Posted in Living this Life

Light on a Hill

It’s a long, complicated road, isn’t it? This thing we call life. Yet we trip along, thinking we know where we’re going, with lofty plans and daring dreams.

They say hindsight is 20/20 – sometimes it can serve as a guidebook for how to go forward. These are the stones of remembrance that we set along the way as we go – to remind us of what to hold onto when the waves threaten to take us under.

I’m thinking back to those reckless and wandering days when I lived in Amsterdam, eager to share my Jesus with everyone I could. Those were the days my opportunities were as big as my dreams and the world was a playground. Those were also the days the imbalances in my heart were coming to the surface and I started to lose my way. When your 20 years haven’t prepared you for when your world tips sideways, how do you determine what is true? How do you stop your mind from tunneling into wormholes you can’t find your way out of, with its obsessive thoughts and restless wanderings? I’ve lived many trips around the sun since those days – yet do you feel it with me? Like the world is tipping sideways once again?

Those were the days when I learned a lesson that has shaped my life at many different junctures. A stone was established that I have clung to many times. And I turn there once again. Because I’m guessing you feel it like I do. The voices coming from all directions. They’re telling us to believe a multitude of opposing viewpoints. They can get your mind tunneling into wormholes you can’t get out of and keep you awake at night with obsessive thoughts and restless wanderings that seem to find no end. The anger can seep into your soul and the defensive posture can rob you of any joy you have left.

Do you feel it? The tension all around? When Jesus said that we are in the world but not of the world, I suspect this is part of what He was talking about. So the rock that I cling to? Don’t laugh at the me for the simplicity – maybe just go there with me and breathe deeply of the freedom. From the mouth of David, I hear these words – “lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2

There is a Rock that rises above the fray. A Truth that gives us a firm foundation to stand on. Brothers and sisters, why do we turn to political ideologies and competing theories that abound in all directions when there is a Truth that cannot be shaken? When the news cycle brings us changing perspectives and disappointing information on a daily basis, repeat with me this simple fact: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”. When you open your social media account to the frenzy of accusations and anger, repeat it again: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” When the anger threatens to consume your own soul, repeat it yet again. Because this, my friend, is how you keep your head when the world is tipping sideways. Find your foundation and cling to it at all costs.

This means, knowing your reason for being. Jesus was 12 when He disappeared from a caravan of people doing what they usually do. He broke the mold and walked a different path. When He was finally found, His simple answer to their concerned questions was “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49)

Can we all take a deep breath and talk about this for a minute?

What does it mean to be about our Father’s business? As I sat in church 10 years ago on that typical Sunday morning, listening to Gary Smalley talk, I had no idea he was about to forever change the posture of my walk with Jesus. He said words that morning that have shifted the way I see my role in this world. He talked that morning about “building a life according to the guidelines of Scripture”.

Again, please resist the urge to read on too quickly because the simplicity of that statement seems like something we all really know. Stop and read that again – Building a life on Scripture alone. Sola Scriptura – that means not in response to the world around you. Not in response to other’s expectations of you. Not in response to your culture or your family’s patterns. Simply a life built on what our Creator says. Pure and simple. Direct and unmuddied. Jesus said “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Mt 6:33). C.S. Lewis put it like this – “Put first things first and second things will follow. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.” I feel like we’ve been focusing an awful lot on second things, and we stand to lose it all. Let’s peel back the layers and get back to what really matters.

Do you feel it? That tremendous weight lifting? The clarity settling in? I’m not talking easy – it’s the hardest task you can undertake. But it’s clear. It goes something like this:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24)

I’ve been camping around this one a lot lately – “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil 4:8) Pull up a chair with me, let’s savor this a bit. We need to care for the state of our souls these days – is there any better help than choosing to reign in our thoughts and turning them to the pure, the lovely, the admirable?

Now – turning outward:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth but only what is helpful for building others up, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph 4:29)  (emphasis added)

“Warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:14)

“… guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge,” (1 Tim 6:20)

“Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly… Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (2 Tim 2:14)

Let me be extremely bold here. Did you notice that very rarely do any of these statements involve a reaction to anything or anyone? This is a simple clarion call for us on how we ought to live, regardless of how others choose to live, what they say, or how they treat us.

That means, this is for you, follower of Jesus.

Regardless of whether you voted for this president or the previous one.

Regardless of whether you support a vaccine or not.

Regardless of whether you listen to CNN or Fox news.

Regardless of whether you wear a mask or choose not to.

Regardless of any of your feelings on the culture wars that rage around us.

Because we all need Jesus. And those of us who claim the name of Jesus all live under the same guidebook – so let’s stop pretending that it’s ok to set up in different camps and hurl stones at each other. We all have been created by God for good works which He prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:10)  So my question to you is this: What is that good work that He has prepared for you to do? And how are we doing at that?

Let us remember for a moment, that every person who lives and breathes on this planet carries the imprint of God. “Let us make man in our image”, God said in those first days of creation. There is not a soul on this wide earth who skipped over that step. Imago Dei – the image of God. At what point does someone’s political belief or view on current cultural issues give me the right to speak of them in any way other than as someone who carries the imprint of God and is worthy of my respect based on that fact alone? Lewis understood that the eternal destination of every person we meet should color our every interaction when he said, “It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

Can we get back to simple basic foundations? And just do that? Let the pundits talk. Let the world spin sideways if it will. Our simple following of a simple truth will do much more good in this world than all the accusations made on social media, all the forwarding of angry opinions and all the defensive posturing. “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:15) A little context makes that statement even more powerful. This is the the same Peter who cut off someone’s ear while trying to defend Jesus. This is written in the days when followers of Jesus were being used as human torches and Nero was on a rampage to destroy Christianity. Keep that in mind, put it in persepective with where things are at in our world today, and please, go read it again.

A world is changed when hearts change. I have rarely seen a heart change in response to anger or accusation, but I have witnessed many hearts changed by lifting Jesus up high in all His winsome love, tender mercy and forgiving grace. I have seen one wounded soul declare to another that there is Hope and His name is Jesus. That there is no sorrow or pain that is not covered by the blood of Jesus on the cross. That there is healing when we discover who He created us to be and lay our baggage at the foot of the cross. That trickle of person to person can turn into a wave that can change a country, even a world when they’re not looking. We know our call, we know our Creator, we know the task at hand. Let’s just do that and trust God with the rest.

Is this not enough to occupy an entire life? Of course we need to be well informed and engaged like the men of Issachar from 1 Chronicles 12. But is our myopia deafening us to the cries of the world around us?

Do we weep over young girls being ripped away from the arms of their mothers in Afghanistan as I write these very words? Do we even know about the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women across this continent? Where is our outrage over the thousands of Native American children found buried in mass graves near boarding schools in our own backyard? Helpless people buried alive in crushed buildings in Haiti, others fleeing for their lives under unmentionable circumstances around this world … Does your heart break for the things that break the heart of God or are we so focused on defending our own rights that we don’t even hear the cries of those that God Himself called us to care for? “Learn to do good; Seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

What are we spending the majority of our energy on? Where do we expend our passion? Our influence? When someone walks away from being with you, how do they feel?  Have you invested in their soul? Their eternity? What conversations would Jesus be engaging in right now? Let’s go there with Him and not let the brush fires around us pull us away from the battle for people’s souls at home and around the world.

Brothers and sisters who carry the name of Jesus, let’s fill the minutes of our lives with what matters for eternity. With what can change the state of a heart for ever.  Not what might win us an argument today. “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season… keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:2) “

For now, I’m out of words. I’ll just leave this here, with the words of Jesus – “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”  Mt 5:14

Posted in Living this Life

Bread of Life

Sometimes the story just writes itself around you and you don’t even know it’s happening. Then one day, you smell that heavenly aroma and it all comes back.

There’s nothing quite like it – that smell of a freshly baked loaf of bread. You may try to break it all down to science and molecules, but I will fight you to the end over it. That smell is pure magic. It communicates all the things in one whiff – comfort, provision, nourishment. It somehow symbolizes everything we need – physically and emotionally.

And there she stood over that counter – kneading the dough. My amazing mom – faithfully providing for her family. I saw the picture this week and it all came rushing back to me. There was no Walmart in the steamy jungles of Liberia – there was simply flour, water, and her hands. So she kneaded that dough, she baked the loaves, and we ate that bread. Day after day, week after week. It nourished our bodies then – and today it nourishes my soul.

I think about those frantic Israelite mothers in Egypt – the time comes to go, and what do they do? They grab their bread, some just had dough, and flee Egypt for the Promised Land. Those children would eat, because their mom packed the bread! As a child, there is so much comfort in that – so much security knowing that you will be cared for.

There is another bread – one that is offered at the altar in the Tabernacle throughout the Israelite’s wanderings in the desert. And later in the Temple in Jerusalem – throughout the history of the Israelite people, The Bread of the Presence has served as a symbol that acknowledged God as life and nourishment.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus held bread. And broke it. And fed 5,000 people with only 2 loaves. He never runs out, does He?

And then come these astonishing words: “Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35

Can we all get back to that simple place once again? The place of a child who needs nourishment as simple as bread? Bread that satisfies to the fullest. Bread that comforts and nourishes. Bread that heals all our brokenness. Bread that feeds all our needs – physical and emotional. Bread that never runs out.

Taste and see… and be satisfied.

Posted in Living this Life

King of the road

I remember that old Land Rover so vividly. And when I remember that Land Rover, I can almost feel the red dirt in my hair, coating even the inside of my mouth.

Those were the days it took us anywhere from 18 hours to 2 days to drive a mere 300 miles.

This is why.

I have another memory that flooded my mind today. We were on one of these epic journeys from Liberia to neighboring Cote D’Ivoire to visit my siblings in boarding school. Traveling with other families, we decided to mix it up and switch up who was in the various vehicles. I have a very distinct emotional response that comes up in me when I remember that part of the trip – because I didn’t feel safe.

You see, my daddy was the king of these roads. That’s him in the picture -with the cool sunglasses on. The mud was intense, the bridges were scary and you never knew what to expect when you’d round a corner. But I knew if my daddy was behind the wheel he would master it. I felt safe.

On this particular occasion, though, I didn’t know if the man driving the vehicle I was in could master the roads like my daddy could. And so I was nervous. On guard. Not secure – not until I was back in that old Land Rover with my dad behind the wheel.

I’ve been thinking alot about the faith of a child these days. I think we need to return to some of these places. Today it’s about the safety we feel in the arms of a Father we can trust.

Some of us didn’t have that in our earthly father. Which is why it is even more important to rest in the promises of our Heavenly Father. Some have had to live their lives on guard, feeling that our only safety comes when we are in control. “Master of our destiny” and all that. But the day always comes – for some sooner rather than later – when we discover the chilling truth that we are not enough in our own strength. We can’t control all the forces of the universe – or even try to anymore.

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” He says gently (Matthew 19:14) Let us return to that childlike faith who knows our Daddy is the King of the road. And whatever is coming around that bend, He knows.

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge…

One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love” (Psalm 62)

Power married to love. Is there any safer place to be? The God of the Universe who holds all authority in a single breath – LOVES YOU! What safer refuge can we find in this careening world?

Come – rest with me. ““Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him,
    for He shields him all day long,
    and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” (Dt. 33:12)