Walking on Higher Ground

I’m pressing on the upward way
New heights I’m gaining every day
Still praying as I onward bound
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand
By faith on heaven’s table land
A higher plane than I have found
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

I’m Pressing on the Upward Way, Johnson Oatman

Do you remember this hymn? These days I hear and sing so few from my younger days. When I do the experience always seems to fill my spirit with all sorts of emotions. Today our pastor recited these lyrics that he had recently sung with his mother. It was another perfect moment for me, another immediate answer to prayer.

  1. It never goes away, people that treat you in terrible ways
  2. Circumstances out of your control come crashing down and capsize a carefully built life
  3. Somebody in charge thoughtlessly pitches whole chapters of your life right out the window
  4. A relationship you put so much trust in falls apart right before your eyes

So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (The Voice)

Sounds like a nice thought, but what does it mean? How do we put it into practice? Is it really possible to not pay attention when your hair is on fire and to instead only focus on a promised future? This is a hard path to walk. it

STOP

When you start to smell the smoke, don’t go into a panic mode and follow your natural inclinations. Remember Peter when he took his eyes off his Master and began to notice the storm and waves all around him? He did what was normal.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink.  – Matthew 14:29-30

If you plan on walking the higher ground, you’re going to have to STOP that defeated, discouraged, depressed attitude. I walked into worship on Sunday very much in this terrible state. I was praying and this time got hit right in my broken heart with several wonderful reminders that there indeed was a higher ground to walk. My spirit was challenged to focus on things that I was not seeing.

DROP

Right now, I am more frequently faced with the challenge to stop getting bogged down with so many troubles du jour. The practice continues until I learn to see what’s really happening and drop these “momentary, light afflictions.” How much effort is wasted stewing and steaming over some daily disaster that you probably won’t even remember in a few weeks?

…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  – Hebrews 12:1

The next time someone strikes you on the cheek, threatens your well-being, makes you feel worthless, or takes away another dream – don’t keep it in your belly one more minute, drop it and keep your hands empty and raised in supplication.

ROLL

One last step, this is probably why I’m still having so much trouble with all of this. The cares of this world, small and large, don’t just disappear because we practice a greater will power. Dropping our “present troubles” over the side of the boat doesn’t last. They keep coming back to haunt us. I can’t sleep anymore, I’m tossing and turning, rehearsing all sorts of scenarios to fix my current problems. They don’t ever really go away until I complete the act of surrender, the step of faith.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.  – 1 Peter 5:6-7

By acknowledging how much God loves me, how well he really knows what’s going on and admitting my complete inadequacy, I am more able to “roll” each and every disaster, disappointment and defeat onto his shoulders. Until I do this, they continue to plague my soul. Dropping isn’t enough because I’m really, really good at picking things up (just ask my wife). When I am willing and able to turn my anxieties over to my Heavenly Father – the rule of emotion is broken. That peace that is almost impossible to understand comes to rule over my life.

“The reason some of us are such poor specimens of Christianity is because we have no Almighty Christ. We have Christian attributes and experiences, but there is no abandonment to Jesus Christ.” ― Oswald Chambers

I really thought at this stage/age I’d be a better specimen. What’s so encouraging about what’s going on in my life these days is that our Heavenly Father continues to transform each one of us. He does not give up, His mercy is endless, His great plan will come true.

Plant my feet on higher ground, one step at a time…

Momentary, Light Affliction

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So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NLT)

The Apostle Paul certainly knew about suffering. He had been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked and starved. He had friends abandon him and spent the last years of his life on a perpetual journey and finally in prison. He knew trouble’s first and middle name.

When people are sick or taking care of sick people – they can get absorbed in the situation. Surely this is a survival mechanism that helps people in crisis make it from day to day. But Paul reminds us that despite the urgent crisis that inevitably hits, there is so much more to center our souls upon. There are things that will last forever, things to come that we will be a part of and will be a part of us. How are you doing at “fixing your gaze” on what really matters?

Preliminary to any self-determined act of behavior there is always a stage of examination and deliberation which we may call the definition of the situation. And actually not only concrete acts are dependent on the definition of the situation, but gradually a whole life-policy and the personality of the individual himself follow from a series of such definitions. – W.I. Thomas

How are you defining your situation? Is the suffering you are experiencing the whole ball of wax? Is there more to your life, to your suffering, than just right now? Do you need to get some people around you who will help remind you of what’s going away and what’s lasting forever?

Remember, every single day of your life, there are people that cross your path who are suffering in their own private ways. What can you do to be a lighthouse, a little bit of salt, a reminder to look up and watch what you believe?

“If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse… but surely you will see the wildness!”
― Pablo Picasso

Looking The Other Way Around

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“The truth of the matter is that the whole world has already been turned upside down by the work of Jesus Christ” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

A friend from college in the midst of a medical crisis passed away this week, not so much unexpectedly, but all of a sudden. As I looked back at photos from when we were together at college, it seemed as if a thousand years had passed. And yet, it was just a moment ago when we were having so much fun and dreaming about a hopeful future.

In the eternal scheme of things, as a lyric goes from one of my favorite singers, “…you and I will simply disappear, out of sight.”  

  • Time passes us by so quickly
  • So much that we worry our lives with, doesn’t really matter
  • Perspective and context are essential to keep ourselves on track – heading in a meaningful direction (instead of lost in the woods, cussing too much)

Death sometimes comes too fast.  To some who are too young.  It catches us off guard. Things seem out of order. I posted to friends a passage from the Gospel of John as I thought about sudden departures for heaven. It’s a familiar passage, when Jesus is telling his disciples (and us) to not be afraid, there are bigger and better things waiting in eternity.

Don’t get lost in despair; believe in God, and keep on believing in Me. My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival.  I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. – John 14:1-3 (The Voice)

The translation grabbed my attention.  The reason that despair (and fear and worry and anxiety and anger and frustration and calamity and uncertainty and…) can be conquered isn’t because Jesus has a magic lamp to rub and wishes come true. The reason that all of these trials of the heart and mind can be defeated is because, in perspective, they don’t matter as much as we think they do in the moment.

Our forever future has already been established. Here and now with all of the accompanying troubles, pales in comparison to the overwhelming eternity that awaits – where Jesus himself is waiting. This is the true context in which we ought to walk our steps on earth. Always on the march toward a heavenly home. One that won’t ever need a fixing up!

Last year, my Sunday School class shared the story in Acts 12 of Peter’s rescue from prison by an angelic messenger. We couldn’t help but notice the first verses of that chapter that quickly described the execution of Jesus’ brother James in the same jail. This great mystery puzzles me still. Sometimes God sends an angel to the rescue, and other times there’s an execution awaiting.

But the way I have been thinking about that story and telling it is backwards. Probably lots of things I think about are that way, what about you? We are now living on the Titanic and we know it’s going down. We are awaiting transport to safety to be secure forever.

The sad news in Acts 12 isn’t that James was left in jail to be executed. With a Christian orientation to our mindset, when we read this account, we ought to be heartbroken that poor Peter had to stay on board a little while longer and wasn’t taken to safety as quickly as his fellow disciple James.

Paul had this perspective when he wrote…

“For my life is about the Anointed and Him alone. And my death, when that comes, will mean great gain for me. – Philippians 1:21 (The Voice)

There is so much about my perspective that needs constant reorientation because of the Good News. What about you? Do you need to use your faith today to remember the eternal context and reorient your heart and mind (and mouth) back toward that accurate perspective?

I showed this quick video to my class this week – it helps keep your thinking the right way around.

Did You See That?

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Can’t you buy a car now that will stop for you if you get too busy doing something else, other than driving? I think there are vehicles that will even warn you if you somehow wander out of your lane. Isn’t there a car that will parallel park itself? Of course we are all waiting for the “driver-less” cars that are being developed. Driving is fast becoming an activity to which we have to pay less and less attention. Great!

What are you paying attention to these days? Where are your worries taking you? What keeps you up at night?

  • We tend to pay attention to what’s urgent – what’s currently on fire!
  • We pay attention to what’s familiar to us
  • We also pay more attention to problems that we feel as if we can fix (or we want to fix)

When you feel overwhelmed – and it happens to everyone – think about what you are paying the most attention to during these times. Of course, when you’re involved in a car accident or just heard that your job has been phased out, that’s all you are supposed to think about in those moments. It’s natural and normal. But what about the context within which you frame these kinds of disasters or even the normal bad days?

“For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18

  • Remind yourself that this time of trouble is not going to last forever – one day you will see it in your rear view mirror.
  • You are a child of God – he is going to care for you in his way.
  • Think about the messages your words and actions are sending to others about how confident you are about your true future.

We need to stop looking and start paying attention. What does it mean to pay attention to the context within which the Christian life is lived? Think about the works of God in your life that ARE going to last forever. Think about the transformation that the Holy Spirit is accomplishing in your life. The Fruit of the Spirit is nourishing both you and others eternally. Your real home is not here on earth but with Christ in heaven. God has never once left you alone as you traveled through those dark days. At a moments notice you are able to enter God’s presence with your prayers and know the peace that passes all understanding.

“For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17

The ways that we go about defining situations is a powerful process for determining what we believe. You see it’s not always what’s true but what we believe is true that shapes how we go about living. Is the “here and now” so real to you that you can’t get past it and see the “forest”? Have you got things mixed up and are you defining your earthly circumstances with eternal weight? Start looking at the whole picture – frame your life within what you truly believe. There’s a larger story being played out and your life is a part of it. Even the terrible times.

“What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church and encouraged them to not get tripped up by their worries about current circumstances and to instead think about what was being born in their lives now and what was to come, what would last forever – life eternal. What seems so urgent and terrible, what can make us feel so powerless, is actually only for a moment.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7

This power to stop staring at the immediate circumstances and instead take the long view and frame what’s happening by looking down the road, that ability is a gift that comes from within us. When we surrender and submit our fears, it is then that our gaze can be raised to see eternal hope spread before us like the bright lights of the dawn.

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” ― Og Mandino

How Long Will It Take?

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There are all kinds of prisons. We are all bound to live some part of our life trapped.  Sometimes it’s just because of terrible circumstances like illness or a tumbling economy. Some prisons are of our own making, consequences of bad choices and evil desires.

However you got there, how long do you have to stay in prison before something significant changes? If you look carefully at the story of Joseph from the Old Testament you see a man who let his prison experience transform him into someone remarkable.

When Joseph was seventeen years old, he often tended his father’s flocks….Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt. – Genesis 37:2, 28

He was thirty years old when he began serving in the court of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. And when Joseph left Pharaoh’s presence, he inspected the entire land of Egypt.  – Genesis 41:46

How long does it take to go from being a selfish punk to the most influential man in Egypt? He seems to have spent a good part of thirteen years as a slave to Potiphar and then in prison because of the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife. His physical imprisonment came to an end when he was able to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. He told the king…

“It is beyond my power to do this, but God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.”  – Genesis 41:16

This is the same man who as a teenager spent too much time dancing around his brothers flaunting that “amazing technicolor dreamcoat” their father had given to only him. He was such a miserable person to be around, they felt like killing him, literally.

What happened to him during those years in slavery and prison that transformed him into a man who could calmly walk into the court of the most powerful king on earth and bear witness of the power of God?

As incredible as it reads, Joseph’s story is everyone’s story. We all face opportunities to either be transformed or remain in prison. There are all kinds of prisons that enslave people. Defeats can fall on us like a flood. No one is immune.

Wherever you are right now – whatever the prison might look like – it doesn’t matter how you got there. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you are going to get out – often this is out of your control. Think about the ways that relationships evolve, long-term sickness, a career that’s changing. What always matters is what’s happening to you while you are in that prison. What is God going to do in your life, with your life, through your life because of this experience?

When people are in prison they always face a number of choices:

  • Prison can cripple people. Even when released people often carry within them, for too long, their imprisonment experience. It haunts them even as they walk in freedom. It is as if they remain in prison and die a little every single day. They relive their defeats like a never ending re-run of doom.
  • In prison, some people build a new life – a future self. This takes time, involves others and there are certainly mistakes along the way. When freedom comes, they are ready to start life anew, their thinking has changed and they see with a bigger vision. But they have to wait for freedom to arrive in order to start living their new life.
  • Others learn, over time, to differentiate between internal and external circumstances – they come to recognize what is passing and what is eternal. They can see beyond their chains and recognize what is temporary and what matters. The prison experience transforms their perspective and in so doing it provides an eternal freedom. No matter where they find themselves, these people discover true freedom.

What is prison doing for you? For Joseph it was a time to wait until just the right time. It was an experience that transformed him into a man ready to serve God, not his own wishes.

It seems strange to urge that you pray, not to be set loose from your chains, but instead to let your earthly chains set you truly free.

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet    

Where Else To Go?

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Sometimes, there aren’t any answers. Other times, the way forward seems covered in mist and shadow. I don’t think you ever get too old to feel lost and afraid. There are always quick fixes, easy answers, rational calculations… and then, one day, the ultimate solution is staring you in the face…

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”   – John 6:66-69

Jesus starts some heavy lessons. He’s not a carnival sideshow. He’s not going to raise up an army and deliver from the Romans. He’s talking about death, blood and sacrifice. It’s just too much, too deep, not what most wanted to hear. They turned and looked for an easier road, one that better fit their expectations. As the crowds of followers started to thin out, Jesus turns to his own trusty men and asks, now that you’ve started to hear more of the truth, are you ready to jump ship too?

One day you have to get to the end.
One day you have to see for the first time.
One day you have to speak the truth, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

Fear and suffering drive you into the dark or face to face with your faith.

Peter replies to Jesus, where else are we going to go? What you have been telling us is the eternal truth. Everywhere else is only shadows. And surely in those shadow we will only find more fear and suffering.

Here is where Peter makes his great confession: The reason that your words are eternal is because You are the Savior.

There is a great confession that you and I must make as well. One that we must make to ourselves again and again…

  1. There isn’t any where else that I can go to find peace, truth and love.
  2. The words that the Savior spoke are true, the promises that he made are sure, the love that he demonstrated and is even now demonstrating is eternal.
  3. These two points are absolute and more certain than the next sunrise because he is the Son of God.

When you determine to believe this confession, the path before you is lit with hope, your suffering becomes light and you know that you are not alone – you never were.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.” (Lemmel)

His divine power has given us everything we need to experience life and to reflect God’s true nature… – 2 Peter 1:3

Where is Jesus When You Need Him?

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“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”  ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

We can’t live very long and avoid the disasters that await around the corners. Sometimes they hit us quick and leave before we can even get our breath. Some catastrophes seem to hang on and take up residence.

I think I can face almost anything when I have someone else right there beside me. It’s brutal when I have to walk that road all alone. I have read about the lives of others and experienced for myself times when I’ve felt like I’ve even been left alone by God. I think most people feel like this at times. This is when we get to push out on our faith and see how well it floats.

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” – Hebrews 11:1

Sometimes my faith starts to sink because I’m too often looking at the world around me, the situations I’ve stumbled into, the tribulation that fell on my head and I’m seeing it all with the eyes of my heart and not the eyes of my soul. Then I read an encounter like this and I’m ready to pick up that shield again…

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”  But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”  – Luke 22:31-34

We spend so much attention on the failure of Peter. Perhaps because it sounds so familiar. We have so much hope, yet our flesh is still so weak.

But look at what Jesus told his friend he had been doing for him. Pleading in prayer for him. Praying for his faith to withstand the bitter and heartbreaking experience of personal failure. Peter will soon commit an act of betrayl he can’t even imagine at this point in time. He will publicly turn his back on his dearest friend.

Where is Jesus when we need him, when we falter and fail? When everything we thought we could count on was ripped away? Even when we lose every drop of faith we ever had and walk away into the cold night? Where is he? He is pleading in prayer.

He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.  – Hebrews 7:25