Category Archives: right words; right timing

the sermon that was never heard…

I had a dream last night. So strong in its witness, I needed to “get it down” on paper this morning. Perhaps in doing so, it will get down to a deeper place inside of me so that I might more fully live it outside of me.

The sermon that was never heard.

Allow me to explain. In May of 2016 my father was scheduled to preach at the Garner UMC. There was nothing particularly unusual about this event. Dad was often called upon to “fill the pulpit” on occasions when the pastor wasn’t available. As a professor of preaching at Asbury Seminary for over thirty years, and as a pastor of several congregations in the last fifty years, my dad has always been a natural choice for such occasions. His spiritual journey, as well as his giftedness in and eloquence for telling a story, have allowed him notable stages from which to deliver God’s message. But no stage was more glorious and important to my father than one holding a wooden pulpit overlooking an audience of Sunday morning seekers. Accordingly, dad rarely refused an opportunity to fill a pulpit.

I had planned to make the two hour trip to Garner to hear my father speak that Sunday. My mother texted me early in the morning to tell me not to come, that dad wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to preach. Later that day, when pressed for more details, dad revealed that he was having trouble reading his sermon notes, that his thoughts were jumbled up inside of him. And while he didn’t have any manifestations of a physical illness, he knew something was wrong. So did we. Thus began the unraveling of the diagnosable mystery known as a stroke.

For the last nineteen months, we’ve walked with dad through this period of redirection. The adjustments have been numerous. And while dad’s aphasia has altered his daily routine, it hasn’t changed his heart or his passion for telling the story. Certainly, the “stage” has changed; they’re smaller now, more intimate. His words are fewer and, sometimes, aren’t delivered as eloquently as he would like. But the warmth is there, the smile, the laughter, the love … always the love from dad. And through it all, we’re all learning to make peace with…

The sermon that was never heard.

The words that were never spoken that Sunday morning. The “text” that (some would say) would be my father’s final declaration from the pulpit. And this morning, after tossing and tumbling all night long, after mulling over what my father’s final benediction might have been from the pulpit that morning in Garner, I have decided that God is still writing that sermon. That after nineteen months of altered steps and interrupted dialogue, the sermon that was never heard is still preaching its witness.

And therein, folks, lives and breathes the greatest story ever told. When the curtains are drawn, the script is lost, when the words won’t come, and the audience has departed, what remains is the sacred echo – the deafening whispers of the sermon that was never heard.  

Like my father, perhaps even like you, I have a few more stories I’d like to share, a few more moments of dialogue I’d like to give to the world. But I am no longer convinced that these are the “sermons” that God will most thoroughly use to live and give his witness. What I am growing convinced of, however, is that…

Not every sermon needs a stage.

Not every manuscript needs eloquence.

Not every word needs to be spoken.

Instead, our “sermons” just need to be lived in the shadow of Almighty God. With warmth. With smiles. With laughter. With love … always the love.

If we can get to that place of settled peace, friends, then the sermon that was never heard surely will be boldly proclaimed with a depth and with a clarity that may not come otherwise. So…

Thank you, Daddy, for teaching me how to live with an unwritten, unspoken, and unfinished script.

And thank you, God, for making it count eternally. As always, 

Peace for the journey,

an opportune time . . .

A couple of nights ago, I called my older boys and offered them this caution:

“Be on guard, sons. Apparently our family is now Satan’s new, favorite chew-toy.”

The next morning, my mother called with a similar warning:

“Elaine, I’ve been standing here in front of the mirror, curling my hair and thinking about all that’s been going on in our family over the past couple of weeks. We’re fighting something we cannot see, a battle of spiritual proportion.”

It seems as if my family is standing up against a formidable foe in this season, feeling the constraints of our faith in overload. Accordingly, I go to God’s Word this morning and allow it to speak truth to my soul. In thinking about Christ’s struggle against the enemy, I am strengthened in my own efforts at resistance.

“When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” –Luke 4:15

Two things strike me about this verse:

  • An opportune time known as desert testing.
  • An opportune time yet to come.

There’s a plurality to the devil’s scheming. Funny how often we’re surprised by this reality. It’s not as if one opportune time is more difficult than the other. Opportune times are straining times, all of them stretching the comfortable boundaries of faith and requiring a step beyond what feels reasonable. I don’t imagine many of us go looking for opportune times (especially ones involving a forty day fast in the desert or a gut-wrenching surrender to nails and a hammer); instead, they seem to find us, pulling us in without notice. Almost accidentally.


Opportune times. The Greek word kairos, meaning “season, opportune time. It is not merely as a succession of moments, which is “chronos,” but a period of opportunity (though not necessity). It is a critical or decisive point in time; a moment of great importance and significance; a point when something is ready or favorable, a propitious moment.” (NIV Key Word Study Bible, 1635-1636).

Read that again slowly and consider Christ’s conflict; consider your own. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Opportune times are not accidental occasions. Instead, they are orchestrated, carefully selected, and purposely planned. Whether schemed by the devil for our destruction or willingly allowed by God for our perfection, opportune times are those hinge moments in our life’s history that swing faith in one of two directions: a right one or a wrong one. Really, there’s no middle ground in opportune seasons. Either we live them right—live them forward and in faith—or we live the lesser road. A road of regression, wrongful conclusions, and regrettable distrust.

I don’t want to live on the side of distrust. I want to live rightly on the side of faith, fully believing that no weapon forged against me will prevail. That, in fact, victory is my heritage as a servant of the Lord (see Isaiah 45:17). Accordingly, I must pick up the sword of the Spirit and strap on my spiritual armor, because the opportunistic arrows of the enemy will not be quenched by feeble, weak-minded, and weak-willed faith. No, to stop his forward progression, I must stand in the strength of who I am in Jesus Christ.

I am God’s child. I am his chosen bride. I am the apple of his eye.

So are you.

Be on guard, friends. If you’re not in the middle of an opportune season right now, I imagine one is waiting for you down the road. Don’t fear its advent; rather, recognize it as it arrives and for what it has the potential to be—a hinge moment in your faith’s history that will strengthen your understanding of God and will catapult your witness forward for the exponential increase of the kingdom.

Satan may have come to me and my family in what he thought to be his opportune time. However, he seems to have momentarily ignored that my times (opportune and otherwise) are in God’s hands. They all belong to him, and his purposes for my life override any schemes to the contrary. God holds the chain to the short leash attached around Satan’s roaming, and today my Father has willingly and forcefully yanked it a few times so that the devil remembers who’s in charge.

I am grateful for God’s strength in this season and for your prayers that have, undoubtedly, tightened the noose around the devil’s neck. What privilege there is in standing alongside you, my mighty warrior friends! As always . . .Peace for the journey,

Lying Down . . .


I’m not a huge fan of the Academy Awards, not because I have anything against honoring quality art via the silver screen but mostly because of the seemingly endless parade of the self-impressed. Couple this with the fact that I haven’t seen ninety-nine percent of the movies up for awards, and well, let’s just say my interest peeks with the red carpet and its dazzling display of gowns.

I am, however, a fan of good words spoken at the right time. Certainly, movies are filled with many such moments, but when those moments happen off stage (when the actor removes the mask and throws the script to the sidelines in favor of real-life drama), I’m duly impressed by the dialogue. Such was the case with Daniel Day-Lewis following his 3rd Oscar win for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. Backstage after his win, Daniel was asked regarding his plans for the future, about what character he might like to play next. His response immediately gripped my heart:

“I need to lie down for a couple of years. It’s really hard to imagine doing anything after this.” (see source)

He’s going to lie down. Take a lengthy sabbatical with his family on his fifty acre farm south of Dublin, Ireland. Work on other things, like perfecting his cobbling (shoe-making) abilities or learning the rural skill of stonemasonry. Just “happily working away at other things.” (see source) Daniel Day-Lewis is going to lie down for a season, away from the stage and the bright lights of the big city.

What a wise choice.

I am challenged to follow his lead. Bright lights and big stages serve their purposes, but once the curtain goes down and the camera crew heads home, it’s time for a breather. Time to fuel up, rest up alongside the still waters where the only stage beneath my feet is carpeted with green pastures and the only light framing my steps radiates from the candle of the Shepherd.

My lengthy sabbatical with God to happily work away at other things.

Those things? Well, I don’t imagine it’s important to discuss them here. What is important is knowing that those things exist and that only by my lying down for a season will I be able to most happily, most agreeably engage with them. The good that grows in the pasture is not easily grown on the stage. Bright lights and big audiences—too much shine and too much recognition—dim the eyes and dull the senses, kind of like a blundering sheep in need of a wise Shepherd.

Life is changing for me . . . again. I must travel with the shifting wind, not against it. To fight my lying down is to relinquish the merry pleasures of rest. To linger on the stage after the curtain is drawn and the audience has departed is to stand alone and to feel lonely. But to leave with them? To trade in the stage for God’s greener pastures where dialogue is limited to just the Shepherd and me? Well I don’t suppose I’ve ever felt more enveloped in the fellowship of the Beloved.

I need to lie down for a while, friends. This doesn’t mean I won’t be here from time to time. Every sheep needs a flock, and you are mine. I simply need to give myself permission to happily work away at other things.

Soul things. Intimate things. God things.

Lying beside the still waters and on a blanket of green.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

a right word at the right time {part two}: muddied and still willing

“Not until halfway through the feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to preach. . . . Jesus answered, ‘My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.’” –John 7:16-19

Dirty. Soiled. Polluted. That’s how I feel this morning, not because of what I’ve done but because of what I’ve allowed the world to do to me—slap me in the face and in the heart with untruth.

Speaking God’s truth comes at a price, because whenever his truth is spoken, the enemy stands ready and willing to defend the ground he’s temporarily claimed and cultivated with his lies, his native language (John 8:44). Satan’s lies always start with a question . . . a thought . . . a probing not unlike the one he leveled at Eve in the Garden of Eden:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’” –Genesis 3:1

Did God really say?

Isn’t this the point at which all detours off the road of truth begin? When we initiate inward dialogue about what God said . . . says? When doubt muddies the waters of truth with opinion rather than fact? When we believe our own billing and trust our own instincts over the knowledge and character of God?

We do it all the time. This happens whenever we tiptoe around God’s truth and lean in to our own understanding—those inklings that scratch the itch of what’s comfortable, what feels good, and what allows us to keep living the sin, doing the sin, all the while calling it something else. Calling it personal preference; calling it a justifiable choice because, after all, no one should have to change who he or she is to suit another human being.

“For a time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. The will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” –2 Timothy 4:4

**NEWS FLASH: We’re not here to suit one another. We’re not here to suit ourselves. We’re here to suit God. To honor him with our lives and with our willingness to bend our sin-sickened hearts to the process of holiness. It’s never been about us—these years we’re allowed on planet earth. It’s been about God and his allowance of those years for each one of us. We’re wasting precious time, friends, arguing about truth. Truth isn’t relative. Truth is truth; there cannot be multiple versions therein. There is only one way, one truth, and one life—Jesus Christ, Son of the living God (John 14:6). When we begin our search for truth with him, our confusions and personal preferences bow to the firm conclusions and preferences of God. When we begin our search for truth anywhere else we bow to our flesh, we serve it, and we risk permanent and eternal separation from God. . .


Is that a risk you’re willing to take? If so, keep living unto yourself and keep slinging your mud at those who bravely speak truth to your soul. It might feel good to get a little dirty from time to time, to enter the pit of confrontation all in the name of personal preference. To rub a little sludge in to your neighbor’s eye and to throw in a few kicks to the gut for good measure. Go ahead, live your independence and call yourself brave. Stand for intolerance and carry the flag of self-preservation. Shout loud. Shout now. Shout for all you’re worth. Give it all you’ve got while you have some got to give because the time is fast approaching when your stage, your platform, and your voice will be silenced by the stage and voice of the King. And when he speaks, there will be no denying the truth. Instead, there will be hell to pay.


Did God really say?

Yes, God really did say.

And so must I . . . say truth, say a few words from time to time. Why? Because I love God, and I want to honor the King with a life of service to his truth and his cross. And secondly, because I love you, and because hell is too high a price to pay for the lies you’re willing to boldly and self-assuredly live on this side of eternity.

There are right words and a right time to speak those words. Today is that time for me. Accordingly, I risk your confusion, your anger, your mud, and your condemnation. Better to risk yours than to know God’s . . .


Peace for the journey,

a right word at the right time {part one}

“Therefore Jesus told them, ‘The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to the Feast, because for me to right time has not yet come.’ Having said this, he stayed in Galilee. –John 7:6-9


Sometimes we need to stay in Galilee a while longer. The Feast in Jerusalem will have to wait because those in attendance are not yet ready to hear the truth. Right words spoken at the wrong time do little to further the kingdom cause; instead, right words spoken at the wrong time often stir the pot of dissension, fueling the anger of the crowd and bringing untimely harm to the truth and the truth-giver.


Not that we shy away from speaking the truth for fear of personal harm, but rather we keep to the shadows until the threats no longer thwart the truth. Truth needs a readied stage, a readied audience. The beginning days of the Feast, when frolic and frenzy often reign over reason, rarely provide a readied audience. Sometimes, it’s best to wait for the frenzy to die down instead of prematurely jumping into the fray with right words that, more than likely, will be trampled upon by the wrong motives and wounded pride of those attending the Feast.


Jesus wasn’t afraid to die for speaking the truth, for being the Truth; it’s what he came to do . . . to free us from the lies of the enemy. But Jesus knew the right time to speak his right words. He wasn’t swayed by a human agenda that operated out of wrong motives. Instead, he waited . . . walked his Father’s agenda, and when the time was right, he emerged from the shadows and spoke his piece.


Eternity holds the witness of what Jesus’ waiting to go to the Feast accomplished for the kingdom. We cannot see the fullness of it just yet. This wasn’t the climax of Christ’s ministry, the biggest accomplishment of his earthly tenure, but it’s worth our time, our pausing a little bit with Jesus in the shadows in order that we might gain understanding regarding a right word spoken at the right time.


In this season, we’re being pushed from every angle to enter the fray and to engage in the frolic of a Feast that has little to do with truth and much more to do with pride. Right words have never been more important. But I’m wondering if just maybe we could learn something from Jesus about timing . . . about when to show up at the Feast and when is the right time to speak those right words.


We need to make the most of them . . . our right words. We need to make them count. Some would say there are no right words, only opinions. They would be wrong; there are right words, and when they are released in the light and moment of God’s timing, they grow his kingdom, not frustrate it.


Right words and the right time to speak those words.


I think I’ll pause with Jesus in Galilee today and travel in his shadow. Words not yet spoken that tarry beneath and within the shade of God’s holiness are words that will eventually carry the strength and witness of eternity. Those are the kinds of words worth waiting for, friends. They change the landscape of the world around us and bring the kingdom of God within reach.


Wait for them, right words and right timing. The world has never needed them more. As always . . .


Peace for the journey,

What is your tendency . . . to jump into the fray with right words too soon or to wait on right timing? What benefit might there be to waiting?

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