And …

For all of us, I suspect there are times when it seems God is silent, and maybe even absent or busy with other things. Many of us make choices in life that are, let’s just say, less than stellar and maybe less than God-honoring. Maybe even for some of us, those not-so-great choices have been recurring or for long seasons of time. It’s natural, then, for us to think we’ve taken God’s patience past the brink, that we’ve pushed Him even beyond His limits to a point where, honestly, there are just more worthwhile members of His creation for Him to consider.

And yet, that is NOT Who God is. And that is NOT what God does.

How do we know that? Well, scripture is replete with examples, but there’s one in particular that hinges on a single, powerful little word … AND.

Mark 16:1-7

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

Did you see the AND? Okay, in fairness there were a few of them. But I have to wonder if the one I’m speaking about in particular may be one of the most important ANDs in the Bible. It certainly was for Peter.

“… tell his disciples and Peter …”

At this point, you’re probably shaking your head wondering what in the world I’m talking about. Well, in order to truly understand, we need to go back a couple of chapters to Mark 14 (and the parallel passages in Matthew 26, Luke 22, and John 18) to better understand the supreme importance of the AND.

Here’s the context from Mark 14:26-31

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

Sounds good enough, doesn’t it? Peter is like many of us, who set out close to Jesus and poignantly, boisterously commit to staying that way. Whether it was weakness, Peter’s nature, a character lapse, or a real-life monumental degree of pressure under which any of the rest of us would have collapsed … it wasn’t long when later in Mark 14:66-72

And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Now go back up and look at the AND from Mark 16! Do you see why it’s a gigantic AND??? That that AND is restorative? How that AND demonstrates the immensity of God’s grace, mercy, and love??? I think that AND is mind-blowingly powerful for you and for me.

By any measure, Peter completely blew it. To be fair, so have you and I. But objectively, Peter was with Jesus day-in and day-out for a few years. He looked Jesus square in the eye and said in effect, “I will never, ever deny you, even if all these knuckleheads do. Even if I have to die! Never, ever!” And within mere hours, Peter completely blew it. In fact, Luke 22:61 points out that right after Peter’s final denial, from across the courtyard Jesus looked, lovingly, over to Peter as if to almost empathetically forgive him in that moment (my conjecture, of course). If it was me, and he completely stabbed me in the back like that, I don’t know if I would have forgiven him. And I can assure you, my look across that courtyard would probably have been a little more scornful.

AND!

The AND of Mark 16:7 tells all we need to know about the powerful, matchless, endless love of our Lord and Savior. Just a couple days after Peter denied Jesus so regretfully, the angel made a point to tell Peter that Jesus still loved and cared for him and forgave him. That nothing could shake Jesus’s love for Peter. That nothing was beyond the reach of the crucifixion. Jesus wanted to make sure that Peter knew directly and personally, his foul-up wasn’t beyond Jesus’s ability to forgive him. Specifically.

Folks, that AND is also for you and me. No matter where you are with Jesus at this moment, no matter how far He may seem, no matter what you may be doing, have done, or may yet do, if you reach out to Him, He is there. If you’ve accepted Jesus’s free gift of salvation, then you have the unabated, undeterrable, unending benefit of His AND. He promises us that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and that nothing and no one can snatch us out of His hand (John 10:28-30).

AND!

He sees us, He loves us, He desires to walk with us. He forgives us. If we run to Him, He’s there. Yes, we like Peter can mess up, royally. But Jesus wants us to know AND.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Welcome mat

I wonder at what point in history the welcome mat became commonplace.  A cursory web search suggests that they may have started roughly 6,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, but who knows?  (I guess you can’t necessarily believe everything you read on the internet???)

Regardless of its origin, I quite love the notion of a welcome mat.  In this day, it seems we less frequently tend to visit others at their homes, opting instead for the ubiquitous coffee shop or restaurant meeting place.  Perhaps it’s my perspective only, but I remember during my childhood it seems far more typical that folks would pop by the house, even unannounced, to pay a visit.  In fact, my recollection of those occasions is fond … I actually enjoyed the impromptu stopover from friends and family.  The only time someone wouldn’t be definitively welcome is if we happened not to be home.

Whether or not we had a literal welcome mat at our house then, we certainly had a conceptual one.  A welcome mat at the doorstep says, in effect, “Thank you for coming and for allowing us the opportunity to host you.  Please come back again, often.  You are always welcome.”

There’s a bible story that speaks of a welcome mat, though not one at a front door.

Mark 2:1-5

When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home.  Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door.  While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.  They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head.  Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.  Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”  But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”  Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts?  Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’?  So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.”  Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”  And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers.  They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”

The paralyzed man’s buddies approached the house and perhaps saw a welcome mat, but not a welcome set of circumstances for another group of people to enter the already packed house.  Not only were his friends undeterred, but Jesus was unrelenting in His welcome of the devoted group of guys and their paralyzed compadre.  The mat the paralyzed guy was laying on was just as welcome as if he’d entered in a more conventional way.

When it came to those in need, Jesus always had a welcome mat around Him (and let’s be clear, they were – and we are – all in need of Jesus).  And just as I internalized about welcome mats as a kid, the welcome mat didn’t solely welcome someone into His presence, it said demonstratively, “Thank you for coming and for allowing Me the opportunity to host you.  Please come back again, often.  You are always welcome.”  Perhaps Jesus’s welcome mat would say more than “Welcome,” it would say, “Always Welcome.”

You see, I suppose many of us think of Jesus as someone who “did” things previously.  At some ancient time in the long-ago past.  Or that He was someone who did some things “for those people” … you know, the ones in the Bible.  The ones that were part of the stories.  Or maybe we see Jesus as someone who did things back then for other people but wouldn’t or couldn’t do things for us today (like heal us, care for us, be concerned about our issues, etc.).

To believe those things would be to miss the glaring welcome mat that He would want us to see.  That is, the Always Welcome mat.  And not only see, but to actually internalize and take in the feeling of welcome He wants us to feel.  Today.  Now. 

He is never “out,” never busy, never in the middle of something else.  He is always home, and He is always thrilled to spend time with us.  More than that, He is always present and ever ready to tend to whatever it is we’re grappling with in the moment.  When it comes to us seeking Jesus, there is always a welcome mat.  Really, an Always Welcome mat.

Moreover, He is not limited to a previous time, to certain miracles, for only certain people.  He is present NOW, in ALL things, and specifically for YOU and for ME.  He is All we need for all we need.  Not only is there always a welcome mat when we arrive, but He tells us, “I’m always here.  Whenever you need me or just want to spend time.”

Of course, in the old days, we were always happy to receive visitors.  But we couldn’t receive visitors that didn’t visit, that didn’t come by.  So, Jesus would invite you and me to remember, He is always home, but you and I can’t experience His hospitality and welcome, His rest and healing, His accommodation and love, if we don’t actually go to Him, to visit Him and to stop by.  The thing is, His residence and His abode is in our hearts (if we’ve accepted His free gift of forgiveness), so in order to visit we don’t have to go far.  He’s readily available and closely local within us, so all we really have to do is approach His presence and He is always at the ready to receive us.  There is not just always a welcome mat before Him, there’s an Always Welcome mat.  And, He is ALWAYS able to care for whatever needs we bring along with us. 

Let’s you and I avail ourselves to His Always Welcome mat!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

God Can’t

God is omnipotent.  That’s a fancy word for “all-powerful.”  Meaning, God can do anything and everything.  That’s a place from where most of us draw the greatest sense of comfort as we walk through life as His followers.  Nothing is beyond God’s ability.  The apostle Paul could do “all things through Christ” (Philippians 4:13) because Christ can do all things.  In Matthew 19:26, Jesus says, “with God everything is possible.”

There is power in knowing that God can do all things.  That’s why there are dozens and dozens of verses in scripture that remind us that this is so.

But what if I told you that there are things that God can’t do?  Would that strike you as odd, disappointing or even dismaying?  If there is power in knowing that God can do all things (there is), does it somehow diminish or detract from the power to acknowledge that there are some things that God can’t do?  Perhaps this burst your proverbial faith bubble.  We gain encouragement from knowing that God can do all things, so naturally it would crush us to think that He is not indeed able somehow.  Right?

Actually, I’d argue that there is even more power that we can draw from the things God can’t do.  Confused?  Perfect.

It is precisely the fact that God can’t do certain things that I find all the more comfort about Him and that, to me, make Him all the more praiseworthy.  The very things He can’t do are some of the foundational bedrock that allow me to feel solidified in my most unstable and uncertain moments.  I reckon if we explore some of the specific things God can’t do, we can better unpack the potency of the inability.

God can’t lie.

Hebrews 6:18

So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.

Clear as day … it is not possible for God to lie.  God can’t lie.  This is also demonstrated in other places in scripture such as John 14:6 which describes Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life,” (emphasis added).

Let’s walk this out a little.  Given that God can’t lie, what does that mean to you and me?  The bible tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalms 139:14), that God has a plan and purpose for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11), that even though we are inherently sinful God sent His one and only son Jesus to die for our sins (Romans 5:8), and once we accept Jesus’s free gift of salvation we are secure for eternity (John 6:37).  Nothing can change that.  And since God can’t lie, we can know that we know we are eternally secure, regardless of how we might behave, how we might feel, what the world might tell us, or how the enemy Satan may try to accuse us.

What power there is in the certainty that God can’t lie!

God can’t change.

Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Malachi 3:6a

“I am the Lord, and I do not change.”

Why does it matter that God can’t change?  Because what He has promised us won’t fade.  Who He is, He will always be.  His love will never become conditional.  His power will never diminish.  Those are some of the attributes of God (among many) that we can depend on to counteract the things in the world that do change.  Like our circumstances, our standing with others, our health, etc.  The things that can cause us physical, spiritual or emotional whiplash can ultimately be governed by and rationalized through God’s steadiness.  There are many things in this world and in our lives that we believe we can depend on, only to find that they are fleeting and capricious.  God is the ultimate in reliability.

What power there is in the certainty that God can’t change!

God can’t learn.

Isaiah 40:28

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.

The fact that God can’t learn means that He already knows all things.  Things that have already happened, things that are happening presently, and things that will happen in the future.  When you and I go through difficulties in life, we only know our experience now.  God not only knows – already – our experience in the future, but He also knows how He uses our experiences now to grow us, to prepare us, and to bless us.  He already knows because He knows all things.  If He knows all things, then by definition He can’t learn.  Since He can’t learn, we can take solace in knowing that our difficulties are not frivolous, random or surprising to God.  He knows, and He knows what’s best for us … what conveys to us the greatest good while giving Him the greatest glory.

What power there is in the certainty that God can’t learn!

Therein lies one of the most amazing things about our Father in heaven.  We gain comfort and power from Him because He can do all things.  And yet, we can also draw comfort and power because of what God can’t do!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

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

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

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

Piece be with you

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

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

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

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

It’s a lot like life …

Ecclesiastes 3:11

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

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

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

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

John 15:5

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

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

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

Matthew 11:28-30

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

Revelation 3:20

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

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

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

Soli Deo gloria!

MR