottom. It’s that which doesn’t allow us to know just how far we have to fall to be caught. We are indeed expressing our faith in taking the plunge, but it’s still a fearsome plunge.

And this is where we can derive our application on this point. To my mind, in life, in expressing our faith, the benefit and the growth from taking the plunge isn’t so much in the being caught at the bottom somewhere, it’s in the plunge itself. Why?  Because as we express that faith at the jumping off point, it increases our confidence and propensity in jumping off somewhere down the road. Life is a series of opportunities to take the plunge. We derive zero exhilaration by not jumping. All the fun comes in the jumping and the satisfaction comes in the landing. But the more we recognize and understand that we’re caught … every single time … the more likely we’ll be to jump again regardless of how high up we jump from, and regardless of how far the drop is until we’re caught. And that makes jumping all the more fulfilling.

This is especially true when we apply this metaphor to a life lived relying on God. God NEVER ceases to catch us when we take the plunge. No matter how high we jump, no matter how scary the fall, now matter how long the descent, He catches us 100 percent of the time. But note, God can’t catch us unless we take the plunge. If we stay at the edge of the cliff, there’s no plunge, and hence no way for God to demonstrate his faithfulness in response to our stepping off.

So … let’s ask God to show us the places in our lives where we have to choose to take the plunge. Is it in our job searches or work life? Is it in our finances or generosity? Is it in serving others we’d otherwise look past and ignore? Or is it in our self-fulfillment and self-security versus fulfillment and security that comes from God?

Note, He’s not expecting us to be foolish, but faithful. I’m not advocating saying “God, I’m going to take the step of faith – take the plunge – and buy a $5 million house and expect you in faith to provide me the money to afford it.” Of course, God CAN do that, but that’s frivolity, not faithfulness. We’re best off taking the plunge from smaller cliffs and working our way up to larger ones if we’ve never taken the plunge before. It’s also important to make sure we listen for God’s voice at the bottom before we take the plunge. If we really seek His guidance, He’ll provide it, and we’ll know that we can take the plunge and have assurance that He’ll catch us, no matter how far we have to fall first.

Soli Deo gloria!