What Is Greater To You Than Jesus?

What Is Greater To You Than Jesus?

Morning Meditation, August 31st

 “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself…?” John 4:12

For the Samaritan woman, nothing was loftier than the symbolism behind Jacob and his well. He was a patriarch of the Jews, he represented Israel’s legacy and heritage, he wrestled with God and rose to his feet with a blessing. Who could prove greater than that? Certainly not this man who was striking up conversation with her (Jews and Samaritans didn’t interact much), who had no water and no means to get any water. Finally, after He’d claimed the power to offer living water, she couldn’t take it anymore. She had to ask the question, are you telling me you’re greater than our father Jacob?

The woman at the well asked Jesus a question we’re still asking

“Jesus, are you greater than…? 

My friends and I took to the Harpeth River the other weekend with my brother, his wife and their two kids under the age of four—just go ahead and envision how much fun this was. The friends and I were in kayaks and the family was in a canoe. And let’s just say the river was lower than normal. We found this out approximately 27 seconds into our excursion when the current whisked our kayaks downriver then slammed us into boulders—or rocks if you’re less dramatic. My friend April tipped over just enough for the river to enter her kayak, which in scientific terms results in sinking. Several of us appeared to be permanently stranded on mini rock islands, attempting to free ourselves in profoundly unattractive positions. Harper, my three year-old niece, who is typically tough and optimistic and easily pacified with snacks from Trader Joe’s, looked on with horror.

My brother David and his wife Megen assured, cajoled, comforted and passed out popcorn, wielding their ores deftly around protrusions. “Harper, you’re fine”, my brother was on repeat. “Daddy’s here.” This did nothing. She scowled at every passerby, like this was the dumbest “surprise” trip of a Saturday she’d ever heard of: People getting soaked and crashing into things. She cried and asked to go home for the brief span of pretty much the whole trip. David rowed up to my kayak exasperated. “When we were kids, it didn’t matter what the situation was, if Dad was there I felt safe.” Thoughtful pause, “Guess I’m not cutting it.”

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This is one attractive crew

Of course he was, this is just a three-year old for you. And it’s just the idea that hitting those doggone rocks had grown bigger to Harper than her Dad’s capabilities, which in reality wasn’t truth. In essence Harper was asking, “Daddy, are you telling me you’re greater than these rocks?”

Or put another way,

“God, are you bigger than my looming circumstances?

My past?

The way things have always been for me?

Or as stated by the Samaritan woman, “Are you trying to tell me you’re greater than our father Jacob?”

We wonder if Jesus is really greater than…, or more capable than…, or more loving than…(and this is where you get to fill in the slots for yourself.) For the Samaritan woman, if someone was going to claim the ability to disperse living and eternal water he’d have to be greater than Jacob. Because the belief was, Jacob had dug the thing in the first place. In those parts, he had credentials. And this is where we tend to get stuck: right at that point of believing someone or something—right in the dead center of our lives—is greater than Jesus. Or the reverse, that Jesus is not as great, loving, or powerful as whatever it is we’re hoping will quench our thirst or quell our fears or satisfy our longings.

The answer is yes in Jesus

The woman at the well found Him to be greater. Even than Jacob. Jesus knew the details of her present and the sordid stains of her past, and still His living water washed her clean and new. I pray you’ll ponder the account of John 4. Perhaps consider the personal question:

What appears greater than Jesus in my life?

And then trust He’s greater than the rocks.

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Three Things I’ve Learned About Legacy

Three Things I’ve Learned About Legacy

Morning Meditation, August 24, 2015

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2Timothy 4:6-7

My parents are still at the church I grew up in and the one they started 41 years ago. I was in that church last week for a funeral honoring our family’s friend Bill, a man who’d served as the Reston Bible Church mission’s director for nearly thirty years. He was sixty-one; The lives he touched are immeasurable.

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My dad and niece. I can’t take it.

The auditorium was packed with faces I’ve known since childhood. I can’t recall another time I’ve been in a room so thick with heritage. Sitting to my left were my favorite missionary couple who’d planted a church in Milan 31 years ago, the ones who brought me chocolate bars when I was a kid. I ran into a doctor and former elder who is now tending to his ailing wife with the same level of integrity with which he practiced medicine and church. Directly behind me sat a couple that planted a congregation in the next town over after meeting Christ at my parent’s church decades ago. Our family’s adopted uncle had flown up, his 81 year-old smile as contagious as the day he met the Lord, as the days he would take my sister and me to the ice cream parlor. My junior high youth leader was there, now with eight grown children of her own, still serving. The three year-olds I’d taught in Sunday school class when I was a sophomore are now twenty-somethings toting kids of their own, some biological and some from diverse parts of the world through adoption.

It was a sliver of heaven where the saints gathered and celebrated the only life worth living: one totally and completely sold out in service to the Lord. And it got me thinking about how a godly legacy starts, is sustained and secured. Because when I get to the end of my life, it’s all I will care about leaving.

Legacy begins with surrender

I’m not talking about our moment of salvation though this is vital to godly legacy. I’m talking about that time—or times—when we say to the Lord, You have me all the way. Not my way but your way. I’m ready to do what you ask and go where you take me. I’m in. In 2 Timothy Paul is writing near the end of his life, certainly remembering the moment he accepted God’s call to the Gentiles. Paul’s answering that call wasn’t what secured his salvation—that’s all God’s grace—but it is what began his legacy. Yesterday’s service made me want to forget being driven by temporal agendas or committed to fleeting successes. I want the Lord to pen my legacy and this comes at surrender.

Legacy is built over time

Paul uses the fitting metaphor of running a race because a race starts as quick as a gunshot but running that race takes endurance. And usually a lot of time. When I considered Bill’s life and the lives of those in that room I realized that all that heritage and ministry hadn’t happened over night. For some, legacy included lonely months on the mission field, estranged loved ones, sickness, persecution, strokes, even seasons marked with some pretty big sin—the kind the self-righteous like to point out—all dotting the pathway, but ultimately, everyone I know in that room is still running. They’re in the race. They haven’t given up.They’re on their way to finishing. They’re fighting that fight (because dear sisters, we’re in a fight). Every day they make a hundred choices for God, whether it be the sacrifice of prayer, the discipline of being in the Word, taking the extra minute to throw the football with their kids at the bus stop, forgiving an offense, and in so doing, one step at a time, their gait continues toward the finish line. None of us gets to helicopter in.

Legacy lasts for eternity

As I glanced at the faces around the room, baby’s flesh to grey heads, so many stories I knew intimately, immeasurable reaches of ministry along with some breathtaking blows, I saw a whole bunch of people saved by grace who’ve given their lives to tell others about that grace and disciple them in the ways of Jesus. When these saints go Home, when I go Home, when we’re all with Jesus, the legacy God’s scripted with our lives will still be at work. As Bill’s four children so richly stated, “We would not be followers of Jesus without our Mom and Dad, and our Mom and Dad would never have made it if not for knowing Christ.” Bill’s legacy will live on in his family and also in the countless lives he’s served, because what we do for Christ is eternal.

Sitting in that service reminded me that absolutely no agenda I’m holding onto can possibly rival the story God desires to write with a life fully surrendered to His purposes. I was encouraged to persevere because legacy doesn’t happen in an instant; Paul’s race boasted sufferings and triumphs and every mundane thing in between, but after a long earthly while, a legacy was built. His race was completed a step at a time, and so is ours. And after we finish our race God preserves the work. Godly legacy begins with surrender, is built over time and lasts for eternity. 

Thank you Bill for inspiring us to live all-out for Christ. We do not trust in our ability to run this race, but we trust in the One who’s called us to it.

 

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Morning Meditation: How To Find Fullness By Letting Go

Morning Meditation: How To Find Fullness By Letting Go

Philippians 2:3, 5-6 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves…. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped…”

I don’t think humility has ever been easy to come by but you could make the case that in our modern society humility is at a real disadvantage—hardly anything is helping this virtue along. We live in a staggeringly individualistic culture where making our selfies seen, voices heard, accomplishments known feel vital to our existence. Everything from relentless comparisons to the unsustainable expectations we try to attain so we can hold our pride intact work against the gem of a humble disposition.

How do we possess the humble mind of Christ when everything is working against us?

Ask yourself what it is you’re holding onto

In verse 6 of our text Paul explains that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped—or seized, carried off by force, held as a prize. For Jesus to have humbled Himself in the form of a servant He had to forfeit the inherent rights He possessed as God’s equal. If Jesus had considered equality with God something to be clutched He wouldn’t have humbled Himself to the point of the cross. Jesus let go of what was rightfully His—enjoying the benefits of equality with God—for the higher good, His ultimate calling. When humility feels impossible we have to start with the question: what am I grasping onto?

My Rights? My Being Right? Seen? Celebrated?

 That person I’m trying to impress?

 More money? The chance to get my way? The upper hand?

 What’s rightfully “mine”?

Release your rights and agendas to God

I confess to you, dear reader, that sometimes I find my panicky little fingers practically arthritic around some form of achievement or advancement I think is necessary to my happiness. I can choke my version of success in my grip until it’s gasping. Other times I grasp onto people to meet my heart’s longings. (No one enjoys this, in case you were in any way curious). Being seen as right or having done the right thing—or simply being right—become all consuming measuring rods leaving us feeling smug or small.

Finding freedom from my pride always requires a releasing. I must let go. Yes, of pride, but of what’s specifically in my hands.

Open your hands to receive what can never be taken from you

Humility seems like a study in emptiness, but I’m convinced humility is the only avenue to God’s fullness in our lives. The HCSB Dictionary says, “It is a ‘great paradox in Christianity that it makes humility the avenue to glory.’”

In humility Jesus released equality with God, came to earth, died on a shameful cross. But He was never empty handed. Jesus let go of what was rightfully His to hold little children in His lap. Touch the skin of a leper. Take the hand of a twelve year-old girl. Put an ear back on a soldier’s head. Feed the five thousand. Pass the cup of communion. Open his hands to be pierced by nails. Flip fish over a fire where He restored Peter after His resurrection.

And God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name above all names.

What are you grasping? Humility says, you don’t need to grasp what this world valuesHumble yourself, let go, and see what God will put in your hands. And when He does you won’t even have to choke or clutch what He gives you, all His blessings will remain.

Photo: Hannah Smith Photography

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The Surprising Path of Freedom

The Surprising Path of Freedom

Morning Meditation, August 10th, 2015

Psalm 119:32 I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.

I am writing to you, the one who feels crushed under the requirements of God’s commands. You, who craves to be filled, who longs to lose yourself in the pleasures within your reach, no matter if they are good for you or the people around you. You know the path of obedience but it has grown tired to you. Stale as beige. The right way feels like the path of suffocation and the wrong way—which you’ve debated may not actually be so bad after all—appears positively pumping with life.

You are on my heart: the one who knows what to do but doesn’t want to do it anymore. The one who knows where to go but is on the brink of slipping away to somewhere else.

I recently returned from a small town in Maine. One of the local shops was selling t-shirts that said, What happens in Winter Harbor stays in Winter Harbor…but hardly anything ever happens here. This was my former view of what the Christian life with its all its commands and rules had to offer. A life that boasted all the freedom you wanted except nothing was really going on there. The party was always someplace else. But believing that unbridled indulgence leads to freedom is a mindset immutably cracked and costly. There is a way that leads to heartsickness but God’s ways cannot lead to anything other than life.

I am writing to you because at moments I wasn’t sure if I really believed this. I have deliberated at the fork of passionless obedience versus exhilarating sin, and I have never been more grateful for being on this side of obedience. Because in all our frustration and confusion and desire to fly off the trail a psalmist is moving past us like a gazelle, full of breath and endurance, light as a dandelion puff on the air.

And he is running.

If we’re honest he is on a most peculiar path. We’re surprised to see him so unharnessed, so unencumbered loping down the trail that winds and leads at the contours of God’s commands. To our modern ears this feels a bit embellished. We have heard from the corners of culture that obedience to God is narrow and close-minded. That if we follow the bible’s truth we will, best case scenario, miss out on all life has to offer. Why, if you could soar down any road of your choice, would you choose the one whose defining attraction is God’s commands?

The runner gives an answer.

God has set his heart free and God’s commands are the fulcrum of that freedom.

The Hebrew verb ‘to set free’ here is rachab and it means to widen, enlarge, broaden, make room. When we run according to God’s commands wide-open spaces become our surroundings. We run without guilt or regret crashing against our conscience. We no longer stumble through relational entanglements nor are we haunted by past choices, which is the landscape of every other road. Peace and contentment is our strength.

I am writing to you because the psalmist reminds us that God’s commands are not His way of capriciously holding out on you. The One who frees you loves you. The One who loves you wants you to run uninhibited on the path that boasts holy parameters yet paradoxically has no end. The psalmist knew that to cleave to God’s Word and ways was the only way to be free. And once he’d tasted that freedom he couldn’t help but run.

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Morning Meditation: When It’s Time to Move On

Morning Meditation: When It’s Time to Move On

The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will your mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way’. 1 Samuel 16:1 

The people of Israel had rejected God as their King having pined for what everyone else had—a human king who sat on a tangible throne. (What is it about ‘normal’ that we as humans tend to want so badly?) God listened to Israel and appointed Samuel to anoint Saul as king. Samuel poured a flask of oil over Saul’s head, kissed him and so their journey began. The storied history the two of them shared would be difficult for either of them to walk away from. Theirs was no casual friendship. It was spiritual, significant and impacted the lives of a nation. A coupling of a prophet and king had been bound together in God’s story—No one wants to be the one to ever sever something this divine.

Down the road Saul’s heart rebelled against the Lord. He spared the best of the Amalekite’s cattle for an offering even though the Lord had commanded him to destroy the whole lot of them. Saul’s version of sacrifice became more important to him than God’s definition of obedience. To obey is always better than sacrifice. As a result of Saul’s rebellion God rejected him as king over Israel.

And Samuel mourned.

Because we mourn for our broken relationships. We long for what could have been. What was supposed to be! We lament for the pain such tearing away will cause ourselves, and the way it will affect others. We wonder if God will be able to replace him or her or this utterly divine plan that seemed so perfect in the beginning. We ask what went wrong? A million times, what went wrong? And we can’t bear to say goodbye.

And then God says, How long, dear one, will you mourn?

Fill your horn with oil.

Be on your way.

I have something new for you to do.

This is not justification for abandoning ministries or marriages or motherhood, or for walking away from what is simply hard. Often obedience means sticking it out. But in this case God was moving Samuel on because He had already moved on. God would deal with Saul but this was no longer Samuel’s business. Even though Samuel had stopped visiting Saul we’re told he still mourned for him  (1 Sam 15:35). Even though Samuel was no longer tied up with Saul in person, his emotions were. His thoughts and his energies were still mired in grief, binding him to a dream now done.

I remember the Lord delivering this passage to me during a time when I couldn’t let a relationship go. It was dead in the water. It bore no fruit. It brought the Lord no pleasure. It saddled me with misery. Still, it was getting the best of my heart and thoughts. And then God brought me to 1 Samuel 16:1. It was time for the new thing. Time to find a horn and some oil and get on with it. New relationships and opportunities lay ahead.

No sense in spending the precious present mourning for the past when God has already moved on.

For Samuel, God had a new king for him to anoint and he couldn’t do this while lamenting the old one. A shepherd boy was unwittingly waiting in the fields for Samuel to relinquish what had been so he could be part of what was to be. King David was part of Samuel’s future but he couldn’t have gotten there while still mourning Saul.

What new thing is the Lord asking of you? Is there anything old or cold you’re still giving your thoughts, emotions or energies to? Do you need to let go of something in the past so you can embrace the present? May you hear the beautiful and unwavering words of the Lord this morning, Be on your way… And any way in which the Lord is leading you promises to be a good way, indeed.

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