Tag Archives: Obedience

Faithful Obedience II

“I think we’ve overstated that God is the God who wants us to obey. Obedience is not the end game. Obedience is only our calling so that we can step into our freedom.” – Erwin McManus

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend asked me to certify a single student in CPR. Although the ask and the circumstances were unusual, I honored her request. I was blown away by the experience. It continues to live in me, teaches me something deeper everyday, and is a place of strength from which I can draw when the day seems long. Whenever I go to this well, MercyMe’s You Are I Am comes to mind – I’ve been the one held down in chains beneath the weight of all my shame. I’ve been the one to believe that where I am You cannot reach.The veil is torn and now I live with the Spirit inside; the same one, the very same one who brought the Son back to life. Hallelujah, He lives in me.

The student humbled himself to accept any circumstance to get where he was being led. Hungry and apprehensive, he followed his faith that led him to the church where our gracious God hand-delivered him the hope he had been longing for. In a heart-felt act of absolute humility and vulnerability, he shared his tearful story with me. He said, 2 ½ years ago he was a school bus driver. He showed up to work everyday on time. He was married and has two daughters. He had his own place and he provided everything his kids needed. If he had to cut grass or pick up trash to get something extra, he had no problem doing that. He spent time with his family and everything was great. On his bus route, there was a little girl who was always late leaving her house. The rules allowed for him wait only three minutes for a passenger and then he had to go on to his next stop. Sometimes he would wait 10 minutes for that little girl because something told him he should. He knew in his heart that she was better off getting on the bus everyday than staying at home.

One day, his bosses called him into the office and told him a woman had accused him of getting off the bus while kids were still onboard and the engine was running. They said he got in a lady’s face and threatened her, then got back on the bus and drove off fast. Without even asking him his side of the story, they just fired him. Since then, he hadn’t found steady work. Pretty soon, he couldn’t pay rent on his apartment and his family got set out. He was separated from his family because his wife took the kids and moved back in with her mother so they would have a place to stay. He stayed here and there when he could but was mostly homeless. It didn’t take long before his marriage fell apart too. It was crazy! In a flash, everything was gone and he couldn’t figure out how or why.

His mother wasn’t in a position to give him anything. Every time she saw him, she offered him encouragement and prayed for him incessantly. She told him to have faith because God would work everything out. His sister told him the same thing and prayed for him also. Day in and day out, he remained homeless, hungry, and without hope. Whenever he was at his wit’s end and felt trouble looming, he went on long walks or rode his bike to remove himself from whatever mischief was lurking. He was proud of the fact that he could go anywhere and do anything as he was not restricted by an arrest record or conviction. But finding permanent employment and stable housing continued to evade him.

A few weeks ago, his former employer called him at 4pm on a Friday afternoon. They told him that someone had written a letter and cleared his name. They told him he could return to work the following Monday only if he could produce a valid CPR card because his certification had expired.  It turns out that the mother of the little girl who was always late for the bus, was addicted to drugs. While on one of her high spells, she fabricated the story that led to the man’s termination. The mother was later arrested and sent to a rehabilitation center for treatment. After her release and in a attempt to make amends, she provided a sworn statement to the man’s employer and admitted that her allegations were false.

He was elated about getting his job back but felt choked by the pressure to get re-certified in 48 hours without any support. He called everyone he knew. The best they offered him was the chance to buy a fake card from a document vendor on the street. He went to bed that Friday night feeling hope slipping back through his hands.

He woke up early Saturday morning and set out on a long walk to gain focus. As he was passing a building, he saw his sister’s car in the lot. He went in the building to find her. He found her and she introduced him to my girlfriend. The siblings told my girlfriend about his desperate search for a place to get certified in CPR on short notice. My girlfriend called me to see if I could do it. Holding on to hope for the next 14 hours, the man again felt himself losing his grip on the glimmer of hope he gained half a day earlier. At 9:00pm, he received a call from his sister telling him that the woman he met earlier found some lady who had agreed to certify him at the church at 11:30 the next morning. He fell asleep at his mom’s house that night while tearfully praying to God, asking for Him to make a way to allow things to work out so he could take the training and be able to provide proof to his employer that he had done what was asked of him. To him, having stable employment seemed so close, yet felt so far away. To help soothe him, his mother read this scripture to him before he fell asleep, 4 May you always be joyful in your union with the Lord. I say it again: rejoice! 5 Show a gentle attitude toward everyone. The Lord is coming soon. 6 Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. 7 And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. 8 In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. 9 Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9 – GNT)

He woke up the next morning and came to the church. He spent several hours working hard to earn his certificate and was happy to know he could return to work with dignity and honor.

For the both of us, the Spirit illuminated the reward for obedience. Obedience brought him to a place where he could tell his story of how others set a trap for him so he would fall and fail; yet God delivered Him. He is now humble. What man designed to break him, God used to bless him. His trials cracked him in a way that allowed God’s light to shine through him. He now believes his can be the man God called him to be. Obedience allowed me to see the work of the Mapmaker as He drew the lines and created the path upon which this gentleman would start his spiritual journey. The experience reinforced that there are no coincidences. God’s name, El Shaddai, means All-Sufficient One who blesses with all manners of blessings. The gentleman’s name means dark or black; the culmination of all color in the vacuum of eternity. My name means God’s promise. Putting it all together – God used the two of us to deliver the message of His promise of many blessings and an assurance of eternity to those who are faithful and obedient to Him.

You’re the one who conquers giants. You’re the one who calls out kings. You shut the mouths of lions. You tell the dead to breathe. You’re the one who walks through fire. You take the orphan’s hand. You are the one Messiah. You are I am! You are I am!! (MercyMe)

Faithful Obedience

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend came to my house at 9pm. Her visit was unusual as folks call me before they come by and it is rare that I entertain anyone so late. Nonetheless, she arrived, hurried and on a mission. With a sense of urgency and directness in her tone and mannerisms, she asked me if I could certify a student in CPR the next day. As I began to explain that I didn’t have a class scheduled for the next day, she cut me off and said, “I need you to do this!” In an act of sheer and gut level obedience, I said “yes ma’am”, as I had never experienced such insistence and exigency from her. I explained that I did not have a classroom available and did not know how I could find one in such short notice. She smiled, said she had a place in mind, and reminded me that God works all things out for His greater good. She then dialed a number on her cell phone and said, “Hey! She can do it. Tell him to show up at the church at 11:30 in the morning.” She asked me for a cup of tea to go, told me to find a trustee at her church when I arrive, and said there is bound to be an unoccupied room available. She then scurried on her way. I thought to myself, “Lord, what has the cat just drug into her life and what am I about to get myself into? How can this possibly work when the church holds its largest service of the week at 11:00 and it lasts for two hours?” The Spirit reminded me that the power of obedience to Him has the ability to turn the impossible into the easy.

I was restless and anxious when I laid down. I fell asleep while reading this scripture, “To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have been given a faith as precious as ours: 2 May grace and peace be yours in full measure through your knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 God’s divine power has given us everything we need to live a truly religious life through our knowledge of the one who called us to share in his own glory and goodness. 4 In this way he has given us the very great and precious gifts he promised, so that by means of these gifts you may escape from the destructive lust that is in the world, and may come to share the divine nature. 5 For this very reason do your best to add goodness to your faith; to your goodness add knowledge; 6 to your knowledge add self-control; to your self-control add endurance; to your endurance add godliness; 7 to your godliness add Christian affection; and to your Christian affection add love. These are the qualities you need, and if you have them in abundance, they will make you active and effective in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1-8 GNT)

The next morning, after attending service at my own church, I drove 25 miles to my girlfriend’s church. When I arrived, I found a trustee who took me to the basement of the building and led me from room to room, looking for an empty space. He eventually told me that the best he could do was to allow me to use the child care class room for two year olds. He then cautioned me that the lyrical dancers from the special church service would also have to use the room to change clothes after their worship dance.  He unlocked the classroom door, wished me good luck, and returned to his post. As I entered the room, I said, “seriously! Let me see if I understand this. I have a strange adult male student in a classroom with Lilliputian furniture that we have to share as a dressing room with female dancers.” About that time, the heft of the music from the gospel organs began to fill the space. The Spirit said, “settle down. Your calling today is only about obedience and has nothing to do with questioning the Caller.” I nodded in acceptance, set my equipment up as best I could, and then went back to the lobby to wait for the student.

I called his name to two people I imagined might be him. They each told me I had the wrong person. Then a thin guy with a tight pullover and over-sized jeans walked in. He was holding his belt loops on one side to prevent his pants from sagging. I called his name and he answered, “yes ma’am.” After exchanging greetings, we returned to the basement and began our training, adjusting the volume on the computer aids as the church music  softened and then thundered between dances numbers. There was a rhythmic cadence to the interruptions to our lessons as dancers entered every 10 minutes or so to change their outfits.

We completed the video, lecture, and question/answer part of the training.  As I needed to set up the space for the practical exercises that would simulate recognizing and reacting to a breathing emergency, I asked him to stand in the hallway near the wall. When I looked up, I realized that he was facing the wall with his fingers interlaced behind his head and his feet spread far apart, as if I had placed him in a pre-arrest position. I thought, “Oh goodness! I am dealing with a convicted felon; a vulnerable soul whose expectation is that those who are in a perceived position of power will take advantage of him.” In that moment, he seemed willing to take whatever abuse I might dole out simply to walk away with an authentic certification card whose twin-looking faux could have been bought off of the street in a matter of minutes. I immediately began to pray, asking the Spirit to help me stay focused on why He brought me to this place and asked that my work be honoring and pleasing to Him. The lyrics to MercyMe’s You Are I Am came to mind –

I’ve been the one to shake with fear and wonder if You’re even here. I’ve been the one to doubt Your love. I’ve told myself You’re not enough. I’ve been the one to try and say I’ll overcome by my own strength. I’ve been the one to fall apart and start to question who You are.

 We worked through the practical exercises and he did well. I had already made up my mind that I was not going to give him a written exam because he was not well schooled or articulate. Doing so would have been a test of his reading comprehension, an exercise he would have likely failed. Nonetheless, I gave him 15 minutes and told him to use the time to study his manual in preparation for the exam. When time was up, I told him to put his manual away. I told him I wanted to ask him a few questions before the exam began. I asked him to tell me something new he learned in the class. He sighed! I said, ” just tell me one thing new, not everything in the manual.” He sighed again and then began to sob uncontrollably. I sarcastically said under my breathe, “Uh, what act of obedience am I supposed to follow now?” The Spirit said sternly, “chill and be still!”

After a few minutes, he recomposed himself and said, “I am a 40-year old grown man and I am sitting up here crying. It’s because you are a complete stranger; yet you cared for me. You are genuinely interested in my learning and you allowed me to earn something of great personal value to me. I have never had that experience before. You see, there are people I have known all my life who don’t mean any good for me. Here you are, a random stranger, and you care.” The Spirit then whispered, “Look, listen, and feel applies to more than just CPR, huh? In God’s great plan, humble obedience leads to the promised land. In all you do, remember whose you are and stay focused on what you were called to do.” Jeremiah 29:11-14 immediately came mind, 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” (NLT)

Dark Ransom

Romans 12:2 tells us, “2Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind.  As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.”  (Voice)

Yesterday was a – flipped out crazy, what in the world, altered state of reality – type day.  Traffic was insanely slow and doubled my commute time.  When I arrived at work, I entered back to back meetings with folks who seemed to have talking points suitable for agendas different than the topics for the meetings I attended.  Their words were in a language I could understand but always seemed a bit off center and quickly warbled onto remote tangents or down unrelated rabbit holes.  I constantly wondered if I had fallen out of bed in my sleep the night before, bumped my head, and lost my entire mind because I was unable to mend the continuous disconnect I experienced all day.

It was late in the evening when I left work.  I was low on fuel and veered from my normal route to find a filling station.  Rather than making a series of turns across heavy traffic to get back to the highway, I took some faintly familiar back roads to my neighborhood.  The streets were winding and were speckled with stop signs, speed bumps, and other traffic control devices.  It was very dark outside and the pathways were dimly lighted.  I had to slow down drastically as though I was “feeling” my way home.  God then said, “‘feeling’ your way through things is sometimes where I want you.  When you think too much, you can become arrogant and self-reliant.  That disconnect you experienced was analogous to temporary separation from Me.  This day is an example of the inanity that is created when you run around on your own energy.  But, ‘feel’ where you are right now.  Your heart is not beating out of the side of your neck and you are not scrambling to decipher the chaos that is surrounding you.  This slow meandering drive that you are on now is illustrative of what it is like to be led and fed by Me.  You see, your sight can be blinding to you, causing you to race from one fleeting bit of unseen stimulation to the next.  But when you ‘feel’ your way through, you are placing your hand in Mine and are allowing Me to guide you to where I know you belong.  Right now I need you to be in a relaxed state of mind because I want you to be a mouthpiece for my message.”

Just then, my mobile phone rang.  It was my girlfriend who called to ask me for prayer.  She explained that she has a loved one who is mired down in youthful fumbling and through a continuous series of unfortunate events, can’t seem to stand up unassisted, let alone walk on a straight path.  My girlfriend said she has come along side this relative before and provided money to help patch the holes and bail the rising water on this young person’s challenging path.

I began asking secular questions about the loved one.  God then said, “Pssssst!  Just open your mouth and let me speak through you.  Stop searching for your next set of thoughts.  Remember, we are “feeling”, not thinking.  It is reliance, not reasoning.”  I took a deep breath and started listening.  My girlfriend explained that the loved one is a young mother who is being evicted and has no support system.  The circumstances are such that once she loses her apartment, she and her baby will be separated as there is no place for them to go together.

The words that then came out of my mouth were not my own.  This is what was spoken through me: “We live in a broken world and when we hit rock bottom, we are an icky, sticky, yucky mess.  It is very easy to stand back and throw money at the cataclysmic heap from a distance.  But you are being called to dig deep and give of yourself; not to reach into your pockets to give what you can easily do without.  Sometimes, when we are standing on the edge facing the deep end of the pool, the idea of jumping in can be daunting.  It can seem like it would be easier if someone would just push us.  But that is not Jesus’ way.  He only wants the willing, not the loathed.  This is called freedom in Christ.  Choose what you will do according to what has been placed on your heart.  I will always love you and so will He.”

My girlfriend and I hung up.  I looked up and thanked God for the countless lessons and blessings He gave me yesterday.  I pondered over the experience that He: 1.) allowed me to go through yesterday so it would 2.) Open my eyes to see the picture He painted for me to prepare me 3.) To be used by Him 4.) So He could speak through me, yet 5.) Show me how much I still need Him.  Then Casting Crowns Voice of Truth played in my head, Oh what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes to climb out of this boat I’m in, onto the crashing waves; to step out of my comfort zone to the realm of the unknown where Jesus is and He’s holding out his hand.  But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me; reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed.  The waves they keep on telling me, time and time again, “Boy, you’ll never win!”  “You’ll never win!”  Last night, I prayed for my girlfriend.  I prayed that she would find peace in knowing that she heard His gentle invitation in His voice to be the love.  I prayed that she would see the way He is showing her to His precise calling and that she would eagerly follow the path He lays before her, no matter how uncomfortable it may seem.  Oh what I would do to have the kind of strength it takes to stand before a giant with just a sling and a stone; surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors shaking in their armor, wishing they’d have had the strength to stand. 

I know she is still wrestling with God, seeking clarity for precisely how He wants her to answer His call to action.  But she recognized His voice and is being drawn into Him to be the love for someone else.  But the voice of truth tells me a different story and the voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”  And the voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”.  Out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.

He is my witness that I have been at similar crossroads; a place where He was asking me to give sacrificially, not just easily.  Sacrifice is the act of giving up something you want to keep while easy is something that requires little effort, thought or reflection.  God gave us His one and only son and presented Himself to us in a form we could recognize and accept.  Before we can follow Him, we are called to count the cost, a ransom He paid sacrificially yet willingly, to save our lives.

I will remain prayerful as my girlfriend works through this with God.  I am sure He will show her His will and she will freely choose courageous obedience.  It is such a privilege to watch her answer His gentle invitation.  As someone who extended her hand to such a reluctant receiver as me, I am eternally grateful to God for slowing me down enough to be touched by her.  I am thankful that He brought me through such an incredible experience with her and for blessing me with our friendship.

“In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers.  In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart.  But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances.  A secret master of ceremonies has been at work.  Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.”  The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out.  It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” – C.S. Lewis

I Am…In You

I am thankful for my struggle because without it, I would not have stumbled across my strength. – Alex Elle

For the first time in several years, I woke up lacking the desire to face the workday that was before me.  I prayed for the strength to do it, dragged myself out of bed, and headed into the office.  My entire drive in, I questioned His melodious subtle voice that kept saying, “Do this for Me.”  As I entered the lobby area of my building, I noticed a colleague walking towards me.  She had a look on her face that seemed devoid of hope.  I mustered up a smile, called her by name, and opened my arms wide.  She looked up, walked towards me, buried her head in my chest as I hugged her, and began to cry.  We embraced for a moment as she regained her composure.  She said, “Oh my God!  Thank you.  I needed that hug more than I realize.  It has been a hard day already.  I have been through so much lately.  Thank you!”  She wiped her eyes, kissed my cheek and went on her way.

As I continued through the lobby, He said, “I urged you to get out of bed for the very moment you just experienced.  I sent you to show Me to her.  She was at the end of her rope and needed to see a ray of hope so she could regain the strength required to do her part in My kingdom.  She has a special role in my vineyard but has been feeling too discouraged lately.  That hug answered her prayer asking Me to show her that I care by making her feel better.  Your obedience illuminated My face to one of my children.  Never underestimate how I may use you and the impact that your faithfulness can have.  I have used the two sibling traits, stability and a smile, to accomplish many things throughout time.”  I was reminded of Psalms 90:2,4 (ERV) – 2 You were God before the mountains were born, before the earth and the world were made.  You have always been and will always be God!  4To you, a thousand years is like yesterday, like a few hours in the night. 

As I continued through my day dealing with budget issues, briefings, meetings, personnel matters, and the like, God’s whispered words stuck with me.  The song that came to my mind over and over throughout the day was Mark Shultz’ I AmI am the maker of the heavens.  I am the bright and morning star.  I am the breath of all Creation who always was and is to come.  I am the One who walked on water.  I am the One who calmed the seas.  I am the miracles and wonders.  So come and see and follow me.  You will know I am the spirit deep inside you.  I am the word upon your heart.  I am the One who even knew you before your birth; before you were. 

The struggles continued to build throughout the week to a crescendo as each day presented greater challenges than the one before.  Each sunrise was his wake up call to put my feet on the floor to go about doing His business.  Every morning, I praised His name for the chance to serve Him again yet simultaneously asked Him what these challenges were all about.  With each question, I felt the warmth of His smile and gentle purr as He nudged me through the uncertain moments.  Alas, the week’s end of zenith power and intensity transitioned to an auditory petal-breathe space, like delicate fingers tickling ivory keys, whispering “Affettuoso.  Ssshhhhh!”  Romans 8:27-30 tells us, “27 Don’t you know that He who pursues and explores the human heart intimately knows the Spirit’s mind because He pleads to God for His saints to align their lives with the will of God?  28 We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.  29-30 From the distant past, His eternal love reached into the future.  You see, He knew those who would be His one day, and He chose them beforehand to be conformed to the image of His Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of a new family of believers, all brothers and sisters.  As for those He chose beforehand, He called them to a different destiny so that they would experience what it means to be made right with God and share in His glory.  (The VOICE)

The week ended with an unobtrusive evening with an old friend who reached out with an eager petition to connect.  Over dinner, we talked about our journeys since our last heart to heart.  We laughed about the silliness that life brings, mused about our dreams for the future, and smiled about the good favor God has extended our way.  Although my original preference was to just go home, spending time with another one of His children enriched my life.  Her parting words were, “Thanks, I really needed that.  Let’s connect more often.”  Our souls are fed and our minds are guided in community with one another to take care of each other’s needs.  Acts 2:42

On my slow ride home on a cool drizzly night after an excruciatingly long week, the Lord began to softly speak to me again.  He said, “Yes, I know it was a long week.  Testing the limits of your spirit of courage grows and humbles you.  I am not a sadist.  I am your loving father who encourages you towards your purpose.  You have told me you want to follow my son.  Doing so is not a sprint.  Taking up your cross daily is a marathon.  Likewise, at certain points along the way you will get very tired or hit a wall and want to quit.  My desire was for you to never give up.  You play like you practice.  I want you to train hard so you finish strong.  I am always with you and will never forsake you or tempt you beyond what you can bear.  Hang in there.  I love you!  Oh, and thanks for listening to my voice when I called you to hug your colleague and break bread with your old friend.  These are the things that let you see My purpose for you.”

Before the Earth (I am); the universe (I am); in every heart (I am); oh, where you are (I am); the Lord of love (I am); the King of Kings (I am); the Holy lamb (I am); above all things…Yes, I am almighty God your father; the risen son of man; the healer of the broken and when you cry, I am your savior and redeemer who bore the sins of man; the author and perfecter; beginning and the end, I am.  “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Be the love!  He is in you.

To The Limit

“Often the very things that you think have disqualified you are the ones that qualify you to do what God has called you to do”. – Christine Caine

John the Baptist understood that personal peril is sometimes the price paid for doing the right thing.  Matthew 14 tells us a story of the then ruler of Galilee who married his brother’s wife.  John courageously stood up to the ruler and told him about the inappropriateness of the marriage to his brother’s wife.  The ruler jailed John for speaking the truth and later had John beheaded as a trade-off in a game of pawns.  However, John was confident and resolute in the face of difficulty and danger.  He was “all in”, beating down the flame of fear with the fan of faith, even in the most daunting situations.  David Foster tells us in Through The Fire, Through the fire, to the limit, to the wall…I’d gladly risk it all.  Through the fire, through whatever, come what may…I’d take it all the way; Right down to the wire, even through the fire.”

John the Baptist had a unique way about him.  The bible describes him as wearing camels’ hair with a leather belt and living off of locusts and wild honey.  The bible does not speak to any special training John had to qualify him to do the incredible things he did.  But his off-the-beaten-path approach made him extremely resourceful and gave him an understanding that with God, focus, and discipline, anything is possible.  He was all in and in it to win it.

A few years ago, I was vacationing in a coastal city near the Pacific Ocean with some friends.  One of my friends had mobility issues but was unwilling to be deterred from full participation in all activities.  One afternoon, we set off on a snorkeling trip.  I was simply tagging along with the group as I had no desire to snorkel.  With a floatation device I was okay in the water, but I had only taken a few swimming lessons and was not a good swimmer.  We set out on a 40 ft vessel with several other passengers.  Our boat pulled into a very narrow lane with several other boats to off-load the swimmers and snorkelers.  I felt a bit uneasy because there was too much going on in a highly congested area; too many swimmers and too many boats in too small of an area in very choppy water.

All passengers, except me and a guy, got off the boat and into the water.  After a few minutes, a voice told me to put my equipment on and get into the water.  At first I hesitated because I could not discern if it was the Spirit or my ego talking to me.  Eventually, in an act of obedience, I sat on the bottom step of the ladder, put everything on and got into the water.  It took a few seconds to settle my nerves.  I then adjusted my mask and stuck my face in the water to see any marine life beneath me.  There wasn’t anything swimming below me.  I thought, “okay…I have been tricked by my ego into entering these crowded waters.  Thankfully I am only a few feet from the boat.  I am done.”  As I took my now fogged-up mask off to find the stairs to the boat, I noticed that there was something wrong with my mobility-impaired friend.  Without a second thought, I put my mask back on, stuck my head in the water, and kicked as hard as I could until I reached her.  By then, she was panicked.  She had a sense of  loss of control as she was being battered by the waves and was swallowing too much water.

When I reached her, I tried to make her feel a little bit more secure by turning her towards me, wrapping my legs around her, and taking her mask off so she could see me.  Whatever sanity she had left was then surrendered to full-bore panic.  At that moment, she began to fight me.  She then pulled away from me, floundered and flailed under a catamaran, and grabbed hold of the chain on its lowered anchor.  I put my face back in the water and kicked towards her until I reached her again.  I began to ask her what was wrong.  Whatever she was yelling at me was immediately muffled by the roar of the catamaran’s engine being turned on.  I took off my fogged-up mask, I guess to stare death in its eyes.  Instead, I saw the chain of the boat’s anchor begin to rise with my friend attached to it.  I called out to God and surrendered.  I admitted that I was in way over my head.  I committed to accepting His will, following His guidance, and never quitting.

He led me to grab her waist and then to climb up her back, with the hopes that the pressure of my weight would drop us from the chain.  When it didn’t, I wrapped my legs around her ever-rising body and rocked back until we fell.  I then laid on my back with my arm around my friend’s neck and kicked as hard as I could to exit from the front underside of the catamaran.  I then yelled the names of the others in our party and told them to call for help as I held my listless friend.  Other swimmers immediately came to our rescue and summoned the help needed to get us back safely.

2 Timothy 1:7 tells us, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline”  Obedience has a hefty price but that doesn’t change that it is the right thing to do…and look at the difference it can make in someone’s life.  Obedience doesn’t require specialized skills.  But, it can place the least likely person in a position to help.  When we take God with us and we take a focused and disciplined approach to doing what he asks, He uses our uniqueness to make great things happen.  Remember, “The impossible is where God starts and miracles are what he does.” – Christine Caine

What are the difficulties in our circumstances that test our convictions?  Are we willing to be obedient at all cost?  Are we willing to let our faith take us through the fire, to the wall, to the limit?  Or will we be daunted by fear and hold back?  While it was faith that let Peter walk on water, his doubts about the limits of God caused him to sink.

Chris Tomlin says it best in No Turning Back with, “This is my heart cry, though none go with me; the cross before me, the world behind me.  This is my anthem: my life for your fame.  My every move bring glory to your name.  I will follow you (I have decided, I have decided).  I will follow you (I have decided).  No turning back!  No turning back!!  No turning back!!!  No turning back!!!!”

The experience has brought me here:

  1. Panic can turn a terrible situation into a tragedy
  2. Faith brings clarity and breeds courage
  3. The impossible becomes the likely when God is in control
  4. Our all is not His limit

God has no limits to what He can do.  So take it to the limit and see what He will do with it!  “The mountains shake before Him; the demons run and flee at the mention of the name King of Majesty.  There is no power in hell or any who can stand before the power and the presence of the Great I am.  Hallelujah, Holy Holy, God almighty, Great I am.  Who is worthy, none beside Thee, God Almighty, Great I Am.”  Great I am – Phillips, Craig, and Dean

Ties That Bind

In the (VOICE) prologue of Romans chapter 15, “Paul says he is free to eat, but he is not free to injure another in what he eats.  Personal freedom must always give way to corporate responsibility.  To put it another way, the gospel of love demands that we surrender individual liberties for the sake of our brothers and sisters.  We see this demonstrated powerfully in the example of Jesus who gave up His life and freedom for the sake of the world.  When we live by this ethic, we create a community marked by warmth and hospitality.  Food, drink, and holidays may well be personal options within the kingdom.  But justice, peace, and joy are communal essentials for life in the Kingdom.” 

My good friend and great teacher is also a musician.  I had the great opportunity to attend one of her concert performances last night.  It had been a full day beginning with a graduation followed by a lunch engagement and then the concert.  I had committed to them all, separately, weeks ago.  Although all of them were pleasant and inspiring experiences, the thought of leaving home at 8am on a Saturday, knowing that I wouldn’t return until after 11pm, was cognitively challenging.  However, my long drive home from the concert gave me a chance to reflect on the many blessings laid at my doorstep during the day.

The commencement ceremony was a small celebration with the family and friends of the 250 or so graduates of a local institution of higher learning.  It was a festival of achievement for the 19 to 62 year olds receiving associates to doctoral degrees.  It was a proud moment and a joyous occasion to see the fruits of the hard work and sacrifices that the students as well as their support systems had endured to experience this day.  My friend, married with a 15 month old baby, received her PhD in Information Assurance.  It was a journey of many years, walked on the paving stones of diligence, creativity, tenacity and perseverance.  If the image of her beauty and stateliness in her regalia is indicative of her future impact in her field, this world is guaranteed to become a better place.  I was honored to be there for her and am privileged to be a part of her life’s journey.  My takeaway was the role you play in someone else’s life is not tied to rank, rather the essence of who you are.  Never under-estimate that position!

My lunch engagement was with a close friend and confidante.  Our schedules have been such that we have not been afforded the opportunity to break bread with one another and catch up on the intimacies and intricacies of our lives.  To accentuate the experience, we ate family style at an Ethiopian restaurant; sans dinnerware with injera on our laps.  We spoke of my relational transition and navigating the narrowing and treacherous roads in front of her.

The late day meal and conversation seemed to exponentially slow time compared to the previous seven days.  It was re-enforcement of my yogic lesson of the week of “the space between our thoughts is where the learning occurs.”  Prior to receiving and practicing that lesson, my mind had a hum that was louder than usual.  The audio was as if an entire hive of bees had commandeered the microphone connected to my inner ears.  The visual was like trying to read fast-moving ticker tape in Sanskrit or Arabic, where I could not tell where one word ended or another began.  I had also been having recurring dreams of the downward curvature of words that ended with a period.  In the dreams, the words were in English but I could not read them.  I knew that the part I could see was a fragment, but I didn’t know if it was designed that way or if I was only able to see a portion of a complete message.

Stillness after the meal allowed me to practice the lesson. I was then able to understand the dream as well as the essence of the engagement.  I knew that the punctuation of the mind creates the clarity that allows growth.  In other words, symbols are given to us that warn us or cause us to stop.  The cessation of motion does not impede forward progress, rather it allows it.  Without an understanding of where one thing stops and another begins, we would have no clarity or discernment and our thoughts and lives would run in perpetual, nonsensical circles; i.e., slow your roll.

Near dusk, I finally made it to the concert.  It was a locally sponsored private outdoor musical event held on acreage adjacent to the host’s residence.  There were 15 to 20 guests in attendance.  My friend and her band of professional musicians entertained and enthralled us for two hours with titillating originals and sultry cover songs.  The purity of her voice and the creativity of the music, through the backdrop of a star-dazzled sky on this crisp spring night, stirred my heart and warmed my soul.  As I began to formulate the question asking why she was not playing to a larger audience or on a national stage, the thought collapsed on itself and dissipated – thankfully.  In that moment, I realized that my friend is a highly accomplished musician who was gracious enough to invite me to a private showcase of her music.  She is not in search of stardom because she is already there.

After the thought marinated in my mind for a few moments, the band played a Curtis Mayfield song – and the lesson hit me like a ton of bricks: There is a distinction between making it and being discovered.  There have been several people who have made it in their field who have been great influencers in my life.  I have been acquainted with a few people who have been discovered and although they did well in their own right, they pale in comparison to the numbers of influencers.

Today, the notorious names are factoids discussed over cocktails while the influencers are household names who have made a difference in my lineage and legacy.  Curtis Mayfield was my uncle’s mentor and frequently visited my grandmother’s house; my mother went to high school with former Oakland A’s baseball player Dave Winfield; my cousin dated rapper M.C. Hammer’s brother; singer Larry Graham from Sly and the Family Stone sang at another cousin’s wedding; etc.  I met these folks but I don’t have a relationship with them.  However, it is the many unnamed villagers who nestled me in, loved me and provided structure and sustenance to bring me this far.  It is to them that I owe so much.

The long drive home helped me to bring the cascade of thoughts, experiences, and lessons together:

  1. Dream big and dare to fail
  2. We each play a significant role in the lives of those around us
  3. The small sacrifices we make for one another pay forward huge dividends
  4. Time is not ours to make, take, spend, or save.  Instead, give this moment 60 seconds worth of distance run
  5. We are called, not to reason why, but to tie ourselves together and bind as the fabric of His community
  6. He uses entire villages to support just one of His children – but each one counts
  7. The worth of the individual in His community cannot be calculated in currency
  8. Our small acts of obedience are large cries of worship to Him

Jason Gray sums it up with Every Act of Love, “I said, God put a million, million doors in the world for his love to walk through; one of those doors is you.  Oh – we bring the Kingdom come; Oh – with every act of love.  Jesus help us carry You alive in us.  Your light shines through; with every act of love we bring the Kingdom come.”  Romans 15:1-6 says, 1-2Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us.  Strength is for service, not status.  Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’  3-6 That’s exactly what Jesus did.  He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.  ‘I took on the troubles of the troubled,’ is the way Scripture puts it.  Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us.  God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next.  May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all.  Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!”  (MSG)