Valuable Things - A Lesson Learned in the Ocean

A few years ago I learned a great lesson about valuable things when Paige and I were at the beach with my family for vacation. On that trip, I decided to go out into the ocean. I was by myself, as the rest of the group decided to stay pool-side. For whatever reason there were not a lot of people in the water that day, maybe due to the waves being a bit too strong for most. But I decided I would take my raft and get out past where the waves were breaking to enjoy being out in the ocean. I had with me three things - my raft (valued at about $20), my cap (maybe worth $10), and my prescription sunglasses (ummm... prescription glasses cost quite a bit more than the other two items I had with me).

And as my vision is VERY BAD without my glasses, these glasses were extremely valuable to me. (To give you an idea, at my arm's length of less than 24", I cannot read a single word of a newspaper, other than perhaps some of the large headlines). However, I did not have any type of cord or strap around my glasses, so yes, you are correct - I shouldn't have been wearing my glasses into the ocean, but my pride and ego said to me, "It won't be a problem. You can handle this. You'll be careful with them."

(Since I'm sure that your vision is better than mine, you can already see where this is going!)

So I got out past the breaking waves being very careful with my valuable glasses. "See, I told you it would be fine to bring your only means of clear vision out here in the raging ocean. What were you ever worried about?"

fairly large waves in the ocean, like the one that knocked me down, helping to teach me a lesson on valuable things After spending about an hour out there on the large waves, I decided to head back in. Laying on the raft, I started swimming it back to shore, and made it to where it looked like I could stand up. I began to slide off of the raft to put my feet down, but just before they touched the sand, a huge wave rolled in from behind and broke at just the right time, slamming into me and knocking me off my feet into the churning surf. Instinctively, my left hand grabbed onto the raft cord to keep it from being dragged away from me and with my right hand I quickly reached out to grab... my hat.

Yep. My hat.
NOT my glasses.

When you always wear glasses, you can forget that you are wearing glasses - they are necessary and just become a part of who you are, since they are necessary for functioning. And so while I was careful when going into the ocean with them, after being in the ocean for an hour, they just became commonplace, and in my forgetfulness... I failed to grab onto the most valuable thing I had with me.

As I came up out of the surf, I looked around me and... I couldn't see. My prescription sunglasses had been knocked off my face in water that was a little more than waist-deep in the Gulf of Mexico. (As in water that is waist deep at the lowest point between the waves). And I couldn't see to find them. So my immediate thought was to stay in the area and keep looking - to not let my feet get moved and to look for "dark" spots on the ocean floor and see if one could possibly be my glasses. The only problem... the waves kept breaking on me and pushing me away from the spot.

I was having no luck, and I thought, well maybe the breaking surf was pushing the glasses further inland anyway, so I tried to walk to the shore in a fairly straight line - again looking for the dark spots. I found a few dark spots, but it turned out to be a piece of wood or a piece of shell or a live sand-dollar. I made it all the way to the shore. And found no glasses. I had my hat and raft - the wrong things, the less valuable things. I had grabbed onto the wrong things instead of focusing on protecting the most important thing.

Many times, we Christ-followers are a lot like I was in the ocean. We hold onto the less valuable things and forget about that which is most important. We focus on selfish things, and forget about the treasures that God has placed around us (as in, other people). We focus on exalting self (which basically does nothing for anyone other than making us feel good temporarily), when we should be focused on exalting God (which benefits everyone around us including self).

Well, I am standing on the shore, mostly blind, with my raft and my hat. The glasses have been somewhere on the bottom of the Gulf for more than 5 minutes now. They have been pushed who knows where by the continued crashing of the waves, and I have no way of knowing exactly where I was when they were knocked off my head. There is no way for me to find these glasses again, but I go ahead and pray for the impossible: "God, there is no way I can find these glasses on my own, but You know how valuable they are to me. I sure wish You would allow me to do the impossible."

And I began to walk back out into the ocean in a straight line toward the horizon, having no idea if I am walking anywhere near where I was before, since the waves had also been moving me. I go out looking for dark spots. I don't see a single dark spot on my way out, until I get out to the water that is just over waist deep. And there I see my first and only dark spot, so I dive under the water to investigate.

I open my eyes under the water... and there are my sunglasses!

Lightning quick, I immediately grab them, and come up out of the water with waves still breaking. But this time, I don't put them back on my face. I hold them tightly in both hands. I no longer considered them "commonplace." I considered them to be of the most EXTREME value at that point. I did not put them back on until I was completely out of the water.

photo of sunglasses in the sand, a reminder of my lesson on valuable thingsI experienced a miracle in that God granted my impossible request, and in doing so helped me to "see" what was of real value. He reminded me to hold on tightly to those things that He said were treasures - the people He has created. To not think of them as commonplace, but as the most important things in life.

My prayer for myself and for you is that we will see what is of great value to God - it is other people. All other things are replaceable like my raft and my hat - of very little value when compared to the thing of most value. Just like my raft and hat should have been the last things I clung to, everything else in this life besides our relationships to others should be held to loosely. We are to see this world as He sees it - with love and compassion for every other person in our path - EVERY other person in our path.

And we are to do our best to treat them as of infinite value, because they are the only things on this earth that will last for eternity. Their eternity will be in either Heaven or Hell, and we have the knowledge of how to move them out of Hell and into Heaven. Therefore, it is our calling to see them as valuable for His Kingdom.

Hold on tightly to the only things of value in this world -- the people that God has placed near you -- so that you can lead them to Him. And hold loosely to everything else.

Walking with Christ is worth it even if no one else walks beside us.

close up of a person's feet as they are walking as a symbol of us determining if we will walk with JesusSo I ended my previous post about walking with Christ with these words:

This life can be (and will be) a struggle, but God will be with you as you walk a difficult path due to difficult people. Keep pressing on with Him. Working with Him and walking with Him is worth it!

Though Jeremiah had a God-given purpose and was living in the very center of God's will, he became frustrated because people would not listen to him and had turned against him. He was growing tired of the struggle of living for God while seemingly getting very little in return.

You might also find yourself in that place at some times in life. You may be thinking, "That's where I am right now." Though Jeremiah did complain to God about the situation, he followed up his complaint with some powerful words which tell us that even though he was frustrated, he did think that serving God was more important than his own discomfort. He was frustrated, but he knew that he wanted to serve God more than he wanted to be popular and more than he wanted to have an easy life. He said:

But if I say I’ll never mention the LORD or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! Indeed, I cannot do it!
I have heard the many rumors about me.... Even my old friends are watching me, waiting for a fatal slip....
But the LORD stands beside me like a great warrior! Jeremiah 20:9-11

Jeremiah understood this truth:
Walking with Christ is worth it, even if no one else walks beside us.

Walking with Christ is worth it, because doing so will change our lives and it also has the power to change someone else's life.

Let me end with an example from the Gulf Coast after Katrina had come through. One of my fellow church members was working with an organization to provide grants to people who needed assistance. One man came in and during his interview, he shared this with my friend:

"My entire life, I have been so bad to God. But ever since Katrina, He has been so good to me. Volunteers are rebuilding my house, God has provided for my needs through church people from other parts of our country, and I have a restored relationship with God. All of the loss and devastation that happened to me through Katrina was worth it for me to have a right relationship with God."

Isn't that what we want to hear someone say as a result of our involvement in their lives? That someone who was hurting is now healing? That someone who was Lost is now Found? And that it is due to them watching how you live your life as a ministry to them?

It is true that God has called you to a difficult task - to live for Him and be His hands and feet in the midst of difficult people (sinful people, of which you also are one), but He has a plan for using you to make a difference in the peoples' lives that He has placed around you.

Let us be encouraged by what Jeremiah discovered, that though God has called us into a struggle of ministering to difficult people in difficult places, we are loved by Him and He is our great warrior, our mighty champion.

Let us not worry so much about how God might bless our lives, but let us consider how we might use our lives to bless the Lord, our great champion.

Living in the center of God's will can be a tremendous struggle.

a photo of a dartboard with a dart in the center symbolizing us trying to live in the center of God's will

My previous post was titled You Were Placed Where You Are For A Specific Purpose. Today, I want to share a little bit more about that idea, because sometimes our perfect obedience to God's will puts us in the midst of a tremendous struggle.

So often, we seem to think that if we are in the center of God's will, then everything will work out just right for us. But then we wonder what is wrong with us, because though we are striving to live for God, everything is NOT working out just right in our lives. If this is where you find yourself, wondering why you are struggling so much in the midst of serving God to the best of your ability... know that you are not alone and that you are in good company. Because that is exactly where Jeremiah found himself.

Jeremiah was told that God created him for a specific purpose. But when Jeremiah started living out that purpose, he felt frustrated. So frustrated in fact that he complained to God about it (have you ever been there? maybe you are there now?). Here is what he said about living and speaking for God and what it "got him in return" regarding respect and favor with others:

O LORD, you deceived me, and I allowed myself to be misled. You are stronger than I am, and you overpowered me. Now I am mocked every day; everyone laughs at me. When I speak, words burst out. “Violence and destruction!” [are the words You have me] shout. So these messages from the LORD have made me a household joke. Jeremiah 20:7-8

Jeremiah was tired of being in the center of God's will, because he learned that it doesn't always mean it will be easy, comfortable, safe, or peaceful. He was tired of the struggle. Maybe you are too. We live in a fallen world with sinful people all around us (and we ourselves are sinful, too). And all of this can make life very difficult, even when we are living for God... even when we are in the center of His will.

So Jeremiah learned what Jesus later says - that he is in the midst of unhealthy people who need healing (or rather a Healer) brought to them. That is the message that you have for others in the midst of this difficult and unhealthy world -- That we are a bunch of sick people and we need a Savior. This is your message. This is your purpose.

Based on the words of the Bible, I believe that each of us who are Christ-followers are called to be like Jeremiah, which means that we will constantly struggle to help people who are far from God to begin to have a vision for what life can be like with God in control.

God has a plan for you, a purpose. You are special to Him and you are loved by Him – and you are to carry His love to the spiritually unhealthy people around you with the hope that God will use you to transform one person. Because even if your message and your life only transform one person – isn’t it worth it? For how do you weigh the value of someone's eternal soul?

This life can be (and will be) a struggle, but God will be with you as you walk a difficult path due to difficult people. Keep pressing on with Him. Working with Him and walking with Him is worth it! Jeremiah found this to be true and says so in the next few verses. (Which I will share with you in my next post, but if you can't wait that long, then go read Jeremiah 20:9-11.)

You Were Placed Where You Are For A Specific Purpose

Esther was the queen, but she had never let her nationality be known. Her cousin Mordecai was outside the palace and Esther felt he was making a scene by mourning in sackcloth and ashes. She sent a message to ask why. Here is basically what was said between the two of them:

Mordecai: "The reason that I am in sackcloth and ashes is that your husband (the king) has decreed that all of us who are of our nationality should be put to death in the near future."

Esther: "That's too bad. I am sorry to hear it. I didn't know about it. But I can't do anything about it because I have not been called into the king's presence for a month, and the law says if I go without being summoned, I could die."

Mordecai: "Do not imagine that just because you now live in the king's palace that you will escape the death penalty that all of us are under. Realize that if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will still arise for the Jews from another place. And who knows? Maybe you have attained this position of royalty for such a time as this?"

Esther: "I understand what you are saying and I agree, so go and assemble all the Jews in the city, and fast for me for three days. I will do the same thing. And then I will go in to the king, which is against the law; and if I die, I die."

Mordecai tells Esther that if she kept silent and did nothing, it wouldn't really matter, because deliverance would still come from another source. Mordecai realized that the hand of God is always moving and he places us in specific positions for specific purposes. He knows that Esther is on the throne for a purpose.

Esther did not accidentally win a beauty contest. She was not accidentally the one who became queen. She is there for a very definite purpose, and God has been arranging this all the time. He is prepared for this event. God knows what is coming. That is why we can trust Him.

Esther could have given in to her fears and said: “God, my desires are that I just keep living in the palace and what I want is for You to work without using me. I want You to bend your plans to my desires.”

But instead, once Esther saw the truth that Mordecai revealed to her, she basically said: “God, you have a desire for me to do something which I am scared about – I may even die because of attempting it. But so be it. You’ve placed me here for this exact moment. I will bend my desire to Your will.”

I love the opening words of the poem, God Knows

And I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.

We can trust God. When we put our hand in His hand, He has the power to hold us up for His purposes.

And He has a purpose for you. God has placed you in this time in the history of this world for a specific purpose. He has placed you in your position in your family for a specific purpose. He has placed you in your business for a specific purpose. He has placed you in your community for a specific purpose. It is to lead the people in each of those areas into a deeper knowledge of who God is as they watch you boldly live for Him.

He has plans for you to impact your mission field – your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

Will you meet the challenge that He has purposed for you, in spite of your fears?

Just like Esther, you were placed here FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS!

a graphic of a clock with the words "for such a time as this" reminding us of our specific purpose for life

How Narrow is the Path that leads to God?

a narrow path

In my previous post I shared the quote:
"No wonder the world has passed by the church. We don't need reforming; we need to be regenerated. We need to be born again."
--J. Vernon McGee
            (click here to see the previous post)

But aren't most of us pretty decent people? Aren't we pretty good? Do we really need to say such negative things about people in general? No. No we are not. And yes we do. Here is why we must say we need to be regenerated:

We need a new nature because we naturally have a sinful nature, and that sinful nature is not going to make it into heaven. Therefore you have to get rid of your sinful nature. But you can't do it on your own. You don't have the ability. If you go to heaven and enter the presence of Holy God, it will only be because you trusted the One who died for you - Jesus.

Your only way to come to God is through Jesus.

Now some will want to argue with this statement and say "That is so narrow-minded. There must be another way. God wouldn't make forming a relationship with Him that narrow."

But such ideas go directly against the words of the Bible. Specifically they go against the very words of Jesus who said "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me." That is pretty narrow. But who should I believe? Who do I trust? Jesus? Or someone who is "not Jesus" but who insists to me that there must be another way?

Hmmmm.... I think my best option is to believe Jesus.
I imagine He has a better handle on the situation than Uncle Jim, my neighbor Bob, or even myself.

If I were a betting man, I think it will be a much better "bet" for me to to take Jesus at His Word than for me to hope that my unbiblical guesses about God are right and that He'll let me into His presence anyway. Can you imagine saying to God: "Oh. Ummm. You mean, God, that you were serious about all those words in the Bible? Such as the fact that I had to choose Jesus during my lifetime on earth? I was kind of hoping that some of those words were wrong. I was figuring that whoever wrote down Jesus' words didn't write them down correctly. So is it OK that I didn't believe them? You'll let me slide on it, right?"

It would not be wise to end this life with your hopes set with that type of mentality.

God is big enough to preserve His words the way He wanted them recorded. I mean, He's God. And the words that God has recorded for us in the Bible make it very clear: Your one and only way to be in the presence of Holy God for all eternity is through a relationship with Jesus.

Yes, that is narrow.
But it is very clear.
God Himself tells us: To be with Me for eternity, you need to be regenerated. You need to be born again.

Sorry For the Month Long Hiatus! Maybe I Need More Conviction.


Yeah, Where HAVE I been? I'm not quite sure... It seems like the first month of 2016 has disappeared in the blink of an eye. Am I losing my mind? Ha!

My last post was on January 1, explaining that I was going to cut back just a bit on my posting this year, but I certainly didn't plan to go a whole month without posting anything.

Instead of posting, I ended up spending a lot of time catching up on some relationship-building, especially with one good friend who was back in the States for the month. I will say that it was quite nice to be off of social media for the month. I think breaks like that can be quite healthy as we change up our routines and get off the "fast-track." But my friend has headed back south to another country, and my life is getting back to its normal routine. Therefore, it's time to get back into writing and sharing some of my thoughts. So here goes...

When Was The Last Time You Were Convicted?

I'm not talking about being convicted by the justice system of our nation (which doesn't require a heart change). I'm talking about being convicted by God Himself - a conviction that causes deep repentance in your heart and mind.

"Conspicuously absent today in many churches is conviction concerning sin.... The average believer says, "Yes, I trust Christ." But he has no real conviction of sin in his life at all. It is absent in contemporary church life. It is seldom that we come forward with tears – convicted of our sin before a holy God that cannot accept us as we are....

"Someone has said that the modern pulpit has become a place where a mild-mannered man gets up before a group of mild-mannered people and urges them to be more mild-mannered.... No wonder the world has passed by the church. We don't need reforming; we need to be regenerated. We need to be born again."

These two paragraphs by J. Vernon McGee remind us that we need convicting. I'm not sure what sin or sins you have been struggling with lately, but pray to God that you would see your sin as He sees it. Ask Him to help you be truly heart-broken over the ways that you do not imitate Christ.

May we truly know the conviction of the Lord that leads us to repentance and into more holiness.

Day One 2016: Time for a New Year and a New Plan

Day One 2016 - Happy New Year with fireworksWow… another year over and done. And a new one about to begin. We come to Day One 2016, what will take place this year?

The quick review of my 2015 plan:
Though I had selected 365 quotes to share through the year, the actually number of posts I made was slightly less than that due to me not posting on several mornings. I had all sorts of great excuses for those days I missed: the issue of my computer dying, then I had the A/C at the house go out, and there were a few days I didn't post when I went out of town for various reasons. Whatever the excuse, instead of meeting my goal of 365 daily posts, I ended up with about 340 daily posts, and I learned a number of lessons.

The main lesson I learned is that it takes a lot of work to post something every single morning. I remain impressed by those who do so with such consistency.

But the other key lesson I learned is that I didn't feel I could flesh out some of the ideas as much as I would like due to me pushing myself to post something each day. Of course, the only one who put the pressure on me to post each day was myself because I set a goal and wrote about it at the beginning of last year. So for this new year of 2016, I am going to cut back and I plan to post less often than I did in 2015 but more often than in '13 & '14. That means that I plan to post something about three days a week. I hope that doing so will allow me to put more thought into the posts, and therefore make them more meaningful to everyone who takes the time to read them.

Thank you for reading and for encouraging me throughout the year. And I hope that this year is one where you will grow closer to God than you ever have before.

On Day One 2016, that is my New Year's Resolution - to grow deeper in my relationship to Jesus Christ than ever before - and I hope that is also the commitment you are making to Him this year.