Category Archives: faith

Memories of a Mountain

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Recently I returned to a place I hadn’t been to in 34 years: Forest Home, a camp and conference center in the San Bernardino mountains. I’d worked there for two summers after high school, first as a groundskeeper, then as dishwasher at the high school camp.

Much has changed around FoHo in three-plus decades: the pool was moved, the teepees of “Indian Village” have been replaced with yurts in what is now simply, “The Village,” and ongoing maintenance has upgraded most of the buildings. But much is the same, too, or at least similar. The Clubhouse, Roundhouse, and dining halls are all in the same places. The lake is still full and wet and green. Black bears still wander the grounds at night, threatening any food or garbage left by unaccustomed city folk!

As I walked throughout the camp, memories flowed from rocks and buildings and the creek running down the valley. In the dining room, I recalled the day we heard that Christian musician Keith Green had died. Outside the kitchen where I washed dishes, I remembered my conversation about faith with a Catholic co-worker. Faces and names came to mind – people who spoke into my faith, challenged me, encouraged me, built me up. The leadership retreat I was part of that weekend opened the door to these memories of God at work not only in my own life, but thousands of other lives over the years.

Throughout the Bible, God tells his followers to remember:

Remember who he is (Exodus 3:15). Remember his commandments (Numbers 15:40). Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:18).

When the people of Israel finally crossed the Jordan River and into the promised land, they were to collect twelve stones from the riverbed and place them where they camped next to the river. When their children in future generations saw the stones and asked about them, they would remember how God had led them across the river on dry ground

Jesus told his disciples to remember him whenever they shared in what we now call Communion or the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist.

Sometimes life gets hard: Jobs are lost. A spouse gets sick. A child wanders. A parent dies. And in the midst of the hard, we don’t always see God at work, don’t hear his voice, don’t feel his presence. We forget.

We need help to remember. We need a friend’s eyes to give perspective. We need a counselor’s ears to hear what God is whispering. We need a spouse’s arms to feel God next to us. We need a pile of stones—or a trip back up the mountain—to help us remember what God has done in the past…and what he promises to continue doing.

Are you having a hard time remembering? Who can help you? Where can you go where God worked before? What stone can you touch?

Remember….

Whatever This Is

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He didn’t even spare his own Son –
	He’s not going to let that sacrifice go to waste!
What accusations? The answer is already
	on the table.
What condemnation? The penalty has already
	been paid. Over and done.
And now he’s at God’s side – has God’s ear.
	[Every mistake, every failing, every sin
		filtered through the prism of
		Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice.
	Over before it’s done.]

So what!
	So what? So this:
		Nothing.
			NOTHING!
				NO-THING
		can come between me-and-him!

Hard stuff – really hard stuff?
		Nope.
Tears – piteous wailing – agonizing desperation? 
		Nope.
Faith-haters – faith-hurters – stone-hurlers? 
		Nope.
Empty stomach? Empty closet?
	Not those, either.

READ THIS:
	Because of You
		Death is daily, moment-by-moment
			Slow, torturous.
		We’re in line for the slaughterhouse.

But – however – nonetheless – yet…
		WAIT! Hold presses!
	Fooled ya’!
		We win! We win! We win!
			We won! You won!
	Your love — death-to-self, us-before-you,
		climb-up-on-the-cross-and-die-for-me love…
Your love won the fight, the battle, the war
	long before I even knew there was an argument.

And so, I know this — with every ounce of knowing,
	every fiber of my being,
	beyond the doubts that hide in shadows:

	Ain’t nothin’ comin’ ‘tween me and your love!
		Death – life
		Angels – kings – congress – presidents
		Now – not yet
		Enemies of the state
		Unclimbable mountains – unfordable valleys
		Stuff that's made

Nothing at all can come between
	me-and-your-love.

[Guess I can handle this*, huh?]



			*whatever “this” is

(Based on Romans 8:31-39.)

One Righteous Act

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Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13-14, ESV)

If Jesus were to ask that same question today, the answers might be, a religious leader, a healer, or even a fake. He is often put on a level with Mahatma Gandhi as an advocate of peace; with Mother Teresa as a bringer of love; with Mohammed as a prophet. Most people who have any understanding of the historical Jesus say that he was, at the very least, a good teacher.

C.S. Lewis, of course, seeks to dispel that misconception by his famous “Lord, liar, or lunatic” argument (see the Preface to his book, Mere Christianity). His basic argument: given the incredible claims Jesus made about himself, he could only be a deluded lunatic, a pathological liar…or exactly who he said he was: Lord.

There is no doubt that Jesus was what so many believe of him: a good teacher, a prophet, a healer. He epitomized love for the outcast and spoke wisdom that shut the mouths of religious and political authorities alike. But if that is all he was, his impact on the world is all but over and done. Sure, his followers (most, anyway) continue to promote his message of love and peace, continue to seek the good of their communities and the world. But that’s about it. Hope ends there.

Recently I came across this verse: “…through one righteous act there is justification leading to life for everyone.” (Romans 5:18, Christian Standard Bible)

For some reason, those three words—one righteous act—stopped me in my tracks. Just one thing made the difference between a good but ultimately meaningless life, and a life of ultimate purpose and eternal impact.

What was that one righteous act? His death. The cross. 

Sit with that thought for a few moments. It is, after all, Good Friday—the day Christians around the world remember Jesus’ sacrifice. We look forward to Easter, of course, but you can’t get to Resurrection Sunday without going through Good Friday. Or silent Saturday, a day of grieving, wondering, waiting…for God knows what? So just sit with the reality of the cross, of a torturous death.

Sit with the truth that, but for Jesus’ sacrifice, we would have no hope beyond this life (which, you have to admit, has been challenging the past few years). Just one righteous act made possible justification leading to life for everyone. Life. Justification—a big word that simply means the slate has been wiped clean.

Jesus’ one righteous act demands just one righteous act in return. To lay claim to that gift—life, justification—you need only believe.

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9-10, CSB)

Just one righteous act.

Drought Resistance

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But blessed are those who trust in the LORD
and have made the LORD their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8, New Living Translation)

What does it look like to “trust in the Lord”? What does it mean to make him your “hope and confidence”? I’ve been wrestling with those questions over the past couple days – ever since my Dad reminded me of Jeremiah’s words.

Part of the answer lies in the alternative: trusting in “mere humans” and relying on human strength. Do that, Jer’ says, and you’re cursed. Not necessarily damned, but certainly doomed. Like a “stunted shrub in the desert… in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.” With “no hope for the future.” Dismal words. Dismal picture. Dismal life.

“But,” he says, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be like a riverside tree, “with roots that reach deep into the water.”

Look at the picture above. The landscape looks pretty brown and barren. Lots of weeds, but no crops. But the tree is flourishing. Green, leafy, healthy. Why? Because down to the right of the trunk, below the canopy’s shade, is a river. Not much of a river here, but water, nonetheless. And the tree’s roots reach through the brown soil deep into the ground where the water sits.

This particular tree, a few miles west of Ethiopia’s capital city, is a prayer tree. Christians from nearby villages meet here to pray in its cooling shade. In the midst of a dry and weary land, they come together to put their trust in the Lord; to make him their hope and confidence. And they—like the tree—aren’t afraid of the drought, but stay green and fruitful.

I’ve been through some wilderness times. I feel like I’m in the wilderness now. But there’s something different this time. More than ever before, I know I can trust in God. I know he is worthy of my trust, hope, confidence. It’s not easy; I’d really like to be able to just move forward, to pop out one more resume and get the job I’ve been waiting for, to be done with the waiting and wondering and wandering.

But he’s faithful. And even when I can’t see it, he’s growing fruit in me…and maybe even through me. And I don’t have to fear the drought.

Walking With God

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220px-hannah_whitall_smithMy knowledge of God … advanced slowly through many stages, and with a vast amount of useless conflict and wrestling, to the place where I … discovered to my amazement and delight His utter unselfishness, and saw it was safe to trust in Him. –Hannah Whitall Smith (emphasis mine)

I opened a new (to me) devotional book this morning and read these words from 19th-century Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith. Though I know very little of Smith’s life or spiritual journey, her description of that journey jumped out at me. How often have I wrestled with God? How often have I felt conflict in my relationship with Him, convinced God wanted nothing more than to squelch my enjoyment, my desires, my dreams?

Of course, none of those feelings of mine are rooted in the truth of Scripture that I have so long read and studied. My accusations fly in the face of such promises as “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4) and “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11). Still, in the dark, discouraging days, it is too easy to blame God.

Learning that “it [is] safe to trust in Him” is a lifelong process. It is a journey of discovery that involves both pain and delight – just as we learn to love, know, and trust a husband or wife. Smith puts it this way:

“I simply mean becoming acquainted with Him as one becomes acquainted with a human friend; that is, finding out what is His nature, and His character, and coming to understand His ways.”

Learning to know and trust God can involve “useless conflict and wrestling” or it can begin by believing He is trustworthy, then proving it over the course of a journey taken with Him and “finding out His nature and His character, and coming to understand His ways.”