Category Archives: conviction

the song of the brook …

My students and I have just finished reading Song of the Brook by Matlida Nordtvedt. As literary prose goes, it doesn’t measure up to the classics, but it does serve a purpose in our classroom. It’s one book in a continuing series of books presented annually to students who use the Abeka curriculum; they seem to enjoy keeping up with the Johnson family from year to year.

The main character of the story is Hilda, a young girl from Bellingham, Washington, who is learning to live with change: a move to a new community, the disappointment with that community, discord amongst extended family members, bullying on the playground, overcoming insecurities, and the like. Despite the chaos in Hilda’s new life, she finds solace in an unexpected place – the babbling brook running beside her dilapidated house. At night, she sits next to the open, bedroom window and listens as the brook “sings” her a song. Repeatedly throughout the story, the brook impresses upon Hilda’s heart various phrases to soothe (and sometimes to meddle with) the aches within her heart. Her brookside meditations are Hilda’s way of spending time with God and hearing his voice therein.

Even though Hilda’s story is set in time nearly 100 years ago, the problems she faces back then are not unlike the problems we face today. Who of us haven’t known the ache of relocation, the tears of disappointment, the fracture of beloved relationships, the taunts of a bully, and the crippling of insecurity? Today’s troubles aren’t much different from yesterday’s harms; the scenery simply has changed.

Unlike Hilda, I don’t have the beauty of a singing brook running by and next to the parsonage in Laurinburg, NC. I don’t raise my windows in the evening for fear of unwanted critters (or humans) disrupting my night’s slumber. The sounds of my city at night are no match for the idyllic evening lullabies of the countryside, those wide-open spaces that seem to more easily host the voice of the Creator.

Still and yet, I hear the Father’s voice. His words speak to me as I take the time to listen in, to open up the window of my soul and to meditate upon the scriptures he has written to me in his holy Word. Sometimes God’s melody soothes the aches within; sometimes his refrain meddles with my will. At all times, his song is truthful. God cannot lie; neither will he sing a song over me that will lead me down a wayward path. Instead, his song … his words are for me, for my good and, most importantly, for his kingdom good.

Lately, his holy refrain has been crystal clear:

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

Over and over again, for the past several weeks, these words have cycled repeatedly throughout my mind, like the lyrics of a song you just can’t shake.

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

In living out this obedience from John 13, there are always ample challenges. Stinky feet aren’t my preference. It’s easier to touch cleanliness than dirtiness. It’s less problematic to embrace the feet of a friend than it is to embrace the feet of a betrayer. Even so, the Father sings…

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

I don’t know what this will look like for me in the days to come, how this yielding will play itself out. But of this I am certain … it will play itself out. Whether at school, at church, at home, and maybe even at Wal-Mart, stinky feet are everywhere – walking in front of me, behind me, next to me, over me, and, yes, sometimes within me. We all get our feet dirty from time to time. The Father’s basin and towel are equal to the cleansing task, yet another undeserved grace from his heart to ours that allows us to get clean and then to offer that same cleansing to others.

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

The window of my soul is open. The song of the brook is singing. Even so, Father, I am listening.

As you have done for me, Lord, help me to do so for others. Amen.

 

narrow steps in a broad world …

 

A few days ago, my eldest son called to talk. These are always rich occasions – conversing with my sons as adults. His heart was heavy (as was mine) regarding the chaos in our world. One doesn’t have to look too far to identify it; disorder and turmoil blanket the earth like a thick fog. Without a break in the clouds or a strong light to guide us through the dimness, navigating our way along the planet-path is mostly a clumsy attempt at survival.

I don’t want to walk through this life clumsily, putting too much trust in steps that are guided by fate and by man. Instead, I want to walk through this fog with steps fortified in faith—a sure and certain hope of what I cannot see, but what I know is there …

Truth.

And so I offered my son (as well as myself) a bit of advice to help us both step our way through this season of confusion:

Surround yourself with Truth. Surround yourself with Truth-tellers. Shut out the noise—the voices of dissidence that are hacking away at Truth’s foundation. Stay in the Word; study the Word; search the Word for answers. Saturate your soul with Truth. Then, walk on with Truth as your compass and as your strength.

There is only one source of truth; truth isn’t relative, based on popular opinion. Truth authors from Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (see John 14:6). Get to know him and the darkness surrounding us becomes as light to him (see Psalm 139:12). When we cannot see for the thick fog surrounding us, we can know that he sees for us. Accordingly, we must rest in Christ’s presence. We must walk with Christ’s guidance. And we must, must, must fan into flame Christ’s candle so that our families, our friends, the Body and Christ and beyond, may safely and securely find their way along the narrow path that leads to home.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” –Matthew 7:13-14

We know the way home, Christians. We know the way that leads to life eternal. We shouldn’t be surprised by the narrowing of our pathway in these days; instead, we should be enlivened by the witness of this tapering. This tightening of our steps is simply and profoundly the sharpening of our souls. Few will accept this divine, thinning process; many will, instead, accept the world’s version therein, herded along the wide-path, trampled beneath the weight of sin, and buried in darkness eternally.

Yes, this is the world we’re living in, but thanks be to God, this is not the world we’re ending in. In choosing the narrow path, we make a choice for the wide expanse of our Father’s forever. The road home may be dim, may even be cramping some of us out of our comfort zones, but make no mistake – the path we’re walking today is leading us home to our eternal resting grounds. All roads have an ending point. All earthly journeys will cease. Whether you’re stepping wide or stepping narrow in this season, your next steps matter. Accordingly, I offer you the same advice that I offered my son recently:

Surround yourself with Truth. Surround yourself with Truth-tellers. Shut out the noise—the voices of dissidence that are hacking away at Truth’s foundation. Stay in the Word; study the Word; search the Word for answers. Saturate your soul with Truth. Then, walk on with Truth as your compass and as your strength.

Truth will guide us home. Truth will welcome us as we arrive. Until then and as we go …

Peace for the journey, friends!

 

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.

choosing where to stand …

“You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming themselves. –John 18:17-18

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Standing with them. Near the fire. Warming himself with the temporal.

Why? Because Peter was cold. The chill in his heart permeated through to his bones, necessitating this human longing for warmth. The fire was dimming in his soul, and his flesh began to shake in recognition.

Peter had moved away from Jesus. And whenever a soul begins to move away from Jesus, the flesh takes over. The flesh compromises. The flesh warms itself next to a fire that will never satiate the chill within, only temporarily abate the chill without.

We should not warm our souls next to others who are only interested in warming their flesh. There’s not enough fire in that kind of fire to comfort the coldness growing within us. We should, however, warm our souls next to Jesus whose primary interest is our “within”—those attitudes, cravings, and behaviors of the heart that fix us to our eternal.

Let us be careful when choosing our fires this week. Whatever warms us … fills us. Whatever fills us … shapes us. And whatever shapes us spills out and over into the lives of those who stand next to us.

It only takes a spark to get a fire going. So choose wisely, friends. If your soul’s grown cold and your heart is losing ground, don’t stand next to “them.” Stand next to Jesus. His warmth, his fire, and his flame will never grow dim and will keep your soul ablaze with the truth and witness of his presence.

Won’t you come and warm your heart next to mine?

Standing with Jesus. Near his fire. Warming ourselves with the Eternal.

I’d like nothing more than to link arms with you as we make our stand with our Savior.

Peace for the journey,

on living the right question …

When I get to the end of all of this, when I reach the other side of the struggle that’s been weighing so heavily upon me, what do I want to see happen?

This is the question I keep asking myself. It’s the question that keeps me awake at night and barely functioning during the daytime. I scramble for answers, trying to manipulate the outcome, trying to fix a problem that is bigger than me. And I realize something in these early morning hours, really have some clarity about one important thing:

I’m not asking the right question.

“What do I want to see happen?” doesn’t get the job done. Instead, “What does God want to see happen?” seems the right fit for such a time as this.

I’ve been reading Dr. Tangumonkem’s words—a journey of simple yet profound faith. He’s my new friend, a beautiful grace from God in the midst of this ever changing saga known as my publishing debacle. We’ve done a book exchange of sorts as a way of encouraging each other in this time. From his pen he writes these words:

“The next time an opportunity presents itself before you and is more than your wildest imagination, do not get frozen in your tracks. Your boat is being rocked to loosen if from the shore so that you can move into deeper waters. Fear, worry, and anxiety are expected reactions, but do not allow them to prevent you from launching into the deep.” (from Coming to America, 2013, pg. 35)

He can write these words, because he knows them to be true. He has lived these words, one faithful step at a time. This is a man with a God-given dream, a God-given life. A man from Cameroon who never allows himself to live in the impossibilities of what God has called him to do but, instead, relies on the promises of God to make it happen. I marvel at his determined faith, and I am stretched to live accordingly.

I smile at his fortitude. Consider this man who, after being led by the Spirit of God about coming to America to further his education, saved his spare coins for an entire year so that he could pay the fee to take the GRE, thereby meeting one of the many requirements of God’s forward moving plan for his life. A year, people! Are you hearing me? A year’s worth of intentional saving so that he could take … wait for it … a test.

How different would our blessed United States of America be if we all had a similar passion and respect for furthering our education? We’ll drop a few hundred dollars on a new gadget without a second thought. Dr. Tangumonkem didn’t have that luxury and, instead, made this collection of coins his first thought, his second thought, his third, fourth, and fifth thought, one thought at a time until enough money had been saved so he could take a test. So that he could check that one requisite off of a very long list of requirements before seeing God’s dream come to pass. Again from his pen:

“Many dreams have died at inception because we focus on the lack of resources and the obstacles that oppose our onward match [sic] to fulfilling our dreams. This should not be the case, for if God is the initiator of the dream He will also make the dreams come true. … All you are required to do is believe and trust Him to lead you one step at a time. This is the one tried and true antidote that will put fear and unbelief out of business.” (from Coming to America, 2013, pg. 46).

Yes, friends, I’m asking the wrong question. Not “What do I want to see happen?” but rather “What does God want to see happen?”. This is yet to be determined. It is a matter far too big for me to get my mind around these days, my pocketbook as well. Re-publishing my manuscripts will be an expensive endeavor and one that I had not planned on. I think that God intends for me to take a page out of my new friend’s history.

I’ll trust God with the dream, and then I’ll save my spare change – even if it takes a year or two or whatever amount of time God determines to bring his conclusion to fruition. In the end, I just want to pass the test—this test of faith so that I might shine forth as gold, even as Dr. Tangumonkem shines forth as a beacon of hope for all of us in this time of sifting.

“But he knows the way that I take;

when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

My feet have closely followed his steps;

I have kept to his way without turning aside.

I have not departed from the commands of his lips;

I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.”

–Job 23:10-12

 

Kept in peace,

PS: If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Tangumonkem’s Coming to America and how you might secure a copy, please click on the link above or contact him through his email – tangumonkem@yahoo.com. I’m not sure how many copies he has left; there are nearly 2000 authors in a state of flux right now regarding our published work, but I’ll be happy to put you in touch with him.

The winner of Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God is Sharon. Please be in touch with a mailing address, friend.

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