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.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

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.

God or gods?

The book of Jonah is one of my favorites. It’s got everything a great story needs: a complex, flawed protagonist, a contest of good and evil, an action-adventure, calamity, rescue, victory. Like the best of stories, it reaches a redemptive ending without tying everything up perfectly.

Jonah, was supposedly God’s man of the day, a prophet called to speak for him. Yet he was unwilling to accept God’s assignment of rescuing the idolatrous Ninevites from the consequence of their great wickedness. God told him to go and speak to them, and Jonah skedaddled in the other direction.

How absurd that a prophet of God would think he could run away from the LORD and not be found!

As you Bible fans know, he winds up on a ship to Tarshish and the trouble begins. A fierce storm comes. The ship’s crew cry out to their gods for deliverance, and when that doesn’t work, they tell the man of God to ask his God to help.

Jonah, to his credit, ‘fesses up” to his disobedience to the God he says he worships. The crew is terrified, but they heed Jonah’s advice to go ahead and toss him overboard. The storm immediately subsides. At this point, these men are now trembling before Jonah’s God—with a capital “G”—and have forgotten their own illusory gods (small “g”).

Meanwhile, Jonah finds himself in the belly of a great fish. He cries out in prayer,

“As my life was slipping away, I remembered the Lord. And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple. Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies. But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.” (Jonah 2:7-9).

Isn’t it interesting that he prays, while still in peril, as though he is already delivered by the Lord? He remembered the faithfulness of the God he was supposed to be serving.

After the fish spits him out on dry land, Jonah heads to Ninevah to speak God’s word of warning to the people.

God is always faithful to be God. He might change his plans, as he does when he chooses mercy over judgment toward Ninevah after they repent–even the livestock—in sackcloth and ashes. But he himself doesn’t change. The Apostle Paul cites for Timothy this “trustworthy saying” about the Lord:

“If we die with him, we will also live with him.If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is” (2 Tim. 2:11-13).

This is the way with God’s children. When we obey, he is our defender and keeper. He energizes and blesses us as we carry out his callings year after year. And when we disobey, like Jonah, he remains faithful.

So, the Ninevites are spared and Jonah goes into a sulk; he didn’t want them to be spared. He insists that he has the right take on righteousness and justice. This is religious bitterness and hardness of heart.

There’s so much to be learned from Jonah and his God. It is always better to go right into God’s assignments, even when we don’t like them. Or maybe, especially when we don’t like them. He is a rewarder of those who “diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6), those who turn away from the lure of small gods and toward this God- with a capital “G.”

The Clothing of Heaven

In the midst of a grand transition of my life, it has proven difficult to focus and find the right moment to write. But as I sit in this lovely bakery coffee shop and turn my attention to God’s truth, I’m right back in the Holy Spirit’s glory-filled revelation of mysteries.

Today it is Colossians Chapter 3, which I’m reading in the New Living Translation. I find myself immediately arrested by some phrases, from the first verse onward.

This chapter is a deep one, the Apostle Paul admonishing Christ’s followers to become conscious of the “realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power” (3:1).  The realities of heaven!

In these realities, there is a prescribed set of clothing to wear that is very different from the clothing of earth. This is metaphorical of course. The clothing of heaven Paul describes is like this:

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patienceforgive anyone who offends you…Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony…And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts…And always be thankful(v12-15).

Those are some pretty nice garments.

In order to put on a new set of clothing, we have to be ready and willing to remove the old set. The old clothing is the earthly, unredeemed stuff: sexual sin, impurity, lust, shameful desires, greed, idolatry, anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, dirty language, lying (3:5-8). Paul states that these are the things that the believers used to practice when their lives were still rooted in worldly values. But now they are stripping those things away to put on the gorgeous clothing that represents heaven.

It’s a horrific shame that so many people think negatively about Christ and his gospel. It is usually because they’ve seen awful misrepresentations of Christ and have been hurt by Christians. Christians have the unfortunate reputation of being intolerant and arrogant toward those who follow a different type of life.

Many people have felt excluded and judged by Christians. Secular media and many social institutions now reinforce the idea that all Christians are this way. The outcome is that Christianity is now the one worldview and faith position that is not tolerated in many circles.

Believe me, I know this to be true, experientially. I am working for a fantastic secular company that provides substance abuse counseling for people desiring recovery from addictions. I was speaking with a client who happens to be a Christian pastor, and he shared with me the immediate tension that permeates the Zoom group room when he makes any reference to his faith.

As a counselor in this context, I have learned over many years how to stay true to myself and my love for Christ without bringing offense or triggering the people around me. But it wears on me. Always having to be so careful not to provoke anger and defensiveness as I care for others.

I want Christ to be recognized and honored in me, not hidden away like some sort of dangerous secret. Having to be so subtle and sensitive about my faith all the time keeps me boxed in so that I’m not able to fully enjoy the freedom Christ has provided me. It’s a dilemma many of us face as Christians these days.

So, this morning I’m encouraged and emboldened by Paul’s words. He exhorts me to keep wearing my heavenly clothing and stay clear of the other kind that no longer fits anyway.

I feel strongly that if people think that Christians are other than how Paul describes them in Colossians 3, it means that the Christians being observed have gotten it all wrong. They’ve got on the wrong set of clothing. They signal that they haven’t taken on the value system of heaven.  

Throughout his letters, Paul conveys the idea that whatever our state, status, or circumstance in life, Christ is really all that matters. We ought to be on the path of becoming more like him, and this is how it can look:

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Col. 3:16-17).

The new nature, our new set of clothing, should be fitting and beautiful. It should attract people toward us and not repel them in fear or disgust. It should make people hungry for heaven, covetous of the beauty we have found there.

The kingdom and its wardrobe are open to whosoever wishes to enter and find love to wear.

angel statue under white string lights

Confession and the Pure in Heart

Here is a post from two years ago that is appropriate for any time. I was reading Lamentations this morning and came across this exhortation: “Let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn again in repentance to the LORD.” Repentance is a beautiful gift that allows us to be restored to a pure heart and clean conscience before God and man.

Ruth E. Stitt

I’m so grateful that God gave us a way to stay forgiven, clean, pure, and righteous. It’s called confession. It’s ironic that what often causes the most trouble in our lives and relationships also serves as the mechanism for healing and release. It is the words we speak, our confession to God and to those we have offended or sinned against.

The wise founders of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous recognized the importance of this when they included Step 5: We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”  James exhorted believers to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5-16). Without confession there is no path to forgiveness and restoration.

David wrote, “When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, and I groaned all day long…Finally…

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Strangely Warmed, Terribly Frightened, Overwhelmed by Joy

Yesterday I finished my latest reading through the gospel of Luke, this time in the New Living Translation. I enjoy this translation very much. The word choices often arrest me with new revelation and inspiration.

Such was the case with Luke’s last chapter, the one that merges into Chapter 1 of the Book of Acts. This wonderful account takes us from the empty tomb to a road stretching toward Emmaus, and then to Jerusalem, where Jesus reveals to his disciples that he has indeed been raised from the dead!

As I read this chapter with an open heart, the emotions are palpable. I look for feeling words, and there are plenty. I am quite sure this was purposeful in the Spirit’s inspiration through Luke. This is no dry history of a day in the life of some disciples. This was a time of extreme anguish and terror followed by unspeakable joy and amazement.

First, there are the women who devotedly arrived at Joseph’s tomb. Jesus had been laid there hastily, wrapped in linen cloths, but not yet anointed or prepared for burial. We know, of course, that by the time the women arrived he was not there! As they stood gaping at the stone that had been miraculously rolled away from the tomb’s opening,

white Good News Is Coming paper on wall

two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! (Luke 24:4-6).

These wonderful lovers of Jesus of course ran back to the disciples waiting in Jerusalem to tell them what they had seen and heard. Peter and John were perplexed, but ran to see for themselves.

Next there is a scene shift to the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, where a couple of disciples encounter the risen Lord, but don’t recognize him. They were greatly troubled on their walk, their hopes of the Messiah’s deliverance of Israel seemingly dashed after witnessing his brutal murder. Jesus, incognito, asks them,

What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?” They stopped short, sadness written across their faces (24:17).” One of them, named Cleopas, tries to bring this “stranger” up to speed on current events.

Instead, Jesus corrects their faulty perception of reality by presenting the entire story of redemption, starting with Moses, “explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (27).

Naturally, when they get near their destination, they want more of this well-informed Bible teacher’s company, still not knowing his identity. Only when they get home and convince Jesus to join them for dinner do they discover who he is.

Suddenly their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! They said to each other, ‘Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?’ And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem” (31-33).

I never noticed it before, but the two disciples turn right around and head back to Jerusalem. Like the women at the tomb, they have to find the guys who knew Jesus best and let them know they’d seen him.

“There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter” (34).

Jesus had beat them to it. He’d been able to appear to all of them in different places, no longer bound by the constraints of time and space.

Their mutual excitement makes me smile so big. I wish I’d been there at that meeting! To top everything off, as they are sharing their stories,

Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? (36-38).

Jesus shows them his hands and feet, with nail holes in them. They stand staring in disbelief, but reality hits, and they are “filled with joy and wonder(41).

If we were there, what would we want to do next? Ask him questions? Give him a big hug? Fall on our faces in worship?

Jesus asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish.”

After all of the praying and sweating blood, being flogged and tormented, trudging to Calvary and hanging suspended in excruciating pain, dying and rising, it turns out Jesus was a tad hungry.

Maybe that isn’t the only reason he asked them for something to eat. I think he wanted to give his followers who weren’t there in person the assurance that immortal humans can still eat. That means that when our bodies take on immortality, we can eat too! I’m happy about that. I like eating–broiled fish and a thousand other things.

I can’t improve on the end of Luke’s account, so I’ll end my reflection here. After they had eaten and spent some more time together, he blessed them and was taken up to heaven.

So they worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God” (52-53).

Home Again

As some of you may know, my husband Rick and I are moving after 6 years in the Houston area to a new home in the beautiful hill country of central Texas. We are thrilled about this change and new start.

But if you’ve ever moved—and I assume if you are an adult, you’ve moved at least a time or two—you know how physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging it is to empty one home and think through what to do with all the stuff. What to bring, what to sell, what to give away, what to throw away? If this is to be our new home, how do we make it feel like home when we’ve never lived there before?

As I’m going through this sorting, planning, and envisioning, I’m also continuing through the book of Jeremiah (it’s a long one!) The words of this embattled prophet remind me that the Bible throughout is all about coming home. Sometimes coming home again after being in a far country.

Think about it. Beginning with Abraham, who traveled at God’s command “to the place I will show you,” the Bible speaks of God’s people often not being in the place where they belong, and eventually journeying there. And in a sense, we who are part of God’s story still long to go home to God’s ordained place.

Moses led the Israelites back home. It was a long, perilous ordeal getting them there, but that was always the vision and the goal. After Joshua took the baton of leadership from Moses, they finally got there. The patriarchs were buried there because you bury your ancestors close to home.

After many generations of disobedience, idolatry, treachery, and rebellion in their homeland against the God who rescued them, the people of Israel were driven into exile in Babylon by foreign invaders.

The psalmist depicts that strange place:

 “Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem.We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees.For our captors demanded a song from us.
 Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: ‘Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!’ But how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a pagan land?”
(Psalm 137: 1-4)

Do you hear the grief and longing for home, especially for worshippers of the one true God?

Eventually the people of Israel were allowed to return and restore their homeland, as portrayed in the books of Nehemiah and Ezra, and by the prophets of the exile.

Jeremiah’s contribution to this narrative is fascinating. He resided in Jerusalem before, during, and after the invasion by Nebuchadnezzar. He was treated horribly by the cowardly kings and the people allowed to stay behind. Ironically, the invaders treated him with more kindness than his own people did.

Jeremiah gave the people lots of bad news—as prophets typically do. But there was some really good news mixed in, too. A favorite Old Testament verse for many Christians is Jeremiah 29:11:

“’ For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

We love to claim this verse for ourselves, hanging it on a plaque in our homes, or embossed on our Bible covers or coffee mugs. It accurately expresses God’s devotion to those who love him, and gives us much hope, especially at times when life doesn’t seem to make sense.

We use Jeremiah 29:11 to encourage our children that whatever happens, God is looking out for them and has a plan in mind. All they need to do is stay connected to him and they will receive this promised future and hope.

But I don’t often hear people consider the context in Jeremiah where this Scripture is found. I believe it adds even greater richness and encouragement to the verse when we remember that these words were written by God’s prophet to the Israelites in exile. The folks with their harps hanging in the trees.

They had been wayward and idolatrous. They were in their predicament for a reason. God had pleaded with them over and over to come to their senses and be faithful to him. They couldn’t, or wouldn’t, and eventually, God allowed foreigners to bring some heavy consequences.

But let us not forget that while God was their judge and is our judge, he is infinitely merciful! He says to Israel, as her true Father, “I will not be angry with you forever” (Jer. 3:13).

For seventy years they would stay in exile. While in Babylon, they were to seek the good of Babylon. They were to plant crops, have babies, and invest themselves in their new land. They could do this, knowing that they were held within the loving embrace of Jehovah. He had plans to bless them, even in their captivity, and then—

“I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again…I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land…I will bring them home to this land that I gave to their ancestors, and they will possess it again. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (Jer. 29:10, 14; Jer. 30:3)

Home again.

We resonate with this, don’t we? We often feel like strangers in a strange land these days. As the writer of Hebrews states about those who died in faith, without yet receiving what God had promised,

“…They saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously, people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own” (Heb. 11:13-14). 

No matter how good we have it in this life, we all know we are not quite home yet. This place and these circumstances are not where the story ends.

Perhaps the best way to sum it up is with Jesus’ parable of the prodigal coming home to his forgiving father and unforgiving brother. After wasting all of his resources and languishing in a foreign land,

“when he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ (Lk. 15:17-19).

Even the most lost, intransigent soul can head towards home, and find the Father watching longingly for his appearing around the bend in the road. Most of us have been that person at some point.

Beyond the comfort of knowing that in this life we can always run to the safety and fellowship of the Father, is knowing that Jesus is preparing an incredibly special place we haven’t visited yet, unless in a dream or near-death experience.

We are waiting to go home. Home again.

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