Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Stay or Go?

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." 

And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." 

To another he said, "Follow me." 

But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." 

And Jesus said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 

Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home." 

Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."   Luke 9:57-62

     At first glance, this passage seems almost random, falling as it did not long after He preached about taking up one's cross daily and directly after telling His disciples not to rebuke a man casting out demons in His name "...for the one who is not against you is for you." It almost seems like a rejection on Jesus' part, as if He were discouraging any new followers. At first glance...

     But read what follows:

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 
Luke 10:1-2

     Seventy-two others is not a tiny number. Granted, it is not many thousands, and it is but a fraction of the multitudes that He had recently fed and healed. It is not a number, however, that points to Him dissuading followers. It is still a telling number, indicating seventy-two out of the thousands milling about who were ready, dedicated, and willing to drop what they had going on and act promptly in faith and obedience. Seventy-two who were inclined to follow Him, not in theory or in the future, but at that moment when He appointed them and sent them out. 

     Apparently, then, these three brief stories of three potential disciples are not a rejection by the Lord, but rather His exposure of the hearts of those who proclaim a desire to follow Him even while armed with a reason to defer their commitment. Many who readily and eagerly voice their allegiance are found to be in actuality less than willing to follow the Lord on His terms. 

     We will all stand at this cusp at one point in our lives, this moment where on one hand we stay and hold fast to all that is normal and familiar to us and on the other the unknown Something that lies just out of sight down the road He has paused on to beckon to us. Then we are faced with the decision: Do we leave everything and go with Him as He commands, or do we try to negotiate, virtually attempting to stand our ground and follow Him at the same time. This is, of course, impossible, and so we find that we can summon many reasons, many viable obstacles to impede our taking of that first heady and alarming step toward Him. The reality is that there no reasons for not following the Lord when He calls; there are only excuses. 
     I have often been heard to tell my children, "Delayed obedience is disobedience." I know this because God has told me the same thing many times. I have been guilty of saying to Him, "But Lord, before I do what You ask, I first need to do ________." 

     It is no excuse. He has always answered simply, "Follow Me."  There have been countless times when I was called to lay down some task or some hobby in order to follow Him. Judo comes to mind. I enjoyed my time on the mat, but my Lord said, "I have other plans for you. Leave that behind and come with  Me."  

     At other times my house would be in disarray and I would be called upon to help another. "But Lord," I have questioned at such times, "Is it not poor stewardship to neglect the home You have given me?"  And He would remind me that His call is larger than my home... and that He will pay for what He orders. Has my house gone through spells of being more dirty than I would prefer? Certainly. Have I had time to get it back in shape? Naturally. He has not called me to neglect stewardship, only to follow Him. He will sort the details out. And so, I am slowly learning not to look back but merely to plow the field He sets before me. And I am learning to trust the results to Him whether I ever see them or not. It is mine merely to follow. It is enough. 

     These excuses are pervasive as well as persuasive. How many of us would follow him, "but?" 

     But... I have my home to tend, my career to pursue, my hobbies that keep me sane. 

     But... I need to handle these family matters, perform to this person's standards, please this group of people. 

     But... I have not yet said my goodbyes, I am not yet ready to sever my link with my past life, I am not yet completely ready to go. 

     The same excuses that were given then are given now. I have given them, but He has always pointed out that where I saw explanation, He saw merely disbelief. When I rationalize my reasons for waiting to obey, in truth I am failing to see that His way is the correct way and that my view of each situation is fallible at best. We can always find a reason not go go where He sends us--there is no doubting that. The question is not whether our excuses are valid or whether our reasoning is legitimate. The real question here is this: Can we afford the delay? 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Matthew 18:15-35

     An apt and timely passage in my home, as we have recently seen our son sin against his sister. It has been  great to read through this passage with the two of them this week, lingering on the importance of forgiveness. In my several readings of this, however, one thing particularly stood out. I noted that nearly the same words Jesus spoke to Peter back in Matthew 16:19 (which I neglected to write about due to my recovery from minor surgery)--words about binding and loosing. 
      In the first instance, in Matthew 16, these words were spoken to Peter after the Lord had proclaimed that He gave to Peter the "keys of the kingdom of heaven." While I understood keys to represent authority--a master might give a trusted servant the keys to the estate--I was not so sure about binding and loosing. On this second occurrence of the phrase, I felt that I needed to grasp it and so did a little research. As it turns out, the terms translated as "bind" and "loose" refer to authority, as well! They were commonly used in Jewish culture to denote what is and is not lawful. As Jesus uses them here specifically in the context of discipline against an unrepentant sinner--church discipline, if you will--and He is giving the authority to declare lawful and unlawful to the disciples, it stands to reason that He is giving them the authority to oversee this new church as it forms. This authority will soon become invaluable when the Gentiles begin to believe in Christ and the apostles prayerfully confer about what parts of Jewish law are indispensable to all and what points apply specifically to God's covenant with His chosen people specifically. 
     I think the reason this binding and loosing discussion so intrigued me is from something that occurred early in my relationship with my God. I recall hearing many people asking God to bind spirits of this or that, and I assumed that they derived this prayer from these passages. However, it always bothered me that Jesus's own disciples never prayed that way. When brought before the Jewish leaders and warned against preaching Christ, Peter and John did not pray to "bind the spirit of opposition," but rather that God would grant them to speak His word with boldness. They understood their God-given authority and they did cast out demons and perform wonders. They also understood, however, the meaning of "binding" and "loosing" not to be the literal tying-up of certain powers but the authority over the church to determine, with the leading of the Holy Spirit, what would and would not be lawful for the believer in Christ, whether Gentile or Jew. Call me a nerd, but I was completely fascinated by this clarification, and had prayed for years for understanding of what Jesus meant in those two passages.

     Beyond that little side trip of mine, I have to say that I have firsthand been able to experience the power of God's forgiveness. I remember when it finally hit me that I, even I, as horrible as my life had been until Christ, was completely and utterly forgiven. Once I really got my head around that, I found that it was difficult for me not to forgive others, for no one has ever sinned against me as badly as I have sinned against my Lord. However, I do confess that unforgiveness does occasionally worm its way into my heart from time to time. God is faithful in any and every occasion to bring it to my attention and I address it. I forgive. Not because I want to, but because I have been forgiven. 
     I have been able to forgive others who have used me in the past, and I am reminded not to hold a grudge against those who use me now. I am able to let go of all the hurts that have been perpetrated against me, even the heinous ones when I was a very young gal and the perpetrator was a middle-aged man. It is liberating. The greatest revelation for me was when I realized that by forgiving others, I was only releasing myself. Every wrong, whether real or perceived, done against me is truly not between me and the other person, but between them and God. All sin, in fact, is between the sinner and God. The rest--the effect on me--is merely consequence.  That was the eye-opener for me. I am not really a part of the equation, at least, not unless I make myself a part. If I can live and walk and breathe forgiveness, then I leave the judgement of sin up to the rightful Judge, I spare myself the anxiety of caring whether or not justice is done, and I trust God to bring glory to Himself out of the situation. 
     And above all, I can relish the bountiful fruit of forgiveness, both as a recipient and as the one forgiving! Now does this mean that I never put up boundaries or that I extend trust to someone who has hurt or taken advantage of me in the past? By no means! However, I place my boundaries under the leading hand of my Lord, letting Him determine what is and is not too far. I do not have to worry about being used, you see, but only about obeying God. I do not have to say, "yes," to everyone--only to those God calls me to say "yes" to. And if I feel it is too far, well then I am reminded of what I have been forgiven of, and I am humbled to do God's will anyway, trusting Him with the results. I am no longer bound by chains of my own animosity. 

Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 
John 8:34-36

Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 
John 8:34-36
Praise God for the freedom of forgiveness today!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 
Romans 12:4-5

     This past weekend brought with it a special privilege, that of two days of worship and fellowship in two very different ways. These times were especially precious to me coming as they were at the end of the week-long struggle with fatigue and the crazy chemical flux I discussed in my last post. Two days and two styles of worship was an absolutely perfect opportunity for me to refocus on my God. The weekend was truly a beautiful and timely gift from Him. 
    On Saturday, we attended a Catholic mass to see one of our small friends accept her First Holy Communion. It was so touching to see her sweet little face so solemn and sincere. My inner nerd reveled in hearing the priest speak of the historical event that led to the First Communion being offered at a much younger age. The diligence in the training of the young people, the beauty of the family that we have come to know and love, and the solemn dignity and orderliness of the occasion among other things worked together to create a profound sense of reverence within my heart. Watching and taking part in the liturgy so steeped in tradition put me in mind of the ancient and ever-present but never-changing character of my God. I found myself awed and grateful for the time of prayer and meditation that was provided while the congregation went to accept communion. I felt an especial outpouring of love for all my brethren in Christ, no matter what traditions they observe. I was again reminded of the need to pray for unity in the Church; for a demolition of the barriers erected by man that so often divide us.
     Sunday morning found me worshiping in the church body of which I am a member, but not in my usual way. My typical Sunday morning worship finds me worshiping God with the toddler class (which are now technically preschoolers, but I have loved them so long and am loathe to part with them, and I have been indulged by keeping them!). This Sunday, due to the enforced recovery time from my surgery, I was not able to praise God with my little ones, and so I joined the congregation in our improvised sanctuary inside an elementary school gymnasium. Rather than a traditional "songs-and-a-sermon" service, our pastor spoke and prayed for us and provided a journaling table, Bibles for those who did not have them, Scripture cards, pens, pencils, notes, and a variety of other materials and one final, crucial ingredient: Time. Our worship service was centered on spending time with God in the Word and in prayer, and it was absolutely, incredibly perfect. I needed the time to re-calibrate and refocus on God. I had a powerful time of communion with my King and He once again brought me to places in His Word that reminded me of my brotherhood in Christ that extends beyond all borders, races, and traditions.
     And so, today, I pray for unity in Christ and I praise Him for the greatness of what He has done. He laid down His life willingly for us, not so we could disintegrate into a multitude of squabbling factions, but so that we could be one in Him. As He prayed, "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:20-21)
     Our God is good. Our Lord is magnificent. Praise God today for the incredible gift of brotherhood given in Christ! I pray today that God will grant each of us to powerfully experience the love of our brother and sisters in Him, spurring us to reach across the traditions of man to seize hold of the gift of God. May it not be done for us, but as Jesus prayed, "so that the world may believe" that He was sent for us. We are one in Christ; let us resolve to keep our minds and hearts fixed on Him, pray for sanctity and unity, and above all, to love one another as He loved us. Together we can stand for Him against our ancient enemy; divided, we are doing our enemy's work for him. Let love be our motive, and let us stand for our God and King!

There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 
Ephesians 4:4-6

Saturday, May 11, 2013


"Oh, that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head, and by his light I walked through darkness, as I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent, when the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were all around me, 
Job 29:2-5

     I think I am at a crossroads. I feel scattered, unfocused, directionless, and generally just plain overwhelmed. There is a very solid chance, according to my surgeon, that this sensation is at least partially due to an ongoing reaction to last week's general anesthesia, lingering effects of an allergic reaction to hydrocodone, or a combination of the two. This knowledge, however, does not suffice to silence the barely-suppressed panic that claws at the edges of my mind in the dead hours of the night. In the light of day, the tears still squeeze out and a vague, undefinable uneasiness lurks just out of reach of conscious thought. I understand it and the cause behind it, but knowing there are no monsters under the bed does not necessarily quell the feeling of fear.

     During this week, I have felt crazily isolated and lonely. Even God has seemed remote to me despite my reaching toward Him in prayer. However, I have been in places like this before--dark valleys sometimes caused by my own sin and at other times by fatigue or an impending migraine. Today as I am tossed about on a gradually calming chemical tempest, I am thankful for those past walks through the gloom. I am grateful for all the times God's hand was less apparent in my life so that I could discover that it was my perception that was skewed and not His presence. I am equally appreciative for the men like Job and David who so openly gave vent to their despair, for when I read their words I feel a kinship that reaches through the centuries and I no longer feel quite alone.

     And so, as the storm expends its fury, I cling to my Rock and know that even when my hands are too benumbed to feel His solidity, He is there. As I wait with flagging strength for time to soothe the foaming fusillade, I whisper praises that are caught up and dissipated in the furious wind, but I murmur them still. I recall the promises of my King who has promised never to leave me or forsake me, and I force my mind to remember that His promises are not bound to the quavering and changeable emotions of my flesh but to a steadfast and ancient purpose that cannot be budged.

       And I gratefully meditate on the beautiful words of an ancient shepherd-king; a lifeline reminder of a hope that no storm can quash: 

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
Psalms 43:5


Wednesday, May 1, 2013


John 6:22-69

    This has been an incredible passage for me to rest in this week. I found it interesting that the events leading up to this particular discourse from Jesus were so very similar, and yet His response was dramatically different. On the previous day when the people chased Him down, He had compassion on them, healing and feeding them. This second time, He had some hard words for them to ponder. He said to them, " are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves." Literally, they were not seeking Him for the incredible display of sovereignty He had just shown, but because of the needs He met. It wasn't His power and lordship they were interested in--it was what He gave them. Don't we do that as a church in many cases? We come to Him with our hands out, not interested in who He really is but in what we want to gain from Him.

     This resonated with me on a personal level, too. My husband has been in the market for a new job, and we have covered this search with daily prayer. I have prayed with some anxiety even. As I read these words of Christ, I realized I was just as guilty as this mass of people following him from shore to shore. In my desire to have what I felt my husband needed, I had gotten things upside down. All we need is Christ. If we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, all the rest will be added. The reminder gave me such great peace and joy that I cannot even express it.  There are no worries and nothing to be concerned about, not for this job search nor anything else. We have the first thing--the Bread that endures. We need not worry about the perishable bread that is here today, gone tomorrow. God has the details and the provision handled. I just need to trust Him with it.
     Even still, even knowing God as Provider, hardship can come. Things could get worse and we could lose the job, our house, everything--except Christ. Except our salvation. But if it is God's will for us to continue as we are, then He will give us what we need to do it. If it is not, well... what is most important, really? Filling our bellies or doing His will? Easy to say, but the question remains to me personally as it does to us as a church: Will we do it? Why do we seek Him? It is time to be brutally honest with ourselves: Do we seek the gifts or the Giver?

    Strangely, at this admonition, the people responded by asking what they had to do in order to do the works of God. Jesus replied that God's will was that they believe in the One God had sent. One would think that, at this point, they would readily believe the Man who had fed so many of them with such a small portion of food only hours before. However, that was not the case. They asked for a sign so that they could believe, demanding He perform some work of proof. This attitude of making excuses for unbelief is as rampant today as it was in that multitude. So many of us do not truly want to believe, at least, we do not want to believe in that way that would result in humility and a walk of obedience. We are holding out for some greater sign; some handwriting on the wall, perhaps or some sign that we deem worthy of our trust and belief. And so, in our waiting, the church has become largely stagnant and devoid of the Living Water that is so freely offered simply because we choose to wait rather than to partake.
    If we are honest, what we want is an excuse not to obey, not to fall dangerously in love with this Man who gave Himself for us. At another time when people were demanding a sign from Him, He replied, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead." He did, and many still are not convinced.

     Jim Elliot, one of the missionaries whose death by spear later opened a door to an unbelievable redemption story for an entire tribe of Ecuadorean natives, was asked why he would choose to waste his God-given talents by leaving America when the country needed his zeal here. He quoted Jesus when he wrote of his reasons: "So what if the well-fed church in the homeland needs stirring? They have the Scriptures, Moses, and the Prophets, and a whole lot more. Their condemnation is written on their bank books and in the dust on their Bible covers." It is true. Jesus said that those who come to Him will never hunger nor thirst. Our problem is not lack of talent in our churches. It is that we do not hunger for the Bread of Life. We do not hunger at all.

     Jesus went on to tell the crowd that He was the bread of life. He said some shocking, disturbing things: that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have life in them. I can almost hear the thoughts of the crowd. "Cannibalism? Drinking the lifeblood which God has forbidden us to consume?!? Never!"  But they were missing something, and Jesus Himself gave them the key. He told them that the words He gave them were spirit and life, that the flesh profits nothing. He was not talking about a literal feast on human flesh here, but a metaphorical feast that was crucial to the true believer.

     He gave His disciples a reminder of this later on at the Last Supper. I cannot help but think that this shocking and angry scene was brought back vividly when He broke the bread and told them to take and eat, for it was His body, broken for the sins of the world. He also took a cup of wine, passing it around and commanding them to drink, saying that it was the new covenant in His blood. It is a commandment of remembrance, but it is also

     When Jesus told the uneasy crowd to eat His flesh and drink His blood, He was telling them that what He would do must be more to them than an acknowledged fact if they were to have eternal life. Just as James later wrote, "...even the demons believe, and shudder," mere acknowledgement of Jesus's sacrifice is not enough for life everlasting. If we are true believers, we have to take that sacrifice within, internalizing it and allowing it to become a part of us. We have to digest it, ruminate upon it, and allow it to infuse our very cells. We've all heard the old saying, "You are what you eat." In this way we are to eat the Bread of Life and drink the Blood of the Covenant. It has to nourish us, sustain us, change us. Just as the vine feeds the branches and allows for fruit, so the Bread feeds our bodies and allows for us to produce spiritual fruit. In eating of His flesh, we are abiding in Him because we are being transformed by His power brought to bear in our lives.
     And so, after all of this, many of the disciples left. He turned to the twelve and asked, "Do you also want to leave?"  Peter replied, "No, Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life! And we know and have seen that You are the Holy One of God." It was enough. Was Peter perfect? No. But he believed in such a way that nothing Jesus said would shock him out of his belief, nothing was too hard for Jesus to ask or command. Even though he later denied Jesus, it broke his heart and he would never do it again. He knew beyond any doubt that even if Jesus told him something that was too hard to bear, too difficult to do, too strange to be accepted, there was nowhere else for him to go. Jesus had the words of eternal life. We, as a church, must come to that conclusion, too. There is no sacrifice too much, no trial too difficult to bear, no command too rigorous to follow if we know that there is simply nowhere else to go. Jesus is it. He is all. He is enough. Apart from Him, there is no life.

Lord, help us to overcome hesitation and to truly believe, not in ways that lead to interesting discussions but to believe in ways that lead to action and to the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Help us overcome our unbelief. Help us to love You more. We pray that we would not turn away when Your teachings are hard, but that we will follow You to the end, knowing that the journey will be worthwhile no matter how difficult the road ahead. You are Life and Light and Wonder. Infuse us with Your nature so that it is You others see in our lives and not our own, profitless flesh. Use us as beacons, no longer given over to the filling of our bellies and pleasing ourselves, but to walking humbly and obediently with our God and King.