Thirsty?

As a kid, I loved neighborhood football games with my friends. We’d all dress up in our pads, donning our favorite team’s helmet. Mine was a white Baltimore Colt helmet, with royal blue horseshoes painted above the ear holes and Johnny Unitas’ number 19 on the back.

When I ride by our old neighborhood today, the friend’s yard we played in looks so small. However, we wore ourselves out chasing each other up and down the field in the heat of many a South Carolina afternoon. And, on the rare occasion when it snowed, we’d play smear the man with the ball.

At “half time” and at the end of the game we’d all line up to guzzle water from the garden hose attached to my friend’s house. To this day, the satisfaction of quenching my dry, parched throat with what seemed like gallons of gushing, cool water, is still etched in my memory.

Now that I think back on it, the water probably wasn’t that cold, but we relished the refreshing running water.

We were thirsty.

Addressing thirst, Jesus once said, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.” John 7:37b-38

Whether we realize it or not, we were created with a longing for more, a deep thirst.

The wisest man in the world once wrote that God  put eternity in the hearts of men.[1]

The plan is for our great thirst to be quenched by God himself, but so many of us have filled our lives with so much crap, we don’t even know we’re thirsty.

Perhaps that’s why Jesus said, “if” any man is thirsty.

If we’ve crammed our lives with possessions, achievements, pleasures, popularity and other earthly treasures, we may not even know we need Jesus.

However, nothing but Jesus comes close to satisfying our hearts.

When we realize this, we can move past the “if”.

Jesus invites us to “come and drink”.

Jesus wants us to recognize his presence and to draw near to him. He wants us to drink deeply and quench our thirst with his great love. He doesn’t want our lives to be filled with arduous self-effort, he wants our lives to be filled with him. When this is true, we can live lives of overflow.

Do you know you’re thirsty?

Come to Jesus and drink.

Drink of his nearness and his love. Rest in what he has done for you and yield to his Holy Spirit in you. When we recognize our tremendous need for him and depend upon him for our every word and deed, he will teach us to love others as he’s loved us.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I’ve not always been thirsty for you. I’ve chased after worldly dreams and pleasures thinking they would satisfy me. But each empty pursuit only makes the longing grow. I know now that I’ve been thirsty for you all my life. Teach me how to drink deeply of your love. I want my life to be a life of overflow. Please flow from my life like Rivers of Living Water, that all who are in my path will be blessed and loved by you. Amen.

[1] Ecclesiastes 3:11

 

 

Jumping for Joy; It Happens in Football, but what about the Rest of Life?

Let the godly ones exult in glory; Let them sing for joy on their beds. Psalm 149:5

If you’ve believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ and have received His love demonstrated by His death for you on a Roman cross, the verse above applies to you. You are a “godly” one because of what Christ did for you and you can exult in His glory.

The word “exult” literally means to jump for joy. You may not think you know how to do this, but I bet you do, especially if you’re a football fan.

We’ll get back to the verse later, but first an example of exulting:

Think about two football teams. Your team and the one you love to hate. You know, the one you pull against no matter who they play.

Against all odds, these two teams have made it to the National Championship or the Super Bowl. You’re at the game,  on the 50 yard line, with your favorite person in world.

But things are looking bleak. Your team’s down by five points with 27 seconds to go and your hated team has the ball on your 22 yard line. They are trying to run out the clock. It’s 4th down and one and you have one time out.

Just to be sure you don’t get the ball and throw a miraculous “hail Mary,” your rival coach decides to put a dagger in your heart by kicking a field goal. After all, their offensive line is the best in the country and their kicker hasn’t missed from within 55 yards all season.

You can hardly watch as the teams line up. As expected It’s a good snap, a clean hold and a solid kick. The football sails between the goal posts with plenty to spare. It’s over. You hang your head in defeat.

But wait. Your coach used your last time out right before the snap. They’ll have to kick it again.

After the time out, the play starts off just like the previous one. A good snap, clean hold and a  solid kick. But your best defensive lineman, a senior who’s been hurt for the last month, was inserted into the play for his height during the time out. You hadn’t noticed.

As the kick reaches the line, your man, lined up over center, jumps as high as he can with arms stretched out, nicks the ball. This sends the ball spinning off course, landing near the goal line in fair territory.

Your rookie safety spots the ball and picks it up right in front of a tight end from the opposition. Your man has to spin into the end zone to avoid being tackled. Meanwhile, your team sees what’s happened and begins to block off a wall along the sidelines.

Hope re-ignites in your heart. Fans making their way to the exits freeze in astonishment. The rookie races along the sidelines, but the other team has a contingent hemming him off from his path to glory.

Around mid field, two defenders converge. Your man has no hope but to change course and breaks sharply toward the middle of the field. But as he does, he runs into the right guard, who grabs him firmly by the jersey. As the rookie turns to escape, he sees a teammate coming up quickly along the sideline behind him. Before his knee hits the ground, he shuffles the ball to his racing teammate.

Like the rookie, your new hero is forced to abandon the sideline route. He cuts across the field behind the tacklers who had focused on the rookie.

At the 30 yard line, he is able to escape a would be tackler and turns the corner, heading down the opposite sideline. The path seems clear, but out of the pack emerges a defender with tremendous speed converging on your guy. There’ll be an inevitable collision around the five yard line.

But just as the defender reaches the point of impact, your hero comes to a complete stop, causing the dashing defender to tumble out of bounds in front of him. Your guy then dances into the end zone.

Touchdown! The clock shows zeros. You are champions! You and half the crowd, including many on the steps and exit ramps, jump for joy. A deafening shout and triumphant cry erupts. You continue to jump and shout, hugging your friend in ecstasy.

You may not have experienced this kind of jumping for joy at a football game, but hopefully you could feel what exulting is like.

Let’s turn to life.  As improbably and exciting as the football victory, it can’t be compared to rejoicing in the glory of God in Christ Jesus. Being joyous for your team is good for awhile, but it won’t last.

Having that kind emotion for the weighty value of God Almighty and your future eternity with Him, is exponentially more exciting than anything we can dream of on earth.

“Let the godly ones exult in glory; Let them sing for joy on their beds.”

Regardless of your present circumstances, you have more reason to jump for joy and shout in gladness than all the fans of all the championship teams of all sports throughout all of time.

Challenge: Take a moment to focus on what Christ has done for you. Set aside your present temporary circumstances. Jesus loves you as much as God the Father loves him. He demonstrated this love for you by dying in your place, securing your place in with God forever.

Even now Christ,  by His Holy Spirit, has taken up residence in your life, filling your heart with joy.

And there’s more. Consider the following verse:

“The Lord your God is in your midst,
A [victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will [b]be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.  Zephaniah 3:17

 Want another reason to jump for joy? The Lord your God jumps for joy because of you.

Open your heart to Joy.

Finding the Silver Lining

(Every cloud has a silver lining – John Milton)

 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

(II Corinthians 1:9)

 My boss Frank called at 6:00 am. Slurring his words, he told me he couldn’t teach the computer class our client so desperately needed. He’d been out all night partying. “You’ll have to teach it,” he said.

“But I’ve never taught the class before, Frank,” I strongly protested.  Frank mumbled something and hung up.

Placing the phone down, reality swept through my still groggy mind. This was an impossible situation. I was gripped with a wave of panic. I could either crawl back in bed and quit my only source of income, or teach a three day class covering subjects I barely knew.

Though my chances of success were very slim. I had to try and teach it. My wife and four kids were depending on me.

Later, riding the elevator to the class room on the tenth floor, I prayed. “Lord, you have to do this. I’ll do what I can and open my mouth, but please teach this class through me.”

During every break, I crammed to prepare for the next segment. I kept my Bible opened to the Psalms, jotting down prayers for guidance.

Three days later the class was over. By God’s grace, no one knew it was my first time teaching  it. And amazingly, the marks were good on the evaluation sheets the 23 students had to fill out. God taught this class through me and He was the only reason it was successful.

Month’s earlier, I  prayed for God to help me trust Him more. Looking back, I think this was his answer. The only way I could learn to not rely on me, was to be placed in a situation I couldn’t handle. I learned more about trusting God in those few days than I had in years before.

Paul wrote, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”[1]

“Good” is not just smooth circumstances and good feelings. True “good,” eternal “good” is wrapped up in our nearness and dependence upon God.

Paul was in such dire circumstances in Asia that he despaired even of life.[2] But he saw the “silver lining”.[3]  He knew there was a deeper good in his very hard circumstances. “Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”[4] The very difficult circumstances kept Paul trusting in the Lord and not in himself.

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;[5]

A most important lesson we all need to learn is that “good” does not always mean easy. What is truly “good” is what draws us closer to God.

Blessings can come in strange packages.

Our ability to find a silver lining (a reason for hope) in each and every situation is directly proportional to our belief that being with God and depending on Him is our ultimate good.

Lord, I’m so sorry for the times I have longed only for smooth, easy circumstances. I’m learning to experience the joy of your presence in all circumstances. Please teach me to long only for you. You are my life.

 

Challenge: What hard circumstance are you facing? If you haven’t already, surrender it completely to God. Ask him to use it for your good by deepening your awareness and dependence upon Him.

[1] Romans 8:28

[2] 2 Corinthians 1:8

[3] Originally from a John Milton poem referring to light bursting through a cloud, yielding the phrase “every cloud has a silver lining”

[4] 2 Corinthians 1:9

[5] Psalms 73:28

Season of Joy? Maybe, but not Without a Fight.

Holiday stress is real, just Google the term. Most of us are adding additional spending, shopping, decorating, cleaning and traveling to lives which already lack margin.

Add over eating, under exercising and family dysfunctions and you understand the following exchange in the movie “Christmas Vacation.”

To his father, Clark Griswold asks, “How did you get through it?”

“I had a lot of help from Jack Daniels,” his dad replied.

Compare Grandpa Griswold’s  response to that of the magi when they saw the star above where the baby Jesus  lay.

And when they saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Matthew 2:10

Debilitating stress, numbed with alcohol compared with having great joy?

We have gotten way off track.

The wise men’s  joy was a  reaction to the coming of  Emmanuel – God with us. They got it.  God coming to earth in human form is a reason to rejoice exceedingly with great joy.

“In your presence is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:11b

If we want to experience true joy in a society fighting to keep Christ out of Christmas, we must fight to keep Christ in the center of every aspect of our lives.

The Magi’s joy preceded the timeless sacrifice Jesus would make for the sins of men.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My words, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” John 5:34

The word “believe”  above means  to commit to, trust in and rely upon.

If you have believed in Jesus in this way, the following facts are true about you:

  • You are not an orphan, but are a true child of God
  • You have been given an inheritance which includes the Indwelling Holy Spirit and an Eternal home
  • You have been made into a new creations, freed from the penalty of the law
  • You have been given supernatural peace, hope and joy which transcends all earthly circumstances
  • Your purpose is now clear. You are to love others as Christ has loved you
  • You don’t need anything else to give you the same joy the magi experienced

Pause: Don’t rush past these glorious facts. The tremendous significance of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf is a reason for even greater joy than the wise men experienced.

No matter how stressed we feel in this busy season, we must fight to find our joy in Jesus and what he’s done for us.

No matter how disappointed we feel when expectations aren’t met, we must fight to remember the significance of God coming to earth to grant us lasting peace.

No matter what devastating circumstance we may face, we must fight to  guard our hearts and bring our pain to Jesus, asking him to lighten us with the joy of His presence.

And no matter how magical the season becomes with family and gifts and celebration, we must fight to keep Jesus in the center of our affections.

No matter how society tries to take Christ out of Christmas, we must never forget the significance of  Emmanuel.  The calendars we use are based on His coming

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are our true Joy. This world is filled with grief and loss, but You’re always the answer. I’m sorry for when I’ve allowed other ‘joys’ to compete with you in the deep affections of my heart. Please help me guard my heart. Show me quickly when I care too much about the world around me that I forget about you. And when pain threatens to steal my joy, keep me delighting in you all the day.

Thank you that if I had nothing on earth but your love and the hope of my eternal home with you, these facts alone would be reasons for exceeding great joy.

We celebrate You.

 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Philippians 4:4

 

Life’s a Grind Without the Oil of Gladness

To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3 

Trying to live the Christian life without relying on the Indwelling Spirit of Christ is like running an engine without oil.

On a couple of occasions I’ve neglected the vital upkeep of adding motor oil to various vehicles. One resulted in the demise of the Wheel Horse tractor I inherited from my grandfather. And if it wasn’t for the durability of Toyota truck engines, the other would have left my brother and I stranded on the side of the highway between Columbia, SC and Athens, GA. Good thing he noticed the red light on the dash board. It was almost three quarts low.

Sometimes I’m a slow learner, but I got it now; Engine oil is critical for lubrication, minimizing friction and cooling the pistons. It’s the very lifeblood of an engine.

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Only with Jesus can we Live the Christian Life

I’m learning the same thing about the Holy Spirit in my spiritual life.[1] For years I thought my job as a Christian was to model my life after the Jesus I read about in the Bible; trying really hard to have peace, patience, kindness, self-control and joy. If you’ve tried this yourself, you know the futility of this kind of effort. Sooner or later we all discover that there’s only one person who can live the Christian life and it’s not us; it’s Jesus in us.

Coming to the End of Ourselves

Often it takes a crisis for us to realize we can’t live without Christ. We come face to face encounter with our failures and inabilities. Not fun, but necessary. More often than not these failures are revealed in our relationships with those we love. When this happens, we find ourselves at a crossroad in life.

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At the Crossroad

In the midst of emotional turmoil we often choose to numb our pain with our coping mechanism of choice, but this delays the inevitable. Pain is an alarm to be heeded. Pain screams, “Take your hand off the stove!” Denying the pain only deepens it’s affect until  it takes over our lives completely.

Another choice is to realize our desperate need for Jesus.  Humbly turning to Him, we admit  our inabilities to love without Him. There may be dark nights of the soul, huddled only with our Lord, but full surrender leads to life changes.  “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5b

Summary of the Christian Life

Out of Paul’s sufferings He wrote:

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Spiritually, we have died.  Christ, by His Holy Spirit, has taken up residence in our lives. We no longer have to try harder, but must depend upon Him to be our patience, our goodness, our peace, our self control, our joy.

Ours is to rest in the fact that He is at work in us.

Ours is to yield to His Spirit, realizing that apart from our vital connection to Him, we can do nothing of true value.[2]

Trying to live without dependence upon the Holy Spirit is like an engine without oil, a ‘grinding it out’ in a swirl of activity; movement without lubrication, joyless friction.

Burnout or Joy

Recipe for a life of burnout: Live in the swirl of activities with no awareness or dependence upon the Holy Spiri; going through the motions in your own energy and strength. Just do it. It’s all up to you.

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Recipe for a life full of joy:  Realizing we were designed to run on the oil of gladness. [3]  choose a life of overflow as you yield to the Spirit of Jesus in you to love whoever God puts in your path.

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Challenge: Is there an area of your life in which you’re just going through the motions, an area in which you feel burned-out in? If so, come to Jesus.  Realize that you were not designed to operate without His Spirit, the Oil of Gladness. Recognize your inability to live even one moment without full dependence upon Christ,  allow His Spirit to refresh your life giving you His Joy.

“He must increase and I must decrease.” John 3:30

Prayer:  Dear Lord Jesus, thank you so much for dying for me and securing a place in our Father’s presence. Thank you for sealing us with the promised Holy Spirit, a pledge of our inheritance and the power and lifeblood of our lives. Keep me ever yielded to you that I might love others as you have loved me.

[1] The Holy Spirit is widely symbolized by anointing oil. See Luke 4:18

[2] John 15:5

[3] John 7:37-39

 

On the Fifth Day, God Created Dog

I went upstairs before my wife last night and Koosh, our little Shih Apso (Shih Tzo and Lhasa Apso combination), insisted on going with me. I turned the lights out and Koosh curled up close on the pillow beside me. After a while I heard him on the floor dancing around, so I opened the door and let him out, thinking he wanted to go downstairs. I shut my eyes and, in what seemed like a moment later, opened them to find Koosh right beside me again. It was a bit of a mystery. Didn’t I let him out? I thought. But then drifted back to sleep.

Later, I asked my wife if she had opened our bedroom door and let him back in. “Yes. He was whining and scratching on the door,” she said. “He wanted to be with you.”

Right now Koosh is curled up in the chair beside me, glancing my way from time to time to be sure I’m still here.

As I watch him, it occurs to me that God created so many things for us to enjoy, from magnificent ocean sunsets, brilliantly fragrant roses, dark coffee and succulent chocolate pie. We see aspects of His creativity everywhere we look, but when he created dog He gave us real companionship and a picture of His heart.

Following is a list of things we can learn about God from our dogs:

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Like God, our dog delights to be with us

Like God, mistakes we make don’t change our dog’s opinion of us

Like God, our dog loves us in ways we don’t understand

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Like God, our dog protects us (even from the walkers in front of our house)

Like God, our dog  connects with us without words

Whenever I grab my car keys to go somewhere, Koosh always looks up to see if he’s going to be invited. One of his favorite things to do is to stick his face out the window as we drive along,  lapping up all the sights and smells along the road.

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He does the same thing when my wife and I get ready to take a walk. If we pick up his leash, he knows he’s going with us and begins to tremble with excitement. Walks allow him to be with us and to savor the riches of mailboxes and  blades of grass.

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Following is a list of things we can learn by imitating our dogs:

Like our dog, we can learn to fully embrace each moment

Like our dog, we can learn not to worry about our next meal, but to trust our Provider

Like our dog, we can learn to be joyous about the simple pleasures of life

Like our dog, we can learn unwavering, long lasting loyalty

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Like our dog, we can learn to snuggle close to those we love

Like our dog, we can learn never to pass up a chance to play ball

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Challenge: Be a student of your dog.

Watch them as they try and sneak into your car as you’re leaving. Notice how their eyes drop at the sight of your suitcase. Appreciate the gusto of their wild “kisses” when you return from a vacation.

As they jump in your lap when you open the car door, forget your perceived failures and bask in their unconditional love.

Even though you may think you don’t deserve it, realize they’re wagging their tail just because you’re you.

When you’re sitting by the fire and your dog jumps in your lap  and follows you from room to room, realize that God wants to be with you even more than your dog does.

 “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” Zephaniah 3:17

 Prayer of Thanksgiving:  Lord, we thank you so much for Your creation. You have given us so many things to enjoy.  We realize that joy, true joy is found in your presence. Thank you for giving us a great picture of your love and your delight in us when you gave us dogs. Help us appreciate the aspects of Your love we see in our dog’s heart.

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Turning Failures into Joy

I started the morning bemoaning. Rather than focusing on Christ and His work, all I could think about were my failures. They were like pesky gnats swirling around. But these unwelcomed intruders of my peace and joy found nowhere to land. God is doing a deep work in my heart. Father is teaching me that if I’ll bring these feelings to Him and not stuff them under a rock in my heart, He’ll expose them. So, I sat down, asking Him to center me in His truth.

Opening my Bible, headed one way, He redirected. Philippians 2:21 leapt off the page, “For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ.”

Isn’t that what I’m doing? I thought, looking after my own interests. Worrying about how I did instead of what Christ accomplished on my behalf, seeking my identity again in success instead of the fact that I’m loved by the Creator of the universe.

So what are Christ’s interests? Digging into the passage more, I see Paul is comparing Timothy to others. And in the verse before, I see my answer. Speaking of Timothy, Paul writes.

“For I have no one else of kindred spirit, who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.”[1]

What are you showing me God?

Following is what I hear in my heart:

“Robby (this is my childhood nickname and I hear God speak to me tenderly as speaking to His loved child), you see I’m teaching you slowly, but very deeply that you can truly rest in what I’ve done. Those lies you woke up with can’t penetrate My love. Before they would have landed, taken root and spread. I’m healing your heart from deep lies and making you whole.

What I want to show you this morning is that you can trust Me with you. I’ve got you. I always had you and nothing can disrupt My incredible love for you. Being loved and cared for by Me completely frees you up for the work I have for you.

Look at every person I put in your path, starting with your wife and family, as my invitation to you. When you are with a person, or a person comes to mind, know these are from me. Don’t worry about what you think your work is. Trust all that to me.

My work for you is this:

Love them as I have loved you.[2]

I’ll show you how.

And it’s not really you doing it. As you yield to My Spirit in you, I’m the one really loving them.

And by the way, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be made full.” John 15:11

You will stay rooted in My love and walk around in full joy as you love others as I have loved you.”  [3]

Challenge: Think of an area of your life which consistently makes you feel like a failure, an area you blew it big time. It’s okay if there’s more than one.

Assuming you are a believing child of God, does God see you as a failure in this area?

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The answer is no. Remember, When God sees you, He sees His Son Jesus Christ, in whom He is well pleased.

You have a choice. Do you want to assess your value based on what God thinks about you? Or do you want to assess your value based on what you perceive others think about you because of your failure?

Based on your answer, either joy or sadness awaits you.

If you are not a child of God,  this one failure does not define you either. In fact, feel free to replace the failure you’ve been thinking about with your most shining achievement. The result will be the same. Or, feel free to use the moral record of Billy Graham or Mother Teresa. Same.

All fall short of the glory of God. If it weren’t so God wouldn’t be God. And the penalty for not being perfect is separation from God. Sounds very harsh if you don’t understand Christ’s rescue and deliverance.

Without Christ, we live with our failures. We aren’t identified as His children. We can’t be with Him now or ever. We’re left to fight for purpose, identity and hope in the roller coaster of  the human struggle to survive in a world filled with evil.

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With Christ, all our failures are taken away as far as the east is from the west. Our past, present and future is swallowed up in His great love. We have moment by moment purpose, joy and hope.

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There is great joy in resting in what Christ has done, forgetting failures and delighting in His everlasting love for you.

[1] Philippians 2:20

[2] John 15:12

[3] John 15:9-12

Being Loved by God is Who I Am.

At a recent men’s retreat at Camp Kanuga in the mountains of North Carolina, we sang the song Good Good Father.[1] It’s about God being a good Father and the fact that His love for us is our identity. I liked the song, but  had no idea how the Lord would use it later that weekend.

The weather was perfect when I ventured out during our alone time Sunday morning. A cool, musky breeze gently brushing my face as I tread on newly fallen leaves toward the labyrinth. I’d seen the circular maze the day before and at the recommendation of a cabin mate, wanted to experience it.

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A labyrinth is a walking path used as a tool for contemplative prayer. As I stepped onto the serpentine paths leading to the center, I did what the sign said and set aside my worries, asking God to make me aware of His presence, listening for what He might have to say.

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As I walked to and fro, back and forth, I was progressing to the center, which represents the presence of God. The  center has semicircles resembling a 6 leaf clover. When I reached it, I paused, stilling my thoughts and breathed in the cool autumn air. In my heart I heard “It’s who you are,” then again, “It’s who you are.”

I moved and stood within one of the half circles and completed the thought, “Being loved by God is who I am.”

Being loved by God is who I am. No other identity needed. I could have told you that intellectually before that moment, but God wanted this truth to travel past layers of protection and false identities to the very core of my being.

My roles of being a devout Christian, loving husband and father, successful businessman, adequate provider, faithful friend,  or encouraging brother are not the core of who I am. THE ONLY IDENTITY I NEED IS BEING A LOVED CHILD OF GOD. My other roles and identities flow out of this most important fact about me. I’m loved by God.

How many times have I felt like a failure and doubted my worth because of inadequacies in my different roles?

In the center of the labyrinth, past failures and future fears seemed to be swept away in an instant, buried deep in a sea of God’s love.

As I made my way out of the labyrinth, I knew I was different.

I thought – if this is true

 quickly a correction came to mind –  because this is true, how I live my life outside the labyrinth will never be the same.

I’m still processing the impact, but days later I already see  I don’t need any of those other identities I’ve been fighting for. I’m at peace in who I am as God’s loved child and free to love others without needing anything in return for my validation and identity.

Challenge: Think of your biggest failure or inadequacy. How do you feel about yourself in this area? Do you ever find you identify more with what you say about yourself than what God says about you?

Now think of the thing that tends to cause you the most worry, that fear which seems to follow you around.

Being loved by God, even if you don’t respond to it, is the most important thing about you and overshadows by a million miles those things you had in mind. God’s love for you is eternal and everlasting.

Being loved by God is who you are, a fact which towers above and washes away, all failures, all inadequacies and all fears.

And when you know, truly know, God loves you, you can yield to His Spirit within to love the folks He puts in your way.

Prayer:  Lord, I know Your love for me is far beyond my knowledge. Nothing imaginable can snatch me from your great love. Open the eyes of my heart that I might continue to grow more and more aware of how very much You love me.

May the fact of Your love be the definition of who I am and the overflowing purpose for the rest of life’s moments.

Amen. 

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. I John 3:1a

 

[1] Good Good Father by the Housefires

 

We all Need Peace, but Where do we get it?

Peace is Required

All can agree that having riches, success and fame without peace leaves us miserable. Many have come to this conclusion on their own. But history speaks loudly of troubled souls who conquered the world yet lived lives of despair:  Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Earnest Hemingway and Howard Hughes to name a few.

But you say, I’ve made my peace with God through His Son Jesus Christ.

Me too. But if I’m brutally honest with myself about my growth in Christ, I realize I seldom seek my peace from the Prince of Peace.

Idolatry

As I’ve been asking God to help me yield more fully to His Indwelling Spirit, to surrender more and more of my life to Him. I was quite shocked at one of His answers to this prayer.

In a non-condemning, but serious way, God showed me I’m an idolater.

With trembling lips and a ferocious desire to turn from my sin, I confess I have disobeyed the first and second commandments.

I have had other gods before Him. I have worshiped an idol.

Peace as the World Gives It

Here’s the verse He used to enlighten me and usher in a deep desire for healing.

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. John 14:27

When I read Jesus’ words, I know Christ alone is Peace. However, I also realize I  have worshiped the idol of “Peace as the world gives it.”

My desire for peace in my world has controlled my life. Above all else I fight for the peace of feeling healthy, to-do list tamed, bills paid, clutter cleared and relationships smooth. And while these are all worthy goals, the inner peace they may bring will not last.

And besides, how often does ‘peace as the world gives it’ really happen?

Chaos

Growing up in a chaotic family, ripped by divorce, I’ve been searching for peace a long time. As a college student, I trusted Christ with my life. However, I didn’t trust Him with my troubles.

Though I thought I trusted God, each unpaid bill, busted water heater, child missing the bus and work call in the middle of the night, built up heavy burdens on my shoulders.

I struggled in my own strength to put out each fire, believing it was all up to me. I hadn’t learned to trust in my Heavenly Father to work through me to handle each situation. I was trying to fight for my own peace.

My goal each day was to get through my duties with the least amount of problems. My inner peace was directly related to the circumstances in my world.

Sound familiar?

Jesus is Our Peace

But God did not leave me this way. He showed me, my desire for peace was an obsession which stifled His life in me. He showed me that until I truly understood that He alone is my peace, I would never experience peace and every relationship I had would suffer.

When Jesus said in the above verse, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you;” He was speaking to my heart that He is my  peace. 

In the Storm   lake-constance-1226903_1280

The perfect picture of this kind of peace which transcends circumstances is depicted in Mark 4:35-41 when Jesus calms a storm at sea.

On that day, when evening came, He *said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they *took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there *arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they *woke Him and *said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

We will face storms. When we do, it is important to seek Jesus as our peace amidst the storms. Certainly, we want storms to be over and to have peaceful circumstances. However, through it all Jesus and Jesus alone is our peace.

We can rest in Him no matter what is going on in our world.

But truly knowing Jesus is our Peace is not a one-time realization. Every time we feel our hearts disrupted by the storms of life, we must go back to John 14:27 and count it true that He is our peace.

Challenge

What circumstance is stealing your peace right now?

In the midst, count it true that Jesus is peace. Speak it out loud, “Jesus you are my peace.”

Even as you say it, peace will flood your soul.

If you feel anxious, follow what Paul commands in Philippians 4:6-7

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Fight for your Peace

Be vigilant in fighting for your peace. God has given us emotions as indicators of how we’re doing. Don’t ignore your feelings.

When fear or anxiety creeps into your heart, cut these thieves off at their first arrival. They have come to steal your peace and your joy. The longer these feelings fester, the more they can grip your heart and discourage you.

Remember what Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they may have life, and might have it abundantly.”

Abundant life means abundant peace, not fear and anxiety.

Cry out to Jesus when you first realize your peace has been attacked.

“God can not give us peace apart from himself because there is no such thing.”  C.S. Lewis

 

The Missing Guitar String ( A story of simple Joy)

“for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part”                   2 Corinthians 8:2

Arriving in Lima

When our group  arrived in Lima Peru, we took a bus ride past block after dusty, dirty block of thrown together wooden buildings where people lived and worked. Our destination was Scripture Union, a ministry dedicated to the service of abandoned boys and gospel outreach, located in downtown Lima. I was a chaperon for our youth group’s mission’s trip to the place known by its residents as the saddest city on earth. The evidence of this sadness would overwhelm us before the trip was done.

The Orphanage

Our focus would be to serve the boys in the orphanage known as street boys. A street boy can range in age from six years old to the late teens. These are boys who have been abandoned by their parents for economic reasons and left to fend for themselves in the cruel streets of Lima. Most live lives filled with theft, prostitution and glue sniffing. But some accept the help and rules of the orphanage and these were the boys we would love and care for. To our surprise, by the end of our trip, Peruvians, street boys included, would do more for us than we could have possibly done for them.

My Peruvian Friend

I met Saul Camarena while carrying sacks of sand to the roof of the orphanage. He’s a short man with glasses, dark hair and chocolate colored skin. He approached me on the stairway and introduced himself in English, inviting me to his accounting office to see his computer. He showed me his Spanish version of Windows and we chatted briefly about our families and faith. I felt an instant connection with him, amazed at how quickly a common faith in Christ can traverse cultural differences and connect hearts on a spiritual level. Our friendship has continued to this day.

As the days unfolded, Saul would occasionally translate for us as we worked beside the Peruvians on the roof, building more rooms for the street boys. On one occasion, I took a break and talked with him as we gazed over the half built wall, looking down on the dry, dusty streets below. Though it was July, since we south of the equator, we were experiencing the cool cloudiness of a Peruvian winter.

Though the buildings were smaller, Lima reminded me of a dirty, gray New York city; the constant sound of horns and motor rumblings with a pronounced smell of exhaust, trapped around us by the cloud layer.

Invitation to Dinner

As we stared down at the street, Saul invited me to bring a few of the boys from our youth group to his home to meet his family. I agreed and we settled on the Thursday night before we would leave to return to South Carolina.

The day before our dinner, Saul took me aside, his brow and forehead displaying concern. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but we are very poor.” At first, I wasn’t sure what he meant, but now I know he was concerned for the boys and me, that their poverty would affect us. His sorrow was that he couldn’t afford the luxury he knew we were used too.

Saul lived 50 kilometers from Lima, about an hours drive. Each day, it cost him a Peruvian Nuevo Sol coin (about 33 cents) to ride to and from work. As we boarded the bus, Saul insisted on paying our fair. I argued, but could tell not allowing it would have been against his deep desire and joy. It was very humbling, especially when I found out later that he made only $200 a month.

As the dilapidated bus bounced along the mountainous terrain, I noticed that each hill was crowded with small wooden shacks. They were brightly painted as if in an effort to dispel the dismal aura of poverty. I was saddened when I thought of each family crowded together, struggling to survive.

Saul’s Village

When we got to Saul’s village, we stepped off the bus into what felt like a scene from National Geographic; the poverty,  the trash, the sickly looking dogs in search of scraps. The sadness of the place dulled our hearts as we followed Saul down a couple of blocks and across the cracked street.

We walked up to what looked like a concrete storage area between two other buildings, but when Saul took out a key and opened the door, I realized it was his home. We followed him in and waited in the living room area while he went toward the back. The house had a concrete floor with a wooden post resting on two wooden blocks as a support in the middle of the room. A blanket separated the main room into a living area and a bedroom area. There was also a kitchen bathroom area that had only a portion of a roof and a little storage section that may have served as an additional sleeping area.

Thursday Night Church

Though it was Thursday night, when Saul returned he surprised me by inviting us to go to church with him. Before the trip, my pastor warned me to have a short sermon ready because I might be asked to speak at a church. I’m so glad he mentioned this because this is exactly what happened. Also, since one of our boys played guitar, we were asked to sing a song we’d learned in Spanish, using their guitar, which was missing a string.

Missing Guitar String

Though a missing guitar string would be a big deal in a church I might attend back home, I began to understand it was very insignificant in this little Peruvian church. We Americans would have maybe even delayed the service until the string was replaced, but not in Saul’s church. Peruvians had learned the importance of putting missing guitar strings in the proper place, behind relationships.

Saul’s church would have loved to have had a nicer guitar, but they didn’t. So, they went ahead and gathered together on Thursday night anyway, focusing on worshiping the Lord and each other; this spoke deeply to my heart.

Simple Joy

There were about 12-15 people at the church, dressed in simple clean but slightly ripped or worn clothing, fully focused on what we had to say and on the sermon Saul preached. During the singing, their zeal and joy was contagious. Though many of them were missing teeth, the delight of their smiles was beautiful. Their joy had absolutely nothing to do with what they had or how they were. It had everything to do with their relationships with God, with each other and with us.

When the service was over, the people gathered around and made us feel very welcomed. We then went back to Saul’s house to eat along with several of his friends from church. They seemed delighted to get a chance to get to know us.

The Love of Christ Demonstrated

Saul’s wife served us a wonderful meal of chicken, potatoes and fried yuca, which is similar to a potato. We drank a clove drink called chicha morada. They could only afford to give us portions of napkins (a forth of a napkin folded into a triangle), but by now I knew that they would have given us napkins of silk if they could have.

I’m sure the meal was very expensive. They sacrificed so much to make us feel welcome. Again I felt the contrast of how a similar meal might be experienced at home. We would have surely worked hard at being hospitable and making  our guests feel comfortable, but would we have spent so large a potion of our monthly income to make them feel welcome? I doubted it.

When the meal was done, Saul’s countenance displayed concern. Looking at each of us, he said, “We’re sorry we couldn’t do more.”

At this remark, tears began to well up in my eyes and as I looked around the modest room I saw it had the same impact on my boys. How could he say this? He had given us all he could out of his poverty and now he wanted to give us more. That moment, in Saul’s concrete home, I received an example of sacrificial love. Saul and his wife truly loved us as Christ had loved them. I feel the impact of their love even to this day.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34 

As the conversation waned, I began to think about how we would get home. I was in the most remote place my life had ever carried me, yet I was responsible to get us all back to the orphanage. Earlier in the week, I heard someone say that the area we were staying was the highest crime district in all of Lima. I wasn’t even sure what bus to take and where to get off.

This turned out to be no problem because Saul informed me he wanted to ride back with us on the bus to insure our safety. I gladly accepted.

When the night bus pulled to a halt at the stop nearest our destination, we expected to get directions and say our good-byes. However, this was not the end of Saul’s kindnesses.

He got off the bus and accompanied us all the way to the front gate of our building, several blocks away. Then he waited for the security guards to unlock the gates. When he was sure we were safely inside, he turned to catch another bus and ride home. Looking through the bars, I watched his short frame walk off into the dangerous streets of Lima by himself; having once again given us all he had.

Back to the Rat Race

We returned to the States the next morning, back to busy duties and abundant prosperity and newer guitars with all the strings. As I write these memories years later, the impact of my visit to Peru remains fresh in my heart.

In my living room,  my gaze wanders over painted walls, lovely pictures, soft furnishings, a color television set and my daughter’s guitar. Yet as I think of Peru, joy fills my heart.

I pray God will give me a heart like Saul’s and his family, and like the people in his church; even like the Street boys, who delighted in giving us simple multi-colored bracelets to remember them by.

We had the audacity to think we were going to love and serve a few people in Lima, Peru. And by God’s grace, maybe we did. But far, far greater was the lasting ways they loved and served us.

Experiencing God in the moments of our lives