Perception vs. Reality

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Psalm 32:8

Did you ever see the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?  In one scene, Indiana Jones must cross from one side of a large cavern to another.  There is a steep drop, blackness so dark that you can’t see the bottom.  He refers to the quest as the Path of God.  It seems an impossible task, and requires a step of faith.  His faith is rewarded as he lands on a solid, yet invisible (from his perspective) bridge, which enables him to walk across easily.  When he reaches the other side, he tosses dirt on the bridge so that he can easily find his way back.  As the camera angle changes, however, you can see that the bridge was there all along, clearly visible from another point of view.

Indiana Jones would never have known the bridge was there if he hadn’t stepped out.  It certainly didn’t make sense.  Based on what his eyes could see, it was foolish.

Isn’t that the way life seems sometimes?  Haven’t you felt like Indiana Jones, knowing that to move forward, you have to take a step into the unknown?  You wish for just a little dirt on the path so you can see where to go.  You want to grasp someone’s hand to walk along side you, but deep in your heart, you know that this is something you have to do yourself.

The process of reaching that point can be difficult.  It’s easy to give in to fear and refuse to move forward.  Staying where you are is comfortable, for a season, but then, like a treasured piece of clothing from your younger days, it just doesn’t fit anymore.  You have to move forward, like it or not, and take the leap of faith.  You land, get your bearings, and it’s at that point that your faith truly becomes your own.  You realize that though you can’t see Him, the Lord has been leading you all along, just as He promised.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand. Psalm 37:23-24

That movie scene reminds me of a dream I had awhile back.  In one part of the dream, I opened what appeared to be a closet door.  Inside was blackness, so dark that I couldn’t see anything except for a couple of feet of a rope bridge suspended over nothingness that led into the darkness.  All of a sudden, one of my dogs walked onto the bridge, expecting me to follow.  I quickly called him back and closed the door.  I have wondered about that dream many times, and I believe it is very much like the Indiana Jones scene.  In my dream, at least I could see the bridge, but I couldn’t see where it led and wanted no part of finding out, even with my trusted companion.

I believe I finally understand the meaning.

I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes and trusts in Me [as Savior—all those who anchor their hope in Me and rely on the truth of My message] will not continue to live in darkness. John 12:46

Jesus is the Light of the world. After His death, burial and resurrection, He ascended to heaven, where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father. If He is seated in heaven, how is He then a Light here on earth?  He is a Light through us who believe in Him and have surrendered our lives to Him.

I have lived, for the most part, a pretty safe, comfortable life.  I don’t do things to get myself in trouble, try to be kind and encouraging to others, and try to please the Lord, who loves me and gave Himself for me.  Those are all good things, right?  But am I not also called to be a light in the darkness?

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Ahhh, and that’s where the trouble within me lies.  If I don’t step out of my comfortable, predictable little bubble, how can I be a light?  Instead, I must venture out, and learn to navigate in the world around me, comfortable or not.  Not to walk in darkness, but to be a light in the darkness.  Not to be afraid of the darkness, but to know that His Light overcomes the darkness.

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. Psalm 139:7, 11-12

We are never out of His sight, never out of His reach, and never alone.

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness. Psalm 33:18

In looking up the verse above, I found that the Hebrew word translated lovingkindness is chacad, which means merciful. I really like the Amplified Bible version, which translates the verse this way:

Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear Him [and worship Him with awe-inspired reverence and obedience], on those who hope [confidently] in His compassion and lovingkindness. Psalm 33:18

The Lord is merciful, loving, compassionate, and kind.  He is wise, and knows the end from the beginning.  He knows how to lead His own, and His compassion requires that I – that we – be the light that He has called us to be.

There is an old song sung by musical duo Harvest, entitled, “Send us to the World.”  Here is the chorus:

If we don’t believe then how will they know?

How will they hear, if we never go?

Oh, Lord, send us to the world!

If we don’t believe, then how will they see?

How will they know that they can be free?

Oh, Lord, send us to the world!

Two bridges.  One unseen but there nonetheless, and another seen but leading into the darkness.  One led to the other side, where he found what he needed.  The other outcome wasn’t certain, but would have been taken with a trusted, faithful companion, had I had the courage to step out and bring light into the darkness.

We must remember that we do not walk alone, and we do not go unprotected.

You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

May we have the courage to walk where He leads, to be lights in the darkness, and to bring the message of hope, freedom and redemption to people who don’t know the Giver of those things.  Jesus would.  Jesus did.  May we walk by faith, and not by sight, and so please Him.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the certainty of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6

 

The Bread of Life

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.  Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You.  So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.  Psalm 63:1-4

I have been contemplating something for a couple of weeks now.  I heard a song recently that talked about seeing I AM.  As I listened to the words, I heard a gentle whisper in my spirit, “I am the Bread of Life.”

Jesus is the Bread of Life

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”  John 6:35

There is so much in that sentence that I know that I cannot fully comprehend the meaning.  My understanding can only touch the tip of the iceberg.

Jesus first spoke about bread when He was being tempted in the wilderness:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.  And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But Jesus answered, “It is written:  Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”  Matthew 4:1-4

Jesus had been led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  That sentence alone is enough to cause a tremble or two, isn’t it?  You mean the Spirit leads us into the wilderness?  I don’t know about you, but being led into the wilderness doesn’t exactly sound like a good time.  Maybe for people who love camping and hiking, being led into the wilderness would seem like fun, but not to me.  But then, as if that wasn’t enough…He leads us into a place of temptation?   A time of testing, to see if we really believe what we say we believe?  How thankful I am that He promises not to allow us to be tempted beyond our endurance, and instead provides a way out.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.  1 Corinthians 10:13

Jesus is the Word made flesh

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

Jesus is life, the Word of God is life 

So…what have we been feeding on lately?

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as was prophesied in the Old Testament.

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.  Micah 5:2

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.  While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  Luke 2:4-7

Did you know that Bethlehem means house of bread?  So Jesus, the Bread of Life, was born in the House of Bread.  How like God to do something so spectacular!

“I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”  John 6:45-51

Again, what have we been feeding on?

I started doing something recently that has really helped me focus on Jesus as the Bread of Life.  Maybe you already do this, but it was new for me.  At the end of 2016, a few ministries that I follow were speaking about doing communion in their quiet times with the Lord.  I’ve had communion in church, and with some home Bible study groups that I have met with, but I had never had it with only Jesus.  May I encourage you to try it if it’s not something you’ve done?

I’m reminded of a song by Michael Card, Light of the World, part of which goes like this:

You are the Bread of Life, oh Lord,

Broken to set us free

So how could there be any hunger in me

If you are the Bread of Life

You are the Bread of Life

May the Lord satisfy your every hunger for Him.

My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.  When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, for You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.  My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.  Psalm 63:5-8

A Reason to Rejoice

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

Earlier this week, I found myself in a small engine repair shop, hoping for a low repair estimate for my lawnmower.  Lawnmowers, generators and other small equipment filled the two bay units of the shop, as well as the outdoor section behind the building.  Alas, my lawnmower was beyond repair.

During my conversation with the owner, I asked if he had any inexpensive used lawnmowers for sale.  One had come in recently, he said, but he wasn’t sure of the condition.  He brought it to me, tinkered with it a little bit and said that it appeared to be fine, but that he would do a complete tune up on it if I was interested, and would have it ready the following day.  Throughout our conversation, the owner’s assistant busily went about his tasks, singing and humming as he worked.  I left the shop with plans to return the next day.

When I returned the following day, the tune up was complete, but some of the tires still needed to be replaced.  The owner walked me through the shop to the outside area behind the building to see the lawnmower, where he gave his assistant instructions regarding the mower.  I found a spot to wait while the repairs were completed.

The assistant was cheerfully working as before, quietly singing and humming in the hot sun.  When he noticed that I was standing in the sun, he kindly told me that I could wait under the shade tent that was covering some of the equipment if I wanted some shade.  I smiled, thanked him, and stood in the shade while he continued working.

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22

The assistant finished up the job he was doing, walked over to the lawnmower I was purchasing, and then bent over to examine one of the rear tires.  And that’s when I noticed his shoes.  He was wearing an old pair of tennis shoes, held together with black duct tape.  The tops of both shoes had come apart from the soles, and his toes were visible.  I stood in wonder as I gazed at this man.  Here he was, happily working in the sun, concerned for my comfort, singing, smiling, and wearing duct taped shoes.

When he finished, I could barely speak, but I managed to thank him, and asked permission to walk back through the bay to the front of the store so that I could pay. He agreed, after gently cautioning me to be very careful so as not to hurt myself.  I paid, and commented to the owner that his assistant was a very cheerful man. He agreed, and told me that the man has a big heart – that he feeds and cares for approximately 40 cats in the area between his home and workplace.

I have been thinking of this unselfish, compassionate man and his shoes ever since.

I don’t know his story, but I saw his heart.  This compassionate man needed shoes, but he did without in order to feed those cats.  He considers their needs above his own.  That just floors me.

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and He saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And He said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” Luke 21:1-4

We live in a culture where the norm is to want the latest and greatest technology, the newer cars, the larger homes, designer clothing and everything else that catches our eye…everything that we’re told we need to be happy.  We love our creature comforts.  But how many of us would give up what we would consider a need to provide for someone else?  What are we willing to do without, and are we willing to do it when there is no possible hope of repayment?  When there is no one there to see it?

What would Jesus do?  It’s not just a phrase on a bracelet or t-shirt, it’s a real question.  What would Jesus do?

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” Matthew 25:34-40

I don’t think we set out to be self-absorbed, selfish or ungrateful people.  I think sometimes life just happens, and we trudge through it, hoping for the best, expecting the worst, and treating ourselves along the way to bring a temporary measure of satisfaction to what can sometimes seem like a very unsatisfying existence.  We’re told that this life is all there is, so we might as well get the most out of it that we can, because you only go around once, you know.  We’re told that if there’s a God at all, He just wants us to be happy.  But what happens when your idea of happy conflicts with my idea of happy?  Whose happy wins?

Throughout my life, I have heard people say that no matter what happens, we should thank God for it.  I don’t understand that thinking.  Thank You, God, for this sickness?  Thank You, God, that I lost my job?  Thank You, God, that my family is in disarray?  No!  Emphatically NO!

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

We can lose jobs, homes, even people, but that verse doesn’t mean that it’s good, that we should give thanks for it.  The meaning has been twisted.  The verse says to give thanks IN all circumstances, not FOR all circumstances.  His will is that we be thankful in the midst of hardship, pain and suffering.  We can be thankful that He is working all things together for our good.  All things aren’t good, but all things work together for our good.

“Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You.” Psalm 33:20-22

If you are going through a tough time, or find yourself being less than compassionate with those around you, may I encourage you to change your focus?  We can choose to focus on the Savior who gives us life.  We can choose to focus on others instead of ourselves.  We can step out of our comfort zones and be the answer to someone’s prayer.

Reasons to be thankful are all around us if we just open our eyes.  Sometimes the Lord will even bring people across our path with duct taped shoes to remind us of this.

God our Father, Jesus our Savior, Holy Spirit our Comforter – they are all the reason we need to rejoice.

“And Mary said, ‘My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.’”  Luke 1:46-55

Where is the Abundant Life?

“You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”  Psalm 16:11

I grew up believing that God made me and loved me, and that Jesus died for my sins. That was all I knew about God. I didn’t talk to Him, and figured He was too busy running the world to talk to me.

At the age of 20, on Christmas Eve, I learned that I had been deceived and betrayed by someone I loved, and was so devastated that I really didn’t want to live anymore. I didn’t want to hurt. I didn’t see a purpose for my life. I told God that I didn’t want to live, but that I wouldn’t do anything to end my life, and said that if He wanted to do something with me, that was fine, but I didn’t want to go on.

About that time, my mother began visiting a Christian bookstore. Since I loved to read, she offered to buy me a book or two if I wanted to tag along. I began reading Christian novels, and saw something within those pages that I had never imagined, much less seen. People talked to God and Jesus like they were people! Real flesh & bone people! I was stunned to think that people could actually talk to them like they were good friends.

At that time, I was living alone in an apartment. I had an old television that had been given to me, but it rarely worked. It hadn’t even turned on for quite some time. A day or two before Easter, I turned the television on, and surprisingly, it turned on immediately. I watched in horror at the scene before me. The man portraying Jesus was on the ground, being nailed to a cross. He cried out in pain, which was hard enough to watch, but then he looked at the camera, and appeared to be looking right at me. I was shaken! The next thing I knew, I found myself face down on the floor, crying, knowing that the real Jesus had died on the cross, suffering tremendous pain, for MY sins! He was there because of me! I asked Him to forgive me for the things I had done, and I gave Him my life. That was many, many years ago, and I have not been the same since.

Fast forward to about five years ago. I had recently returned to the United States from Mongolia with two of my children, where we had been living for a year on an overseas work assignment. I was in the middle of a divorce. Like before, I was devastated. For months I read the Bible, cried, prayed, cried, questioned, cried, and then I came across this verse:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  John 10:7-10

I cried out to the Lord, “Where is the abundant life? Your Word says that You came to give us abundant life! This sure doesn’t look like abundant life to me!”

That was a turning point for me. My eyes were opened to many things that I hadn’t seen before. I realized that I had put God in a box, and He didn’t fit! I began to look at God’s Word through different eyes. Instead of seeing verses through the eyes of tradition, I began seeing them as they were written. I began to understand that the written words were promises for us, that they were true, and that they could be believed because God always keeps His promises. I knew that they could change my life.

He took away my pain, confusion, and fear, and He filled me with joy, peace, and love. He is so good, so loving, and more at work in us and around us than I ever knew. He has given me abundant life, and the great news is that it’s not just for me, it’s for anyone who asks. Jesus came to give us LIFE!

During the weeks leading up to Christmas last year, I found myself coming across that verse in John daily. If I opened a book, it was there. If I went on Facebook, it was there. If I turned on the radio or television, it was there. Every single day. And every time I came across it, I thought about the abundant life that had been mine for the last few years. Real abundant life, living life to the full.

Then, about a week before Christmas, thieves broke into our home. Two of my children and I had been out to dinner with my sister and her family, who were visiting us all the way from Nigeria. Afterwards, we went to a hospital to celebrate the birth of a precious baby girl, born into a wonderful family who has been on the same spiritual journey I and my family have been on. How wonderful to have companionship on this journey!

We returned to find that our home had been broken into. We lost jewelry, electronics, and even some of the Christmas presents that were wrapped under the tree. In the midst of it, though, I was not afraid. I didn’t feel violated, as many people do after a break-in. I wasn’t even really angry.  Disappointed, sure, for the gifts that I was not able to replace, and for the hearts and minds of the kids that broke into our home. But looking back, I believe the Lord was not only warning me, but preparing me by reminding me of the abundant life that He has given me. Yes, the thief does come to steal, kill, and destroy, but we have something that can never be stolen, never be taken away from us. We have the promise of living forever with God, our creator and the lover of our souls, both here and when our time on earth is done, because Jesus made it possible.

Are you experiencing abundant life? If not, do you want to? If so, ask Him for it. Jesus came to give you life, and give it to you abundantly, and He promises that if you seek Him, you’ll find Him.

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”  Jeremiah 29:13