Category Archives: fellowship with God

Betrayal

Betrayal.

It’s a terrible sting, a wounding not easily salved. Betrayal cuts more profoundly than disappointment because betrayal is rooted in motive. Betrayal is planned deception. Betrayal is attached to the heart. Whereas I am often disappointed by someone’s actions towards me, I am grief-stricken when I am betrayed by someone I trusted, someone I thought was my friend.

And so it is. Almost.

Accordingly, this morning (as a result of the better part of a night), I’ve thought a lot about the betrayal Jesus experienced. It’s easy to find in Scripture. At so many levels and at many points along his earthly tenure, Jesus experienced betrayal from those who surrounded him, but none more so than that from his disciple, Judas.

Jesus’ responses to his betrayer are staggering and are a comforting guide for those of us who are struggling to move beyond the pain of deception’s dagger. Ponder with me Christ’s reactions to his betrayer:

Jesus reached for his feet.

“… so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:4-5 NIV)

During that last meal around the table with his closest friends, Jesus did something unexpected. He took off his outer garment, knelt low to the ground, and washed his disciples’ feet. All of them. Surely, his servant-posture brought some level of grief to both Judas and Jesus; the painful exchange grips my heart even now. Jesus touched and tenderly cleansed the feet of the one who would soon betray him – a final gesture of kinship between the betrayer and the Betrayed.

Final gestures of kinship are often present in our personal betrayals. The foot washing—the kneeling and the reaching—is way of extending a loving good-bye in the face of deep disloyalty. It serves a purpose for both parties involved. Never underestimate the worthiness of a gentle foot-washing. Washing and being washed roots deeply into the heart of humanity.

Wash feet. Live on.

Jesus released him to the night.

“As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. ‘What you are about to do, do quickly,’ Jesus told him …” (John 13:27, NIV).

Jesus could have stopped Judas from running away into the night. Instead, Jesus released him to the night’s reckless wandering. Jesus gave Judas permission to “leave the table.”

Not everyone wants to stay at the table, friends. There are times in our lives when we, too, need to release our betrayers to the night’s reckless abandon. In keeping them at the table, in a place where they have long-planned to leave, we delay the painful outcome. Scratching at an oozing wound simply prolongs the healing.

Let go. Live on.

Jesus received his kiss.

Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Jesus replied, ‘Friend, do what you came for.’” (Matthew 26:48-50)

Do what you came for. The Betrayed looked at the betrayer and, once again, gave his consent (perhaps even the push he needed) to seal the deal. No longer would the betrayal be kept secret; instead, a signal was given to all present that, in fact, the trust that had once existed between Jesus and Judas, had been forever broken. The end was near; the cross was close. Soon, within a day’s time, it would “be finished.”

There comes a “finishing time” (praise God!) to all the betrayals we’ll know, a moment when the acceleration of the end is clearly seen and evident to all. In receiving the kiss from our betrayers, we can know that the end of it is near. It’s not that we don’t from time to time, feel the sting of that moment all over again, it simply and profoundly means that we are no longer strangled by it … pinned down and defeated because of it. All betrayals lose their grip on us when the cross is finally high and lifted up for the entire world to see.

The betrayer’s kiss cues the cross’s arrival.

Hang on. Jesus did. And because he did, we can live on.

And now, this…

If today you are in a season of betrayal, if you or someone you love has felt the sting of deception from someone you forever trusted, then I encourage you to lean into your Savior’s story. He has so much to share with you, so many ways he wants to love you through your pain. I can’t help but think that one of the many reasons Jesus was able to reach, release, and receive his betrayal was because he knew that, somewhere down the road, you would need the witness of his story—his strength, his pain, his hope. If that’s you, then by the very good and tender grace of God, know this—

Betrayal is not the end of your story. Jesus is. And He will never, not ever, betray the love that he has for you.

As always, and most tenderly in this season of pain, peace for the journey,

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.

on cleaning out your culvert…

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” –Proverbs 4:23

It’s been four months since Hurricane Matthew swept through our little neck of the woods. Beyond losing our power for a few days, there has been no lasting, negative impact to my family. There has been, however, a niggling reminder of its existence each time I take a walk around my neighborhood.

There are several man-made ponds in our community, connected by culverts that keep the water freely flowing amongst them. Since the hurricane, one of the culverts has been muddied up and blocked by debris. The city maintenance crew shows up now and again to poke a stick at it, but the flow of water has mostly stopped between the ponds. Accordingly, the water has grown stagnant and murky.

Something tells me it’s going to take more than a poke to get the water flowing again. It’s going to take some getting down and some getting dirty, some hands on, digging in the mud to clean out and clear up the mess that Hurricane Matthew left behind.

As it goes with the culvert in my neighborhood, so it goes with my heart.

Every now and again, a hurricane blows in and around my spirit, muddying it up with debris. The water flowing in and out of my heart gets plugged up by the ravages of the storm. An occasional poke and prod of faith does precious little to release the debris clogging up my veins. A poke and prod may temporarily bring some relief, but eventually, I have to be willing to do more in order to remove the obstruction. I have to dig a little deeper, get my hands a little muddier, so that I might, once again, feel and know the free flow of water in and around my spirit.

What does that look like practically speaking?

Well, for me it begins with the wisdom of King Solomon. I must take better care of my heart, both in feeding it and guarding it. I’ve not been very good at my feeding and guarding in recent days. Instead, I’ve been stoking the fires of my faith with an occasional poke and prod of Jesus. Accordingly, my heart feels stagnant … muddy … full of the world and its rubble rather than full of something better, something cleaner, something freer. Someone finer.

The good news? I know how to unclog the drain to my heart.

I must eliminate the debris, even if it means my getting deep into the water to do so.

With God’s help to guide me…

• I will guard my heart most fiercely in the days to come.
• I will diligently feed my soul with truth (God’s Word), not lies.
• I will live in a posture of quietness before the Lord so that I might most clearly hear from his heart.
• I will yield to sacred road blocks, and I will merge when the lane is offered.
• I will “circle the wagons” as it pertains to those who are allowed to speak into my life.
• I will reserve the greater portion of my emotional and physical energy for my family, my friends, and my students.
• I will keep my eyes fixed on the finish line instead of the cheering (and sometimes jeering) of the mob on the sidelines.
• I will start and end my day with Jesus and offer up ten thousand prayers in between.
• And I will remember that all of my “wills” are weakened if not tethered tightly to the pull and prod of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps today, like me, your heart’s been clogged up with the debris of a recent hurricane. I don’t know if anyone’s come around to take a look at your mess yet, but if you’re reading this, maybe you could consider this a prod toward cleaning up your culvert? You might get a little dirty in the process, but once you’re free from the junk, the flow of water between your heart and God’s will begin again.

Be well, friends. Live well. Guard your heart above all else. Truly, God means for it to be the wellspring of life eternal. As always…

Peace for the journey,

Take Good Care

What one good thing do you want to do with the rest of your life?

It’s a question I’ve been chewing on for the better part of this year. Knowing that my earthly existence is measured by human standards and knowing that at any moment that particular calendar might draw to a close, it’s a good question to ask. In not asking it, life can float aimlessly along, chipping away at time with precious little to hold in exchange. Not that I need a lot to hold, but I need something … at least one thing.

One good thing … to do, to give myself to.

And so this afternoon while out for a long walk in the feels-more-like-April-than-December temperatures, while watching the bluebird stepping his dance amongst barren branches, I had a thought … a rather simple one but one that just might help me walk out my remaining calendar days.

Take good care of the moment, Elaine.

What moment?

This one. Not the next one, not tomorrow’s, but this one … right in front of me.

Not randomly, but with goodness.

You see, I can handle my moments. We all can. Give us a moment, and we’ll fill it with something, take care of it somehow, someway, with some sort of somewhat. Whether well thought out or haphazardly, we take care of our moments. But in doing so, we must consider the quality therein.

Is our care of the moment any good? Does it serve any good purpose?

Jesus lived good moments. He should be our guide along these lines. While he always had the end game in mind – his calendared days – he is known for the moments lived in between the stable and the grave. Wherever he walked, as he grew and as he taught, he took good care of the earthly moments he’d been given. Whether in conversation with his people or in conversation with his Father, Christ’s moments were never accidentally lived nor haphazardly shared. They were simply and profoundly lived and fueled by the winds of goodness.

Like my friend the bluebird this afternoon, Jesus danced within and amongst the barren branches of humanity. His color was brilliant positioned against the backdrop of winter. He was set apart, not camouflaged by the clamor of his surroundings. Instead, Jesus lived branch to branch, moment to moment, watchful of his surroundings, and willing to share the road with others.

As I step into this next moment (and, yes, into a new year), I don’t want to simply take care of my moments anymore. Doing so relies too heavily on fleshly impulses. Instead I want to take good care of each one – being firmly rooted in God’s goodness, mindful of his momentum, and quick to follow his lead.

The rest of my earthly life is too much, too big for my hands (and heart) to hold these days. I pray I live it well. But this moment, this single slip of time that is right in front of me? Mine … yours? Well, certainly we can take good care of it. With God’s help, good moments are the rule rather than the exception.

Live your moments like you mean them, friends. Take good care of them, and take good care of your hearts. Dance amongst the barren branches of winter as often as you dare, allowing your Father to take the lead. Live and move and have your being in Christ.

This is the very best we can do. This is the good way to finish your life. 

Peace for the journey,

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.

 

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