Category Archives: living God’s truth

on measuring the distance

I picked up eight stones in the first few steps of my walk this morning. I’ve been walking this street for a week now; it’s my new route in this new chapter of living. Whereas my former neighborhood boasted several streets full of twists and turns and lots of scenery, my current neighborhood includes a single, straight street dotted by a dozen or so homes. On my former route, two laps around the neighborhood meant I had completed my course. Now “completion” requires eight.

Those eight laps should be easily counted … easily remembered. But I am easily distracted and often lose count. A stopwatch marking the minutes comes close to measuring my steps, but my pace isn’t always consistent. My steps don’t always measure out evenly. Sometimes I walk more slowly. Sometimes more briskly.

For me, time isn’t the truest measure for knowing when my course is completed.

Distance is.

And so, this morning I picked up eight stones. I carried them in my left hand, and each time I passed my driveway, I transferred one of them to my pocket. Carrying and counting stones is a tangible way of measuring distance. An empty palm and a full pocket signals completion.

As it was for me this morning, so it was for the Israelites as they made their way across the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land (see Joshua 3-4). Along the way, God instructed twelve men to pick up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan and to carry them over to the other side. Joshua (the new leader of God’s people) then took those twelve stones and built an altar at Gilgal to serve as a memorial to the faithfulness of God. In the future, each time the Israelites looked at that altar … counted those stones … they remembered their mighty God and their mighty walk through the Jordan on dry ground.

Twelve stones counted and carried by the Israelites, measured the distance of how far they’d traveled with their faithful Father. As they walked onto the pages of a new chapter in their history as his people, God made sure they had a memorial to serve as a reminder of the previous steps taken. He didn’t want them to forget that faith walk.

He doesn’t want us to forget ours … the steps we’ve traveled with him.

Time isn’t the truest measure for knowing when our course is completed. Distance is. Our steps won’t always measure out evenly. Somedays we’ll walk more slowly; somedays faster. Somedays (thanks be to God) steady as we go. Time cannot accurately measure the length, width, depth, and breadth of our faith walks with Christ. But a few stones carried in our palms and in our pockets deposited as grace at the end of a life’s laboring?

Well, that’s a pretty good measure of the sacred distance we’ve traveled with God.

And so today, let me encourage you to pick up a stone or two–a faith moment between you and Christ where you have known, seen, and felt the mighty arm of the Lord working on your behalf. Start building an altar unto the Lord so that in the future, when your children ask you or when you ask yourself, “What do these stones mean?”, you’ll remember the day when you walked through your Jordan on dry ground because of the strong arm of the Lord.

That altar … that distance … is the measure that matters eternally.

Step on in faith, friends. I’ll meet you in the riverbed. Together, let’s continue to build a living witness to the faithfulness of our God. As always…

Peace for the journey,

Nine Miles with My Grandpa…

Grandpa and I at Uncle George’s -1975?

We drove my Grandpa Al home yesterday.

Well… sort of.

He wasn’t really my grandpa. My Grandpa Al died in 1994 at the age of eighty-three. The man we drove home, Howard, is seventy-four but could have passed as Al’s brother. Short in stature, round in the belly, missing hair and missing teeth – all the makings of the grandpa I remember so fondly in my heart.

It had been a busy, exhausting day for us. Sunday services (and all the drama therein), followed by a mid-afternoon funeral, punctuated by picking up pizzas for the youth group with no Sunday afternoon nap squeezed in between, can quickly consume one’s energy. Accordingly, as the sun slowly began its descent, my husband and I decided that a quick trip to McDonald’s was in order, not necessarily to fill our empty stomachs but, instead, to fill our depleted, emotional tanks.

As we were exiting our cars, Howard was exiting his hard day’s labor as an employee of McDonalds. His gait indicated his tiredness, as well as his arthritis. We made small talk and blessed him to an evening of relaxation. After all, he’d earned it. Eight hours of cleaning bathrooms and refilling the condiment bar would leave even a robust youth longing for a pair of pjs and a night’s lounging on a comfy sofa.

Once inside the McDonalds, I realized that my patience wasn’t equal to the long line waiting to be served. Hence, we moved our patronage next door to the Bojangles. Same story. A longer-than-I-was-willing-to-wait-for-line greeted us, and we made our exit to the car. Suddenly, I was no longer feeling hungry; instead, I was feeling lost … unable to focus and ready to head back home, unfed and unfilled. We hadn’t traveled far before we noticed him – the tired McDonald’s employee walking under an overpass. He, too, was headed for home. Ten minutes earlier, we had talked to him in the crowded McDonald’s parking lot next to our car. It never occurred to us that he didn’t have one of his own.

Something broke inside of me. A sadness that lent itself toward compassion.

“We need to give him a ride home, Billy. There isn’t any housing close by, and it’s getting dark. If my grandpa had put in a hard day’s labor at McDonald’s and had to walk home, I hope someone would stop and give him a ride.”

Tears slipped quietly down my face as my husband made a u-turn. We slowed our vehicle as we reached the underpass, and I rolled down my window.

“Sir, we just met you at the McDonalds a few minutes ago. Can we give you a ride home? You look like you’ve had a long day, and we’d like to help you out.”

Without hesitation and with much effort, he made his way into the back seat of our van. He dropped his brown canvas bag onto the seat next to him and began to tell us his story. He told us he sure appreciated the kindness and that we didn’t need to take him all the way home, just up to the Nic’s Pic (a local gas station). From there, he’d thumb his way home.

“Where exactly do you live, Howard?”

“In McColl.”

McColl, South Carolina, that is. Nine miles away from where we picked him up in Laurinburg, North Carolina.

“That’s an awful long way to walk to work. Is your car broken down?”

“No ma’am. I’ve been hitching rides to work for (… wait for it) thirty plus years now. If you’ll just drop me off at the Nic’s Pic, I’ll get a ride home from there.

“Howard, we’re going to take you all the way home. Tonight, we’ll get you home a little earlier than usual so that you’ll have a little more time to relax.”

And so, for the next nine miles, we got to know our new friend. We told him a little of our story, but mostly, he told us nine miles’ worth of his. Three marriages, a daughter he hadn’t seen in decades and with no understanding of where she might be, crippled up with arthritis and punching the clock at McDonalds for at least thirty years, well, even though his biography read more like a tragedy, he didn’t seem overcome or undone by it. Instead, he seemed content, like he’d made some sort of peace with what I perceived to be his less-than life.

As we approached McColl, he gave us the short-cut instructions to get to his house. Driving the back streets of his neighborhood, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. The dilapidated homes, the junk piled up therein, and the occasional wandering inhabitants, quickly had me checking the door locks. My sobering assessment of Howard’s seemingly declining neighborhood didn’t match his own.

“There are some nice houses back in here … nice mill homes. My third wife left me one, even though it is falling down around me. Now she was a good one. I wish I’d had her longer.”

My precious grandparents, Al and MayBelle

And part of me wished the same. He shouldn’t be alone, not now. Not ever. And for nine miles last night, he wasn’t. I wasn’t. Instead, we were together, sharing a ride and sharing our lives – a tiny intersection on the long road toward home. Grandpa Al has been gone from my life for twenty-three years now, but last night, a part of him was with me, reminding me that this life is meant to be shared. That in some sense, we’re all really close to being family. All it takes to arrive at that realization is opening up our eyes to see those around us and opening up our hearts (and car doors) for conversations therein.

As Howard exited our car, he left me with a final word of benediction:

“There sure is a lot of evil in the world these days, but there’s still a lot of kindness. Thanks for the ride.”

And with that, our nine miles together came to a conclusion. What began as a quest to fill my hungering stomach was met, instead, with a meal to fill my hungering soul.

Grandpa Al, his son (Charles), and great-grandsons, Nick and Colton – 1993

 

There sure is a lot of evil in this world, but there still is a lot kindness. So, give kindness to others in this season, friends. Share nine miles or more with the person you meet at McDonalds, being willing to cross the state line should the occasion dictate. In doing so, you just might recognize a brother, a sister, maybe even a grandpa from your past.

In some greater sense than I fully understand, we’re all really close to being family. As always…

Peace for the journey,

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,

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.

 

on being a “doorkeeper” …

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” –Psalm 84:10

There was a defining moment in my ministry life several years ago. It happened unexpectedly but not by accident. I often find this to be the case with the Father’s holy whispers regarding my life. They arrive when I don’t expect them but are so specific in their delivery that they are easily defined as authentic, as divine rather than random.

Our spring, ladies’ Bible study was coming to a close. During the final Tuesday night session we explored the concept of “calling”—the ministry that God has assigned to all believers to serve as his conduits of kingdom grace. We discussed the above scripture from Psalm 84 and what it meant to be a doorkeeper in the house of God. In the course of our conversation, a cell phone rang. The embarrassed participant fumbled around in her belongings in an effort to silence the distraction. The curious look she had on her face led my curious heart to make an inquiry: “Everything OK?”

“Elaine, you’re not going to believe the picture my sister-in-law just sent to me on my phone. Take a look.”

I did and went slack-jawed at the revelation. It was a picture of a beautiful wreath hanging . . . on a door. No sooner had the words passed from my lips about being a “doorkeeper” in the house of God than God sent his holy confirmation via a picture of a door on a cell phone. Unexpected? Yes. Accidental? I don’t think so. You might think so, but I’ve lived long enough with God to know when he’s trying to solidify a point. It doesn’t always happen this way; sometimes his directives are less obvious. But when his knock is blatant, I’ve learned to open up the door to entreat his instructions.

And so, that night I bowed my head and heart to this anointing, believing that God was calling me to the simple, yet profound task of being a doorkeeper to his extraordinary kingdom. To be a servant who stands at the threshold of God’s temple, guarding the sacred trust within and graciously opening up the door so that others might enter into their Father’s house, so that they might finally know what it is to come home and to be welcomed and warmed by the truth of his love. At that time, I didn’t fully understand what this sacred affirmation would look like for me in the coming months. Years later, I still don’t fully grasp the breadth and depth of what this means for me. But this I do know: the memory of that defining moment is still defining me. It stalks me, calls me, reminds me, and strengthens me. It minimizes my fear about my calling by keeping it fairly simple, despite my attempts at making it so very complex.

Calling. I think we’ve done a disservice within the Christian community in our conversations along these lines. We’ve made it too hard, wrapped too many formulas around the notion of “calling”, trying to fine-tune our areas of ministry to the exclusion of ministering in the moment-at-hand. Certainly, God has instilled in each one of his children different giftings that lend themselves to a particular area of ministry. We should walk in those giftings, develop them and offer them to others in service to our King. But our calling should not be limited by our giftings; instead, our calling should extend through them. Our calling stands before and behind, above and below any outpouring of excellence. Our calling is greater than our giftedness. Our calling is simple: to know God and then, out of that knowing, to lead others to know the same.

“‘Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’” –John 17:3

 “‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” –Matthew 28:18-20

In establishing the vision for our ministries, these two criteria serve as the foundation for God’s vision therein. Know him and then, from that knowing, lead others to know him more fully. For me, that looks a whole lot like being a doorkeeper. Accordingly, I tend to the sacred trust I’ve been given, carefully guard the good deposit within me, and then, as the Lord prompts, I open up the doors to that kingdom storehouse and invite others in to feast on his treasures.

Every now and again, there comes a defining moment for all of us as it pertains to our ministries going forward. God’s word to you might be very specific. He may firmly grip your heart with an affirmation about what job you should take, where you should live, how you should serve. If that’s your case, then walk on in confidence. Do not hesitate to take hold of God’s holy confirmation.

But if that’s not you, if there is no grand moment of clarification, don’t get too hung up on the particulars. Instead, lend your heart to the moment-at-hand. Serve the kingdom right where you are. Stand at the gate of your temple; guard closely the doors of your heart, and tend fervently to the wealth within. Live there, in God’s house, and you’ll better understand this notion of calling. In tending to our temples, we tend to the Father’s business. Out of that overflow comes a life defined, a life on purpose, and a life on fire for the King and his renown.

Be a doorkeeper, friend. Be a protector of all things sacred. Be a greeter for the kingdom of God. I don’t imagine there’s a finer calling on this side of eternity. Thus, I pray . . .

Keep us to our calling, Lord, to stand watch over the temple and to open its door to others when they come knocking. We want to know you more and then, out of that knowing, help others to know you as well. You are the Way. You are the Truth. You are the Life. In knowing you, we hold all the knowledge we will ever need for this pilgrimage of faith. In knowing you, we know enough to get us safely home. Amen.

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