Blessed Inclusion

You're on the team.  You're included.  You're family.  As a pastor friend of mine recently said, 'In Christ, we're forever family.'  So, I want to challenge you to consider the depth of this. The Scriptures confirm that without God we were alone, wandering, and without hope in the world.  But, God wasn't ok with that. ...
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Standing on The Rock

First, let me apologize for not blogging since some months ago, well about 6.  2014 seems to have been quite a whirlwind so far.  2 deaths in my family, one of which was my father whom I miss more every day; traveling week after week, which is taxing even when it's for happy reasons; and then there's the hand of anxieties that I hold close to my chest for now, as I apparently try to memorize the cards usually in the middle of the night.  But hey, as Josh from the Fellowship reminded me recently, "The Lord never promised us a happy, carefree life."

However, He has made us some amazing promises that far surpass what I think I need or want.  How about I list just 3 for us to consider.  One, He promises to always be with us and that even in our darkest moments He will stay - never leaving us, never forsaking us. (Heb.13:5)  Two, He promises that the end result for us as His children is His glory.  That means we're in, no matter what.  In His city.  In His house.  In His family.  Perfected in Christ, which means no more temptations, no more failures. No more fear, weakness, struggle, confusion…  He finishes His work in you and me, forever.  I like that.  And to add to the glory part, we become heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ!  Now, if I just thought that up you'd simply smile and say, 'That's nice, Chris."  But I didn't.  God did. (Rom.8:17)  He gave us that amazing promise so that we could hold onto it.  And why is that so important to hold onto?  Well, I'll get to that in a bit.  But first our third promise, He tells us that we can trust Him.  (Proverbs 3:5,6; Nahum 1:7)  God is trustworthy.  We can lean upon Him and His word with all our weight, and by experience we learn that He truly is to be trusted. This brings up what I want to address.

We tend to be rather short-sighted.  I have often found myself so caught up in the stress of this life, in the challenges and blessings of what's going on around me, that I loosen my grip on His promises.  My mind begins to interpret life through a natural perspective, not a spiritual one.  And there's a price to pay for that.  Suddenly (although it's really more subtle over a long period of time) I find myself lacking peace, feeling a little lost and running through my days with a higher anxiety concerning what has just happened or what may happen.  I lose the confidence of His promises.  It's as though the Lord has indeed promised that I am standing upon The Rock, but when I look down at my feet I see nothing but mist, and feel only sand under my toes.  And wouldn't you know it, that's when my mind decides to bring up a thought from that mist, born from the unbelief that only sand can produce - "Are His promises true?  Are they true for me?  Is there any hope?"

So listen.  Here's the caveat.  The reason those doubts surface is because we allow our thoughts to wander from His promises.  If we focus on our circumstances that seem to contradict His promises (that's the mist and sand), then we simply need to remember His promises.  We need to return to what He says.  Faith is defined this way - believe in His promises even if everything around us says otherwise.  It's a choice not to be led by circumstance, doubts or feelings, but to be influenced by the sure foundation of the word of God.

When I return to that place of proclaiming my belief in His promises, I rest there and wait on Him.  And something wonderful happens. I look down at my feet and He blows away the mist and sand to reveal The Rock.  The Rock I was standing on the whole time.  How do I know it was always there?  Well, because He promised - to never leave me nor forsake me, that He would bring me into His glory, and that I can trust Him with everything here, now and forever.  I just forgot.

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The Light of His Countenance

It always amazes me how certain people can put a smile on my face.

I'll be walking through the day focused on my mental list of what I want to accomplish, aware of events around me and what others are walking through.  As the day unfolds, and without an abrupt intention, I sometimes find myself wearied by my own attempt to focus.  I lose my smile.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not afraid of sorrow.  I don't think we should run from it as if it's a pursuing predator.  There is a sweet fellowship with my Lord in the places of great sadness.  He is familiar with sorrow, praise God, and often prepares those moments to remind me of His powerful intention to be the One who is the lifter of my head. (Psalm 3:3)  But, let it be known, I love to smile!  We are encouraged throughout the Scriptures to remember His joy, His peace, His righteousness, His grace, His victory; all of these come with a slightly different smile of which the nuances are noticed by those who study us.

And there it is.  There are certain people of whom, when I see their smiling face, I am captivated with an intention to study, know and experience their smile.  I'm distracted by their peace, joy, grace.  It is as if my first thought is, "Hey, why are you smiling?  What did you find today?  What have I missed?"  Of course, I don't ask that, I simply say, "Hi." - but that "hi" contains a whole lot.  And then I find myself smiling with them.  It seemingly gets glued on to my face.  I love that.

And here's what's amazing.  The Lord is the One who creates a smile from within my heart that is established on the sure foundation of His promises.  For many years now I have known that and experienced and studied that.  Sometimes that 'smile' doesn't make it all the way to my face.  :/  But the reason, the foundation, is sure.  His promises produce great hope which, like an anchor of my soul, keeps me stable. (Hebrews 6:19)  What the Lord has spoken to me, His great and precious promises, causes me to look to Him.  And there is where I find a smile on His face filled with all the nuances of each of His promises, of all the revelation of who He is, and of all His work in me.

In the priestly prayer of Numbers 6:24-26 we read, "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace."  Nice!  The 'lift up His countenance upon you' can be simply translated 'smile at you' or as translated by me - 'when by faith you turn to look at the face of God, I think you'll be quite captivated with an intention to study, know and experience His smile toward you, and you'll find it gets glued to your face.'  Well, you get the idea.

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Become as Little Children

I remember when I was young, like 6 or 7.  I would look up at a tall tree line separating our front yard from our neighbor's yard.  Well, for me it separated my front yard from everything on that side of town and the rest of the sky.  Stretching my neck to look up, I would see those familiar California crows flying and flapping amongst the tree tops, and I would think, "Those are God's trees."  Nobody owned those trees, even if they were on my neighbor's property.  Additionally, I saw how free the birds were, flying all about, and I would think, "Those are God's birds."  And, maybe with just a trickle from heaven, I experienced the presence of the Lord - although I did not recognize Him then.  A couple of years later I climbed those trees and proved the law of gravity a time or two, very aware of my inability to fly.  And my inability to claim those trees as mine.

We moved away from that large home with the huge neighboring trees into a smaller home on a quiet cul-de-sac with a very small front yard.  Years later, upon returning to my childhood home, you know, it was still a big house but the trees didn't look so tall anymore - funny how that happens, there's a lot of tree lines between homes.  My life had become much more confusing, not easily enamored by simple things of nature.  Actually, I drifted into dangerous habits, with immense internal struggle - but that's another story.  At 17, my struggles brought me to sitting in a church again.  Well, against my will.  My good friend Rob had become 'a born-again' and out of duty over friendship and loyalty, I said yes to visiting his church with him.  But, guess who showed up?  Jesus.  And He was hiding in a message, the message of the Gospel. I had heard it all before, but this time I saw my great need for His mercy, and through just a trickle of faith, the Lord revealed Himself to me.

I responded to Him, knowing that if I denied Him at that time I would have been denying the One True and Living God.  In that very moment there was an awareness of Him.  His presence.  I thought, "Oh, it's You!  The One that owns those trees and those birds!"  All the trees, all the birds, and now me.  I remembered His presence in those younger years, but for the first time I knew His name.  He had introduced Himself to me over all the years of my life, and I was finally responding.

The Lord said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." Matt.18:3  Converted means awakening into new life by being spiritually born again.  That life starts by us submitting to Him as our Lord and Savior, and as we do that Jesus faithfully saves us and transforms us into His image - one who is as dependent upon the Heavenly Father as a small child.

I guess that's it.  I've been as a little child to Him ever since.  I need Him, am dependent upon Him, and am learning to be humble before Him.

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When God Became a Man

The Lord in all His glory. Found by those who seek Him. All powerful, all knowing, sovereign in all His ways. To ponder this is beyond me. I sometimes simply quit trying to understand. And in the shrugging off of these lofty thoughts, I can find a moments rest, though only momentary at best. Yet, if the ponderings of our Great God challenge me too much, I can always return my mind to humanity and the issues of this life. And sadly, this life’s cares and worries can fill quite a few moments, though never restfully.

But, this one thing I cannot find refuge from – God became a man. He knows the temptations of a tired mind. He understands the wanderings of thought and emotions. He is very aware of the way my soul struggles and rationalizes my complacency. He knows and has experienced the weakness, and the wrestling of desire and independence. From this One I cannot hide.

For truly wherever I go God is there, even before me. For maybe the lofty thoughts of His deity can be laid aside for a while, but in His humanity He knows me. He sees my heart and knows my mind! From this One I cannot escape. When my thoughts betray me, He knows. When unbelief and doubt surround me, He understands that place. When I’m bewildered by my ever-present sin, I am reminded that He cried out to His Father on the day of His separation. He knows sorrow and hurt. He feels joy and rest. He’s familiar with betrayal. Being forsaken. Alone. He learned obedience, and He knows endurance, sweat and disappointment. And through it all, He served. He prayed, worshipped, waited, and loved. He washed, fed and touched the needy – always speaking truth and rightly representing His Heavenly Father.

From this One I cannot hide.

I will not hide.

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Beloved Sleep

I wanted to re-post this from a few years ago.  This still rings true for me.

It happens. Sometimes it's the tacos with pizza. Sometimes it's coffee a little too late in the evening. Sometimes it's the late night rice crispy treats with butterscotch morsels melted on top, cut into nice tempting squares that aren't big enough to eat just one. Sometimes it's simply life's stresses that we're not suppose to grasp so tightly. But, whatever it may be, sleep sometimes evades me. Sometimes, If I wait long enough (and be real still and quiet... shh... ) I may fall back to sleep. But, usually I'm up for awhile. So, "why not" I thought, "let's do a word search on sleep in the Scriptures".

Check it out. The Scriptures say (and Scriptures do speak), "It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep." Psalm 127:2 And that's beautiful. He reminds me to rest in Him, to roll all of my anxieties over onto Him. He loves me and has designed for me to be able to sleep - and don't you just love it when you get a good night's sleep! Praise the Lord. But wait, there's more. In Song of Solomon it says, "I sleep, but my heart is awake; It is the voice of my beloved! He knocks, saying, "Open for me, my sister, my love, My dove, my perfect one; For my head is covered with dew, My locks with the drops of the night." Song 5:2

Well, there it is. Sometimes He wakes me up. (talk about God using the natural for supernatural purposes - butterscotch topped rice crispy treats) He wakes me up because He wants to meet with me. For many years I've pondered this portion of Scripture. The Shulamite delays and when she's fully awake realizes what she's doing, runs to the door and then He's gone. But, her great love and passion for her Beloved sends her into the streets seeking Him. This brings suffering into her life, abuse even, but that's not able to stop her quest; she must find her Beloved.

I admit that at times even when sleep evades me, my indifference to the Lord is a hazy fog that covers my mind, that sometimes doesn't lift until after I've returned to bed and awake again much later. Yet, what an opportunity. To truly see what life is about. Is He calling to me? Is He knocking? Am I aware of how in love I am, enough to quickly respond to His voice? Usually I find myself waiting - which makes absolutely no sense! I wait, until I'm fully awake (I mean spiritually). And then, there's a sense of desperation. I must hear His voice, I must go after Him. And so I pray; I cry out to my Beloved. And here's what's hitting me as so wonderful... As I seek Him, He changes me into a man that is more desperate for Him. I awaken a little more to how I draw all that is good, all that means anything, from Him. And He fills my life with His presence. He becomes my motivation in all my relationships, all my pursuits, all my service.

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