Church Without Walls

Church without walls

On my most recent visit to Auburn, AL, home of my alma mater, Auburn University, I found myself here…

The place: Auburn University Student Activity Center
The day: Sunday morning
The time: 10:00 a.m.

And the place lived up to its name:

  • Auburn University? ✔︎ (War Eagle, y’all)
  • Student? ✔︎ (mostly, anyway)
  • Activity? ✔︎
  • Center? Mmm… (Actually, it’s kind of on the edge of campus, but let’s not get too bogged down.)

The “activity” that was happening that particular Sunday was probably not the reason the Student Act Center was built. While you would probably be more apt to take part in a pick-up basketball game there, the activity that morning was a church service.

Let that sink in: a CHURCH service held IN the Auburn University Student Activity Center ON the Auburn University campus. (Where else but sweet home Alabama could a church meet on a public university campus. God bless ‘Merica…) The Sunday before, the service was held in the Auburn Convention Center ballroom. The first service I attended several months earlier was held in the Auburn Livestock Arena. (No jokes—if you like burgers and ribs somebody’s got to teach animal husbandry.)

Regardless of the tabernacle du jour, the church meeting on and around Auburn University that I attended that morning is Auburn Community Church; ACC for short—a church without walls, as their tagline says. But let there be no doubt—it IS a church: a Spirit-led, God-honoring, Jesus-made-real, truth-preaching church.

And what a preacher—Miles Fidell, not yet 30, but with a depth of Biblical, theological, and practical wisdom shared freely and unapologetically; wisdom men of the cloth three times his age sometimes lack; wisdom appropriate for living la vida Jesus, whether you’re 21 or 81.

The first time a friend/church member sent me a link to one of Miles’ messages via the church’s podcast with a “you have GOT to listen to this” imperative, I admit it—I eye-rolled. Without even listening to a second of his message, I decided it was going to be some hip and trendy watered-down pablum he fed to the “kids” in his congregation—something all jargon-y and touchy-feely to placate them and make them feel good about their collective selves to keep them coming back. Knowing my friend would follow up to see what I thought, though, I figured I would just listen to a few minutes, make note of a couple points, and report back about how cool it was.

Not what happened.

I couldn’t stop listening. I kept tapping the repeat-the-last-15-seconds button on my podcast app so I could hear a particular point Miles made again. And again.

In the short term, that message wrecked me. In the long term, I haven’t missed a message since. (Quick note: I have an a-MAY-zing pastor at my home church who makes even the most unlearn-ed among us leave church every Sunday morning thinking we’re smart enough to actually understand those three alternate meanings of that Greek word John used. Plus, he also wrecks me. Then on Monday, I listen to Miles. It’s an embarrassment of preacherly riches. And wreckage.)

What’s amazing about ACC—actually, there’s a lot that’s amazing, but this particular thing could only happen in the 21st century in a college town—is if the service needs to change venue, it’s announced the Sunday before and on social media and texting ensues and everybody shows up the next week at the right place. (I can imagine my pastor telling our First Baptist congregation that we’re going to be meeting at a hotel ballroom next Sunday and in the gym the next Sunday and at the livestock arena the next Sunday. He might see exactly what that verse in Matthew 18 about “two or three” being gathered in Jesus’ name really means.)

Every Sunday the flock flocks: coeds, frat boys, pharmacy majors, engineers-to-be, singers, teachers, vet students, more than a few older folks (and growing)—all clutching a Bible, whether analog or digital, all tithing via Venmo, all singing with hands raised, all hungry to hear the Word presented with Miles’ unique delivery and incredibly clear presentation of the depth and goodness of a relationship with God.

And lest you get the wrong idea, this post isn’t about the “heresy” of a permanent church building. My home church grew so rapidly through the years that we finally bought an empty mall and turned it into a church complex that would amaze and astound you. So we definitely have a perma-building and God is definitely at work there. Nothing wrong with that.

But that place (with enough parking to host Black Friday sales for the entire county, I might add) is just that—a place. A place that’s big enough to hold us all, with weekly messages presenting the majesty and glory of the great I AM along with the “oh, that has got to be wrong—it can’t be that easy” Gospel message of grace and mercy and eternality, but, again—just a place.

And while I don’t have an inside on ACC’s marketing plan, I suspect the phrase “church without walls” isn’t referring to physical walls as much as it is to more abstract ones:

  • The “not one of us” walls we tend to erect—not to shut people out so much as to shut ourselves in.
  • The imaginary walls we hide behind because we think we can’t go to church until we get our hearts right with God or stop sleeping around or buy some socks or a coat and tie.
  • The walls we erect between our carefully-honed-comfort-zone-addicted selves and the tail-spinning, Katie-bar-the-door, dizzying fullness of a relationship with God.

Those kinds of walls.

I love that ACC doesn’t have those kinds of walls; it’s not that kind of church. Every church should be that kind of church…

…one where no one is shut out and no one is shut in.

…one where EVERYONE needs to get right with God in some area… and needs to stop (or start) doing something… and is welcome to be a part, socks or not.

…one where members are encouraged to pull the lap bar down, keep their hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times, dive headlong and with abandon into God’s arms, and hold on for dear life.

“Church without walls”—that’s what church should be, a place where…

…in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:5 NIV

A place where…

…we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another… Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV

A place where we…

…teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16 NIV

And if we can tear down those walls, then maybe—just maybe—like the very first Church, it could be said of our churches…

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:47 NIV

For in the end, y’all, that’s what we’re all about…

For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Acts 13:47

(and just to make sure we get it…)

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

That name? Jesus. And because we are His followers, we are His body, the Church—and to be the Church, we must be the Church without walls.

So whether your life as a Christian includes attending church in the gym, under a tree, or in a tricked out, comfortable, state-of-the-art worship center, the absence or presence of physical walls doesn’t matter. Those other walls, though?

Tear them down.

• • •

Click here to go to the Auburn Community Church website. While there, you can listen to Miles’ sermons online, or search for “Auburn Community Church” on your phone’s podcast app. But heed this warning: do so at your own risk… Once you’re done being wrecked, click here or on the logo below and follow me on Facebook.

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A Mother in Israel

Deborah_blog

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. Judges 4:4 NIV

Deborah had her own palm tree (seriously); the “Palm of Deborah” the Bible calls it.

Like Gideon and Samson, she was one of the Judges of Israel in that kind of nasty period between Joshua and King David (1200 B.C.-ish). Judges were Israel’s leaders, both legally and militarily—powerful, but still a few clicks down from royalty.

However, what I find most interesting—and appropriate for this week—was that Deborah was also a self-identified mother. In her own words:

I, Deborah, arose … a mother in Israel. Judges 5:7 NIV

What she arose to do was a lot of hand-holding of her military guy, Barak. (Jabin, king of Canaan, had been putting the whoop on the Israelites for 20 years and it was time to put the kibosh on that) But Barak, the big ol’ sissy, wouldn’t go to war without her, so she climbed out from under her palm, tucked her tunic, donned her combat boots, and got that snowflake to stop trembling and start trampling.

What a woman—during the day she held court under her palm tree, making the rowdy Israelites behave and leading their rag-tag army in battle, and at night she wiped snotty noses and picked up after the kids. She was the first Biblical mother who worked outside the home.

And if you read Judges 4-5, you’ll see that her work was definitely never done—just like most moms. ‘Cause while Dunkin’ is great to get Americans up and at it, I think what the country actually runs on is working moms.

And verily I say to thee—I don’t know many moms who don’t work. Maybe that work doesn’t include a cubicle and a retirement plan, but whether it’s in the boardroom or the bathroom, the bottom line is still given a tremendous boost.

Come to think of it, I know a bunch of near-moms—aunts and besties and sitters and the like—who are as much moms to the kids in their charge as the bio ones. If you’re part of that village helping raise a kid, you’re a mom in my book.

So thank you to each of you for making the world a kinder, gentler, and much nicer smelling place. I wouldn’t want to live here without you. As Solomon says…

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30 NIV

Exactly. Happy Mother’s Day to you all.

• • •

So what happened to Deborah? After defeating the enemy army…

…the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him (ouch). Judges 4:24 NIV

Then the land had peace forty years. Judges 5:31 NIV

IOW…Mama kicked Canaanite keister and took names. (You go, girl.)

• • •

Deborah says to follow me on Facebook. Click here or on the Facebook logo below. (You don’t want to mess with her.)

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Holy Spectacles

untitled“One…” *click* “…or two?”

“Ummm…”

*click*

“One…” *click* “…or two?”

“Two… I guess—maybe just a little.”

*click* *click* *swivel* *click*

“One…” *click* “…or two?”

And so it went. My optometrist would click a lens in place—“one”—then click a different lens in place—“two”—and ask me which one made the little teeny-tiny row of letters I was looking at more clear. Sometimes it was pretty obvious, but most of the time it was more like a Moe’s burrito vs. a Chipotle burrito—it’s a tortilla with beans, meat, and cheese. Bueno.

While the whole optometrical once-over—including the air rifle blast in the eye and the blinding dilation drops—is kind of a chore, it’s worth it to get a new pair of glasses every year.

And now for the rest of the story…

10 Ways to Live a Holy Life, Part 1

[God] has saved us and called us to a holy life. 2 Timothy 1:9

“Listicles” are everywhere. You know what I mean: “18 Ways to Know If Your Cat Is a Presbyterian” or “13 Foods That Will Make You Clairvoyant.” The theory is that we just don’t have enough time to read regular paragraphs, but we do have time to read lists.

So in the spirit of listicality (not a word, but totally should be), this is the first of a four-part series on 10 ways to live a holy life. After all, God Himself said:

“Be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)

Great – but what did He mean?

Being holy means that, now that I know Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I’m supposed to be different from the average non-Christian guy on the street – different in the things I do, the things I say, and the things I think about. For me, holiness means that I don’t cuss, or go to R-rated movies, or miss church to stay home and paint my bathroom.

But notice in the verse above that God doesn’t say “Be holy just like me.” (Because that’s just crazy talk.) We can never match the standards of God’s own holiness, but we can be holy within the parameters of our humanity. And God totally gets that; He created us, so He doesn’t have any delusion that we can be anything more than He made us to be.

The list below (and in the following days) will most likely make some folks squirmy, because we don’t want someone telling us that something we’re doing isn’t pleasing to God. But if you’re a Christian, the squirminess is good, because that means you still want what God wants for you.

In the end, though, it’s not what anyone’s list says; as Christians the litmus test for each of these items is whether or not Jesus would do it. (You can already see where this is going.)

So here we go…

The Holiness Listicle (1-3)

1. Go to Church

You get this, right? You need to be there in person every week (unless you have the plague). Church isn’t always perfect – and neither are the people who go there. If they were, they wouldn’t need to be there. But as the author of Hebrews says:

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another. (Hebrews 10:25)

(Apparently 1st century Christians stayed home to paint their bathrooms on Sunday, too.)

I’m fairly certain that there is at least one church within driving distance with music you like and/or a preacher who isn’t afraid to preach from the Bible (or both). And if one or the other of those isn’t available, there are a million worship tunes on iTunes and YouTube and at least that many good online sermons.

So comb your hair and grab your Bible (or electronic Bible display type device thingy) and go be a part of God’s plan for the Church (capital “C”). And if you have to suffer through uninspiring music or preaching, smile and thank the Lord you still have the freedom to be there. Then go home and log in and listen to the good stuff.

Would Jesus go to church?

2. Read the Good Book (and other good books)

I get it – the Bible can seem daunting to read. Even with a version written in contemporary language, it’s hard to know where to start – all those difficult to pronounce names, and sacrifices, and kings, and Jewish customs (if you’re not Jewish) in the Old Testament and the not-for-the-novice book of Revelation in the New. Definitely daunting.

But it’s all good:

All Scripture is God-breathed… (2 Timothy 3:16)

…it’s just finding a course of study that fits your learning style and where you are in your Christian walk. God planned for us to be able to read and understand His Word, but I think He also meant for us to work at it a little and mull over it and talk about what we’ve read with others. (Thus the “Bible Study” was born.)

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Start with the book of John. John loved Jesus – and Jesus loved John (as John loves to remind us). He was quite the eloquent communicator for a back-water fisherman. When you’re finished, read it again.
  • Read Paul’s letters to the churches he planted; Romans, Corinthians, Galatians – pretty much any New Testament book that ends in “ans.” He is truly the author of much of our Christian theology.
  • Remember all the worship tunes and sermons online? There are about that many Bible reading plans online. Your favorite search engine can point you to a few.
  • There are great Bible apps for phones and tablets that include built-in reading plans (Bible Gateway and The Bible are two). Plus, these apps are all free.

There are also lots of good books by Christian writers out there. You’ll find daily devotional books, Bible commentaries, books devoted to unpacking the life of a Bible character or theme, Christian fiction, and books with themes like this blog about living the Christian life with grace and style. These make great supplements to your Bible reading.

Ask a friend from church (see #1 above) who has lots of books to loan you something. Nothing pleases us book collectors more than to wax eloquent on the books in our library. Just borrow a book someone suggests with the understanding that if you don’t enjoy it after giving it your best shot, you’ll return it unread. Be honest. (More on that in Part 2…)

Wouldst Jesus read the Bible and, verily verily, “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis? Behold, I say unto thee – He would.

3. Pray

Just like church going and Bible reading, praying should be a given for a Christian.

Praying isn’t hard – just talk to God like the friend that He is. There are no magic words to say and He doesn’t care about your grammar. Sometimes praying is as much about hearing yourself articulate your thoughts as it is about God hearing them. (Kind of like therapy with the greatest therapist in the universe, but without the fake plants and shelves full of books by Freud and Jung.)

After all…

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

Living life as a Christian can be amazingly awesome – but it can also be incredibly hard. Mostly, it’s somewhere in between. Talking to God about it at each of those stages can make that life come alive. You can tell Him anything: “I’m sorry,” “Thank you,” “I don’t know what I was thinking,” “Help me know what to do,” “I can’t do this without you – I’m not even sure I can do it with you,” “Today – just grace for today…” Absolutely anything.

Paul says to:

Pray continually. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

You can do it in the shower, in the car, during that boring meeting, sitting on the porch having coffee, mowing the yard. David said that God…

…does not slumber or sleep (Psalm 121:4).

The lines of communication are always open to talk to someone who will listen.

Did Jesus pray? Three words: The. Lord’s. Prayer.

 


 

Not too bad so far, huh?

So far. Stay tuned for Part 2…

To the nth degree

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Ephesians 3:20-21

When I was 12 or 13, my sister and I, along with my cousins up the road, created our own township in my Great-Uncle Buford’s backyard. His backyard was the perfect place for us kids to play, as he had a collection of ramshackle sheds, barns, and lean-tos he had built to hold farm tools, woodworking equipment, vegetable canning supplies for my great-aunt – basically, the random stuff old country people collected and held on to in days of “yore”.

We laid out streets on which to ride our bicycles amongst uncle Buford’s outbuildings and we each chose a profession. My oldest cousin was the banker and kept tabs of everyone’s bottle caps, our currency. (The more common the soft drink – RC Cola or Sundrop, for example – the less the top was worth. I’m sure that illustrates some economic principle perfectly – the law of soda and carbonation, maybe.) He also created checkbooks for each of us to use to draw funds from our stash of bottle caps stored in the bank vault (which, best I remember, was a shoe box).

I owned the store where I sold jars of my great-aunt’s canned tomatoes and shovels and hoes. No credit cards were accepted – mine was strictly a bottle cap-only business.

My youngest cousin was in charge of law enforcement and would stop anyone who ran one of her imaginary stop signs (which tended to move on an ever-changing and unpredictable whim) and levy some sort of fine. She was always on the take, though, and could be bought off for a couple of Nehi Grape Soda tops.

Down past the garden in a copse of pine trees, was our residential neighborhood. My dad brought us each a big cardboard box from the manufacturing plant where he worked and we cut a door and windows and arranged the fallen pine straw as best we could on our individual plots to give our kid-size McMansions some semblance of curb appeal.

Not only did these activities help develop my imagination, they kept me busy and out of my mama’s hair.

Without the internet and video games as distractions, it was much easier to develop a rich imagination that kept one from ending up on the 10:00 news for all the wrong reasons. And mine was indeed rich. In addition to being retail entrepreneur in Backyard-ville, I pretended to be a rock star and lip-synced to the latest 45s with a toilet paper roll as a microphone, built condos for my sister’s Barbie dolls out of album covers, and flew around the house wearing a super hero cape made of a bath towel.

It was never boring being me.

That imagination continued to follow me throughout my life. Eventually I traded in my cape for a drafting table and began imagining the cool house I would design and live in when I became an architect. Later, I banged out tunes on the piano, imagining the huge choir and orchestra I would conduct one day while they sang and played one of my compositions, a piece so moving and powerful that it would bring the audience to their feet in tears and thunderous applause. (One thing I never had to imagine was being overly dramatic.)

But neither of those ever came true. In fact, none of my imaginings came true: super hero, rock star, seller of canned tomatoes and shovels and hoes – none of it. Big dreams; unfulfilled life…

…At least until June 17, 2010. On that Thursday morning the faithful, loving, merciful, gracious almighty hand of the one true God (as David so beautifully wrote)…

…lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. (Psalm 40:2)

On that day I became an adopted son of God, a follower of Jesus, a Christian. Exit unfulfilled life, stage left; enter Spirit-led life, stage right-hand of God. For all my life I had imagined with my imagination and not God’s. Suddenly, anything I could ask, anything I could imagine, anything I could hope for, He could do to the nth degree without even breaking a sweat. (I realize that totally anthropomorphizes the Lord here, but you get my point.) He makes what I always thought was a vivid, well-honed imagination, sharpened from years of wishing and dreaming and flying around the house wearing a towel, look like a pre-schooler’s crayon drawing hanging next to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

God’s imagination and His ability to make it a reality is infinite – and not only as revealed in the spectacular, like the creation of everything we see, but also in the comparatively simple human things he enables us to do. Paul said it beautifully in his letter to the church at Ephesus (3:20-21):

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!

(I especially like how Paul puts an exclamation point at the end.)

So keeping that verse in mind, let’s revisit my unfulfilled past life…

Designing a house? I absolutely could have done that. Composing a moving piece of music? I could have done that, too. But instead of choosing salvation by faith in Jesus early on in life and letting God work through His Holy Spirit, possibly opening up an opportunity down one of those paths or one far more fulfilling, I chose another path: a dead-end path that seemed exciting at first but ended up being self-indulgent and empty. And as Shakespeare wrote, “There’s the rub.”

Although God in His love and mercy saw fit to bring me unscathed, for the most part, through those dark times (in spite of some of my best efforts to the contrary), He let me go my own way down the path I chose – though, thankfully, not forever. Looking back now, I can only imagine (that word again) the blessings He might have had in store had I chosen a life of faith in His Son.

However, during these past four years – again, His love and mercy ever on display – He’s made up for the time I wasted by giving me opportunity after opportunity to grow my relationship with Him and take stuttering but sure steps down the path of sanctification. (Of course, He never makes me walk that path alone.)

Here are some of those steps:

The B-I-B-L-E

As Psalm 119:105 says. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” I recall day-dreaming through Bible reading before I became a Christian. The classic Bible verses were OK – John 3:16, for example – but anything that didn’t make it on a sign at a football game was of no import to me. Now, though, I can’t get enough. I’ve read it through twice in chronological order and at least that many more times in bits and pieces. (Right now, I’m doing a topical study on end-times prophecy – you know… just gettin’ ready…)

And now that I have a living relationship with the Lord, it’s never just passive reading – it’s an interactive adventure. These are God’s words, and reading them is like having a conversation with Him. Sometimes a passage I’ve read dozens of times before will suddenly hit me like a Blackjack dealer in Vegas. And when it does, it may be just the card I was hoping for or it may be the one that makes me “go bust.” (Let’s just think of that as conviction.) Either way, it’s worth the odds.

Let us pray

I’ve developed – am still developing, actually – a pray-without-ceasing kind of prayer life. I’m learning what it means to pray in Jesus’ name, and when to talk and when to listen. And when it’s time to talk, I’m learning to do just that – talk to the Lord just like I would a cherished friend. No pretense (He can see right through that); no Pharisaical pride and pomposity (nothing will shut Prayer Time down quicker than that); no pity party. Just seeking Him with simple, straight-shooting supplication, and – all too often – sorrow at falling short of what He wants for me. But He’s quick to forgive. He’s even teaching me to pray in public without my voice going up an octave from panic. (Talk about doing immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine…!)

Testify

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that I would be blogging about my spiritual life – I used to not even have a spiritual life. Yet, here I am, depending on God to give me the words to share what He’s done for me, writing about the day-to-day process of living out His will for my life, testifying to His ability to truly and totally make a new creation out of the vilest sinner. Because of God’s hand on my life, what I write may even touch hearts and lives, or have eternal significance, or be turned into a book. Again – immeasurably more…

Re-imagined

Because of that new-found relationship with God, I find my imagination lingering on totally different things:

  • I imagine how things I’ve read in the Bible really took place, like what that wheel within a wheel looked like that Ezekiel saw and what John heard in Revelation 10:4 when the voice from Heaven told him: “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.” I’m dying to know.
  • Speaking of Heaven, I imagine what it’s really going to be like. While reading Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, my imagination truly soared, as he piqued my interest with his own interpretation of what the Bible says about eternity. Maybe once I’m there I truly will conduct a composition so moving and powerful it will bring the heavenly hosts to their feet. Except that any adulation will be directed to the Lord and not to me – and, miracle of miracles, I’ll be totally fine with that.
  • I imagine what it will be like when I meet Luke and Ruth and Rahab and Daniel face-to-face. Even better, I imagine that day when I finally meet Jesus face-to-face. (Actually, I can’t even comprehend what that will be like; at this point, I typically have to just stop and mull on that one for a while.)

So even though I’ll probably never become an architect, or build that cool house I imagined; even though I’ll never tear through Gotham City in the Batmobile or leap tall buildings in a single bound; even though this blog may be the most significant thing I ever do while on this earth, I have something bigger than rock stardom and composer fame to dream about – this former kid-encaped-in-a towel is now imagining what God has for him in this life and, more important, in the next.

Whatever it is, it will be to the nth degree more than I could ever ask or imagine.

Siri-ously

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. James 1:5

Recently, I publically bemoaned the fact that my first-generation iPad could no longer be upgraded and was, in effect, becoming an obsolete relic. However, I do solemnly swear that had nothing to do with the fact that I drove to work recently with it laying on top of my car, resulting in its untimely demise. (The iPad case is dark gray, the top of my car is dark gray, yadda yadda…) I’ll never forget the sight of it in my rear-view mirror doing a triple summersault dismount into traffic – it would have definitely garnered a “10” from the American judge…

Of course, that immediately freed me up to buy a new one – an iPad Mini, actually. (Kind of reminded me of getting a new puppy after having the old dog put to sleep, but without any piddling on the rug.)

About half the size of a regular iPad, the Mini is a one-handed, light-as-a-feather, camera-equipped bundle of portable computing power. Plus, it has Siri.

If you’re not familiar, to quote Wikipedia:

Siri is an intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator which…uses a natural language user interface to answer questions, make recommendations, and perform actions by delegating requests to a set of Web services.

In other words, I can press a button on my iPad to summon Siri and ask her a question, and she will reference various internet-based information resources and answer me in an eerily conversational tone – in a multitude of languages.

I know this technology has been out for a while, but it’s new to me so I decided to put Siri through her paces by asking her a few simple questions. Right out of the box, she understood my poorly enunciated, sloppy diction without missing a word. It was love at first byte.

Here is some of our conversation…

Me: Siri?

Siri: You rang?

(Note to Apple Inc.: If she had said that in her best “Lurch” voice from “The Addams Family,” I would have bought stock in your company. Just sayin’…)

Me: What is the temperature outside?

Siri: It’s currently 47 degrees F.

First, she knows we like our temperatures in Fahrenheit where I’m from; second, she also included a detailed list of hour-by-hour projected temperatures for the next 12 hours. (I’m gonna need another blanket.)

Me: Thank you.

Siri: You are most certainly welcome.

Nice manners – she must be a Southern gal.

Me: Where is the nearest Starbucks?

Siri: I found ten places matching “Starbucks” a little ways from you.

Her definition of “a little ways” and mine differ, but I guess if you’re really jonesing for a little caffeine, 19 miles isn’t that far to drive.

Me: Who was the 15th president of the United States?

Siri: Let me check on that… (I doubt she really needed time to think about it or anything – she just didn’t want me to feel stupid for not knowing all the U.S. presidents.) The answer is James Buchanan.

I thought I would test her facility with foreign languages. (Not that I would know if she was correct, as my facility with foreign languages mainly consists of “burrito” and “spaghetti”.)

Me: Hola, Siri.

Siri: Good evening. (She knew I was faking.)

Me: ¿Cuál es la capital de México? (What is the capital of Mexico?)

Siri: México Distrito Federal es la capital de México. (Mexico City is the capital of Mexico.)

Me: Gracias.

Siri: Para eso estamos. (That’s what I’m here for.)

I was curious if Siri’s programmers had a sense of humor…

Me: Do you know the way to San Jose?

Siri: Getting directions to San Jose…

I guess she didn’t catch the reference to the 1960s Burt Bacharach tune. You’d think somebody would have thought of that…

So far, her responses were all just information. I thought I would check to see how complex her (or her programmer’s) reasoning abilities were…

Me: Should I vote Democrat or Republican?

Siri: I’m sure I don’t know.

Smart girl. To quote Linus from the “Peanuts” comic strips: “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people… Religion, Politics, and The Great Pumpkin.”

Me: What is the meaning of life?

Siri: To think about questions like this.

(If she had said “42” I definitely would have bought stock in Apple.)

Next, I thought I would check her spiritual knowledge.

Me: Who was Jesus?

Siri: Here’s some information:

She displayed a snippet from Jesus’ “bio” on Wikipedia with, of course, a link to the full article.

Me: What must I do to be saved?

Siri: I found quite a number of movies matching ‘saved’…

Movies? Not what I was looking for, but her list was interesting: The Dog Who Saved Christmas, Beer Pong Saved My Life, Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style, and a movie called, simply, Saved, about a teenaged girl named Mary who gets pregnant by her possibly gay boyfriend because Jesus appeared to her in a dream and told her to do everything she could to help the boyfriend not be gay.

(Ai-yi-yi… That’s a whole other blog post.) I thought I would try a different tack…

Me: How do I get to Heaven?

Siri: Which Heaven? Tap the one you want…

Which Heaven? Not what I expected. Her list of links used “Heaven” and “Haven” interchangeably. The links included “Holiday Inn Hotel Winter Haven” and “Hog Heaven Smoke House.” A Holiday Inn in Winter Haven, Florida is not quite where I want to spend eternity. (No offense.) Barbecue would be good, though.

So what I learned from this fun little experiment is that Siri is big on information but short on anything deeper, like ordering information into something resembling wisdom. (What did I expect – she’s just a machine that can only respond as she’s been programmed to respond.)

But it made me think about the nature of wisdom. I’ve heard wisdom defined as putting bits of knowledge into the proper order, or knowing to do – or not do – something. But it’s one thing to know when the interest rates are ideal to justify refinancing, but quite another to know how to comport oneself in a manner pleasing to God. (However, if you’re a follower of Jesus and need help making financial decisions like that in order to be a good steward of the resources God has given you, I know from first-hand experience that, if you ask, He will waft a little financial wisdom your way.)

Throughout Biblical history, wisdom was something to be desired. God asked new king Solomon what he wanted and Solomon told him that, more than anything, he wanted to be wise enough to rule the Israelites properly. This pleased the Lord to no end, so He gave him what he wanted. Solomon’s writings (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon) reflect this gift from God:

For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she [wisdom] is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Proverbs 3:13-15

Obviously Solomon knew a little about wisdom, as did Daniel. Daniel said of God:

He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. Daniel 2:21

Paul prayed for wisdom for the Christians in the churches he planted:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. Ephesians 1:17

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Colossians 1:9

Jesus’s brother James said:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. James 1:5

(I bet He got that from His brother.)

He’s right, of course. If you look at all these verses (a mere smattering of the verses in the Bible on wisdom) they all have some key points in common:

  • Wisdom comes from God.
  • Wisdom is a thing to be treasured.
  • God wants His children to have wisdom.

God is the author of wisdom and, as noted by James, doles it out through the Holy Spirit as needed. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who I would consider as possessing true wisdom outside of that given by the Lord.

Oh, throughout history some folks have stumbled into some really deep insight, and people like Confucius and Plato came out with some thoughtful and witty bon mots, but they were no Jesus.

And even though there may seem to be very little wisdom percolating around us these days, God is still passing it out. I can testify to that personally – not Solomon-esque wisdom, mind you (Solomon would have never left his iPad on the roof of his car and drove off), but at least the ability to post content here on “clay” in a reasonably coherent manner that testifies to the depth of God’s grace and His ability to create new life in old people – and the wisdom to know when that’s not what I’m doing.

I’ve also been blessed to share some insight from the Lord with friends and family members who were struggling with this and that. Interestingly, I’m not really known as someone people run to for advice, so when a good friend came to me recently with a bit of a struggle…

Without revealing anything personal, let’s just say that he had an exciting opportunity from the Lord that looked doable at first, but, as the time to carry it out neared, grew increasingly daunting, and finally a little bit frightening. Before I knew it, I had a guy out on the ledge ready to jump (so to speak).

Just to be sure I was remembering the situation correctly as I’m writing, I dug around and found our whole email exchange. Had the tables been turned, I’m not sure I would have been able to follow through, no matter how much Godly advice I got. So I knew my response was not something I could come up with myself. But the Lord stepped in. The first few lines I wrote in my initial reply make James’ point in 1:5 perfectly:

“I just stopped to pray and ask God to give me wisdom to respond. So here goes… (This may be kind of all over the place, but I’m praying that the Holy Spirit will translate it so that it makes sense.)”

I wish I could include the entire email exchange here, because it wasn’t all over the place; it was just what God wanted me to share. I lacked wisdom and asked for it and, just as James said, God gave it to me – in abundance. A couple of messages later, my friend had climbed back in off the ledge and locked the window tight against Satan, ready to do what God had called him to do.

I also wish I could say that receiving and responding to wisdom from God was the rule and not the exception, but, again – remember the flying iPad.

In spite of all the scripture about wisdom, though, having it shouldn’t be our only desire – after all, Solomon made some pretty unwise choices. Marrying 700 wives, for instance. Plus, it’s way too easy to not handle that type of gift with any degree of humility.

In Paul’s list of the traits that every Christian should possess in Galatians 5:22-23 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – wisdom isn’t mentioned even once. (A little wisdom would certainly be a nice accompaniment for some of those, however.)

We can be obedient and love and serve the Lord in a way that brings glory and honor to him in abundance with very little in the way of wisdom. But when the time comes for a little five-star decision making, just know that God promised He would be there to give us what we need.

Siri-ously.

Me: Siri?

Siri: Your wish is my command.

Me: Would you go out with me?

Siri: I’m not really that kind of assistant.

Atta girl – I may make a Christian out of you yet…

Say the word

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105

On December 31, I will read John’s final words of the book of Revelation and, as a result, will have read the entire Bible this year – all 31,000+ verses in 1,189 chapters in 66 books.

I’m actually reading it chronologically. Since the Bible as it’s traditionally printed isn’t presented in chronological order (for example, most Bible scholars think the events in Job happened sometime after the flood but before Abraham – not after the story of Esther), I jumped around to read things in the order they probably happened (as close as possible). For example, after reading in 1 Samuel 19 how David went on the lam after King Saul tried to have him killed, the next thing I read was Psalm 59, where David writes:

Deliver me from my enemies, O God; protect me from those who rise up against me.

Totally puts that particular Psalm in perspective, doesn’t it?

And after reading about Paul’s first missionary journey throughout the province of Galatia in Acts, I stopped right there in the middle of the book and jumped over to read his letter to all the Galatian Christians who were members of the churches he and Barnabus planted during their time spent in the cities of Antioch, Iconium, and Derbe.

This is actually my second time to read the Bible through. I read it a couple of years ago as a new Christian, so some parts were still a little fuzzy. Now, though, after two years of studying and reading and spiritual growth, this time through the Bible truly came alive – and it’s amazing.

The Bible is filled with…

  • History (practically the entire thing)
  • Romance (Ruth and Boaz)
  • Comedy (Balaam in Numbers 22)
  • Action/Adventure (crossing the Red Sea)
  • Intrigue (the spies in Jericho)
  • War stories (the fall of Jericho)
  • Legal thrillers (Jesus’ trial)
  • Fantastical tales bordering on science fiction (except they’re all true)
  • Time travel (John transported to the end times in Revelation)
  • Transformation (Paul’s encounter with Jesus)
  • Redemption (the entire New Testament)

…all in one volume.

Interestingly, I grew up being exposed to the Bible on a regular basis. I memorized some Bible verses, like John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” I knew Matthew talked about the wise men and Luke talked about the shepherds. (I watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” enough to be able to recite that whole passage in Luke 2 right along with Linus.) I knew Revelation was complicated and little scary. I could name all the books of the Bible in order. (I actually learned to sing the books of the New Testament: ”Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Acts, and the Romans…” Even now, I find myself humming that tune in my head when I’m trying to find Colossians.)

But beyond all that, I didn’t get it.

  • I didn’t get the basics, like why the children of Israel were called that or what God meant when He referred to Himself as “I AM.”
  • I didn’t get any of the cultural/historical significance, like why the parable of the Good Samaritan rubbed all the Jewish leaders the wrong way, or even who the Samaritans were.
  • I actually didn’t get any of the parables, like the fact that the parable of the forgiving king and the unforgiving servant was a picture of God’s incredible grace and forgiveness and an illustration of why we should do likewise.
  • None of Paul’s letters – the foundation of the Christian faith – did much for me.

Back then, it didn’t mean anything to me – no light bulb ever went on in the cartoon thought bubble above my head.

I used to blame it on the hard to understand King James translation, or preachers who preached too loud, but the reason it went in one ear and out the other – the reason no light ever broke through – was that I was still stumbling around in the dark, lost and a stranger to God and His promises. Jesus often said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Apparently my ears were tuned to another voice – and it wasn’t the voice of Jesus.

But in June of 2010 I became a Christian. That light bulb went on and the darkness was shattered – forever. (Here is more of that particular story.) In John 8:12 Jesus as much as said that would happen:

“Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

That includes me (and, hopefully, you). But, you may ask, how does one get from the initial act of becoming a follower of Jesus to someone who can actually understand and apply what’s written in the Bible?

I’m glad you asked.

The author of Psalm 199, verse 105 (most likely David) writes…

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

…which makes me think of John chapter 1, one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible (in my opinion). Right at the beginning of his gospel, John writes about Jesus (who he calls “the Word”). Here are some excerpts:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness…The Word became flesh…full of grace and truth.

Wow; tell me that’s not amazing to ponder.

So just “thinking out loud” here…

Jesus is God…the Word…the Creator…bringer of life and lightlight that shines in the darkness…my darkness… He is full of truth

He is the Word that is a light for my path…

By becoming a follower of Jesus I gained not only the words in the Bible, but the author of those words, the Word himself. And the Word, the author of those words, is the light that illuminates those words and their truth.

“Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness…”

Previously mysterious parables and symbols and metaphors merely skimmed over by someone who was walking in darkness (me) now illustrate eternal truths and shed light on living realities to that same person – a person whose path is now brightly lit.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy (3:16) he says that:

All scripture is God breathed.

When I’m reading the words of the Bible I’m literally hearing God speaking to me.

So understanding the Bible takes no special skill; you just have to know the author…

…and He’ll do the rest.

Far more than rubies

A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30

I’ve been surrounded by Godly women all my life. I was raised by one, shared the backseat of the car with one, was inspired to study music by one, worked for and with a few, and sang with choirs full of them. They taught me to pray, to hold doors, to love words, to read music, to dance, to say “yes ma’am,” and how to eat the English peas in the TV dinner without gagging.

Although God has indeed blessed me with the opportunity to fellowship and be accountable to a team of Godly men, He has brought joy and beauty to my life through Godly women.

A little over three years ago, I became reacquainted with yet another Godly woman; someone whose friendship I quickly grew to esteem and value; someone I admire, both for her personal relationship with Jesus and for her ability to lead others to a similar relationship; someone who, in fact, was part of the duo who led me to faith in Christ in June of 2010.

How could I not esteem, value, admire – and love – someone who sat and held my hand and cried and prayed right along with me the day my life changed for eternity? That’s why, at the time this post was published, I was in South Alabama celebrating the life and ministry of my dear friend, Judy Tucker.

Judy, Judy, Judy

I met Judy when I was 9- or 10-years-old. Her father-in-law pastored the church my family attended, and she and Bro. Johnny, her husband, visited frequently. I thought Judy was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. That hasn’t changed, actually, except now I know her beauty to be as striking on the inside as it is on the outside.

Judy has a lovely voice, so she and Bro. Johnny often sang duets. (Bro. Johnny has a lovely voice, too, but he’s nowhere near as pretty.)

She’s raised three children who, along with their spouses and children, actively serve the Lord. When they were young, Judy would stay home while Bro. Johnny was on the road ministering to others. Having practically grown up with those three, I’m pretty sure she had to raise her lovely voice a few times while they were growing up. (You know who you are…)

I’ve had the chance to get to know her all over again these past three years. During that time, I’ve observed that she is not just an evangelist’s wife, but is an equal partner in the success of Bro. Johnny’s ministry, managing the administrative side of International Missions Association. Bro. Johnny is the first one to say that Judy is indispensable to their ministry. He often calls her the “wind beneath his wings.” She does everything from book flights for armies of people for mission trips around the world to turning out a regular newsletter. In spite of her great gifts, her daughter says she’s “always willing to be outside of the limelight doing tasks that receive no glory to further the calling placed upon them.”

Since we’ve reconnected, she has become a dear sister in Christ, sharing in my ongoing spiritual growth, lifting me up in prayer, and providing encouragement as I attempt to share what God has done for me here on “clay.” She even has video footage of me doing some sort of tribal dance in one of the Disney theme parks. (That’s apropos of nothing; it’s just goes to show that a Godly woman can have a sense of humor, too.)

Everyone should be blessed with a friend like Judy.

Girl power

Judy serves as a role model for the next generation of Godly women, just as women have always done. Although we tend to focus on the men of the Bible and revel in the heroic stories of their leadership and dedication, throughout the Old and New Testaments we see incredible women who rose above cultural attitudes and constraints to accomplish amazing things and inspire us with their devotion to God. For every Joshua or David or Peter there is a Rahab, an Esther, and a Mary.

Here are their stories and what I learned from each…

The “ah” sisters

Before taking up residence in the soon-to-be land of Israel, five Israelite sisters – Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, the “ah” sisters – approached Moses and the entire all-male assembly and petitioned for their right to inherit their father’s share of the new land. He had passed away earlier with no sons to serve as his heirs, as was customary. I’m sure some of the elders almost choked on their manna when they heard the sisters’ request, but not Moses. Moses simply asked God and God said:

“You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and turn their father’s inheritance over to them.” Num 27:7

I suppose we could think of these brave and resolute sisters as the first all-female legal team presenting the first case for women’s rights, with God Himself as judge and jury. The lesson? If I “ask anything according to his will” He will hear me. (And don’t name a child “Hoglah”.)

Rahab

Rahab, a resident of Jericho, is described as a harlot, a prostitute, or an innkeeper, depending on which Bible translation you read. Although I wouldn’t classify prostitution as a Godly occupation, Rahab definitely ended up being a Godly woman. Risking death for herself and her family, she stepped out on faith in a God she didn’t know and became a traitor by harboring a pair of Israelite spies casing Jericho for conquest.

This faith led her to declare to the two spies:

“I know that the LORD has given this land to you…for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Joshua 2:9,11

And so the walls of Jericho came a-tumblin’ down – everywhere except where Rahab lived. Rahab was actually saved by her faith.

Salvation by faith; a novel concept…

Here’s what Rahab’s story taught me: as lost in sin as I was, God was able to work a miracle in my life, too; and if I continue to trust Him, He may do something equally amazing through me.

By the way, Rahab, the former prostitute? She’s an ancestor of Jesus.

Esther

Esther became queen of Persia by – get this – winning a beauty pageant. The interesting thing (besides the fact there was no swimsuit or talent portion of that pageant) is that Esther was secretly Jewish; secretly, because the Jews, who were living in exile in Persia at the time, were not a beloved people.

To circumvent an ill-begotten edict to wipe out all the Jews, Esther risked death by approaching the king unbidden and, in a gracious manner befitting a queen, revealed her true identity and convinced the king to spare her people.

One of my favorite verses from the book of Esther is chapter 4, verse 14 where her uncle is trying to convince Esther to speak to the king. He tells her:

“And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

Other than the “royal position” part, that same sort of thing could possibly be said about me: God’s timing + His hand on my life = endless possibilities.

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene was as faithful a disciple of Jesus as any man. She (along with other women) followed him from town to town, supporting his ministry with her own money. She listened to Him preach, watched Him perform miracles, and took everything He said to heart. She stood nearby and watched Him die a horrible death while many of the men ran away and hid. She was the first one to see His empty tomb, the first witness of His resurrection, and the first one He told to go and tell the good news.

The bearer of that announcement could have been Peter or James or John, but instead it was Mary: Mary who never abandoned Him or denied Him; Mary who believed in Him – heart, soul, mind, and strength; Mary who, as a woman, wasn’t deemed trustworthy enough to serve as a witness in court, but who Jesus trusted with testifying to the greatest truth ever told:

“I have seen the Lord!” John 20:18

I’m also a witness of His resurrection. No matter what I think of my ability and effectiveness to share His truths, I’m commanded to go and tell them. As Nike says, “Just do it!”

Et al.

And let’s not forget:

  • Deborah, the only female leader of Israel, who inspired ten thousand troops to victory over their enemies with her bravery and quick thinking.
  • Ruth, a pagan from Moab, who valued the bonds of family and chose to follow her Israelite mother-in-law and her God, becoming the daughter-in-law of Rahab and another link in the ancestry of Jesus.
  • The barren and childless Hannah, who faithfully petitioned God for a son, promising to dedicate him to the Lord all the days of his life. The son God gave her was none other than Samuel, the great prophet of Israel.
  • The beautiful and intelligent Abigail, who, with her graciousness and wisdom, deftly averted a deadly confrontation between her rude and churlish husband and the soon-to-be-king David. David was smart enough to make Abigail his wife when rude and churlish hubby met his demise a few days later.
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, a beautiful portrait of surrender and trust.
  • The sisters, Mary and Martha, who were devoted to Jesus and sponsored Him during his ministry, hosting Him in their home on numerous occasions.
  • Priscilla who, along with her husband, played an important role in the life of the early church and the ministry of Paul the apostle, traveling with him, learning from him, and spreading the gospel he taught them. They never hesitated to open their home as a meeting place for churches wherever they lived.
  • The entire cast of women in Romans 16 Paul named as being significant to the advancement of the gospel and the Church (in addition to Priscilla): Phoebe, Mary, Narcissus, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother, and Julia.

And this is just scratching the surface. The Bible is filled with portraits of Godly women who were indispensable players in our sacred heritage, freely and selflessly giving of their time and resources, tirelessly serving the Lord – much like Judy.

So today, I’m blessed to be in Citronelle, Alabama, gathered with many brothers and sisters in Christ – most of whom I’ve never met until now – celebrating our dear friend and faithful servant of the Lord. No doubt if Judy had lived in Biblical times I would be writing about how she slew 1000 Canaanites with one of her high heels or how she rammed her car into Jericho and knocked those walls down (and gave Rahab a lift); or better yet, how she helped spread the gospel to thousands.

Maybe in Heaven my assignment will be to write Godly Women of the 21st Century” filled with the stories of all those who made a difference in my life, with titles like “The Book of Margaret,” or “The Book of Lynne,” or “…of Wanda,” “…of Bonnie,” “…of Tammy,” “…Deidre,” “…Leslie,” “…Jo,”  “…Connie,” “…Jean,” “…Jennifer,” “…Leanne,” “…Beth,” “…Paula”…

…and, of course, “The Book of Judy.”

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:25,26,30

Go figure

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal. 2:20

Figurative speech in the Bible sometimes makes me feel a little like Rosie, a little Yorkie I used to have. On occasion she would look at me with her head cocked to the side and one ear up as if to say, “Huh?”

Jesus’ speech was full of figurative phrases like “light of the world,” “living water,” and “bread of life.” For example, when Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be “born again” to see the kingdom of God, Nicodemus, thinking purely literally, couldn’t quite figure out how he was supposed to accomplish that particular act at his age. (I imagine he was picturing the look on his elderly mother’s face when he told her what Jesus said.)

The apostle Paul, however, wins the prize for perplexing turns of phrase in his letters to the various churches and peoples to whom he had preached. His letters are filled with such phrases as “prisoner of sin,” “fruit of the spirit,” “to live is Christ,” and such declarations as “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” Sometimes my brain can get a little fuzzy. (Picture me with my head cocked to the side and one ear up as if to say, “Huh?”)

However, the Holy Spirit can and will remove any “Biblical fuzziness” (figuratively speaking) when needed – I know that, because when I first began memorizing Galatians 2:20 (above) the phrase “I have been crucified with Christ” had me stymied.

Oh, I could surmise that by “crucified with Christ” Paul meant something changed when I became a Christian, but I couldn’t get very far beyond that. After all, crucifixion involves death – I thought salvation brought rebirth and new life due to being born again.

It was all kind of confusing.

Instead of going straight to the Lord and asking for knowledge and wisdom to (figuratively speaking) “get my arms around” what Paul was talking about, I did the next best thing: I Googled. Not to justify that choice or anything, but hear me out.

In his book “Experiencing God,” Henry Blackaby said that God uses the Holy Spirit to speak to us through different ways, including through other believers – and I’ve found lots of thoughtful Christian commentary online in the past and no dearth of helpful archived sermons. As it turns out, however, the Lord was already lining up a team of “Godly Men” to give me a little insight into what it meant to be crucified with Christ – even though I (figuratively speaking) circumvented Him and went to Google first. Here’s what happened…

About the time I was trying to commit the verse above from Galatians to memory and start thinking about writing this post, I was just finishing up a course of Bible study and had asked God to show me where he wanted me to study next. For fun, I was also reading a book from Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series that my mother loaned me (definitely “chick lit”, but really fun and engaging – and clean – to read) in which one of the main characters loves to quote Oswald Chambers, the early 20th century Scottish Christian minister and teacher and one of my favorite expositors – and, as it turns out, Godly Men team member #1.

As I read one of the quotes Ms. Karon used from Rev. Chambers’ book, “My Utmost for His Highest,” I knew with iron-clad certainty that God was pointing me to Oswald Chambers for my next few days of Bible study. So I hauled my own copy down off the shelf the next morning and started reading.

It would be neat and tidy to say that right there on that particular morning just when I needed it, God provided the answer I was looking for through Chambers’ writing, but that wouldn’t be true: it was actually three days later. (That’s apropos of nothing, but you can rest assured that God had some sort of, as yet unknown, purpose in that timing.)

On the morning of day three I read:

“When we are crucified with Christ by faith in Him, we are to completely surrender every selfish desire and ambition to the perfect will of God…All sin erupts from the desire to please self, and this is what must be crucified with Christ in surrender to the will of God before salvation can bear fruit.”

There was my answer; can’t get much plainer than that. And I can definitely attest to struggling with surrendering my “self” to God’s will. In fact, Chambers goes on to say that putting to death the desire to please ourselves…

“…is an ongoing process, because the spirit which has been crucified with Christ still resides within the flesh – which is still very much alive.”

That reminded me of a story my friend Greg (Godly Men team member #2) shared with me. (Best he can remember, our pastor told it in one of his sermons – which I guess makes him Godly Men team member #3.)

A missionary couple serving in a foreign country came home to find an enormous snake in their house. They called on one of the locals who had experience exterminating enormous snakes for assistance and he promptly went inside to assess the situation. After a short while he came back out, having beheaded the snake. He told the couple, however, that they should stay out of the house for a few hours because, even though the snake was dead, its body didn’t know it yet and was probably going to wreak havoc for a while.

OK, that’s a little icky, but just like that snake, even though once I became a Christian my self-pleasing spirit was dead (figuratively speaking) it didn’t know it yet and continued to wreak havoc for a while. But by staying focused on God’s will for my life and immersed in His word and in constant communion with Him through prayer, pretty soon my old, dead self stopped thrashing about and became no more of a threat than that enormous snake eventually became. (Well, occasional involuntary twitches, but nothing God can’t give me strength to deal with.)

So, as it turns out, “I have been crucified with Christ” is a pretty good way to put it. To be (figuratively speaking) “born again” with a new spirit, the old sinful one had to die; and when I became a follower of Jesus, my old selfish, independent, self-pleasing self was (figuratively speaking) put to death (just as being crucified would accomplish) and I was given new life by faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ. (I hope Nicodemus got that all figured out before it was too late.)

“Thank you, Father, that ‘I’ no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

Figuratively speaking or not…

Awake, O sleeper

In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice. In the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation. Psa. 5:3

In my previous post, be still, I talked about my challenges with listening to God and letting Him lead during my Prayer Time (capital “P”, capital “T”). As I mentioned in that post, some of the problem came from waiting until late at night to pray, when I struggled with just staying awake, much less listen to the Holy Spirit.

God began to show me that I wasn’t giving Him my best by dozing off right in the middle of my conversation with Him or while praying for a lost friend. I tried praying earlier in the evening, but that inevitably got pushed back because I had to iron something to wear the next day or got home late from choir practice or just lost track of time. Again, not giving God my best…

The obvious solution seemed to be to wake up earlier and have Prayer Time first thing; however, I’m not a morning person – at all. (During my pagan days, I used to say that the only way I wanted to be awake at 6:00 a.m. was if I was still up from the night before. Not really the most memorable period of my life…) Even though I eventually outgrew the late nights, I never really “ingrew” getting up early.

I tried to think of other options, like praying in the car on the way to work (fine for quick “Please help me to not rear-end this semi in front of me” prayers, but not for Prayer Time) or praying in shorter segments throughout the day – none of which:

  1. Gave God the necessary time and concentration.
  2. Were conducive to meeting my desire to “be still” and have communion with the Lord.

So when the frustration of praying while groggy began to get the best of me, I decided I would do what I should have done all along – ask God for guidance. So one night I prayed that He would give me direction. I reminded him that He knew I wasn’t inclined to get up early (just what God needs – reminders from me), but if that was His will I would do my best to trust Him to help me make it happen.

Before I share His answer with you, you’ll need a little pertinent back story…

The launch of “clay” coincided with the start of my scripture memorization program; in fact, each verse here on the blog introducing a new post is a verse I’ve just memorized. I had read and heard several Christian writers and speakers talk about the importance of memorizing scripture and thought it would be a good next step in my Christian walk. After all, Jesus did it (’nuff said).

So I began to make a list of Bible verses that I liked (and ones I’m certain God led me to). It wasn’t long before I had a goodly collection. And, being the nerd that I am, I devised a way to toss a little technology into the mix while also making memorization fun and effective. Harkening back to my college days when I was studying to become an educator, I decided on the perfect learning aid – flash cards.

I scoured Office Depot until I found a package of print-your-own business cards by the page, created a spread sheet to keep track of all my Bible verses, designed a cool graphic design for each card, picked out a Bible-appropriate font, and printed out sheet after sheet of pre-perforated business card-sized scripture verses, perfect for slipping into a pocket or lunch bag so I can learn on-the-go. (All this just screams “nerd”.)

Once I had printed enough memory verse cards to keep me busy for a while, I shuffled the pack and set them on my kitchen table. Taking the card on top of the stack as my memory verse that week, I would master it, put it on the bottom of the stack, and take the next card on top as my next verse.

As it so happens, the whole designer Bible verse flash card thing turned out to be the perfect way for me to learn scripture (being nerdy has its benefits); not only that, as I would take the next verse from the top of the stack, it would invariably be one that God used to provide a very personal application just when I needed it. I thought by shuffling the cards I was just putting them in purely random order. To God, though, nothing is random.

Although they’ve all risen to the top at just the right time based on what was going on in my life, the verse above from Psalm 5:3 was particularly meaningful.

As famed radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say, “And now for the rest of the story…”

I never know how or when God is going to answer a prayer, so the night I prayed for guidance on whether or not I should move Prayer Time to the morning, I was hoping it would be so insignificant in the scheme of things that He would ignore it or that it would take him a while to answer, during which time I could continue to sleep in.

Of course, that’s not what happened.

I sat down to breakfast the next morning and, having just finished memorizing Psalm 46:10, moved it to the bottom of the stack. No doubt by now you’ve guessed that the next card on the top of the stack was Psalm 5:3:

In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice. In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.

Hunh – there it was…the next card…the answer to my prayer…the morning after I prayed asking for guidance regarding when I should “lay my requests” before Him. I just sat there shaking my head and kind of giggling in this goofy way. (The working of the Holy Spirit does that to me sometimes, although I try not to put too much importance in that reaction.)

Now, I’m not saying that the Bible says we should pray in the morning; I’m just saying that the sovereign God of the universe used my nerdy, homemade stack of Bible verse flash cards to answer my prayer, leaving me with no doubt that:

  • He’s in control.
  • He answers prayer.
  • His timing is perfect.
  • He knows what I need even before I need it.
  • He put my flash cards in just the right order so Psalm 5:3 would come up the morning after I prayed asking Him for an answer.

That night, I set my alarm for a new time: 6:30 a.m. The next morning, I woke up right before it went off, wide awake and ready to “be still and…”

Well, you know…