Freedom: You Keep Using That Word…

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

(Galatians 5:1)

Let freedom ring. Right?

Like nearly every word in this information-glutted world, it’s helpful to know what it is the speaker or writer is celebrating freedom from. Not all freedoms are created equal.

I am very thankful to live in a country which holds (for now, at least) to some degree of political freedom. Of course, as history tells us, power always seems to centralize among the powerful. Though technically a democratic republic, the actual choice is between two groups of wealthy and influential people. I am free to choose which of the two will come close to representing my values in government, or I am free to choose among the varied parties certain to lose.

Even yet, remains a sort of freedom, if one continually reminding me that I am a sojourner here.

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

(1Peter 2:15-17)

But what disturbs me far more than the escalating atrophy of economic, political, and social freedoms in America is the way many of my fellow followers of Jesus seem to confuse these with the sort of freedom the Lord gave up His life to provide.

This is becoming especially evident as those sorts of freedoms become especially more fragile. In this climate, so many well-meaning brethren charge ahead into all sorts of secular activism while waving the banner of the Kingdom of God with zeal. They don’t even seem to realize the irony. Many early devotees of Jesus believed He came as a political King as well.

But what Christ died to set us free from was not political tyranny.

My friends, we may have been sold the fantasy of utopia on earth and been raised in the context of the American Dream, but if we are in Christ, we need to keep an eye on what true freedom is really all about. I’ll give you a hint – it isn’t about guns or masks or toilet paper.

So let’s step take a break from not treading on one another and look at the One we have all trod upon.

Who could be more free than the Author of life? Yet He, the Almighty Creator – this Messiah laid aside His Divine freedom and became a part of His own creation. The Infinite confined Himself to finite boundaries; submitting Himself to being human with all the awful turmoil it brings; to die at the hands of people created through Him, nailed to a tree by iron spikes, both of which were also made through Him.

And He did it to set us free – not from ideologies we feel oppressed by nor from rules that hurt our feelings – but from sin.

The real truth is, we do not take our crimes against God anywhere near seriously enough to comprehend what a gift this is. But that’s a broader topic and I’m already stuffing in too many words for the average modern mind’s patience.

Don’t miss this fact, though: Jesus accomplished our freedom by submitting Himself to death at the hands of Rome – a tyrannical foreign government which occupied Israel at the time. Let that one sink in.

Instead of setting us free to make our own choices, Christ set us free from slavery to the corruption-laced idiocy of our natural bents.

For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

(2Pe 2:18-19)

He did not set us free to pursue our own gratification in any form. Rather, He set us free from the slavish need to gratify the insatiable self.

His Spirit enables us to actually reach for righteousness – something we are fully incapable of while chained in slavery to our own destructive desires. Heck, on our own, we don’t even glance at righteousness, much less reach for it.

That’s the true freedom Jesus offers – the freedom to cover the shriveled sickness of our fallen appetites and our obsessive fixation with self and dress instead in respectability. He offers as a garment His own noble nature; a nature always and forever righteous and free from wrongdoing.

To live forever with Him, forever free from the guilt, sorrow, and shame with which sin stains even our most virtuous and selfless moments.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

(John 8:34-36)

A freedom worth fighting for.

Love: You Keep Using That Word…

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

John 15:12-14

The word love has a flexible usage in American English. It refers to anything from a passionate romantic attachment to a strong fondness for a flavor or aroma.

People use love to describe their feelings for their pet, their children, family, or their spouse. Love might describe an act rooted in compassion or an act stemming from sexual arousal or even a score in a tennis match.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Inigo Montoya

Like I said, it is a very flexible word.

But what does it mean? I guess that’s the problem with English. Love literally means all those things in my native tongue – and more.

"Love is patient and kind...

Even with all this flexibility, we the people still manage to misuse the term. We like to take a word that can perform the grammatical equivalent of a backbend and try to force it into something much more like a Gordian knot.

         "love does not envy or boast ...

For example, much of what is perpetrated in the name of love today would be more accurately termed indulgence or indifference. And if we’re brutally honest, sometimes we (myself included) use the word love as a neat slight of hand to cover our own laziness or fear of confrontation.

                  "it is not arrogant or rude ...

But perhaps the most gruesome twisting of this word comes when it’s applied in the name of my Lord to condone behaviors He actually gave His life to save us from. Or in plain terms, when sin is not only tolerated but celebrated and this celebration is called love.

                         "Love does not insist on its own way ... 

The truth is, sin is serious business. Deadly serious. And Jesus died to set us free from it. Not so we could run straight back into its often inviting – but always lethal – embrace.

                                      "it is not irritable or resentful...

Actual love should desire the best situation possible in the long term for the beloved, not just his or her short-term pleasure.

                                               "Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing...

For example, loving my children means laboring to instill a good work ethic into them both by example and by correcting laziness when it shows – even though it may be easier for me (and more fun for them) if I allowed their lives to be a nonstop Netflix and video gaming binge.

                                                             "But rejoices with the truth."  
                                                                     - 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

However, entertainment consumption never pays the bills, so if I take the easy route here and allow my kids a permanent pass on homework and chores, I’m actually inflicting damage by helping form habits and addictions that will hurt them in the long run.

Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man…

Proverbs 21:17a

Now take that one example and magnify it into a thousand careless acts of selfishness which impact eternity. Or maybe just imagine a couple thousand years, because eternity is too mind-bogglingly long to grasp. Which would you rather have: 80 years of fun and games followed by 1920 of agony? Or the reverse with unbounded joy tacked on for good measure?

And how many of us truly have agony for all our years? Few indeed, though even then, eternal joy would be worth it.

Now if we really believe what Jesus says, that He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and if we honestly love others, we’ll not only tell them about the glorious freedom from sin and eternal life He offers; we will behave as though we believe it, too.

Those Worrisome Words – Christian

For series background info, see my previous post.

Our kickoff word is Christian.

Sooooo many people use this word, and yet in utter sincerity, I do not think it means what they think it means.

Nerd Alert – brief foray into etymology ahead!!

The word Christian actually comes from a Greek word which was coined not long after the death of the Christ, who was likely called Yeshua by His contemporaries and more commonly known today by the transliterated and (possibly Swiss-ified from the Geneva Bible translation) name, Jesus.

Long story short, His Greek title would have been (transliterated), Christos. Christianos was the Greek derivative used to refer collectively to those who followed His Way not long after His death. The English is easy to spot from there.

But what does the word mean? What, exactly, makes a person a Christian?

I’ve had a virtual conversation with an atheist who believes Adolf Hitler was a Christian. And from his perspective, it makes sense. After all, Hitler belonged to a nation which identified itself as a Christian nation, he mentioned Divine Providence (a way of referring to God) many times in his speeches, wrote about his concept of God and the Divine Image in his autobiography, and even proclaimed Jesus as Savior and Lord during a speech or two.

Surely that’s enough to make him a Christian, right?

After all, if yours truly, a mother of three, suddenly chooses to identify as a man, I can be a man – thus saith the progressive logic of the current century and thus the atheist’s puzzling little piece fits, though admittedly the picture is more a puzzle assembled than if it remained in scattered pieces.

The truth is, Hitler also used the term Christian while remaining ignorant of its actual meaning. Consider this quote straight from the pen of the mustachioed Austrian madman himself:

It would be better if they left this [missionary] work alone, and if, in its stead, they tried to teach people in Europe, kindly and seriously, that it is much more pleasing to God if a couple that is not of healthy stock were to show loving kindness to some poor orphan and become a father and mother to him, rather than give life to a sickly child that will be a cause of suffering and unhappiness to all.

Adolf Hitler, from Mein Kampf

According to the deceased dictator’s philosophy, the God-honoring Christian thing to do is to sterilize the sick and infirm, allowing them to perhaps raise some healthy orphan rather than perpetuate their inferior genetic stock.

He goes on to sing the praises of eugenics. The gist of this section of merry old Adolf’s autobiography is that allowing unhealthy, crippled, mentally deficient, or “racially impure” (presumably by his standard) people to procreate is an act of immorality.

Logically consistent, but abhorrently far from what Jesus actually lived and died to accomplish. Hitler shaped his concept of God, Christianity, and morality around his lifestyle, ethnic makeup, and opinions rather than shaping his worldview around the actual Christ as presented in His Word.

Like so many of us still do today, deceiving ourselves that we have no kinship with a freak like Hitler. Too many of us fail to see the inherent dangers of redefining what it means to follow Christ.

So is a Christian merely a person who identifies himself with the Christ and calls Jesus his Savior and Lord?

Not according to the Christ Himself:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7:21

The Lord goes on to declare even some people who call Him Lord and do incredible feats – things I’ve certainly never accomplished – in His name will not enter. Jesus labels these Christ-proclaiming high-performers workers of lawlessness, not Christians.

So what is a Christian, if not a person who calls the Christ Lord?

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

John 14:23

There’s the start of the definition, though it’s necessary to know Jesus’s commands. Read Matthew 16:21-27, John 13, John 15 – heck, really you need to read the entire Book and study the types of Christ in the Old Covenant before moving on to study the actual Christ in the Gospels and letters making up the New Covenant.

To know what a Christian is, study the Christ. And remember that He tells us we can know them by their fruits.

A person is not a Christian just because they say they are, nor because they do a little Divine name-dropping or throw out a frequent, “Praise the Lord!”

Instead, observe their fruit. Do his actions bring acclaim to himself? Does her lifestyle honor herself?

Or do they imitate the life of Christ?

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:12-13

Words That May Not Mean What You Think They Mean

In honor of the end of a year filled with=racial tension, pandemics, heated debates over small bits of cloth, and other nonsense, I thought it would be fun to incorporate one of my favorite quotes from The Princess Bride into a blog series. That is, assuming I have time to write said series, and assuming anyone still reads blogs since I’ve been MIA dealing with analog life stuff for a few months.

Who am I kidding? Analog life keeps me busy enough that the only time I’ve actually had to write was during my COVID-19 infection quarantine when my brain decided to socially distance itself from the rest of my body and what was left behind behaved as if a good 14 hours or so of sleep provided only enough energy to maintain a semi-conscious state for the remaining 10 hours of the day.

Not a single minute of which became writing time.

Still, this quote is appropriate for the “It’s not religion; it’s a relationship,” rather backwards, inside-out, and top-down sort of non-religion-religionesque type of thingie that the world calls Christianity.

And so, from the mouth of the beloved fencing expert/professional vengeance-seeker, Inigo Montoya, I give you one of my top 127 favorite quotes from the movie:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Inigo Montoya

Ta-da!

Yes that’s right, I’m going to dip my toes into the murky tide of how some words are commonly used as opposed to what they actually mean.

In doing so, I imagine I will step on a few toes and maybe stub mine a time or two. Even still, I think it’s a good practice to stop and think about the words we are tossing about like whiffle balls in case they might be hand grenades.

Or at least, maybe we should take a moment to explore the words we are using to ensure the sounds coming from our faces are being interpreted according to our intent.

I know, I know…

Inconceivable!

Stay tuned for an irregularly-published series on words and their meanings…

Aftermath

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ…
Read the rest of Luke 2:25-35

Luke 2:25-26

Another Christmas morning is in the books. For several weeks now, most of us have been caught up in a whirlwind of parties and preparation, baking and shopping, wrapping and decorating.

Today we stand in the aftermath. The seasonal crescendo has come and gone, leaving behind memories, decorations, and perhaps a few stray shreds of wrapping paper beneath the sofa. The excitement wanes as we once again submit to the tyranny of the mundane.

I wonder… in the days after the first Christmas, did Mary and Joseph experience a similar sense of encroaching ordinariness? Their lives had been turned on end by angelic announcements followed by a singular pregnancy and the anticipation of Messiah.

I imagine the high emotions of those days – awe at the coming task of parenting the Son of God; sorrow over rejection from friends and family who see only evidence of promiscuity in the swelling of Mary’s belly.

But now it was all past. The daily drudgery of caring for the Infant, providing food and shelter, and waiting out the time of purification had settled in.

Do you sometimes wonder, “Is this it?”

Do you think our Lord’s human parents did also?

This is the point when Simeon entered – a full forty days after the drama had faded into routine. But Simeon did not see merely another couple with a child performing the necessary rites of a Torah-observant Jewish family. Simeon saw the glory of the King through the ordinariness of daily Jewish life and new parent fatigue. And he embraced the Babe, proclaiming the good news and praising God as he did.

Perhaps we can learn from Simeon. Perhaps we, too, can diligently seek our Savior in the midst of familiar workaday routine. What if we embraced every tiny glimpse of Him, proclaiming the mercy and praise of God to our families each day as we’re going about the necessary duties of life?

Perhaps we can use this time to teach our kids that Christmas isn’t Christmas because of the gifts and twinkling lights, but because of Christ. Maybe together, we can start identifying Christ in our everyday lives and praising His goodness to all who stand near.

Maybe for us, every day can be Christmas.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. What are some practical steps you can take to discover Jesus in the middle of your day-to-day life?
  2. How can you celebrate the birth of our Savior long after the seasonal festivities have ceased?
  3. Try instituting a new habit: With your family, spouse, small group, or a couple of friends, start a daily conversation about where each person saw Jesus in their day.  This can be done verbally in conversation or via text, email, or whatever. Just learning to recognize and acknowledge Him in our lives can be tremendous!

You Keep Using That Word, Part 2: Progressive

I need to preface this with a shoutout to the author whose podcast and book put a name to a dark and nameless dissonance I’d been often frustrated by in my walk with the Lord.

As an atheist who came to know God through the Bible long before stepping into a church congregation, I’d puzzled for years over a disconnect I found between me and some who call themselves Christian. We used the same terms, claimed the same Lord, even referenced a few of the same Scriptures, but what we meant by these things didn’t seem to mesh.

Then I heard Alisa Childers reference Progressive Christianity. Whether by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, instinct, or both, I knew this was the name of the lurking menace I’d encountered.

If you’re looking for an excellent Christmas present or a great Christmastime read for yourself, I HIGHLY recommend Another Gospel? by Alisa Childers. She writes with grace, tact, and candor of how a self-proclaimed “flaky artist type” took a plunge into the deep waters of apologetics and learned that her faith is built on Rock-solid ground.

Buy it. Read it. You won’t be sorry. Now on to today’s program:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

Galatians 1:6-8

Progressive. The word just sounds so… dynamic, doesn’t it?

It hints at sophistication; of gaining ground. When attached to a noun, this adjective lends a sense of importance, of forward motion, and of… well, of progress.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

– Inigo Montoya

But in truth, progress isn’t the significant thing. Making progress in the right direction is of far greater importance.

Four times now, I’ve made excellent progress on a hike – along a route that diverged moderately from the planned path. Once my companion and I forsook the path entirely and struck out on our own.

Such enthusiastic and progressive hiking experiences culminated in a variety of results. One particularly memorable result involved an unintended tour of adjacent mountaintops while keeping one eye on the sun’s position in the sky and the other on our (fortunately) distinctive goal.

We did make it to the goal before sunset, though our appearance must have been alarming. We were immediately offered food and water.

I suppose experiences like these have taught me to be cautious of vague descriptors such as progressive.

So when I first heard of “progressive Christianity,” I initially responded with a mixture of puzzled disbelief and a primal shock of icy horror.

If progressing up the wrong mountainside prompted wide-eyed day hikers to thrust their half-empty water bottles towards me, what is the appropriate response for people progressing towards the wrong eternity?

Though we’re easily lulled into believing our physical, mental, and emotional needs are the most important thing in life, the plight of those meandering comfortably and happily down the broad path to destruction is far more desperate than, say, a starving hiker lost in the backcountry with nothing but the clothes on his body and the seal of the Holy Spirit on his heart.

Progressive Christianity shares very little with actual followers of Jesus the Christ. It is progressively moving towards quite a different goal. A more honest devotee would call it progressive churchianity – or even what it is – secular humanism dressed in a dollar-store Jesus costume complete with Anglo-Saxon features.

Ironically, Christianity as it is understood through the Word of God, the teachings of the Christ, and the early Church is progressive.

It speaks of progressively becoming more like Jesus of Nazareth; of progressively dying to oneself and one’s sin; of daily progress towards the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Of progressive expectations of persecution and suffering laced with the joy of knowing it all has a purpose and an eternal hope.

However, the other thing wears the name of Christianity much like decaf wears the name of coffee. It has little of the flavor and none of the power.

What passes under the title of progressive Christianity has a form of godliness but denies its power. It promises something which resembles peace on earth and good will towards men while assuming a lack of peace and good will among men is the worst part.

Progressive Christianity treats the spiritual equivalent of ebola with a splash of lavender essential oil and a sweet little smile.

And it is making progress in our churches. Just not in the right direction.

Christianity is Not a Political Movement

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Election day in my country is just around the corner, and this year the rhetoric is particularly fierce. We’re hip-deep in a pandemic and institutions everywhere are struggling to make decisions on how best to cope.

Of course, this is America and we the people are brimming with unasked for, sometimes ill-informed, but nevertheless staunchly-held opinions. Whether we’ve ever run a school or a restaurant or not, we are dead-certain we know the right way (this typically being the way which best suits our lifestyle).

If you’re in any form of institutional leadership, the one thing you can be certain of today is your decisions will make someone furious. You cannot win. For every vehement YES, you can find at least one equally emphatic NO.

And on it goes. But overall, I’ve come to expect such things from the secular world. What makes my heart sink is to hear such fuming from the mouths of people who claim the name of Christ even inside the Church.

It seems we’ve forgotten Jesus did not die to save us from masks or Democrats.

Politics, lockdowns, viruses, vaccines – none of these are the real problem. Sin is. Sin is a cancer much more malignant than any political ideology, virus, or social conspiracy. And with a whopping 100% fatality rate, it’s far more deadly.

All who die in their sins are forever beyond hope. This is news that ought to keep us up nights; not the fleeting idiocy of a handful of politicians; not the failures of our public education system; not even the unspeakable horrors of being asked to wear a bit of cloth over our mouth and nose.

Because of the staggering consequences of lives lived without Christ, if we call ourselves Christian, we ought to be busy rejoicing in our sufferings and preparing to give an answer for the hope that is in us with both gentleness and reverence.

We ought to be considering Him who endured such hostility as a Roman flogging and the cross against Himself so we may not grow weary or fainthearted. So we don’t lose sight of His mission to go and make disciples, teaching them to obey Him.

We need to remember Jesus does not call us to stand up and fight for our rights and freedoms. It’s actually quite the opposite: He calls us to deny ourselves.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Luke 9:23-24

No matter how the election turns out or how few people admire our perspective, we are still called to respect those whom God appoints to govern over us. We are called to pray for them. And even (whether we agree or not), to obey them so long as their laws do not violate the absolute laws of our King.

God is the true Sovereign. And He is less interested in our stance on masks or reopening than on our humble obedience in walking as Jesus walked.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

Romans 13:1-2

Whatever happens before, during, and after the election, if we call ourselves by the holy Name of Christ, let us be sure of two things:

First, that our behavior is Christ-like. Self-denying. Self-sacrificing. Totally obedient to the Father and both immersed and well-versed in the Scriptures. Humble.

And second, that our definition of Christlikeness comes from what the Word of Truth teaches about Him and not from this madly crumbling culture.

At the very least, let’s resolve not to throw a temper-tantrum when we don’t get our way, dragging the reputation of He whose image we bear down with us as we flail in the mud.

PS – Click here to listen to an excellent message on a similar topic. Stay through the song – there’s more!

The One I Forgot To Post

Written for my church family for October 1, 2020

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever.

2 Timothy 4:16-18

Devotion

Written by Heather Davis from the Station Hill Campus

The late Ravi Zacharias once wrote, “Beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing.”

Ravi has finished well. According to his daughter, “He turned every conversation to Jesus and what the Lord had done,” until he no longer had strength to speak. He reminds me of the apostle Paul. Paul also used his final days to point others to the goodness of the Lord, putting pen to parchment in order to encourage younger disciples to stay strong. His words still encourage us today.

But ministry wasn’t easy on Paul. In his many travels, he endured varied forms of beatings, hunger, thirst, and frequent danger, only to find himself deserted by friends at his defense following his final arrest in Rome. Yet rather than bitter brooding over this slight, his letters from prison urged others to stay the course—because although the race is hard, the end is worthwhile.

What compelled these two men to spend every possible moment sharing their hope in Christ and strengthening believers? I believe they felt the brevity of this life and the weight of eternity for those who did not yet know the Lord. To the end, they kept their eyes fixed on the Founder and Perfecter of their faith. The rest flowed naturally from His Spirit welling up within them.

I can’t speak for you, but I find it all too easy to fixate on self and circumstance. When I do, whether my days are filled with difficulties or comforts, the temporary things of this world loom large.

But when I set my mind on the goodness of my God and His offer of eternal life and joy in Christ, the jaw-dropping ceaselessness and permanence of eternity come into razor-keen focus. Suddenly my present entertainment or struggle seems trifling. Instead, my awe of God reminds me: people are dying without Jesus, and when they face the ultimate Judge, they will be truly alone. Others are drifting from the Truth and being led astray by false teaching, and they need discipling to keep them mindful of the Way.

With the King of kings as my focal point, I begin to view everything in terms of eternity. No matter what happens to my physical body, I have a hope beyond time.

But my friends—or even my enemies—may not. So I keep pressing on.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:23

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. What occupies your thoughts more—your present circumstance or your eternal blessing in Christ?
  2. What are some small, daily habits you can form to make discipleship a natural part of your life?
  3. If you aren’t already passionate about discipling others in obedience to Christ, consider committing to prayer that the Lord will change your heart and focus to be in line with His command to make disciples.
  4. Memorize Deuteronomy 6:4-9 with your family or friends. Print or write it out and post it somewhere as a daily reminder for discipleship.

Comfort Zones

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Mark 1:16-18

My analog life is coming at me hard and fast these days, which hasn’t allowed a great deal of time for writing or bloggish fellowship. I miss everyone, but I also know this is a busy-but-brief season.

In two short years, my nest will likely be empty of all but animal fur, echoing with the memories of busy teenagers and their friends.

Before I grow nostalgic over events yet to be, allow me to segue into a funny moment I recently enjoyed with my heavenly Father. It happened during new faculty orientation when my boss mentioned the need to step out of our comfort zones.

My comfort zone. I stopped just short of laughing aloud.

(Legitimate reminiscence begins here).

As a young atheist, I swore I would never have children, aspiring instead to the status of eccentric aunt. I would spoil my nieces and nephews with the money I earned from the cool job I’d have – a job which I adamantly declared would NOT be teaching.

However, God did not allow me to continue in my atheism long, startling me into full awareness of Him by gifting me with our son, Nathan – whose name I much later learned is Hebrew for “He gives.”

Do you enjoy irony?

Evidently, so does my God.

Before the dust settled around the collapsed house of cards my old worldview turned out to be, God gave me two more children in fairly rapid succession.  But He was only setting the stage.

Now that He had my attention with an undeniable call to motherhood, He placed a new calling on my life: Homeschooling.

What, Lord?? You must be kidding!”

He wasn’t.

He called me to teach my children – not only about Him, but about reading, writing, and all the things as well. In the meantime, the Lord continued removing cushions from my comfort zone. 

For example, I was painfully shy and loathed talking in groups. He had plans for that, too.

You know that awkward silence that happens when a group leader asks a question and everyone looks at the floor and hopes someone else will speak up? Guess who gets to break those silences? Turns out, speaking up was a nonsensical fear.

To avoid writing a lengthy, multi-part series about the methodical deconstruction of my comfort zone, let me fast forward a bit.

After a decade of homeschooling, breaking awkward silences, teaching classes of young children, and a grand array of other things I said I’d never do, I thought I’d learned my lesson pretty well. However, I’m afraid I did state out loud to others that middle school students were not my favorite age group.

You see where this is going, don’t you? I should have…

Back to orientation for my new job – as an office assistant and a middle school photography teacher.

On the way home, I talked with the Lord, reflecting about how I no longer had a comfort zone. Since my first faltering steps of obedience, He’s taken me on a whirlwind journey down overgrown paths and little-used avenues in directions I didn’t even know existed.

I’ve never once known what is coming next, but somehow I’ve lost my anxiety about the future along the way. Pretty sure I dropped it along with a sizeable hunk of self-interest during one of many full-bore pivots around a blind hairpin turn.

Anyway, as we talked, I heard that beloved, oh-so-familiar whisper. You still have a Comfort Zone; just not the same one.

He’s right. He always is.

My comfort zone is much more expansive than it used to be. It’s less a zone than an Eternity.

You see, my present comfort zone is precisely in the middle of God’s will. It’s always an adventure, not always exactly comfortable for my flesh, but it is the safest and best place I can be.  

And it’s exactly where I want to be.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, 
because he trusts in You.
Trust in the Lord forever, 
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
Isaiah 26:3-4

Unmasked

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

2 Timothy 2:3-4

Here’s a bit of irony for you: the issue of whether or not to wear a mask has unmasked a disturbing dereliction of duty within the Church.

If only the problem were confined to small bits of cloth…

But it isn’t. Every time I browse social media, a heaviness invades my heart.

So much of my feed brims with frustration. So many responses are subtly, or even overtly, hostile. So many opinions flung into virtual print seethe with smugness and accusation but lack verifiable data.

It’s sad to see the bickering in the secular world, but it’s appalling to see it within the Body of Christ. It’s as if we’ve forgotten who our enemy is.

Our enemy is not the lady asking you to please put on a mask in the grocery entryway, nor is it the man walking around without one.

Politicians, political parties, billion dollar industries, liberals, conservatives, illnesses, treatments, “THEM” – none of these are our enemies. And none will be our savior.

In truth, all the issues causing us distress and mouth-foaming rage are temporary. Transient. A vapor soon dispersed by the wind.

For those of us who are in Christ, the time we spend here is not a matter of rights or politics or safety. It’s a matter of eternal life or death.

Brothers and sisters, the hour is growing late. We are ambassadors for the King, and it’s imperative we remember what this means.

And if I may be frank, getting caught up in the swirling digital babble clamoring over politics and masks and disease numbers and the maelstrom of controversy does not point the hurting, sin-weary heart to Christ.

We are called to share in suffering, not dodge it. We willingly sacrifice all else in order to proclaim forgiveness of sin through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If we are in Christ, our allegiance is not to any worldly agenda. It is to God’s agenda, and it we take it up at any cost to ourselves. A quick glance through the pages of Scripture yields several examples.

Jeremiah endured public ridicule and imprisonment, but not for his rights – for the Word of God. And he did it after God told him no one would listen.

Hosea did not place his right to a happy and satisfying marriage over his obedience to God’s command to marry an unfaithful prostitute. The command of God superseded his rights and he knew it. And acted on it.

Ezekiel did not spend over a year lying on his left side and eating bread baked over a poop fire because it brought him joy. He did it for the Lord.

Paul did not suffer persecution, torture, and chains by standing up for his earthly freedoms. He, too, did it for the honor of serving the Lord.

They knew what today’s Church seems to have forgotten. This world is dark, broken, horrible. Bad things will happen. And yes, we will lose rights and freedoms; we will be persecuted. We will suffer harm.

But if we belong to Christ, we will not be overcome so long as we remain faithful to Him and His calling on our lives. But we must have a willingness to share in suffering as good soldiers.

The enemy is not out there, fudging numbers and plotting to cover the faces of the globe with cloth. The true enemy works intimately, stirring up our pride; our selfishness; our sin.

Mine. Yours.

And he is gloating over our distraction from our primary purpose as ambassadors for the Kingdom of God. Let’s no longer give him the satisfaction.

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, 
but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 
Rejoice always, 
pray without ceasing, 
give thanks in all circumstances; 
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 
Do not quench the Spirit. 
Do not despise prophecies, but test everything;
hold fast what is good. 
Abstain from every form of evil. 
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, 
and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:15-24