Category Archives: church life

Watering the Kingdom Garden

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” -1 Cor. 3:6-7

Today was watering day at Ebenezer UMC. I took my watering can and applied it heartily to the souls planted there in that green and growing garden. I am grateful for the privilege, for a walk in the lush abundance of God’s mercy. They are his blossoms—a heavenly-loved group of about a hundred, who cloister in that sacred space each Sunday morning. Today, God entrusted me with their care, a ministry normally reserved for my father. Graciously, daddy surrendered his pulpit to me and to my heart and granted me full rights to speak as the Spirit led.

It’s a sacred gift, especially considering that next Sunday will be my daddy’s last at Ebenezer. These are hallowed days for him, his “shaking hands with his tomorrow”, counting them slowly and lingering in their richness. A chapter in his story is ending so that another one might begin. I’m honored to have written a few closing lines in this one.

My prayer going into today was that the Holy Spirit would weed out the unessential words and empower those that were vital. By all accounts, it seems that my prayer was answered. Still and yet, upon reflection during my two-hour drive home, I recalled some words left unsaid – words I wanted to release and words that felt (to me) really weighty, really significant. Those words? Well, something along the lines of . . .

“Years of training build a soul, strengthen a stride, and foster endurance in the heart of a seasoned saint. Strength grows in the darkness.”

Words like that. But even though they were never spoken aloud (and after letting myself off the hook for not saying them), I came to the conclusion that the folks at Ebenezer UMC probably already know this about the darkness. Many of them have lived in and through the shadows of the night and have come forth as gold – strong people forged because of strong sorrow. I saw the strength in their eyes and felt it deep within – unspoken words spoken between us, spirit to spirit through the Spirit.

And therein, the soil of my soul was watered as well. Just knowing that we were doing this thing together (walking the kingdom road shoulder-to-shoulder and sharing kingdom truth at soul-level) moved me to a posture of worship on the ride home and to shouts of praise all along the I-95 corridor. I may not always perfectly deliver God’s Word to others, but I am perfectly willing to lend my heart, mind, and soul to the process when given the opportunity. There is always a great blessing that arrives on the backside of such godly obedience.

God is the grower of good things. The rest of us? Well, every now again, we get to hold the watering can that pours out his grace, truth, and love. This is holy privilege, friends. This is God’s kingdom in us and through us. Let’s not spend our days measuring the growth in the garden. Instead, let’s spend our days nourishing it with the holy waters of heaven.

This is the best we can do. We can count on God to do the rest. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

the reach and welcome of love …

 

My heart is tender toward her tonight – the new girl who showed up at our summer kick-off, Wednesday night fellowships at the pool. She was easy to spot, stuck there at a table of men who out-aged her by at least fifty years. Talk about awkward. When I asked her who she was and how it was that she came to be in our midst, she simply replied, “Mr. Bill invited me.”

I chuckled, while pointing out the retired, elderly minister who fellowships in our midst, and asked her, “That Mr. Bill?”

“No, the preacher man named Mr. Bill.”

“Oh that Bill! He’s my Bill. You can call him Billy.”

And so the conversation began between us. Curious to know how she and my Billy got connected, I learned that this rising, eighth grader was one of the participants in a mentoring encounter our congregation sponsors with local middle-schoolers. A banquet was held in their honor last week, and Preacher Billy invited all the kids to come and be part of our Wednesday night fellowships by the pool.

Bravely she came; bravely she remained despite her odd seating arrangement during the dinner hour. If I had been her, I would have bolted at the first opportunity, texting my mom to quickly come and rescue me from the awkwardness. Instead she waited it out, and my heart broke with the waiting.

Waiting for someone to notice her.
Waiting for someone her age to come around and invite her to join in the fun.
Waiting for the newness to not feel so new to her but, instead, to feel a little bit normal.

I’m not much of a waiter, so after a painful hour of watching this scene play out, I gathered a couple of other women, and together, we coaxed our visitor down to the pool area and implored a few kids to come and offer their greetings. Before long, my new friend was splashing in the pool and, hopefully, feeling better about having taken the preacher man up on his invitation.

Not long after that, her mother arrived to pick her up; I was able to sneak in a quick handshake before their departure, wishing for more time and for a better way of extending the reach and welcome of love to strangers. It’s a haunting ache that has stayed with me all evening. My heart has always been tender toward those who sit on the fringes, the ones overlooked and often ignored. I’m fighting another feeling tonight as well – annoyance.

Why are kids so slow to recognize strangers in their midst? Why not the reach and welcome of love? Why isolate them rather than include them? Are their senses so dulled not to notice the need or are they so self-absorbed that to notice would require too much of them? Where’s the kindness we so boldly proclaim and yet, sometimes, so pitifully live?

I know it sounds harsh; it is harsh. But it’s true . . . across the board, whether teenagers or adults. Why do we bunch up instead of branch out? We are the church – the body of Christ, a group of believers who boldly claim the name of our Lord as our identity . . . Christians. Little Christs. For heaven’s sake . . . really for the sake of heaven . . . when are we going to start acting like him? When are we going to start reaching out instead of always living in?

I’m tired of playing church. That’s not my game. Instead, I want to live Jesus and give Jesus so that no one ever sits on the fringes, feeling unloved, unwelcomed, unnoticed. Perhaps I am tender to this, because like my new friend, I have sat where she sat tonight . . . many times – just wanting to be noticed, to be “in” instead of feeling so very “out.”

Oh could we just live it better, friends? Just look away from the mirror long enough to notice the new faces around us? Just speak some Jesus words of grace and interest into the lives of those who sit within arm’s reach? It doesn’t take much to make a heart smile and to warm up to the idea of friendship. It just takes some willingness on our parts and some training of our hearts to fully understand the kingdom impact of the reach and welcome of love.

Two thousand years ago, my Jesus stood on a hillside, extending the reach and welcome of love through his blood-stained hands. He noticed me then; he notices me still; he notices us all. Why? Because it’s in his heart to make sure that we’re all “in” instead of living as outsiders.

Christ is the way in. A heart shaped by this truth will never forsake the outsider. Instead, a heart shaped by the reach and welcome of Calvary’s love will live accordingly.

Reaching. Welcoming. And loving a new friend all the way home to Jesus.

No longer a stranger on the fringes but, instead, one of the family.

This is my gospel. This is my Jesus. This is the servant I want to be.

So be it. Amen.

the rest of God …

“Cease from what is necessary. Embrace that which gives life.”

This is the golden rule of Sabbath according to Mark Buchanan, author of The Rest of God: Restoring your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. Have you read these words, this extraordinary book that feels less like obligation and more like privilege, like a daily walk in the garden with Jesus?

It arrived on my doorstep as required reading because of my participation in Alicia Chole’s 7th Year, mentoring encounter in 2013. I see the wisdom in Alicia’s choice to include it on our selected reading list. It should be required reading. It is pure, liquid grace—life-giving and life-extending with every chapter absorbed. I run the risk of feeling somewhat covetous of Mark’s pen if it weren’t for the absolute gratitude I feel in my heart for the gift of his words. There are very few books that I’ll read a second, even third time, very few books that I keep on the bookshelf long-term. This will be one of them. Why?

Because The Rest of God grants me understanding and permission to rest with God so that I might more fully understand the rest of God—that which remains hidden to me. His vastness. His closeness. His willingness to be known. His willingness to fill me with eternity to the uttermost. Rest to restore the body and rest to restore the soul. This is sacred treasure.

And so as it pertains to Mark’s golden rule for Sabbath rest (ceasing from what is necessary and embracing that which gives life) this is what gives life to me today:

  •  The Sunday school hour with James 1:19-27 on the table, saints gathered around for discussion.
  •  The Communion hour with bread and wine on the table, saints kneeling down for prayer.
  •  The lunch hour with fish and chicken, saints sitting down for sustenance.
  •  The afternoon hours with bed and blankets, saints lying down for sleep.
  •  The evening hours, two saints holding hands for love.

This is Sabbath rest for me. Nothing necessary. No “have tos” in the mix. Only “get tos”. I get to keep Sabbath with the saints on Sundays. Some folks may tag it as obligation; I name it as privilege – the life-giving, life-extending rest of God.

I pray you’ve known a similar portion. If not, then these next moments can belong to just you and Jesus. As long as today is still called today, there is time to take a walk with God in his garden, to know him more fully, and to rest most assuredly in his love.

Keep Sabbath, friends. It is God’s gift to you. As always …

Peace for the journey,

PS: If you think The Rest of God might be a good fit with your heart, please leave a comment below, and I will select one winner to receive a copy of Mark’s book. 

Also, I’m having a final sale on my books, Peace for the Journey and Beyond Cancer’s Scars. Click here to learn more. I greatly appreciate your support as I walk through this transition in my writing ministry.

Circuit-riding Faith …

She reads to me about his life, this man named Francis Asbury.

Do you know of him? I do. I’d better. Why?

Well, I’m the daughter of a Methodist preacher. I’m married to one as well.

I grew up in Wilmore, KY, home to Asbury College and Asbury Seminary. I graduated from the former and ran the halls of the latter during my growing up years, cutting a path between my professor, daddy’s office and my registrar, momma’s office. In a later season, I’d have an office of my own in that hallowed institution. Francis Asbury was, in part, one of the reasons behind my being raised where I was raised … being reared how I was reared.

I am a Methodist. I don’t make much of it here at the blog, because I’m a Christian before I’m a Methodist, but I’d be lying if I didn’t confess those denominational lines run pretty deep within me. So when my daughter was assigned another book report (she’s a fan of Christian biographies recently reading the stories of Corrie ten Boom, Amy Carmichael, and William Booth), I hand selected this one for her. Perhaps it is time she knows something of her spiritual roots.

Francis Asbury was one of the first circuit riding preachers in America. Sent here by John Wesley in 1771, Francis (a.k.a. Frank) spent the next forty-five years riding the circuit amongst the burgeoning Methodist societies and preaching the kingdom of God. He averaged 6,000 miles a year on horseback (a lifetime total of over 270,000 miles) and delivered over 15,500 sermons. His first night in America he chronicled his thoughts in his journal:

“ … When I came near the American shore, my very heart melted within me to think from whence I came, where I was going, and what I was going about. But I felt my mind open to the people and my tongue loosed to speak. I feel that God is here and find plenty of all we need.” (Benge, Francis Asbury: Circuit Rider, 2013, p. 53)

From whence he came was England into an America convinced of their need to cut ties with their mother-country. Francis tried to delicately step his way through the growing controversy between the colonies and England, governing his thoughts, words, and deeds by his desire to spread the Gospel and grow the church. However, because of their ties to the Church of England, circuit-riding preachers were often met with suspicion by colonists who tagged them as Loyalists. Many circuit riders abandoned their posts – some into hiding, some sailing back to England. By late 1777, Francis and another preacher named George Shadford were the last two, English-born Methodist circuit riders in America. Again, from Francis’s journal:

“Three thousand miles from home—my friends have left me—I am considered by some as an enemy of the country—every day liable to be seized by violence, and abused. This is just a trifle to suffer for Christ, and the salvation of souls. Lord, stand by me!” (ibid, p. 98)

The Lord did stand by Francis. He must have. I am (in small measure) living proof. And although my daughter and I have yet to finish this biography, I know how it ends … at least for now. God’s Word is alive in my heart and, just this morning, I meditated on that Word while listening to the words of my preacher-husband standing behind his Methodist pulpit. My mother did the same, listening to my daddy who stood behind his own pulpit. My in-laws the same. My sons? Well, they were in the pews of their own Methodist congregation. This is who we are. Christians first. Methodists second, and by the grace of God, saved to the uttermost.

I don’t know if Francis Asbury understands the influence he’s had on the spiritual landscape of America, but if he could look down from his heavenly post today and catch a glimpse of what his forty-five years and 270,000 miles’ worth of riding has birthed, he would know that his faith—his witness and his willingness—was no trifling matter. His faith was an eternal matter, one that continues to reap kingdom dividends some 250 years after he first glimpsed the American shore.

May it be so for each one of us. May our faith—the witness and willingness of our hearts—be no trifling matter. May it, instead, last eternally as we travel our circuits and spread the love and life of Jesus wherever we go.

Ride on, Christians, and leave a holy trail of Jesus behind you as you go. Someday we’ll all look back on these lives that we’ve lived and be amazed by how our paths of grace have changed the landscape of humanity. What a privilege to share this traveling ministry with you. As always…

Peace for the journey,

PS: Check out our special Christmas offer on Peace for the Journey and Beyond Cancer’s Scars ($11 each plus free shipping) – click here!
 

the triumph of mercy

 

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

These were James’s words to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations some 2000 years ago. These are God’s words to me today.

More fully …

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” –James 2:12-13

Notice, judgment and mercy are not separated here. They co-exist. Accordingly, there can be reasonable judgments made, but they must be triumphed by mercy … coated, bathed, and lavishly immersed in grace.

Why?

Because this is how Jesus lived. This is how Jesus loved … loves. He is the God of both – judgment and mercy. No mercy can be applied to a heart if a heart hasn’t first crossed the line requiring it.

Accordingly, we should follow Christ’s lead – mercy enough to bathe judgment. We should not offer mercy as a way of gaining the upper hand … of somehow thinking that our generous grace towards others places us in God’s higher regard. Instead, we should offer mercy because the upper, outstretched hands of Jesus Christ have extended wide and long and high and deep on our behalf. When we forget this, when our offers of mercy are motivated by personal pats on the back, then we’ve missed the grace of God entirely. It becomes all about what we have done rather than about everything that Christ has done for us, in us, and ultimately, through us.

In this day of doing faith and living grace, there will be someone who crosses your path in need of mercy. Judgment abounds (and in many cases rightly so), but judgment without the cross of Jesus Christ standing as a guiding light to monitor your responses will never advance the kingdom. At least, not through you. Not through me.

So I stand here today, close to the cross. Leaning into it, clinging onto the splintered, bloodied beams knowing that without this mercy-laced judgment, I am left as I am, incapable of loving the most excellent way.

That excellent way?

Mercy triumphing over judgment. If I’m going to live anywhere, let me live there. Let me grow there. Let me love from there.

Keep to it, faithful pilgrims. It’s a good way … the grace-way to move the kingdom forward. As always …

Peace for the journey,

 

error: Content is protected !!