Are We There Yet?

It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.  Deuteronomy 1:2

Every parent can relate to that ride from home to somewhere that received the inevitable, “Are we there yet?” from the backseat.  Maybe one time would have been acceptable, but for some reason, this question echoes for hours until arrival.  Words that come to mind are patience, patience, patience.  But, because it compares greatly with running your nails across a chalkboard, the likely response is something like this . . . “We’ll get there when we get there!”

I can’t imagine how much of this Moses had to endure!  Forty years of wandering in the wilderness in pursuit of the Promised Land with millions of Israelites.  It was a journey that could have only taken eleven days.  Getting to the Promised Land took more than you or I would perhaps ever truly understand.  But one thing is for certain, it required  a focus, a direction, a compass that pointed and motivated them contrary to their circumstances.  It took a level of faith unlike anything they had ever encountered.  More importantly, it required of them a fix on God . . . and as their minds were no longer experiencing the faith of deliverance into the Promised Land they continued to wander.

Life can often find us circling this same mountain — especially in the midst of crisis, pain or hurt.  Healing and deliverance is desired quickly and all attempts are taken to make it so. But God’s time is so different.  He sees, answers and moves in ways so contrary to our understanding that we find ourselves buckled in the backseat asking over and over again . . . “Are we there yet?”  And from the front we don’t hear . . . “We’ll get there when we get there!”  Instead, we hear Daddy say, “No, we’re not quite there yet, but I can’t wait to show you what I have prepared for you!”

I just know in five minutes I’m gonna ask Him again!

Lord Jesus, I know I’m not there yet — but I can’t help but ask you over and over.  In the midst of my life I know I need to keep fixed upon you with my eyes, heart and mind on you at all times.  Maybe one day, I’ll stop asking if we’re there yet.  🙂  But for now, my faith is strengthened in knowing you are in control and that I’m resting in the knowledge of your sovereignty.  You never cease to be there all the time!

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.   Colossians 3:1-2

Right Place, Right Time

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.  Mark 15:21

Ever wonder whether or not you were where you should be or doing what you should be doing or going where you should be going?  I can imagine most everyone has asked these questions of themselves at one time or another.  And sometimes, after our experiences we second guess our purpose there.  Why is this?  Is it a lack of faith or a hole in our trust?

There was a man that the scripture tells us was just “passing through from the country.”  Not much else is said for his purpose in Jerusalem, but it’s likely he was there to bring a sacrifice not realizing that which was going on at the time.  And this man, observing the radical journey Christ was taking through the streets, being led to the Hill, by cracks of the Roman whips and shouts of hurt and pain from those whom He loved.  Simon found himself in the right place at the right time.

Unlike anyone else to have ever lived on this earth, Simon from Cyrene actually carried the cross of Christ!  It doesn’t make him any more holy by any means, but to have carried the cross for Christ must have been the most unbelievably symbolic moment of time.  As I mentioned before, it is most likely Simon was there for his own purposes, but God chose him to escort THE Lamb of God to be sacrificed for the sins of all.

I would dare suggest that Simon would have preferred not to be the one to carry this cross.  I might figure that he was wishing he was not standing where he was standing, or made eye contact with the Roman soldier that called him out.  He may have even felt as though he was the one “helping” Jesus to the cross.  The opportunity for doubt, shame, regret and wishing he had not been there at all was ever-so present.  He might even had thought he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But God used Simon for the Glory of God and the Salvation of the World!

Lord Jesus, today is the anniversary of the day Simon carried your cross!  We speak of how you carry our burdens and the weight of all sin hung with you on the cross that Simon carried for you!  I’m in awe.  It has shed a whole new light on the events of this day.  May I be reminded often of your journey to the cross — for me — and the many times you demonstrate your love for me!

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”   Genesis 50:20

 

His Glory Revealed

For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.  II Corinthians 4:11

It’s difficult to describe the depth of our pain to others.  There are times when pain can show it’s character on our face, in our actions — in our voice.  The screams of pain is universal.  It has a different sound, a signature that pierces us all.  From a thumb that finds its way beneath the blow of a hammer, or the pressure from an abscessed tooth — no one can deny how much those hurt.  But the pain that hurts far deeper than any flesh wound, is the pain from brokenness.

Yet, somehow, in the midst of our painful circumstances our brokenness is coupled with the death of Jesus.  Even in my most painful moments, I have cried outloud, “Why must I continue to be a witness of your death through this pain?”  And without pause, He responds . . . “Because, Mark, it is necessary — then I will be revealed!”

Oh man!  Could it be?  Is it possible?  That my brokenness will, or better — does, bring Him glory?  Lord, I don’t know how this is possible, but one thing I do know — that you don’t abandon your people!  As I’m reading your word you are blessing and speaking.  I want to personalize it for me.

But I have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from others.  I am hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  So, then, death is at work in me, but life is at work in me too.  Therefore, I do not lose heart.  Though outwardly I am wasting away, yet inwardly I am being renewed day by day.  For my light and momentary troubles are achieving for me an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So I fix my eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.   II Corinthians 4:7-9,12,16-18

When God Asks

. . . my cup overflows.   Psalm 23:5

In the course of my life I can guarantee I’ve reached the million mark in a number of areas.  There’s been more than a million cups of coffee (ok, maybe not that many-but close!), a million steps since I learned to walk, a million sneezes (each time I sneeze I do them in threes-that adds up fast!), a million mistakes and a million peanut M&M’s.  But one thing is for sure, the benchmark of asking God to do things, change things and make things happen have far exceeded a million I think.

I just celebrated my birthday this last weekend and the top question on the board was, “What would you like?”  Others were wanting to create a day full of blessings by giving things I’d enjoy.  My day was filled with my favorite things (I suddenly started humming that song from The Sound of Music) — ugghh!!  I was overwhelmed at times and stuffed to the gills for most of the day!

I have spent a great deal of my time in life asking God for things.  Some of those requests and prayers have been answered, while some are still in the queue.  And now, many have asked me for the answers to questions in order to bring blessings to me.  That day was made marvelous through the diligence and willingness of those asking of my favorites.  But what about God?  How often has God asked me, about me?

I know that God cares about me, in fact loves me beyond measure.  I also know that He wants nothing but the best for me — even though my choices have not always opened the door to His blessings.  But God knows my heart and He knows what delights me and my spirit.  Knowing this, sometimes He doesn’t actually need to ask — He knows — and He blesses.  My day entails keeping a close watch out for His subtle surprises — to see the beauty in the blessings of those things in which He knows I find delight.  I don’t always accept those blessings as I should, nor see them as from His hand.

My cup, indeed, overflows!

  • The honks high above of the Sandhill Crane, circling in their flocks on their journey home, grabs my attention in awe and wonder.
  • The dazzling dance of a bumblebee in the garden captures me.
  • The sounds of a saxophone.
  • The burst of orange, blue, yellow and purple from the sun’s first kiss of the day takes my breath away.
  • The heartbeat of the ocean gently breaking on the shore in the early morning hours mesmerizes me.
  • The subtle breeze of springtime.
  • The sounds of my children laughing.
  • The winter night sky is overwhelmed with the details of His creation.

When God asks me how He can bless me, these are a few of those things He shares with me!

Lord Jesus, I am overwhelmed at how much my cup runs over.  My party is clearly not over or my cups would be dry.  Instead, you have filled them to overflowing!  I celebrate these many blessings and more — may my eyes continue to recognize your hand in all things.

. . . because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb.   Genesis 49:24-25

Forever Following

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Psalm 23:6

Today I returned to an old favorite — Psalm 23.  If you haven’t read it in a while, it is chock full of encouragement and hope.  A great book – a short daily read – that I would recommend is Max Lucado’s Safe in the Shepherd’s Arms.  It’s amazing!

As I was rereading this passage this morning, it struck me how David stresses that goodness and mercy (love) follow me.  Follow me?  God’s goodness and mercy?  Well, depending on your personal theology of God’s whereabouts, this can crash someone’s party if all they think is that God’s dictating from some throne.

This suggests one, if not two things.  First, as implied, this means that God’s not just ruling like we see of the images of Pharaoh.  He is not the unapproachable conductor of all things.  On the contrary, He is personal, relational, compassionate, with an abundance of grace and love beyond our wildest dreams.   Which leads me to the second.  While God is clearly “seated” on the throne, He, through the Holy Spirit, pursues me!  Pursues!  David understands this in his remembrance of God’s presence through the guarantee of God’s goodness and mercy following me every day.  It reminds me somewhat of the old 90’s episodes of Dukes of Hazard when the “good ‘ole boys” were in “hot pursuit.”  They couldn’t seem to cut a break!  I, too, am in “hot pursuit” by my Savior — every day!  And trailing and flanking that pursuit is Goodness and Mercy!

But even in the midst of great news, where goodness seems so obvious, it’s possible for circumstances scratched by the sharp nails of darkness to overshadow our hearts and minds with pittance.  Its unfortunate that such be robbed from our lives, but God still moves!  He still pursues, not sitting and ruling from a throne, but running and guarding, protecting and whispering in our ears at every turn.  Whispering the Truth of His goodness and His mercy that stands firm against the lies of darkness, the thief in the night, and fills me with joy unspeakable, full of His glory!  All this in spite of my circumstances.  Amen!!

Lord Jesus, I’m reminded of my first day of school.  I was so scared, worried.  I didn’t like kindergarten and I wasn’t going to stay.  I remember planning my escape down to the very minute for when I’d make a dash.  Mrs. Mapstone was faster than she appeared as I remember she was a bit older than me — much older!  Remember how I made it out the door and just beyond the ditch before she caught me?  I was so not happy about that!  But as much as I was frightened to be at school, I think the bus was even worse.  I remember looking back over my shoulder more than once to see if mom was still there.  She was.  You’re pursuing me, right?  Life’s bus ride and classroom are filled with so many things.  Some I know, most I don’t.  I’m looking back, if that’s o.k., to see your Goodness and Mercy!  I see them . . .!

A Dark Place Called Pit

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.   II Peter 1:19

Last night I had the opportunity finally to see the first episode of the new series, The Bible on The History Channel.  It was exciting to see the Bible come to life and get more of a sense of human emotion as God stirred the hearts of His people.  It was very dramatic — yet still, it was perhaps nothing compared to the actual events.

In one particular scene I noticed something that had not occurred to me otherwise in reading of this account.  The excitement and energy of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea on dry ground has, as for many, been a moment of intrigue for me.  Imagining a wall of water on either side being held back by nothing but the strength of God himself is for me, a more than remarkable event.  But in this particular episode, I noticed the people grabbing torches to use for light as they journeyed quickly to the other side.  It never occurred to me that the walls of water might be so high as to block the daylight.  And as they reached the other side, it was as bright as noon.

I can only imagine what the Israelites must have felt while in the middle of the Red Sea, walking a dry bed.  Frightened.  Worried.  Confined.  Limited.  Uneasy.  Scared.  Curious.  Amazed.  Doubtful.  Confused.  Who could blame them?  They were just led into a very dark place!

For me, this dark place is called a pit.  I could spend a few days on my thoughts about the life and way of the pit, but for now, the measure of the journey is most important.  In the lives of so many, unlike the Israelites, the journey ends somewhere in the middle of the Red Sea.  Pitching a tent and making the pit feel like home.  Let me just say, there’s no place like home and the pit is not it!

It’s all about the journey, because, like the Israelites, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — my and your God, lifts me, leads me, guides me, teaches me to finish the journey.  He wants me to learn, forgive and love, and experience His life on solid ground!

Grab The Torch and journey through that dark place called pit!

Lord Jesus, I give you thanks for giving me your Light of Truth to guide me and teach me!  Your deliverance from my pits I’ve called home far too long is truly a celebration — a homecoming!  May I continue in my journey bearing witness to your hand as I learn to have eyes for you!

You are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord turns my darkness into light.  With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.  II Samuel 22:29-30

Something For Nothing

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued.  “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—-and even more.”  Mark 4:24

Years ago I built a screened-in back porch onto our house.  I had never done anything like that before, but I knew I could — if I only set my mind to it.  And boy did I do just that!  It went on for days, weeks and possibly months before I lifted a hammer or purchased a board.  Night after night I remember laying in bed and dreaming about that porch.  As soon as I ran into a problem, I would spend my time solving it first before moving on to laying the next imaginary board.  I would go out back to spot check the site after work and relive the experience in my own mind and mentally envision the progress being made.  It was taking great shape and looking good!  Before laying a hand on a real hammer, I must have built that porch five or six times over.  It was all I thought about.

Since then, I have learned a great deal about myself in that I think long and hard about many things.  I rarely jump into a project without “thinking it through” first.  Sometimes that takes weeks or months.  I’m thinking of demands, outcomes, benefits, value, purpose, risk, worth and level of difficulty to only name a few. It’s a great gift, but a horrible curse if abused.

The things I hear are those things I think about most.  And the things I chose to think about grow out of the seeds of knowledge I plant within my mind through my eyes and ears.  The more I read of God’s Word the more I begin to think, both day and night, of the Truths from those pages.  In essence, Mark is telling us in chapter 4 that I will get out of the Word what I put into reading the Word.  There is nothing more true than that — trust me — I know!!

So unlike much of my life, God’s Word is ringing in my ears now — literally!  It’s fresh and new, because it’s what I’m thinking about!  Israel was commanded by God to never forget Him once they reached the promised land (Deuteronomy 6).  God encouraged His people then to speak about Him always to their children, write about Him on their door frames and wear symbols to remind them of His presence always! There was a reason then . . . and there is a reason now!

Lord Jesus, it refreshes my soul to think of you night and day and your presence is overwhelming.  Not in a way that burdens my will, but instead your holiness and righteousness gives strength and nourishment to my heart and mind to live as Christ.  I am certainly not perfect, but Jesus, I know you were and the power given you by God through the Holy Spirit is also available to me through you.  I want to think on YOU things so continue to press your Word on my heart — through my mind!

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.  Philippians 4:8

From Not For

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:36

Just imagine, living a life where nothing matters.  A life where risk is paramount and failure is subject only to the level of risk.  What if life could be lived without the possibility of effect?  Where the response of others matters not?  Free to be all I want to be and soar the skies of life, moved only by the shifting winds.  Did I say free to be?

This past week I watched the 1998 movie, Rounders, starring Matt Damon who plays a man with a gambling lifestyle of big bets and bigger losses.  In the movie Damon’s character sits around the table with the toughest card shark around with the confidence of high return.  On an apparent strong hand he puts it all on the line, betting every chip of the $30,000 he brought to the table.  In a matter of a second, that confidence turned to fear while he watched his life savings zero out.

Living in true freedom takes risk!  But what truly is the price?  God has called me (us) to live a life free in Christ and yet, I remain shackled to the insecurities of my own understandings.  He says to trust in Him, but to trust in all His ways means a complete abandonment to self and releasing the grip of all I want and receiving all He wants.

What if, I’m living my life not as free as God has intended it to be?  What if, even in my limited knowledge of knowing Christ has set me free I am not nearly as free as I’d thought?  In the midst of crisis, or when things just don’t go the way I had ever hoped or planned, what about that moment gives way to the very essence of Christ in me?  Subjecting myself to the landslide of failures over and over again against the heavy terrain on the steep side of that mountain of healing gives the impression there is far more I must do before I am truly set free.  But God’s freedom does not come after the journey, but instead within the journey as I experience the very presence of Christ in me, through me!  It’s facing the biggest, most dangerous, risky moment of life, where anything and everything I’ve ever dreamed is on the line and placing it all in the arms of Jesus.  It’s not to say that the outcome will be any better and become rosy red, in fact it can all disappear, but God doesn’t want me to climb this mountain alone to find God waiting at the top.  That’s not freedom!  He wants to be in every step, every treacherous slip, every strained ounce of progress . . . that’s freedom to be!

It’s when all seems lost that our vision clouds with uncertainty, but when I am walking in intimate fellowship with Christ in all things — loss becomes gain.   For me, it’s living life from salvation, not for salvation.  It’s living life from His grace, not for grace.  It’s living life from His acceptance, not for my acceptance.  It’s living life from His love, not for love.

Dear Lord Jesus, I so often wrestle with living for others instead of from you.  There is nothing more important to me than living in full obedience to you.  Unshackle the chains of insecurity I have placed around my own mind and renew it with the confidence of Christ in the freedom of life that only comes through you!  I love you, I love you, I love you my Abba . . . Daddy, I love you!

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

Sweet Aroma

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.  II Corinthians 2:14

It was Christmas Eve and I was about 8 years old.  This was always a special night in our family as my cousins and we joined together with our grand-patriarch and grand-matriarch to celebrate the gifts of one another and usher in the blessings beneath the tree.  We could always count on cookies, cakes, pies and mints to raise the bar on excitement.  With eight grand children, four parents and themselves, my grandparent’s two bedroom home was guaranteed to be cozy.  But this Christmas Eve was going to be THE Christmas Eve I would never forget!

As we all were sitting around, sipping hot apple cider and enjoying orange-sliced cookies (we didn’t know any better), picking random lengths of thread and pins from the carpet left over from grandma’s sewing . . . it struck!  Everything smells like Christmas Eve one second and in a blink of an eye my nose began screaming a different story!  The worst smell that had ever crossed my senses in my lowly eight years had inescapably engulfed my whereabouts.  It was so unpleasant that I panicked!  For me, you see, life was coming to an end because the only possible explanation for that stench was death.  It took lots of convincing, but eventually I trusted all things were going to be just fine.  The most believable was the moment when my grandpa came through the front door holding his favorite 22 rifle.  It was his weapon of choice to combat the squirrels from his pecan trees in the front yard.  As he gently closed the front door behind him, he said, “I got him and we won’t be smelling him again!”  Everyone laughed, but you can only imagine what flashed in my mind not knowing it was an animal.  Luckily it wasn’t long before someone explained it was a skunk.  Needless to say, every time I smell a skunk I think of Christmas Eve at my grandparents.  Grandpa protected me!

That sort of smell will make you run for cover!  Get away and stay away!  But the smell of more pleasant things draws us in for more . . . for instance:

the smell of homemade bread, the smell of my wife’s favorite perfume, the smell of fresh leather, the smell of honeysuckle, the smell of an ocean breeze, the smell of a new car, the smell of good bar-b-que, the smell of cinnamon, the smell of your favorite candle, the smell of your child’s freshly washed hair, the smell of freshly cut wood, the smell of hyacinth to only name a few of the many that grab my attention.

And to think, this is exactly how God wants me to dispense the sweet aroma of Christ everywhere I go.  God leads this “triumphal procession” and with it, Christ through me, in me, of me, about me radiates!!  He didn’t ask me to place on display my junk, my circumstances or my sin . . . instead, He is celebrating as I do when I enter a home and smell bread in the oven, or as I do when I smell that ocean breeze, or as I do when I savor the smell of hickory on an empty stomach!  Praise be to God, who always leads me!

Lord Jesus, this is a lesson that hits home with me.  As you know the smell in the rooms I’ve entered as of late have not always been sweetened by the fragrance of your knowledge.  Instead it has been, through my attitude, a skunk-like odor!  I thank you God, for leading the triumphal procession before me always!  May others draw near because of the sweetness of your fragrance from Christ in me!

. . . and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  Ephesians 5:2

Strength In Me

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:13-14

These verses from Philippians sustained me throughout my years in college.  I turned to them often and displayed them on every page, poster or mirror I could find as a reminder that I hadn’t arrived, permission to forget and confirm the fact that today’s race felt more like an Iron Man event — without training!

The common theme from then and now is the strength I find in making it through that day . . . either then or right now.  And as I reflect I see a startling pattern of self-inflicted, superimposed godness — not goodness — upon my ever being.  My strength in victory as well as defeat has been out of the arrogance of my own heart and fervency of my own abilities and the lack of need for anything, or anyone, else.  Habakkuk 1:11 says it well, “Then they sweep past like the wind and go on — guilty men, whose own strength is their god.”  Never had I imagined that one of my gods was my own strength.  But, looking back, far and near, I see the pattern of dependence, the island of fortitude that I built that would ultimately lead to a crashing world where few pieces were left tangible.  Living with Habakkuk as your true motto, but shrouded by the mantra of Philippians succeeds in the misguided dependence on my own self to lay claim to victory.

And so, here I stand, wanting to press on, wanting to forget, wanting to strain for that prize — the temptation is to trust in my own abilities to get through it all.  But my heart will always be dissatisfied until it rests in Him and Him alone.  It not only is a place of refuge, but of ultimate and pure strength — unadulterated by the generic.

So it is true, in my weakness I am strong when Christ is my King and my strength is His.  I can only do because He does!

My Jesus, in my weakness . . . not so much in temptation, but more so when I make my strength my god, remind me of when you took up residence in my life.  Remind me then of those moments when you were undoubtedly present, when you moved through my heart and my whole body witnessed a taste of your glory as you met me there.  Remind me of the victory you have and that my adequacy is found only in you (II Corinthians 3:5).

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.  As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.  They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.   Psalm 84:5-7