Denials in Deed

Originally published for my church family as part of the Brentwood Baptist Daily Devotional.

Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 

Luke 22:56-57

Read Luke 22:54-62

I would love to roll my eyes at Peter’s failure by the courtyard fire. After all, mere hours before this triple denial, the man had assured Jesus of his willingness to stick with Him even if it meant prison or death.  Brave but hollow words that crumbled under the fierce strain of being noticed by – not a powerful official or Roman legionary – but a servant girl.

Yes, I would like to give a little self-satisfied chuckle at Peter’s crippling fear of the powerless. However, the truth is, I have been just as impulsive in my own walk with the Lord and just as faithless.

On a good day, full of the joy of the Lord and an awe-inspiring sense of His presence, I might swear my fealty, thoroughly convinced in mind and heart of my ceaseless devotion to Him.  I will do anything – even die for you, Lord!

But am I truly willing to live for Him?

Like Peter, my denials are not in moments of intimate fellowship with the Lord but when I’m apart from Him, out in the cold and the dark and trying to determine my next steps. However, unlike Peter, my denials are subtle and more difficult to spot.

My repudiations are uglier and more hypocritical than Peter’s because they occur when my proclamations of Jesus fail to match my actual responses to both hardship and pleasure.

Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek when struck, but I’m more apt to strike back in anger when hurt – literally or verbally.

He calls us to lay down our lives for others, but my tendency is to defend my rights from them.

He commands us seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; I often prioritize comfort, convenience, or even entertainment.

He says forgive; I allow for bitterness and grudges.

And make no mistake, these actions and others like them deny the Lord’s trustworthiness and reality in far more destructive ways than words. By my idolatry of self and self-reliance, by seeking worldly things above His Spirit and Truth, and in all ways where my words of devotion to Him are proven empty, His worthiness and goodness are discredited to a closely watching world.

Oh Lord, forgive my unbelief and overcome it! Shape me into a truly faithful and dedicated disciple who exalts You always in both word and deed, amen.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. In what areas of your life do you deny the truth of our faith or the reality of Jesus by your actions or responses?
  2. How can you best show a world filled with anger, fear, and hopelessness that the hope we have in Jesus is true and worth any sacrifice?
  3. Pray for awareness of these sneaky denials in your life and ask for help in better aligning your life with the one Jesus gave us an example of by His.

The Long Haul

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

2 Corinthians 1:8-9

I thought I’d steal a few precious minutes to give an update from my little corner of the South. A quick note to my Facebook followers before I dive in: Even if this article posts to Facebook, I am taking a break from Zuckerberg’s social media platforms for a time. So if you have a comment to share, please share it here on WordPress… or better yet, consider helping support this writing ministry by visiting my Patreon page! Become a Patron!

I’ll be offering extras for my Patreon supporters, building in more as I go, but this blog will remain free (and sparse so long as our family’s needs require me to work outside the home!)

It’s been an interesting year. I’ve been working part-time at my kids’ school teaching cell phone photography to middle school students – a feat roughly equivalent to swallowing live eels while guiding two dogs, eighteen kittens, and a chicken safely through New York City using a homemade map and the Force.

And while it must be admitted that middle schoolers spend more energy attempting to circumnavigate the school’s network restrictions than taking photos with their phones, it can still be fun to see the photos they do take and hear their thoughts.

Then a week before Christmas break, I came down with the Bane of 2020 – COVID 19. My symptoms were mild and I recovered at home over the break. But a couple weeks after I began feeling better, the body aches and fatigue came crashing back. And again a couple weeks after that… and again… and again…

So here I am in mid-March wrestling with unpleasant facts: Not only am I blessed with the invisible illness of ME/CFS, I also get a free – and equally invisible – membership to the COVID Long Haulers’ Club.

Not fun. Incredibly humbling. But nonetheless, I am blessed.

I admit, this blessing doesn’t really feel like one. If given a menu of blessings, it isn’t one I would have selected. And it doesn’t go particularly well with the 70% pay reduction our family tasted in 2020, nor with the 2-car, 4-driver dynamic we’ve been noshing on since last fall, nor with any of the banquet of bland fiscal fare we’ve been sampling in the last 18 or so months. But it’s a blessing still.

I don’t know when, I don’t know why, and I absolutely don’t know how, but I do know the Lord will use this newest struggle in some way for the comfort of His people. Perhaps in some way I will be able to speak to those who share in this weird and unpredictable cycle of flu-like aching and exhaustion and point them to the comfort I have in Christ.

Or maybe the Lord simply wants to make His power abundantly known in my profound weakness.

I have no idea what to expect. All I know is that I committed myself years ago to walk the narrow, difficult path that leads to life. Whether this current dark valley is a brief foray of reduced visibility or just the beginnings of another steep descent into utter blackness, I have no way of knowing. The road curves just ahead and I have only enough Light for the path beneath my feet.

Still, no matter where this Way leads and no matter how short or long the journey, I know I never walk alone. The Lord Yeshua is with me. Regardless of the personal cost, with Him as my Guide I am in it for the long haul.

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.

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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

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!

A Very 2020 Christmas Break

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Revelation 1:8

Today is officially the first day of Christmas break for my people and me. But for us, it started a bit early this year.

Thanks, COVID-19.

That’s right. Yours truly has been in quarantine since Tuesday when I went for my COVID test. It was positive, and my last week of school suddenly became my first week of break.

I only felt glued-to-my-bed lousy for a couple of days, though my brain seems to have decided it wanted no part of the diagnosis and vacated for warmer (or perhaps healthier) climes. It took my energy with it, too. Stinkin’ deserters.

The worst of it has been my guilt at realizing what I thought were issues caused by extra coffee the day before my test were actually early COVID symptoms. And the most annoying symptom so far is the exposure of my ultimate parenting fail: When I emerged from my bed for the first time, I discovered my husband had been doing all the dishes while my girls did… whatever it is teenage girls do.

But evidently they were very busy with it, assuring me that they did “lots of cleaning” – which I can only assume was done at a neighbor’s house since my own shows a scandalous lack of either cleanliness or order.

Even though the illness tossed a pipe bomb into my plans for last week (not to mention shattered any illusions I may have still clung to that my girls were responsible, capable young adults), I’m not upset.

Oh I admit, I did look forward to my final devotional with my students. I had hoped to make some homemade chocolate-dipped strawberry marshmallows to share with the staff, and I did really want to celebrate my official entrance into menopause with a treat made by my favorite Magical Baking Fairy But I really can’t complain.

After all, this is Advent – the time of year when (I hope) we all look forward to the future arrival of Jesus while celebrating His first.

In the face of what He did for me the first time around, I can really only feel gratitude and sorrow. Gratitude for what He gave for me; sorrow for how little I give Him in return. But mostly, I feel joy. Joy for the privilege of knowing Him; joy for the promise of eternity to get to know Him more.

As I contemplate both Advents, I can’t help but think of my own arrival at the end of this race, whenever it may be. When I think of the great day when I will officially enter into eternity with God, all other celebrations pale in comparison. I pray it is the same for you.

Merry Christmas!

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.

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