"Sometimes hard truth needs to be told, whether we are doing the telling or someone else needs to tell us. While we may construe helpful advice or wise guidance as critical or negative, when it's offered in love and comes from a genuine place, it can change our lives for the better. I call these talks courageous conversations.
Look, none of us wants to be judgmental. And nobody gets excited about having to tell a friend something that may initially hurt but might make the person better for it. I'm with you. I get it. I'm trying to get better about telling the truth in love. I've learned how important it is to affirm your love for a person before you bring the subject up, during the conversation, and when it's over. We must let our love for others be the reason they listen and the truth be the reason they change."
"...The people of our times have become masters of illusion, experts at covering pain, abusers of medication, slaves to financial debt, followers of fads, and partakers of loneliness. Because we won't realize that the only solution for being broken is...brokenness. By brokenness, I mean the acknowledgment of it, the full and unflinching acceptance that we are bankrupt, poor in spirit, and have nothing to offer. In our culture, that's a hard sell...Brokenness is not trending on Twitter...It is, however, the one hope Jesus holds out for us, the inside-out, upside-down way that is somehow the only path that ultimately is right side up. Embrace the paradox: brokenness is the way to wholeness."
I've learned a lot from this friend of mine. We met about two years ago...on a set of bleachers at a baseball field. Little did I know that the friendship that would ensue would so deeply impact my walk with God. There's a lot to like about this friend, and I know I'm not the only one who thinks so! But perhaps, if I were to pick one quality that I appreciate the most, it would be this: my friend is intentional about people.
From what I hear, he showed a deep desire at a young age to love people as God loves them...to be purposeful about every relationship in his life. From serving as a youth group leader in his teens, to working in children's ministry at his church near his college, to running a Bible study for his college baseball team...he is constantly adjusting his life to the will of God. And he cares deeply for others. What surprises me the most is how he's able to do this with a very full plate of responsibility. He's in his senior year of college now and is extremely busy with school, baseball, and other leadership opportunities he's been given this year. But...even so...he continues to make time for those who are most important to him.
I realize that this is hard to do in this modern day and age. How many of us use the excuse, "I've been so busy," so justify ourselves not reaching out as we ought?! Oddly enough, we've become more connected than ever before, thanks to the advances of technology. We can reach anybody anytime anywhere in the world...instantly. But, sadly, we're also becoming more disconnected than ever before. Instead of taking time to actually call somebody, we settle for a text...it's easier, takes less time, and (lets be honest) we can be in control of what we want to say or reply to. Instead of sitting down to write a note in our own handwriting (messy though it may be), we send an email instead. Instead of making time to hang out with those we care about (with no agenda involved and no time limit or expectation), we have to "set something up" because...well...we're "so busy."
We apologize to others for "being out of touch lately" but we really wouldn't change anything because we "have so much to do."
In previous generations, before the invention of television and smartphones and computers...even automobiles and air travel...people had to take time to connect with each other. It took days for a handwritten letter to reach its recipient...and days for a reply. It took often days or weeks to travel by hoarse or carriage to go see someone...and usually given the length of travel, you stayed awhile with them. People had to make time to be with one another. As a whole, I think that society back then was far more intentional about relationships in general than we ever are or will be. The speed of modern life has changed this...and I'm not sure if its for the better.
It has become so easy to invest into one another these days in spurts...we stop our lives long enough to care deeply and listen carefully during sharing time in our small group or Bible study, but the minute we hit the door, it's back to our usual pace. We're great at being "all-in" with one another during a trip together or camp for the summer, but when everyone goes back home, we get lost in our world of work or school or other activities. And often, we lose connections that we could honestly benefit by.
Thus, people like my friend are sort of uncommon these days. They seem old-fashioned...in a totally good way. There's a sort of gifting of their presence that makes one seem valued and genuinely loved. And when they say they appreciate you, they mean it. When they say they'll pray for you, they follow through. There's a type of commitment they demonstrate to those around them that quietly defies the modern concept of friendship.
In his insightful book, "#Struggles," author Craig Groeschel drives home this point about presence very well:
"Presence is powerful. So why do so many of us settle for something less?
...Actually get together with people. Be physically present with one another. Not digitally. Not virtually. Not just in a group text, but in the same living room. Make the time to love people face to face, not just keyboard to keyboard. If you want to get really crazy, don't set a time limit on how long you'll hang out or what you'll discuss. In other words, just be with someone...
You know that device you use to text with? It might be hard to remember, but what's something else you can do with that device? That's right! You can actually talk on that thing. It's a lot harder, but maybe you could scroll down through your contacts, find that person, tap their number, and call them on the phone...you'll hear the words and listen to their voice, which will also be communicating something. You might even ask if you can pray with your friend, right over the phone...I promise you that a person-to-person conversation can go to amazing places that texting back and forth will not go. Let's say you decide to get reeeally crazy - you want to take it to the next level. You don't just text. You don't just call...you can actually go see them...just sit down with your friend, face to face. Ask a few questions, and then just listen. If it seems appropriate, put your hand on their shoulder. Maybe even hold hands across the table and pray with them. And if they happen to start crying, well, that's probably okay and may be just what they need to do. You just wrap your arm around their shoulders. Or if you're a guy, punch them in the arm to cheer them up. Just let them know that you're right there in it with them.
Presence is powerful."
We don't do this often enough these days. I've missed so many opportunities to give the gift of intentionality to others over the years. And I regret that very much. Being blessed by the example of this friend of mine has taught me much about the amazing impact of being purposeful. No matter how many plates you may be juggling in your life, you're not "too busy" to take time for another person. Sometimes, a random act of kindness or a listening ear on your part may be just the thing that person needs to help them in a tough time, or remind them that God cares about them.
I fondly recall many times that others have gone out of their way to take time to minister life-giving hope to my aching soul, often little knowing that the gift of their presence was exactly what was needed at that moment.
My friend has challenged me to do better in my relationships with others. Even though I, too, have a very active life and work, family, church, and other commitments often take many hours of my day, I need to remind myself that I'm not too busy to call a friend and tell that they matter. To drop a card in the mail...just because. To listen deeply when others hurt and need to talk some stuff out...
I. Am. Not. Too. Busy.
And neither are you. Perhaps this post brings somebody to mind that you should follow up with and reach out to. I'd suggest you do as soon as you're finished reading this post. Because you never know...to them, it may mean the world.
In light of my most recent posts, this is a sad but true observation on our culture. A true reminder to always seek a gracious attitude toward everyone...even those whom you disagree with most.
"This is the first generation that has been brought up not to tolerate opinions that they dislike...and they have been taught that the correct response to someone saying something you find 'hurtful' is to try and silence that person...[this is about a generation] that has never been told 'no' and can't handle disagreement."
"Can we only speak when we are fully living what we are saying? If all our words had to cover all our actions, we would be doomed to permanent silence! Sometimes we are called to proclaim God's love even when we are not yet fully able to live it. Does that mean we are hypocrites? Only when our own words no longer call us to conversion. Nobody completely lives up to his or her own ideals and visions. But by proclaiming our ideals and visions with great conviction and great humility, we may gradually grow into the truth we speak. As long as we know that our lives always speak louder than our words, we can trust that our words will remain humble."
When I first started this blog, I made an important decision: while I enjoy discussing politics, this wouldn't be the forum to do so; while I take great interest in debating theology and world religions, this wouldn't be the place; while I do have definite opinions on social issues and culture, this wouldn't be the platform to talk about them. The goal of this blog was to help hurting people find hope...hope in a world gone mad with sin and injustice, hope that healing might find their deepest wounds - sometimes created by the very things I listed above. This blog's intent was to be about God...Who is greater than all the things we often get too adamant and biased about, and Whose love is enough to unify and bring together even the worst of enemies.
That being said, I do feel the need to address something that will lead me to touch briefly on a couple of the things mentioned above. As you read what I'm about to say, please know that I will still keep to my commitment to focus on the hurting and, hopefully, this will maybe speak to hurts that you've incurred or inflicted over time...
Balance. It's a word I'm coming to appreciate more and more. It's something that I'm spending a lot of time praying about. It's something that I need desperately...and so does much of the world. As Americans (and as Christians), balance is a concept that we don't understand very well. Our very nature and our culture steer us toward taking sides and having strong opinions, being totally invested in a cause or idea...sometimes to the detriment of those around us. We see it all the time...churches dividing over what people ought to wear, over what style of music to have...even over the color of the new carpet. We've even seen it lately in the recent election - protests over the peaceful transition of power...to the extent that some musicians have backed out of performing at the inaugural events due to threats from fans who see their performance as supporting something they differ with. Thus, millions will be robbed of the powerful gift of music as a result of some whose personal bias and disagreement blinded them to the celebration of our long-standing traditions of the republic ideal.
On social media, I see this lack of balanced opinion all the time...people post their thoughts on something they've read or seen, and their feedback lends a tone of deep anger and hatred. They may speak true facts, but the spirit in which they present their case lends a feeling of judgement, condemnation, and hurtful criticism. We seem to have lost the ability to be civil. We seem to have given up the idea of respectful conversation, and all we appear to be able to do well now is argue our point...to the demeaning of the opponent. Instead of looking for some common ground...some element of agreement that we can center the discussion around...and doing so in a spirit of mutual understanding, we criticize more than we compliment. As a whole, we're becoming more known for what we're against than what we're for.
I'm honestly getting tired of the hurtfulness that's pervading our society...and, more importantly, the modern church. Because our standards are either too loose or too rigid, we're alienating one another and causing deep, polarizing relations to form between us. We sorely lack a balanced faith...a faith that holds truth but loves deeply, a faith that's bold yet gentle at the same time. And the results of this sad fact are painful - many people are leaving houses of worship over hurts they've sustained at the hands of others' insensitivity and directness. Some won't even go to church anymore. Some won't vote anymore. Some won't speak to certain relatives or friends because of the divisions that have ensued.
As a human race, regardless of our color, gender, religion, or politics, we still have a lot in common in regards to our need for hope and healing. We're all suffering under the effects of Adam's curse - the signs of a broken world are all around us. While our individual experiences are unique and different, our need for a Savior is still the same. But rather than centering our discussions and opinions around this - the most important fact of all - we center them around our differences. And thus, the divisions keep on growing. And the hurts keep on coming.
A couple of years ago, I read a very insightful book called "Jesus Outside The Lines." While I did not completely embrace every position the author took, the main point of his writing was well taken, and it's a message that many would do well to step back and heed.
In that book, author Scott Sauls writes:
"Is is possible to profoundly disagree with someone and love that person deeply at the same time? Is it possible to hold deep convictions and simultaneously embrace those who reject your deep convictions? Jesus tells us the answer is yes. And he shows us the answer is yes...
What matters more to us - that we successfully put others in their place, or that we are known to love well? That we win culture wars by carefully constructed arguments and political power plays, or that we win hearts with humility, truth, and love? God have mercy on us if we do not love well because all that matters to us is being right and winning arguments. Truth and love can go together. Truth and love must go together."
The Lord Himself is our greatest example of how this can be achieved. Contrary to what many think, the only times that Jesus spoke harshly while He walked this earth was to the religious leaders of His day. Isn't it ironic that the ones who needed to hear His message of balance were those who professed to believe? He often accused them of focusing on seemingly insignificant things and making those things a rule to everyone else. And He wasn't afraid to tell them directly that, because of this attitude, they were missing the kingdom of God. Perhaps we are guilty of doing the same...
Perhaps we are missing the point of following Jesus when "being right" becomes more paramount than the tone in which we communicate our point. Perhaps we are driving others away from the love of God because our actions do not show that love in the first place. Perhaps, if Jesus were to walk this earth today, He would have some harsh words to say to us because we don't understand how to pay forward the grace we've been given.
If we're genuinely pursuing a life that reflects God, we should be some of the least offended, most respectful, most gracious people in the world. But sadly, many of the hurts people sustain occur from within this very circle of supposed followers of Jesus.
We often speak out of our fears...fears that God cannot defend Himself and thus, we need to help Him win over people to His side; fears that we won't be understood for our point of view, thus causing us to speak with such force that our message is lost in our spirit of anger; fears that we will offend some, so we never address the truth in its fullness.
But what if things were different? What if we began a movement, starting with ourselves, that just might change the world - one life at a time? What if we began to seek Christ's example more and our own feelings less? What if we became more concerned with joining Jesus in His work instead of trying to defend our own rights? After all, Jesus laid down His right to respect as the King of Kings in order to be taunted, abused, scorned, and ultimately killed for the sake of our eternal salvation. That type of humble love ought to compel us to love others differently.
To quote Scott Sauls again:
"This is where biblical Christianity is unparalleled in its beauty and distinctiveness. I am not talking about distorted belief systems that pretend to be Christianity, yet are not. I am talking about the true, pure, undefiled, unfiltered, and altogether biblical and beautiful system of belief - the one that leads people to trust God and have hope for humanity, to visit the orphans and widows in their afflictions, to love neighbors who are near and who are in need, and to extend kindness to enemies...Jesus did not merely speak these words ["...love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..."] as an edict from on high. He became these words. 'God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.' While we were running from Him, while we were passively resisting Him, while we were actively opposing Him, while we were still His enemies, Christ - compelled by love - died in our stead. Do we need any more reason than this to extend kindness to those who don't see things as we do?"
Maybe we can change our corner of the world by seeking to become more balanced in our approach with others. While still taking a stand for the things that matter, can we do so in a spirit of compelling love that doesn't turn them off because of our angry attitude? Can we become more purposeful and intentional about loving others so that they are drawn to the truth through the gentleness of Jesus that they see in us? Can we center discussions around the simple fact that we're all not as we should be...we all have been hurt and are incomplete "works in progress," as they say. But we have at our disposal something that heals all wounds and bind us all divisions...Someone named Jesus who is the perfect example of how to live in the peaceful blend of truth and love. He is not the God of confusion, disorder, disharmony, and division. If we're following Him fully, we will no longer feel the need to put others in their place, to compete, to take sides, or to hold back the truth because of our fear of offending. We will no longer swing from one extreme to the other but will go about our lives with a deep desire to esteem others as valued creations of the Most High.
I don't know how this post will apply to your life...maybe you've been the offend-ed or the often-der. But whichever one applies to you...perhaps this is a call to make a change in the way you treat those around you. This world is calling for more kindness and graciousness. And who better to showcase that than those who follow after the perfect example of that in God Himself!
"In your hearts, honor Christ the Lord as holy, always
being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks
you for a reason for the hope that is in you: yet do it
with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience,
so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your
I just wanted to encourage somebody out there today that, even if your world's falling apart today and fear is raging wild...even if the doubts are running deep and the darkness is pressing heavy, because of Jesus...it'll be okay. Part of the daily fight for joy is learning how to see through to Him when it all comes crashing down on your one little soul. Daring to believe when life tells you otherwise takes a faith that only He can give...but it's a dare that's worth every struggle you must go through to find it.
I don't know what you're facing this day...but hang on and look up. He will give you grace to make it through.
I'm excited about today's post. For several weeks now, I've received requests from my viewers, asking me to do a post that lists the top books I've read and how they influenced my life. I've always been a big reader, so I've read some pretty inspiring books over the years; however, there are a few that stand out to me as being essential in forming the person I am today. This list isn't in order of best to worst... it's simply a list of the best reads I've enjoyed over the years. I hope you'll get some good recommendations from this list for your own personal reading as well.
Here now are my top reads:
A Table In The Presence
by Chap. Carey Cash
A friend gave me a copy of this book several years ago, and I happened to read it at a time in my life where I needed to see proof God's hand as being active in the world today. My faith was at a crisis point at that time, and I couldn't have read a better book than this. It is the amazing story of one of the first U.S. Marine units to go into Iraq in 2001. One of the chaplains in the unit wrote this incredible book that details how God showed up in the midst of a war zone...and started a spiritual revival among the Marines he was serving with. You will find it hard to believe some of the wild stories in this book, as most of the things described in here are unexplainable apart from God. Since this book has been out for many years, you may have to look for a used copy of it. I promise though that your effort to track down a copy won't be in vain. In short, when you read this book, prepare to have your mind blown!
by Capt. Scotty Smiley
My connection with the author of this book and his story began long before it was ever written. I distinctly recall sitting in church one Sunday and having a dear friend stand up to ask for prayer for a friend of her nephew. Both young men were in the military and this friend (Scotty) had been seriously injured. Her nephew had gone to visit him in the hospital and prayed for him. Years later, I would come to know her nephew's family and thus follow Scotty's story of recovery in greater detail. Back when I was working with the military community on a regular basis, I actually sent Scotty a card while he was in the hospital. It was the first card of many that I sent to wounded soldiers during their recovery. When I saw that Scotty had written a book, I couldn't have been more excited. This read truly is inspiring for several reasons...probably the biggest one being that it shows how one can physically be blind and yet still see - can see through to God, can live life large, and can change the world by touching one life at a time. It is a testimony of how one young man learned to face the unknown and how he discovered hope under the most challenging circumstances imaginable. As you read this book, you will laugh until your sides hurt, and cry tears of sympathy as Scotty details his journey. Most of all, you will be directed to the God who sustained Scotty in his worst moments and who promises to sustain us all if we trust in Him.
The Search For Significance
by Robert McGee
This book rocked my world unlike probably any other I've ever read. God was breaking my heart wide open in the fall of 2011 when I picked up this book at the recommendation of dear friend of mine. This book exposed so much that was wrong with my thinking at the time...as such, it was a tough read. The book directly speaks to an audience of readers who are struggling to see their worth through God's eyes instead of the opinions of others. This book will take self-evaluation to a whole different level in your life...but you won't regret it once you've read it. You will also come to understand how to relate to and help others who are struggling to find their God-given self-worth and purpose. Well worth the time of any Christian reader.
The Sacred Acre
by Mark Tabb
I first heard about this incredible story of forgiveness during the 2010 ESPY awards when they were presented with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. I have referenced their amazing testimony many times on this blog, and would highly recommend this book to anybody seeking to find new perspective on the topic of forgiveness and how to become better instead of bitter when tragedy strikes your life. In reading this book, I realized that, if these people could forgive under their circumstances who was I to ever harbor bitterness against others going forward?! Because of their example, I was able to let go of some deep hurts in my life and find healing for past wounds. Due to the drama in the story, I wouldn't recommend this to young readers (age 14 and under), but it is well worth the read.
The Sovereignty Of God
by A.W. Pink
I decided to read this book in the summer of 2011, mostly as a dare from a friend. In a recent conversation, he had mentioned that he felt this would speak to some issues I was dealing with at the time. I was not walking closely with God at that point, so I was hesitant to pick up this book. It had sat on our bookshelf for a long time, so I thought I knew what to expect when I began reading it: another book on theology that would beef up my religious knowledge but still not answer all my heart-questions. Wow...was I ever wrong! I now credit this book with introducing me to God. I had grown up in church my whole life but never had somebody explain the Gospel and the character of Christ to me in such a clear way before. This book helps explain so many of the questions that we face on a daily basis: "Why do bad things happen?" "What is to be done about suffering in the world?" and "Does my pain have a purpose?" This book introduces the reader to the simple fact that there is God who oversees and sovereignly directs everything in this world and is actively involved in your life and mine. You will never look at world events or even the happenings in your life the same way again once you've read this book. I highly recommend it to anybody desiring to have their eyes opened to Christianity in a new way.
A Treatise On Afflictions
by Thomas Case
Thomas Case knew what it was like to suffer. In fact, he wrote this book while imprisoned for his Christian beliefs. This is one of the most comprehensive and wonderful explanations for how to handle adversity that I've read. Written in the 1600s, this man has incredible insight into the human condition and how to look at suffering as a means to our growth and benefit as well as to the advancement of God's purposes. I would strongly encourage any Christian to read this book and be encouraged that the hard times we face are not without purpose.
Not A Fan
by Kyle Idleman
It's been several years since I first read this book, but it's one that I've kept coming back to time and again. In an age of Christianity where many pastors are afraid to offend, Kyle Idleman pulls no punches as he confronts the sad state of our churches today. He speaks to the idea that many have that you can have all the benefits of Christianity without ever committing fully to be a surrendered follower of Jesus Christ. It is a convicting read as he explains that the only way to truly finding the life of purpose that God offers is one that leads through self-denial and sacrifice. This book will draw you to the message of the cross and will inspire you to deeper levels of holiness and devotion to God.
Letters Of John Newton
edited by Banner of Truth Trust
This book was a gift to me from my parents for my eighteenth birthday, so I've had this book going on a decade now. My copy is worn on the cover from so much use, and I have marked in its margins notations that I still reference to this day. Newton, the famed author of the hymn "Amazing Grace," was a prolific letter-writer...turning out volumes of correspondence to fellow believers and friends whom he desired to encourage. Many times, I've read these letters and felt like he was speaking across the centuries to me directly. This book will not only bolster your faith but will also inspire you to use the gift of words to bless those around you in greater ways.
Life Without Limits
by Nick Vujicic
I can still fondly recall when I received this book as a gift from my mom. I smile when I remember her saying, "This will seem a little different at first, but hang with it. I think you'll find this book extremely inspiring and helpful." At the time, I was a recovering approval addict who had lived many years of my life trying to please people and find acceptance. Then I met Nick...through this book, I realized that living merely for the sake of others' acceptance can be toxic and will rob you of the joy that comes from living for an audience of One. God's approval is the only one that matters, and Nick shares his journey in such a way that this truth really shines through. God can and will work through a willing soul...even if he has no arms or legs.
by Tullian Tchividian
Recently, the author of this book (and several others) has come under fire for his personal failings. He has openly admitted that he did not put into practice what he taught for many years, thus marring his testimony. While I cannot speak as to whether or not he has fully repented of his sin and shortcomings, I do still believe that some God-inspired truths are still contained in this book. For anyone seeking to find meaning in a season of suffering, this book draws inspiration from the life of Job and provides a wonderful insight into how we can let our darkest moments become stepping stones to redemption.
by Seth Haines
Shared vulnerability and honesty is something that is sorely lacking in Christian circles today. Somehow, we all feel like we have to be the strong ones, the perfect ones, the ones who "have it altogether," while yet deeply harboring longings, weaknesses, and brokenness that we're afraid to admit. Seth Haines shatters this mindset, telling his personal story of how he, a church worship leader, found healing for his past in the most unlikely way possible...the breaking of past religious stigmas all the while watching his own son fight for his life. We all need to undergo a "coming clean" process at some point in our walk with God, and this book provides a wonderful example of how one man's life changed through the arduous but worthwhile process of surrender.
One Thousand Gifts
by Ann Voskamp
I partly owe this blog to Ann Voskamp. I was a struggling writer in the midst of a personal spiritual recovery process, and was looking for help. I was looking for a way to set my words free. The agony of an untold story burned within me, and I yearned to put in print what I was undergoing in my heart. God was turning all my past upside down and right-side up, beginning the process of making a masterpiece of my messed up life. I receive this book as a gift from a friend...and the words of this farmer's wife set my own writing free. It gave me permission to be imperfect me...and to trust that God would write a story of His own through me. I've never come across an author who speaks to the brokenness of the human heart, or who portrays God's grace in such wildly amazing ways as Ann does. It is not a surprise that she has become a highly-sough-after speaker and presenter...because hers is a message we are desperate for in today's world. You will walk away from this read feeling hopeful and loved in ways that will blow your mind, and you will also discover the secret of gratitude and how it changes everything.
by J.I. Packer
There is much to be said about "knowing God." Many claim to have such knowledge...but if we honestly thought about it, even fewer are actually known by Him. Packer unlocks a significant truth in this book...that it isn't so much about us knowing God as it is Him knowing us! This book brings out an intimate side of the Christian life, helping the reader to see that mere acquaintance with God isn't enough...one must have the assurance that he is intimately known by God and that such knowledge ensures him of complete care and oversight by the King of the Universe. This book has blessed me on so many occasions, and I know you will find it a comforting read as well.
A Loving Life
by Paul E. Miller
Several years ago, while I was studying the affects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in military individuals, an Army chaplain I know sent this book to me. It was a surprising recommendation to me when I first looked it over...but I soon came to realize that this little book contained much wisdom in regards to how to meet others in their pain. In a world of broken relationships, it's hard to often figure out how to help those who are living lives wrecked. This book uses the biblical story of Ruth as its basis and unfolds a deeply personal yet beautiful path to finding greater understanding and patience with those who hurt. This book transformed the way I talk to people who are struggling...and also helped me find greater patience with myself in the times I've been broken too.
Voices From The Past
edited by Banner of Truth Trust
This book has provided me with a steady foundation of devotional wealth over the years. As with other books I have, this one is worn to the point of having the cover taped up. It has traveled many miles with me on trips and has never failed to offer up a daily dose of truth from the wisdom of great men of the faith. If you get this book, you'll be delighted and refreshed by its contents and will never tire of the inspiring reflections contained in it.
The Valley of Vision
edited by Banner of Truth Trust
"Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights. Hemmed in my mountains of sin, I behold Thy glory." Such are the opening words of this incredible collection of prayers and poetry. Gathered from journals, letters, sermons, and writings from great pray-ers of the faith, you will find your own prayer life greatly enhanced by the words contained in this little book. I've had a copy of this book for many, many years, and I never fail to return to its inspiring lines time and again. It is one that I would highly recommend that every Christian keep on hand for continual use.
"The disciple should not be surprised if, as he travels the road with Christ, some of the old gang begins to thin out. He may feel lonely at first, but then he sees that there are many companions of the Way whom he would never have met on the lower road. A college student said to me, 'You realize you're talking to a very small audience.' I asked what he meant. 'You're only talking to people who are really serious about following Christ. Most of us don't think we have to go that far.' It is heartening to know that there are, in fact, many who want to go all the way."
I'm beginning to fall in love with this man - Elizur. I've been spending a lot of time with him lately, and the discoveries about him are endless. He has many titles to his name: Yale graduate, minister, husband, father of six children (including two members of Congress, the Lt. Gov. of Connecticut, two more Yale grads, etc), writer, teacher, and scientist. But perhaps most telling of all, are the compliments paid to him by his friends and family: "devoted to study of the Word of God"; "eminent for his wisdom"; "arbiter among his own people"; "peace-maker of the neighborhood"; "fitted for the service of God, and for the usefulness of mankind"; "patient, persevering, and investigating"; "a man of great wisdom and prudence"; "able to reconcile conflicting opinions and settle dangerous disputes"; "an eminent blessing to mankind and a profitable example to us."
Sounds like a man anybody would be delighted to know, right?!
The thing is...he lived from 1734-1797...and I've only just discovered him! Over the last few days, I've spent some extensive time researching this great individual and feeling along the way as though I'm making a new friend. From all accounts, one can gather that this man was a giant of the faith in his day, his influence reaching throughout the American colonies in which he lived. In addition to providing a great influence from his pulpit leading up to and throughout the war for American independence, he also was esteemed for his involvement in the political spectrum, personally knowing and interacting with the lives of many of our founding fathers. He was also the personal tutor to many young men, one of which was Eli Whitney - the eventual inventor of the cotton gin. Raising his six children to take their places in the world seriously, he saw them later influence the religious and political scene in a powerful way. Elizur's most profound impact, however, can be traced in the lives of his parishioners, who spoke of the man's devotion to God with the utmost respect.
I was blown away as I learned that he often would spend up to fourteen hours a day in the study of the Scriptures, causing me to feel great shame for the seemingly small amount of time I give to my own Bible reading. His personal library of books from which to draw insight into the Bible filled two large rooms, floor to ceiling, and an additional study room which he used for writing.
This man, Elizur, was somebody worth knowing. The pages of Google results I've found speak to the character and legacy of a man that honored God and influenced mankind (and ultimately history) by his labors and example. I can't seem to get enough information to satisfy my desire to learn more about this godly individual so that I may be further instructed and inspired.
And the thing is... Rev. Elizur Goodrich is my ancestor. He's the brother of my 5x great-grandfather, Alpheus, so I'm related to him closely. Which makes the discovery of this fellow that much more exciting. This story isn't just one for the books, it's part of my DNA. It's in my blood. And now I understand why I am who I am...why my love of books, writing, reading of great sermons of the faith is so strong.
It's no accident that this discovery happened on the first day of the year. This is actually the first answer from God to the prayer I prayed leading into 2017. I told God that I didn't want a safe faith...that I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and become more bold in my walk with Him. I wanted to dare greatly in this New Year - to take my faith to even bigger levels than I ever have...to trust God in greater ways...to even be more purposeful in the relationships around me.
And what is part of His answer? To introduce me to a man who embodied all these things that I desire. Elizur provides me with a pathway to the level of belief I'm seeking. He sheds light for me on the areas in which I'm weak in the faith and spurs me onto to holier living. I know that this year will be different for me because I found out about him. And I know I'll never be the same. Sometimes God answers the prayers you pray in the most unexpected ways.
So I leave you with this encouragement...pray big. Dare greatly. Because God just may lead you into some amazing adventures that will rock your world and change your life.
"We have something to hide. We have secrets, worries, thoughts, hopes, desires, passions which no one else gets to know. We are sensitive when people get near those domains with their questions. And now, against all rules of tact the Bible speaks of the truth that in the end we will appear before Christ with everything we are and were...And we all know that we could justify ourselves before any human court, but not before this one. Lord, who can justify themselves?"
"...Watch over your spirits and avoid all bitterness toward others. However wrong you may think others have been, maintain with great diligence and watchfulness a Christian meekness and gentleness of spirit; and labor, in this respect, to excel those who are of a contrary part...Never think you behave yourselves as becomes Christians, except when you sincerely, sensibly, and fervently love all men, of whatever party or opinion, and whether friendly or unkind, to you or your friends, or to the cause and kingdom of Christ."
I'm coming to realize something about us...something that is true in the most sad and frighteningly way: we're not comfortable with each other. In fact, sometimes we're just downright afraid of one another. But not always in the sense that we don't want to get along or be together...we're afraid of each other's broken. We're terrified of what might happen if we let each other see the cracked places and empty spaces of our hearts; we want to hide our secrets and keep one another from seeing the other's faults and flaws. And it's killing us...it's making us die inside because we're missing the point - we're missing what grace is really all about.
As someone who receives a lot of questions and comments via social media about personal and emotional struggles, I run across many people who have been deeply hurt because they were given the message by others that to be "fixed" was more important than to be loved. These people left churches because healing wasn't offered; they walked away from the faith because hope was never given; they disconnected from relationships with others because judgment overshadowed care. While many of the folks in question probably didn't intend to wound, words cut too sharply. "Solutions" were offered instead of shared tears and hugs. The hurting were left to bleed...and to feel more alone than ever. Instead of receiving the love of some good Samaritan, they received the condemnation of the Pharisees passing by.
I'm beginning to really notice and be frustrated by the lack of discernment within our circles of faith today. So many wander in, just looking for a ray of hope and a shoulder to lean on. Simply wanting an understanding heart, a listening ear. But we're going too fast. We're so focused on "being right" about all things Christian that we're missing opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the broken. Worse yet, we don't realize the extent to which we're broken, and thus we can't meet people where they're at. It's like we are afraid of the sin of others. We are uncomfortable with talking about neediness. We don't like to get involved with others' messy.
We become uneasy when a homosexual person walks into our church because we know their sin but we don't know how to act around them. Instead of realizing that, just maybe, God is calling them out of that sin into a new life of holiness, we think, "they can't be here. It's against God's law. They've got to get 'cleaned up' before they can fellowship with us." We reject a potential opportunity God may be providing for us to help them journey into the forgiveness of God, not seeing that He may have led that person into our midst for a reason.
We don't know how to treat the young teenage couple that has found themselves expecting a child and trying to figure out how to correct past mistakes. We notice "what's wrong with them" while maybe by-passing the fact that they are seeking God's answers as to what to do. They probably wish they could un-do their errors. And maybe they are genuinely desiring to get it right for the future going forward. But we avoid them. Or if we do interact at all, it's to let them know that they need to get involved with a support group right away so they can learn what the Bible says about such things so they can get "fixed" and then be made right for fellowship with us.
We grow completely uncomfortable with the suicidal person who comes along our way. All we feel we can do is to tell them, "don't take your life," but we don't know realize that they're most likely at such a point of despair as to maybe not listen to that reason anymore. Perhaps a simple, "I love you" would say more. Maybe a calming spirit of "you matter to me in this world" would cause them to re-think.
These are just a few examples of how we've gotten it wrong. We either seem too tolerant because we don't say things out of our fear of offending, or we say things too strongly and end up hurting those who are desperate for truth and grace. We don't understand our Master's example...and that's where we get off-track.
Over the summer of last year, I spent a lot of time searching the Gospels and noting how Jesus interacted with hurting people. One constant was that He always began with relationship first. Of course, being an all-knowing God, he already was aware of the person's brokenness before they came to Him, but He never failed to meet them where they were at. His gentleness drew them in. Whether it was the woman at the well (John 4:4-26), the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), or the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), Jesus always took the time to build a personal connection with the person before He directly addressed their need. Often, we're so concerned with the person's sin that we don't communicate our love to them first. We speak the truth, but sometimes the truth ends up coming across as judgmental and condemning. It's as though we're the perfect ones telling the imperfect how much they need Jesus. And then they feel rejected. And they're driven away from the Savior because they think His followers don't care.
As referenced in Tim Keller's book, "Walking With God Through Pain And Suffering," author Don Carson writes:
"There is a way of using theology and theological arguments that wounds rather than heals. This is not the fault of theology and theological arguments; it is the fault of the 'miserable comforter' who fastens on an inappropriate fragment of truth, or whose timing is off, or whose attitude is condescending, or whose application is insensitive, or whose truth theology is couched in such culture-laden cliches that they grate rather than comfort."
I've ended up having to see (and in the past, experience) this sad fact about our church circles way too often. And it needs to stop. Too many people are being kept away from the Source of hope and healing because we're not willing to enter the pain with them. We're disregarding our own brokenness and neediness, so we can't come to them in a spirit of shared vulnerability.
If God is the starting point of our interaction with others, we will want to be an extension of Him to those around us. If we are his genuine followers, we will desire to reflect Him to a fallen world to the best of our feeble ability. We will want to live our lives in the spirit of the disciple, Philip, who found Nathaniel and brought him to Jesus saying, "we have found the One..." (John 1:43-44). If leading others to Him who can make all things right is our goal, then perhaps we'll stop trying so hard to do the "fixing" ourselves. It's like broken things trying to mend broken things. Only the work of God can help us all to see each other for who we really are.
I know this post is a bit out of character for me, but I felt this must be said since I'm running into this issue more often than I care to admit. And so, I want to leave you with this word of advice (and I'm speaking to myself here mostly): whenever you encounter a broken life, remind yourself where you once were. Ask God to help you remember what pain feels like and to bring to your recollection those caring souls along the way who maybe helped you in an hour of need and gave you a shoulder to cry on. Most importantly, seek His daily fixing of your own broken places. Then, and only then, will you be able to sit next to a hurting heart and say, "I hear you. I see you. I know you. I am you." Just maybe, by your willingness to not run from their pain, God will use you to be the conduit for His love that sets that broken life free.
I stare out at the frosty trees, kissed by the wintery whiteness of a chilly outdoors. The thought crosses my mind that this thing called life really is impossible. With all the talk of recent New Year resolutions and all things goal-setting, I realize that we often don't think of how incapable we really are of keeping the promises we set for ourselves...of doing this thing called life...and doing it well.
This journey through our one short life is in itself impossible. So many dangers and fears beset us along the way that our only chance at getting it right is...Him. At various times in my life, I've run up against my own incapability. And honestly, while I've never been more demoralized than when I realized I couldn't do it all or get it right on my own, I've never felt more freed than when I knew that the weight isn't on me to do it right to begin with. You see, this culture makes us feel as if it all depends on us. We are the masters of our own fate. We are the determiners of our own destiny. So they say...
But how might it change us if we understood that the responsibility isn't ours at all?! How might we begin to live differently if we grasped the simple truth that the One who created the beauty of frosty trees holds the universe in His hands?! And He holds us, too. Often, I think we treat God as too small. We admit that He's strong - we call Him mighty and sovereign - but when it comes down to it, we think that we've got to do it all. We make Him out to be a weak God. Which, if that were true, would make Him to be no God at all. I face a New Year...and so do you. This is a fresh beginning and a new opportunity to see God for who He really is this year. Personally, I am praying for a big faith in 2017. I'm eager to see God perform miracles and open my eyes to even greater evidences of His love. But my determination to stay connected to Him, to love deeper, pray longer will only carry me so far. Because I'll run into myself more often than I care to know. For all my good intentions, I'll fail more frequently than I want to admit. Because I can't do this. And neither can you. Whatever things you feel led to do or become in this year, you won't be able to accomplish them. God knows that. He is aware of our incapability, and He is fully knowing of the fact that we'll fall short on many occasions en route to the things He's requiring of us in 2017. There will be moments of doubt and tears as we remind Him of what He already knew..."I can't handle this. I can't do this, Lord!" He is prepared for our failings and our unbelief. So, for our part, why not go into this New Year and admit it first thing: it's impossible. We won't have grace in and of ourselves to meet what's ahead...and only God knows what that is. We won't be able to be strong enough on our own for all the challenges and struggles we will have to face. We won't be brave enough by our own courage to deal with the fears that will stand in our way. We aren't enough.
But the other side of it is, He is. He is enough. And He will bear the weight of all our burdens as to make them light; He will grant us grace in our hardest difficulties that we can only attribute to Him alone; He will give us all we need for what is next. And the grace He will supply will only be good for that moment alone. Not for the one before or the one after. Just the now. This thing called life isn't impossible for God. And He's definitely not incapable. If we let Him take it all and we simply follow...if we only accept the present-grace as our responsibility...if we walk in full acknowledgment of our inability and His ability...the journey just might grow sweeter. This thing called life just might turn into a possibility...because He's always enough...even when we aren't!
I will admit there are days when life doesn't seem fair, things don't go right, and the world seems on the brink of collapse...
I will admit there are moments when His goodness appears distant, His love is hard to feel present, His grace looks to have run clean out...
I will admit there are times when the fears are pressing the air near out of me, the demands threaten to drown out God completely, the darkness reminds me that it isn't far from me...
I will also admit that, in spite of all these things, I am alive. He has brought hope to this soul that thought all grace was lost forever. And so, even on the days when it's feeling hard, I celebrate...because He's too good for me to not praise. And perhaps my offering of hard-worship is more important to Him because it's a sacrifice of praise...it's being pushed out of a heart that longs for the faith to believe even in the hard times. Bowing before His altar with thanksgiving in my heart is what counts to Him...
And so I bless Him...because He has made me resurrected in hope with Him. He has given me life abundant.
"The great Master Gardener in his wonderful providence has planted me in this part of his vineyard by his grace, and here I grow and abide till the great Master of the vineyard thinks it fit to transplant me. Give him leave to take his own way of dispensations with you. His people must be content with what he carves out for them. Christ and his followers suffered before they reached the top of the mountain, but our soft nature desires heaven with ease. All who have gone before have found sharp storms that took the hide off their face, and many enemies in the way. His ways are far above me, with windings we cannot see. Obstacles are written in the Lord's book by his wise and unerring providence. We see only the outside of things. It is a well-spent journey to crawl hands and feet to enjoy him at the well-head. Let us not be weary; we are closer than when we first believed. Do not focus your thoughts among the confused wheels of secondary causes, as - 'O, if this had been, this had not followed!' ...In building, we see hewn stones and timbers under hammers and axes, yet the house in its beauty we do not see at the present, but it is in the mind of the builder. We also see unbroken clods, furrows, and stones, but we do not see the summer lilies, roses, and the beauty of a garden. Even so we do not presently see the outcome of God's decrees with his blessed purpose. It is hard to believe when his purpose is hidden and under the ground. Providence has a thousand keys to deliver his own even when all hope is gone. Let us be faithful and care for our own part, which is to do and suffer for him, and lay Christ's part on himself, and leave it there; duties are ours, events are the Lord's."
Well...it's here. A new year. Another 12 months. Another 365 days gifted to us to use...what will we choose to do?
I find this time of year quite thought-provoking because it gets me reflecting on the passing year and asking myself questions about the year up ahead. I often think about whether or not I spent the previous 12 months well. Did I take advantage of the little moments well? Did I cut down on the wasted hours? Did I choose faith in greater measure? Did I gain some victory (however small) over some fear in my weak heart?
Although only God knows fully whether or not I made the best choices in this one year gifted to me, I can often count up many times where I gained in some small measure. I can also recollect a few occasions where fear got the better of me, where pride maybe reigned large and humility took a back seat, where I wasn't intentional with another person...and I missed a chance to be the hands and feet of my Savior to them. Whatever the situation, I nearly always walk into a New Year, pleading God's forgiveness for risks not taken, for directions not obeyed, for faith not exercised, etc. and striving to get it better in the year to come.
This New Year is now upon us. Laying in our hands is another gift from God to us. What will we do in this New Year? What will we do with 2017?
This year will be filled with great successes and, most likely, great disappointments. It will be mixed with happiness and sorrow as is the case in any life. But we can choose how we're going to live each day that we're given...because only He knows if this could be our last year on this earth. Will we live this one life - one day at a time - well?!
As for me, I intend to strive for the following this coming year: I want to be more intentional with the people closest to me - to passionately pursue my relationships with an ever-growing love that stems from the grace shown to me by my Savior. I hope to pray deeper - to not merely use prayer as a means to get God's attention about things that matter to me like healing for sick ones, safety in travels, etc. but to learn how to align myself with His will in all things...to seek His face above all else. I choose to dare more - harkening back to the #365dare that I issued around Thanksgiving, I'm making the decision to stop playing my faith safe...to get out of my comfort zone and to start living life large for God. Because He isn't confined to some little box that I've set up for Him, why should I continue to live life as if that's the case for me as His follower?! I want to conquer even more fears in my life than I did in 2016. I've grown a lot the last year in the area of belief and faith, of trusting God even when circumstances tell you "it's impossible." I want to take that growth to greater heights in the months to come.
These are just a few of the things that I hope to accomplish, with God's grace, in 2017. I know you have dreams and hopes of your own for this coming year. Whatever our goals and aspirations are, let's all determine together that we will use this one year well.
Every day, may we wake up and open our hearts and hands saying, "Here, Lord, use my one life today. A broken offering I may be, but I'm willing, and that is all You need."
"If this is to be a Happy New Year, a year of usefulness, a year in which we shall live to make this earth better, it is because God will direct our pathway. How important then, to feel our dependence upon Him!"