Category Archives: God’s Word

on the edge of something

It’s 4:00 AM; I can’t sleep. A strained shoulder and a pack of prednisone are to blame. I’ve started and finished a 350-page historical novel that’s been sitting bedside for weeks. I’ve read the book of James. I’ve prayed over my family. I’ve shed a few tears. And now, out of a restless need, I dare to open this blank page wanting to say something, but not completely sure I know what it is.

I’m on the edge of something.

There have been a lot of those edges lately, a lot of tossing and turning, reflecting and remembering, wondering and wishing my way through my nights.

I’m standing in between … teetering precariously on the edge of yesterday, just before the dawn breaks on today, and God pierces my edge with a truth I’m often prone to forget:

I still have a plan for your life, Elaine.

I am undone by the hushed voice that penetrates the darkness, so certain in my spirit that I have heard from his. This is the edge we share, God and me … a moment of teetering between things unseen and things perceived. And it is a very good place to stand, here in this hour …

On the edge of something, even if I cannot see it.

God and I have been on these edges before, all of my life in fact. He’s been with me from the beginning. And while I cannot remember a day when I was unaware of his presence, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s that I began to really open up my heart and my mind to understand the deeper things of God.

With two young toddlers in tow and a barely used high-school graduation Bible tucked under my arm, I dragged my soul to my first ever, in-depth Bible study in Little Washington, NC. It was Beth Moore’s To Live is Christ, a study on the witness and ministry of the Apostle Paul. Two weeks into the study, I remember lying on my bed in the parsonage on Respess St., Bible and study book wide-open, tears streaming down my face, with the most honest confession I could utter …

I am sorry, God. I have wasted so much time.

That was an edge for us, an exhilarating jump onto the next page of my life with Christ. Fifteen years later, I’ve yet to recover. I have loved standing next to Jesus on that edge of discovery. Every single minute we’ve shared on the pages of his Word has fed me, shaped me, and enlivened me for the road ahead.

Along the way I’ve been so privileged to share that road with countless others through my speaking, leading Bible studies and Sunday Schools, writing books, teaching Bible for four years in a 4th grade classroom, and shaping my own children with the truths I have learned.

It’s been my great joy, and it’s been for God’s good. I know that deep down. Truly.

But just now, right now, before the birds begin their morning chorus, I need to know that there is more. My body is weak and my mind is cluttered. I’m having trouble standing on this particular edge because I so long to see that which remains hidden. And that kind of blind faith sometimes feels just out of reach for me. The edge of something isn’t always as certain as I would like it to be.

How about you?

Where are you standing right now? What edge hosts your in-between? Has the new day brought with it a new hope, a fresh dispensation of daily grace and forward steps? Is your agenda filled with God’s? Has he made it clear to your heart what is dear to his? Is your edge a place of release or has it become, instead, a place of refuge? Is the uncertainty you have about tomorrow shattering your confidence therein?

If so, then might I lend you an old truth on a new day almost arrived?

God still has a plan for your life.

Despite the darkness. Despite what’s happened. Despite your flesh. God still thinks thoughts about you and would like nothing more than to stand on the edge with you as you prepare your heart for your next steps.

Fresh grace. Forward steps. The edge of something … more.

A very good place to stand here in this hour.

Welcome to today! 

As always, I pray for you God’s companioning 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.

 

Shopping for Seed

Words.

Spoken. Written. Thought.

Some beautiful. Some bitter. And others, somewhere in between. All words?

Powerful. Why?

Because they are attached to the heart.

“ … For out of the overflow of his heart, his mouth speaks.” –Luke 6:45

The words that grow in our hearts, sooner or later, flow out of our mouths. Along those lines, it might be wise, then, to be more intentional (and more choosy) about the seeds we’re sowing into the sacred soil of our souls.  

So, ask yourself a question, even as I am asking the same of myself in this season:

From what feed store have you recently made a purchase of word-seed?

Some of my favorite filling stations as of late include: social media, must-see television series, breaking news reports, pages of the latest, Christian-how-to-do-life-with-Jesus books, work-related projects and curriculum, church activity, conversations with family and friends, interactions with students, parents, and staff, and God’s Word.

What are your favorites?

In measured proportion, all of these popular haunts have the potential to yield a harvest of good, gracious, and God-honoring words that can yield a kingdom harvest in due season. But when the scales get off balance because the seeds are no longer weighed for effectiveness and, instead, we fill up on what’s popular rather than on what’s productive, the overflow of our hearts becomes as sludge – a thick, muddy mess of careless words that dirties the landscape of our souls and stymies the ripening of God’s fruit. Those words not only muddy-up our hearts, but often they spill over to muddy-up the hearts of others.

Whatever seeds are growing on the inside of us will eventually move outside to mess with us. For good or for ill, the word-seeds that we are allowing into the garden of our hearts will yield a powerful crop of words to be absorbed by those around us. Shouldn’t we, then, be more vigilant? Shouldn’t we more carefully measure out these word-seeds before we purchase them … embed them? Before we take another dive into the pool of words available to us, could we push the pause button for a moment or two or ten to consider the fruit of our previous purchases?

What seeds have yielded fruitfulness? What seeds have reaped destruction?

Words are, indeed, powerful. They come to us freely from all directions at any given moment in our days. Wise are those who choose to carefully and prayerfully steward those moments alongside the great heart of God. When that happens, all hell does break loose, because we have thwarted the enemy’s plan for the destruction of our kingdom effectiveness by growing, in its place, a garden of beautiful words that yields eternal results.

That’s where I want to live, friends, alongside the great heart of God and his garden of good words.

Choose carefully the seeds that you will sow into the soil of your hearts this year. Along the way and as you plant, live safely, live confidently, and live expectantly next to the heart of Jesus. He will shepherd your steps and he will superintend your garden. I look forward to your many words and to gleaning from your harvest. As always …

Peace for the journey,  

who shall declare His generation?

“He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken” –Isaiah 53:8

Their words brought a chill to my bones, while at the same time setting my spirit on fire. Chilling because of the certain reminder of how powerful and effective the winds of strong words can quickly bring a sleepy soul to shivering and warming because of the certain reminder of how powerful and effective the fuel of strong words can quickly fan into flame the embers of a fire temporarily forgotten.

Isaiah 53. The entire chapter. Twelve verses. Spoken from memory, together and out loud for the first time by sixteen, fourth graders on Thursday morning. They’ve been working on the chapter in sections since the beginning of the school year, and this week, they put the verses all together. I wish you could have been there as witnesses. The further along they went in their recitation, the louder their volume. When they got to the end, a hearty round of applause could be heard, and for the more perceptive, a few tears could be observed in the eyes of their teacher.

This is how we win, students. This is how we defeat the enemy, the true enemy behind all the evil in the world. We may not be able to stop a bullet from tearing into our flesh, but we can stop a bullet from tearing into our spirits. This is how we win. With God. With truth in our hearts and with truth spoken from our lips. Do not ever let these words depart from your heart. Practice them every now and again so you don’t forget. This way, for the rest of your days, you’ll always know that you’re not alone … that there is One who has made his home with you, taken up his cross to save you, and now lives to make intercession for you.

And then I told them that, perhaps, in those hallowed moments of their speaking truth out loud, God just might have called the prophet Isaiah over and, together, the two of them listened in to our morning recitations with a smile across their hearts. I can’t prove it happened that way, but I like thinking about it. So did my students.

Chilling winds; stoked embers; peaceful pause.

This is how we win. This is how we defeat the enemy in times of terror. We may not be able to stop a bullet to our chests, but we can make certain that if one lodges there, it is encased and swallowed up by layers of truth – God’s truth that is lavishly given to us in the pages of holy writ, the Bible. The world would be a better place if it stopped trying to manage and manipulate truth, and, instead, meditated upon it, memorized it, and allowed it to transform each one of us from the inside-out.

Who shall declare his generation? Who will tell his story?

I will. Maybe even a few of my students will. Why? Because his story has become … is becoming our story. Every day we are learning truth, and while it might not all make sense to my students at this point in their journeys of grace, I know one day it will. Why? Because God makes sense and his words have everlasting depth. They strike through to the bone, chilling us when we need to awaken from our drowsiness and warming us when we’ve forgotten the strength of a single, lit match.

Stay in the Word, friends. Stay with Jesus every day. He is how we win. He is how we stay alive, even in the midst of death. As always …

Peace for the journey,

kingdom momentum

For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth.” –Genesis 7:17

It happened yesterday … the earth’s baptism became ours. Let me explain.

We’re twenty-three days into the academic year. Each morning, we begin our day with pledges, prayers, and a time of meditation in God’s Word. Thus far, while our sessions have been lively and often full of questions, I haven’t felt a building momentum within my students’ hearts for the masterpiece that is God’s Word. Certainly, they’ve been willing to receive it, but absorbing it at a deeper level—the level where the Holy Spirit turns the key in the lock to open up the secrets of the kingdom of God? Well, I’ve been waiting. Yesterday, I saw it … felt it for the first time … in their eyes and in the temperature of the classroom.

We’ve been building up to the story of Noah – a story so familiar to most that the wonder and mystery often gets buried in translation. In the past four weeks, I’ve talked often about the issue of “movement” away from Eden – God’s original home for his original people. In that discussion, we’ve drawn a conclusion together: the further the people moved away from Eden (both in time and distance), the more wickedness there was in the world. By the time Noah arrives on the scene, sin abounds. Gone are the days of perfection; come are the days of deep iniquity.

“The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth – men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air – for I am grieved that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8)

And so God’s flood—rains falling from the sky and waters rising up from the earth to fully engulf all that had “the breath of life in its nostrils” (Gen. 7:22-23). Indeed, how it must have grieved the Father to bring this judgment so early in those beginning days, to wipe out his image-bearers and to (in a sense) begin again with fresh brushstrokes on a re-created canvas.

At this point in the telling of the story, I asked my students a question. In doing so, I felt the shift in my spirit and in theirs. I hadn’t planned on the shift – it simply and profoundly arrived, begging my participation.

“Kids, can any of you identify one of this week’s spelling words that might best describe what God was doing to the earth at this point in history?”  

A few of them grabbed their spelling books to peruse the list. One of them, however, caught it immediately. With eyes as big as saucers and a light exploding therein, she dispensed with the hand-raising formality and blurted out …

“Baptize. Mrs. Olsen, he was baptizing the earth!”

And they got it – all of them. It was probably only a moment of stunned silence, counted in seconds rather than minutes, but it felt like more than that, like time stood still as this eternal truth took hold and embedded itself deeply within the soil of their souls. The earth’s baptism became ours, and I’m thrilled to report that spiritual momentum has arrived for the fourth grade!

That may not mean much to you, but it means everything to them … to me. Folks, there needs to be some depth to what we’re doing, how we’re spending our lives. Regardless of where God has you in this season of your life, every now again, you need to feel that momentum—that shift in your spirit that validates your station in life, your purpose for being here. Too often we lose that sense of purpose; we muddle through our existence because we have to without realizing that, along the way and as we go, we can build momentum for the kingdom of God. With our attitudes, our obedience, our words, and our willingness to authentically live therein, we can move the kingdom forward.

I’ve waited four weeks for momentum to take hold in young hearts; some of us might have to wait a bit longer. But in the obedience to dig for it and to prayerfully expect it, when it arrives we understand that it wasn’t an accident. Rather, we know it was and is an intentional work of grace by and from the Holy Spirit. God, the Creator of everything that has life and breath in its nostrils is faithful to baptize our hearts and the work of our hands with the fresh wind of his Spirit as we are faithful to bathe our lives (and to live our lives) in the truth of his Word.

So in gratefulness, and with expectation, I pray …

Let it rain, Lord. Not just in me, and not just in the fourth grade, but let your rain pour down into us and within us, baptizing us with newness of life and with a fresh revelation of your presence and your purpose for our tomorrows. Cleanse us from the wickedness that seeks to strangle us and that keeps kingdom momentum from accelerating in us and through us. Lord, we long to be part of your plan, to surrender our lives for your many good purposes and to know that our obedience is yielding a fruitful harvest. We applaud your faithfulness. We honor your Lordship. We delight in your companionship. We welcome your baptism. So rain on us, Lord. Humbly we wait for your waters today. Amen.  

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