Life In A Sentence, Take Two

I originally wrote this post in 2017.  But it is so true about my life today as well.  I am amazed at the sentence I am currently writing, one that will involved words like “When I was getting ready to move to Guatemala for a year…”  I had no idea God was leading there when I wrote this two years ago.  And who knows what life will look like two years from now? But the truth is truth – and I still want ALL my future sentences to reflect eternity.  May you and I both write well with each choice today! 

“When I was in college, I was a wild child.”

“My Mother-in-law and I never could see eye-to-eye on anything.”

“I traveled Europe after college and had an amazing time!”

We all do it.
We take a chunk of time, a period in our lives and reduce it to one or two sentences.
None of the sentences above apply to me. But some of mine might be:

“I was an incredible Pharisee in high school, filled with self-righteousness.”

“I lived in Japan for three years in my 20’s and had some of the best and some of the worst experiences of my life. But that time definitely shaped who I am today.”

“I taught for Charles County Public Schools for 9 years and have been on staff at South Potomac Church for the last 14 years; I loved both jobs, although both were (or are) difficult in their own way.”

One or two sentences.
Encompassing years.
And usually with some kind of descriptor attached that sums up that time, for good or for bad.

We all do it.
And there is nothing wrong with it.
It’s a way to catalog history, especially when you are just getting to know someone or perhaps filling them in on a chapter in your life.

True confessions, this idea is not original to me. I first heard it in a sermon by Andy Stanley several years ago. But it has stuck with me. Because, while it is true that I sum up vast periods of my life in a few sentences, there is an important fact that I – that we – often fail to recognize:

We’re writing those sentences today.
The ones we will use in another decade or two to describe this season of our lives.
And, to some extent, we have control over how those sentences are written!

“When my kids were little, I was more concerned with them than I was with the state of my housekeeping.”

“When my Grandmother was in the nursing home, I made sure I took the time to go see her.”

“During the 35 years of our marriage, we fought but we made sure we never went to bed angry.”

“While I had my chemo treatments, I tried really hard to remember to praise God in the storm.”

I have very little control over the circumstances of my life.
I can be a good steward of my money and still find myself in an impossible situation.
I can take care of my body and still find it wracked with illness.
I can marry a godly man and still find that marriage is hard work because we are both sinners.

But, while I have little control over what happens to me, I have complete control over my attitude while it’s happening.
How I face those circumstances, for good or for bad.
And the choices I make – the tiny, every-day, seemingly-inconsequential choices I make by the thousands in a 24-hour period – those I can control.

I can choose the option that puts God first.
I can choose the option that puts others ahead of myself.
The one that focuses on forgiveness rather than bitterness.
The one that feeds my soul and not my temptations.
The one that says my beliefs are more than just words I spout, songs I sing, or things I hear on Sunday.
The one that controls my words. My tone. My attitude. My thoughts. My actions. My reactions.

Because every choice I make today writes the sentence for a decade from now.

But even more than that, every choice I make today reflects the sentence I long to hear more than any other. At the end of my earthly existence – whenever that may be – I want God’s one sentence summary of my life to be, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

May you and I, today, write a fabulous sentence to the glory of God. And may we do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the one after that.

So, how’s that writing going?



On The Sea and Me…

God is NOT the author of confusion.
He is the God of Peace – the “peace that passes understanding”.

My confusion comes when I try to figure it all out.
Make it make sense.
When I look ahead – whether that is hours, days, months or years ahead – and try to sort out all the pieces.
When I strain to see the future and how He is going to move, provide, and execute the plans.

Confusion also comes when I expect people to fulfill me.
ANY person
On ANY level
Because people are people.
Sinners like me.
With their own baggage.
Their own perceptions.
And their own struggles.

Yet I am constantly setting my expectations on people and circumstances.
Anticipating how things will turn out.
Working hard to make things go my way.
Looking ahead to how circumstances will be.
How people will respond, react and interact.
Always planning, seeking, wondering, asking, and yes, trying to control.

Happy when they (the people or the circumstances) go my way;
sad when they do not.

Anxious when I don’t see the way through;
at peace when I have perceived answers.

Glad when I feel loved;
mad, sad, disappointed and hurt when I do not.

But both people and circumstances are fickle.
They remind me of the Sea of Galilee as it is recorded in Scripture during the time of Jesus.

Calm one moment; windswept, stormy and unsafe the next.

Sometimes providing fulfillment in great catches of fish.
Other times not giving up one single thing that I need.

At times, a mirror of glass, useful as a microphone from the platform of a boat.
And at other times, a raging maelstrom seemingly bent on my destruction.

But there are two things that were (and are) true about the Sea of Galilee:
1. It doesn’t go away. It is there as an obstacle or a road, an object lesson or a source of resources, a tool to be used or challenge to be faced.

2. And it is always under the sovereign hand of Almighty God.

He controls the storms.
Allowing some.
Calming others.
Making the fishing fruitful or sparse.

These things are true about the Sea of Galilee.
They are also true about my life.

And my little vessel – my life – on this sea of circumstances and people?
It is always in His control as well.
Even when I grab the rudder to go my own way, He still is with me.
Still redeems the circumstance.
Still guides me back on course.

Even when the wind and waves are high, He is with me.
Sometimes speaking to them and causing them to still.
Sometimes using them to demonstrate His miraculous power.
Sometimes appearing to do nothing.
But always in complete control.
And always with my best interest at heart.

I cannot change the Sea.
It remains fickle.
Consistently inconsistent.

I cannot control the storms.
Sometimes I see them coming.
And sometimes they spring up out of nowhere.

I cannot even provide my own resources.
Sometimes the way He provides breaks the nets in the abundance.
And sometimes I fish all night and catch nothing.

I cannot control the people in my life.
How they respond.
What they do or do not do.

And I cannot control the circumstances around me.
The good or the bad.

But I can trust the Master of the Wind and Waves.
I can rest in His promises, knowing He will never allow me to drown.
I can relax in the boat, putting all of my expectations on Him.
And NONE on the people or circumstances of my life.

Remembering that if He is for me, who can be against me?
And because He loves me, nothing can separate me from Him. (Romans 8)

And when I do that, cool stuff happens.
Like miraculous catches of fish.
And walking on water.
Like storms suddenly stopping.
And the waters going from boat-swamping waves to a sheet of glass.
Sometimes immediately.
And sometimes after a while.

I can look back through the years of my life and see His hand over and over and over again.
And I can look ahead with my eyes firmly fixed on Him, knowing He has good in store for me.
Will storms come? Of course.
Will He be with me? Of course.
Will He use them for my good and His glory? Of course.

I can’t control the Sea.
But I can trust the One Who does.
And life is so much sweeter when I do.

Not on the outside – the Sea will be the Sea, regardless of me.
But on the inside.
I can have peace.
Not dependent on you.
Or them.
Or the circumstances.
What the future may or may not hold.

But simply because of Him.
The Master of the Wind and Waves.
And the God Who calls me “friend”.

On Breathing…

I couldn’t breathe.
And it was terrifying.

It was in the recovery room after sinus surgery three, the most extensive one of them all.
You have three sets of sinus cavities in your face – your forehead, the bridge of your nose and your cheeks. This surgery had mucked with all three in an attempt to bring long-term relief.
So the packing in my face was extensive; literally layers of packing tucked from my forehead to my nostrils with a final piece of gauze taped across it all. No air was getting in that way.

And then, just as I was coming to consciousness, the nurse turned off the oxygen that was flowing into my mouth. But she forgot to remove the mask from my face.
I went from a steady flow of air to none.

She quickly realized what she had done as monitors blared.
But it was a terrifying way to wake up.

Thankfully that level of packing was only for the first 24 hours.
But it definitely gave me a deep, deep appreciation for breathing.

So what in the world does this have to do with spiritual things?

It’s about air.
And breathing.
And cutting off oxygen.

If you read last week’s blog, you know I have been reveling in the name of the Holy Spirit in the original languages: Ruach in Hebrew, Pneuma in Greek. Literally wind, breath or breeze.

And as I have been marinating in that Truth it struck me:
When I sin I am quite literally putting myself in the same danger I was in long ago in that recovery room.
I am cutting off the very air I breathe.

Am I saying that the Holy Spirit leaves the follower of Christ when we sin?
Absolutely not.

But when we choose to disobey God, we put a blockage between ourselves and Him.
Sin separates us from God.
Always has.
Always will.

And yes, Jesus died to take the penalty of my sin on the cross.
Someone always pays for sin by dying.
Either the sinner or Jesus.
So, for those of us who have chosen to put our faith in Christ, He has taken the ultimate punishment.
And He has given us the Holy Spirit as the power source for life, the change agent Who is working on us, refining us, making us more and more like Christ.

Scripture is very clear that we are literally saved from ourselves and our sin in stages.
The moment we accept Christ, we are justified before God.
He sees the penalty of our sin – past, present and future – as paid in full by the death of Jesus.
That’s why Paul told the church at Rome that “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

So we have been saved. Saved from the eternal consequences of our sin.
But we are also BEING saved as we walk with God in this Christian life.
The author of Hebrews put it this way: “Having been made perfect, we are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14)
I love that picture! I stand before God, complete and righteous because of Jesus.
I have been made perfect in His sight.
But I am being made holy as we go on together.
I am learning, growing, changing, transforming, becoming.

And then one day, one glorious day, we WILL BE saved.
For a follower of Jesus, the death of the body means entering an eternity with God.
And the struggle with sin will finally be over.
No more temptation.
No more mistakes.
No more wrestling.
We will finally be done with the struggle. Hallelujah!

So – back to the air we breathe.
In this life, as we are in the process of being saved, we have a choice about how hard that progression will be.
And that choice is all about surrender.
My will or His?
My glory or His?
My desires or His?
Yield to temptation? Or yield to His Spirit?

Paul told the Corinthians that “No temptation [regardless of its source] has overtaken or enticed you that is not common to human experience [nor is any temptation unusual or beyond human resistance]; but God is faithful [to His word—He is compassionate and trustworthy], and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability [to resist], but along with the temptation He [has in the past and is now and] will [always] provide the way out as well, so that you will be able to endure it [without yielding, and will overcome temptation with joy].” (I Corinthians 10:13)

And he told the church at Philippi:
“So then, my dear ones, just as you have always obeyed [my instructions with enthusiasm], not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation [that is, cultivate it, bring it to full effect, actively pursue spiritual maturity] with awe-inspired fear and trembling [using serious caution and critical self-evaluation to avoid anything that might offend God or discredit the name of Christ]. For it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

So you CAN resist the irresistible.
You CAN successfully fight temptation.
You CAN live a holy life.

It is all possible – because you have the Breath of God in your lungs.

But when you choose sin, you block His work.
When you choose disobedience, you cut off the very air supply that you desperately need.
He is still there – but you have rendered Him ineffective.
Just like the oxygen I needed was still in the air all around me in that recovery room – but it was blocked from my lungs.

That is why it is SO important to keep short accounts with God.
Because you will fail.
You will still sin.
You will give into temptation.
And He will not leave you when you do.
But His power supply to your life will be blocked.
And you are the only one who can remove the blockage.

That is why Paul told the church at Thessalonica, “Do not quench [subdue, or be unresponsive to the working and guidance of] the [Holy] Spirit.” (I Thessalonians 5:19)
We have the choice, day in and day out.
Breathe Him in, with all of His power and experience all of the fruit He brings – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

Or block His flow, quenching His work, cutting off the very air supply we need in order to live for Him by our own willful disobedience.

Choosing to keep short accounts with God will not make Him love you more.
“But God clearly shows and proves His own love for us, by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

But keeping your life free from sin so that the Breath of God can move freely in your life?
That will give you the abundant life Jesus promised in John 10.

You have the quantity of life either way – eternity with God because you are a Christ-follower.
The question is, what is the quality of your life with Him?
That part is entirely up to you.

The Wind of God

We have been friends for a long, long time.
In fact, I have known him most of my life.
I met him when at age four.
But even though I have known him all this time, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I learned his name.

Or, more accurately, the meaning of his real name.
I had always been taught that He is the “Holy Spirit”.
Or, in some translations, the “Holy Ghost”.

He has been a mystery at best.

But He longs for us to know Him.
He reveals Himself to us.
He doesn’t long to be distant – He longs to be close.
For us to really grapple with and grasp His incredible love for us – and the gifts that He gives. The comfort He brings. The ways He fights for us. And the ways He shapes us.

And knowing His real name has brought me a little closer to actually understanding a bit more that intimacy that He desires.

I can’t take credit for figuring out His name.
It was in a sermon by Chris Hodge from Church of the Highlands.
But oh, what a light bulb this has turned on in my life!

See, the first translators of the Bible had a problem.
When they got to the word Hebrew word “Ruach” in the Old Testament and the Greek word “Pneuma” in the New, they figured they couldn’t call Him literal meaning: the “Holy Wind” or “Holy Breath”. So instead, they called Him the “Holy Spirit” or “Holy Ghost”.

But I understand “wind of God” or “breath of God” SO much better than I do “spirit” or “ghost”.

Chris had four points in his sermon about the Holy Spirit or “Holy Wind of God”. He said that the wind is:
Unpredictable (and)

So how has knowing this literal meaning of His name changed me?
I am not sure I can put it into words, but I have to try.

The Holy Spirit is literally the air I breathe.
I don’t mean God is in the combo of oxygen and hydrogen that fills my lungs.
But I do mean that He is the very source of the breath of my body.
So since I have learned His true name, it has changed how I deal with a sticky problem or a stuck thought.
I close my eyes and take a deep physical breath, while asking Him to fill me with the spiritual oxygen that I need to face the issue.
And then I exhale, releasing the problem into His almighty hands.
It is a recipe for instant peace.
And I do it every time that problem or thought invades my thinking.
Over and over again if I need to.
But what is amazing is that the more I do it, the less I need to do it. It is easier to let it go – and let it be gone – even for me, the semi-pro worrier!

It is what God told the prophet Zechariah when He said, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)
I cannot solve one tiny thing in my life – let alone the big stuff.
But the Spirit of the Living God, the very Breath of God, most certainly can.
And when I release the problem into His hands, He is able to do “exceedingly, abundantly” in my life. (Ephesians 3:20)
When I choose to do a holy exhale, both literally and figuratively, I am putting into practice what Paul told the Philippians when he said, “Don’t worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank Him for what He has done. And the peace of God will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7-8, Kathy’s version)

And that’s just one difference it has made.
I knew those Truths before. But putting them into practice has become easier.  Here’s another:

As Chris pointed out, the wind is powerful.
It can be downright destructive at times.
And I have asked the Wind of God to blow through my heart, knocking down the idols that dwell there and cleaning all the dust and cobwebs out of every corner.
Because it is super easy for me to be a “professional Christian”.
Certain behavior is expected of me because of my job.
Time in the Word of God.
Time in prayer – or at least saying I will pray about something.
Lots of time at the church.
And all the right answers and actions – at least when someone is watching.
Way, way too easy to slip into professional mode and not be real.
In the good or the bad.
And my heart so easily becomes dusty.
Going through the motions.
Saying and doing the right things.
Which is great.
But doing them without my heart in them.
Which is not great.
It is a recipe for ultimate failure if left that way.

So I have been asking the Wind of God to be a powerful leaf blower in my life.
Knocking down what He wants to knock down.
Blowing out the door what needs to go.
Sweeping through like a Holy Tornado when that is what I need.

And He has.
He has shown me an idol I didn’t even realize was sitting on the throne of my heart.
A good desire that had grown out of proportion and was out of submission to the will of the Most High God.
I have asked Him to blow that sucker off the throne every time it tries to slip back on it.
And He has.
He stops me in my tracks when the thought tries to creep back in.
And with a mighty puff it is knocked back down from decision-making influencer to what it is, an unfulfilled desire to place back into His hands.

I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps you have never actually met Him. You know about God and the things of God but you have never surrendered your life, never accepted that you need Jesus to be the only Way for salvation. Knowing about Him – God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is not the same as being in relationship with Him. One simple prayer of surrender can change that for you – but it is up to you.

Perhaps, like me, you were raised in a church that seemed to say “Father! Son! And (in a whisper) Holy Spirit??” Easy for us to understand, at least in theory, what it means to be The Father and The Son. Difficult to grasp the Holy Spirit – and kind of scary, too – so you lock Him in a box labeled “God doesn’t work that way today” and leave Him there. I would challenge you to ask the Breath of God to breathe understanding of Who He really is into your life. Don’t take my word for it – Go to His Word to find out Who He is.

Or perhaps you have swung the other way and live your life fueled by spiritual emotion. Happiness when you “feel the Spirit”; sadness when you do not. Joy when He does the things you want Him to do and disbelief when He shows that He is, indeed, not predictable. He is very, very good – but He is not tame. You, too, have a box but yours is labeled “God = My Feelings About Him”. Again, I would challenge you to ask Him to show you who He really is, outside of your feelings and even outside of your experiences. Take Him at His Word, not yours.

Maybe you have a healthy understanding of Who He is and His role in the life of a Christ-follower.

I don’t know.
But my prayer for both of us today is that we would invite Him to reveal Himself to us more and more.
Not as we want Him to be.
But as He is revealed in the pages of Scripture.
Not viewed through the lens of a certain denomination or theological grid.
But Who God says God is.
And then that we would allow Him to have His way.
To be the air we breathe.
To be the invisible source of all our strength.
To be the powerful change agent in our lives.
To be as unpredictable as He wants to be, working things out for His glory and our good.
And to be a refreshing breeze, the renewed wind in your sails as you journey with Him.

He longs for you to know Him intimately. Will you let that happen?