Chosen

“For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world…” – Eph. 1:4

Tony Lucas was beaming.  Not just smiling, not just grinning, absolutely BEAMING from ear to ear… the kind of smile that you get when you realize that you just got picked first in gym class, even though you’re not at the top of the athletic food chain.  Tony had that look that you get when you realize that after years of faithfully purchasing a raffle ticket at the office Christmas party, you finally won the vacation trip… the kind of look when you peel the Monopoly game piece off a McDonald’s french fry box and realize you just got Boardwalk.  Tony was beaming, because he had been chosen.

The arena wasn’t exactly packed for the concert that night, but the music was loud and the band was full of energy, and halfway through the show, it was time.  As the beginning of the next song played, the lead singer called out “I want you guys to give a big welcome to my brand new friend, TONY LUCAS”, and the crowd erupted.  And then there he was.  The singer reached down from the stage, and up came Tony from the crowd, on to the stage, into the lights, up to the mic, because he had been chosen.

Tony had participated in a singing contest… kind of an “American Idol” imitation, where the winner would get to sing a song with the band.  He had done all right, but hung his head, defeated, as he left the audition stage, somehow knowing that he hadn’t done it.  He had given his best, but it hadn’t worked out.  He just knew he had lost.

Then came the announcement, ringing over the PA system in the crowded center court of the shopping mall.

“We’re going to be calling some people back to sing another selection.  If you hear your name please come up to the desk again.”

“Tony Lucas”.

As Tony heard his name, he knew it, this was it, his chance at redemption!  He came, he sang, he qualified, and by the end of the week when the votes were tallied, he had won his moment in the spotlight.  Tony, had been chosen.

I watched him carefully as he stood on the stage with the band, the music blaring, the singer standing in the background as this unknown, this local amateur sang the song, and through all the other distractions in the hall that night, his smile cut through.  His voice cut through.  His heart cut through.  Tony had a joy and a vibrancy that only comes in those few, fabulous moments in life when a person realizes, they have been chosen.

That night, Tony Lucas smiled and danced and sang with all of his heart, because he… had… been… chosen.

There is something special about being chosen…

Phillip Gonzales
4/26/08

Highway

So I had the chance to go visit family last week in Austin, TX.  It was great seeing them again, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles my cousins, and one day I was asked to drop two of my cousins off at church (for AWANA!).  So we hopped in the car and made our way through the busy streets, with my cousin giving directions for each street and turn, making sure we got there safely, without getting lost.  Well, we arrived fine after a little bit, I dropped them off, and headed back to the highway to make my way home.

Except… I decided to not go home right away.  You see, I realized that now that the kids were taken care of, and the rest of the family was occupied at the house so they wouldn’t be waiting on me for anything, here was a chance for me to have a great time doing one of the things I love best: exploring.

And so I did.  I took a random exit, drove on that street for a while, running parallel to the highway until I found another large road with a name that sounded somewhat familiar, and I turned off on that one.  Then I drove farther, and came to another big road and I turned again, and continued to do this for a while, just taking in the sights of Austin and enjoying the adventure.  When I looked at the clock and realized it had already been an hour since I left, I figured I had better get home, so a couple of more turns, and I went down the back way of the road I left the house on, until at last I was home from my adventure.

Now, Austin is a city of over 680,000 people, full of all kinds of streets going every which way, and I’ve never driven in it before, but that didn’t bother me at all.  You see, I’ve driven in big cities enough that I have learned one sure-fire way to never worry about finding my way home.

Never lose the highway.

You see, no matter how many streets I took, or how much I drove, I made sure that I always came back around in sight of the highway, because no matter where the other roads may lead, I KNOW, that one will lead me home.  I may not always be able to see it, but I keep it in my minds eye, making sure I can get back to that highway, because I KNOW, that one will lead me home.

You know, we have so many decisions in life, so many choices to make, that sometimes it gets overwhelming. I don’t know about you, but one of my most frequent prayers is, “God, could you give me some specifics about what to do here?”  Now, a lot of the time, He is so gracious to do just that, to point me exactly where He wants me to go.  But you know, it’s not like that all the time.  Sometimes I don’t feel any specific direction at all, and in times like that it’s easy to let doubt seep in, and to get discouraged.  But the more and more I grow to know my Savior, the more I realize that while I may not always know whether to turn right or left, go straight or turn back, I don’t have to worry about getting lost, as long as I keep my eyes on Him, because HE is the Way, and I KNOW, that one, will lead me home.

Phillip Gonzales
9/16/2007

Being and Doing

We read in Scripture of “the works of the Lord”, of His hand doing this and His breath doing that, how He spoke and created the world by the Word, but though this is beautiful to contemplate and easy to understand and relate to forms we see in our experience, does He really produce sound with a mouth, or move tendons and muscle to work His divine hand?  I would think not.  From all else that the Bible tells us about the pervasive, preeminent “BEing” of God, it seems to me that while His Spirit, writing through the authors of the Bible, tells us of the ways in which He acts upon our world as being similar to our interactions with it, perhaps this is simply a literary aid to our understanding, and not really the most accurate explanation of reality – simply a parable or analogy, if you will.  It seems to me more consistent with my understanding of Who and What God is, to say that His DOing  is simply an extension of His BEing, not some separate force that operates at some times and not others.

For me, what I do is different from who I am, because unlike God, I am bound by time and space.  My eternal soul still must obey the laws of the physical world in which I live, and those laws dictate that when the essence of my being wills something, I must then marshal my physical body to do something to accomplish it.  There is a disconnect.  But with God, He is not bound by time or space.  He is pervasive in all reality, so for Him, doesn’t it make sense that His will would not require some separate action to accomplish?  That there would be no disconnect?  He told Moses, “I AM”, not “I DO”.

This is a difficult concept – that the will and works of the Lord aren’t so much things that He makes happen, but things that happen as a natural outflow of the very nature of His existence.

If this is the case, how can we try and relate this idea to our own lives?  When faced with a moral choice, we must make a decision as to what road to choose, the flesh or the spirit.  But if and as we continually practice the presence of God, would it not seem reasonable that as the power of the Holy Spirit grows in us, we would require less and less conscious decision-making and would simply do automatically that which is in line with the being we are becoming?  Yes!  Sanctification then is realized not so much as the things I do, but the person I am in Christ, when His will in me is no longer something I must choose to accept and act on, but something that is simply the natural outflow of a life that is one with Him.  “God in Christ, and Christ in you.”

Phillip Gonzales
1/16/07

Just Beyond the Horizon Line

I can almost see it… but not quite.  I can almost hear in the whispers of the wind, almost heart the sound of the new song, the new joy, the relieved sigh of peace… but not quite yet.  This desert, this wasteland, it’s not that there isn’t some good here, or that I haven’t had any provisions given to me… No, my needs are met, He has made sure of that, but it is so dry here, and lonely.  It’s as if, though I find myself surrounded by a herd of other seekers, we have no deep connection, no shared drive.  We seek the same thing, even believe the same truths, but somehow we still walk along in our own little bubbles, together, yet alone.

Then there are the signs.  Oh there are all sorts of “signs” all around, but it’s almost as if they are all pointing a different way, or even changing, so that as I look, I can almost read them any way I want.

Oh the frustration of it all!

But I do not lose hope.  No indeed, because when He is the foundation of my hope, I know, I am sure that what I am looking for is just beyond the horizon line.  I know this because I know Him, the One who has promised good to me.  He is the one who is preparing it, making my way, and even though I can’t see it yet, I know it’s there.  You see, every night brings darkness, cold, even isolation, but the sun remains, it endures, and it is waiting to return again, just beyond the horizon line.

So, just as morning always comes, I know that so will my answer, my hope, my deliverance.  I can almost see it already, right there, just beyond the horizon line.

Phillip Gonzales
4/13/2008

Watch

“O my Strength, I watch for You.” – Psalm 59:9a

Do I watch for the Lord?  There is so much said about “waiting” on the God, but sometimes it’s so easy for me to say I’m “waiting on the Lord”, when in reality I’m just sitting on my hands doing nothing, either expecting Him to just show up at some point, or maybe not expecting anything at all.  In fact, I think sometimes what I call “waiting on God”… is really just ignoring Him while I do my own thing.

But do I ever watch for God?  I read this passage in Psalms and the first thing I think of is sitting at my dining room window, staring out the half-drawn blinds at the empty road outside our house, not just waiting for a special someone to get here, but gazing, straining my eyes to see as far as I can, WATCHING intently for an arrival that I don’t question or merely hope for, but that I know is just around the corner.

You see, waiting can easily become a passive activity, so much so that when God does show up, it can sometimes be a pretty tame thing.  But watching… that’s something different entirely.  Watching means action.  It means focus.  It means anticipation and excitement such that when the Lord arrives, we respond wholeheartedly because, “He’s here! He’s here! I knew He was coming and He’s finally arrived!” and that is the kind of reception that warms a father’s heart.

Now, does our intent, expectant, active watching make God move or show up any faster?  Most of the time probably not.  But you know what it does do?  It makes sure we’re ready to act when He comes.  Think about Jesus’ story about the ten virgins waiting to take part in a Jewish wedding ceremony.  Five were ready to go the moment the bridegroom showed up, and five weren’t.  Did the preparation and alertness of the five ready ones make the bridegroom show up any sooner?  No, but they were the only ones that got to come along for the feast.

I wonder how many times we’ve been waiting on the Lord and felt like we got no answers, not because He didn’t come, but because we weren’t paying attention when He did…

Finally, I think there is something else important that we miss when we wait, but don’t watch.  You see, when we watch, we aren’t just making sure we don’t miss God showing up, but we’re making sure our hearts are ready to receive and respond to Him all the way.  Here’s what I mean.  Oftentimes people who drive horses will give them blinders.  It’s a simple concept, block out the distractions around the horse so it can focus on what really matters.  Focus.  That’s the beauty of watching for God.  Just like staring at the road outside my house keeps me from getting distracted by all the things around me and keeps me dwelling on the awaited arrival, when I am really watching for the Lord, He is my focus.  In fact, when He is my focus such that I exclude the distractions around me, that’s when my heart gets the most ready, the most excited, and I believe that is what pleases Him most of all.

Be ready.  Be focused.  Have faith my soul, and WATCH for the Lord!

Phillip Gonzales
1/29/07

Confidence

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 5:14 (NIV)

We often remember the first part of this verse, and we use it to justify coming to God with our perpetual “wish list”.  To be sure, He wants us to feel able to tell him our desires, but there is so much more here that we usually forget.

The passage says, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Mercy is judgment withheld.  Grace is favor undeserved.  Both of these things are most needed when we are at our worst, our dirtiest, our most unworthy.  Look then, at the underlying point here: when we are told to come to God’s throne with confidence, it is at the same moment that we have every reason to be afraid and unwilling to approach.  We are told to come in faith not when we are “putting our best foot forward”, because if we did that, we might well fall pray to the pride of the self-righteous Pharisee whose prayers consisted of not much more than self-congratulation for not being like “those sinners”.

No, we come when we are down-and-out, in desperate need of mercy and grace, because our confidence is not in ourselves, but in the One who has called us near.  Through Jesus we are clean, so that our flesh may approach the holy God and receive that which we are most in need of, when we need it most of all.  “…to help us in our time of need.”

Peace, Comfort, Seeking and Finding God

There is no greater comfort than that which comes when I stop trying to find out who I am and start seeking who He is. It is the giving up of the search for myself that gives me the freedom to truly seek Jesus, to really follow and focus on God Himself.

I can get so worked up over the unanswered questions of my life, the missing pieces and loose ends, that I lose sight of the hope that I have been given. What is this hope? It is the assurance that My God shall supply all my needs, according to His riches in glory. It is the hope that comes from the certainty of knowing that as sure as morning always dawns after even the longest night, Jesus Christ and His word are steadfast, and so also, His promises and love for me are unchanging.

Seeking my own way, my own answers, brings me down because it will always be a losing battle. I lose because I am neither capable nor qualified to make things make sense in the world around me. I try to define and discover my identity, but that only leads me to despair, because all the things of this world that I try to tie my identity to are as fleeting as the tufts of a dandelion in a summer breeze. They look so poised and lovely, but in a moments time they vanish, and all the hopes I had tied to them simply disappear as well.

But oh the joy that comes in the pursuit of the person of Christ! When I refocus my efforts away from seeking who I am, and concentrate instead on who He is, there is a freedom and peace unsurpassed by any other pursuit. Again, He is unchanging, so all those hopes and dreams of mine that I turn over to and rest in Him are now secure: hidden and safe in the cleft of the rock.

Even better when I seek the person and presence of Christ, placing my passions and hopes in His very nature, that nature begins to be place in me, so that a glorious transfusion takes place. My concerns and questions begin to be overshadowed by the consuming power of His nature, as this vibrant life grows within me and replaces what had previously been the definer of my life my search for me.

This is peace and comfort then, not the answering of all my questions and the stilling of all my worries, but the replacement of them with the calm stillness that is His very life in me. The restless waves of my hearts cries give way to the steadfast ground of the solid rock, and in the beautiful strangeness of it all, my seeking of Him actually results after all, in the finding of me but not the selfish me tied to a changing world. This is the me that is defined by the Personhood of Christ within me, safe in the shadow of the Almighty and kept in the shelter of His hand.

I wish I could say this was me all the time, or even most of the time, but its not. I do pray though, that we all may ask for and receive the strength to press in to Him and seek that life so beautifully promised in the Word, and that we may have a vision of hope that will lead us to forget the search for ourselves, and begin the search for our God.