Stirred and not shaken

I admit that I’m not the hugest fan of the James Bond, 007 franchise though over the years I have, like perhaps many of you, watched my fair share of the movies.  At least, the old-school ones, with Roger Moore and Sean Connery.  I can’t say I have ever watched any of the more recent ones.  Even if you’re not a fan of the 007 franchise, we can all appreciate the entertainment value and there are elements of it that are generally familiar. 

He always had cool gadgets and technology.  He always dressed impeccably … at least according to my admittedly limited fashion sense.  He always caught the significant – if sometimes unintentional – attention of very attractive women.  He always drove pretty cool cars.  And, his drink of choice was a vodka martini, “shaken, not stirred.”  I’m not much of a drinker, and I don’t know if there is any particularly notable merit to a vodka martini that was shaken and not stirred, but apparently the shaken part was especially crucial for 007.  He made sure that shaken was the manner in which his martini was prepared, and everyone around him appeared to know it.

As we have closed out one of the past two … “memorable” … years, I am personally in a season where I feel God beginning to work in my life.  I have a very clear sense that He is preparing me for something substantive and significant in 2022.  A change?  Some growth?  Challenges?  Not sure. Who knows?  Let me state clearly, though, that God is always at work.  And we have ample assurance from scripture that He does all that He does for us in order to bless us (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 2:10, among others).  But that doesn’t mean things are easy or expected.

What I’m sharing is that I’m in a season where I truly feel “stirred” by God.  Meaning, He’s giving me a sense that He is bringing some type of new change to bear in my life, on my behalf.  And that’s good, but it can also be a bit scary.  That’s natural.  Being stirred can be scary.

However, what I’ve learned over the years of experiencing God’s presence and walking with Him through other similar seasons, is that I can go through this type of season and be stirred, and not shaken.

Isaiah 46:4

I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age.  I made you, and I will care for you.  I will carry you along and save you.

Genesis 28:15

What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.

Our ability to be stirred and not shaken is dependent on our experience of watching God’s faithfulness in our lives, as well as the bona fide evidence God provides in His word.  The passages above are great examples of both, from the points of view of the Israelites during Isaiah’s day, and Jacob (son of Isaac, son of Abraham).

In the Isaiah passage, this amazing and reassuring word from God to His chosen people through Isaiah comes at a time when, no doubt, the Israelites felt stirred if not worse.  Isaiah was charged with responsibility to call out his fellow Hebrews for their unfaithfulness and idolatry, and he prophesied to the Israelites from God about how God was going to bring correction and discipline to them, partly via exile to a foreign, enemy-led land.  They may not yet have seen the discipline but Isaiah’s job before God was to introduce the forthcoming stirring.  And yet, in the midst of a bleak and jarring message from Isaiah, God reminds the Hebrews that the stirring is not the end of the matter.  He would remain steadfast to care for them, to lovingly bring them to a new and restored place with Him.  Hence, they could take comfort in His promises and their personal experience to be stirred and not shaken.

In a similar way, Jacob had the opportunity to experience miracles and blessings of God as firsthand as anyone in all of history, certainly through his ancestors’ experiences.  He saw God’s fulfillment of promises and he received God’s protection (without being worthy of it).  In this passage, Jacob had just stolen the birthright from his brother Esau and had to flee for safety.  No doubt Jacob felt stirred, either because he had to leave his home under auspicious circumstances or because he felt afraid for his safety since Esau might exact vengeance on Jacob, God makes it crystal clear that though Jacob might be stirred, he ought not be shaken.  God made him that promise directly, and Jacob had seen God’s provision and fidelity in the past.

You and I can stand on the same solid ground as did the Hebrews of Isaiah’s day and as did Jacob.  In fact, on the same ground as innumerable Christ followers of antiquity.  That ground allows us to be stirred and not shaken amid transition, trials, unforeseen circumstances, and unexpected times. 

That ground is the rock-solid recollection of God’s deliverance in our pasts or in the pasts of those around us.  I can know that God will bring me into new and better places, places of growth and places of a greater sense of His love and care, simply because I have watched Him bring me into those places, through being stirred, in the past.  I can know that God will because I can recall that God did.  Perhaps you haven’t walked with Him long enough or closely enough to see that He has.  Consider hearing the stories of other Christ followers in your life, or your pastor(s), life group leader(s) or whoever else in your sphere might be able to convey their experience for your benefit.  One of the reasons God stirs in us during a season could be so that we can help support one another down the road.  We don’t always know what His reasons are, but we always know that He does have a reason.

That alone can help us to remain stirred and not shaken!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Walking together

One of the activities my wife and I enjoy, even here in the midsummer heat of Central Texas, is walking together.  Here in Waco there are a number of places where we can walk and enjoy outdoors, God’s creation, views, and certainly exercise (though I have to admit, the views are not as picturesque as back in southern California … but the positives here outweigh the negatives haha – and I digress).

Yet, what I love about walking together is more than just the exercise and the views.  There is an inherent closeness and intimacy that is borne out of walking together, more so than any number of other activities.  Several guys in my life group also enjoy walking together and a few times we’ve had the opportunity to share times with one another during which we do what guys very infrequently do together.  Talk.  Share.  Emote.  All those things that allow us to grow close with each other.

Walking together is something God values as well, and what He seeks from us.  A closeness and intimacy with Him is what He most desires.  He invites us to talk, share, and emote, as well.  But I fear that many of us may not realize this or few feel comfortable that it’s really true.

Genesis 3:8-9

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees.  Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Even among the first people ever created, God sought to walk together in close fellowship with them.  In fact, as God walked throughout the garden, He noticed the absence of Adam and Eve.  It mattered to Him that they weren’t able to walk together, both actually and figuratively.  But it was only when Adam and Eve sinned that God moved them out of the garden to sever the closeness.

The Bible talks about numerous people (Enoch in Genesis 5:22-24, Noah in Genesis 6:9, Job in Job 1:8, Moses in Exodus 3:4, and many more), who were described as close to and intimate with God, who enjoyed authentic fellowship with Him.  And here’s the deal … it’s clear from these passages that God similarly enjoyed the fellowship with them.  And with us.

So it’s true that not only can we go walking together with God, but He desires it.  But it’s also true that our ability to do that was obscured because of the fall that resulted from Adam and Eve’s sinful choice to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.  The fellowship that God established was destroyed by virtue of that unvirtuous decision.  And yet God so desired walking together with us that He restored the fellowship beginning on a day we now choose to celebrate on December 25 (and culminated on Easter Sunday).  Walking together with us was so important that God sent His Son to serve as an indelible means to do so.

Walking together seems easy enough, but there are conditions that must be true for it to work.  Amos 3:3

Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?

Another translation renders that verse, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?”  I actually like the broader approach to that translation as I think about walking together with my wife or my life group buddies.  See, to go walking together we need to agree on a time and place to start, a direction to go, a pace to walk at, a distance to cover, etc.  There’s a conjoining that must happen both in advance and during the walking in order for it to be together.

There has to be an intentionality to allow for walking together in the spiritual sense.  Time, place, direction, pace, etc. … all are important to establish from the outset.  Here’s the great thing about God in this particular respect, though.  If we simply ask and invite Him to, he is always ready and willing to go walking together.  For the most part, He will join us at a time and place of our choosing, provided we go in His direction.  He’ll adjust to our pace until we can increase it, and He never gets tired so He’ll go walking together with us as long a distance as we desire, though He always desires to go a longer distance with us.  After all, it’s the closeness and intimacy He is after, and He is gracious enough to meet us wherever, whenever, in order to have them with us.

As we think of Christmas, let’s remember that it is not just a day for the giving and receiving of gifts, but a day for remembering we’ve already received the greatest of gifts.  The gift of our heavenly Father sending His only Son to you and me so that we can enjoy walking together with Him.  Failing to do so is like getting a Christmas gift and tossing it straight in the trash.  I would never let anyone I know or love do that.

Walking together is far too fun than to allow that.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

“And,” “but,” and “or”

I’ve written many times about how much of my childhood (and if I’m truly honest, a bunch of my adulthood) was shaped indelibly by movies, music, and tv.  As with many of my vintage age-wise, a big contributor to how we learned math, civics, and many other subjects perhaps we should have learned better in school was Schoolhouse Rock.  So many songs from that show still stick in my memory … “I’m Just a Bill,” “Three is a Magic Number,” “Interjections,” and probably the most memorable, “Conjunction Junction.”  (no doubt you’re probably already singing the lyrics to it now … you’re welcome.)

You’ll be happy to note that this post is not about teaching on conjunctions … well, mostly not.  It does entail conjunctions but with an emphasis on their effect on God’s word.  Confused?  I don’t blame you.

To understand what I am talking about, have a look at a portion of the lyrics of “Conjunction Junction.”

Conjunction Junction, what’s their function?
I got “and”, “but”, and “or”, 
They’ll get you pretty far.

Yep, “and”, “but”, and “or” will get you very far.  Very far from the truth.  The truth of God’s word, that is.

You see, “and”, “but”, and “or” are super important to the English language.  I’d dare say that we couldn’t probably get through a couple sentences, let alone a conversation … certainly not a full day … without using “and”, “but”, and “or” somewhere.  And that’s great.  Heck, it’s the reason for “Conjunction Junction.”

But, when you add those to God’s word, it’s damaging.

What I mean is … God’s word is all we need.  It is complete.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 tell us …

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

God’s word is all we need to teach us how to live, how to be saved, how to accept God’s free gift of salvation through the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for the whole world.  It’s all there.  We don’t need anything else.

So if we decided what we need for truth and life is God’s word and … God’s word or … God’s word but … we mutate the veracity of God’s word.  It’s basically subtraction by addition.  When we try to add anything to God’s word, we subtract from what is absolute about it.  It is true.  It is whole.  It is timeless.  It is all we need.

Why do we bring “and”, “but”, and “or” to it?  In our humanness I suggest we bring each of them for various reasons.

And … anytime we add traditions, behaviors, actions, even sacramental requirements to what the Bible unambiguously says, we are getting very far from the truth.  In the 2 Timothy passage above, it is clear that the Bible is all that we need to guide us through life.  Salvation (John 3:16, Romans 10:9), right living (2 Peter 1:3, Psalms 119:105), even relationship health (Ephesians 5:15-21) – among other things in life – have fulfillment and root in the word of God.  Don’t get me wrong … I am NOT saying that God won’t or can’t speak to us directly or through other people, or that the Bible speaks with specific reference to all the various circumstances in our lives.  I haven’t yet found any passages in scripture to deal with flat tires, for example.  But there are principles of all kinds that apply to all areas of life sufficiently.  And, the Bible speaks very forthrightly about the importance of prayer, listening to God’s voice, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, etc.  What I am referring to in terms of “and” is adding anything to the wholeness and truthfulness of God’s word.  It is enough.

But … if I struggle with a particular principle in the Bible, I might say, “I agree with most of what the Bible says, but …”  In essence, I might have a propensity to cherry-pick things in scripture I like or exclude things in scripture I don’t like.  The problem is that the 2 Timothy passage above says the “all” scripture is inspired by God (in another translation it says, “God-breathed”) and so each passage of the Bible must be as validly true as all the passages of the Bible.  The Bible consists of 66 books written by about 40 authors over 2,000 or so years, on three continents, in three languages, and successfully predicts the future in advance (which is revealed even within the Bible), and is both internally- and externally-consistent (meaning it agrees with itself, and it agrees with history outside itself).  Hence, we can’t validly choose some of the Bible without choosing all of the Bible.  That doesn’t mean that the Bible is absent of challenging passages or absent of passages that I can’t quite understand or reconcile.  But it does mean that whether there are challenging passages or passages I can’t quite understand or reconcile, I can trust that God understands, and He promises to give us peace that passes our understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).

Or … when we use “or” it’s often to give a sense of equivalency to God’s word and other belief systems.  While there may be commonalities in philosophies and other religious beliefs, that doesn’t make them equally valid or equally true.  The Bible expresses an exclusive claim on truth (John 14:6) and is very particular in describing God, His attributes, how we are to be saved, how we are to live, and so on.  To the extent that it is indeed true (it is), then anything that differs from it must logically be false.  I am not trying to make any sort of character assassination, I am rather trying to invoke logic.  So, we can’t equate the Bible’s exclusive claims from anything that differs from or disagrees with them.  “Or” is perhaps one of the most concerning of the conjunctions.

Revelation 22:18-19 says …

And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book.  And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.

I’m not trying to pick a fight.  I’m trying instead to prompt consideration, contemplation, and conversation.  While “and”, “but”, and “or” may get you very far grammatically and linguistically, they can also create slippery slopes of deviance from the truth of God’s word.  God desires His word to truly fill our lives, to complete our community with one another, and to establish a proper and reverential relationship with Him.  If we are not careful, “they’ll get you pretty far.”  Far from God, far from salvation, far from all He truly wants to bless us with, out of the abundance of the love, grace, and mercy that He desires to lavish upon you and me.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

I disagree

I disagree with you.

On something.

Phew!  I’m glad I got that off my chest.

Oh, I suspect you disagree with me on something as well.

You know what?  The world didn’t end.  I just basically told you that I disagree with you and acknowledged that you disagree with me, and the world is still going.  I disagree with you and you disagree with me.  But that doesn’t mean I have to hate you.  And hopefully, that doesn’t mean that you have to hate me.

Yet, I fear that’s what the narrative in our society is devolving to these days.  There seems to be some sort of invisible dividing line that dictates that if (really, when) you and I disagree on something, even small or relatively unimportant things, we must be irreconcilably opposed to one another and have license to behave accordingly.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not placing the culpability on any particular side of any particular issue (although I do believe there is culpability … just not human culpability, or at least 100 percent human culpabiility), I am just pointing out that which seems as plain as the nose on my face.  We don’t have to agree on everything in order to be friends or acquaintances.  Sometimes our disagreement helps to fortify the position one or both of us have or helps at least to pressure test the rationale behind our belief. 

If what I believe is so fragile that it cannot withstand you questioning or challenging it, perhaps even be strengthened by it, I have to question the veracity of my belief.  If my character is so fragile that it cannot stand up to you wanting to understand why I believe what I believe or expressing your disagreement with it, then I have to question the depth of my character.  If you and I cannot have a serious discussion, or even a terse conversation, and part closer as friends, then I have to question whether or not I’m living up to the commandments of God to “love your neighbor as yourself.

As a follower of Christ, we are not called to agree with everyone.  There are many areas of life that are not intended to be objectively true or false, such as the best style of BBQ (Texas-style), the most iconic college football team in the history of college football (the USC Trojans), the European city with the best weiner schnitzel (Vienna, Austria).  But we are called to disagree in an agreeable manner.  Romans 12:16-18

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!  Never pay back evil with more evil.  Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.  Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

So, what if we disagree?  We do.  I guarantee it.  We may disagree on some pretty strongly-felt matters like politics, or social topics, or elections. We may even disagree on ALL of those things.  We may even disagree on things that I feel so strongly about that I decide to take a strong stance on them.  What do we do?

Paul’s admonition in the passage above from Romans 12 tells it all.  We’re called to live in harmony with one another.  We’re told to live in humility, not thinking too highly of ourselves.  Our responsibility is to live in peace with everyone, or as another translation renders it, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  I dare say, I think more times than not, living in peace with others depends on us more than we’re willing to admit.  Another of Paul’s letters cuts to the chase a bit … Philippians 2:3-4

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

What I love about this reminder is that it reminds us that we’re to hold other people in higher esteem than our opinions.  Let that soak in for a moment.  Our obligation to care for God’s people trumps our self-aggrandizement and our uber-protective hold on our opinions and feelings.  In fact, Proverbs 18:2 reminds us of how we can be received if all we do is get ugly in arguing about our disagreements …

Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are things that are indeed objectively true and I am not saying we have to capitulate and agree on everything someone else says to avoid creating a disagreement.  I am saying that we can disagree but the manner in which we disagree matters. 

In view of the fact that there is objective truth, anything that comes in contradiction to that must be false by definition.  No matter what stance you and I decide to carry, 1+1=2.  That is objectively and verifiably true.  You and I are free to disagree on that, but no matter how fervently I may believe it, 1+1 can never equal anything except 2.  God is also true, so anything that contravenes Him is not true.  His word is true, so anything that comes in conflict with the Bible is not true.  We don’t have to be flimsy with the truth, we just have to “live in peace with everyone,” “thinking of others as better than yourselves.”  If “your truth” and “my truth” conflict, then one or both of them is not true.  That’s called logic, and it’s objective and inescapable.  But we can talk about “the truth” in a caring, humble, and edifying way.  That’s called love, and it’s what God expects of us, and the key to our society remaining healthy and intact.

Which brings me to an earlier point.  The ugliness resulting from disagreement that seems to pervade our society these days certainly has much of its genesis in our humanness.  We as humans have gotten to a point of some pretty bad behavior on sometimes strongly-felt disagreements.  But we also have an enemy (Satan) who enjoys stirring the proverbial pot, and pitting us against one another.  Why go to the effort of trying to destroy the other army in a war if they are willing to destroy themselves.  I fear perhaps that’s what our society has degraded to.

Let me say with all sincerity, I care about you enough to hear you out when we disagree.  By God’s grace, my heart is to listen to different perspectives and to share the truth when it comes up, and to do that in a way that demonstrates my love for Jesus and my love for you.  I won’t be perfect, and I recognize that you won’t either.  So let’s agree that we can disagree in an agreeable way.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

The GOAT

Having just watched the Olympics a month or so ago, not to mention the reemergence of collegiate and professional sports lately, I’m reminded about the incredibly talented athletes we have the privilege to watch execute their crafts.  Clearly the Allyson Felix’s, Tom Brady’s, Katie Ladecky’s, LeBron James’s, etc., are the best at their craft and may indeed be the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) at them.  Being both old and old school (haha) I have to say that in my day I had the opportunity to observe those that may very well be even more the GOAT than those.  Names like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, Nolan Ryan, Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz, Joe Montana, and many others probably have the right to claim the GOAT title in their sports in their day, and have a legitimate claim on the all-time moniker.

We tend to assign GOAT to those most recent in our current awareness, and that’s not necessarily bad.  The 2021 version of the GOAT may indeed apply, but I can also think about Jesse Owens, Lou Gehrig, Wilt Chamberlain, and others and confidently acclaim them with the GOAT title.

It seems there’s something time-bound about the all-time nature of the GOAT designation.  We tend to remember and venerate the achievements of those in our current awareness but we may forget and devalue what others accomplished in years past or before our time.  It tends to call into question those who may or may not be the GOAT.

That tends to be true at times for the true and undeniable actual Greatest Of All Time, our God Over All Things.  It seems we can read the Bible and acknowledge the historicity of the text and the veracity of the words for those times, and yet forget that God hasn’t changed, hasn’t diminished in His ability to be the GOAT for you and me in our here and now.

Lamentations 3:22-24

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.  Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”

Revelation 1:8

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Psalms 33:11-15

But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken.  What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord, whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.  The Lord looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race.  From his throne he observes all who live on the earth.  He made their hearts, so he understands everything they do.

The circumstances life can bring about can truly weigh heavily on us.  It is easy, in our humanness, to forget everything but the challenges that weigh us down.  It is also easy in those times to default to a sense of helplessness.  We can make the mistake of reading God’s word and seeing it as historical, but not practical.  As inspirational but not personal.  And in that possible tendency, not only do we misapply the Word of God, but we mistake His very identity.

You see, God is the God Of All Time.  He is the God we need at every moment in time.

God is also the God Over All Things.  He can rescue us from whatever our struggles may be.

The passages above remind us of the truth that God is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow.  His “faithful love … never ends.  His mercies never cease.”  That means we can have Grace Overriding Anxious Times no matter what or when.

He is the “beginning and the end.”  His power and his might have always existed, will always exist, and exist immutably no matter what you and I are dealing with today.  His Goodness Outweighs Apparent Trials.

God is true and the only truth we can rely on without fail, “His intentions can never be shaken.”  He alone is valid and no other system, thought, or religious philosophies can fulfill our needs, ever.  He is the Guarantee Obverting Artificial Theologies.

The miracles God performed long ago, He can still perform today.  This is the God who spoke the universe into existence.  This is the God who formed and fashioned you and me in our mothers’ wombs.  This is the God who parted not only a sea, but also a river, to provide safe passage for His chosen people.  This is the God who raised the dead, restored sight to the blind, healed those with incurable diseases, and fulfilled over 300 discrete, specific qualifications in advance by offering His one and only Son so that you and I can know Him for eternity.

This is the God who has loved us (past tense) with an everlasting (future tense) love in the present tense (Jeremiah 31:3).

His miracles weren’t relegated for just a specific time and place for only specific people.  God is able today to be the GOAT … the God Over All Things, with Grace Overriding Anxious Times, whose Goodness Outweighs Apparent Trials, as the Guarantee Obverting Artificial Theologies.  Let’s you and I never relegate His accomplishments in the past to mute His ability to help us in the present.

He is truly today the only true GOAT … the Greatest Of All Time for whatever it is we need, whenever it is that we need it.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Sight for Sore Eyes

While they don’t argue about it any longer like they did when they were little, our kids still wrangle and negotiate with one another when we travel together.  The goal … be the one who gets the window seat on the airplane.  I have to admit, other than being able to get up during the flight whenever I’d like to (at my age, bathroom breaks are much more frequently necessary), I’d rather choose the window seat.  My bladder, and the desire not to disturb others sitting next to me, now require me to select the aisle.  But back on topic, there is something enthralling about sitting in the window seat of an airplane.

At least for me, being able to see out the window of an airplane is thrilling because it provides a view that is unavailable otherwise and allows one to see the bigger picture, seeing beyond what’s apparent at ground level.  That bigger picture can more completely and comprehensively show the world around us, and the world around our situations and circumstances.  Being up that high makes the details below seem smaller.  Or, in a way, it allows us to see them more accurately.  In a way, it can be a sight for sore eyes.

Because at times, in the midst of our battles, all we can truly see are our battles.

Elisha the prophet knew about seeing beyond what was apparent, seeing a bigger picture.  God had many times provided him sight for sore eyes.  One such time, the king of Aram (in modern day Syria) was fighting against and attacking Israel, but the prophet Elisha kept squelching the king’s efforts because God continued to alert Elisha as to the king’s plans.  Of course, the king of Aram was not going to just sit back and let Elisha outsmart him.  So the king went to set a trap for Elisha … 2 Kings 6:11-17 tells the story …

The king of Aram became very upset over this. He called his officers together and demanded, “Which of you is the traitor? Who has been informing the king of Israel of my plans?”  “It’s not us, my lord the king,” one of the officers replied. “Elisha, the prophet in Israel, tells the king of Israel even the words you speak in the privacy of your bedroom!”  “Go and find out where he is,” the king commanded, “so I can send troops to seize him.”  And the report came back: “Elisha is at Dothan.”  So one night the king of Aram sent a great army with many chariots and horses to surround the city.  When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha.  “Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!”  Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.

The king of Aram sent a massive attack force to Elisha to rid the king once and for all of the nuisance Elisha.  Elisha was surrounded, and on first look, that would have frozen even the most Rambo-like prophet with fear.  Elisha was under attack, surrounded, colossally outnumbered, and there was no escape.  Elisha’s servant saw the reality.  His encouragement to Elisha?  He practically screamed out, “Oh my gosh, we’re done for!  We’ll never get out alive!”

Some of us in our lives get to places like this.  Life’s realities amass around us, and we rightly can feel surrounded, overwhelmed, and beyond our ability to get out of our situation.  When we look around, in the midst of our battle all we can see is our battle.

Elisha’s servant looked around and all he saw was his battle.  It was real.  There was an actual, real army there preparing to destroy Elisha and likely all in his household including the servant.  The attack wasn’t a figment of their imagination.  It was right before them.  Same with our battles.  They’re not imaginary, they’re not overblown, they’re not a lack of faith.  Actual stuff happens, we actually get sick, we actually go through the death of loved ones, we actually lose our jobs, we actually struggle with finances, or with substances.  All that stuff is real.

But so is GOD.  And as big and scary as all that stuff is, our God is bigger and stronger than any scary thing that confronts us.  Whether we see it or not, God is already in our battles ready to bring us victory.  Elisha reminded his servant about God’s bigness and realness.  He asked God to reveal to the servant what was already true.  God was already there in the battle, and already brought the victory to Elisha.

What Elisha was showing his servant (and us) is that we don’t always see the big picture.  We see what seems evident or perhaps what we want to see.  We see the armies amassing before us but we don’t always see the Lord’s armies encircling them.  But God and His armies are already there, we just have to have eyes to see.

God is always at work, He will never be defeated, and He’ll give us sight for sore eyes!  Even if that does not entail Him revealing visually His warring angels mustered on our behalf, He tells us in Deuteronomy 31:8, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”  That’s not some trite, ancient, poetic, intangible verse in an old book.  That is the very word of the living God, who also reminds us, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword,” (Hebrews 4:12a) and “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”  (2 Timothy 3:16)

You see, it’s not “seeing is believing,” it’s “believing is seeing.”  When the enemy attacks us, our sight for sore eyes is right there in God’s word, the promises He has made to us to care for us, to provide for us, to bring us victory in the way only He can.  He will never, ever, ever let us down.  Thatis truly sight for sore eyes.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

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