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

The One where Jesus Weeps

Maybe I’ve read it too many times. Do you ever do that? Reach a grand, sweeping story in the Bible and just skim through it like an old sitcom re-run? “The One Where Jesus feeds 5,000 people”… “The One Where He Walks On Water” … you know what I mean, right?

That’s what was happening when I tripped over these two simple words. Truth be told, it’s an oft repeated verse around these parts – my boys say it’s their favorite verse to memorize in Scripture. That might be because it’s known as the shortest verse, and what would a proper boy be if he wasn’t looking for the easiest opportunity to get out of a memorization assignment? So there I was, entering into the “One where Jesus raises someone from the dead” episode, when it stopped me in my tracks.

“Jesus wept”, it says. Yeah, I know we’ve read those words before. Maybe even talked about it. But I’ve never read those words in the context we are now enveloped in throughout our world. Muddling through. Confused by. This “squinting-to-see-truth -through-the-haze” kind of world we are in. So I backed up – and I read it again as if I’d never heard the story. Go there with me…

Jesus receives news that His good friend Lazarus is sick. His sisters, Mary and Martha, are begging Him to help. After all, He is God, right? And He does love them, right? And how does Jesus respond? He waits.

Hold it right there. The story is already hitting too close to home. This is perhaps the most frustrating and confounding of God’s responses to my cries for help. “Will you just do something, God?” I chafe. I try to “help” Him out. I reason with Him, explaining how easy it would be for Him to fix everything … as if He needed to hear how to do His job better. I beg to hear an answer. Even a no – just a something. Some indication that you know I exist. That I need you. That you care. Something, God!

And yet Jesus waits.

Long enough to ensure the worst possible scenario. Lazarus, His friend, dies – and then Jesus decides to show up. His disciples are confused. Jesus makes parodoxical statements that seem to clarify nothing – and then He marches resolutely towards Bethany. It seems to everyone that He’s just a couple days too late at this point.

That’s when this moment that makes time stand still takes place. Jesus is still on the outskirts of town. He has a plan that no one knows. He intends to display God’s glory and power. He knows that the death of His friend will end in resurrection. In a victory that no one can fathom or would dare to predict. He carries all this in His heart as He enters Bethany.

Yet, there stand Mary and Martha. Weeping. Feeling the crushing defeat of death and grief, abandonment and betrayal – they ask all the questions… Why? Where were you when we needed you? You could have saved our brother – why didn’t you come when we called?

Do you feel the weight of those questions today? We all experienced this last year – differently, perhaps, but the loss was there. Confusion permeated the air. Life happened and God has been faithful, but almost like the ongoing horn of a car alarm, there has been this underlying tension that has frayed the nerves and changed us all. Where were you, God?

It’s almost like we can taste the very human saltiness of those tears.

As Jesus stands before Mary, Martha, and the questioning crowds, you’ve gotta wonder what He’s thinking. He knows the end of the story. He knows He came to raise the dead – how easy it would be to slap them on the back, laugh a little, and say “Don’t cry, girls! Come and see what I’m going to do!” He could so easily point to the victory ahead, remind them of all the good days to come.

But not my Jesus. He stands there, holding resurrection in His heart, looking into their grieving souls, and He weeps.

Right there, in that staggering moment, I see Jesus with new eyes. He is my Savior who holds victory in His whisper and promises of hope with every tomorrow – but right now, in this present place, He simply sits with us and feels with us.

My friend, do you feel that? I don’t know what kind of pain, grief, anxiety, or other challenges you face. I am grateful to know that on the other side of it all, there is more in store for us than we could ask or imagine. (Eph. 3:20) But right now, in the middle of it all, don’t we really need to know that Jesus is in it with us? Crying with our sorrows, hurting with our confusion, laughing in our joys, and cradling us when we feel so lost?

I take a deep breath, and let my soul rest in this. This beautiful reality that my Jesus knows. He may not be answering all my questions right now – and honestly, that may not help. Answers may calm our minds, but our heart needs more. It needs Jesus’ presence now – comforting us in our pain. Walking with us in our sorrow. Giving us the assurance of His faithfulness in our questions. Lifting us in our joys.

But I love that the story doesn’t end here! Jesus didn’t stop there, on the outskirts of Bethany. He didn’t build a camp around their grief and sink into the trench of sorrow with them. He moved forward – and brought them with Him. Jesus said, “Show me where he (Lazarus) is”. He goes boldly, unafraid, to the source of their grief. And then He heals.

He has the victory in hand. When we sit in silence, He knows. While we wait, He prepares a way. While we are weeping, He weeps with us. And then He gently takes us to the source of our pain and offers healing. Resurrection power.

My friend, our resurrection will look different than we expect. It may not be the resurrection of what has physically or emotionally died. It may take longer than we expect and we may not fully understand it until we see it on the other side, but it is no less real.

His promise of resurrection leads to victory. It gives us a road out of grief, helps us carry our tears to a place of hope, carves new vision for tomorrow. We can trust His promises. All of them. Even when He is silent. Don’t let your confusion shut Him out. Don’t let your grief dull your senses. Feel His tears alongside your own. Let His presence with you bring you comfort. And then fight for hope. Fight for victory.

Listen to Him say, “Lazarus, come out!”