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

One degree off

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 1:18-20

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

1 John 1:8-9

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

Ezekiel 18:30-32

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soli Deo gloria!

MR