Full of Surprises

“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” C.S. Lewis

I met with a sister who is new to the area for tea the other day. We opened the lines of communication by learning a little about each other’s backgrounds. As she placed a few pieces of the puzzle of her life face up on the table, I began to recognize some of the name brand barricades in the backdrop.

Like all of us, she is a ball of yarn that will take time to unravel. She is colorful and flexible and is a critical thread in any fabric that is woven with her. Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize it. She sees the face of God from a distance but can’t feel His real proximity. She moves about on her path never observing the safety warning that says, “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.” She toddles along believing that she has many miles beyond the horizon to go before she can reach her Lord and Savior and constantly collides with clearly marked obstructions called unforgiven, unloved, and undeserving. All creation cried out with longing, with groans only You could comprehend; and with wisdom, You always answer and give the words of life so unfailing.The Way by Jeremy Camp

As we continued to talk, I learned we have a lot more in common than meets the eye. I learned we both gain our energy from within, we are both guilty of the sin of too much self-reliance, and that the nightmares of the ugliness of others still creep into our days. We find great comfort in concepts such as mission, battle rhythm, and stronghold. We push forward and are always willing to lead the way into unchartered territory – unless that exploration requires an examination of the dark places where our points of pain lay. Then it’s time to rip the cord out of the wall, stopping the music and the madness. We do that by repressing those ghosts of experiences past deep into closets we mistake as graves.

As I began to scratch the surface of the places that lead to her darkness, her eyes welled up with tears. We skirted near the shallow fields of a few more skeleton crypts and the daunted, dazed, disbelieving girl of years ago came screaming from the darkness of the past into the now. As she sat quietly, taking in everything the spirit was saying through me, I reminded her of a great lesson I learned from a mentor on my journey. It is “that which we repress comes back to the party in a different dress, just at a time and a place that is not convenient or of our choosing.” The good news is that treasures are hidden in dark places. If we rely on Him, He will lead us to our trove of prizes; our paragon full of surprises. John Chapter 1:1-5 (NIV) tells us, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” And Your glory shines all around us; Your faithfulness shown for all to see. When we think of all of Your wonders, the beauty of Your plan that’s been revealed, we walk in Your light. We walk in it. Shine bright. Let Your glory fill this land; lift high, the King of Kings and great I am. Jesus, You are the way

I shared some of the nastiness I used to hide behind a façade. We talked about a few bones that used to fly out of my closet as soon as the door cracked ever so slightly. We chatted about our pursuit of peace and quiet. We discussed our inner desires to be strong and others’ reliance on us to be the tie that binds the unit together. Her eyes locked onto mine as if to say, “you too?” As her eyes filled with tears again, there seemed to be a sigh of relief that came from our common connection. I shared that I learned the hard way that to truly be undaunted, unflappable, and unchained, I had to become vulnerable. I had to be willing to expose the nerve endings of my pain and the full extent of my weaknesses. Through that discomfort, He gave me the courage I needed to enter those dark places. He, The Light, illuminated my treasures. My power and gifting were then birthed through the womb of vulnerability. Through the journey, His brightness shone through the crevices of my weaknesses and pain. I also shared these three things I have learned in the process:

  1. He has forgiven me for all that I have done wrong.
  2. He loves me even with my breaks and cracks.
  3. He has taught me that His grace is His eternal gift to me without regard for what I deserve.

My reflection on my tea time has me here:

It is in my many moments of complete emptiness that God says, “Here I am…Walk with Me. Your strength comes from Me, and Me alone. If only you would take my hand, I will take you to heights beyond the farthest boundaries of your imagination. Hold back, and you will forever remain in the middle of this mess. I am full of surprises! Come with me so I may show you your treasures. I am The Light. If you stay with Me, there is no reason for you to ever be afraid of darkness.”

I am looking forward to exposing many more of my cracks to this sister in hopes that she will see His light shining through them. Until then, my prayer is that she becomes mindful that the cold canyon that contains the anguish, agony, and ache of tortured ghosts from experiences past, is best crossed on a bridge named vulnerability with a guide called God. She is a beautiful sister with unabridged potential. Her happiness is His truth. I can’t wait to see His greatness unleashed through her. Her treasures are there for the taking; full of wonder, amazement, and surprise. We can see the works of Your loving hands with a hope and peace not made by man. When You poured out Your grace and Your mercy and You held out Your arms so we could see You bled for all mankind and set the captives free.

“Simeon was there and took the child in his arms, praising God. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘now I can die content! For I have seen him as you promised me I would. I have seen the Savior you have given to the world. He is the Light that will shine upon the nations, and he will be the glory of your people Israel!’” Luke 2:28-32 (TLB)

May you always be willing to ask for Him and take His hand. May His light always shine through you.  Come along side someone else and share your story. Be the love!

Kings and Servants

“The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts.” – James Joyce

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to a colleague’s open house.  I replied that I planned to attend, placed a reminder on my calendar, and went on about my day.  The morning of the event arrived and the alert from my calendar reminded me about what was to come that evening.  Soon, I received a call from another guest requesting a ride for her and her friend who is also my long-time acquaintance.  She said she planned to make the 25 minute drive to the friend’s house but did not want to drive the remaining 35 minutes to the open house.  After determining that they both had a relaxed approach to the arrival and departure to and from the event, I happily agreed to drive them.  Then I had second thoughts.  Why did they want a ride?  Are they heavy drinkers?  What happens if I get there, don’t like the vibe, and want to leave early but they aren’t ready?  Who wouldn’t want the freedom to come and go on their own terms without regard for others?  The Spirit said, “just go with it and drive them.”

When the evening came, I got dressed and drove towards the friend’s house to pick the two of them up.  Her residence was in a large condominium complex that functioned like a gated community.  The security was very tight.  Residents had barcoded decals that were electronically read.  Guests were required to drive up to the gate house, show government issued identification, and wait for the guard to write down the car tag and personal information.  If that was not enough, I then had to provide the resident’s name, building number and unit number.  The guard paused and then took a good hard look at me, a stare lasting several seconds.  I maintained eye contact with him and smiled.  I wondered if I was in the wrong place.  He then said, “You are here to see the ambassador?”  There was a few seconds of silence as he waited for my response.  I nodded yes.  He then called her to confirm that she knew me and was aware of my arrival.  I thought, “I know she was an ambassador in the middle of her career but I call her by her first name, not by her title.”

I drove through the gate, picked them up, and we headed to the open house.  We talked and laughed about old times and caught up on life’s happenings.  One thing I learned was that my acquaintance had been chronically ill for the past six years.  The open house was her first outing of the season.  The other guest doesn’t like to drive in unfamiliar territory at night.  They were both just so thankful for the chance to have a worry-free enjoyable evening.

We arrived and settled in with the hostess and the other guests.  People were in the holiday spirit and there was a very positive energy at the gathering.  There were several guests present who had achieved high career status, including another former ambassador, but the event was supposed to be a holiday celebration with colleagues and friends.  After a few hours of mingling and when my passengers were ready, we left.  Like old friends, we talked and laughed all the way home.

As I laid down that evening, reflected on the day, and had my conversation with God, I told Him about my experience.  He said, “Yes, My child!  A lot happened today.  Let’s go through this:

  1. Why so many questions about giving these people a ride to the same place you already had plans to go? As you learned, My children were suffering in ways you didn’t know. Next time, please just be eager to respond when called. When you take up your cross daily and follow Me, know that I am leading you to green pastures and by still waters. Although our relationship is intimate and personal, I frequently place several of My children in the same space. You need each other.
  2. The whole security experience – Well, it is a reminder that is analogous to entering My kingdom. At the appropriate time, I will send for you. Your walk is at a slow pace and is along a narrow winding road. It is My grace that will get you to the gates and you living the life I have called you to that confirms we know each other.
  3. Yes, you could wow a crowd telling the story of the two ambassadors. Some people in your country will go a lifetime without ever seeing one, let alone two in the same day who look like you. My question to you is what can you do to inspire the same crowd with stories of The One True King? The answer lies in the understanding that this life is not about being impressive; rather it is about leaving a Godly impression on others.
  4. To sum it all up, when you enter with a heart of service, an open mind, and the desire to show Me to others, you will always gain an optimistic energy and feel a positive vibe. I love you! Now go. Be My love to others…everyday…every chance you get.” “Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.” – James Joyce

His word tells us, 7 And now God can always point to us as examples of how very, very rich his kindness is, as shown in all he has done for us through Jesus Christ. 8 Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it. 10 It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others. Ephesians 2 (TLB)

As I rocked in bed like a toddler in her mother’s arms, I was lulled to sleep by this song in my head:  I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by your side.  I can only imagine what my eyes will see when your face is before me.  I can only imagine.  Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel?  Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still?  Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall?  Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all?  I can only imagine…I can only imagine when that day comes and I find myself standing in the Son.  I can only imagine when all I will do is forever, forever worship You.  I can only imagine.  – MercyMe, I Can Only Imagine

Until then Lord, may I always be Your ready and humble servant! – Amen

Dark Ransom

Romans 12:2 tells us, “2Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind.  As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.”  (Voice)

Yesterday was a – flipped out crazy, what in the world, altered state of reality – type day.  Traffic was insanely slow and doubled my commute time.  When I arrived at work, I entered back to back meetings with folks who seemed to have talking points suitable for agendas different than the topics for the meetings I attended.  Their words were in a language I could understand but always seemed a bit off center and quickly warbled onto remote tangents or down unrelated rabbit holes.  I constantly wondered if I had fallen out of bed in my sleep the night before, bumped my head, and lost my entire mind because I was unable to mend the continuous disconnect I experienced all day.

It was late in the evening when I left work.  I was low on fuel and veered from my normal route to find a filling station.  Rather than making a series of turns across heavy traffic to get back to the highway, I took some faintly familiar back roads to my neighborhood.  The streets were winding and were speckled with stop signs, speed bumps, and other traffic control devices.  It was very dark outside and the pathways were dimly lighted.  I had to slow down drastically as though I was “feeling” my way home.  God then said, “‘feeling’ your way through things is sometimes where I want you.  When you think too much, you can become arrogant and self-reliant.  That disconnect you experienced was analogous to temporary separation from Me.  This day is an example of the inanity that is created when you run around on your own energy.  But, ‘feel’ where you are right now.  Your heart is not beating out of the side of your neck and you are not scrambling to decipher the chaos that is surrounding you.  This slow meandering drive that you are on now is illustrative of what it is like to be led and fed by Me.  You see, your sight can be blinding to you, causing you to race from one fleeting bit of unseen stimulation to the next.  But when you ‘feel’ your way through, you are placing your hand in Mine and are allowing Me to guide you to where I know you belong.  Right now I need you to be in a relaxed state of mind because I want you to be a mouthpiece for my message.”

Just then, my mobile phone rang.  It was my girlfriend who called to ask me for prayer.  She explained that she has a loved one who is mired down in youthful fumbling and through a continuous series of unfortunate events, can’t seem to stand up unassisted, let alone walk on a straight path.  My girlfriend said she has come along side this relative before and provided money to help patch the holes and bail the rising water on this young person’s challenging path.

I began asking secular questions about the loved one.  God then said, “Pssssst!  Just open your mouth and let me speak through you.  Stop searching for your next set of thoughts.  Remember, we are “feeling”, not thinking.  It is reliance, not reasoning.”  I took a deep breath and started listening.  My girlfriend explained that the loved one is a young mother who is being evicted and has no support system.  The circumstances are such that once she loses her apartment, she and her baby will be separated as there is no place for them to go together.

The words that then came out of my mouth were not my own.  This is what was spoken through me: “We live in a broken world and when we hit rock bottom, we are an icky, sticky, yucky mess.  It is very easy to stand back and throw money at the cataclysmic heap from a distance.  But you are being called to dig deep and give of yourself; not to reach into your pockets to give what you can easily do without.  Sometimes, when we are standing on the edge facing the deep end of the pool, the idea of jumping in can be daunting.  It can seem like it would be easier if someone would just push us.  But that is not Jesus’ way.  He only wants the willing, not the loathed.  This is called freedom in Christ.  Choose what you will do according to what has been placed on your heart.  I will always love you and so will He.”

My girlfriend and I hung up.  I looked up and thanked God for the countless lessons and blessings He gave me yesterday.  I pondered over the experience that He: 1.) allowed me to go through yesterday so it would 2.) Open my eyes to see the picture He painted for me to prepare me 3.) To be used by Him 4.) So He could speak through me, yet 5.) Show me how much I still need Him.  Then Casting Crowns Voice of Truth played in my head, Oh what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes to climb out of this boat I’m in, onto the crashing waves; to step out of my comfort zone to the realm of the unknown where Jesus is and He’s holding out his hand.  But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me; reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed.  The waves they keep on telling me, time and time again, “Boy, you’ll never win!”  “You’ll never win!”  Last night, I prayed for my girlfriend.  I prayed that she would find peace in knowing that she heard His gentle invitation in His voice to be the love.  I prayed that she would see the way He is showing her to His precise calling and that she would eagerly follow the path He lays before her, no matter how uncomfortable it may seem.  Oh what I would do to have the kind of strength it takes to stand before a giant with just a sling and a stone; surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors shaking in their armor, wishing they’d have had the strength to stand. 

I know she is still wrestling with God, seeking clarity for precisely how He wants her to answer His call to action.  But she recognized His voice and is being drawn into Him to be the love for someone else.  But the voice of truth tells me a different story and the voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”  And the voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”.  Out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.

He is my witness that I have been at similar crossroads; a place where He was asking me to give sacrificially, not just easily.  Sacrifice is the act of giving up something you want to keep while easy is something that requires little effort, thought or reflection.  God gave us His one and only son and presented Himself to us in a form we could recognize and accept.  Before we can follow Him, we are called to count the cost, a ransom He paid sacrificially yet willingly, to save our lives.

I will remain prayerful as my girlfriend works through this with God.  I am sure He will show her His will and she will freely choose courageous obedience.  It is such a privilege to watch her answer His gentle invitation.  As someone who extended her hand to such a reluctant receiver as me, I am eternally grateful to God for slowing me down enough to be touched by her.  I am thankful that He brought me through such an incredible experience with her and for blessing me with our friendship.

“In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers.  In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart.  But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances.  A secret master of ceremonies has been at work.  Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.”  The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out.  It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” – C.S. Lewis

Caught Up In The Moment

The last six weeks at work have been challenging as my observation of two and a half years’ worth of misguided movements came to a head.  Each step shifted the alignment of the organization off center, further and further away from its core mission.  I felt woefully inadequate as I was unable to cure the immediate hurts or address the over-arching cultural ailments.  I had been accustomed to working behind the scenes to reshuffle the pieces to almost any awry situation back to the center of the board.  By flipping switches and pulling levers, I could turn on the magnets that would draw people back between the bumpers.  As this situation continued to wobble further and further out of control, I leveraged every resource available to me to adjust the alignment back to center.  No matter how much strength I used or torque I created, I could not move the mountain.  My blood pressure then sky-rocketed, headaches ensued, and hope dissipated.  The Lord then said to me, “get somewhere and sit still!  To move mountains, you must have faith, you know, the size of a mustard seed.  I am not feeling faith.  I am witnessing you muster mortal strength in man’s world.  You are making a mockery of the miracle process.  I am responsible for those and simply sometimes use man as delivery vehicles.  As the devotional told you the other day, meet Me in the moment and leave outcomes to My Father.  Listen to the sage.  I sent her.  Calmly do these two things each day and leave the rest to Me:  Ask the Father what He would have you do today and work towards it with excellence.”

No words were rendered as no response was required.  I took a week of time off, went away, and did nothing but reflect on His guidance.  Each day I spent time with Him and I asked what He would have me do.  Everyday His answer was the same: love My people and see the wonders of My work.  And that is exactly what I did.  I engaged with as many people as I could and enjoyed the beauties of nature.  Five days after I returned to work, His glorious plan began to unfold.  The miracles of the Messiah moved the mountain.  He made a way for resolution to my plaguing problem and I am extremely thankful to Him.  As Lincoln Brewster tells us: Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth.  The heavens declare Your greatness.  The oceans cry out to You.  The mountains, they bow down before You.  So I’ll join with the earth and I’ll give my praise to You.Majestic

The long, drawn-out difficult observation time that ended just before I took leave was chocked full of faith forewarnings for me.  Particularly, I had watched a high-ranking person determine that reaching the next rung on the ladder was worth everything and he was willing to do anything to get it.  In his haste to reach the next level, he failed to realize that anything received at any pace other than in God’s time can never bring fulfilment, but is merely an accelerant of spiritual degradation.  You see, “any cost” is the only price the devil is willing to pay and the moment we name that price is the second we sell our soul.  Every move from that point forward is a contorted turn or ill-conceived twist that leads to places of no return.  The intersection of greed and power is named Hubris Hill.  The crossroads of arrogance and opportunity is called Corruption Court.  “Corruption is like a ball of snow, once it’s set a rolling it must increase.” – Caleb Colton

At that point, anyone with half of the currency can now convince us to give the whole thing away, leaving us begging for borrowed time from hollowed hearts.  As the pace gets faster and the stakes get higher, we find ourselves over leveraging our diminishing worth while clinging to vacated promises backed by overdrawn credit. Suddenly, the suitors stop knocking and no one takes our calls.  It is then that we realize the time we spent perched in dark smoke-filled rooms sipping single malt scotch and savoring select cigars was likely in Lucifer’s Lounge.  We sat at the table listening to his lies while debating the Spirit’s voice in order to rationalize righteousness into a wicked situation.  By negotiating, we risked what we had to gain what we didn’t need.  We rolled the dice with the devil, the master of deception, and lost it all.  As two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time, neither can God and evil.  By dismissing the Spirit, we gave the devil a foot hole.  The hunt is now over and it’s time for the kill.  The wicked one has won!

Or has he?  He is jealous for me; loves like a hurricane.  I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy; when all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory.  And I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me… And we are His portion and He is our prize, drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes.  If his grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.  And Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss, and my heart turns violently inside of my chest.  I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way He loves us…Oh, how he loves us allHe Loves Us – John McMillan

Just like us, God gave the ranking person worth and his value comes through Jesus Christ.  Through our relationship with Him and community with His people, a paved path to the foot of the cross is always beneath our feet.  To the extent that we lose our way, simply say, “Jesus, please help me!”  He is a loving Lord and an eager savior, longing for a relationship with His children.  We strengthen that relationship through worshiping only Him, loving His people, reading His word, and praying.  As Matt Redman reminds us, When the music fades, all is stripped away.  And I simply come longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless Your heart.  I’ll bring You more than a song, for a song in itself is not what You have required.  You search much deeper within, through the way things appear.  You’re looking into my heart.  I’m coming back to the heart of worship.  And it’s all about You.  It’s all about You, Jesus.  I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about You.  It’s all about You, Jesus Heart of Worship.  If we simply remember that we cannot sell what we cannot earn, His grace will remain on the forefront of our minds, preventing us from placing our salvation in the showcase window of Hell’s pawn shop.  This life is about advancing His kingdom, not our selfish pleasures.

Now is a time for prayer and encouragement, not casting of stones.  As we have done so much for which we wish not to be judged, forgiveness is a large paving stone on the path to the foot of the cross.  We’ve all had the experience of being caught up in the moment.  Remember, character assassination kills more than just a reputation.  It massacres minds and slaughters souls.  The scars on His hands are reminders of our redemption, not reverberations of our self-righteousness.  Offer healing to the hurt and love to the lost by being fast to forgive.  We are His beacons who have been called to shine His light.  So beam brightly!

I pray fervently for the ranking official.  Lord, may his resignation resign him to Your ways.  May he raise his hands and heart to You to receive the blessings You have in store for him.  May he live the rest of his days gaining strength from time with You.  May we heal from the difficulties and offer forgiveness to our brother, remembering the experience as a shadow that casts shade on the dog-day decisions that we may one day face.  May pride never prevent us from calling Your great name long before our darkest hours – In Your son’s name, Amen.

Romans 12 tells us, 1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.  Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.  (MSG)

Calico’s Corner III

Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important.  They don’t mean to do harm. But the harm does not interest them – TS Eliot

Psalm 37 tells us: Never envy the wicked!  2 Soon they fade away like grass and disappear. 3 Trust in the Lord instead.  Be kind and good to others; then you will live safely here in the land and prosper, feeding in safety.  4 Be delighted with the Lord.  Then he will give you all your heart’s desires.  5 Commit everything you do to the Lord.  Trust him to help you do it, and he will.  6 Your innocence will be clear to everyone.  He will vindicate you with the blazing light of justice shining down as from the noonday sun.  7 Rest in the Lord; wait patiently for him to act.  Don’t be envious of evil men who prosper.  8 Stop your anger! Turn off your wrath.  Don’t fret and worry—it only leads to harm. 9 For the wicked shall be destroyed, but those who trust the Lord shall be given every blessing.  10 Only a little while and the wicked shall disappear.  You will look for them in vain.  11 But all who humble themselves before the Lord shall be given every blessing and shall have wonderful peace.  12-13 The Lord is laughing at those who plot against the godly, for he knows their judgment day is coming.  14 Evil men take aim to slay the poor; they are ready to butcher those who do right.  15 But their swords will be plunged into their own hearts, and all their weapons will be broken.  16 It is better to have little and be godly than to own an evil man’s wealth; 17 for the strength of evil men shall be broken, but the Lord takes care of those he has forgiven.  18 Day by day the Lord observes the good deeds done by godly men, and gives them eternal rewards.  19 He cares for them when times are hard; even in famine, they will have enough.  20 But evil men shall perish.  These enemies of God will wither like grass and disappear like smoke.  21 Evil men borrow and ‘cannot pay it back’!  But the good man returns what he owes with some extra besides.  22 Those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the earth, but those cursed by him shall die.  23 The steps of good men are directed by the Lord.  He delights in each step they take.  24 If they fall, it isn’t fatal, for the Lord holds them with his hand.  25 I have been young and now I am old.  And in all my years I have never seen the Lord forsake a man who loves him; nor have I seen the children of the godly go hungry.  26 Instead, the godly are able to be generous with their gifts and loans to others, and their children are a blessing.  27 So if you want an eternal home, leave your evil, low-down ways and live good lives.  28 For the Lord loves justice and fairness; he will never abandon his people.  They will be kept safe forever; but all who love wickedness shall perish.  29 The godly shall be firmly planted in the land and live there forever.  30-31 The godly man is a good counselor because he is just and fair and knows right from wrong.  32 Evil men spy on the godly, waiting for an excuse to accuse them and then demanding their death.  33 But the Lord will not let these evil men succeed, nor let the godly be condemned when they are brought before the judge.  34 Don’t be impatient for the Lord to act!  Keep traveling steadily along his pathway and in due season he will honor you with every blessing, and you will see the wicked destroyed.  35-36 I myself have seen it happen: a proud and evil man, towering like a cedar of Lebanon, but when I looked again, he was gone!  I searched but could not find him!  37 But the good man—what a different story!  For the good man—the blameless, the upright, the man of peace—he has a wonderful future ahead of him.  For him there is a happy ending.  38 But evil men shall be destroyed, and their posterity shall be cut off.  39 The Lord saves the godly!  He is their salvation and their refuge when trouble comes.  40 Because they trust in him, he helps them and delivers them from the plots of evil men.

Calico was an Irishman who moved to Italy and found a job in the shipping industry.  He set out in life with good intentions but strictly relied upon himself as the singular source of information to guide his decisions.  As he rose in rank to captain on his ship, his lack of intimacy with the Lord, his inability to be reflective, and his sense of entitlement prevented him from leading in a Godly way.  Over time, his character and his ways led him from rising prominence to a fall into fury, something many of us have seen or experienced.  Calico may have good in him but his hubris is contemptible and offends the very fibers our morals are made of.  “O Lord, deliver me from the man of excellent intention and impure heart: for the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” – TS Eliot

His officers too were interesting people, ranging from empty-suited sailors to altruistic mariners.  At last glance, the seamen had successfully mounted a mutiny and subdued the captain.  The ship was five miles from the Italian coast on the Mediterranean.  She had a fire in her engine room and a hole in her hull.  With one functioning life boat that held 48 passengers, the three officers on deck were faced with the critical decision of how to save the remaining 84 sailors on board.

The flares had been set off and the beacons had been activated, but the Silk Utopia continued to toss and turn in the eye of the storm, without even radio recognition of their distress calls.  As the ship rocked nearly parallel to the sea on her port side, the second officer ordered the first officer to drive the life boat to shore with 45 of the sailors, the bound captain, and the third officer standing guard over him.  The second officer made this move because something had to be done immediately, she trusted the first officer to return with the life boat for the remaining sailors and she had faith in the third officer’s ability deliver the captain to the proper authorities unharmed.  The second officer remained aboard the ship with the remaining sailors to fight the fire and bail water.  When the first officer returned, he fished 12 life-jacketed sailors from the sea.  The other 23 sailors and the second officer then made it safely onto the life boat.

My reflection on this story reminded me that in the midst of the storms of life, the waves will bash and thrash about without regard for goodness, fairness, or righteousness.  When we stand under the weight of the problem alone, the pressure can seem crushing.  But prayer is the pressure release valve.  Calling upon The One who makes all things possible is the answer to any outstanding question.  Also:

  1. Our God inhabits every place
  2. He builds us each for a specific purpose in His kingdom
  3. 28 We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. Romans 8
  4. 7 Ask, and you will be given what you ask for. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Anyone who seeks, finds. If only you will knock, the door will open. – Matthew 7
  5. “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything” – Malcolm X

In What It’s Like, Everlast illustrates the complexities under the squall with, I’ve seen a rich man beg.  I’ve seen a good man sin.  I’ve seen a tough man cry.  I’ve seen a loser win and a sad man grin.  I heard an honest man lie.  I’ve seen the good side of bad and the down side of up, and everything between.  God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes, ’cause then you really might know what it’s like to sing the blues… to have to choose…to have to lose.

As my final thought on these characters, Matthew 6:12-13 says pray like this…12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.  13 And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.  (NLT)

Full & Open

“The intention and outcome of vulnerability is trust, intimacy and connection.” – Brene Brown

The holidays are a festive time and known as the season of giving, filled with busyness in preparation for Christmas Day. The malls are packed and the internet is jammed because so many people are searching for items to wrap and present as the perfect surprise to those they love. Some blame the year-end gift giving on commercialism and consumerism, causing people to spend more than they have to obtain what they don’t need. Others have a different outlook but choose not to indulge that way, providing only baked goods or handmade crafts – gifts from the heart – to encourage the ones they love.

But…what about the offering of time and what about the rest of the year? The commentary in the Voice translation of 2 Corinthians tells us, “Giving away money is one of the hardest things believers do, especially when there are bills to pay and more expenses than income. However, helping others with their physical needs and not only their spiritual needs is a fundamental principle of Christian spirituality. Perhaps it would be easier to give our financial resources if we could turn away from our own continual consumption and live simpler lifestyles. Then there would be not only the willingness but also the ability to share God’s blessings with others.” Verses 6-15 say, 6 But I will say this to encourage your generosity: the one who plants little harvests little, and the one who plants plenty harvests plenty. 7 Giving grows out of the heart—otherwise, you’ve reluctantly grumbled “yes” because you felt you had to or because you couldn’t say “no,” but this isn’t the way God wants it. For we know that ‘God loves a cheerful giver.’ 8 God is ready to overwhelm you with more blessings than you could ever imagine so that you’ll always be taken care of in every way and you’ll have more than enough to share. 9 Remember what is written about the One who trusts in the Lord: He scattered abroad; He gave freely to the poor; His righteousness endures throughout the ages. 10 The same One who has put seed into the hands of the sower and brought bread to fill our stomachs will provide and multiply the resources you invest and produce an abundant harvest from your righteous actions. 11 You will be made rich in everything so that your generosity will spill over in every direction. Through us your generosity is at work inspiring praise and thanksgiving to God. 12 For this mission will do more than bring food and water to fellow believers in need—it will overflow in a cascade of praises and thanksgivings for our God. 13 When this mission reaches Jerusalem and meets with the approval of God’s people there, they will give glory to God because your confession of the gospel of the Anointed One led to obedient action and your generous sharing with them and with all exhibited your sincere concern. 14 Because of the extraordinary grace of God at work in you, they will pray for you and long for you. 15 Praise God for this incredible, unbelievable, indescribable gift!”

Our requirement to be vulnerable and give of ourselves (time and talents) as well as our possessions brings to us far more than we lose by giving them away. By putting ourselves out there and exposing our genuine nature, we experience the joys and pains that are ignited or covered by His grace, giving us the power of clarity to see His love and forgiveness and the hope that lets us live to tell about it. But this reward is endowed upon us only when we take time to give time. By doing so, we relish in the flavors and scents of His love while unwittingly relinquishing the burden of being too busy.

What time do we have to keep except the measure of the moment in our hand? Does the inertia of our motion undermine our authenticity, clarity, grace or power? Busy – “If yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift and that’s why they call it the present” – how can we have so much to do that we can’t unwrap the wonder of time that is before us? The scents of softness from a sleeping baby – hug her and feel the peace that she brings. The look of love in the eyes of a five-year old with outstretched arms – embrace what he is offering. The fog of confusion that the teen tweets about – be the light that burns it off and guide him to the path on the other side. The delight in disorder in the life of the young woman next to you – meet her for tea to talk about it. The father who is missing the enthusiasm necessary to enjoy his children – encourage him with a story of your positive experience with The Father. The wisdom of the soul whose arthritic hands once held you – sit for a while and listen; then say thank you. From the simplicity of the cradle to the complexity of the grave, God’s greatest gifts are those who appear with us in this moment. How dare we take a pass for the four letter expletive we call busy? Let’s establish a connection with them: showing them our authenticity through our willingness to be vulnerable; our clarity through the eyes of His ways; His grace through the power of non-judgment or forgiveness; our power through the telling of our stories of weakness – which allows us to be vulnerable; which leads to the foot of the cross (his ways); which reminds us that He died for our forgiveness; which tells the story of the weakness in our ways – which teaches us the value of authenticity…and the double helix continues in perpetuity.

As we experience this wonderful time of the year together, make your gift-giving decisions as it has been laid upon your heart to do. Just remember, credit is not our sacrifice, merely a matter of pure secular indebtedness. There are however, 364 other days in the year, four natural seasons, and ten thousand ways and opportunities to give to others. Time is of the essence as our charity only exists while we are alive. For when we die, what we bequeath is no longer sacrificial. As we move throughout this season at a pace that makes time for each other, let’s ask ourselves this: What have we given of our time and talents today? What will we give of our finances before sundown? Will we stop and acknowledge the presence of the next human being we encounter? Will we take a moment to smile at him and encourage her? Will we sincerely share the dark spots in our walk as we shine beyond the shadows? Will we spend the currency of a split second to show the love given to us on that destined day at Calvary? Do we trust enough in our intimacy with Him to reach out and connect with another now? “The moment someone asks you to do something you don’t have the time or inclination to do is fraught with vulnerability.” – Brene Brown

In Give Me Words to Speak, Aaron Shust says: Calloused and bruised, dazed and confused; my Spirit is left wanting something more than my selfish hopes and my selfish dreams.  I’m lying with my face down to the floor.  I’m crying out for more.  Give me words to speak.  Don’t let my Spirit sleep ‘cause I can’t think of anything worth saying, but I know that I owe You my life.  So give me words to speak.  Don’t let my Spirit sleep.  Every night, every day I find that I have nothing left to say.  So I stand here in silence awaiting Your guidance.  I’m wanting only Your voice to be heard.  Let them be Your Words…that follow the gifts of our giving to one another for His glory.  Be vulnerable!  Be open!!  Give the gift of your story!!! Be the love!!!!  Say it with me: IN HIS MIGHTY NAME, Amen

Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow – that’s vulnerability. – Brene Brown