Category Archives: faith

The Old Guard

Arlington National Cemetery, May 2017

“Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

Those are the words chiseled into the marble sarcophagus that holds the body of an unidentified military veteran from WWI. In addition, two other unidentified soldiers from WWII and the Korean War are memorialized at the same site in separate crypts. A fourth, previously unknown soldier from the Vietnam War (later identified through DNA testing at Michael Blassie) rested there until 1998 when his remains were moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. Since 1937, the Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded 24/7-365 by a select group of soldiers known as Tomb Guard sentinels, an elite group of soldiers from the 3rd US Infantry Regiment – “The Old Guard.” The soldiers rotate throughout the day, ceremoniously and meticulously marking their steps, following a prescribed protocol of duty. It’s fascinating, sobering and sacred, to sit as a ringside witness to such tribute and honor. For these soldiers, their service isn’t played out on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq.  Instead they surrender their duty, give their time and their best, on the battlefield known as Arlington National Cemetery, all for one sacred, privileged purpose.

To guard and protect the unknown – an American soldier known but to God.

And tonight, in the quieting moments after a week that has forced my faith to new heights and my knees to deeper prayer, I am thinking about those unknown soldiers, their stories and the secrets they keep encased within those crypts. Most tenderly, I’m thinking about the soldiers who, for the past eighty years, have given up their days and their nights for the sole purpose of guarding and protecting this mystery.

Sometime in the distant past, on a landscape not my own, three soldiers died on different battlefields while defending the rights of liberty. And while their identities currently remain a mystery, their earthly remains are heavily defended by The Old Guard.

As it is with the Tomb of the Unknowns, so it is with my life. So it is with yours.

a sentinel from The Old Guard – Arlington National Cemetery, April 2017

There are many mysteries, countless unknowns attached to our stories. The previously written chapters of our lives are safely scripted and bound within the annals that bear our names. But there are other pages, other secrets, chapters to come, and chapters writing themselves in this very moment, that are unidentified to us. And this can be scary at times because we have very little control over the unknowns; instead, we can only bear witness to them as they arrive and pray for God’s grace to hold them as our own. And when we’re shaken by newly discovered realities – when the unknown is finally identified and brings us fear rather than peace – as Christians, we have a deeper reality that we can cling to, a known truth that will cover our hearts and our minds like a warm blanket on a bitter winter’s night…

The Old Guard is standing near.

Marking his paces. Guarding his own. Rain or shine. 24/7-365. Back and forth before the crypts that carry the fullness of our lives – the mysteries, things known to us, and things known but to him. For this Soldier, his service is no longer played out on the battlefield known as Calvary; instead, he surrenders his duty, his time and his best, on the battlefield known as our lives, all for one sacred, privileged purpose.

To guard and protect the unknown – a soldier’s story, our stories, known but to Him.

See him there, friends. Oh how carefully Jesus Christ is guarding your tomb. Your surrender is precious to him, and in his great love for you, he has promised you his protection. What you cannot see, what you cannot know, is already seen and known to him. Your unfolding mysteries are not a mystery to him. He knows your story. He knows what’s at stake. He’s laid down his life for yours, and you can be sure that he’s not going to let the enemy rob your surrender of one single glory.

The gates of hell may rattle and shake its cage against you today, threatening your capture. But take heart. The Old Guard is standing near, and the gates of hell are no match for the protective, loving reach of this Sentinel. He has given his life and his pledge to bring you safely home. He will keep his word. It is his highest honor to do so 

So rest in honored glory today, Christian soldier. You and your unknowns are known to God. He can be trusted with the rest of your story. As always…

Peace for the journey,

PS: Psalm 91 has been a balm to my soul in this season. You may read it by clicking here.

an obedience to sow…

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has designed to each his task. 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. … For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”    

-1 Corinthians 3:5 – 7, 9.

She surprised me today during snack time. As I was leaving the cafeteria with my new crew of 4th graders, she was entering it as a two-week-in, sixth grader. She hurriedly made her way toward me, gave me a hug, and simply said, “Thank you, Mrs. Olsen … for planting a seed in my heart.” Her carefully chosen words paused my spirit and brought a silent tear to my eye as I patted her cheek and responded: “You’re one of the best of them, dear; one of the best.”

Seeds sown … this was her reason behind her gratitude; accordingly, it has become the reason behind my gratitude this afternoon. I’ve been waiting for her to “show up” for over a year now. When she walked out of my classroom in June 2015, I thought we’d pick up the relationship where we’d left it come fall. That was not to be, and it broke my heart. She, along with many of the other students in that class, distanced themselves from me. And while that is the natural way of letting go and moving on, it tore me up inside. I had loved them deeply, had given them the best of me for an entire year. To date, that season was one of the hardest walks of daily surrender I’ve ever had to make. So when it was over, and when an entire year passed amongst us with barely a nod from any of those students in my direction, well, I began to think that all of those seeds I had intentionally sown had fallen on fallow soil.

Apparently not.

Apparently some took root.

Apparently some are still growing, thanks be to God.

You see, it really is all God’s doing. Certainly, my obedience plays an important role in the growth process, but in the end, it’s God who superintends the heart’s development. I am nothing more than a fellow worker, a field laborer who releases the good seed of God’s love into the soil of human hearts. Every now and again, I get to hold the watering can. Occasionally, I have the privilege of seeing blooms come to harvest. But most days, I’m simply a sower, not a grower.

It’s been a tough lesson to learn.

In all of life, not just in the classroom, God intends for you and I to understand and to accept this sacred principle of kingdom sowing. We are the privileged farmers, and God alone is the King. We farm his land, and the work we do is for the betterment of his kingdom, not ours. It’s a weighty thing to try and take on God’s roll.

Who of us can grow a kingdom heart into God’s likeness? Who of us can shape a heart and make it holy? Who of us can raise a harvest that anchors deeply, grows uprightly, and points directly to the Son?

Oh, my friends, it is a dangerous thing to assume such noble responsibility. We are not fit for the task. Instead, we are fit for the plow, for some boots and for an apron full of seed. It is enough to stand there in that place of service. It is enough to walk the length and breadth of the land, broadcasting the good seed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ upon the soil of men’s hearts. It is enough to just get to the end of the long day and to clean our mud-caked boots … our weathered hands and hearts from another day’s hard laboring. It is enough to live there in the shadows of not knowing whether or not the seed grabbed the earth and burrowed deeply within.

It is simply enough for us to be faithful with the sowing.

We don’t have to see the end. We only need to believe that the kingdom work we’re doing today is a step forward toward that end. In the end, we will see the fullness of the Father’s harvest, and we will understand that seeds sown in faithfulness never fall onto fallow soil. Instead, they fall forward toward fruitfulness. It is our holy privilege to stand there … in that place of release.

To understand this principle of sowing on the front side (and backside) of the planting is a good gift. But to see it firsthand … to taste the fruit of the harvest? Well, that’s one of the best gifts a heart could receive on this side of the veil. I pray that you, like me, may occasionally see and taste some of the fruit of God’s harvest through you in coming days. But if the fields seem barren and no visible fruit is seen, don’t lose your focus. Sow onward and let God do what God does best.

He gardens; he makes things grow. Of this I am certain.

Keep sowing, keep trusting, and keep knowing that He who began a good work in you and through you, is faithful to see it through to completion. As always…

Peace for the journey,

through the glass dimly …

It’s been a tough ten days for United Methodists across the globe. What … you haven’t heard? You mean you haven’t been glued to the live-streaming drama taking place out in Portland, Oregon, known as General Conference? Who needs Jerry Springer when you can watch a bunch of Methodists vocally duking it out over the issue of human sexuality … again.

In case you’re not familiar with Methodism and its way of governing our global church body, here’s the short version:  Every four years representatives gather to hash out perspectives and proposals pertaining to our Book of Discipline (aka “rules” for living/doing life as a Methodist). There is merit to the gathering, if for nothing more than to communally gather as one to worship God, the ultimate tie that binds us.

But we are not “one” as Methodists. We are split, especially on the issue of human sexuality. Current language in the Discipline states, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” (You can read the full statement here).

And while many other issues are dealt with at the General Conference level, it is this one issue that takes center stage every time (at least during my lifetime). So here we are, a church divided on the issue; there are passionate, well-spoken and well-meaning folks on both sides of this debate. Many of them I call my friends. But this issue is dividing us as a church, not uniting us. And as it stands now, my heart tells me a split of some sort is on the horizon. All proposals/discussions on this particular issue were tabled this go around. The 864 delegates who arrived in Portland from around the globe to have passionate discourse on this important issue weren’t allowed much of a forum in which to do so. Instead (through a series of very convoluted events that I can’t wrap my head around), the delegates voted to allow the bishops to form a committee to do further research on how this might all look for us going forward. It was a narrow victory – 23 votes.

Who wins? Hard to say. All I can say is that I feel terribly sad and defeated today. I thought this would be the year (and the time) when Methodists would finally have some closure on this issue, one way or the other. At least then, I could more easily make my decision about whether or not I wanted to remain denominationally connected to the United Methodist Church. I have a lot of skin-in-the-game. It’s not easy for me to walk away. I’ve been a Methodist all of my life; my husband is a Methodist pastor, my daddy as well. I grew up running the hallways of Asbury Theological Seminary, soul-shaped by the sacred echoes of John Wesley and Francis Asbury. My theological roots are tightly tethered therein.

So today I’m wondering how we got to where we are and, really, how much longer I can hold on. I’m tired of the fighting and the harsh words between the two camps. Even more so, I’m tired of the feelings I’m feeling – the anger, the disappointment, the trying-to-make-sense-of-it-all. My attempts at loving my brothers and sisters on the other side of the fence often fail and that, alone, feels terrible. I want to love well. I want to honor God with all my heart, soul, and might, but I’m not sure I know how to do that in the Methodist church anymore.

I stand in agreement with the current language in our Discipline, and I am disliked because of it … by those in the world and even, by some who call themselves my brothers and sisters in Christ. But hatred and harsh words aren’t enough to make me jump the fence to the other side for the sake of peace; instead, it leads me toward isolation – to the safety net of home where I am loved and where nobody is pressuring me to re-think and re-shape my convictions.

But I will not retreat to silence, because that’s not what God is after in me. He has called me to be a living witness to the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in my life. I am not the woman I used to be; God’s love and his holy correction have changed me. I’ve been born again, not in the flesh but, higher still, in the Spirit. He has given me a sound mind, a loving heart, and every now and again, a little strength to get some kingdom work accomplished. Whether I will continue to do so as a Methodist remains unseen. I am tethered, only, temporarily to my denomination. Thanks be to God, however, I am tethered, always, eternally to him.

He is where I will run. He is where I will stay. Thanks be to God, He is where I will end. In the meantime, (and in the words of John Wesley)

“Lord, let me not live to be useless.”

Even so, loosen me from my Methodism, Lord, to use me for your kingdom. Amen. So be it.

Peace for the journey,

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Devoted

 

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” –Luke 10:38

I listened to my daughter read this familiar story to me a few days ago. She was draped across my bed, dressed and ready for the day, hoping that I would soon follow suit. We had a full agenda set in place long before the August sun brilliantly heralded its morning chorus. But instead of diving head-long into our “to-do” list, I decided to drape myself alongside my daughter on the bed and, together, we had morning devotions. There’s a sweetness wrapped up in that – draping and devotions and a daughter – a tender, gentle, eternal reminder of home, of what awaits me just on the other side of this veil.

Her words caught me off-guard, as is so often the case when I hear God’s Word read aloud. She read five verses; my heart and my mind, however, remained solidly fixed on the first one – the one printed above.

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way ….”.

It’s a familiar posture for our Lord, both in practice and in spirit. His feet and his heart were always moving forward. Places to go; people to see. A path to follow; a hill to climb. Never once did Jesus lose sight of his final destination. But along the way and as he went, there were some glorious pauses of holy revelation, occasions where he left his divine calling card in the soil of humans souls so that they (and we) might know how to live our lives forward with purpose and with his final destination in mind.

I like this. This particular weaving of my doing with my being makes sense to me. It anchors my heart in this season when I have a destination in mind but with a lot of open road in between my now and my then. That open road? Well, there are multiple routes that will lead me to where I’m going. That used to bother me; not so much anymore. Why? Because Jesus is my now. Jesus is my next. Jesus is my then. I don’t need to get all fussed up about the details. I simply need to lean into and alongside the One who’s walking the road with me. Jesus will not abandon me, and the weight of my details always lands easily on his broad shoulders. Along the way and as we go, he will direct the rest stops – those unforeseen pauses requiring our presence where we’ll have the rich privilege of leaving a divine calling card in the soil of human souls.

This has been a season of unforeseen pauses for me. I haven’t liked most of them, but I haven’t lost Jesus in any of them. And this is how I know that I am heading in the right direction. With Jesus, I don’t need a compass. Jesus gloriously and holy is the compass. Accordingly, I worry less these days about the road to the finish line – the miles in between where I am now and where I’m headed. Instead, I give more attention to the One who will carry me there.

I am a daughter deeply devoted to her Father, willing to drape my days with his presence and with the truth of his Word as my covering. There is, indeed, a sweetness wrapped up in that – an eternal anchor that (every now and again) pulls me beyond the veil to catch a glimpse of my forever. I pray it is the same for you, that the details of your current detour aren’t weighing you down too heavily but that, instead, you are sharing the road with Jesus. His yoke is easy; his burden is light, and he will not abandon you. Jesus will carry you.

This is enough grace for the road we’re traveling, friends. This is enough Peace for the journey to lead us safely home. Keep moving forward. The best is yet to be.

How might I pray for you today?

when harvest comes …

Rough edges. I have some. They were readily exposed for me to clearly see this past year. The catalyst for that exposure?

Fifteen students hand-picked by God to move me on toward my perfection!

For the past several years, I’ve been incubated from such exposure; life and its many detours have allowed me some shade and protection along these lines. Certainly, there have been occasions when I’ve felt the soul-shaped sanding from others but not as intensely as I have experienced it in these past ten months.

Most days, I wanted to run away and hide, crawl back into the shell I had so carefully crafted for myself during my earlier season of isolation. Exposure was painful and bloody, with precious few moments of joy to temper the ache. But I hung in with Jesus … every single day. I called upon the name of the Lord more times than can be counted. Together, he and I walked the school year through, and as we rounded the corner toward the finish line, I was finally able to see the amazing work of grace.

Growth.

I grew. They grew. And as we spoke our final good-byes, I held a little fruit in my hands – the same hands that (to date) had only held seeds, only sown seeds in hopes of one day having them grow into something more substantial.

This has been a fruit-bearing year for me. I couldn’t see the fruit in the beginning, and I certainly couldn’t feel it along the way and as we went. But I always believed in it, always trusted God for the greater work of grace that surfaces as a direct result of willing obedience to the call of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we choose the mission field, friends; sometimes it chooses us. Either way, the responsibility is the same – to sow extravagantly the seeds of our faith. To break up the unplowed ground beneath our feet with the spade of God’s Word. To water it with the sweat of our brow and the tears of our surrender. To nurture the seed and soil with fervent prayers and gentle hands. To trust in the unseen work of the soil and to believe that every hour of intentional investment will yield a harvest of eternal proportion.

Sometimes we have the privilege of holding that resulting fruit; sometimes we can only believe in it. Either way, our responsibility remains.

Keep sowing God’s seed in this season of your life. Whether uncomfortably exposed or intentionally hidden, you have a choice to make regarding the faith seeds that are stored in your heart. In releasing them for the greater work of the kingdom, you are making a choice for growth – for yourself and for others. Don’t be surprised when the spade digs deeply and (sometimes) harshly. Expect it, believing all the while in the unseen work of the soil and in the eventual harvest to come.

What cannot be seen or held is seen and held by God. He is superintending the process, and the outcome is not in question. But don’t take my word on it, take his …

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. … You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” –John 15:8,16

In season and out, sow generously and sow believing that He who began a good work in you is faithful to see it through to completion. As always …

Peace for the journey,

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