God’s Ball Game, Misplaced Jelly and Being a Baby Again

Early this morning, I came across this transcript buried in some computer files. It was a conversation from years ago, but it left an impact on me. A friend of mine asked if he could come by my office to share some things that he had been pondering. He came to faith in Christ during the Jesus Movement of the 1970’s, and that old bohemian lifestyle still infuses the cadence of his speech and the train of his thoughts. Late one rainy evening, by the warm light of a couple of floor lamps, we sat down to discuss the things that were on his mind. Continue reading

A needed reminder…

We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the “intolerable compliment.” Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.
– C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Went fishing today…

Taught my friend Carl how to fly fish in the National Park. He did well with the trout. So well that I left him to it and napped on a midstream, shaded rock for a while. 

Later, I drove to a pier in Knoxville, and, yes, did some more fishing. That resulted in a few nice fish and a double catch too. The children on the pier all gathered around to watch and then scattered promptly to rummage through their tackle boxes for matching bait…

This is strong mojo.

(The lure is 2.5 in. long for scale.)

 
   

The Twisting of the Sacred

I’ve heard some say the inherent appeal of the female form should be traced to evolutionary theory. Man sees woman. Man likes seeing woman. Man wants woman. And so, the species continues. The purported idea is that man’s desire to survive is the driving motivation behind all actions. Life must go on, and the more women a man garners, the better the chance his genes will rise above those of his competitors and be perpetuated throughout the ages. Followed to the logical conclusion, the argument is that men have no choice in the matter, no ability to deal with wandering eyes and no control over their genetics. Continue reading

Eternally Yours

“Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among evangelical Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people….We read, we hear, we believe a good theology of grace. But that’s not the way we live. The good news of the Gospel of grace has not penetrated the level of our emotions.”                                                            -David Seamands  


Continue reading

Trust His View

The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man…(Psalm 33:13).

The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3).

And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).

The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man (Psalm 11:4).

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

When God wants to grow your faith, He begins by reducing your sight.

The Spiritual 2×4 That Just Hit Me

Since…

He has given us all things we need related to life and godliness through the knowledge of Christ (1 Peter 1:3).

He only gives good gifts (James 1:17).

He will withhold no good thing from those living devoted to truth (Psalm 84:11).

Then you can trust…

If He allows it or brings it, you have it for a reason.

If He allows it or brings it, then takes it, you had it for a season.

If you don’t have it now, you don’t need it to bring glory to Him now.

If you need it later, He will provide it.

So remember…

Sometimes it takes a real loss to make room for a real gain in knowing Him, for He is good in His giving…

And good in His taking.

A Translation Guide (What We Say – What We Mean)

“I’m worried” – “I don’t trust You, All-Powerful God.”

“I’m impatient.” – “Eternal God, clearly You don’t understand the concept of time.”

“I’m in a panic because no one saw this coming!” – “All-Knowing Lord, Your wisdom has serious limits.”

“I must hold on tightly to everything I get.” – “God, Owner of All Creation, You won’t provide for my needs.”

“No good can come of this.” – “Your design for my life is worthless, Master Planner.”

“I deserve to be happy.” – “Righteous God, You aren’t concerned about my holiness.”

“I must do this myself.” – “Father, Your grace falls short of my need.”

Matt. 6:25-34; Ps. 37:7-9; Ps. 147:5; Phil. 4:19; Jer. 29:11; 1 Pet. 1:16; Heb. 4:16

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence…” – 2 Peter 1:3

Thankful

Thanksgiving with these guys (and family) was amazing. Then, to add to the wonder of it all, I reconnected with some special people through perfect timing. Best Thanksgiving I’ve had in years.

And even better ones to come…

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Swirling smoke from the fire.
Stiff breeze from the northwest.
Scent of meat and gunpowder.
Saying grace in an old farmhouse.
Muddy boots.
Laughter.

A good day.

Great Expectations

Four different people.

Four different conversations.

Four similar questions.

“Do you believe marriage will make you more content?”
“Do you have unreasonable expectations for marriage?”
“How do you see marriage as a means to holiness?”
“What do you want out of marriage?”

I know I don’t know all the struggles we will face in marriage or the depth I will need to die to self or the difficulties of each of us being sanded and, at times, rubbed raw by the sinfulness of the other…but I want it.

I want it all.

I want the joys and tears and slammed doors and making up and concerns about the future and the grace of God’s provision. I want dinners growing cold under heavy conversation and prayers offered up sweetly like incense.

I want to ponder paint swatches for the eighth time and not be able to fully grasp an appreciable difference in the exact shade for the living room walls but know that it’s not about the paint or the walls but the lining of a nest and the nest is the home and that is how it should be.

I want to sit up late to rock the baby and fix the dishwasher and change the oil and take out the trash and rotate the tires and go to the store in the middle of a rainstorm to pick up products for her that a single guy never thinks about.

I want to make coffee and rub feet and bring flowers and notice her hair and leave notes and call just to say I was thinking of her.

I want sore knees and lost sleep and tear stains from praying for her.

I want dirt under my nails and grit between my teeth and my tunic flecked with my own blood from wading into battle on her behalf.

I want the tango. Stumbling and tangled and on each other’s toes and pressing into her and she into me and both of us into God. Feeling the small of her back rest in my hand and allowing me, wanting me, to lead and both of us hearing the same rhythm and learning the steps and no longer two but one and being willing to step back onto the floor again and again.

I want to put a ring on the hand of a woman I can look at and say, “Help me become like Christ, and I will spare nothing to do the same for you.”

I want holiness, even through hurt.

I want sacrifice and service and sanctification if it all kills me in the process, and I know it will; it must.

I want her to look down at my hand around her hand and easily imagine nail prints.

There is no other way.

Let me meet you on the mountain, Lord,
Just once.
You wouldn’t have to burn a whole bush.
Just a few smoking branches
And I would surely be…your Moses.

Let me meet you on the water, Lord,
Just once.
It wouldn’t have to be on a lake.
Just on a puddle after the rain
And I would surely be…your Peter.

Let me meet you on the road, Lord,
Just once.
You wouldn’t have to blind me.
Just a few bright lights on the way to chapel
And I would surely be…your Paul.

Let me meet you, Lord,
Just once.
Anywhere. Anytime.
Just meeting you in the Word is so hard sometimes
Must I always be…your Thomas?

-Norman Shirk (1981)

“I Love You, Lord…Mostly.”

The cross of Christ does not allow for nominal followers…

For no one is “half-crucified.”

He did not leave His royal splendor to secure our mediocrity.

His blood did not spill hot so that we might remain lukewarm.

His body was not broken to give us lives of mere ease.

His sacrifice does not remove our call
to do the same: to sacrifice.

Our Master, the One who died for us, demands we die to self for Him as well.

What are you holding back from the nails?

God’s Punctuality

So I was walking toward a trout stream the other day with a friend I had not seen in years. We ran into each other on another stream earlier in the morning, and we were catching up as we went to the next spot. He told me about his family, and mentioned that his college-aged son was going through a rough spot right now. I’ve had my share of rough spots too (we all have), but the more he talked, the more I sensed God tugging at my heart and mind. Continue reading

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My friend Trevor and I hit the high-elevation streams the other day. If there is a man with the God-given energy to change the world, it’s T. He doesn’t “grow weary in well-doing.”

In fact, I don’t know if he ever grows weary in doing anything.

Smaller fish, incredible scenery and talks about God…it was a day to remember.

(The beard is for an upcoming Jack Sparrow appearance…)

Snagged

The other day, while fly fishing in the mountains, I suffered the inevitable: I got snagged.

It was where the snag occurred that was so frustrating.

I was aiming for a pocket of slowly swirling water on the far side of the stream… beyond a lone, high tree limb…across a deep, churning run. Having exhausted all other methods of getting the fly where I needed it to be, including my location, I backed up and tried to just cast it over to the target.

Did I mention the tree limb?
And that it was my favorite fly?
And that I was without waders?

The cast was graceful and looping, moving through the air like a curl of woodsmoke on an autumn breeze…and then, in an instant, the fly hung some twelve feet high on the solitary limb, firmly fixed by its hook.

“I can’t believe I did that,” I muttered. “Of all the limbs in all the streams in all the world, this one had to catch my fly.” I’m a novice fly fisherman, but this was still an incredible act of carelessness. The limb was high, and sparse, and a very small target, yet, I hooked it. Had that been intentional, it would have been impressive.

Then it began to pour rain.

I looked heavenward and let the drops hit my face, then gazed back at the limb.

“God, what do You want to teach me in this?” I asked. There is always a lesson, always.

I tried tugging the line upstream to free the hook. Nope.
Throwing another loop toward the snag. Nothing.
A quick wiggle. Again, no.

Nothing was left but the nuclear option.

I waded out into that waist-deep run, got under the limb, and pulled down. After momentary pressure, there was a quick “snap” and a small piece of the limb (with fly attached) fell into the current.

Wading back to the bank, I looked at the offending scrap of wood.

There, dug in deep, was my black fly.

And right next to it…another fly.

Someone else’s fly. From some earlier time.

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A tourist staying at the campground.
A child being taught by his father how to cast.
A local who was having a bad day.

Beautiful, smart and godly fly fishing woman.
(Sorry, but it was just too easy to pass up…)

Regardless of the original owner’s identity, one thing was clear: I wasn’t the first one to get snagged.

Neither are you.

That temptation you face has been battled long before you.
Others have been rejected, lied about and betrayed just as you have been.
Countless minds and hearts have struggled with how to respond in a godly way to the pressures of sin.

There is a danger in thinking we are alone in getting caught up, but the greatest danger is thinking that the limb is too high, too distant or too small to pose any real threat.

So how will you approach your snag?

1 Cor. 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Quick Thought

I was thinking this morning about some sad and difficult discussions I have had with certain people over the last couple of years. When a sinful pattern surfaced, there were always certain things that seemed to follow…

“But I was angry.”
“We were in love, so it was ok.”
“I had a hard day at work.”
“My family life was rotten.”
“I deserve to have fun and be happy.”
“You did the same thing! No, wait, a worse thing!”
“You just don’t understand.”
“It’s not my fault.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Excuses for sin and brokenness over sin can never coexist.

The denial of sin does not erase it.

As long as I offer a “plausible” reason for my disobedience, I am not truly repentant.

As long as I avoid apologizing to those I have hurt by my words or actions, I avoid real repentance. I may say, “I made it right with God, so I don’t need to apologize to them.” But that attitude reveals that, in reality, I have not made it right with God.

As long as I avoid repentance, I avoid growth, grace and fellowship with God.

The apology based upon my own reasoning tries to get me off the hook, but succeeds in driving the barb deeper; true repentance admits you’re stuck, by your own doing, and asks God to pull you free.

Is. 66:2 But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

Ps. 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

2 Cor. 7:9-10 I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

Yet Another Great Day…

Spent today fly fishing in the mountains with a couple of friends and the legendary Hugh Hartsell. (And no, since a couple of you will ask, I did not run into “beautiful, smart and godly fly fishing woman” today. But you never know when she might appear.) Hugh was kind enough to wade in alongside me to coach and lend wisdom on “all things trout.” 62 years of fishing on the rivers have taught him much.

He’s like the Trout Whisperer or something…

He sent me out with a fly of his own making: the Smoky Mountain Blackbird.

It works if you work it.

The catches were small, but stunning. God’s handiwork, spoken into existence. His infinite creativity on display in a sliver of life held in my palm. I know He could have just made them all plain, grey and neutral…

But He didn’t.

He fashioned them for cold mountain pools. He streamlined their bodies for stability and strength. He splashed color and dappled patterns and matched them to their surroundings to the point where, when motionless, they are almost invisible.

But early this morning, when lowering that first little trout back into the flow of the water, the sun hit him just right. He was ablaze with beauty.

I stopped my movement and literally gasped.

He was gasping for his world, and I was catching my breath having been given a glimpse of his life below the surface.

I faced him upstream, gently placed him into the ripples and felt him revive instantly. He left my palm and became a phantom again.

I straightened up, gazed downstream and considered how a small fish could make me feel very small amid the wonder of it all.

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Waded a mile of streams.

Tied enough clinch knots so that my fingers will be working them in my sleep.

Learned that if you think you see a strike, react. “It’s always a fish,” says Hugh. If it’s not a fish, and you react, you were just mistaken; if it is a fish, and you don’t respond, you missed a catch.

Found out that many trout will spit out something alluring the very moment they discover it’s fake…which is more than I can say for most humans (myself included).

Discovered if you take the time to correct something before it becomes a bad habit, you’ll progress faster later. Take the time to do it right.

No shortcuts.

No rushing.

Just like life.

How to Reply to the Nigerian Money Scam

A few years ago, I received the following email (with original spelling and grammar) very early one morning:

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Anti-Terrorist And Monitory Crime Division.
Federal Bureau Of Investigation.
J.Edgar.Hoover Building Washington Dc

Dear Beneficiary,

Series of meetings have been held Continue reading

A Friend’s Thoughts On God Being In Control

When I live like God is in total control, they say it’s “the peace that passeth all understanding”…which is great if you’re King James, but I call it “I can live now.” I can get on with life because He gives me peace. I call it “functional relaxation.” Sometimes I miss out on that, even when it comes. When God gives me functional relaxation, instead of resting in it and enjoying it, I’m trying to figure out what I did–the formula, the steps, the process–whatever I did or didn’t do to make that happen so I can get it, keep it or regain it. I act like it’s all me, when all the time it’s Him. Never has been me.

Facing a Trial?

Andrew Murray famously related how he faced a time of trial in his own life:

First, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place: in that fact I will rest.

Next, He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace to behave as His child.
Then, He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.
Last, in His good time He can bring me out again—how and when He knows.

Let me say I am here,
1) By God’s appointment;
2) In His keeping;
3) Under His training;
4) For His time.

You Don’t Miss the Water…

Sometimes you must be dry to know dependence.

Thirsty enough to pay the price for a drink.

Parched enough to cry out for rain.

Whether rain from Heaven or fire from above, a dry heart receives more willingly and with gratitude.  

When you truly hunger and thirst after righteousness, you shall be filled.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink…”

Desperation comes where desperation is lacking.

Filling always requires emptiness first.

The Only Way Out Is Through

Endurance.

It’s not a matter of distracting oneself long enough for the discomfort to pass.

Nor is it adopting a carefree attitude about dealing with suffering.

It’s not whistling past the graveyard.

It’s not shrugging your shoulders and moving on.

It’s facing the dark.

Moving toward the pain.

Entering the unknown.

Fully embracing the discomfort, the shame and the fear.

It’s absorbing the hurt and allowing it to transform you.

It’s passing through uncertainty and, along the way, finding the unshakable God walking with you.

It’s trusting He is there, regardless of how it looks or feels.

People who distract themselves from the pain rarely grow deep.

They rarely rise.

They rarely relate to others in a meaningful way.

They seldom develop wisdom.

They miss the point of suffering.

Don’t pity the one who comes through the fire…

Pity those who never allow it to burn away their dross.

Perspective From the Gut

Sometimes you need perspective, and God often brings that perspective through events you never would have chosen for yourself. Take Jonah for example.

Here’s a guy who gets a message from God: Arise, go to Nineveh and preach to them. Now, in all fairness, Nineveh wasn’t the best place for him to go, it might be dangerous; they were, after all, an evil people, God said so Himself. Continue reading

Where Do You Want This Killin’ Done? (Part 2)

“Like the sisters of Lazarus, sometimes we must experience a death to our own vision before we can catch a glimpse of God’s perfect plan.”
-Dr. Don Rauniker

“If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, how would you live differently today?” I’ve been asked that question on numerous occasions, and my answer is usually something along the lines of: “Tell everyone I care about what they mean to me, write out how and by whom I want my funeral conducted, and eat way too much gelato.” Continue reading

“I Love You With All My Heart…”

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38).

We use the phrase so flippantly:
“I love you/her/him/this/that with all my heart.”

We often say it mistakenly out of emotion. It feels like all our heart. Continue reading

Every Good Gift and Perfect Gift Is From Above

Last night, during our Bible story time, I was teaching the 3rd-5th graders about our complete dependence on God. I asked them to name things they enjoy that are obvious gifts from God. Little hands shot up around the room; voices followed…

“Jesus.”

“The love of my parents for me.”

“Shelter and clothes.”

“Safety.”

“Bacon.”

(Yes, child…just, yes.)

He Wants Me to be Happy.

Been thinking about an earlier post on holiness and happiness with regard to marriage. But over the last few days, I’ve been placing the idea into the bigger perspective of my life.

God wants my happiness to be a byproduct of my holiness.

If I try to reverse that order and put happiness first, expecting that holiness will follow because of it, I will be terribly disappointed. (I have seen this in my own life.)

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matt. 6:33).

Including happiness in His way and time…

Waiting…Still

Have you ever had to wait on something for a long time?

Or maybe it seemed like a long time, but was really a short time?

Maybe it’s when that person just won’t move when the light turns green, or the long checkout line, or the doctor’s office. But then, there are those times when the minutes turn into hours, the hours into days, then weeks, and perhaps, yes, even years. Continue reading

God, What Is Going On?

photoIn the midst of confusion, we often wonder where God is and what the future holds.

This morning, I found a ragged slip of paper in my Bible. On it was a quote from Chuck Swindoll. I had jotted it down over a decade ago and slipped it between the pages. It read, “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”

So very true.  

I was reminded of Elisabeth Elliot…“We never know what God has up His sleeve. You never know what might happen; you only know what you have to do now.”  

And Thomas Carlyle as well…“Do the Duty which lies nearest thee, which thou knowest to be a Duty! Thy second Duty will already have become clearer.”

And then there is that old hymn...”Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

Faith and obedience, even through the fire of uncertainty, knowing He is not only bringing you through the blaze, but that He is there with you. 

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Pet. 4:19).

Perhaps the best answer to, “God, what on earth are You doing?” is simply this:

“Something not of earth.”

(Is. 55:8) 

 

When Comfort Rules Over His Command

Did you ever build couch cushion forts as a kid? I did. With great care and precision, I would stack and prop the cushions until they were in the prime positions. Pushing one cushion from the front of my fort, I would leave my safe, soft confines long enough to gather my toys, crawl back into my structure and then seal the opening behind me. I controlled what entered and what exited my little fortress.

Sometimes I think we do a similar thing in Christianity: build a fortress, seal ourselves inside and come out long enough to gather our toys only to crawl to “safety” once again.

Once we surround ourselves with soft walls of spirituality that bear little weight, become fascinated with the “toys” in our lives that we value far too much, or insulate and isolate ourselves from the “outside” world by structures of our own making, we become focused on our comfort and ease. And as long as I focus upon myself, my view of everyone else becomes dim. Once my focus is firmly set upon maintaining my comfort, then anything or anyone that runs contrary to my plans for ease poses an unacceptable level of threat. After all, I’ve worked hard to arrange the cushions on my fort as I think they should be arranged. I like to stay put.

The words of George McLeod challenge life in our cozy forts…

I simply argue that the cross should be raised at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves on the town’s garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek…at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died and that is what He died about.

In light of our tendency to “hunker down and hide out,” the words of Jesus in Luke 10:2, hit hard: “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

How much time are you spending trying to make your life predictable, comfortable and easy at the expense of truly living for Christ, laying your entire life before Him in total surrender and being willing to do whatever He calls you to do?

Is it time for you to leave your fort?

Worry

The Christian Atheist may do everything humanly possible to ensure a situation’s positive outcome, and still worry, I can’t just let this sit. I have to do more. But if we’ve honestly done everything we can, by definition we can’t do anything more…So in our powerlessness we settle for the only thing left within our control: we worry.

If you do catch yourself worrying even after you’ve done what was wise, remember that God is bigger than our problems, and that he wants us to hand them over to him. Worry then becomes a signal alerting us that it’s time to pray.

When we tell God what we’re worried about or what we need, we are giving our burden to him. We still have responsibility to do what we can, but doing what we can’t isn’t ours anymore. Anytime we try to take back God’s responsibilities onto our shoulders, we remind ourselves, Now that’s his problem.

Can your worry change anything? No. Can God change anything? Absolutely he can. Do what God tells you to. Give everything you cannot do to God.

From – The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as If He Doesn’t Exist (Craig Groeschel)

God’s Plans

Sometimes I have an image in my mind that looks something like this…

It’s a cold morning, just before dawn, and I’m sitting in my truck at the edge of a recently cleared plot of land. Beside me is a rolled-up plan. It’s the plan for my life. I’m about to meet with God so that He can look it over. God shows up (I really don’t pay any attention to what kind of vehicle He drives…). I pull out the plans and lay them on the hood of my truck and He looks them over. “Did you do this?” He asks.
“Yes.”
“All by yourself?”
“All by myself.”
“But you didn’t ask Me.”
(pause)“But I’m asking now.”
“Asking for what?”
(another pause, longer this time) “Asking for You to bless them.”
He looks at the plans again. “So, where do I fit in?”
“Excuse me?”
“Me. Where do I fit in your plans?”
I flip a page or two of the sheets, “Here, right here, see, there You are. And You are in some other places too.”
He just looks at me.
“Let Me show you something,” He says. And, with that, He takes out His own plans and places the roll of papers on the hood. “You made plans all by yourself, that’s the problem. And the plans you have made by yourself would be really good plans, if you want to accomplish them all by yourself. These are My plans for you now.”
He unrolls a tiny bit of a corner for me to see. I look at it and say, “And…?”
“Do that, and then I’ll show you more.”
“But I would like to know the rest now.”
“You have plenty to do with this one corner now. Besides, these are My plans for you, not your plans for Me. You are a part of My plan, not the other way around. So, if anyone needs to get his plans in line, it’s you.”

I find myself confronted with that reality at times. I can get comfortable and so focused doing “my own thing” and ignore the One who has plans for my life. We can neglect spending time reading His Word and separate ourselves from worshipping Him with others, then begin to live according to what makes us happy or content with little regard for the things of God. Before long, our desires can become so twisted that they bear little resemblance to what God intended.

And even good desires can become difficult desires when the timing is tested. By now, I thought I would have found a sincerely-surrendered and God-honoring woman as the love of my life, gotten married and started a family, but that’s not happened yet. Patience can be hard to come by when you want something badly. Patience is also needed when things do happen, but happen badly.

It can be frustrating to believe you are “on-track” only to see things derail in moments, but how even more frustrating would it be to live in less than God’s absolute best for you? I have to remind myself that the “corner” that He lets me see makes little or no sense at the time because I can’t see the entire picture. If I could see it, and understand it as He does, I would want nothing less than what He wants for me, even if it may be painful at the time. He’s the Architect of the plans I am to follow.

He doesn’t need my wisdom to make His plans for me (“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (1 Cor.1:19b)), but I need His wisdom to follow the plan (James 3:13). Even when it seems like the plan is not what I wanted, and I am reeling, confused and heartbroken, He may be saving me from something (or someone) that would cause even more pain. The spanking I received as a child for disobeying my parents and running into the street was nothing compared to the pain of what could have been the next time an approaching car had not stopped. Heartbreak now is better than devastation later.

The only thing I can really offer to the accomplishing of the plan is my trust, obedience, and dependence upon Him. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor.12:10b).

Are you a part of His plans, or is He a part of yours?

Where are you ignoring God’s plans for you?

What It Means to Fall in Love (Truly)

Within [the] Christian vision for marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of the person God is creating, and to say, ‘I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to His throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, “I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!”’ Each spouse should see the great thing that Jesus is doing in the life of their mate through the Word, the gospel. Each spouse then should give him- or herself to be a vehicle for that work and envision the day that you will stand together before God, seeing each other presented in spotless beauty and glory.

–Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage

If you have suffered the loss of a family member to chronic disease, if you suffer debilitating seasons of depression, if you lost your job and livelihood, or if you went through a divorce that came out of the blue, know that God is not punishing you. He is not waiting for you to do something. You don’t have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and find a way to conquer the odds, be stronger, or transform yourself into some better version of yourself. The pain you feel (whatever the degree) may be a reminder that things are not as they should be, in which case it is appropriate to mourn the gravity of that brokenness. While God does indeed use the suffering in our lives, He is interested in much more than improvements in your personality or circumstantial happiness; He is interested in saving you. He is more than your Helper; He is your Redeemer. We do not have the primary role in this drama after all; we are the actors, not the directors. Sometimes it requires getting on our knees for us to see the truth. –from Glorious Ruin (Tchividjian)

Real Love

Years ago, when I was leaving a late-evening college leadership class, one of my professors (who, in her words, was “no longer a spring chicken”) asked me if I would walk her to her car as she wasn’t able to get around easily without assistance. I offered her my arm, and she leaned into me as we made slow progress through the building to the parking lot. As we went along, she spoke to me in that melodious and lilting Old South accent…

Dustin, allow me tell you a story that I know you, of all people, will appreciate. My husband and I have lived in the same little house for years, and every morning he gets up and fixes me a cup of instant coffee. I never drink more than a cup, and my husband doesn’t drink coffee at all, so that’s why we buy the instant kind. He always has the cup waiting on the table for me. It has been that way for as long as I can remember. The past few weeks though, I have been finding the coffee in the cupboard near the sink, not across the kitchen on the shelf where it has been for years. So, when I would open the door and find it near the sink, I would put it back where it belonged.

After a few days of this my husband Frank sat across from me, took me by my hands and said to me, “Jennie dear, could we keep the coffee near the sink? It’s just easier that way. The water and the stove are on one side of the kitchen and the coffee is on the other. So when I make your morning cup, it is just easier with me having to use my cane and all for everything to be on the same side.”

“But we’ve always kept it in the other cabinet,” I said.

“I know, but it’s easier the other way.”

Now here is a man who is not getting around as well as he once did, talking to a woman for whom he makes a single cup of coffee every morning, a woman who never even touches the jar of instant coffee for anything other than to move it. And he is standing in a kitchen that is hardly big enough for two to turn around inside of it, and I know if I insisted on keeping the coffee where it has been, and spread broken glass on the floor, he would willingly walk over it to make my one morning cup.

I sat looking at this man and realized that in forty years of marriage, this is the only time I ever remember him pleading with me for anything…and the one thing he has asked me for is the one thing that could make it easier to show how deeply he cares for me.

Now that, my dear…is love.

Heart Condition

“You’ll have to find another way to pay,” said the clerk when my credit card failed to scan in a local checkout line. When I got home, I brought my account up on the computer, and there, in bold print, were the words, “Account Suspended.” Now it’s important to know that I pay the balance monthly, and that payment had been received for that month, yet something had gone amiss. A call to customer service (which is now located somewhere over the ocean, it seems) put me in touch with a representative who said she had some questions for me…

“We have some questionable charges. Did you spend $1.12 at iTunes?” she asked.
“Yes. I just bought an iPod,” I said, somewhat irritated at the question. “Are you going to suspend my account every time I buy a song?”
“No, but that’s one of the charges over the last week we wanted to check on. Did you buy gas?”
“Did I buy gas?”
“On Monday?”
“Yes, I bought gas on Monday. Gas and songs, yes, I buy them both.”
“Very good then. How about Emirates?”
“Excuse me?”
“Emirates. Did you spend $550 at Emirates?”
“What is Emirates?”
“We will come back to that.”
“No, let’s talk about that one now.”
“I have some other charges to ask about now. Did you buy another song from iTunes on Wednesday?”
“Probably. Let’s talk about this Emirates business.”
“Sir, did you or didn’t you buy a song from iTunes?”
“Was it $1.12?”
“Yes.”
“Then yes, let’s say it was me. Emirates, now, please, let’s talk about it.”
“Okay, it’s an airline sir.”
“An airline.”
“We have that you purchased a ticket yesterday from Emirates.”
“Wait…Emirates as in ‘United Arab Emirates?’”
“That would be the one.”
“Well, that would not be me.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive.”
“Then it seems that someone has stolen your identity sir.”
“So what do I need to do?”
“Do you have your credit card with you?”
“Yes.”
“Do you have a pair of scissors…?”

Honestly, I was annoyed at the start of the call, but by the end, I was grateful. So grateful in fact, that I called the credit card company again later in the week just to tell them “thank you” for keeping watch over things. I, for one, was glad that this charge didn’t slip by them unnoticed. But it made me think about all those times that things slide past my conscience (I Tim. 1:5).

Sometimes, we become so accustomed to wrong thinking and so acclimated to wrong motivations and actions, that our consciences become calloused (I Tim. 4:2). Our early warning system no longer “suspends our account,” but turns a blind eye and allows our sin to keep on “spending.”

This is why we find the Bible imploring “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). The word for “keep” is the word that is used of the central and highly reinforced area of a fortress (thus “castle keep”). Because how we live our lives is evidence of what is in our hearts, we should be diligent to keep our conscience and our minds safe and be on watch for those things that attempt to bring harm.

Unfortunately, some of us take better care of our plastic than we do our hearts.

Love or Infatuation

Chip Ingram writes about the difference in Love, Sex and Lasting Relationships (great read).

A brief synopsis can be found at the following link:

http://livingontheedge.org/read-blog/blog/2011/02/14/love-or-infatuation-12-tests-to-find-out

It’s easy to go blindly into a relationship. It’s also easy to operate solely from infatuation and not develop true lasting love with another. When the infatuation “runs out” (in 6-18 months), someone might believe that he/she is no longer “in love.”

Learn the difference and save yourself some hurt.

It’s a Virtue

“The trouble is that I’m in a hurry, but God isn’t.”
–Dr. Phillips Brooks

The psychological experiment is legendary now…Stanford University in the 1960s, a number of four-year-olds, and bags of marshmallows all converged to produce a study on waiting and rewards. A single marshmallow was placed on the table in front of each child tested. The children were told that they would be given another marshmallow in addition to the first one if they did not eat the first one before the researcher returned (usually within 15-20 minutes). If the first one was eaten before time was up, they would not receive the second marshmallow. Each child was then left alone in the room with a single, tempting marshmallow for company and was watched from the other room secretly to record the behavior.

Some children sang songs and hummed to distract themselves, while others stared around the room, intentionally avoiding the sight of the marshmallow. One child crawled under the table to avoid eating the marshmallow and others sat holding their heads. At least one of them placed the tip of his tongue on the tabletop…as…close…as…he…could… possibly…get to the marshmallow without actually touching it. There were some of the children who sat very still, very patiently, for a very long time (at least, a long time for a four-year-old) and waited. Then there were those who simply looked at the marshmallow and devoured it, thus missing the reward of twice as many later, opting instead for immediate gratification.

Patience can be hard to maintain, regardless of age. I sometimes ask groups of people, “How many of you have ever prayed for patience?” Usually a large number of hands go up. Then I ask, “How many of you have ever prayed for patience more than once?” Usually the vast majority of hands drop. Why? Because God does not so much give patience to us as develop patience in us. It’s not something that is usually dropped into a person’s life easily by a one-time installation, but it is a virtue developed over time, through difficult and trying circumstances. During those situations, God seems to take His time with us to grow patience within us. God is “the God of patience” (Rom. 15:5).

We, as His children, are to bear the same characteristic. We too, are to wait calmly and allow “patience [to] have its perfect work” (James 1:4). Often we think we have signed up for a spiritual 50-yard dash, but in actuality, we are slated for the marathon.

The marshmallow study mentioned earlier didn’t end in the 1960’s. Researchers tracked these individuals who were tested and studied them again, thirty years later, as adults. The results: the children who didn’t wait tended to become adults who were impulsive and sought instant results, whereas the ones who waited tended to be more disciplined and structured and patient in all areas of their lives. Lives of impatience, left unchecked, continually produce even more impatience.

Far too often, because of impatience, we sacrifice the “best” yet to come and settle for the “good enough” now. We seek to gratify the flesh instead of glorifying Christ. All the waiting and patience yields rewards…and they are greater than a second marshmallow.

My Mother

Spent some time over the last few days visiting my parents. My mother never fails to amaze me. I thought about something I wrote on Mother’s Day about her…

She is a woman of faith and a prayer-warrior. When she goes to her knees, the powers of Hell grow uneasy.

She’s got the ear of the Almighty. I know her voice is familiar in the Throne room. When Paul writes that we are already seated in the heavenly places with Him, it seems strange, then I think of my mother. Yeah, she’s there. One foot in Mississippi red-dirt, one foot on Heaven’s pavement.

She has a steel backbone and a heart of gold. She never fears hard work and strides into life with a “a woman’s gotta’ do what a woman’s gotta’ do” attitude. Over the years, I’ve watched her take care of my brother, my dad and me with a degree of patience that could only come from Christ alone.

I’ve seen her fix fence, comfort the dying, love orphaned puppies, tend wounds, shave necks, shoot guns, wipe tears, write beautifully, speak gracefully, pray boldly, arrange flowers, cook meals, dispense justice, speak truth, and worship freely.

You never once forgot that she was, and is, a woman. She taught me that true femininity is always inseparable from strength as they are the same.

My prayer is that my future wife has a heart so strong, a faith so deep and a love so pure.

Having a child makes one a mother, but it’s a choice rooted in love to be a mama.

A-ha Moment of the Day

“It’s never about the other person; it’s always about you and God.”

A dear and wise friend told me that via email when I shared some struggles with another person.

“About me…and God?”

It was jarring at the moment, but she was right.

Every earthly relationship we have reflects our understanding of God.

Whether it is respect for a stranger made in His image, forgiveness offered to those who wrong us, endurance practiced with those wearying us or love given to those who are loving (or unloving), every relationship, good or bad, reflects something of my relationship with God.

My goal in relationships should be to be so transformed by God that I treat others more and more like He does and less and less like I do.

If I don’t know God, or if I’m not actively pursuing Him, spending time with Him and allowing Him to change me, there is no way that any friendship or relationship of any sort will ever be everything He wants it to be. If I don’t know Him, how will I ever know those made in His image?

It’s always about Him and me.

Things I Have Learned

Buy really good shoes…and use shoe trees…cedar ones.

Remember what you post to the Internet is put there for all to see; don’t be stupid.

Be self-aware. In today’s attention-deficient, techno-buzzing world this is harder than a half century ago, yet situational awareness trumps your next social media update.

Learn to use a knife in the woods, in the kitchen and for self defense.

Pray more.

Realize that most opinions and decisions aren’t backed with careful thought but by emotions.

People are not good at heart, so watch yourself.

If you are a male, don’t wear skinny jeans…just…don’t…ever.

Keep your left up. (Or your right, for you southpaws.)

If you knowingly dishonor and disrespect a man, know that whatever displeasure, disappointment and disgust he may direct toward you is likely much less than you deserve.

Don’t learn bad habits from others.

Learn how to cook well (heating frozen fishsticks and the like is not cooking).

Never ascribe bravery to stupidity.

Develop an appreciation for well-made things with respect to the time, effort and talent it takes to produce them.

Develop a deep trust of God, and release your worry by remembering His care. (By far, the hardest thing I have ever done…through the hardest of situations.)

Grow a large plant from a small seed. There is something immensely satisfying in seeing life fill an empty space.

Always check the chamber…always…visually and with your finger…always.

When fear strikes, remember to breathe deeply. Your brain needs oxygen to think, don’t make things worse for it.

Eat more veggies.

Find a cologne that few people wear and use it so only a hint of it lingers briefly in the air. No one has a chance to remember you fondly if your scent never leaves.

Read your Bible. You’ll be amazed at how His truth speaks consistently to you.

Accept the reality of ambiguity.

Spend time talking with little kids. Their lack of cynicism can lend you valuable and needed perspective at times.

Don’t be lazy.

Meet deadlines.

Be the first to apologize…then make it right.

Hug those you love.

Tell others how much you appreciate them.

Develop the discipline of thinking truly, deeply and for long periods of time.

Don’t sacrifice the eternal for the temporary.

Buy a set of metal collar stays of assorted sizes.

And while we’re at it, own a few nice-fitting, classic dress shirts.

Offer someone else the last cookie.

Periodically, watch a snippet of a cartoon from your youth.

Own at least one item with a really good backstory…a backstory you can tell really well.

Learn the difference in infatuation and love and make choices based on that wisdom.

Don’t stop learning.

On Dying

Had to die to some more things today.

When confronted with that need to lay some things aside and move on, I try to think of the Cross. It wasn’t just a physical death, but the death of Jesus’ own will as well: “Thy will be done”. I keep thinking about Jesus being a Man of Sorrows who was well acquainted with grief. He wants us to be conformed to His image.

I like the image of the conquering King leading the armies of Heaven on horseback into battle.

I’m not too keen on dragging my Cross and dying on it every day, multiple times a day.

I like the idea of a pony more than nails.

A.W. Tozer once told someone that when you saw a person carrying his cross from the city, you knew he wasn’t coming back.

Maybe that’s it: day by day, little by little, we carry a part of ourselves out to be crucified. You can’t follow Him without dying to self. There is no other way.

Messy, messy business, this crucified life.

On Love

Love is not convenient.
It misplaces you.
Love is seldom efficient.
It lavishes.
Love is not always comfortable.
It is sacrificial.
Love is never consumed with selfishness.
It seeks the best for another first.
Love is the choice to seek the greatest good of another regardless of the cost.
The satisfaction of the lover is found in the revealing of that best choice.
True love is a call to die truly…
Because it demands the death of self.
Not a feeling…
Not an infatuation…
Not a fleeting thought…
But a resolute choice to climb upon an altar of slow fire.

On Butterflies, Forbidden Fruit and Discontent

We all struggle with “how things are” at times, and sometimes it seems quite raw. With little apologies, here are some moments from some emails I related to a friend recently…

When I was in first grade, I got chicken pox. Missed 10 days of school. Before I left there was a butterfly chrysalis in a terrarium over on the counter of the classroom near the windows. Every day we would check it. And wait. And wait.

When I came back to class, weary and still smelling faintly of Calamine lotion, I stepped over that first morning to sharpen my thick, green log pencil and saw it: the butterfly. It was perched on a limb in the terrarium and was slowly opening and closing its wings in the sunbeam.

I went into overload. Continue reading

Big Sky

“The heavens declare the glory of God…” (Ps. 19:1).

The sun, moon, stars, the planets and all astronomical objects and events point toward the existence, creativity, goodness, greatness and majesty of the Creator. This is why Paul writes that humanity is “without excuse” for unbelief (Rom. 1:20). It’s a great big universe fashioned by an eternal God. A really big universe.

A point of reference for your consideration…

Gaze into the reaches of the night sky and find Polaris, the North Star. The twinkling light falling on your eyes began its journey nearly 434 years ago (around the same time that Squanto, the Native American who helped the Pilgrims weather that first harsh winter at Plymouth, was born). Speeding along at 700 million miles per hour, the light is just now reaching Earth. That’s just one star.

One.

One out of many.

So many in fact, if you were to take the number of all the grains of sand on our planet and multiply it times 10, you would get the low-end estimate of the total number of stars in existence.

God not only spoke them all into being, but He knows their number and calls each by name (Ps. 147:4).

But He is not just the God of Polaris, the Andromeda galaxy and the rings of Saturn, He’s also the God who sees every sparrow that falls, numbers the hairs on your head (Matt. 10:29-30)…and He knows your name too.

Yes, He’s the transcendent Creator, but He’s also the personal Redeemer and Sustainer.

He is mindful of you.

And you, me and all humans are His crown jewels of creation; Polaris isn’t even a rhinestone by comparison.

Take comfort that this God, in the vastness of the universe, is intimately acquainted with you.

Psalm 139:17-18
How precious to me are your thoughts God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand…

On Birthdays and Belly Buttons

I grow pensive every time I have a birthday. The date serves as a marker for me, not just for the passage of time, but as a moment for me to look back and remember the previous year. I take stock, weigh good decisions and bad ones and try to make sense of where I find myself at the present as I lick icing from my fingers. Continue reading

Books

This are some books I would suggest to any person wanting to have a better grasp of love and marriage.

The Mystery of Marriage 20th Anniversary Edition: Meditations on the Miracle by Mike Mason

Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships by Chip Ingram

The Sacred Search: What If It’s Not about Who You Marry, But Why? by Gary Thomas

Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy by Gary Thomas

(For women) Sacred Influence: How God Uses Wives to Shape the Souls of Their Husbands by Gary Thomas

Quest for Love: True Stories of Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot

The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference by Shaunti Feldhahn

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Timothy and Kathy Keller

Choosing God’s Best: Wisdom for Lifelong Romance by Dr. Don Raunikar

Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married by Gary D. Chapman

Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts: Seven Questions to Ask Before and After You Marry by Les Parrott

I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah: Moving from Romance to Lasting Love by Ravi Zacharias

(Disclaimer: Books or other materials suggested are done so purely because they have proven to be valuable resources for my growth. I have received no payment, dinners, pats on the back, kudos or round-trip tickets to exotic locales for my recommendations.)