One Thing, In A World Filled With Options

Our modern and sophisticated world is filled with an almost unlimited number of choices: Choices of where we will live, what we will do, what we will eat and wear and what kind and color of car will deliver us to a variety of shops that offer every color, texture, convenience and feature imaginable. We live, simply put, in a world of options. OneThing The ability to multi-task has never been so valuable in our world of instant communication through assorted means – the telephone has become almost extinct as a communication aid as Twitter and Facebook and social networking and microblogging and video sharing and podcasting and electronic tablets and cell phones make it possible for us to stay in touch, conduct our business, check on family, visit with friends and fill our grocery cart, all at the same time. There was a time when these were limited, often nonexistent, and some of us pine for that simpler, more unobtrusive time. Dr. Alan Weiss has entitled his most recent book, “Complexity Can Paralyze Us.” Weiss writes, “We are lost in a world of choice.” Indeed, we are often overwhelmed to the point of the loss of our natural mental judgment (“common sense”) by the choices presented to us. We agonize over which grocery store to visit and once there, we wrestle with which brand to purchase with what ingredients and regular size, family size or super size for what price. Take me into Baskin-Robbins for ice cream and I freeze like the 31 flavors offered there. We finally get a break and determine to dine at a quiet restaurant and relax a bit until we are confronted with a dizzying array of menu options – and in our stressed out condition, can’t decide which entrée to order. Some enjoy the smorgasbord; they love variety of choice and endless options. When it comes to eternal matters they embrace an “all roads lead to heaven” approach. What does it matter, they insinuate, if we follow Buddha or Lord Krishna, or Jehovah or Allah. After all, the only thing that truly counts is sincerity, isn’t it? I mean, if I am sincere in my belief, if I truly believe in whatever god or deity or way or system of religious creed does it matter what that belief is, so long as I am honest and sincere? Simple logic would demand that it does matter, even as it matters if one intends to travel in a northerly direction but drives due south: Whatever destination one has in mind will never be found no matter how sincere one believes that driving south will lead him north. Some cry, “foul!” We want a God who gives us more options, more choices. It’s not fair, we contend that He makes the way so narrow and the options so restricted. Can’t we have a choice of who we will worship? Of which tree will provide our sustenance? Those choices didn’t work out well for our first parents: They surely won’t work better for us. In this chaotic and frenetic world of options, choices and preferences, when it comes to the state and the future of our eternal souls, options are severely limited, and for that I am abundantly glad. The Holy Scriptures declare that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” than the name of Jesus. Those same Scriptures instruct us, “Jesus said . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” The Apostle Paul made it forever clear and settled when he wrote to the church at Ephesus,

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

There we have it: No options, no choices, no multiplicity of preference: If we want to see God the Father, if we want to spend eternity in heaven, if we want to be sure and convinced of our election and our position with Him forever, He has made it simple and plain: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” I may not understand all the depths and the mysterious nuances of theology; I may not speak or read or write in the original languages of the Bible, but I can understand simple things, and the simplest of things was made known and available to us in Jesus Christ, “believe” and we are “saved.” One of the greatest theologians to have grace our planet, Dr. Karl Barth was asked during a 1962 tour of the United States, what had been the most momentous theological discovery of his long life. His answer was ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'” Plumbing the depths of available options and offerings, Dr. Barth (rightly) concluded it’s as simple as this: “Jesus Christ, who loves me and who is God’s only begotten Son is the only way to obtain eternal life.” Believe, and be saved. It’s just that simple. I may not have made the perfect choice in the clothing I wear or the car I drive or the computer I use or the phone that connects me to the friends I’ve chosen, but this I can be assured of: When we talk about faith and the future and where we will go when we leave this earth and this life, there is One Thing that is certain: Only one thing will admit us into heaven: Belief on the name and in the veracity of the claim of one man: The Man, Jesus Christ. I’m glad when it comes to eternal life, the options are limited, the choices are minimized and standing before us, with nail-scarred and open hands is One Man: And that Man, the Lord Jesus Christ bids us open the door of our heart and let Him enter in.

The Hiding Place

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What do you do when the dark shadow of impending doom obscures your world, when darkness steals the light and threatens to undo all that you have built, acquired, cultivated?

I grew up in tornado country, where radio and TV stations broadcast frequent watches and warnings. We developed a good sense of atmospheric awareness when tornadic conditions were developing and with that awareness we also developed a “ho hum” attitude towards these twisting destroyers. We believed that we were impervious to the black funnel clouds that ripped through other communities, other cities in other states. We were sure of it: no tornado would ever threaten or visit our home.

Something horrible had happened in the night, and I had no way of knowing what scenes would greet me on my arrival home.

But once, after concluding a business meeting in Houston I was driving north on Interstate 35 when I picked up a radio station signal from my hometown. The news was bad: A tornado had thrashed through my city in the night hours. Specific information was unavailable. I only knew that destruction had come in spite of my certainty of our invulnerability. There was nothing I could do except drive and pray.

I prayed for my family and my neighbors. This calamity happened years before the advent of the cell phone and so I stopped at every gas station I saw looking for the then ubiquitous phone booth. I dialed the numbers only to learn that telephone lines were down, preventing me from knowing about casualties or damage. Something horrible had happened in the night, and I had no way of knowing what scenes would greet me on my arrival home.

As it turned out we were blessed as a city and as a family. Although there was much property damage the fierce winds caused few injuries.

Planet earth is reeling as 2014 draws towards its conclusion. Catastrophic and terrible events jostle for attention as the media attempts to quantify and qualify accelerating and intensifying tragic incidences. We are bombarded 24 hours a day with tragedy and calamity, with dread and with portents of doom.

Words that never existed in our vocabulary are now spoken by the least informed among us: “Ebola,” “ISIS,” “Al Qaeda,” “Al Shabab” have become household names. Fears of economic catastrophe, wild, unpredictable and devastating weather events jockey for our attention and threaten to upset our lives and our livelihoods. For believers in Jesus, persecution grows each day from a hazy, distant recognition of possibility to real, potential intimidation.

Satan’s goal . . . destabilize, disrupt, demoralize

Jesus’ prediction of a time when men’s hearts would fail them “from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth” seems to have arrived amidst our generation. Then, He said, “the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Satan’s goal, if he cannot overwhelm the people of God is to destabilize, to disrupt and to demoralize Christ’s followers until they either fold in fear or scatter in confusion.

Two thousand years ago, when the cross had been shorn of its burden of death and when Jesus’ body had been removed and relocated to its apparent resting place, the disciples of Jesus seemed to be followers no more. History records that these disappeared from public view. Hiding away during those hours between the lordship of death and the Lord of resurrection, “men’s hearts” failed them from fear and the expectation of those things which were coming on the earth.”

During the three days between crucifixion and resurrection, “the powers of the heavens” were indeed “shaken.”

The strongest of the disciples hid “for fear of the Jews.” The disciples were “afar off,” putting distance between themselves and the One who hung on the cross. They had been with Him, had been seen with Him, what if they were next to die as He had died?

Hiding-Place

Scripture records “He appeared to them.” “He stood in their midst.” “Although the doors were locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them: Peace be with you.”

Have you locked your doors to the infiltrations of the world? Have you hidden away “for fear” of the enemies of God? Do portents of evil debilitate and drain away your strength? If so, be prepared for Jesus to “appear” to you, to stand in your midst in spite of locked doors and amplified fears and to speak to you the words of life, “Peace be with you.”

It was He, the Prince of Peace who said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

His word to us on this day in 2014 is the same as it was to His followers two thousand years ago: “… in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Heaven’s message to God’s children resonates in the midst of an atmosphere of growing dread: “Have patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations, and endure.” “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble” and He will give we who are troubled rest when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels.”

And if you can receive it, Jesus is revealed today, in this moment, as your eyes read these words and as your spirit awakens to His presence. And as He appears, peace flows out, surrounding and comforting and encouraging you to rest in the arms of the Prince of Peace.

This world will be shaken to its very foundation. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken, but those who have established their lives and their futures on the Rock of Jesus Himself shall never be shaken and shall never fall. The One who upholds all things by the word of His power, Himself guarantees it.

 

The Perfect Storm and Perfect Peace

perfect-stormThere are days, times, sometimes long seasons we might describe as producing “The press of life.”

Unanswered prayers, long nights of anxiety or sorrow, fear or negative anticipation, circumstances that seem to intentionally assemble to create a “perfect storm” of trials and troubles threaten to overwhelm and defeat us. When these are coupled with silence from heaven, our resolve and our faith, our very confidence in God is tested and tried: We are shaken.

And then, heaping guilt onto the growing mountain of contrariness, we sometimes are aware that we have failed those tests. Miserably.

Mark records (ch 4) Jesus speaking about the good seed of the word of God being scattered among thorns “and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

“The cares of this world,” that’s what leaps out to many of us. Imagine what those cares would have been in the first Century world. Without television, internet, cell phones, without all the modern means of the transport of communications, those cares might seem miniscule in comparison with our world.

We get caught up by the threats of Ebola and ISIS and the looming specter of a worldwide economic collapse. We’re told that the poles are melting while we brace for colder and more hostile winters than we’ve known. Republicans warn us of Democrats while Democrats warn us of evil Republican agendas. Our borders are open to the entry of who knows who carrying who knows what. Food prices escalate, fuel prices do the same. The cares of this world compete against and threaten to silence the still, small voice of the promises of God in His word and by His Spirit.

The Cares of This World initiate The Press of Life as round and round and round we run, getting nowhere while looking for peace while listening to tumult.

Yet there is a quiet place, there is a place of certain peace; indeed, a peace that passes all understanding. That place is “in Christ” and the avenue that leads there is called “Grace.”

If the cares of this world shout, demanding your full attention, take just a moment, thank God for His grace and allow His peace to fill you, to overflow you, to inundate your heart and your soul. I cannot promise that your circumstances will change; you may well find yourself still surrounded by stormy and shark filled seas, but the ship of grace will hold you and the Captain of that ship will keep you in perfect peace as your mind is settled and focused upon Him. Isaiah knew it;“You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.”

The old song says it well and simply, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.”

The Divine Balance

When I was a child, I spent many nights with my grandfather. Afflicted with polio before his first birthday, he lived with great disability but he lived as though he were as whole as any man. It is understatement to say that a book could be written on my grandfather’s life as encouragement for anybody who suffers limitation or infirmity.

Grandpa had an ancient school clock hanging on his living room wall. I can still hear the tick and the chime of that grand old clock, which now hangs in my mother’s home.

Sometimes in the night I would awaken after the sounds of neighborhood life had stilled and the night had laid down its blanket of peaceful quiet and I would lie in my bed listening to the steady “tick, tock, tick, tock” of Grandpa’s clock. Now and then I could tell that the clock had been bumped and was now ticking irregularly. Tilted too much to the right or too much to the left, the imperfect tempo was unsettling to me and I would go to the living room and move the clock until my ear was satisfied that the “ticking” and the “tocking” matched in perfect rhythm.

Everything in existence, all of the components that comprise our universe, all of it moves according to divine rhythm and balance. Day is balanced against night; hot balances against cold. The opposite of “up” is “down.” All of God’s creation moves in perfect synchronized balance and order.

This balance, this divine equilibrium is lost when man misrepresents or misinterprets God’s character and His word.

Within the church currently exists a growing “all or none” distortion of God’s meanings concerning grace and work. This perversion is visible in the “all grace” or the “no grace” camps. Both extreme views are flawed. The “works” faction complains that the “grace people” lack reverence and respect for God; that they believe they can get away with sin since God’s grace covers every error man might commit, either willfully or ignorantly. Extreme “Grace people” argue that it’s all grace or no grace; that either we rest fully in grace and ignore any effort, works or labor or we must put all our trust in the works we do for God.

James understood the conflict and observed simply; “faith without works is dead.” Both faith and works are required components of divine balance. Works do not negate faith and faith does not exclude works – that is, so long as these are divinely balanced.

Colossians 3 provides the “works” of those “who have been raised with Christ”:

Seek those things where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 

Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Put off: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language. Do not lie to one another,

And then, “as the elect of God, holy and beloved,”

 Put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;

Bear with one another,

Forgive one another,

Put on love, which is the bond of perfection.

“Seek” and “set.” “Put to death” and “put off.” “Put on” and “bear,” “forgive” and once more, “put on.”

If the collective Body of Christ would engage in these works, God would provide the balance. James, the “works” guy also wrote, “He giveth more grace.”

A young boy lay in his bed in the middle of the night, listening to his grandfather’s clock “tick, tock, tick tock” in perfect rhythm; and he closed his eyes in sleep, and he rested.

A Mystery Of The Kingdom

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In the Divine Movement within the Kingdom of God there are moments of strong, violent activity. These times are often identified as “revival.” There also are seasons of stillness, times of quiet, periods of solitude and waiting and rest. The temptation is to believe that the periods of great Kingdom activity are far, more essential to the life and health of the body of Christ than are the seasons of stillness.

Temptation often leads to error.

The effort-laden mind of man inclines itself to industry, doing things for one’s self, by one’s self. Victory and success, it is supposed may be obtained with the application of sufficient performance and perspiration. Labor, man assumes is the prerequisite to harvest. It is not so.

Does the cherry or apple or peach tree exhaust itself with activity in order to bring forth good fruit? Do crops appear by the mystery of seed and soil or do they emerge by the effort of man? The cherry tree is planted, set into the soil where roots explore subterranean pathways, establishing once and forever the geo-location of the tree. Apple trees do not migrate with the changing of seasons. Peach trees are immobile, fixed, still.

Yet as temperature and moisture and time and dirt combine with hidden inner life, the cherry and the apple and the peach appear, effortlessly, naturally: Perfectly.

Winds may buffet and blow; barren limbs simply bend and wait for calmer weather before returning to their original and natural condition. Heat and cold, rain and snow, ice and hail and unrelenting sun all form a procession of assaults against the anticipated harvest. Yet through all these, the cherry and the apple and the peach tree remain unmoved, indifferent, expectant.

So it is that divine life within the redeemed soul produces, without effort the fruit of the Spirit that indicates life in Christ and Christ in a life. “Christ in us, the hope of glory” is the fundamental result of heaven’s mystery and not the fruit of man’s determinations and pseudo-holy exertions.

Laboring to achieve what only The Mystery can produce is vanity, foolishness and empty industry. These efforts of the flesh appear as commendable on resumes of accomplishment, but like the wood, hay and stubble of other fleshly works, these also shall be burned with the fire of His disapproval.

It is in abiding and nothing more that the mystery of the Kingdom works its way through root and fiber and stalk and branch to eventuate in the ripened fruit of the good harvest.

When Kingdom shakes earth, move with the shaking. When silence and inactivity attend His way, wait, rest, trust, for we who cannot add a single hour to our span of life cannot know or determine the mystery of His ways or the inscrutability of His purposes.

CherryJohn Sammis gave good direction in 1887 when he quoted a young man who had attended a meeting with D.L. Moody. He wrote, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.”

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In The Hall Of His Righteous Judgment

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On That Day, on That Great Day when we all shall give an account, we will not be confronted by or seated before regal and officious legions of men, false judges whose opinions are based upon faulty logic, incomplete information, bent by predisposition or tradition or prejudicial bias. Rather . . .

The One whose flesh was battered, torn and pierced and whose blood coursed from ripped veins onto sullen soil, demonstrating such love as no man ever had known or given will on That Day sit beside the Father who sent the Son to die in our stead.

Seeing then that the Righteous and Loving One shall hear our case and know our cause and then shall rule in mercy, why should we give even momentary ear to the cacophony of garbled judgments issuing forth from cracked and broken lips of clay? My Judge is my Lord, my Magistrate is my Master, my Sovereign is my Savior who does all things well. On That Day, it is He who shall issue the only opinion that matters.GavelJudge

As children of Light then, let us not identify ourselves by how others see us, but by who we know ourselves to be in Christ. We can recapture who we were created to be if we can close ourselves off to the voices that shout and accuse, and learn to lean in to hear the whispers of the still, small Voice who loves and affirms us in our true identity. I am crucified with Christ, and yet… I live! I’m walking, learning, and yearning to RUN.

The God Who Is . . . Here

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DamascusSunriseThe hushed stage waits, a heavy and darkened shroud separating audience from actors. Undefined shapes loom in the dim troposphere, insinuating only indeterminate outlines, silhouettes suggesting detail, form, texture to emerge.

It is the perpetual cycle of morning, day, twilight and dark, always followed by morning and day, twilight and then dark again.

The first lilting strains of the dawn chorus have yet to penetrate the musky atmosphere as morning bird senses the coming day and feathered choir assembles while the heavens perform their persistent transformation.

Night sky softens, starlight fades, cloud and clear, new-morning brothers, share ethereal space as earth awaits the daily verdict. A corporate quickening of breath and heart signal the symphony’s commencement; a new day born, unlike any other since the dawning of life, hidden by eons of time.

Yet the eternal drama plays out to a sparsely occupied auditorium. Most of the children of men yet slumber; perhaps a few stir and even fewer rise to accompany the great Conductor’s composition. But for those who join the awe-struck assemblage, no performance issuing forth from human spirit, mind or heart could compare with the majesty and mystery of these precious few moments of time, as what has been and what will be are suspended, held aloft by an invisible Hand and captivated by an undetected yet ever-present heart. The heart: The great Heart.

The God Who is there, here, the God Who is everywhere displays for those who will have eyes to see, the magnificence of His mercy, the greatness of His grace and the overwhelming, life-altering offering of His love. All of it displayed with irresistible

All of the Character and Nature and all of the combined Essence of God is displayed and borne on wings of mercy and conveyed to the sons of men to enable, to endow us all with life.

abandon, all of it displayed and borne on wings of mercy and brought, conveyed, transported to the sons of men to enable, to endow us all and all of us with life.

Knowledge declares, He IS there. Wisdom shouts, He IS here: Yesterday, tomorrow, today.

What sure and terrible thing has laid hold of us, taken us that cannot, by His goodness be overcome? What monstrous opponent breathes out threatenings and slaughterings that cannot be shortly and completely eviscerated, conquered, concluded if He, the very Author and Artist of the universe is for us?

And He is. For us.

Sing, songbird! With beauty, descant and lovely strain, let heaven and nature join as one in celebration and delight and Sing!

Parade across glen and sky, new dawn! March as conquering soldiers come.

Lift high on icy wind eternity’s sweet melody, ripe with salvation’s song.

He is. For us.

He is. With us.

He is. In us.

He is!

 

Victimized By . . . Ourselves

ManinChurchHave we, the Church of Jesus become victims of our own success in our relations and interactions with God?

Looking with some twenty years’ perspective since the first Toronto stirrings indicated a fresh move of God’s Spirit in the earth, some painful possibilities exist. Many of us among the people of God had by the 1990s cried for God to refresh us, to revive His work, to visit us with His intimate presence, His person! “Church as usual” was no longer an option for hearts thirsting for God’s close fellowship and love. We cried for Holy Spirit to come, to visit us, to make His habitation among us, and He did it!

And when He came He showed us that lots of the formality of our religious experience was worthless. We discovered that God was not impressed with our man made spirituality. We got down off our high spiritual horses and became real with God and with one another. And God blessed. God came. Oh, how He came into our midst! Lives were transformed; not just adjusted or amended, this was no season of “soul-tweak” but lives were changed completely, totally, fully. Lives were healed of longstanding pains of physical, spiritual and mental abuse. What years of conventional counseling and praying and hoping and waiting could not deliver, God did in moments.

For those who recall those days (and many long, yet too brief nights) this was the apex of our experience with heaven. And then, so soon we became accustomed to Him. The extraordinary became the ordinary. We discovered that familiarity does breed contempt. No longer were we awed by His presence when we came together to worship. We could sing to Holy Spirit, we could worship God with one hand and hold our coffee cup with the other. We could drink in His presence while we drank down our coffee.

And at some point we lost the preciousness, the pricelessness of His presence. We lost the glory of His touch, we lost the awe of His communion, the intimacy of God’s heart with our hearts: We. Lost.

And so, as countless generations before us have done, we attempted to manufacture what we could not create – the holy, awesome, life-changing, intimate presence of the living God walking among us, touching our lives with His grace, transforming whole churches from mere places of worship to centers of mission and purpose.

And as I ponder these painful truths, the question arises, “Can we recover what we have lost?” Can we?

Certainly our times call for a supernatural church to confront a dead and dying world filled with the philosophies of meaningless and death. And if the times call for such a church, we ought then to cry out to God once again to come to us, to forgive us, to dwell among us, to sweep us, one more time into His arms of love and safety and protection and to there infuse us with His Spirit that we might be, in the midst of desperate times, the full representation of the hope of the world, even Jesus.

What Do YOU Want?

God, what do You want of me? What shall I do; where shall I go? What shall be Your purpose for me, in me, with me? Tell me, Lord and I will do whatever You ask, go where you send me, endure what you desire for me.

It all sounds profoundly spiritual. The heart of the martyr seems to resonate in the words. But sometimes the discovery and the resolution of God’s will requires something more complicated than the default response, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

I was in the eighth grade and had noticed the “new girl” on the school bus. I don’t recall how I managed it, but in spite of my shy and timid ways I somehow introduced myself. We began to sit together on the bus route to and from school. When the appropriate number of days had passed, a number determined by some form of advanced calculus unavailable to a young boy, we were recognized as “going together,” whatever that meant.

But I do know this, when that girl announced she was having a pool party, I was on the invitation list.

My dad got involved, wanting to help his son’s introverted soul. He took me shopping. We were going to purchase a new outfit just for the upcoming pool party with “my girl.”

I expected that we would go to J.C. Penney or to Sears and Roebuck, but we did not. In those days, the coolest, most expensive, most “with it” men’s clothing store I knew about was called Frankel’s. I had been in there before, but never was able to carry with me enough money to purchase a pair of their socks, let alone a shirt or a pair of shoes.

Dad took me straight in and we began to look at racks of shirts and slacks and shoes and after a few minutes, dad asked me a question, “Well, do you see anything you like?” I responded with, “sure, dad, but what can I have?” And his answer shocked me into awe.

You see, there were six children in the Austin household. Six hungry mouths to feed, six bodies to clothe and I had long since grown accustomed to living by limitation and not by extravagance. I needed dad to give me a price range, to determine my limit, but his response to my “what can I have” was a straightforward, “What do you want?”

What did I want? For cryin’ out loud, I wanted that green and white short-sleeved shirt that just cried, “neato” or “cool,” or some era and age-appropriate exclamation (I guess that “awesome” perhaps would be an equivalent in today’s vernacular).

What did I want? “You mean, I can have whatever I want?” And it was so. That shirt. A pair of white Levis (you have to be a Baby Boomer to get this one) and a pair of Freeman penny loafers that the salesman ceremoniously placed on the counter and personally inserted a penny into each.

We are conditioned by a false theology to come to God as beggars, humbly asking for a crumb from His table of plenty.

When we approach Him for direction we instinctively await His edict, His wisdom, His permissions; His limitations. We were taught to tremble in His presence, to fear Him with whom we have to do. Ours ought to be, it is an inferior position before the Almighty. We are beggars and mendicants; He is in all ways superior to us.

And some of what I have just stated is true: Some of it, but not all of it. God is above us; He is the Almighty God of heaven and earth. He is in every sense, superior to man, His creation.

But He does not insist upon our trembling timidity. God invites us to come boldly before Him, to enter His gates with thanksgiving in our hearts and to enter His courts with joy. God never celebrates in proving to us that He is greater than we but “He made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” God relates with us; He does not Lord over what would be no difficulty to Lord over. The Maker of heaven and earth stoops to look eye to eye with us and condescends, bends to make us of equal stature so that we might engage in intimate fellowship. He calls us not servants, but we are “friends.”

Our misguided, faulty teachings insist that we tell God what we want at the peril of His eternal condemnation and judgment, but in so believing we reveal only gross misunderstanding of what it means to walk with God.

And so we wrongly learn to never presume to tell Him what we want; instead we timorously ask Him what we can have.

But my earthly father, my dad took me into the most expensive store in town and asked me, “What do you want?” The unspoken and obvious completion to the question was “you decide and I will pay for whatever you choose.”

So I chose: White Levis, green short-sleeved shirt and penny loafers. Oh, and a nifty belt that coordinated with the burnished brown of my new penny loafer shoes. Since dad had asked and was planning to fit the bill.

I recently engaged my God in prayer regarding a singular and enduring issue. I asked Him, “What do you want me to do?” I repeated the prayer I have prayed for far, too long, “What is your will? What shall I do? What do you want?”

And shockingly, surprisingly, but clearly I heard Him turn my question on its ear and repeat it back to me. He asked, “What do YOU want?” In all this “store of potential and possibility with all this remarkable finery, what do YOU want?” He continued, now truly surprising me, “…. and whatever YOU want, whatever YOU desire, I will bless it, I will fit the bill.” But nobody had ever trusted me with this degree, with this measure of choice. No, I couldn’t be trusted to decide, to not just want but to speak out my want, my desire, my choice in such lofty and consequential matters. Oh, the abysmal poverty of our wrongheaded theologies!

In a moment’s time, theology and reality suffered a head-on collision. The repercussions of that impact were monumental. I already knew, in my reservoir of theological understanding that God could, that He might ask such a question: “What do YOU want?” But I had never considered how the implications of His question would spawn wonder and insight into the greater depths of who God is. He is more, far more than mighty Potentate of the Universe. God is more than Creator and Sustainer of all that is. God is greater than man’s visions of a giant Deity, some uncaring, unflinching monolith of power and strength and explosive, destructive energy. God is our Friend; He is our “called-alongside-cannot, will not desert, forsake, leave us God.

He comes to us, His Spirit draws, woos us. He bids us come to Him, lean on Him, learn of Him, become like Him. And we come and we discover, we die and we live but still, we so seldom fully understand. We hear His voice and we rejoice in the sound of His calling while we refuse or we fail to hear what He is saying.

The moment arrives and we ask and as we ask, He asks, “what do YOU want?” “What if you will choose and I will bless your choice? What kind of relationship would you then believe you might have with the sovereign and omnipotent God of all that exists?”

“Perhaps and maybe you would call me “Friend.”

He said to the Son, “Ask of Me and I will give You . . .” And the Son called Him Father.

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. . . Sufficient

I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.2 Cor. 12:8-10

Burger King tells us we can have it our way.

The Devil demands us to believe that God owes us.

Madison Avenue repeats the mantra until we’re nearly brainwashed into believing it: “you deserve it.”

When we hurt, we want to be healed. When we’re sick, we want freedom from illness. A testimony of divine, physical health, we assume is a testimony of the faithfulness of God

We don’t like to visit God in the blackness and in the clammy coldness of a prison cell or in the antiseptic sterility of the hospital room. We want to see our God in the victory lane, in the winner’s circle; we think that God and success are synonymous. And it is our definition of success and not another’s.

And in the midst of vain, human philosophy and flimsy human knowledge, the Word of God stands true and faithful, regardless of its popularity or its discredit among the libraries of the earth.

God’s word towers over all of man’s cerebral achievements. God’s word remains if the whole world and all of its elements melt under the violence of flame.

In a universe of transient impermanence God’s word remains while everything created fades away. Scripture itself informs us: The grass withers and the flower fades but the word of the Lord remains forever.

Jacob’s son, Joseph lived a life that bore testimony of the truth: God is in control of everything. Caught up in Egyptian slavery and intrigue,every outward indication cried “untrue!” Every condition insinuated that God had moved on, found a replacement for the young man of the multicolored coat but in truth, God was using painful experience to hone and to polish one who would shine with heavenly glory and not with his own.

Ultimately in your life and in my life, God is in control. Even when we are certain that we control the kite strings of our destiny, it is the unseen hand of God and the invisible purpose of heaven that leads us, provides for us and keeps us.

We neither are lucky or unlucky in the events that take place in our lives – our lives belong to God and as His sons and daughters, we are led rather than driven; covered and shielded rather than we are gifted and smart.

God’s word broadcasts bright promise: we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Not “we think” or “we hope” or “we pray.” We know. “Knowledge” trumps assumption, since the former is based in fact and the latter in hope.

In the great synthesis of all things is included all good things and all bad things. All things beautiful and wonderful and all things confusing and hard to understand are present in the fusion of all things. It is not all good things that work together for good; it is all things, good, bad, neutral. Like a recipe that requires “all things” both sweet and sour, in order to produce the anticipated flavor, so the thing that God intends that our lives should become must include mountain top and valley, high and low, victory and defeat, great satisfaction and extreme dissatisfaction.

Life, we eventually discover has the ability to produce days of glory and splendor followed by days of pain and gray, sallow drabness followed by days of wondrous elation and “can it get any better than this?” trumpetings.

When good things come to us, we think it is because we have been, like the children’s carol, “nice” and not “naughty.” Somebody up “there” we think is “making a list and checking it twice.” We reason that if we are faithful, if we eschew sin, if we live right and do right and if we are right, we will be blessed, rewarded for our efforts. But this kind of reckoning flies full in the face of God’s revealed heart. He reaches to a common thief, a petty criminal who was caught one too many times and in his final, fleeting breaths, the thief turns. And in the turning, he looks toward and not away. He looks on the Man fixed to the central cross and begs, “remember me.”

And these two words are sufficient. He has done no good thing, yet he would find himself in Paradise before the day had concluded.

Too often, I think we take credit for good things that did not in fact come to us because we were deserving of them, but they were given merely and mercifully because He is gracious.

The blessings of God are not the result of our good and determined efforts. God’s blessings are the sanctions of the heart of our heavenly Father.

At this writing, millions are preparing to celebrate Father’s Day. It’s a day we celebrate and we recall the goodness’s of fathers, of dads. But in a larger context it is our heavenly Father’s Day – a day to consider, to think about God our Father who provides for us, watches over us, lest we should dash our feet upon a stone and who cares for us when no one else cares.

It is our Father who repairs us in our brokenness and who guides us in our wanderings and who says to us when we are tempted to despair and when our theology collides with our reality, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Not “My healing” or “My deliverance is sufficient for you,” but His grace is sufficient.

Grace, then must be greater, more profound value than healing or deliverance or provision or any other thing. “Grace” would get the apostle Paul through the things that Paul got through. “Grace” would cause him to triumph. “Grace” would lead him in paths of righteousness. It would be grace that was Paul’s faithful and true companion.

When Paul was in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often, “grace” saw him through. Five times when he received 39 stripes, grace would speak “sufficiency” to him with every venom-fueled lash.

Whether he was beaten with rods or was stoned or shipwrecked, when he was in journeys and perils of water and of robbers and of his own brethren, in the city and in the wilderness and in the sea and among false brethren, “grace” would lead him home.

When his body grew weary and when he could not find sleep, when he hungered and thirsted and when he was found cold and naked, God’s grace and not God’s bank account would be sufficient for him.

We aren’t taught much about grace because as a commodity, grace doesn’t bring the immediate resolution we want. Grace doesn’t come with marching bands and victory shouts. Grace is a balm; it is a noun and not a verb. When we hurt, we demand, because we have been taught to believe that action is what hurt needs. We want medical attention for our wounds. to alleviate our pain. Grace comes as a condition and not as an intervention. Grace soothes, but it does not mend.

But grace is something more than immediate relief may ever provide; it is something greater than instantaneous satisfaction. Grace is the current of a never-diminishing river. Grace is the eternal wind of 35,000 feet above the earth. Grace is the self-replenishing air that fills the infinite number, the billions of lungs of every breathing thing. Grace extends, it arrives from God’s deep chambers of glory and it does not ebb or fade or decline in its effect. Grace comes to us and grace remains with us when the memory of a healed bone or a fixed wheel on the wagon of our faith has faded into a vague and blurry past.

So Paul prayed and envisioned his healing, his answer, the man-made, God-powered solution to his need. But God had a better potion than a holy medication. God had Himself. God embodies, and so exudes grace. And grace received from the Source of grace carried Paul to this:

“I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand… I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!”

Grace makes us ready. Because of His grace we are ready to live and we are ready to die. We are ready to be healed and we are ready to endure pains and hardships, losses and declines. Grace causes us to anticipate the mountain-top and to accept with patience, the valley.

“Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; ‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.”