Birthday Message from “The Velveteen Rabbit”

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day.”

Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?”  asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” *

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I recently celebrated a birthday and received from a beloved client a beautifully bound edition of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” the classic of children’s literature. Somehow, though surrounded by books throughout my childhood, I missed out on this particular story.

It is clearly much more than a sweet story for children. When I shared the passage above with some friends of similar age (60-something) at my birthday gathering, we all got tears in our eyes and then laughter broke out as we acknowledged how our “hair has been loved off,” our eyesight has diminished, our joints are too loose or too tight, and we even feel pretty shabby some days.

What comforting words from this Skin Horse! How we need to be reminded sometimes that it’s not the stuff the world sees on the outside that defines our value or beauty. As the Apostle Peter instructed the godly women who were followers of Jesus,

  Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful” (1 Peter 3:3-5).

According to the Skin Horse, and according to the Scripture, those whose lives are consumed with love and grace toward others–even though it costs a lot and wears us down with time–carry a beauty that can’t be denied.

This makes growing older an adventure to embrace rather than a tragedy to endure.

Maybe this Horse had read the Bible. His description of those who become REAL is a good match for the Bible’s illustrations of those who become holy and whole. They give and receive love easily, and don’t make unreasonable demands of others. They will suffer harm to themselves rather than strike back and demand their rights.

These are sturdy people who don’t “break easily.” There is strength and resiliency. These people aren’t hard and brittle; they remain soft and pliable.

If you read to the end of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” you find that after comforting his small person during an attack of Scarlet Fever, the rabbit is thrown away because he has become germ-infested. But there is a resurrection! He is raised to life! And because he had become REAL through his love, he is transported to a meadow where he can frolic with other real, living, hopping rabbits who are healthy and free.

What a picture of our promised resurrection day! This life is a testing and training ground for love. Those we love are instruments of God to help us become REAL. The real deal. Maybe worn out at the end, but never ugly, “except to those who don’t understand.”  The final reward is eternal realness and eternal life.

*Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1922.

The Velveteen Rabbit by [Margery Williams, William S. Nicholson]

Dayenu (Revisited)

(This blog was written at Christmas 2 years ago, right after the birth of our beautiful Autumn Olivia. We celebrate her 2nd birthday tomorrow! How thankful I am, for this amazing child and for Jesus, the ultimate gift, and for many bonus gifts on top of it all. Share with me in this reacquaintance with the Jewish concept, “Dayenu.”)

This Christmas day I am overcome with gratitude. Our family has welcomed into this world a new child, Autumn Olivia Stitt. Born on a Monday, which according to the old poem means she is “fair of face,” and she certainly is. Perfectly innocent, absolutely loved, a testament to the goodness of God in giving us life, abundant life. It’s true that a baby changes everything.

Today we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, the one who truly changed everything!

At church on Sunday I learned of the Hebrew liturgy and song called Dayenu, which means It would have been enough. The gist is that at Passover, as the story of God’s deliverance, miracles and provision is told, choruses of Dayenu are sung to God, acknowledging his extravagant goodness. It would have been enough if you had just sent judgment on the Egyptians for their mistreatment of us. It would have been enough if you had just spared our firstborn. It would have been enough if you had just taken us through the Red Sea. It would have been enough if you had just given us the Sabbath, or the manna to eat in the wilderness, or the Promised Land to claim for our own. And so on.

This is how I feel about how good God has been to me. It would have been enough that you rescued me from the foolishness of my youth. It would have been enough that you sent your Son to save me and give me the hope of eternal life.  But you have given me so much more. Gifts and talents to share with others. Life in a nation where we are still free to pursue life to the full, work hard and build wealth, and enjoy the fruit of the land. Friends who are more than worthy to be called friends. Children who love and serve you. And now another generation of babies to love and train up in the Lord. And then, of course, dogs!

Dayenu, dayenu.

It is enough. It is more than enough. It is so much more than enough.

I’ll end with a hearty “Merry Christmas” and these words from “Nothing Else” by Cody Carnes:

I’m caught up in your presence, I just want to sit here at your feet

I’m caught up in this holy moment, I never want to leave.

I’m not here for blessing, Jesus you don’t owe me anything

More than anything that you can do, I just want you.

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Dayenu.  Jesus, you don’t owe me anything.

As the deer…

I have recently been chronicling some of the changes wrought by our move to the Hill Country. One of the true blessings is looking out the back windows and seeing deer grazing. Sometimes there are just one or two, sometimes a half dozen or more.

We delight that we are living so closely and harmoniously with wild things–songbirds, squirrels, and these deer that are among the loveliest of God’s created things.

My husband Rick decided to start feeding them. At first he thought he could do some sort of psych job on them. He thought if he fed them food especially for them, they wouldn’t eat the shrubbery we are planting to beautify the place. The joke is on him, it turns out. They eat the corn he puts out, and they’re also happy to eat the geraniums as salad to go with it.

He’s made a ritual of it. He walks out with a red scoop of deer corn in his hand. He spreads it out on the ground and then bangs on the scoop to alert them that it’s suppertime. A la Pavlov, he believes that he is conditioning the deer to come find the food when they hear the thud on the bucket. Neutral stimulus becomes conditioned stimulus.

It seems to be working! Whereas they would keep a good distance away when anyone was outside, now they come into the yard and stare at us while we’re standing out there.

As I was in worship and prayer this morning, this image of the deer coming to feed in the yard came to mind. I thought first, of course, of the well-known Psalm that speaks of our longing for God:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God” (Psalm 42:1).

This is a marvelous metaphor: The believer is like a wild deer, who must spend its days seeking food and water, and finds provision and rest once it finds the right source.

Deer, while agile and quick-moving, are pursued and eaten by many predators, including humans. Believers are like a deer in that they are often prey for the enemy.

Jeremiah lamented that Israel had stopped following God’s ways and receiving his provision and protection. He wrote,

“Her princes are like deer that find no pasture; in weakness they have fled before the pursuer” (Lam 1:7).

Without submitting ourselves to his watchful care and leadership, we wander around the metaphoric wilderness searching in vain for an adequate supply of daily bread and places to hide from danger while we eat it.

But when we humbly embrace our desperate need for God, we find our way into his daily care for us. Like those deer, who were skittish and untrusting at first, we become bolder to approach and ask for his help.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

Deer are swift and graceful. When we follow in his footsteps, we too become nimble and sure-footed, instead of trying to navigate on our own and stumbling through life:

The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19).

I’ll close by citing another image related to deer that brings the analogy to another level. This is Isaiah’s prophetic promise to those who seek the Lord wholeheartedly:

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow”
(Isaiah 35:5-7).

We are given the opportunity to live in God’s order, a spiritual and natural habitat where we can truly flourish and be unafraid. There is healing, new sight, new sound, restored movement and speech. Living water in springs and streams. No longer afraid of monsters in the night.

Praise the Lord for his wonderful gifts of goodness, mercy and tender care.

The Beautiful Law of Gleaning

(This was one of the first essays I published on my blog, in April 2018. It comes back to mind during this harvest season. It shows the heart of God toward the poor, the broken, the weary, the hungry. He wants those with an abundance of material or spiritual fruit to share with others, figuratively, leaving some produce available on the vine or the tree or the ground. The application to our modern world are yours to discover….)

Many Christian believers find aspects of the Law of Moses found in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) unjust, archaic, or just plain baffling. This is because it is nearly impossible to contextualize some of the laws found there to our modern lives and beliefs. For instance, the laws regarding ritual purification, or the harsh penalties prescribed for infractions that today barely get a slap on the wrist.

Amidst some of these difficulties, I find beautiful the laws of gleaning, statutes that are set like gemstones in the midst of commandments that are rather oddly arranged at times. For example, between a commandment to eat the entire remainder of a fellowship offering, and the simple dictate “Do not steal,” is this gem:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God. (Lev 19:9-10).”

This on first glance might seem imprudent or wasteful. Shouldn’t we always seek to maximize our profits and make full use of all our resources? No, apparently. Though God commends saving, thrift and resourcefulness, it matters more to Him that his people look beyond their own needs or profits. They must be willing to provide for the needs of others they can reasonably predict, of course, especially within their own families. But going another step, God’s people are to intentionally leave a portion of the proceeds of their labor available to a needy individual who might happen along the way. The poor or foreigner must find something left behind that will sustain him.

pexels-photo-789555.jpeg

There’s no guarantee this will happen. In the case of agricultural fruits, there’s a chance that the remainders will go unclaimed and just rot on the ground or dry up on the vine.  In modern, monetary terms, there’s a chance that leaving money on the table could limit our bottom line. But that is not to be our concern. When we hold back from greedily grabbing up all of the fruit, we are acting in obedience to the Law of God, and this carries its own reward.

John the Baptist hinted at this principle and its centrality to the advancing kingdom of God he was announcing. Preaching a baptism of repentance, he instructed them to demonstrate their repentance through true acts of generosity, giving away extra food or clothing (Lk 3:11). To contextualize this to the Church age in which we live, the Apostle Paul admonishes the believer not to steal, but to “labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Eph 4:28). Yes, we are supposed to take care of ourselves, so we do not become a burden to others. But that is not enough. We are to work hard enough at whatever work God has given us to do, so that there is extra on hand to share with those who are in worse circumstances.

I think this also has application to non-material fruits. If we learn great truth through our study or reflection on the Scriptures, or through our life experiences, we ought to be looking diligently for the opportunity to make it available to those who might show up in our lives. Who knows when you or I might be the person with a word for the weary, someone we had no idea was coming? Can we have such abundance of the fruit of the Spirit that we always have plenty for ourselves, plenty to share with those we know and love, and even plenty to give to the one who shows up at the door uninvited.

This is the beautiful law of gleaning.  It releases a spirit of freedom and generosity in those who practice it, and sustenance to those go out to glean in the harvest fields.

A Time for Everything

My last blog told the story of our eventful and somewhat trying transition to the Hill Country, and the outcome that made all the waiting worthwhile.

Today I find myself at another moment of decision and transition, this time regarding my professional and ministry life. With so many interesting options presented to me, what to choose?

Wouldn’t you know that Holy Spirit responds perfectly, bringing Scripture to life as I just “accidentally” happen to find myself in Ecclesiastes this morning.

This book is avoided by Christians sometimes because of its seemingly cynical, depressing message. I happen to love Ecclesiastes for its realism. It describes so well the age-old struggle to find a life of meaning, purpose, and joy that honors God, and what it feels like to come up short of that goal.

The Preacher who authored the book (King Solomon) doesn’t cut to the chase. He gives us in gritty detail how and why he comes to see much in life as meaningless and “chasing after the wind.”

He tries everything. He tries study to gain greater wisdom and knowledge than any other person on earth at the time. He works hard on this pursuit only to find, “the greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow” (Eccl. 1:18).

He gives pleasure a try, going after happiness and fun. Wine, women, song, and dance.  No deal’ it doesn’t satisfy. “What good does it do to seek only pleasure?” (2:2)

Next, he gets busy building homes and planting vineyards, gardens, and parks. Being a rather brilliant individual, he engineers irrigation systems for all of them. He adds livestock and precious metals to his lavish estate. In order to keep all these things running, he enlists the help of many servants. To serve his own sexual desires, he lies with countless wives and concubines.

He exclaims, “I had everything a man could desire!” But it didn’t satisfy him.

Palace staircase stock photo

He didn’t cut to the chase, but I will. After spinning his dark philosophy he lands on two notable conclusions.

Conclusion #1: “There is nothing better for people than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God” (3:12).

Conclusion #2: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty.God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad” (12:13).

There you have it. Enjoy the life and work God has provided. Love and obey him in everything.

I’m not a king, and my desires are much simpler than Solomon’s, so I speak the truth when I say that I have all I need, and pretty much all I want. I feel truly blessed, and I’m convinced that the life God has given me is far from meaningless.

Sometimes I’m chasing several things at once, but I don’t spend time chasing after the wind! I aspire to enjoy each day with gratitude and do my best to live in a way that is pleasing to him, and not just to myself.

Allow me to jump to Chapter 3, the most famous portion of the book of Ecclesiastes, partly because of the song by the Byrd’s, “Turn, Turn, Turn” which directly quotes this biblical text. I’ll copy the passage here for your reference:

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.
(3:1-8)

The overarching message is that at any moment in our journey through life, we can discern that it is time for a particular activity.

Time, time, time. A commodity we can’t restore once it is gone.

Now that I’m settling into my new home, there are of course some domestic projects to complete to make our home as peaceful, comfortable, and inviting as possible. But we have time to let this unfold at an unhurried pace and enjoy the creativity of the process.

The more time-sensitive decisions relate to work and ministry. Throughout my adult life, I’ve always been multifaceted in how I use my time and talents. I rarely do only one thing at a time. I’m usually doing some combination of counseling, supervising, teaching, writing, playing gigs, leading worship, teaching the Bible. That’s just how God made me, and so I don’t fight him on it.

I’m also used to being quite autonomous. I’m a hard worker, but not a great employee. I set and seek to maintain my own standards in whatever work I’m producing, so it’s difficult for me to have to conform to someone else’s standard at the same time. If the standards or rules of engagement of an employer come into conflict with my own, I have developed the confidence to choose my own, come what may.

Last week I was told that I have to increase my availability to seek clients significantly if I want to keep my current level of employment. I get it completely; they want more productivity for the same price. I work for a for-profit company, and the level of clinical engagement that has worked well up until now is no longer sufficient because of recent changes in the company’s financial outlook.

The other option, short of leaving entirely (which I’m not inclined to do, because it would mean abandoning clients I have come to care for very much), is to go to hourly, and work only as much as I wish. I’m very glad that’s one of the options. The downside is that I’d lose my benefits.

I asked my wonderful big sister to weigh in. She confirmed for me that if it’s a problem that a little bit of money can solve, that I should go after my greatest joy, and not let something like health insurance be a hindrance! I can find more money somehow if I need it, but I can’t replace time once it’s gone.

I have opportunities to play music with dear friends, complete a couple of books that have been in the hopper for quite a while, get involved with worship and Bible study in my local community, exercise regularly, and even do a bit of private practice where I’m again sitting in the same room as the person with whom I’m talking! What a concept!

So, back to Ecclesiastes, and this dreary preacher in one of his rare moments of inspiration. Here is an inventory of the time I am living through, and how I will both enjoy the life God is giving and honor him through it.

If there’s a time to plant and a time to harvest, I choose to do some of each. I’ll plant new things, and harvest things that have been in the ground or on the tree and are ready to pick!

If there’s a time to kill and a time to heal, I’ll pick the healing, thank you very much.

If there’s a time to tear down and a time to rebuild, this moment is for rebuilding.

If there’s a time to cry and a time to laugh, I will respond with whichever the moment requires.

Ditto on the time to grieve and time to dance.

If there’s a time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones, I’m mostly gathering them (there are thousands on our lot) to move them to other places where they will be more pleasing.

If there’s a time to embrace and a time to turn away, I’ll embrace those who come near to share life with me in this special season and turn away from those prone to arguing and stirring up strife.

If there’s a time to search and a time to lose, I’ll do some searching for things that got misplaced during our long moving process. (e.g., I’ve got about a dozen pairs of earbuds for my phone and can’t seem to find a single pair!) I’ll search for new friends, new joys, new ways to serve and grow.

If there’s a time to keep and a time to throw away, I’ll keep what “sparks joy” (thank you Marie Kondo) and throw away (or more likely, give away) things that no longer do.

If there’s a time to tear and a time to mend, I reckon I’d like to do more mending than tearing.

If there’s a time to be quiet and a time to speak up, I will be quiet about SELF and all its nonsense. I’ll speak up about the amazing goodness of God in all of its many manifestations!

If there’s a time to love and a time to hate, I can’t think of when I’ll have time to hate.

If there’s a time for war and a time for peace, that’s an easy one. You know what I’ll choose. You?

I hope you find my analysis of Ecclesiastes edifying. The clock keeps ticking. Like me, maybe you’ll find that this is a perfect time for finding out what time it is.

pocket watch at 3:55

The Hill Country

This has turned out to be a year for me of laying claim on some new territory, in the spiritual and the natural, in the personal and professional.

My husband Rick and I have made a move from the Houston area to the beautiful hill country of central Texas, between Austin and San Antonio. While Houston is a place of wondrous diversity and opportunity, it is also a place of endless urban sprawl and a lot of everything. Too much sometimes.

The hill country, on the other hand, still has a rural feel, a wildness without curbs and straight lines in every direction. The boundary lines are softer, more textured, inviting exploration. The sheer beauty of the landscapes stirs and inspires my heart.

It has taken some faith to get here, and a lot of waiting and wandering, with our little dog in tow. Because of COVID and economics and miscellaneous calamities that have affected everyone, we have faced seemingly endless delays, awaiting the day that we would move into our new house and begin to make it a home.

We sold our home in Montgomery Memorial Day weekend, almost the minute we listed it. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the buyers (who offered $10 K over asking), needed to move in by July 15. They were between homes, staying in temporary lodging with small children, and needed to get settled. Having been told that our home in the hill country would be ready by mid-July, we vacated the house and had movers put everything on a truck on July 14.  We closed with the buyers the next day.

We told the movers we would let them know within a week or so when to deliver our possessions. For a daily fee, they would store our things on the truck until we were ready. They wound up holding on to them for a full month before the builders agreed to let them bring the truck to the house and store our belongings there. This is not a typical way of doing things, but this has been far from a typical year in the construction industry or any other.

On July 15 we headed to our first Airbnb destination in Wimberly. I have used Airbnb quite a few times in the last few years—in Great Britain, Ireland, California, Boston, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and various parts of Texas. I’ve enjoyed the social aspect of it and have met so many wonderful hosts and fellow travelers. I love the concept and have found my stays in peoples’ homes so much more interesting than staying in hotels. So, Airbnb would be our means of finding lodging while we waited for the go-sign to move into our newly constructed house. We thought it might be a week or two.

Little did we know at that time that our move to the hill country would require 10 separate moves over 3 months. We bounced around to various locations, some that fit our needs better than others. Because my job is all on Zoom, accommodations had to include reliable Wi-Fi. And because I am a therapist, there had to be some privacy for sessions, a space where I can be alone, where Rick can’t hear the conversations. Sometimes Rick had to wear noise-cancelling headphones and watch the captions on TV hile I facilitated a group on the other end of a one-room tiny home! And we had our dog, Maggie, so all accommodations had to be pet friendly.

At one point, my daughter and her boyfriend flew in for a visit that had been planned a few months earlier, and we found a place with extra bedrooms, so we could have a family gathering. My son and his family came too. That was a happy high point—albeit a rather pricey one.

I spent countless hours online searching for the next place to go. We spent many thousands of dollars on housing because the builders would say, “two more weeks” or some such vague promise like on “The Money Pit,” so we were reluctant to book something long-term and more affordable. Most rental property owners require non-refundable payment for the whole stay up front.

Somehow, I managed to keep my job going, seeing clients and running recovery groups, sometimes on porches, in closets, or sitting up in bed. Thankfully there are virtual backgrounds on Zoom so I could maintain some image of professionalism!

Two weeks ago, after the tenth move, I finally had had enough. My nerves were frazzled. I was angry and stressed, eating too much sugar, not sleeping well. I ran out of steam. Uncharacteristic of my accommodating nature, resiliency, and adventurous spirit, I stated to my longsuffering husband, “I’m not moving again. I’m not going to do it. If I have to pitch a tent in the back yard of our house, I’ll do that, but I’m not getting online to find another place to go.”

He looked at me like I was nuts, which I kind of was. I had a doctor’s appointment that day in San Antonio. Seeing how serious I was, he told me he’d get on the phone and see what he could do while I was gone.

By the time I got back to our last Airbnb, he had gotten permission for us to move into the house. FINALLY, the water company had installed our septic tank and grinder pumps (that had been purchased in February!). They hadn’t been fully tested and proven, but the house was habitable. I guessed the builder’s representative was convinced that I had run out of patience and created a lease document to allow us to move into the house rent free before closing. As I write this our closing is just a few days away.

We are more than blessed to have finally landed in such a lovely place. I am in my study getting ready to see a client, Maggie is lying outside the doors, and Rick is puttering around while he drinks his morning coffee.

What have I learned from all of this? Many things. Thankfulness at a whole new level. Deeper patience when things don’t go as planned (which is most of the time these days for all of us). Graciousness and forgiveness toward those whose incompetence, arrogance, or poor planning cause hardship and inconvenience for so many.

I’ve seen the faithfulness of God. I’ve decided that most of the uninvited hard things I face are more like inconveniences than true problems. Having been a therapist for almost 30 years, I’ve learned to discern true problems from the issues of life that simply require making decisions and taking action. Addictions, abuse, marital failure—these are true problems. All the rest I consider debatable.

Nevertheless, the Father cares about me. He upholds me, whether I have serious problems or more minor issues of life to resolve. He lets me know when it’s OK to say I’ve had enough and start holding others accountable for keeping their agreements.

The LORD has given me a deep-seated desire to serve him and obey him from this new place. I’ve been reading through the Bible this year, and happened upon this in Deuteronomy 8 just last week:

“Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.

“So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills…When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

“But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God…He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful…”

I’m not saying that our sojourn resembles the 40 years Israel spent wandering in the wilderness. But I have sensed the LORD’s provision throughout. We have metaphorically eaten his manna and drunk his water from the rock. He has led us into a land and a time of abundant life.

We have confidence that he has led us to this place “for such a time as this.” We don’t know all that he has in store.  But we believe that we had to face some waiting and some opposition before receiving his promise, and that he was able to form in us a greater obedience and carefulness to follow his will.

Rick climbed up to the attic a few days ago when I had just gone to bed. He came to the bedroom and told me to get up, because he had to show me something. He said it was worth getting up for. This is what he found, written on one of the joists:

We don’t know who wrote this. For some reason I don’t want to know. I want to picture some workman who sensed something supernaturally about the home, or about the people who would live in it.

This Scripture is from King Solomon’s dedication of the spectacular temple he had built in Jerusalem, that would hold the Ark of God’s covenant, and would host the holy presence of God.

We agree with this dedication and blessing of our own house as a house where prayers will be prayed, and God will hear and respond from heaven.

Thank you for reading the story. We welcome you to visit and fellowship with us in this wondrous hill country!

Let Us Run

I’ve never been much of a runner, though I can understand how it could become a satisfying daily habit —the endorphin rush and all. For me though, it could usually be said that if you see me running, something or someone might be chasing me, or I’m trying to get out of the rain.

But the biblical metaphor of running appeals to me very much. Particularly, my attention has been drawn lately to the references in Hebrews 12. This is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible.

After reminding the reader of the many witnesses to the life of faith mentioned in Chapter 11, and admonishing us to cast aside every sin or “encumbrance” that might hinder us, the writer prompts us to:

“Run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

The King James calls Jesus “the author and finisher” here.  I like the NLT’s simpler handling of the phrase, “Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.”

Here’s the picture. Jesus ran his race first, perfectly, and then calls us to show up and run.

How is it that we are qualified to enter such a race? Only because he qualifies us. Because he ran it first, he opened the way for us to follow him.

It’s a bit like the PGA golf rules. I have a fairly limited knowledge of the world of golf, but I know that the pros really want to win major tournaments, not only for the singular wins and prize money, but because it gives them automatic admission to future tournaments for which it can be hard to qualify.

Jesus went beyond Phil Mickelson—he not only demonstrated his own qualifications but allows us to compete on the basis of his big win!

When we embrace the challenge of following Jesus into the race, he even outfits us. He gives us the Jesus t-shirt. He gives us the Holy Spirit’s breath inside us. Without this, we’d fail before we even got started.

So, we start running.

I started running this race around 1983, and have been running it ever since, sometimes quickly and strenuously, sometimes slowly and steadily like the old turtle, and mostly somewhere in between. Staying with the pack, not too far ahead of most or lagging behind.

I’ve accomplished a few things in this life. I’ve stayed married to the same man for a heck of a long time. I’ve earned a few degrees, played a lot of gigs, and have taught and counseled and helped some people.

Nothing else comes close to the satisfaction of simply knowing that I’ve stayed in the race with Jesus. I haven’t quit. And I salute all of you reading this who have also stayed in the race. It’s not easy.

.Jesus is the one on whom our faith “depends from start to finish.” Running alongside our friends just sweetens the pot.

How do we keep going? It is exhausting. Sometimes we just want to sit on the sidelines and watch others for a while.

But Jesus gives us no place to sit out. Even if we have to pace ourselves while we chug some water and regather our inner resources, we must keep running.

And there he is ahead. His eyes, his strength and grace, his loving encouragement. His example. He cheers us on. He reminds us that there’s a prize at the end, and this gives us the perseverance we need.

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This is a life of discipline, so it is fitting that the rest of Hebrews 12 is all about discipline. Don’t despise it, the author says. Remember that you’re disciplined because God is a Father, and good fathers discipline their children. “God’s discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in his holiness.”

The more we practice God’s discipline, the better we become at running with him. Jesus qualified us when he saved us, so we don’t have to earn our way into the race. But once we start running, he trains and coaches us so that we become better runners. Swifter, stronger, focused, clean, and free.

people running on gray asphalt road during daytime

Believe Wholly, Teach Rightly, Live Godly, Correct as Necessary

My recent trip through the short book of Titus highlighted four simple, interwoven principles for those who would be teachers and disciple-makers in Christ’s church.

Titus was a leader under Paul’s apostleship in the first century church. He was also a dear, trusted brother to Paul and became a key fellow-laborer in spreading the gospel of Christ among the Gentiles. He played an especially important role as messenger to the church at Corinth when Paul was unable to visit himself.

Because of importance of sound leadership in the church, Paul instructs Titus in how to be the right kind of leader himself, and how to identify and develop other strong leaders as he travels the land.

Here are Paul’s criteria:

  1. Believe with your whole heart the message of the gospel.
  2. Teach the word in such a way that no one can accuse you of promoting false doctrines or anything contrary to the gospel.
  3. Live in such a godly way that your teaching cannot be challenged.
  4. Correct those who are wrong or incomplete in their understanding of Scripture.

The first criterion is simply, “They must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message they were taught.” Leaders must first believe with their whole hearts all that Christ and his apostles taught.

The writer of Hebrews informs us that it is impossible to please God without faith. We must believe that he is real and make him our most diligent pursuit in life. If this is true for believers in general, how much more for those who teach and shepherd others.

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He goes on to the second, “Then they will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching.” Wholesome teaching—what a lovely phrase to ponder in this age of so much unwholesome, awful teaching coming from every direction. What they believed they were to teach, with full integrity and accountability to God.

Third, they were to live as they taught, to practice what they preached. Paul admonishes,

Promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching… And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized. Then those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say…”.

What is this lifestyle? Paul uses words like “integrity,” “example,” and “good works.” It is the same lifestyle promoted in the wisdom books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Job, or in the Prophets. As Micah so succinctly puts it, “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” (6:8)

Believe wholeheartedly…teach wholesomely…live in accordance with what you believe and teach. What a concept!

Last but not least—and this can be the tricky bit—correct people when they show themselves to have embraced wrong doctrines or ungodly practices, or even when they have incomplete information.

Paul instructs Titus to oppose people “where they are wrong.”  An example of this in their time was teaching about Jewish law, especially related to circumcision. True apostles and teachers of the gospel message had to very often correct the notion that Gentiles had to be circumcised to become part of the Christian community. Whether knowingly or not, those who promoted this teaching were bringing harm to people; they were barring entrance in conflict with the message of grace by faith expounded by Jesus and Paul.

Paul didn’t tell Titus to come against people in some sort of wholesale, critical way if they met all of the other criteria as teachers. He was just to listen carefully and correct those things that might be inaccurate or incomplete. There is a beautiful example of this type of correction in Acts 18:24-26

“A Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately.”

Let’s look at this a minute. What was missing in Apollos’ understanding? “He knew only about John’s baptism.” He knew to tell people to repent, because the Messiah and the kingdom of God were drawing near.

But there was another baptism—the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Jesus would bring! A baptism of fire that John foretold and had finally come in fullness at Pentecost.

Because Aquila and Priscilla–faithful companions of Paul–believed the message, taught accurately, and lived with integrity, they were in a perfect position to speak to the already eloquent and wise Apollos and make him an even better messenger of gospel truth!

Paul tells Titus pointedly, “Don’t let anyone disregard what you say.” He trusted that Titus had met the criteria of leadership. He was believing, teaching, and living so as to “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way.” This qualified him to recruit others like himself.

The teachings of God’s word are “good and beneficial for everyone.” Those who would be teachers are those who hold this as a cornerstone of their faith, who teach accordingly, who live in a way that brings no shame to the name of Christ, and who are able to bring correction to others as needed.  

This is the kind of teacher and leader I desire to be. How about you?

Walk with the Wise

I was talking with a wise friend recently about how we choose the people in our world we allow to influence us. He reminded me of the Scripture,

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Prov. 27:17). He explained how only iron (or I’d add, something even stronger than iron, like a diamond) can sharpen a blade made of iron.

If we try to sharpen a blade by banging it against wood or stone it will become duller, not sharper. And the surface the blade is hitting will probably be damaged in the process.

Those who would be teachers and influencers are admonished to be skilled workers of the word, to “rightly divide” (2 Tim 2:15). The NTE translation renders the instruction from Paul to Timothy (and by extension, to his church), we are to be “[workers] who have no need to be ashamed, who can carve out a straight path for the word of truth. “

The truth is a blade that must remain sharp if it is to carve a straight path. Jesus proclaimed that he brought a gospel that would be like a sword. It would divide those who believe it from those who reject it.

We are also familiar with how this metaphor is used in Hebrews 4:12,

 “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”.

If there is iron in us, and in our words, we become wise, and have wise discernment to share with others. We are able to cut a path through the foolishness of the world without being touched by it.

As we navigate the contemporary spiritual and sociopolitical landscape these days, it becomes clearer and clearer that as believers we must choose carefully who we allow to speak into our lives and influence our attitudes and actions.

The writer of Proverbs stated, “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get into trouble” (Prov. 13:20).

As I consider these things, I realize that my social world has shrunk noticeably in the last two years. Most of us have experienced this while becoming a culture obsessed with germ warfare. Most of us have become paranoid about our physical contact with other human beings in public spaces.

I attended a church service yesterday where no one knew me, and for the first time in ages, was confronted with a dozen or so people who approached me wanting to shake my hand. It took me a moment to lay aside the conditioned response of keeping my distance.

Did I put myself at risk of getting sick, or at least exposing myself to a virus that I could carry to someone and make them sick? Perhaps. As soon as I could, I slathered hand sanitizer on my hands. But I immediately returned my attention to more interesting things, like worship and hearing the word preached.

The word was delivered by a seasoned preacher, a man wise in life and wise in the Scriptures. A man who is filled with the Spirit of wisdom. I felt myself becoming sharpened again, restored to usefulness as a sword in God’s hand.

black and gold cross on black metal fence

When Pharaoh had to choose a person to lead the food program in Egypt, he chose Joseph, saying, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are” (Gen. 41:39). Pharoah acknowledged that those who hear from God are those best equipped to be successful in the things God defines as successful.

This theme is repeated throughout the Scriptures. Look at Moses, and the builders of the Tabernacle, and Gideon, and David, and Solomon, and of course, Jesus, the wisest of the wise.

If we want to be wise, we walk with the wise. How do we do this?

By walking through the pages of Scripture each day and allowing the iron of the word to sharpen us. By spending time with others who value and pursue this path of wisdom and sharpness. By taking care to surround ourselves with other men and women who carry the same iron in their souls.

Let Us See!

There is a fabulous story found in 2 Kings 6 that captured my attention and seems so very timely. That happens a lot, doesn’t it?

Elisha was a very powerful prophet in Israel at a time when the Arameans were posing a persistent threat to Israel’s national security. He was a key member of the national defense team, because Holy Spirit would reveal the Aramean battle plan to him, and he would get word to Israel’s troops in time for them to move and avoid attack.

This interference by Elisha became obnoxious enough to the Aramean king that he sent out “a great army” of soldiers, horses, and chariots just to seize this one man and put an end to his prophetic work.

Elisha and his servant were sitting in their house when the servant heard a commotion outside. He went out and saw the enemy troops, horses and chariots covering the entire hillside facing them.

He cried, “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” Elisha replied,“Don’t be afraid, for there are more on our side than on theirs!”2 Kgs. 6:16-6).  

I’m sure this was a baffling statement to the servant. It didn’t match what he had just seen.

Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire” (17).

closeup photo of person

Not only an army of defenders, but a bigger army, and chariots of fire! I’m trying to picture it!

Isn’t this so like what we experience as believers who are subjected to the terrors and conditions of this world rulers, when we truly belong to another king and another kingdom?

When we look at the advance of the enemy in our very midst, we can become afraid. Things look bleak and hopeless when all we can see is what people are doing. People are getting sick and dying; there is cruelty and injustice, relational stress, financial hardship, great suffering of all kinds.

We are apt to feel weak and afraid, like the Israelite spies who saw giants in the land of Canaan and felt like grasshoppers in comparison. Or like Elisha’s servant, who could only see the size of the opposition.

But this story illustrates that we are not seeing all there is to see. There is a spiritual, “but God” reality that we usually don’t see at first. God is doing things we know not of.

When Elisha invites the Lord to allow his servant to see another reality, he sees that as long as he is on God’s team, he’s on the winning side.

The rest of the story is interesting. Elisha asks the Lord to make the Aramean soldiers blind. Then he tricks them, offering to lead them to the man of God who had caused so much trouble (Elisha himself).  He leads them to the middle of the city of Samaria, and then asks that their sight be restored.

The king of Israel asks Elisha if he should send troops to massacre the Arameans since they are now vulnerable. Elisha replies, “Of course not! Do we kill prisoners of war? Give them food and drink and send them home again to their master” (22).

Once in a while, we have the privilege of reaching out to a lost one or even an “enemy” and leading them in a different direction. We don’t seek to destroy flesh and blood, even when they are acting in behalf of our spiritual enemy. We seek to rescue them and ask God to fill them with himself instead.

In the brilliance of biblical narrative, these two examples of blindness and sight are juxtaposed in the story. We “see” that the Lord can reveal much more of what he is doing in the situations we face if we ask him to open our eyes to it. He can also lead us to mercy and kindness toward even our greatest enemies, enabling them to see the reality of a miraculous, majestic, fiery God in their midst.