Monthly Archives: February 2013

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

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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

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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

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Despite The Noise

He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.  Luke 19:3-4

By the time Jesus made it to Jericho, the buzz around the region about this man causing offense wherever he went and claiming to be the Messiah was strong.  With news of him coming to Jericho, the tax collector Zacchaeus was bound and determined to see him.  Scripture tells us there was a large crowd that had formed and I’m pretty confident many were shouting to buy a simple glance.  But Zachhaeus was a bit less likely to be heard, to be seen or able to see Jesus as He entered the city.  So despite the noise and distractions, he climbed a tree and found himself on a front row seat.  And, in the midst of the crowd, Jesus calls his name and has a life-changing conversation with Zachhaeus.

How easy is it to become distracted by the noise of our world?  Phones, messages, demands, schedules, opinions, family, people to name only a few of the many things that keep us from hearing or seeing Jesus daily.  The noise in my life right now is pretty loud — so loud that when I ride around in my car lately, I do so without the radio, so I can think.  Our society bombards us with noise that demands our time and attention.  But settling for the mere chance of Him walking near enough to grab His words speaks loudly enough of what I might think or expect in my own noise.

The beauty of Jesus is He has promised never to abandon, leave or forsake me and that alone brings me comfort.  But with the noise so loud and His whispering words to me, how am I supposed to hear Him?  I am listening, but so many things are crowding the streets of my life.

I’m taking a lesson from Zachhaeus, I’m climbing a tree!  Zach had it right — when things get noisy, noisy shouldn’t win!  His circumstances didn’t give him many benefit and an even smaller chance of being heard or seen.  So, as long as I continue to allow the noise to distract me from what is True — I’ll never hear what He has to say to me.  So, up I go!

Lord Jesus, I want to remain gazed on you at all times!!  There are times when I lose sight of you amidst the crowd and lose the clarity of your voice in the noise of my circumstances.  Clear for me the fog to see you clearly and silence the rambles of gossip and false teachings so my eyes will remain on the beauty of you alone.  It is in you I trust – despite the noise!

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False Motives

But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.   Philippians 1:18

Boy, am I guilty tonight!  Guilty for never having seen this before!  I have read the book of Philippians what must be a thousand times (o.k. maybe not a thousand, but more than any other book in the Bible for sure).  And tonight before going to bed, I began my 1,001st journey through this book.  I couldn’t wait to share what popped off the pages.

Setting the stage, here’s Paul in prison.  Uncertain of what is to come, wrestling in his heart and mind of the value of continuing to live on this earth versus the gain obtained by dieing and being with Jesus.  I must admit — a worthy consideration.  But, as have I, Paul had decided that much joy was to be brought to the people through his ministry and for that reason he rejoiced in living.

Noble as it may be, his words in describing the spread of God’s word due to his being in chains invoked a sense of frustration to many.  But Paul did not seem overly concerned by the preaching taking place by others out of “envy and rivalry” — clearly with false motives.  When I came to this verse I suddenly paused.  Backed up a few verses and tried it again.  As I came up on these verses a second, and even a third time, I slowed down like I had just bogged my truck into deep mud.  It didn’t translate in my mind quite right and I wasn’t going to allow it to just run off my back.

How could Paul not be concerned with the spread of the Gospel by those who were preaching with selfish ambitions?  Knowing that the heart of man who spoke these words was filled with envy and rivalry . . . how was that ok?  And as I layed here and thought and allowed the Spirit to shed some light on me a few things came to mind . . .

God is God isn’t He?  God used Paul, God used David, God used Cain, God used Judas, God used Peter, God used the harlot, God used the leper, God used the dead, God used the broken, God used the lame, God used the blind, God used a Jew who slopped with pigs, God used a murderer on the cross next to Him . . . God is using YOU and God is using ME to be an ambassador of the Gospel . . . and it’s ok!

Listen, I never do anything out of envy, rivalry and never have false motives, right?  No way Hosea! (Sorry if your name is Hosea, there’s no connection!)

But that’s just it!  Even in our weakness He IS STRONG!!!

My God, forgive me for my false motives, envy and the list from here is perhaps far too long.  In my weakness Lord BE my strength!  I know that your Gospel can be carried by the most disgusting and least of any you should choose and it will still be the same Gospel given by the clean shaven!  You are the same today, yesterday and forever and your name is above every name!!

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.   II Corinthians 12:9

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Settling and Centering

Reposted from Scotty Smith’s blog site:

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Ps. 46:10-11

Sovereign Father, whenever I hear the command to “Be still,” my default mode takes me back to several elementary school teachers who consistently told me to “Sit still!” They had to, because I was a squirmy, restless little person. I had a hard time staying in my seat. But you’re telling me to be still, not sit still—and there’s a world and gospel of difference.

You’re not impatient or frustrated by your children—never irritated or exasperated with us. I’m not disrupting your classroom, but I do have a disrupted heart, and you notice and you care. I don’t feel anxious or fearful—though I’d freely acknowledge it if I did, before such a loving God as you. I do want to slow down on the inside, however.

I know that you’re with me and for me. I know this because of everything you’ve done for me in Jesus. You’re a fortress of comfort, for broken people like Jacob and me; you’re a haven of rest, a strong tower of grace, a fountain of mercy.

When I’m still, I remember that you are God, and nothing and no one else is. That’s the best news of this or any day. You have no competition—counterfeits, but no competition. There are demigods, semi-gods, wannabe gods, but only you are God.

Kings and nations are not God, for one Day you will be exalted among all the nations. The nations are like droplets in your bucket. Storms and environmental disasters are not God, for you will be exalted in the earth. You send the earthquake and harness the hurricane for your purposes.

Neither are our circumstances God, nor the opinions of others; nor is getting older, nor the choices of people I love, the mistakes I make and the sins I commit. In fact, the second most comforting news of the day is that I’m not God, though at times my attitude, prayerlessness, and unbelief would indicate a measure of self-worship.

Father, be exalted in the daily-ness of my today. Let me see your hand and heart at work in everything. I don’t want to be a practical atheist about anything, not any little thing. You are working all things together after the counsel of your will. You are working in all things for the good of those who love you, and that means me, but only because you first loved me in Jesus.

I probably won’t sit still, but because the gospel is true, I will be still. With palms up in surrender and praise, I enter this day. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ excellent and exalted name.

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Mirage In The Sky

Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle.  They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away.  Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.  He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.  Psalm 107:4-7

I wish desperately that life would never involve living in a desert.  But, the more I learn about the soul and the cry of my own heart, I am convinced that all will experience a journey into a desert at some point.  Provision and a satisfied spirit is commonplace in our hurried, busy and often troubled lives.  We ignore the fact that our soul is starving and our heart is thirsting for the Lord who reigns, but we ignore His Lordship and deny the grail of Living Water and find nourishment in the flesh instead.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.  Psalm 34:8

In the desert, God restores and lifts up.  And remember, it was in the desert that Jesus was tempted by Satan.  This was not a preferred place to go for Christ, but He knew it was a place He needed to enter for all mankind.  A dry place where there were no distractions and where even a drop of water would be tempting.  Satan took upon himself the opportunity to present the most rewarding of all temptations and even so, Christ received the grail of Living Water and found nourishment for His soul in the comfort and protection of God the Father.

In the desert, life has new rules.  Most things are not as they appear.  The heat on the horizon feeds our minds the lie of flowing water.  The vast expanse disorients us without assured direction.  And overhead, in the skies is the mirage of death in waiting.  The buzzards circle in a dance of time that concludes at the side of death.  It’s here when loneliness and the begging of our soul cries out to be saved from torment, pain and grief.  But when God has held your hand to the edge of the desert and walked with you through the sands of pure dependence upon Him, the mirage in the sky is no buzzard at all.  Satan would have you think such a lie, would he not?

In the desert, where God’s children go to drink from the oasis of Life, there is an Eagle that soars the skies whose wings stretch far and wide.  These wings are the wings we too, soar upon and gain strength.  So, the shadow that falls upon us in the desert is not the shadow of death, it’s the shadow of the One who gives Life!

Lord Jesus, remind me of the comfort you bring when all seems barren and desolate, when growth seems impossible and you appear far away.  May your wings sustain me!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Psalm 107:1

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Desert Cure

He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there.  He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle.    Psalm 107:33-36

I wish I could say that I’ve stepped foot onto an actual desert.  But then again, thinking about standing atop a living dune of sand with nothing but mirages glistening in every direction is not my idea of a pleasant experience.  Life seems to beg for mercy in the desert, crying out to but a dew drop to quench the thirst — to give life.  And yet, it’s beautiful.  Adorned with brilliance and elegance, sculpted upon an ever shifting canvas of sand, the desert is a place of renewal, dependence and discovery.

The desert is a place that whispers no words, but instead churns more questions than answers.  It’s a place that gives no breaks and no hint of relief.  A desert can be personal, God makes certain of that!   It’s hand-made, different for each one of us — and trust me, everyone will encounter a desert at some point.

The desert experience is found throughout the Bible in many of the familiar stories.  Joseph’s desert was him being betrayed and spending years as a slave.  The Israelites wandered throughout the desert for forty years.  David ran from Saul in the desert.  Paul spent his converted life wrestling with sin in his desert.  Lazarus became an example to all of new life that comes from the desert.  And Jesus stepped into the desert for forty days to reenact our own desert journeys by fasting and facing the temptations of Satan.  All of these experiences face the reality of their own desert while holding tight to the hope of God’s Word and promises.

It becomes a place where all that once sustained you is no longer there to satisfy the cravings of the flesh.  It’s a place of spiritual purging that cleanses the soul and dries out the tongue that no longer thirsts for junk.  Instead, it defines the true thirst of our hearts.  The desert becomes the best place for God to wilt away the false selves and bring life to an authentic self.

Lord Jesus, in my desert are many mirages.  My eyes fail me, my senses deceive me to think that what my mind thinks is there is true.  But I know you are the only Truth to trust and it is not found by my senses.  It is found in the faith of knowing who you are in me and I in you!  While I’m in my desert may I encounter the gift of your presence each day.  And in your presence, as I am so thirsty, may I drink from the abundance of your well of living water!  It is in knowing you are with me in the desert I experience your protective love that gives me the strength to continue in this journey.

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.   Psalm 63:1

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Unlikely Love (pt. 2)

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.  The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.      Isaiah 35:1-2

While Satan may be considered the most unlikely to show love, Jesus was, perhaps the most unnoticed, therefore unlikely, to be Love.

Imagine, the God of the universe arriving on the scene as Son of Man.  This is perhaps the most unexpected, undeniable and unnoticed expression of love ever known.  The God, who was, and is, and is to come came as all of us come to this world — through birth.  Thankfully, we don’t remember much of this experience personally, but as adults we become increasingly more aware of what it entails.  While it brings joyfulness, it involves much pain and discomfort.  Wouldn’t it had been easier if God had come as a man?  Stepping from among the forest in the heat of the midday sun to feed the hungry and quench the thirst of the parched?  Where’s the love in that?

Instead, Christ came as a baby in the most lowly of places — a manger.  Here’s God, the Son of God becoming the Son of Man.  Here’s God, the Creator of all things — sun, moon and stars in part — confined to the needs of a baby, in all humanity.

Christ the Son needed God the Father, and through His bones, through His emotions, through His feelings, through His hunger and thirst, through His grieving, through His sadness, through His sorrow, through His joy, all the glory and love of God lived.

Then, in the biggest exchange of life of all time, as though His birth and life were not enough, His love is demonstrated in His death and resurrection.  A true moment of selflessness and compassion for all mankind, so all could have fellowship with Him and be with Him in paradise.

Heaven on earth, a rather unlikely place to find it.  But Christ by way of His birth, His life, His death and resurrection allows me to live heaven on earth.  Not because of anything I have done, but rather because of everything He has done.  In me IS Christ and through Him I live so that His glory can be.

Unnoticed, unexpected . . . very unlikely, pure LOVE!

Thank you Lord Jesus for making it possible to abide in you all day and every day of my life.  I’m sad to think of how much I have placed you in a box and on a shelf in my life, may it no longer be.  Regardless of the pains in life I experience of which you are all too familiar, may I always know and believe that in your abiding love there is joy unspeakable and full glory!

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us:  He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love:  not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.   I John 4:7-10

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Unlikely Love (pt. 1)

And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  I Corinthians 11:14

The masquerade ball . . . a dance of mystery mixed with curiosity and intrigue.  The chance to be and to meet someone through dazzling masks and suave expressions of love.  It so easily entices the senses and persuades the mind to the pursuit.  Yet, beneath the distraction lies a heart that appears to be love.

Paul, too, was concerned about this dance of deception.  His cry to the Corinthians in his letter was because of the false teachings of Jesus by others.  He reminded them of his intent to introduce them, as a bride of purity to Christ.  But, through listening to the voices of others preaching falsely about Christ, Paul calls a spade a spade by outing the deception of Satan through their being “led astray from [their] sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

How easily we become entangled in the web of deception.  When Satan’s minions, his servants, masquerade themselves as servants of righteousness we fall for the most unlikely love.  The masquerade that so deceives our mind, deceives our hearts.  It’s not love at all!

Since the dawn of time, Satan has had a vengeance against the One who banished him from the heavens.  His mission is to destroy Christ and all He represents.  His battle is not against man, I am but no trouble to him.  Unless, however, Christ, who is my life, reigns in and through me!  That changes things!

This battle that rages though, is not to be fought by me — I’ll never win — but Christ, who lives in me fights on my behalf!  It’s allowing Christ to be Christ in me, through me — Christ my life!

And, yet, Christ who IS love, is quite the unlikely love when he arrived on scene as a baby to the dance of life . . . unnoticed.

Lord Jesus, I know that Satan is the great deceiver!  I know too, that you have every battle I face.  When I stray, and I will, remind me of your light, the True light.  Reveal in my mind and my heart the most unlikely love Satan portrays for me through his lies and remind me of the Love you ARE!

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