Pencils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

100 percent

 

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

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

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

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

 

James 4:14

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

Psalms 90:12

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

Ephesians 2:10

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

Psalms 139:13-16

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Eye of the beholder

cross eyed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colossians 3:16-17

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

2 Chronicles 16:9a

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

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

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

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

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

The bottom line …

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

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

HUA!

A U.S. Army Rangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Certain times

When I first felt led to write on this topic it was in the face of a global pandemic the likes of which our generations have never seen.  Little did I think that it would now encapsulate the reemergence of one of the most divisive blemishes on our democratic republic.  Yet, perhaps it’s just as well since the topic still applies.  Maybe it applies more.

The reason this topic came up in the first place was that it struck me as I watched television over the past couple months (which all of us probably have done more of in this time of societal shutdown), more commercials used the phrase, “in these uncertain times.”  I couldn’t help but wonder to myself, “when have times actually been certain?”  The answer is, of course, as it relates to our temporal lives here on earth, times are anything but certain.  They have never been certain, and regardless of the season we’re in they will never be certain.  To us, that is.

We don’t need a global pandemic to show us how uncertain life always is.  History is replete with examples of how life doesn’t go the way we expect, dream or desire.  Wars, disease, death, genocide, prejudice, tyranny, and on and on.  All of that creates an intensely uncertain experience for anyone and everyone affected by them.  Without sounding overly dark, this world is broken, life is hard, and times are uncertain.  All the time.

However, among all the uncertainty, there is certainty.  There are certain times.  And that certainty only comes from one place …

John 16:33

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Psalms 91:2-6

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.

1 Chronicles 29:11-15

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things.  Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.  “O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name!  But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us!  We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.

Certainty comes from God.  He promises us in John 16:33 that even though we go through the craziness that our world offers us, He transcends the strife that comes along with it.  When the world seems overwhelming, it’s because to you and me it is.  It’s not to Him.  Out of the immensity of His love and His knowledge that sin had entered and mutated our world through Adam and Eve (and everyone since), He alone made sure to provide a way out of the chaos.  Just as Jesus spoke calm into the face of a terrifying storm with His disciples, God speaks calm to the storms that you and I confront in our world.  It doesn’t matter how big or scary the storm is, He has already overcome it on our behalf.

In Psalms 91:2-6, he goes further to assure us that not only has He overcome the discord in our world, He is personally with us, each one of us, to provide protection and shelter to us.  He’s our protector, He’s our covering, He’s our safety net.  He doesn’t just sit high upon some lofty and impersonal perch orchestrating like a puppeteer, He is our personal protector.  He knows what you’re battling and what I’m battling individually and He chooses to intercede for both of us.  His love and provision have no bounds and never, ever run out.  That’s how much He loves us.  The 1 Chronicles passage reminds us that He can do these things because the world belongs to Him.  Nothing happens outside His dominion and while it all seems out of control, it’s very much in control.  In His control.  Just because things happen that we may not comprehend doesn’t mean it’s beyond His comprehension.  Nothing is.  And because all creation belongs to Him, He can cause it to operate as He sees fit, in accordance with His holiness, righteousness, mercy, and love.

So our times are uncertain.  Of that there is no doubt.  Times in our world have always been uncertain from our point of view and always will be.  But not for God.  Not only are times not uncertain for Him, they’re very much certain.  And so is His love for us.  And we can draw comfort in our uncertainty because of His complete certainty.  When it comes to our loving, omnipotent, omnipresent God, we can confidently look at our circumstances as certain times.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

 

 

P.S. I would be remiss if I don’t say this … that God created men and women, ALL men and women in His image.  We all, collectively, reflect and represent His image.  What is certain, unequivocally CERTAIN, is that He loves each and every person He ever created.  Anyone who tries to ascribe less value to any one person, class, race, group or whatever on the basis of the Bible is either completely ignorant of what the Bible says, or is absolutely lying and bastardizing what it says.  I will spare you, but I could cite verse after verse after verse on the authority of the inerrant word of God, that God loves every person He ever created.  And so must we.

Near or far?

Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 11.06.45 PM

Early in my college years, a truly groundbreaking movie about a high school dream day was all the rave.  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out of nowhere for all of us and drew folks of my age at the time into a time of wishing we would have the type of day off that Ferris did when we had the chance, all the while knowing it was virtually impossible.  But BOY did we wish we could be him if only for a day.  An iconic movie to say the very least, it’s still one that those of my generation likely stop and tune in anytime it’s on television these days.  It tells of a Teflon-like dreamer, Ferris, who along with his perennially self-defeated and uninspired friend Cameron go on an impossible and unrealistic adventure … purveying both insanely humorous and meaningfully dramatic journeys that delivery truly deep and meaningful messages to the viewers.

In one memorable scene, we watch Ferris, his girlfriend, and Cameron visit the Chicago Art Institute.  Among the more compelling parts of the movie, we note Cameron staring at a famous painting, “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”  A painting created in the pointillist technique, Cameron contemplatively peers into the painting at increasingly deeper levels of focus.  Undoubtedly looking in parallel deeper and deeper into his own life, he begins to see incrementally more while seeing incrementally less.  It points us to the views we often have to alternate between in life – that is, near or far?

In the scene mentioned, Cameron stares rather blankly at the painting, with the camera alternating between Cameron and the painting.  Each time the camera switches back to the painting, it tightens the view considerably.  Eight times the camera zooms closer and closer into the painting.  As it does, we get different views of the painting.  At the greater degrees of zoom, what we can visualize is really a series of dots, true to pointillism.  The thing is, the closer the zoom – the closer we look at the dots – the less clear the overall picture is.  What we see is just a mash of individualized dots of color.  We don’t see the beauty of the painting, which shows a beautiful Sunday afternoon scene near the ocean, with people enjoying the serenity and view.  Looking close-up at the dots obscures the entire picture and brings not a sense of tranquility but of chaos.

The painter created the masterpiece by applying individual dots but had a greater sense of vision in mind.  He had the whole scene uppermost in his consciousness as he applied individual dots that left to themselves only appeared as unclear and obscured.  They weren’t, of course, but without the bigger picture in mind, without understanding and recognition of the intentionality of the painter, we only see in part, and we only see disclarity.

Life can often be the same.  We can find ourselves staring too closely at the dots of our circumstances, rather than standing farther away in order to allow the Painter’s view to take shape for us.  Unlike the Painter, too often we only see the dots, but not the whole painting.  It really is up to us to choose … near or far … what view we want to take.  Truly, what we often choose to see, is only partial.

Isaiah 55:8-9

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.  “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.  For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

Matthew 10:29-31

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin?  But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.  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.

In the passages above, God reminds us that He doesn’t see things the way we do.  Often, we get stuck too close to our situations and circumstances, our pain and our stress.  We can only see the individual dots of the things that we confront at the present moment.  They’re real.  They’re part of the big picture.  We do truly see them and they do truly form part of the bigger picture, but they are only part of the picture.  If we choose to see the big picture we have to step back from our view.

The Painter … God … sees both each individual dot.  Not only does He see those dots individually, those dots are intentionally in their proper place.  They are not obscuring the overall picture, they form it.  So, while we only see either the dots or the overall picture, God sees both.  He uses one (the dots) to craft the entirety of the other (the painting).

It’s why He says in the Isaiah passage that His thoughts aren’t like ours.  He sees every single dot and detail individually, importantly as a critical piece of the whole.  He also sees the bigger picture; in fact, He creates the bigger picture.  And whether we see it or not, it’s a Masterpiece.  It’s why He says in the Matthew passage through Jesus’s words, that as the dots of our lives come together, He is creating a beautiful, Masterful, unique, painting.  Unique to us … to you and me.  And He’s creating those for the express purpose of caring for us through His immeasurable love for us.

So, as we each battle the temptation of seeing our paintings too closely, let’s remember that there is a Painter Who is in the midst of painting a Masterpiece for our lives, dot by dot.  Those dots are not mistakes, and they’re not accidentally.  They are Masterfully placed in exactly the right spot in order to create a painting that is beautiful and that shows both the creativity and the love the Painter uses to make something wonderful … our lives.  When the dots start to obscure our view, let’s consider taking some steps back to see the big picture.  Being too near can give us the wrong sense of where our circumstances fit in the overall frame.  Sometimes being far helps us to see more clearly.  Near or far?  Our perspective can depend on how we look at it.

Best of all, though … God is always near … He’s never far.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Switching the flip

Switch flip

A month ago, I moved my wife and daughter … along with the last vestiges of our personal effects … to the great state of Texas. Our son and I had been here already, our son for two years and me for eight months after starting my new job in late-2018, but we wanted our daughter to have the opportunity to graduate from the high school she chose in Orange County.  For my wife, she was born and raised in Southern California and had never lived anywhere else.  I’d lived in Texas during a couple of my earlier years but grew up in SoCal and the bottom line is that we were making an enormous life change.

As we were preparing to leave, the bittersweet time with so many wonderful friends and family was a highlight of a time marked with both excitement and apprehension.  To be sure, we felt convinced of God’s call for us to Texas, but in practical terms it was really hard to leave relationships with people we love dearly, with whom we have done life, and who have left us better off in innumerable ways.

One of the sweetest times of fellowship we had before we left was with the parents of a couple of my friends from high school. This couple were in more ways than I can express a safe haven for me in tough times in high school (which of us got through high school without tough times?).  Their love of a goofy teenager at that time, and ever since, has changed our family’s lives for the good in so many ways.  While high school for me is almost 35 years in the rearview mirror, we have remained in close contact with this couple and have continued to invest love and friendship in one another along the way.

And that’s where I’d like to take this message … into the reflection of the importance of relationship, of friendship, of “chance” encounters with people that become life-changing and glorious.  Bottom line, I want to take us to a place … through our family’s transition, sadness and joy, excitement and apprehension, faith and hesitation … where we can together take stock of the blessings of other people in our lives.  A place where, imperfect though we all are, we can ask God to increase our intentionality with others, to lean into the “chance” encounters with people He brings to us.  I want to encourage all of us to not be flippant with relationships, forgetful of their bilateral value, in way that God alone can make mutually-beneficial.  I want to remind us about “Switching the Flip.”

There’s a great admonition in Galatians 6:9-10

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.  Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

Paul, in writing to the Galatians, is talking about the importance of actively investing in the welfare of other people.  Of taking the time to relate to others, to help others, to encourage others, to bear others’ burdens.  He’s reminding us of the importance, in my parlance for this message, of “Switching the Flip.”

In addition to the hour or so that we spent with our friends, the couple that were my high school safe haven, we also spent some really sweet time with a number of our other friends before we departed on the road for Waco.  In another especially sweet time, a bunch of our friends from our church in SoCal gathered to wish us farewell.  During that time, our senior pastor called the group together for a time of prayer over us.  His words were Spirit-led, loving, and encouraging, reminding us of the call we have felt “away” from SoCal and to central Texas.  Our time with those friends was such a sweet reminder. Many of those friendships were borne out of encounters that were unexpected.  Meaning, the friendships had grown out of situations we may not have expected at the time.

Had we been flippant about those at those times, we would have missed out on countless beautiful hours together with friends who have changed our lives.  Had we been flippant about letting someone know that we were praying for them, had we been flippant about actually praying for them when we said we were going to, had we been flippant about calling them when we felt led of the Spirit or when God brought them to mind, had we been flippant in allowing the relationship to grow, we would have missed out on some of the most valuable jewels God entrusts to us in our lives.

“Switching the Flip,” to me, means not being flippant or careless in relationship.  It’s taking seriously the notion that in God’s economy, people are put in our lives for a reason.  It is being intentional about what Proverbs 27:17 describes as “iron sharpening iron,” the notion that as we have relational, emotional, and friendship-oriented actual contact with one another, we grow.  But it must be demonstratively intentional.  We can’t be flippant about the impact we have on others.  Relationships are created in unforeseen circumstances and are used by God in unforeseen ways.

Flippancy robs us of greater and grander purposes God wants to bring to us through others.  What chances did we miss today to leave someone better off?  Is there a chance that someone you could have started a conversation with might have needed to know that they were worth you stopping to chat?  What chances did we miss today to let God leave us better off? Is there a chance that someone we bumped into but didn’t go beyond, “how are you?” might be someone God could use to teach or encourage us somehow?  I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that the people I mentioned above are those with whom we began friendship in ways like those.  Seemingly innocuous introductions who because one or both of us decided not to be indifferent, became monuments to God’s love in our lives.

“Switching the Flip,” choosing not to be flippant in meeting, talking with, and caring for others is one of God’s greatest gifts. It is one of the ways we can see Him at work in multiple lives, in multiple ways, with geometric blessings as the result. I want to encourage … really, challenge … us to be mindful and purposeful in the “chance” encounters God brings us to.  It can be in just calling a family member who comes to mind, visiting a friend you haven’t seen in years, reaching out to someone who needs to know that they gave you encouraging words 30 years ago, asking the checkout person at the supermarket how they’re really doing and listening intently to their answer, talking to someone after church that you’ve seen a thousand times but have never shown interest in, whatever.  It’s intentionality, it’s time-consuming, it’s fearsome to a degree. But maybe as a result of us paying more attention now, to “Switching the Flip,” we’ll look back 20 years from now and be able to marvel, once again, about the ways God put just the right people in our lives at just the right time for just the right reasons.  After all, that the business He’s in.  And He can blow our minds, if we’re just not flippant about it … if we just choose more often, “Switching the Flip.”

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Finish or start?

Finish or Start

Running my first half-marathon at the end of April was a blast.  Not just because my wife, son, and mom all met me at the finish line (though that was a huge thing), but just for the fact that I was able to accomplish something I hadn’t previously done.  The training was hard and the discipline to fulfill the training significant.  Most of the time the training was fun and doable, but as it ramped up to longer and longer distances, it was definitely challenging.  There were both physical as well as mental challenges involved, and the combination was perhaps the hardest part.

The same was true during the run, though because of the training I’d been through, I felt comfortable during most of the 13.1 miles.  There were clearly portions of the race where I struggled to keep going but I could think back to my training and remember I had been there before.  Because of what I had done previously, I realized I could keep going forward now.

When it was all said and done and I finished, there was an enormous sense of accomplishment and relief.  And yet … there was a part of me that felt a longing to do another half. Don’t get me wrong, I realized that there were a bunch of other people who had already run 13.1 miles that day and were in the process of running another 13.1 because they were running the fullmarathon.  That’s NOT me.  But nevertheless, though I had just finished the half, I could also sense that the beginning of something … another half or whatever … was bubbling up.  In that sense, it was hard to discern whether I was at the finish or start.  Perhaps it was both.

A good example of how this works in our lives is King David.  We’re all familiar with how King David slew the Philistine giant, Goliath, and perhaps many of us are acquainted with his reign over Israel as God’s anointed thereafter, but it’s key to look at what equipped David to take down Goliath in the first place.  By doing so, we’ll see how a finish of sorts for David led to a start, and then a finish, and a start, etc.  We see in 1 Samuel 17:32-36 

“Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!”  “Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.”  But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death.  I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God!

Let’s not skirt past what led David to feel not just equipped, but confident that he would succeed in taking down this fearsome beast of a giant in Goliath.  (That is, other than God Himself, obviously).  For quite a long time (say, the equivalent of running 13.1 miles), David tended to sheep and goats.  This is not a small, menial, safe task.  It’s taxing, tedious, intense, and as we note, fraught with frequent peril.  “When a lion or a bear comes,” doesn’t suggest “if,” as in, it could happen.  It suggests that it happens with regularity … ongoing danger against scary, fearsome animals that – let’s face it – posed danger not just to the sheep and goats, but to David.

As he “finished” that race … having completed (in a manner of speaking) tending to sheep and goats against lions and bears, he “started” a new race as someone who would not only slay Goliath, but then “finish” that battle having now become prepared to “start” as King over God’s people.  As he “finished” becoming King over God’s chosen, he “started” as a warrior / leader to secure the nation for God’s chosen. The finish equipped the start, which resulted in a finish, which facilitated a start, and on it goes.

Such is life.  If we get particularly retrospective, we can see how one race prepared us for another and but for the precedent training, we may not have survived (let alone thrived through) the current challenge.  Just this week, as I was talking through a business challenge with a colleague, he noted, “you don’t get particularly stressed or rattled by this stuff, do you?”  I thought about it for a second, and realized, 1) if we follow Christ, what do we have to fear (answer: nothing), but also, 2) because of what I have gone through in business over the past 25 years, I feel as though I’ve largely “seen it all” and as a result, I feel equipped to deal with whatever comes.  I’d completed the training and run and bunch of the business version of half marathons, so I had been prepared for this one. My prior “finishes” led to prior “starts” which became “finishes” and helped me “start” this present situation.

Maybe you’re in the middle of a start that hasn’t yet become a finish.  My encouragement to you is to see yourself as working toward a finish.  I don’t know if you’re at mile 2 or mile 12, but I assure you that you are in process of a “finish” somewhere down the road.  Keep going!  I know it may be a really hard 13.1 you’re on, but there is a “finish” ahead of you. And yeah, the concept of a “finish” leading to a “start” might sound scary, but in life those aren’t always strung together (though sometimes are, in fairness).  Regardless, the “finish” you’re about to reach will prepare you to take on the “start” to come with – like King David – equipping and confidence.

Most important of all … if we, like King David, realize that in the end it’s God that is the Victor on our behalf, our progressing from “start” to “finish” will be far easier.  When we don’t feel like going on, He can carry us.  The primary reason is because of a “Finish” that really was a “Start.”

Jesus, our Savior and King … “finished” on the cross of Calvary.  Many at that time, including His closest friends, felt that the “finish” was all there was.  And yet, the best and most important “start” ever was when, overcoming and overpowering death, He rose, buying us not just forgiveness of our sins, but freedom for the races of life that we run.  He paid our penalty so that our eventual “finish” could be a “start” of eternal life with Him.

All the more … He doesn’t leave us to just battle and struggle it out in life, a sort of cosmic, “hey, good luck, and see you in heaven.”  No!  If we have a relationship with Him, He runs EVERY SINGLE STEP of our “starts” and “finishes” with us.  When we can’t go on, we can trust that He will help us.  All we have to do is ask.

No matter who you are, no matter what race you’re running … there’s a “finish” ahead.  But it’s also a “start.”  A good start, which will lead to a good “finish.”  Run alongside your Savior … He’s longing to join you through to the very last “finish.”  I assure you it’ll be worth it!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

One … more … step

One step at a time

For some crazy reason, a few months ago I thought it would be a good idea to sign up for a half-marathon in late-April that my company puts on.  I’ve never run that distance before but given that the proceeds benefit cancer research and treatment – one of my passion areas – and in an effort to support the company, I signed up.  That, of course, was the easy part.

Over the past few months I have been training, meaning running five times a week, starting off with smaller distances and gradually moving into longer distances.  Generally, Saturdays have been reserved for the longest runs of the week, as building up distances over time is important to be able to run 13.1 miles eventually during the race.

While I have enjoyed running over the past 20 years or so, I haven’t ever run any more than 10 miles at a time.  Even when I have, it was longer ago and never since turning 50 a couple years ago.  If you would have asked me six months ago if I’d be able to run a half-marathon I would have politely declined … essentially, those days are behind me.  Or at least, so I thought.  Even running four miles, just a few months ago, felt like a stretch. Since then, for the past five Saturdays I’ve run 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 miles, and yesterday I got through 12 1/2. That made it the second week in a row that ran a distance I’ve never run before.

I say all this not to toot my horn, but to set up a pretty powerful lesson I’ve learned along the way.  You might assume, rightly, that when you’re out running for a couple hours you have lots of time to think.  Most of the time, I am thinking about how I don’t want to be out running for a couple hours.  😎  As I have pressed on, however, my thoughts have centered around those who are serving as my inspiration for this race … folks in my life or sphere who have, had or died from, cancer.  Their journeys serve as the fuel in my tank.  The “one day at a time” mentality that they employ through a horrific voyage with an angry disease reminds me that I can cover a long distance.  How? The same way as they do, by taking one … more … step.  One at a time.

One of my favorite Bible verses affirms this perspective.  Matthew 6:33-34

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

This instruction is so powerful and helps us focus on the here and the now.  On just accomplishing today … achieving this moment … getting over this hurdle.  I literally think about this to myself as I run, and I literally repeat to myself when I’ve been running these long distances, “One more step.  One more step.”  Rhythmically. Because I need to think about nothing other than just taking the next step.  If I get overly focused on how far I’ve run, or how far I have left to run, I reorient my mental state in a way that debilitates me.  It makes me feel fatigued.  I think about the pain I’ll feel when I get ahead further.

And so it is in life in a lot of ways.  Things happen … we get a lot of situations thrown in our paths, we go through challenging circumstances, we get sick, people around us get sick.  We struggle with family or relationship woes.  To say it’s difficult doesn’t do justice to the reality.  It’s one of the things that moves me most about my friends that have or had cancer and why they inspire me so deeply.  I watched my mom go through it.  Day by day, dealing with a disease that could kill her.  She, like so many others, got up every day, went through their treatment and, often worse, the side effects of their treatment.  Every day, they dealt with today no matter how tough today was.

In the portion of Matthew 6 above, Jesus is teaching about faithfulness with money and possessions.  But in a broader sense, He is teaching us to focus on what truly matters … not what we have or what we own, but how we live.  Of course, Jesus was well aware of the brevity of life, since He created it.  Indeed, before long He was going to experience the brevity of it as He sacrificially laid down His life for us on the cross.  And even while He was teaching about the tangible considerations of life, He emphasized that we should take our lives in smaller increments.  One moment at a time.  One more day.  One … more … step.

I don’t know what you’re going through, what you’re facing, what’s facing you.  Some of us are dealing with things that are so big … too big to think we have a chance at overcoming.  I can only imagine.  Seriously can only imagine the burdens some of you bear.  A friend of ours is just finishing chemo and gets to look forward to surgery as a follow up.  It just sounds daunting and heavy.  But somehow, she faces her plight confidently but with imperfect knowledge about what is to come.  How?  She deals with today.  She deals with the here and now.  One … more … step.  Not focused on tomorrow, next week, next month.  Just focused on getting through today.

My goal is not to minimize the reality you might be facing and it’s not to sound trite.  My hope is to encourage us what the Bible tells us in Luke 12:25-26

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?  And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

My point is this … whatever you face, whatever battle you’re waging, take it one day at a time.  Win today.  Ask God to give you the power to wake up today, to give you strength to move through today, through this moment.  Doing so will help us rely on Him more frequently, more completely.  It will remind us that He is running right alongside us, that He is there every moment, that the way we can not worry about tomorrow is by relying on Him every moment of today.  First Peter 5:7 sums it up best …

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

Let’s ask Him to help us focus on the here and now, on today rather than yesterday or tomorrow, on one … more … step.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

 

Mistaken identity?

flag-poland-polish-5611

This past Christmas, in celebrating Helen’s 50th birthday, she and the kids and I spent a little more than two weeks in Europe, visiting Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Poland.  All were places we had never spent much time. It was a wonderful family time together, at the Christmas markets, eating great food, meeting people from some new cultures, enjoying a truly white Christmas, and just having good family time together.  I was so glad Helen had suggested that as our way of celebrating her special milestone birthday.

The main reason we included Poland on the itinerary is that we had always wanted to visit Auschwitz.  Perhaps it is because of our love of history, and especially for Jared and me World War II history though I’d hardly call us connoisseurs of knowledge.  Without question, part of the attraction to Auschwitz is our family’s love of Jewish history and culture, not because we’re Jewish, but because of the indelible connection of Jewish history to Christian history (really, to ALL history) and Jewish culture to our Christian heritage.  And if you’re going to delve into Jewish history and culture you truly can’t neglect the impact of the Holocaust.

But one aspect of the draw to Poland that I did not anticipate in large part until we got there was my own heritage.  My dad is Puerto Rican and my mom is Italian and Polish.  I emphasize that because, my sense is the Polish portion of our heritage has received less emphasis over my lifetime. That’s not to say that anyone has denigrated or disregarded it, but the Italian portion on my mom’s side was just less of the focus.  Perhaps that’s why the visit to Poland felt somewhat cathartic but also empowering. It opened up some windows of awareness into my full heritage and identity, and certainly did that for our kids. In a way, it’s almost as though I had a bit of mistaken identity of my background, or at least an incomplete identity.

I think the same thing can happen to all of us in a spiritual sense.  That is, just as I had a less-full perspective on the entirety of my heritage and identity (the Polish part), I think we can tend to have a less-full perspective of who we are in God’s eyes.  If we’re honest with ourselves, a less-full perspective is … by definition … an erroneous one.

As a younger guy I struggled with an attitude of essentially, “I don’t need God.  Pretty much everything I set my mind to, I can do.”  Perhaps many of us are familiar with this belief.  It’s one that has corollaries that say such things as, “I’m a good person.  I don’t need to be saved,” and “the whole God thing is good for people who need to believe in a crutch like that.”  Like my attitude, these beliefs – while common – give us a dangerously inaccurate portrayal of ourselves.  A case of mistaken identity.  Romans 3:10-12 

As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one.  No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God.  All have turned away; all have become useless.  No one does good, not a single one.”

Now it should go without saying, me pointing this out is not intended to denigrate anyone, but to give a full perspective of our identity as humans.  Bottom line, we might be good people, but on the authority of the Bible we are not good enough.  Compared to the standard of sinless holiness that God possesses and therefore which is required for us to be in His presence, our best actions are like “filthy rags,” (Isaiah 64:6).  Recognizing this truth is necessary to have a clear picture of our true spiritual identity.

And there are some of us who realize that truth … perhaps to an unhealthy extent.  That is, we have done things in the past of which we’re understandably ashamed.  In a way, all of us have backgrounds that we are glad are in the background.  There are things we’ve done that no one knows about, or that are so bad that God could never forgive us, so we think.  We could never right the wrongs we’ve done.  When you weigh things out, there are so many errors of judgment, mistakes, hurt that we’ve created for others or ourselves, etc., that we could never atone for it. Well, it’s true.  We can’t repay any of it.  But God knows that too, and out of the immensity of His love for us, He wants us to not have a mistaken identity.  Romans 5:8-9

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.

First John 1:9

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

Second Peter 3:9

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

And, of course, John 3:16-17

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”

The great thing is, no matter what we’ve done, and no matter that we could never make up for it, never repay God, and never do enough good stuff to outweigh the bad, God our Father, our Creator, our Savior knew that in advance and still sent His Son to die for us and to pay the price.  Literally, it doesn’t matter what you or I have done in the past, if we bring God a repentant heart, an earnest desire to turn the other way, and a commitment to follow Him, He promises us that He will wipe the slate clean.  That is our identity.

Finally, there are some of us who sadly have been led to believe that we are nothing, will never amount to anything, are unloved, are unlovable.  It’s so unfortunate that anyone would be told those things, and I don’t have any knowledge or expertise to even fathom what would warrant someone saying that to a child or letting another human believe those things.  All are lies.  All are mistaken identities, and it pains me – and no doubt pains our God that those lies would cause one of His creation the very understandable hurt such things portend. Psalm 139:14 (NKJV) …

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.

John 15:13

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

No matter what someone has told you before, no matter how they may have berated and belittled you, no matter how they tried to make themselves bigger by making you smaller, God … the Creator of the universe and of all things on Earth … says YOU ARE FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE. The Almighty, all-powerful, all-loving Lord, says YOU WERE AND ARE WORTH DYING FOR.  I have said it before, and I have to admit it might not be theologically solid, but I believe if YOU were the only person on earth that Jesus would still have gone to the cross.  For YOU … for me … for us.  That is our true … unmistaken … identity!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR