Bumper Stickers and Vanity Plates or What’s Your Agenda?

truthI have an artist friend who works in the same building as I, just a couple of blocks down the hill from our state’s Capitol building.   She also lives out in the country not too far from me, so we carpool whenever one of us is in need of a ride to work.

She has a bumper sticker on her car (just one) that makes me smile every time I see it:

“Truth has no agenda.” 

That is  great statement! How could anyone possibly take issue with that?  But she tells me that on one particular day she returned to her car to find a note. Someone was so bothered by her bumper sticker that they left a post-it note with a message that asked, “What’s your agenda?” LOL! My first thought was, “what’s your problem?” But after giving it more serious thought I would have to say my agenda is to always be seeking the truth, and when you do that, you can’t really be swayed or manipulated by the hidden agendas of others – and they’re everywhere.

One day this past summer we were sharing a ride and as usual, enjoying lively discussion – encouraging one another through laughter and tears over matters we don’t typically discus with anyone else.  We got talking about how blessed we are and how we didn’t know what we’d do or where we’d be today without the Lord when a car drove by with a license plate that read:

“MY SAVIOR.” 

Later on, after a rather challenging day at work, we met again for the evening commute. This time our conversation turned to the creative lifestyle and the frustrations we both face – she, as an artist, and myself, as a songwriter.  I shared with her how the Lord had led me every step of the way and no matter how difficult things seemed, whenever I felt overwhelmed and confused about the direction I should take, I would cry out to the Lord and he always revealed the next step at the right time. Just then, as though to accentuate the point, another car drove by with a license plate that read:

 “MY SHEPHERD!” 

I don’t know about you, but we both thought that was highly unusual! I know I’ve never seen anything like it before or since and the memory of it still warms my heart. What a reminder: My Savior, my Shepherd – Jesus – has rescued and redeemed this life of mine, and he guides and cares for me every step of the way, like a tender shepherd caring for a little lost lamb lifted from the brambles.  He IS the Truth and he guides me WITH his truth, and if there is an “agenda,” it is his divine purpose – one that is never crooked or deceitful, and one that will be fully revealed to us one day. It emanates from his loving heart – and it’s all for good!

 

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Some Mountains Don’t Move

mtSo I have always wondered about the response Jesus gave his disciples when in frustration they asked him why they had failed to cast the demons out of a young man whose father then brought him to Jesus.

“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them.  “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to mountain, ‘move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” – Matthew 17:20

It gets worse.  It’s not as though they’d never seen the miraculous.  This incident took place immediately after they descended from the top of the mountain where they had seen the face of Jesus shining like the sun, his clothing white as light; the very place where Moses and Elijah appeared and the voice of God spoke from the cloud, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.  Listen to him.”

(Big sigh.)  If they didn’t have enough faith after such a monumental experience, what hope do I have? Even if I could somehow conjure up enough faith, what if it’s not the right kind?  Are there varying degrees and multiple varieties of faith? If so, how will I ever get by with my little faith, my weak faith – my faltering faith? Who can tell me what quantity or quality is needed to get that mountain moved and while we’re on the subject, why am I so convinced this one needs to move, anyway?

Immediately I recall the words of the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13:2:  “…if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but I didn’t love others, I would be nothing.”  Everyone is talking about love as a verb.  I get that – we are, after all, commanded to love.  But there’s something greater than faith, and the scriptures also tell me that “God is love.”   (I John 4:16)

In the Christian message alone, love precedes life; in every other worldview, life precedes love.  Therefore, in the Christian framework, love has a point of reference: God Himself.  Ravi Zacharias

I began thinking of Love as a person – THE person who, along with his two companions (Faith and Hope), is making this journey with me.  It takes Faith to accept what Love has already done and to place our hope in Love’s ability to carry us safely through this life and into the next.  It takes Hope to look ahead and cling to the ultimate fulfillment of what Love has promised all along. All three are important and all are necessary but without the enduring faithful love of God, Faith and Hope don’t get the job done.

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

Love was moved with compassion.  Love came down to seek and to save our poor lost souls. Love gave it all and paid our sin debt on a hideous cross of suffering. Love had the power to rise in victory over sin and death and hell, thus fulfilling the eternal plan and promises of God.  I am overwhelmed with this love and the realization that, to put it in Squire Parsons’ words (from one of my favorite Southern Gospel songs), “when I could not come to where he was, he came to me!”

Love is alive and well, calling us to exercise faith, have hope, and rest assured that he will make a way – not to grant our wildest dreams, promote our own agendas or participate in our self-absorbed schemes – but rather, to fulfill his good intentions, his perfect will and his greatest joy in our lives.

An active faith can remove mountains, not of itself, but in the virtue of a divine power engaged by a divine promise, both which faith fastens upon. – Matthew Henry

So don’t be discouraged with that insurmountable obstacle looming on the horizon. You may have examined all the options, looking at it from every angle.  You’ve worried, wept and prayed, but the situation hasn’t changed. That mountain stubbornly stands in the way, like Goliath to David, taunting you in your weakness, threatening to fulfill your worst fear and turn it into humiliation and failure.

But some mountains don’t move.  Maybe it’s supposed to be there. So whether God wants to remove it or take you to the top, no matter how miserably you’ve failed or how deeply you’ve fallen, remember this:

Love will make a way for me to stand on a mountain
That looks like it’s here to stay;
Love will make a way over and around it
To claim my hope and faith!
Goodness and mercy are running after me, but
Love will make a way!

These three things will last forever – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13:13

Ribbons of Goodness

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” – James 1:17

I love Christmas – the joy and festivity in the air, the lights, the music and friendly smiles. I love the way people can go out of their way to be cordial and neighborly, extending kind gestures in ways that are often unexpected, giving gifts that, whether they recognize it or not, point back to the birth of a baby boy over 2,000 years ago. A baby boy whose advent had been predicted and anticipated for hundreds of years and yet, whose sudden appearance in an obscure place seemed to take everyone by surprise.

cmas2God’s people had been waiting and longingcmas2 for his arrival but they were expecting more of a conquering king; a political savior and religious leader who would play by the rules. Mary and Joseph held their firstborn son, not in the comfort of their home with adoring family and friends, but huddled in a cold and lowly stable they shared with some animals and a few shepherds who had just received a celestial invitation. Not exactly what the young couple might have expected, but far beyond their wildest dreams. The heavens erupted in praise. The angels looked on in wonder.  The shepherds knelt in reverence as the tiny Prince of Heaven locked eyes with his earthly parents, and Mary and Joseph rejoiced.

I love to watch the pure excitement on children’s faces as they gather around the tree. My younger grandchildren can hardly contain themselves. In fact, they have forced me to become more creative with the gift wrapping because the little urchins will gang up on me and somehow figure out who got what, thus spoiling the surprise. I have been known to employ riddles, numbering systems, color coding and themed gift wrap to help preserve the suspense and while they’ve never met a gift they didn’t like, they are naturally drawn to the biggest, brightest and most colorful packages, mesmerized by the possibilities contained therein.

Although I wouldn’t accuse my Heavenly Father of resorting to such trickery,  I realize how very childlike I have been in my expectations and yes, demands. For I desired only the gifts that looked like blessings to me – the brightly wrapped presents that everyone else would admire and crave. The exciting and noteworthy things that would announce to the world that I somehow deserved the goodness that had come my way.

“Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God; not only by unbelief, but by thinking that you know what he can do.  Expect unexpected things ‘above all that we ask or think.'” – Andrew Murray

I blush at my youthful dream of becoming a songwriter. I knew that God had gifted me. Surely the songs would flow effortlessly and pain-free from my pen and paper to the ears of eager listeners who would anticipate with enthusiasm each new offering. I was naive in expecting that my songs would be recognized and sought after, that I would be “discovered.”  Well, they weren’t, but I was – discovered, that is, by a God who could see through all my delusions and superficial requests. He knew exactly who I would become, where I needed to be, and how he would get me there.  With utmost patience, he continued to surprise me with a lifetime of unexpected gifts.  Some actually looked like blessings and I shared them with excitement, while others came wrapped in heartache and I stared at them in disbelief from a lonely, impoverished place, not understanding until much later that all were tied with ribbons of goodness and given in the fullness of time to carry out his perfect plan.

So this Christmas, whether you are rejoicing over the many good things the Lord has bestowed upon you or struggling under the weight of an unexpected circumstance too difficult to carry, remember – they are all good in the Father’s gift-giving plan.  Take a moment to look for those ribbons of goodness and let his sweet presence fill your heart with comfort and joy.  Though born of humble means, these gifts can lead your soul to greatness.

“…and I thank you, Lord, that when everything’s put in place,
 out in front I can see your face and it’s there you belong!” – Dan Burgess

Have a blessed Christmas!

Becki