Rest for your Soul

I was exhausted.

I hadn’t had much sleep the night before…and that was just the night before. The last several weeks had rolled one into the next without me ever getting a break that felt like a break.

So…needless to say, it felt good to be headed home with something of an evening left. I planned and re-planned what I would do with it several times. And of course, every plan ended with: go to bed early.

I needed rest. Not just physical rest…but sleep would be a good start.

I did a few things on the way in—take out the trash, grab the mail, let my dog out, and take a deep breath. It felt so good to be home. In a quiet house. With a quiet evening in front of me.

But as I opened one of the letters I found in the mail—from my mortgage company—I felt my blood boil. I have only had this mortgage for about six months and it has already given me a lifetime of grief. Just for example, in February, they sent me a letter saying my monthly payment would go up by $600 a month. $600!

I have called the company multiple times and spent a considerable amount of my life listening to their hold music. The last time, I had been assured they would adjust back the payment and all I needed to do was wait for confirmation in the mail. That’s what I was expecting this letter to be.

Instead, it was a delinquent notice.

A delinquent notice was especially maddening because: 1. The customer service rep had told me that I did not have to pay until we got it all straightened out; and 2. I had gone ahead and paid anyway.

And this was the thanks I got: A delinquent notice.

I waiting through the first twenty minutes of music. When a rep finally came on the phone, she transferred me to someone else. Another twenty-five minutes of waiting.

Meanwhile, while my evening disappeared, so was my patience. When the next poor soul came on the phone, I had had it. My weary brain just didn’t care.

I started at the beginning and gave her the blow by blow of how this happened and how many times I had been assured that this was all straightened out. How I had made the payment. Then been told they wouldn’t accept it. Then been told that they would. Then been told that they had…and now this notice…the longer I talked, the madder I became until I am sure I fulfilled every stereotype that customer service reps in India have of rude Americans.

She put me on hold.

I wanted to throw my phone in the bath tub.

When she finally came back, she was again apologetic, but she explained that they wouldn’t accept the payment because it was $92 short. There was no way to dispute this since I have no idea what my payment should be since I hadn’t received the letter they would supposedly send to tell me what my new payment should be. But it was important to me that I not be delinquent.

My coveted evening was gone. I was deliriously tired, so, in a tone that would remove all doubt about whether or not I was happy with their services, I said I would pay the $92 dollars over the phone and be done with it.

She said that was fine and proceeded to take my bank routing number and account number.

As I read the routing number, she stopped me to clarify, “so this bank is America’s Christian Credit Union?”

I was so embarrassed.

Regardless of how incompetent this company was, I regretted that I had represented Christ and Christians with this attitude.

Consider the level of abuse that Jesus took. Meekly. Quietly. Without fighting back.

And here I was…upset with the poor little girl in India trying to help me get my tangled mortgage straightened out.

Yes. I said finally. That’s the one.

I attempted an apology to her, but hung up the phone ashamed. The situation was extremely frustrating, but I knew Christ would not have treated her that way.

As I crawled into bed, my adrenaline still pumping from my anger, and my shame still flowing from my sin, I thought about the words of Christ:

“Come to me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me. For I am meek, and lowly in heart. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus doesn’t promise us no work. No labor. No yoke.

Life in Christ is not an extended vacation. It’s not a day at the fair.

But what struck me was that the antidote to weariness was a Christ-like heart—one that is meek and lowly.

This is profound.

How much of our weariness is from our own anger? From fighting for our own way? From trying to change circumstances that we can’t change? From frustration with people who don’t do what we want them to?

How much of our burden is trying to meet the many demands of pride? Of trying to live up to the empty shadow she casts of life as we think it should look?

Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your soul.

Rest. For. Your. Soul.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that I keep running into that passage—morning reading, a friend’s wall, an index card that surfaced where I had jotted it years ago. There’s a lesson for me in it.

And I don’t think it’s coincidence that April 28, seven days after my mortgage company promised me I would get a letter, I did. That is, I got not one, but four letters. One said I owed $92. One said I owed $600. One said I owed $1700. And one said I owed $2700.

I laughed. I called them. I waited on hold.

After thirty minutes of waiting, I was informed I have actually overpaid and have a credit. They apologized for my four letters and said they are dealing with a computer glitch.

Ya think?

I may have to sell my house to get away from these people, but I was kind on the phone and dealing with it took considerably less energy than the last phone call (which had left me completely spent).

Maybe they will get themselves straightened out before they have a class action law suit on their hands. And maybe I will learn the secret to rest for the soul.

Neither are terribly likely, but I’ve come to appreciate the progression:

Come to me—you who are weary; Learn of me—for I am meek; And you will find rest for your soul.


I’m 34 for a moment

Just because I haven’t been blogging doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking. In fact, the month of August is my own little New Years–partly because it is my birthday month and perhaps partly because it is the month I moved to Charleston and started a new job, new church, and new life of being on my own and having to do things like pay rent and purchase car insurance.

Or maybe because it is hot, rainy, and ridiculously humid.  Even after eleven years, I’m not quite over the 300% humidity.

In other words, the month of August always has me seriously thinking, planning, buying, selling, or wondering–very much aware of the ticking clock of life. (Yes, despite what some people believe, I’m very aware of that clock.)

And this year has been even a bit more so. Perhaps because I’ve had to face mortality in new ways. The untimely death of my uncle in January, serious health issues of my grandparents, the unexpected passing of a colleague, the agonizingly painful one of a client, and so many other reminders that life and health are a gift and not a promise.

Then, last week I went to a Bible study on Time. It was actually the last one of the series, but I missed all the others because…well…because of time. But Andy Stanley took us through the book of Ecclesiastes in one night and I believe it was on of the best summaries of the book I’ve heard.

Basically, there is nothing new under the sun. There is nothing to gain from your toil under the sun. In fact, life is futile under the sun.

Kinda depressing. Actually, depressing. Not kinda depressing.

His conclusion: Fear God. Obey His Commands.

His motivation: Because life is not about what happens under the sun. It isn’t over when the sun goes down. It isn’t limited by what you can see by the light of the sun; or by the time that the sun divides into days and nights.

We revolve around the sun; But God does not. We are a moment; But He is forever.

After challenging us to live in the light of eternity, Pastor Stanley wrapped up the video series by playing the hit song “100 Years.” I had never heard it before and in some ways I was surprised he played it; it isn’t a Christian song. But for some reason, the catchy line, “I’m 33 for a moment” stuck in my mind; playing over and over. I’m 33 for a moment…and then “I’m dying for just another moment…”

The simple melody wasn’t gloomy. The words weren’t particularly profound. Just gentle reminders that life is fleeting under the sun.

I’m 34 for a moment. Dying for just another moment.

My life is full. I don’t think there is much denying that. But I ask myself often, is it full of things that are just for a moment? Is it full of things that are just under the sun?

Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. He had everything. He knew about royalty. He knew about riches. He knew about romance. And he wanted us to know how little all of that mattered.

All of his stuff was just for a moment. On the day he passed on, it was going to stay under the sun.

So He wrote a whole book to get us to pay attention to these four words: Fear God. Obey His commands.

I’m 34 for a moment.

Dying for just another moment.

Enjoying what is under the sun, but living for what lies above and beyond the fiery ball of matter we call the sun.

God of all Comfort

A friend of mine called me unexpectedly. After we got through the small talk there was an awkward silence. I figured there was some reason why she would be calling, but whatever it was, she was having trouble getting it out. Finally, she did.  She was struggling with life–physically and emotionally.

So I tried my hand at counseling.

It was humbling.  It was humbling because I quickly realized I was not the Bible scholar I thought I was.  It was humbling because I realized my own reservoir of experience wasn’t deep enough to draw from in a meaningful way.  It was humbling because she seemed to give me more questions than I gave her answers. I found my muddled brain saying time and time again, “I don’t know.”

I cared.  I tried.  And sometimes, after our phone calls, I would hang up with a satisfied sigh–convinced we were almost through the darkness of her depression.  But it was like drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk. Real life would hit like a rainstorm and wash my handiwork into a kaleidoscope of marred colors as nothing more than evidence that we had tried and failed.

One question she asked stuck with me. God is supposed to be our comfort, but I don’t feel at all comforted. And so people tell me God is my comfort, I just can’t feel it. But what good is comfort you can’t feel? Isn’t comfort a feeling?

I’m pretty sure I must have given my standard answer to that.

I don’t know.

But I trusted.  I knew God had rescued me from my own pit.  And I knew that there was a way out for her too.  I just didn’t seem to have the right words at the right time.  She seemed inclined to believe that people who tried to help her were just artificially filling in the vacancies God had neglected.  What was I to say to that?

David is, in no small way, my go-to author for these kinds of times.  David knew about depression and despair.  He knew what it was to be hated.  To be hunted.  To be overwhelmed.  To be pressured.  To be sick.  To be desperate.  To be broken.

In Psalm 69, he paints a compelling picture of himself sinking into a pit of quicksand.  He cried for help until he was weary, his throat was parched, and his eyes grew dim.

David was in pain.  The God of all comfort loved David dearly.  And David knew it.  He believed it.

But he did not always feel it.

So…what about my friend’s question?  What good is comfort if it doesn’t make us feel better?  Shouldn’t comfort make us comfortable?  Shouldn’t it take the stinger out of the pain?  If we’ve been comforted, shouldn’t we feel comforted?

After pondering this a while, I realized the answer will always require a measure of faith. Jesus didn’t promise comfort so we wouldn’t know pain. He promised pain so we would know comfort.

Jesus promised to send a Comforter soon after He promised tribulation, persecution, and pain. Then He promised to be with us until the end of the age.  The comfort is His work of grace to get us through this life glorifying Him by longing for the next.

Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.  His words were words of comfort, not words of cure.

I’ll never forget the words of a lady I know whose husband of twenty five years had recently abandoned her for another woman after a long, secret affair. She returned my note of attempted encouragement with a card that said while she regretted the circumstances, she would not exchange “the sweetness of her close fellowship with Jesus” for anything.  God sent her comfort in the form of Himself and His Word.  She was happy despite the storm that would rage in her family for years.

But it doesn’t always look like that. 

I read the story of Darlene Diebler Rose, a young missionary wife who ended up in isolation in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. God sent comfort to her starving body in the form of a hundred bananas dropped off by a man she regarded as an enemy. God sent comfort by meeting her physical needs in a miraculous way.

But it doesn’t always look like that.

Apostle Paul needed comfort. He needed companionship to buoy his spirits and energize his faith.  Paul needed friends who would come and see him in prison.  Who would help meet his physical needs.  Who would act as his courier.  Who would pour energy into him so he could, in turn, comfort others who would in turn comfort others in their times of need.  2 Corinthians 1:3-7.

Most of the time, it looks like that.

Sometimes comfort is simple.  Ordinary.  It comes in the form of a friend–their caring touch or simple generosity. Imperfect, unromantic, but comforting nonetheless if we choose to allow their kindness penetrate the crust of our hurt.

Friends may be guessing at what to do and what to say–and getting it wrong much of the time–but comfort is no less from God because it comes at the hand of another person.  It is no less real.  No less biblical.  God can send a raven to deliver a meal, but He is more likely to send a church member, a neighbor, a friend.

In the end, my friend was able to look back on her time of depression as a time that equipped her more to be able to help others who face similar circumstances.  And I sure hope that, one day, someone asks her questions like “if God is our comfort, shouldn’t we feel comforted?”

If nothing else, it would comfort me a little.

The Value of a Woman (Part II)

This is a continuation of my last blog, so if you didn’t read The Value of a Woman, it won’t make much sense. You can just skip it…pick it up next time.

So…if nothing else, my last post taught me a valuable lesson. And some humility.

But before I get to that, I’m going to finish the thought.

As context, (because we love context) the Bible gives a unique history of women from the Creator’s perspective.

God said it wasn’t good for the man to be alone. So He made woman.

And He does seem to value her…more than 30 shekels of silver. Even above rubies.

God heard the cries of Hagar. He opened the womb of Leah. And Rachel. And Hannah. He restored to a widow her son on more than one occasion. He granted Sarah and Elizabeth each a baby in their old age. He provided a loving husband for Ruth. He saved Rahab and her family. He delivered a wicked ruler into the hand of Deborah. He sent one of His highest ranking angels to deliver a message to Mary. Jesus would release an adulterous woman and forgive her sin. He would take the time to reach out to the “woman at the well” despite the social taboo and her sordid past. God would write the sacrifice of Mary’s ointment into history. He appeared to Mary Magdalene personally after His resurrection.

In one of my favorite stories, Scripture tells us specifically that Jesus loved Martha and Mary. He even cried with them over their brothers’ death even though he knew he was about to do what men love to do: fix it.

God would later inspire Paul to write that there was neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female before God—all given the opportunity of salvation and the ability to approach the throne of grace.

So with God’s evident care for women as a backdrop, I had two possible answers as to why God would set a lower value on women’s labor.

One was the idea of reducing market incentive. Keep in mind that if a woman was sold as a slave or a servant, it probably wasn’t because she was getting the money. By setting a lower price, it would be less likely for men to see their daughters as dollars. Outrageous as it is, mercenaries have sold their own daughters into slavery from the earliest of times to the present. Perhaps by setting a low price, God discouraged this practice. A wife or daughter would be worth more to her family by contributing her industry directly rather than through her wages.

As an alternative (or possibly to cure potential abuse on the other side of the deal), perhaps God was taking into account the tendency of a task master to be determined to get the benefit of his bargain. If a purchaser pays 50 shekels, he is going to want to get his 50 shekels worth. He will push harder, expect more, and forgive less than if he is paying 30 shekels. Maybe the lower payment would make an owner more understanding of the other callings on a woman’s life–things that weren’t income generating for the master but are unique to women. Having kids, for example.

But as it turned out, my warm, fuzzy explanations are a bit unnecessary and maybe just plain wrong.

Here comes the lesson I mentioned: never blog about what you thought you heard while sick on your bed doped up on chicken soup and herbal tea.

The fact is that on further study to finish the blog, I realized that the scene I laid out in part one was not exactly correct.   The part about the values was actually a separate discussion sandwiched between two passages about the year of Jubilee. See Leviticus 25 and 27.

So while the discussion about Jubilee was correct and the idea of calculating values based on an upcoming year of Jubilee was correct, the passage which set the value of women at 30 shekels and men at 50 shekels (ages 20 – 60) actually had to do with people making a vow before God (chapter 27) and not the annual wage calculation of slaves (as best I can tell).

None of you called me on my mistake which is a little troubling since it was mostly men who commented on the last post and ya’lls brains are supposed to be worth like twice as much as mine. Just sayin’.

Some of my observations still stand, but the correct context does change the evaluation a bit. To make sure I got it right this time, I tried to look at some commentaries. The first thing I discovered was that I didn’t own a commentary on Leviticus 27. The second was that none of the online commentaries I found had anything helpful to say about Leviticus 27. Now there are two issues–1. why did God set different values on men and women; and 2. what exactly did He mean when He was talking about vows involving the valuations of persons? I can’t even quite picture the scenario in my head.

So, with regard to the first issue, I would proffer that while there probably is a practical explanation consistent with His character, all we know for sure is that God made men and women different and didn’t feel compelled to always treat them exactly the same. He loves and cares for both in His own sovereign way. He makes no apologies for his design or his decisions. He’s God and He really doesn’t have to explain himself to Hillary Clinton or anyone else. As an aside, everywhere Christianity has gone, the position of women had been elevated. I would rather be a Christian woman than…say, a Muslim woman.

With regard to the second one, perhaps my annual Bible reading is going to be enhanced this year by the peak in curiosity that is making me search out things like vows based on the value of persons. I’m hoping some of you with brains worth 1.67 times what mine is have figured this out.

And when you are sick, curled up in a ball in your bed listening to your Bible app, don’t compose blog posts in your head. It’s a really bad idea.

But I DIDN’T forget which helicopter I was in. Just sayin’.

The Value of a Woman

image001Every other year, I make it a point to read through the Bible. This is my “every” year and being sick has helped the cause tremendously because—even though I could no sooner stare at a page of the Bible than run a marathon—I was able to listen to Exodus and Leviticus in large portions (compliments of my free Bible app.)

The people who complain about “all the Old Testament laws” were never sick on their beds listening to someone read the US Code. Or the Code of Federal Regulations. Or the Federal Reporter. Or the Internal Revenue Code. God condensed an entire country’s laws into a book a lay person could understand between cups of chicken soup and herbal tea. That’s remarkable.

Anyway…so here’s the piece that really got me thinking this time. In fact, I dare you to chew on this:

To give it context—God sets up the year of “Jubilee” every 50 years (roughly once in each person’s lifetime). During the year of Jubilee, every debt is forgiven and every slave is freed. The year of Jubilee gave everyone a new beginning as they would be restored to their lands; reunited with their families; and given a year off while the land had rest.

As further context, if someone was selling themselves into slavery to pay off a debt, they would count the value of a person based on the number of years left between the sale and the year of Jubilee. Apparently, there was no inflation in Israel’s commodity based system, and for a man, the value was 50 shekels of silver per year; and for a woman it was 30 shekels per year.


Talk about a wage-gender gap. The value of a man age 20 and up was 1.67 times that of a woman.

I’m no feminist. In fact, all the chatter of a wage-gender gap in current culture has never ruffled my feathers.

From what I’ve read, the more reliable studies show there is no wage-gender bias.

From what little I know from life itself, if you work hard and earn your keep, people will pay you. And if they don’t, one of the beauties of this great country is that you can go work somewhere else. If no one will pay you what you think you are worth, then chances are you are not worth what you think you are worth—whether man or woman. Pretty simple.

So back to Exodus. The price of men was 50 shekels. The price of women was 30 shekels.

That’s what God said.

I chewed on that for a while. Was it because the jobs that were available—tending fields and herding flocks—were just jobs men were better suited to? Women in those rolls weren’t able to keep up and it would take 1.67 of them to do what men could do?

This explanation didn’t seem quite right. Some women can out work some men in the field. God knows that.

Besides, surely whoever was out hiring servants also needed people to cook and clean and watch kids—things that women tend to excel at. It just might take 1.67 men to do what some moms do in a day. And anyway, in our culture, we’ve done a pretty good job of convincing ourselves that those things are just as valuable even if they don’t tend to pay as well.

If anyone ever had the ability to equal out the pay and settle that debate once and for all, it would be God right at that moment. So why didn’t he?

As a second thought—was it because of the law of supply and demand?   Were more women than men to be sold into slavery? Was the price lower so that women could find the security of a buyer? Men at the front of the store. Women on the clearance rack.

I thought about “Pirates of the Caribbean”—perhaps the most politically incorrect ride at Disney— portraying women being chained and sold on the auction block to drunken sailors and thieving reprobates. That just seems so outrageously inconsistent with the character of God. God is not an inebriated pirate.

So why the difference in value? Is God the sexist bigot that certain unbelievers would paint him to be? Has he changed since the days of Leviticus?

I thought about the well-quoted verse in Proverbs, Who can find a virtuous woman? Her worth is far above rubies. Apparently, that is what Solomon’s mother told him. And apparently, despite the fact that he probably had the rubies available to buy his way to the top of an eligible bachelor contest, he never found one. Or maybe he found several. We don’t really know. But at any rate, put in context, that statement appears to be some motherly advice and not an attempt to put a dollar value on a woman’s work.

Still, it just seems that there must be reasonable explanation consistent with God’s unchanging character.

And after mulling it over, I’ll tell you my conclusion. Next blog.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

What if the sole indicator of your spiritual health was your prayer gauge?

What if the only fuel for your spiritual engine was the steam from your prayer room?

What if the only offering you had to lay before a loving king was the incense of your prayer?

I was never good at algebra. But one thing I learned is the importance of isolating a problem. Instead of being daunted by a long string of numbers, narrow the equation down to the offending variable. And so often, when all is not well with my spiritually, I dig down only to find that I lack a healthy prayer life. Prayer is so elementary that I forget it is like the alphabet that makes up every meaningful word we will encounter for the rest of our lives. We will never graduate from the need for prayer.

In Sunday School recently, we were taught that prayerlessness is a form of pride. It is me thinking I can handle life on my own. Occasional prayer is using God as my life saver instead of as my boat. It may keep me alive, but it won’t keep me heading in the right direction.

Lord, teach us to pray

When the disciples went to Jesus and asked him to teach them to pray, it was not the urgency of a critical need that drove them. It was not because of some puzzling dilemma. When the disciples needed something or had a question, they asked Jesus. Any why not? He was God. And He was right there. He was eating, sleeping, breathing, and walking next to them. He had shown himself infinitely powerful and ridiculously patient. Was walking with Jesus not enough?

The disciples didn’t yet understand that Jesus would die and ascend back to heaven. They didn’t yet grasp the importance of the relationship with a God who was unseen. But they did understand something: Jesus spent time—serious time—talking with the Father. Somehow they knew the importance of that time to Jesus. It was not Jesus’ daytime TV fix. It was a powerful communion between Father and Son.

And so they asked him to show them to pray.

Many books have been written and many sermons preached over the simple prayer Jesus taught to the disciples. He wasted no time and no words providing for the disciples a pattern for approaching the gates of heaven.

But clearly Jesus didn’t intend for them to memorize those simple phrases and repeat them with rote discipline day after day. Paul’s writings are replete with prayers—none of which are repetition or patterns. David, years before Jesus came to earth, had earned a place close to God’s heart by pouring out his soul to his God—sometimes in song; sometimes in grief; sometimes in despair. Moses had forged a close relationship with God through some unconventional prayers which include songs of praise recorded for us to read thousands of years later.

Jesus modeled a prayer life that went far beyond the six or eight verses we call the Lord’s prayer. He spent days and hours. He retreated to the garden. He sent His disciples away. And when it was crunch time, he was incredulous that his disciples could not focus for even one hour. An hour of prayer to Jesus was like a penny to Donald Trump. Jesus had spent 40 days in prayer and fasting. And unlike me, when Jesus spent time in prayer and fasting, he was probably praying and fasting.

Forty uninterrupted days of prayer.

Lord, teach us to pray.

We don’t make time to pray because we undervalue it. If we understood it as unfettered access to the riches of God’s grace, as an appointment with the King of the universe, as a luxurious retreat into the safest of refuges, we would do it.

We would just do it.

We would ask God to teach us.

We would ask the Holy Spirit to help us when we had no words to say.

Prayer may or may not change the world. But it will change us. It will feed our faith. It will anchor our hope. It is the source of our joy.

The more I pray the more I am able to hold loosely the cares of this world until I find myself casting them on the Lord in faith that He cares for me.

Lord, teach me to pray.


When Are You Going to Cut Your Hair?

I stopped in to see a tenant. Johnny is a sixty-something African American gentleman who made a point to give me a lecture about not answering his call—which I had missed while meeting with some people about 15 minutes before.

Then he asked me about replacing the living room carpet.

Then he asked me about replacing the threshold to keep bugs out.

Then he asked me about the insulation and complained about his high utility bills.

Then he asked me about selling the house to him. That led to a long conversation—the repairs and upgrades. The age of the roof. The hot water heater. The HVAC. The duct work.

When we finished, I was exhausted. In fact, I felt like I had just been deposed. I was backing my car away when he chased me down.

Johnny: One more question.
Me: Sure, what do you need?
Johnny: When are you going to cut your hair?
Me: My hair???
Johnny: Yes, when are you going to cut your hair?
Me: You are asking about…my hair?”
Johnny: Yeah. Most people cut their hair in the summer.
Me: [Speechless]

I’ve heard it said that there is no such thing as foolish questions, only foolish answers. I would challenge that statement. Here are a few more true to life exhibits for my case…

By the hotel clerk:

Q: How many rooms do you need?
A: Two
Q: How many adults total?
A: Three
A: Okay, how many adults in each room?

Well, President Bush, there is one child who, evidently, got left behind.

This happened on a Thursday:

Q: When would you like your dry cleaning back?
A: Tomorrow?
Q: No, I’m sorry, it won’t be done by tomorrow.
A: Okay, how about Saturday?
Q: No, sorry, we don’t clean on Saturdays, we’re only open for pick up.
A: Okay, so I assume Sunday is out?
Q: Yes. A: Monday–
Q: No, Monday is a holiday so we’re closed.

So why did you ask me when I wanted my dry cleaning? Do you get some kind of kick out of telling me “no” four times?

And my favorite:

Q: Date of Birth?
A: 8-2-81
Q: Is that 1981?

Honey, if you can’t guess it to the closest 100 years, I can think of one job at the fair that isn’t for you.

So…I will rest my case and let you draw your own conclusions. I’m sure I’ve asked my share of dumb questions, but none are coming to mind right now.

Despite these—and others that I’m sure you could add—I would still agree that it is generally good to ask questions. It’s often how we learn. It is often the best indicator that we are learning.

Kids are usually good at this. But I think as we grow older, we tend to ask questions less.   I know we still have questions. Google sure gets a lot of use.   But people who come to my office frequently asking questions tend to be apologetic. “I hate to bother you, but…”

Jesus often used questions in his teaching. Of course, Jesus didn’t ask questions for His own benefit; He knew the answers. But sometimes He seemed to want to expose his challengers or to cause his listeners to think.

One of the most pointed questions of Jesus’ ministry on earth was answered with one of the most insightful questions ever asked.

In John 6:67, Jesus has just heard murmuring against Him, so he turns to his disciples and asks, “Will you also go away?”

Peter answers perceptively, “to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life…”

To whom shall we go?

Peter recognized that to leave the Master meant to go from a greater thing to a lesser thing.  It is also interested that Peter recognized that his life with Jesus couldn’t be replaced by a return to fishing.  It wasn’t “to what would we go?” it was, “to whom shall we go?”

One disciple would choose that lesser life. And after betraying his friend for 30 pieces of silver, Judas would regret his choice, but it was too late. Soon, he threw away the very thing had seemed so appealing to him. Judas died friendless, penniless, and hopeless. His life after his choice to “go away” was brief and the money his traded the Master for was unsatisfying.

Judas doesn’t make the choice to “go away” attractive. Who would want Judas’ life after his betrayal? If you can call it that.

But what about the other eleven? They died too. But in the meantime, they were traveling evangelists—not rich and famous ones. They were beaten, imprisoned, and in some cases–tortured. In fact, tradition tells us that all but John were martyred for their faith and some in the cruelest of ways.  Beheaded, crucified upside down, flayed alive.

So what was really different? Judas died a traitor. The other eleven died faithful. But they all died.

To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.

Perhaps that is what makes Peter’s question such an insightful answer. Peter was still a work in progress, but he had begun to latch on to what is important—not comfort, or money, or fame, or even happiness.

The twelve were given an opportunity to leave an ordinary life for an eternal life. They would get to know the Messiah like no other people in history ever would. They walked and talked with the very Son of God. They would get to hear his words and some would even be chosen to record them for the rest of mankind to read and ponder.

The eleven would give their earthly lives away. They would live in discomfort; they would die in pain. But they would know beyond question that after this life comes another. Eternal life. And in that eternal life would be eternal rewards.

I suspect that if Peter was here today and I asked him if it was worth it, he would not hesitate. If I asked Him if I should remain faithful, he might even answer with that profound question:

To whom would you go? Only Jesus has the words of eternal life.

Loneliness…and the sparrows

ImageHe was a visitor in our high school Sunday School class.  He should have fit right in.  Just by happenstance, the class was all boys that day.  All private school and homeschool Christian young men.  And even though he had long since passed the 6-foot mark, he wasn’t towering over anyone in our overgrown class.  But me, I suppose.

I tried to be cordial but he was clearly uncomfortable.  I asked him some questions, but he stuttered so badly that I wasn’t sure whether my attempts at friendliness were making things better or worse.

I felt for him.  His siblings were grown and gone.  He was a homeschooled missionary kid living in a land where the average height of the natives is a good 14 inches shorter than him.  When in the States, his family would travel church to church, never staying long enough for him to be anything but a stranger.

A shy, stuttering home school student looking like no one in a sea of look-alike nationals.  Talk about a recipe for loneliness.

I don’t know if he is lonely or not.  It wasn’t like he bared his soul to a strange group of lanky cut-up high schoolers and their teacher.  I’m just using my Sherlock Homes-like powers of deduction to suppose that if I were him, I might have trouble making friends.  And I might be lonely.

And, frankly, I felt for him.  Even if I might never see him again, I cared.  Perhaps because it brought back memories of some of my teen years.  Perhaps because I thought of some other people I knew who as high schoolers seemed like misfits—through no fault of their own they were just in places that friends were hard to come by.  Good friends, that is.

When I was just starting high school, I was finding that the kids that I had grown up with seemed to be taking a different path in life than me.  Not right and wrong necessarily—just different.  We had different priorities, we wanted to talk about different things.  I stopped getting invited to their birthday parties.  What started as “BFF” came to a jagged end.  Some of my friendships died a natural death, some a thousand unnatural ones. It seems like drama over nothing in the rearview mirror—only because it is so long ago.  But it was painful then.

I invested my time in other pursuits, like “Cubbies.”  I discovered in junior high that I loved kids.  Working with pre-schoolers was the highlight of my week.  I was better at it then than I am now, I’m sure.  Just a lot less inhibited.

I can remember little ones come flying toward me with their arms outstretched saying “Miss Danielle!” and lighting up my heart.  One of them came to give me a hug and said, “Miss Danielle, you’re my BEST friend!”  The memory of that still brings tears to my eyes (although he would be mortified now if I reminded him).

I didn’t have many friends my age then, but I guess God knew I didn’t need many.  I didn’t need to be running around with other high schoolers doing whatever it is that teens do.  I was better off investing my life in the hearts of little ones and building relationships with wise adults.

It was perhaps a somewhat lonely season of life.  But it was just that—a season.

And now, having the benefit of being able to look back, I guess what I wished I could say the 6 foot plus high schooler in my Sunday School class was this—remember the sparrows.

In a familiar Bible passage, Jesus says this: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows…”  Matthew 27:29-31

Jesus is speaking in the context of persecution, but he makes some universal points very clear:

I know.  I care.

Like many other Bible passages, I tend to discredit this one as too familiar.  Too simple.  Too well traveled to be holding valuable insight.

But recently, it struck me like never before.  Jesus points to creatures that to us seem virtuously worthless.  You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.  No personality.  No unusual skill.  No good looks.  Just noisy birds intent on filling their big bird mouths and making their little bird nests.  Like every other sparrow.

And Jesus says this: God the Father knows those sparrows.  Individually.  So much so that not one of them will fall to the ground without His notice.  If He takes such loving care of sparrows, how much more does he care for his children?

He knows.  He cares.

Jesus is driving home a point that I still find difficult to believe—that the Father is intimately acquainted with every detail of our lives.  He doesn’t miss an event so small as a hair lost.  He is closer than a brother.  More diligent than a shepherd.  More attentive than a mother with her little one.

His children—regardless of how empty and barren they may be tempted to feel— can cling to the truth that they are intimately known and extravagantly loved.  Whatever season of life they are in, they have not been forgotten.  They have not been left waiting in the wings while some more pressing need is being addressed.

I wonder if that young man who visited my Sunday School class will be the next D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Adoniram Judson, or John MacArthur.  Perhaps a season of life when every sentence is a struggle will turn him into an orator who weighs the value of every syllable he speaks.  Maybe he will value his relationships with others so highly that his contributions into their lives will be transforming.  Maybe he will have more time on his hands as a young man to invest in things that are going to matter for eternity than most.  Maybe he lost a few hairs today.

I don’t know.

But the Father does.


And Out of the Hand of Saul

From the time we were two, we sang about “only a boy named David” and the giant who “came tumbling down.” A lot of sermons have been preached on David and Goliath and rightfully so.

It’s a pretty cool story…a teenager defeating a nation’s greatest enemy with a slingshot. He faced his giant with the most primitive of weapons, an awesome God, and tremendous courage that let him do what no other man in his nation would do. A lowly shepherd boy became a national celebrity overnight. Clearly, God was working to defeat the Philistines; but it was also good PR for David— to help him gain the respect of a nation that he would one day rule as king.

But while fame can be acquired in a day, character cannot. Not in a day, a month, or a year. Perhaps that is why David’s greatest victory became a thorn in his flesh when a jealous Saul forced him into a life of running and hiding. One thing I did not know until this recent sermon series on David is that the running and hiding act of David’s life lasted approximately ten years. That’s a long time.

The day David faced Goliath may have been one of his fondest memories, but I doubt it was his most difficult. And even if it was, a day is just…well…a day.

I remember when I was seventeen—I was coaching debate teams, teaching piano lessons, and starting law school. I thought I could do anything. And the more likely I was to fail, the more determined I was to succeed. I wanted to be against the odds. I wanted to do what no one else had ever done before or would ever do again. It is a good thing I was not dared to fight Goliath because I would have done it. And considering my sling shot skills, I would have died trying. And I probably would have been glad that I died a remarkable death instead of an ordinary one.

Not to undermine acts of courage, but they can sometimes be accomplished without a whole lot of character. If you don’t believe me, go to Niagara Falls and look at the museum of people who have gone over the falls in a barrel. On purpose.

But ten years in the wilderness, that’s another story. Ten years of running, hiding, waiting. Three things men—especially the type of men that fight Goliaths—hate. Surely David would rather have had one big fight than ten years of running. Just face Saul and duke it out.  At least it would be over with once and for all. I would rather face the meanest, ugliest, biggest, baddest giant that I can fight and be done with it than struggle with a situation that I have no control over and that just drags on and on. Wouldn’t you?

One thing that struck me in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 was the heading. “David spake unto the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul.”

I found it interesting that David distinguished Saul from his enemies. Most of us would consider someone that chased us for ten years, threw spears at us, tried to kill us in our beds, and forced us to live like an animal in the wilderness for ten years– as an enemy. Shoot, even Goliath didn’t try to kill David in his bed. Yet despite all the dirty tricks, Saul was God’s anointed and the sling shot was off limits. This was a giant David could not kill; David would have to wait for him to kill himself. Not nearly as climactic. And it would take ten long, long years.

But the fact that David did not even label Saul as his enemy—that is remarkable. Despite the frustration of ten years of waiting, being falsely accused and distrusted, David looks back over his life and has the maturity to see Saul as something different than an enemy. Saul was an instrument of God to build character in David that Goliath could never have built.

The wilderness seems to be the Ivy League of God’s training grounds. God turned boys into men in the wilderness. Some got ten years, some got forty. God taught forgiveness, endurance, patience, joy, and humility. God took absolutely everything of value away from some of his most beloved servants and taught them to rely solely on Him (See 1 Samuel 30, especially verse 6).

The times that David bypassed the opportunities to kill Saul, both in the cave and in the camp may have been David’s true greatest moments. The days the giant did not come tumbling down. The days that a giant-killer recognized that discomfort and distain is not necessarily an enemy—and waits patiently for the same God that delivered David from Goliath to deliver him out of the hand of Saul.

2 Samuel 22 / Psalm 18