In Honor of Jacob…

The storm swept in suddenly, with absolutely no warning.
One moment it was a normal day.
Not fabulous but certainly not awful.
Just your average Wednesday.
Until the phone rang.
And the heavens opened.

The little boat that is my life was suddenly rocked hard.

That initial wave was so shocking that it took a while for me to realize just how enormous it was.
It is.
He was only 19.
And he is gone.
Taken in a car accident.

The wind roared in and in one moment, with one phone call, the waves went from gentle rocking to enormous, soul-swamping heights.
And it’s still raining.
Will be for some time.

So here is where I have choices.

I can stay in this little boat of my life that is being tossed about by circumstances and the emotions they bring.
I can bemoan the storm.
I can look inward and find all the pain, all the emotion, all the grief.
I can rail against the Creator who is in charge of the wind and waves.
And I can fold my arms against my chest, battening down the hatches until the storm stops.
Locking up my heart and my tears.
Using them to water the seed of bitterness that so desperately wants to take root in my heart.
Because I want to understand.
And because I hate these circumstances.

Tempting choice.

Or I could choose another way to deal with the storm.
Turn to something – or someone – that will help me to forget, at least for a moment.
Box up my emotions and this circumstance and then turn to a numbing agent.
Personally, I won’t choose drugs or alcohol. Those don’t tempt me.
But a plate full of carbs, preferably in the form of chocolate-something? Yes, please.
Eating away my sorrow? Sure.
Or choosing a friend to be my savior?
Turning to human comfort, looking for someone to love away the pain? Absolutely.

Those are both very tempting for me.

But then there is the sane choice.
The right choice.
The only one that will see me through this storm without major repercussions when it subsides.

Choosing to grab the hand that is extended to me.
The nail-scarred one.
The strong-yet-gentle hand of the carpenter from Nazareth, who is the King of Glory.

He is standing in the storm.
On the waves.

And He invites me to get out of my boat and walk with Him.
Stand with Him.
Be victorious even over death – with Him.
Though the storm still rages.

And when I look into His eyes, I see His heart.
His heart for me.
And His heart for Jacob.
For his grieving family.
And the huge hole he leaves behind.
I see that Jesus is weeping with us even as He stands, rock-solid, on the waves.

He sees my pain.
Their pain.
Our pain.
And He understands.

But as I take His hand, I feel the scar beneath my fingers.
The one from the nail that pinned Him to the cross.
His love held Him there.
But the nails were the human instruments of torture they used.
Not because of His sin.
But for my sake.
For this exact moment.
My sin separated us before that.
It had to be paid for, atoned.
And so He did what needed to be done.
Dying in my place.
And then rising again so that I could experience this moment.
His presence in the storm.
His power over my circumstances.
His promises fulfilled in my life.

And that nail-scarred hand is the only hope I have in this horrible storm.
Because it represents every promise He has made – and died to keep.
It represents the resurrection power that brought Him to life again – and that now is at work in all who believe.
It reminds me that He is for me and not against me.
That He loved my friend Jacob and died for him as well.
That I will see Jacob again, sooner rather than later, because we both are trusting His work on the cross.
That God is inherently, inexpressibly good.
And that everything He does is right.
Even when I hate what He has allowed.
Even when my already limited sight is blinded by tears.
He is good. Those nails prove it.
His presences proves it.
And the peace that passes understanding proves it.

And for all those reasons, in Him, I have the power to walk these waves.
To stand on His promises instead of the shifting waters of my emotions.
To cling to His hand instead of my own strength.
To live what I say I believe, even in the darkest moments of life.

Yes, that standing comes with weeping.
And that is OK.
Because this is hard – but His love is harder still. Rock solid.
Even in the midst of the sea during a storm.
This hurts – but He hurts with me even as He reminds me that “weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.
And this is holy. A time set apart, a time to be reminded, a time to remember.
Who He is.
What He has done.
How much He loves me.
How much He loves Jacob. And his family.
How all of His promises are true.
How I can trust Him even in the storm.
How important it is to tell others about Him so they, too, can have this hope.
And how even this is not the end of the story.
Not mine.
And not Jacob’s.
Jacob has turned the page in the book of his life from the title page to the first chapter far sooner than we expected.
He is now living the chapter entitled “Seeing Jesus Face to Face”.
With the subtitle, “Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant”.

One day, sooner rather than later, God’s hand will turn that page in my life as well.
As well as yours.
Are you prepared for that day?
Jacob was.
I am.
And you can be, too.

And in the meantime, my prayer for you is that He will make Himself very real to you as you face the storms of this life.
Perhaps we share this storm.
Or perhaps yours are very different.
It doesn’t matter because waves are waves and wind is wind.
But He is God.
And He can give you all that you need to walk on water as well.
If you know Him.
And if you keep your eyes fixed on Him.
Pray for me to do that.
And I will pray for you as well.

Life Lessons On Route 206

That particular road is only nine miles long.
It connects two major highways and is the best path to my favorite shopping area.
On the way there yesterday it was gorgeous, even though it had rained earlier in the day.
Dogwoods just starting to bloom.
Heavily wooded patches studded with pinkish-purple redbuds.
Clusters of daffodils.
And everywhere the electric green of new leaves.

No cars behind me, none in front of me, no obstacles to hinder me.
Just me, the Lord and the road.

That particular road is only nine miles long.
And on the way home from shopping it was like driving in a video game!
The person behind me who decided the most appropriate place to travel was attached to my bumper.
The traffic suddenly coming to a halt in front of me.
Being stopped in a short line of cars behind what I thought was a garbage truck stopped in my lane.
And the mail carrier in the other lane half-blocking the way.
It wasn’t until it was my turn to dart around the “garbage truck” that I realized what it actually was.
It was the roadkill collectors.
I pulled up behind them just in time for the perfect view of the rotting deer being hoisted into the bed of the truck.
That adventure was followed by others, including another mail carrier further down, a few emergency vehicles, lots of rain and more drivers who felt their agenda was more important than our mutual safety.

That particular road is only nine miles long.
But I was very grateful to get off of it and back onto the major highway!

This life is only a few miles – er, years – long.
I actually don’t know how many.
But in light of eternity, the longest life is very short.

And sometimes navigating this life feels like my trip to the store.
The sun is shining, things are blooming, the path is clear.
Gorgeous circumstances.

But more often than not, as you know, life is not like that leg of my journey.
It is more like the return trip, fraught with the unknown.
Sudden stops.
Encounters with icky things at best and danger at worst.
Other drivers who bring their own irritations and bad choices into my world – as I sometimes bring mine into theirs.
Obstacles springing up out of nowhere and the sense that I am living in some sort of cosmic video game.

As I turned onto the main road, after surviving those nine miles, God reminded me of some very important truths about life.

  •  I was very grateful that I was not alone in the car. Physically, I was. But it was such a comfort to know that the Lord saw the road before me and traveled with me into it. I kept up a running conversation and commentary with Him as we went. Sometimes it was a “Really, Lord?!” and other times it was heartfelt “Thank You!”    Asking for protection and wisdom. And being thankful when the pushy driver turned off. Constant communication that made all the difference because I knew I wasn’t driving alone.
  • Knowing the rules of the road helped to keep me from harm. I am not a perfect driver, nor do I always follow the posted speed. But knowing the law and following it helped to keep me safe. For example, I knew better than to just whip around the Roadkill Collector’s truck without first peering around to see who or what might be coming. Keeping a safe following distance from the car in front of me helped me to be in no danger of rear-ending the other car when we stopped suddenly. In the same way, knowing the laws of God will keep me safe from many of the harms of life. Doing life His way – forgiving, blessing those that curse me, giving generously, keeping my thought life pure, speaking the Truth in love – all of these and many more guidelines from His Word prove over and over again to be the best way to live.
  • But it wasn’t just knowing the rules that helped. It was actual obedience to them that made the difference. I am certain that every driver I encountered yesterday took some form of driver’s ed course. But I am also certain that many of them have forgotten what they learned or have decided it doesn’t apply to them. And when we knowingly chuck the rules, we live with the consequences of those choices. And, potentially, so do the other drivers around us. The prophet Samuel told King Saul, “God desires obedience more than sacrifice.” I can know what God says – but the power of radical living comes in actually doing what I know is right.
  •  I was grateful to know that this road was only temporary. While it still had many beauties, it also still had no shoulder. Along with many twists and turns. Hills and a blind curve or two. I had to travel it – but I also knew that “this too shall pass”. Home was waiting a few miles away. All I had to do was keep my eyes on the road, apply what I knew, and trust God. And sure enough, that road – and all the others – came to an end at a place I knew was waiting, my home. Of course, a big difference in my analogy – I do not know when this particular stretch of road that I dislike will end. But I know the Lord well enough to know that He will bring me to an easy-driving stretch here or there. There will be moments of rest along the way. Spots of beauty. And He has promised to bring me safely Home to my ultimate destination at just the right time. So while I may not enjoy this particular stretch that I am driving, better days are coming. Perhaps in the here and now. But guaranteed in the There and Then. Home is waiting. And God is good.

Will I take Route 206, the nine-mile road, again?
Will I drive it alone?
Never. Not that road or any other.
Because I am never alone.
I have learned to lean hard on my constant Friend, the One Who bought the right to go with me everywhere I go with His own blood.
The One Who loves me more than I can fathom.
And the One who will never leave me or forsake me.
The Only One Who can see the entire road I need to take over the course of my life.
So no matter which road He leads me to take – the most familiar or the least, the straightest or the curviest, the easiest or the hardest – I will choose to trust Him.
I don’t know how long the drive will be.
But I know the He is good.
And Home is coming closer every day.

On Babies, Oils and Abiding in The Vine

person girl woman photography portrait child pink baby close up sleep mother infant newborn toddler eye skin organ interaction sleeping baby portrait photography human action

He had been fighting sleep all morning.
He usually does, at least during the day.
Too much to see, too much to do for this little guy.
But he also seems to have seasonal allergies.
Hard to tell when he is only 10-months old.

But he finally gave in.
I took him in my arms and within a few minutes he was asleep with his nose buried in my neck.
A precious, warm weight in my arms.

Everyone who had been playing with him Sunday morning commented on it.
How he finally fell asleep, and with so little effort.
How he was completely passed out.
How relaxed he was.

And while I have to admit, I have a special connection with this little dude, I realized later that it probably had little to do with me personally.
It was the oils.
I, too, have developed seasonal allergies.
They don’t give me watery eyes or sneezes.
They mostly settle in my ears, my throat and my chest.
So I had rubbed a highly effective combo of peppermint, lavender and lemon essential oils on my throat and chest that morning.
And that is probably why he slept so deeply.
I was acting as a natural diffuser for his little body as he inhaled the oils on my skin. It is a combo that his Mom uses routinely at home. So whether it was the comfort of the familiar or the relief they brought, either way, I was diffusing something he needed.

But here’s the thing: it didn’t happen by some colossal effort on my part.
It was simply a natural consequence of something I did to benefit my own health.

And it made me think about our spiritual lives.
How they are.
How they should be.
How they can be.

See, you and I were born to be diffusers.
Naturally spreading into this world the love of God.
Not by conjuring up a to-do list, a check-off sheet, or a religious ritual.
But out of the overflow of our own hearts, our mouths will speak.
Out of the growth in our own lives, the Spirit will bear fruit.
Out of what we have been given, we will freely turn around and give away.

Out of the things I am doing that deeply benefit me, the world will be blessed.  I didn’t put those oils on for his benefit – but they blessed him deeply, simply because they were now a part of me.

And so in the Kingdom of God.  And in our assigned mission of reaching the world in the name of Jesus.

Because we are loved, we will love others deeply in His name.
Not out of emotion.
Or because they somehow are worthy.
But simply because we are loved.
We have “tasted and seen that the Lord is good.”
And as His love fills our lives, it will overflow, splashing and spreading into the lives of all who cross our path.

If we abide.
That is the only secret to the Christian life.
To doing it well.
To diffusing it well.

If I abide with Christ, I want to know what He thinks.
And I find that in His Word.
If I abide with Christ, I want to have conversations with Him.
And I do through prayer.
If I abide with Christ, I want to stay connected, letting His life flow through mine.
And I do that through obedience.
If I abide with Christ, He says that I will bear MUCH fruit. (John 15)

But it won’t happen because I am trying to bear fruit.
It will happen simply because I am remaining continuously connected to The Vine.
Allowing His life to flow in and through mine.

Which will set off a chain reaction.
I will change.
And then that will change how I treat you.
Not because I am trying to earn a relationship with God.
Or because I am trying to make Him love me more.
But simply because I am doing the things that benefit my own soul.
But the side effects will be the distinctive aroma of grace. The sweet smells of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. The life-changing scent of knowing I am deeply loved – and therefore knowing it is safe to love you.

You’ll inhale deeply.
Drawn to what – or rather, WHO – you see at work in me.
And as you choose to abide in The Vine, you’ll “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12).
And the whole process begins again.
Multiplying the amazing scents of the Living God to a world that desperately needs a deep, cleansing breath of The Breath of Heaven.
Shining in the darkness.
A city set on a hill, unable to be hidden.
Being salt, preserving a world bent on wickedness.
Bringing flavor, preserving that which is good.

The choices before me today are myriad.
But all of them will fall into place if I seek first His Kingdom.
If I choose to abide first, the Vine will show this branch how to best reflect Him in every circumstance I find myself in today.
And I will automatically spread the fragrances of Him through my day.
Without a whole lot of effort on my part.
Beyond the effort of abiding in The Vine.

On The Head, The Body and The Will of God

Picture this…

Jimmy-Joe-Bob is standing in the kitchen, where the stove is still hot from what his wife cooked a few moments before. Without thinking, he puts his hand on the burner.

What would happen next? Assuming Jimmy-Joe-Bob has a healthy body, the nerves in his hand would feel the heat, sending that message to the brain. And his brain would respond by sending the messages needed for his muscles to yank his hand off the hot burner. There may also be hopping and yelling involved, all within nanoseconds of contact.

But what if that whole series of events went like this:

JJB’s hand as it makes contact with the burner: “Oh, brain, this is hot!”

The brain receives the message and instantly responds with all the things that JJB needs to do.

JJB’s hand: “Hmmm. Seems like the brain wants me to remove myself from this heat. But I am not sure. I will definitely need to make that a matter of some thought and prayer. I have to weigh the pros and cons of responding. I may offend someone if I do that. Or it might be uncomfortable. I’ll get back to you, brain, with my decision.”

And meanwhile, the smell of burning flesh fills the air.

In a healthy body, it would never go down like that! The hand would instantly respond to the brain without any kind of back talk, analysis or indecision.

Now take a small leap with me here…

The Bible uses the human body as an analogy of Christ and the Church. Jesus is the head of the body. We are the body parts, accomplishing what the Head tells us to do. Each one of us who claims the name of Christ is automatically part of the body, put under the authority of the Head.

And as we grow, learn and develop as believers, we learn that there are certain actions that the Head requires. In fact, you could call these things “the will of God for my life”. And they are to be as automatic as yanking your hand away from the hot stove. The response should instantaneous, immediate obedience.

An example?
Sharing your faith.
It is a command given by Jesus. “Go and make disciples of all nations. Teach them what I have taught you. Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Very clear cut instructions.
Should be like a nerve pulse sent along to the hand.

So I am talking with an unsaved friend.
There are several places in the conversation where I can share my faith.
And I can feel the Holy Spirit nudging me.
But instead of instant nerve-impulse obedience, I shut it down with silent backtalk.
The Head says, “Tell her I love her.”
And I (the hand) say, “Well, but she might think I am weird.”
The Head says, “But if you don’t tell her, who will? She is heading for eternity without Me. She needs to know I love her.”
And I (the hand) say, “Well, surely there are more qualified people. She might have questions I can’t answer.”
The Head says, “Let me worry about that. I will guide your conversation, bring back to mind what you do know, give you wisdom in the moment. And it is OK to tell her you are still learning yourself. But she needs to know I love her.”
And I (the hand) say, “I’m going to ignore you now. This is out of my comfort zone.”
My friend and I part ways. I have not shared the love of Jesus with her. I have not even invited her to church, a very simple, safe thing to do. I have not shared what God has done in my life – another simple way to witness. I have not even asked her how I can be praying for her – a great way to start a conversation.

We have parted ways and I, the hand, am now scarred because of my lack of obedience.
I don’t notice the scarring at first.
But my prayer life feels stilted.
I wonder if God is listening.
I even wonder if He is real.
Because I don’t see Him at work in my life.
And I wonder why.

And that is just one of the examples of the things that are in the Bible that should be matters of instant obedience for all parts of The Body.
Because most of God’s will for our lives is revealed in the pages of Scripture.

Praising Him, declaring His worth, exalting Him in my words, actions and attitudes – that which we call “worship” – should be as autonomic in my spiritual life as my heartbeat is in my physical. I don’t have to request that the Head keep my heart beating. I just need to let it beat. Not block it. Not let anything break the connection between myself and my Head. No sin. No stray thoughts that become patterns that become actions that violate Him.

Talking to Him, staying in constant communication, inviting Him into my day and sharing it with Him – that which we call “prayer” – should be as autonomic in my spiritual life as breathing is in my physical. I don’t use special methods to keep breathing – I just do it. And I don’t use special words, clothes, circumstances or people in my prayer life. I just do it. In and out. Breathing out my needs, inhaling His goodness. Over and over again throughout my day.

Eating throughout the day, sometimes a nibble, sometimes a hearty meal, sometimes taking in the things I “should” like veggies, other times enjoying the sweetness of dessert – that which we call “time in the Word of God” – should be in my life as often as I open my mouth to take in food. A healthy person is careful to eat. They eat when they are hungry, reaching for good, nourishing food. They drink when they are thirsty, reaching for water to quench what is dry. In my spiritual life, I ask God to make me hungry for Him. And then I reach for His Word, chewing it over and allowing its nutrients to make a difference in my life. I ask Him to make me thirsty for Him, and I reach for Living Water, allowing Him to fill me up and to slake my thirst.

When any of those things becomes unhealthy – heartbeat, breathing, or the digestive system – the body has major problems.

And because we do not practice instant obedience, The Body has major problems.

We leave the sharing of faith to “the professional Christians” while our neighbors head for a Christ-less eternity.
We leave the worship to “the good Christians”, while we fill our lives with idols, ranging from sports to money, from fame to perfectionism, from buying stuff to losing ourselves in video games.
We leave the prayer to the people with “the right words”, while our lives have “a form of godliness but deny its power” (2 Timothy 3:5)
We don’t bother to eat or drink from the Bread of Life or the Living Water except for what we get spoon fed by pastors, teachers and blog-writers.

And then we wonder why The Body of Christ looks just like the rest of the world.
Why we aren’t making an impact.
Why our lives really don’t look or feel any different from our unsaved friends and family.
Why God feels distant.
And our faith feels powerless.

Do the 99% of the will of God found in His Word.
Fight to make it an automatic, autonomic response.
Obey in the little things.
Show up to the life of faith and make it a priority.
Worship God.
Connect with other believers.
Grow in your personal faith.
Serve God and others.
Share your faith.

And watch The Body transform.
And, as The Body actually obeys The Head, the world will be changed.
That’s a guarantee straight from The Source.

The Journey to The Cross, Day 21

April 1: He Is Risen!  He Is Risen, Indeed!

Today is the day!  Today is the final day of our 21-day Journey to the Cross.  But it really should have been called our Journey to the Empty Tomb.  Because when the women got to the tomb early on Sunday morning, it was empty!  They had come with more spices for His body, hoping to do a better job with his burial since they had been so rushed on Friday.  As they made their way to the tomb, they wondered who would move the massive stone for them.  But when they got there, to their happy shock, the tomb was standing open, completely and utterly empty except for the grave clothes they themselves had placed on Jesus.  And then there were angels!  “He is not here!” they said.  “He is risen, just as He said!”

Hallelujah, glory!  He IS risen!  We do not serve a dead Savior, or even a spirit residing in the heavenly realms.  We serve, worship and adore the Living Lord, The One who conquered death and the grave.  He is alive!

And not only is He alive, but the same power that brought Him back to life is at work in the hearts of all who believe.  If you are a Christ-follower, you have resurrection power flowing through your life.  Paul put it this way to the Roman church: “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”  (Romans 8:11, NLT)  And to the church at Ephesus, he writes, “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 1:19b-20, NLT)

 Jesus died so that you could live!  Not only for eternity in heaven with Him – but right here, right now, in this life.  He came to give you the power to fight sin.  Break that bad habit.  Forgive that abuser.  That racist.  That ex-spouse, former boss or estranged sibling.  You have that power at work in you!  All you need to do is access it.  By prayer.  By reading the Word.  By worshipping, connecting, growing, serving and sharing the good news.

Jesus did not die to make you a good person.  He died so that He could radically transform your life from the inside out.  And He rose so that He could prove to you that He has the power necessary to do it.  Will you let Him?

Adoration: Praise God, He is risen!  Pray back to Him Ephesians 1:6-8: “So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.”

 Confession: Tell God about any area of your life where you need to see His resurrection power make a change.  Ask Him to begin the change in you first, no matter what it is: thought pattern, action, attitude or something else.

Thanksgiving: Thank Him for South Potomac Church and the chance to gather this morning to celebrate Christ’s resurrection!

 Supplication:  Pray throughout the services and the rest of the day that the gospel would sink deeply into the hearts of those who are unsaved.  Pray that they would turn to Jesus even today.