Thursday, December 26, 2019

For 2020: Fear...Courage...Trust

And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.  I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.   (Acts 20:22)

         Looking back at messages given to Ladies Lunch at Vero Beach FUMC in years past, I came across these words.  They are issues for many of us.  As we turn the calendar to a new year, there will be challenges.  Some are continuing, some will be new.  All will produce their own fears and difficulties.  Perhaps the Apostle Paul will inspire us.

         This is Paul’s farewell to the elders of the church at Ephesus.  He spent three years there during which time he preached Jesus every waking moment and shared the Holy Spirit with all the converts.  Acts 19:11 and 12 says: God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.  What an amazing legacy!

        Along with the wonders, there were horrors.  It was a constant battle with the occult.  The threat of death was constant.  He constantly preached Jesus to Jews and Greeks alike.  But his time had come to move on to Jerusalem.  He wanted to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

         This paragraph from his farewell to the Ephesian elders shows us so much about Paul’s faith and his spirit.  He tells them “I am compelled by the spirit to go to Jerusalem having no idea of what I’m facing there.”  Based on his life up to this point, it’s reasonable for Paul to realize that the obstacles and persecutions are not going to stop wherever he goes.  The gospel he preached was volatile.  It upset people’s lives.  It often stepped between them and their money.  It divided families.  It made them deny their lifelong religious beliefs.  Just as Jesus was, Paul was a divider.  He was also the voice of the greatest hope the world has ever known.  And thankfully he was surrounded by those who had grasped the truth that he preached without failing every day. 

          A major thing we see about Paul as we have made our way through Acts is that he constantly preached the message of Christ…the same message almost word for word…every time.  At the point of today’s passage, he had been in Ephesus and the surrounding area for three years.  This was likely as close to a comfort zone as he came.  Now, he was being compelled by the Holy Spirit to move on.

          Compelled.  Have you ever been compelled to make a move that pushed you out of your comfort zone?  Is there something you are –or have been- led to do in your life that is so fearful to you but you know you will have no peace at all until you obey the prodding of the spirit?  You finally deal with your fear and make your move, all the way telling God “you know I don’t want to do this.  I’m scared to death.”

          Now, in our lives we probably aren’t facing probable jail or death.  But we could be putting ourselves out there with the strong possibility of persecution.  Or humiliation.  Those who are anti-Jesus are becoming more and more outspoken.  They laugh at us and poke fun at our beliefs.  And that stokes fear in our spirit.  And if we have this gut gripping fear, is this truly from God? 

          In his book The Dream Giver, Bruce Wilkinson says this is Misconception #1 about moving beyond your comfort zone.  We’re not going to make much progress if we allow fear to stand in our way.  Misconception #2 is:  I can’t go forward unless God takes my fear away.  We do have fears that protect us…like fear of snakes or bad people with guns.  Our inner sense says “steer clear…move away!”  But the fears that inhibit us...the ones that hold us back from doing the work God would have us do...those are the fears we are called on to walk through with courage.  Courage is not the absence of's choosing to act in spite of the fear.

          As Paul knew from his life, there is always another comfort zone, another fear to be challenged.  Always another city, another prison, another hardship. At this point in his life, Paul in his self had diminished so much and Christ had taken hold of so much of him that his only thought was to continue on with the race he had been given.  Though he always supported himself with his tent-making, he never stopped carrying the message that sustained his life…and gives so much meaning to ours. 

          Fear…courage…trust.  It all boils down to trust.  Do we trust the proddings of the Holy Spirit?  Can we put our fear into some special place in our heads and walk on through the fear, guided and propelled by this third entity of the Trinity?  He is, after all, the comforter Jesus promised before he left us.

          I want to close with some words from noted theologian Henry Blackaby.  In his book Experiencing the Spirit: the Power of Pentecost Every Day, Blackaby says this:

Will God ever ask you to do something you are not able to do?  The answer is yes – all the time!  It must be that way, for God’s glory and kingdom.  If we function according to our ability alone, we get the glory; if we function according to the power of the Spirit within us, God gets the glory.  He wants to reveal himself to a watching world.

          My prayer for us is that we will be watching.

May you know the Peace and Joy of the Lord in 2020.

Friday, December 20, 2019

A Moment of Caroling


      With Christmas just a few days away, I'm excited to share an excerpt from my latest book, Cradle and Cross, which is now available on and by order at your local book store.

       Does caroling fit into your holiday plans?  Here's how it went in our family.

Caroling We Will Go!

O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

-         King John IV of Portugal

“Let’s go caroling!  We’ve never been caroling.  We should go caroling!”

            The words came from our littlest grand, Nathaniel.  He was 7.  He had looked up from his plate as he finished his Christmas dinner and blurted out his thought.  My daughters, his sister and I were all still sitting at the table, relaxing in that lull between a huge meal and dealing with the kitchen.  We stared at each other.  Where in the world had this idea come from?  We had never talked about caroling.  What did he know about caroling?

            As is his practice, he kept on…with determination.  “Come on…we need to go caroling down the street.  It’ll be fun.”  And we could think of no reason why not.  We live at the end of a short street with little traffic…a nice setting for a happy activity.  Becky called her friend who came right over with her children and a group of ten of us headed out.  Left that kitchen in total disarray and went caroling. 

            As we made our way from house to house, I teared up at the reception from our neighbors.  Several came to the front of their homes when they heard our voices, opened doors and windows and came out to greet us with big smiles.  It was a first for my small neighborhood. 

            What makes this story even more special is that Nathaniel is deaf.  He has two cochlear implants which enable him to hear and we are so thankful for that.  At the time of this story, he had just received his first implant after wearing a hearing aid for two years.  And he was bugging the doctors to give him his second cochlear.  He got the second implant a month later.  When his mother became emotional before the first implant surgery, his reply was simply, “Mommy, I just want to hear.”

            And so he marched happily down the street that night, with a smile that would light up Times Square, singing Christmas carols for my neighbors. 

We came to adore Him…Christ the Lord.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Interesting Intersection

It was a perfect description.  Anyone driving on that street near my house would know immediately what my friend was saying.  In touting a Saturday morning local event, she said "It's at the church near the 
interesting intersection."  

Got it.

I drive there almost every day.  It's one of those road places that have life lessons built in.  How many times have I sat at that place and thought "You could get killed here."  The object is not to get killed here.  Or even banged up.  So how do I avoid it?  I could never describe to you the layout of this particular intersection.  And yes, my friend, interesting intersection fits perfectly.  First  of all, on your approach, pick your lane depending on where you want to go.  The intersection is directly west of a fork in the road so the cars coming from the east might go behind you or in front of you.  You never know.   Proceed to the stop sign with caution.  Be ready to slam on the brakes at any moment lest a car coming from the east will suddenly be in your path.  And it will be moving fast. 

 At the same time, cars will be appearing from the west.  They might be going straight headed for any of three options on the main road.  They will also be moving fast, hoping to hit the traffic light to their advantage.  I'm telling you, it's a jungle out there.  And the jungle could hurt you bad.  As I said, pick your lane.  Look in all directions three times.  Look again.  When you think you're safe, proceed into the intersection with caution, fear and trembling, ready to stomp on the brakes at any moment.  
And stay in your lane!

In case you haven't noticed, life is full of interesting intersections.   We come to them every day in one way or the other.  How we proceed in the moment could have far-reaching consequences or simply a momentary inconvenience.  Just yesterday, as I exited the local mall I came to an intersection choice that was compounded by Friday afternoon traffic.  Being a person of a certain age, I've seen this choice before.  "Not dealing with this..." said my brain.  And I made the choice to abandon the direct route to my destination through the heart of the busy intersection.  I turned the other way, drove all the way around the mall to a less hazardous option.  And breathed easier.

What about those other life choices.  The ones that aren't based on physical circumstances involving cars and traffic.  The picture shows the intersection of a mountain road and a river.  The road is steep, rocky, and narrow.  But if I don't stay on the road, I'm crashed into the river...the wet, rocky river that doesn't go at all where I need to go.  The choice: keep it on the narrow road or 
I'm buried in water and rocks and mud.  

Robert Frost said it with his memorable line:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

Have you encountered an interesting intersection lately?
Look in all directions.  Proceed with caution.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Breezes and Shadows

Some of the best things in life are imperceptible.
- Sue Holbrook

And often those imperceptible things don't need a lot of words.  Shadows, breezes.  Faith breezes.

The shadows show the gentle breeze.  It was faith that brought me here.  I needed a touch from that gentle hand of God.  The one you have to be still and quiet within yourself to feel.  

I sat.  And watched.  And listened.  And felt.  The waves came and drew back.  Children looked for shells.  Sandpipers scoured the shore for tidbits of food hidden in the sand and chirped their conversations as they scampered about.

This was truly a Faith Breeze.  Needed salve for the spirit.  I recommend it.

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.  (Psalm 103:1)