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Thoughts too long for a Facebook status message.

Bible Memory Verses

Scripture is clear that memorizing the words of God is critically important as we grow to be more like Jesus. GotQuestions.org has a whole article on it, so I won’t rewrite it here. Their article is great.

Below are the verses in my list of Scriptures I’m memorizing. There is no rhyme or reason to the order. I’ve just compiled them over time as I’ve read the Bible and marked passages I wanted to remember because they convey important truths that I wanted to always have readily available. I am not claiming that you should memorize these; they’re just what I’m working on.

Some are straight from a particular Bible translation. Others are slightly rewritten so that I, personally, remember their meaning better. (There’s also one quote in there that I really needed to be reminded of constantly.) We’re all different, so your mileage will definitely vary. Use a version that helps you remember the meaning best.

A few have the beginning of the verse and/or the end of the verse omitted in order to better isolate the thought. I preach context constantly, so I promise you the meaning of the verse(s) has not been changed by leaving out some surrounding context. However, the depth of all of these is only increased when read in context, and the more context you understand, the more their meaning grows.

– – –

This is what the LORD says:

“Cursed is the one who puts his trust in man, who relies on human strength and turns his heart away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the wasteland; he can’t see when prosperity comes. He will dwell in the parched places in the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose hope and confidence are in him. He is like a tree planted along a river that sends its roots out into the stream. It doesn’t fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never stops producing fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:5-8

“Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like me.

“I make known the end from the beginning, from long ago what is not yet done, saying: my plan will take place, and I will do all my will.”

Isaiah 46:9-10

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength.

Ephesians 1:18-20

Prayer is the way to experience a powerful confidence that God is handling our lives well.

Timothy Keller

So, girding up the loins of your mind and being sober-minded and self-controlled, set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:13

But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord, being double-minded and unstable in all his ways.

James 1:5-8

Since you are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Colossians 3:12

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts — the peace to which you were also called to live as members of one body. And always be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

Whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

For none of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:7-8

Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for God himself has said, “I will never fail you or abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can man do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6

Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6

If you respond to my warning, then I will pour out my spirit on you and teach you my words.

Proverbs 1:23

So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.

2 Corinthians 5:9-10

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. And this hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you – with gentleness and respect.

1 Peter 3:15

For the eyes of the Lord roam throughout the earth to show himself strong for those who are wholeheartedly devoted to him.

2 Chronicles 16:9

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

1 Corinthians 4:20

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, does not insist on its own way, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35

Then the Lord asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.”

Exodus 4:11-12

Wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it.

Luke 7:35

If anyone says, “I love God,” and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:20

This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commands. The one who says, “I have come to know him,” and yet doesn’t keep his commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

1 John 2:3-4

If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is still living in darkness.

1 John 2:9

For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

Zephaniah 3:17

This is what love for God is: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

1 John 5:3

“Look, I am the Lord, the God over every creature. Is anything too difficult for me?”

Jeremiah 32:27

You were called to be free, brothers and sisters. Only don’t use your freedom to indulge the flesh, but serve one another humbly in love.

Galatians 5:13

And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:8

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Matthew 7:21

Lord, show me my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days just inches long, and my life span is as nothing to you.
Every human is only a vapor.

Psalm 39:4-5

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Now we have this treasure in clay jars to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that Jesus’s life may also be displayed in our mortal flesh.

2 Corinthians 4:7-11

So Christ himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13

Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental spiritual forces of this world, rather than Christ.

Colossians 2:8

Those who think they know something don’t yet know it as they ought to know it.

1 Corinthians 8:2

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-18

I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or imagine according to the power that works in us— to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:16-21

He has saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.

2 Timothy 1:9

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—dwell on these things.

Philippians 4:8

Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:18

You will keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is dependent on you, because he trusts in you.

Isaiah 26:3

As he approached and saw the city, he wept for it, saying, “If you knew this day what would bring peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days will come on you when your enemies will build a barricade around you, surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you and your children among you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another in your midst, because you did not recognize the time when God visited you.”

Luke 19:41-44

God is able to make all grace overflow to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:8

Featured Photo by Aaron Burden

Filed under Spirituality
Child Looking at Map

God’s Intent for Our Lives

What is God’s intent for our lives? What’s the big picture? Are we saved only so we can go to Heaven when we die, or is there more?

Paul answers that question in Ephesians 4:11-13:

Christ himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip his people for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.

God intends that we grow into a maturity that is measured against Jesus himself.

How do we make the tremendous leap from being born in sin to “being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory”? (2 Corinthians 3:18)

We Must Be Born Again

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)

You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” (John 3:7)

As Something Distinctly Different

Being born again isn’t just hitting the reset button on our lives and getting to start over again, though. Peter writes that we are…

…born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable (1 Peter 1:23)

And Paul notes this in a couple of different places as well:

…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:15)

When we are born again, we are born as something altogether different than what we once were.

Like Babies

As with being born the first time, though, the New Testament writers compare young disciples to babies:

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2)

But they’re very clear that we’re not to remain babies:

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly — mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Growing Up Takes Commitment

None of us matures naturally. It takes real effort, and effort takes commitment.

Paul writes that we’re to approach our spirituality the same way an athlete approaches their athletic endeavors:

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown. So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.

Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way. (Philippians 3:10-15)

Herm Edwards put it this way:

As recorded by both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is very clear about the commitment level that discipleship requires:

Now great crowds were traveling with him. So he turned and said to them: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

“For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish it, all the onlookers will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man started to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or what king, going to war against another king, will not first sit down and decide if he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If not, while the other is still far off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33)

Are you growing up, or are you just growing old?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Filed under Spirituality

The Question the Bible Says Not to Ask

Most of the Christians I know would agree with these four statements. (I would too.)

The pulpit of this day is weak in praying. The pride of learning is against the dependent humility of prayer. Prayer is with the pulpit too often only official — a performance for the routine of service. Prayer is not to the modern pulpit the mighty force it was in Paul’s life or Paul’s ministry. Every preacher who does not make prayer a mighty factor in his own life and ministry is weak as a factor in God’s work and is powerless to project God’s cause in this world.

In many churches Christianity has been watered down until the solution is so weak that if it were poison it would not hurt anyone, and if it were medicine it would not cure anyone!

The true gospel emphasizes filling people with God. Modern religion focuses upon filling churches with people.

There is a condition which has existed in the Church for some years and is steadily growing worse. I refer to the loss of the concept of majesty from the popular religious mind. The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.

Would it be surprising to learn that the first is from E.M. Bounds in 1907, and the others are from A.W. Tozer in the middle of the 1900s — more than half a century ago?

I regularly hear that our churches and our country aren’t what they used to be. There is this idea that at some point in the past, things were much better than they are today. Our pastor spoke the truth recently, though: “Yes, there are many things that aren’t as good as they used to be, but let me tell you something: We’ve never had it as good as we have it today.”

We Love to Look Back

Human nature hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. You realize that when you read the stories in the Bible of people who lived thousands of years before us. Vastly different context. Same exact behavior.

One of those behaviors is that we always remember the past much more fondly than it actually was. The Romans referred to it with the phrase “memoria praeteritorum bonorum” (roughly, “the past is always well remembered”), and the flaw has been well-documented in our time.

It’s why the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 7:10 tells us:

Don’t say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.

In Numbers 21:4-9, God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake for the people to look upon to be healed from the poisonous snakes God had sent among them as punishment. As we would have done, the Israelites kept the bronze serpent as a reminder of what God had done. Fast forward 750 years, though, and we find that the Israelites are worshiping it.

When God works, it’s so easy to transition from remembering the work to worshiping the work — to transition from loving the tradition and allowing it to honor God to following the tradition instead of God.

My wife shared a quote from “Call the Midwife” that sums it up so well: “There is much of value in the old ways, but one must not become like Lot’s wife, frozen in the act of looking backwards.”

God is always on the move and is always inviting us to join him. Let’s be wary of imagining how good our lives used to be and enjoy the new work he is doing today.

Filed under Spirituality
Cover Photo - Broken

God Won’t Give Us More Than We Can Handle?

Some dear friends at church are going through a stretch that is the stuff of nightmares. Over the past few months, it’s been one brutal thing after another, and it just keeps coming. She posted on Facebook today, “Saying goes, God only gives you what you can handle…… Please God we have hit our max. Can we have a break now?”

Maybe we haven’t been through anything nearly as bad as their family is going through, but being pushed to our breaking point is something most of us can relate to. And “God won’t give you more than you can handle” is something we hear regularly.

Is it true?

In Genesis 3, right at the beginning of the Bible, we’re introduced to one of Satan’s favorite tricks: Twisting God’s words around just enough that they sound right, but take on a vastly different meaning:

Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Notice that’s almost exactly what God did say:

“You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”

Almost isn’t close enough. Satan didn’t spin God’s words very much, but it was enough to throw Eve off completely — and then Satan knew he had her.

In the same way, “God won’t give you more than you can handle” sounds right. It sounds Biblical. And we hear it so often, we believe God himself said it. But it’s a bastardization of God’s word that Satan uses to great success over and over and over.

Here’s what God did say:

No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it.

God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we’re able. Tempted. This is the verse Satan wants us thinking of when he tells us that God won’t give us more than we can handle. Just like Eve in the Garden, he tweaks it just enough that it still sounds right but conveys a vastly different meaning that he can then use to his advantage.

What does God really say about the level of suffering he’ll allow us to endure? Read the book of Job and see how suffering completely broke him. Read his words of complete and utter anguish.

Read Exodus and Numbers and write down how many things God put the Israelites through. Over and over he broke them, leading them through trials that had them begging to go back to being slaves. They knew firsthand that even brutal slavery was better than what they were having to endure.

Why does God do this?? At the very least, it can feel mean. At the very worst, it can feel like the actions of an unjust, capricious, power-tripping deity whose feelings towards us are anything but love — a god who gets perverse joy from toying with us.

The Bible gives us at least three reasons.

It Makes Us Better

In James 1:2, God tells us this:

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

It has been my experience that “consider it” is very deliberate wording. There have been very few times when I was able to truly feel joy during suffering. Most of the time we have to just “gird up the loins of our mind” (1 Peter 1:13) and constantly remind ourselves that this is a cause for joy. We don’t feel it, but we can at least keep ourselves from despairing — usually.

Like elite athletes who willingly put themselves through brutal training because they know what the result will be, Hebrews 12 says:

No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

God is making us better.

It Teaches Us to Trust God Alone

Our natural inclination is to trust in ourselves — particularly in a country that (rightfully) holds work ethic in such high regard. Satan has never found a good thing he couldn’t turn into a bad thing, though, so the old American self-reliance turns into a complete reliance on self rather than a reliance on God.

In Proverbs 3:4-5, God exhorts us:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding;
in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight.

Even with our best efforts, though, we often can’t break the hold on trusting in ourselves. God knows the only solution is to remove everything from our lives that draw our trust away from him — and that’s a brutal process. Dying to self often literally feels like dying. It’s exactly what he did to the Israelites in the desert.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul directly counters Satan’s lie that God won’t give us more than we can handle. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9a, he writes:

We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction that took place in Asia. We were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death…

Paul says clearly that God gave him more than he could handle. But why? He continues:

…so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and he will deliver us. We have put our hope in him that he will deliver us again.

When God puts us in situations that only he can get us out of — and then he does it — we learn that he will deliver us faithfully and we begin to believe it.

It Draws Others to God

Later in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul reveals another reason that he allows his children to suffer. In 2 Corinthians 4:7-11, he writes:

Now we have this treasure [of the Gospel] in clay jars [frail, inglorious, human bodies], so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that Jesus’s life may also be displayed in our mortal flesh.

God removes us so that people can see him. It is his power and his glory that draw people to him. It’s why John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

A Prayer

Lord, help us to endure suffering with the hope that you offer, knowing that these trials can produce, if we will let them, a harvest of righteousness. Help us to be able to pray the words of Paul…

Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Lord, help us. Because this feels like anything but a “momentary light affliction.”

Filed under Spirituality

The Night They Burned Shanghai

It’s hard to find a good, full version of this poem by Robert Abrahams, so I wanted to preserve it here if for no other reason than to make sure I always have a copy.

– – –

THE NIGHT THEY BURNED SHANGHAI
Robert D. Abrahams, 1938

The night they burned Shanghai we had a date,
Bridge with the Watermans in Germantown.
“Now, John, be careful of the game you play;
Don’t overbid. Play safe.”

      “I will, Louise.

Let’s not discuss it. I’m not good at cards.
Lord, it’s a long way in to Waterman’s –
Half Philadelphia’s length, if it’s an inch.
Why do we have to live near Valley Forge,
If all our dates must be in Germantown?”

      (Tonight Shanghai is burning,
      Bright Shanghai of the Bund;
      The rickshas all are overturned,
      The China-hands are stunned.

      The curio shops are looted,
      The fan-tan games are gone;
      The shrieks of haunted children rise,
      The bombing planes drone on.)

Darling Louise, but eighteen, then, and slim,
Not thirty-two and card-wise, neighbor-wise.
“Darling Louise,” I whispered, “life comes once.
Let’s grab it while we can and make it ours.
Bucharest, the band at Parcul Carol
Will play for us alone if we are there;
And Copenhagen – Tivoli at night –
Naples and Athens, Persia, Xanadu,
Adventure everywhere for you and me;
We need not even go so far afield.
Here in this Philadelphia, our frontier,
We’ll find stuffed shirts to puncture, work to do,
Dead wood to clear away, great causes ready,
Making to stay at home adventure too.
Adventure shared is most of love, Louise.”

      (How far is Germantown from Valley Forge?
      A bitter march in winter for the troops,
      While Tories dance in town with General Howe
      And gentlemen sit down at cards and dice,
      And wonder when that rabble will give in.

      “My dear, I cannot understand this Washington –
      A gentleman, at that, to lead revolt.
      And what’s the latest fashion from abroad?
      Pray, who is marrying who, and who is not?”)

Then, I remember, “Shanghai, too,” I whispered,
“We’ll know bright Shanghai of the Bund, Louise.
We’ll ride in rickshas down by Soochow Creek
And haggle with the Chinese curio men.”
And eager-eyed Louise looked back at me
And answered, “Yes, John, yes, we’ll do it all.”
I know she meant it, and I meant it too.

      (Tonight Shanghai is burning,
      The flames are leaping high,
      And those who fought or kept the peace,
      Alike must drably die.)

“Louise,” I say, “we’ll never get to Burma,
Or go to Dutch Guiana or Shanghai –
No, not Shanghai; they’re burning that tonight;
But yet we’ve our frontier in Philadelphia.
Next year let’s take an interest in the world;
Go into politics, perhaps, or write a book,
Or make a fight for ancient liberties,
Or go adventuring some other way.
But not Shanghai – they’re burning that tonight –
And not tonight – we have a date tonight,
And that’s the way it always seems to be.
Wait long enough and Shanghai always burns.
Your bridges burn before you, not behind.”

      (Tonight Shanghai is burning,
      The fan-tan games are stilled,
      The chips cashed in in blood and gore –
      The players all are killed.)

“Isn’t it strange, Louise, that up this road
The Continental Army came one day,
Where now we’re driving down to Watermans’
To spend a little quiet time at cards?” …
“I think the door’s the second on the right.”
And Waterman is probably inside,
Setting the folding table up, the chairs.
In every second house in Germantown,
At this particular moment, I believe
You’d find a man unfolding little chairs.

      (There was a place I wanted much to see –
      Madrid, the place was called – that’s burning too –
      And Prague and Hankow, going with the rest.)

Well, next year maybe no more bridge, Louise –
Next year adventure right at Valley Forge –
Next year’s for living – here is our frontier.

And now we come at last to Watermans’;
Our host is waiting pleasantly inside.
“And play a safe game, will you, John, this time?”
Louise says while we park our car.
“I will, Louise, I will.”

      I know I will.

And after greetings, Waterman exclaims,
“A fine mess in the Far East, boys and girls,”
And we agree, and we sit down to play.

Tonight they burn Shanghai, and we are safe –
Safe from the world and all its puzzles – safe
From everything except our own contempt.

      (Tonight Shanghai is burning,
      And we are dying too.
      What bomb more surely mortal
      Than death inside of you?

      For some men die by shrapnel,
      And some go down in flames,
      But most men perish inch by inch,
      In play at little games.)

Filed under Spirituality

My Favorite Books

For what it’s worth, here’s a fairly complete list of books that I really, really loved and would recommend highly. I’ve read a lot of books that I enjoyed, but these are the ones that were especially impactful to me personally. (Your mileage may obviously vary.)

Non-Fiction

Fiction

Filed under Reading
Crab photo by Rich Mitchell, CC BY 2.0

A Bucket of Crabs

I used to think if you were poor in America, it was because you wanted to be poor. America is a land of such unlimited opportunity, how could anyone remain poor unless they really just wanted to be that way? I’m not going to feel bad for people who have every opportunity to be different but decide to complain about their situation instead of doing something about it.

Over the past few years, though, I have seen situations up close that I never would have broken out of — such poverty and dysfunction and simple inability to do any better that simply surviving day to day constitutes real success. Sure, there are many who play the victim and don’t get any better because they’re not willing to do the work, but there are countless who truly, deeply need help.

What makes it even worse is Crab Bucket Syndrome — our human tendency not only to stay where we are (and how we are) but to work against anyone who tries to change. Sometimes it’s an active effort to drag people back down, but often it’s just your old life, and the people in it, working as an anchor, making escape such a constant struggle that you eventually give up and rejoin the rest of the crabs.

It’s no different in the church. Many see their experience of salvation not as the starting line — the beginning of a great contest in which our goal is to win the prize and where we train ourselves like an elite athlete — but as entry into the world’s greatest club with death benefits that are out of this world. For them, the church is Heaven’s waiting room, so they patiently wait their turn to die and enter into glory.

The rest begin to work out their faith with fear and trembling and make it some distance into the race, but at some point we all grow tired. We plateau. We decide, this is fine; I’m too exhausted to go further.

Our fellow crabs may not actively drag us back into the bucket, but they contribute to our exhaustion. People we look up to let us down. People who know better do us wrong. All of us crabs do it at some point. We’re all sinners, all working out our salvation. We fail each other constantly. It’s why the Bible doesn’t tell us to look to our fellow runners for support but to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.” He is the only one who will never let us down.

Moving forward takes true dedication. When the other crabs try to pull us back, in whatever way, we have to determine not to let it happen and turn our focus instead to God and his Word. Our human nature would have us respond in one way; God leads us to something very different:

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace. – James 3:17-18

And:

Finally, all of you be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing. – 1 Peter 3:8-9

Filed under Spirituality
Forest Road. Sun Rays

No More Middle Ground

The post below is from October 2011. I have published it now because this site’s narrative of our journey is incomplete without it. I have not changed anything except to fix some broken links.

– – – – – – –

I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.John 14:12

I had completely forgotten that this verse was bugging me so much back in February. It hit me again after reading the Kings’ accounts of their experience with Courageous Church, though, because I was reminded once again of just how much what we accept as church these days bears virtually no resemblance to what Jesus said it would look like.

Jesus said that anyone who believed in him would do the same works that he did. In the 23 years since deciding that I believed the Bible was true and becoming a total church nerd, though, I haven’t seen that even once. Not once.

Even after recognizing that this will never happen until we “let everything we do stem from our belief in him,” though, I haven’t changed much. Mark 4:18-19 pretty much sums it up:

The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced.

That describes my life so well right now. What consumes my thoughts are “the worries of this life.” Not without good reason. Our sole source of income is a business I run on my own, and we have a surprise two-year-old who still hasn’t slept through the night for 5 days in a row.

Ironically, though, none of that would be an issue if I would consistently keep my priorities in order. Instead, I usually sleep just late enough that I wake up with the day already ahead of me and instantly have to hit the ground running. What suffers is the time I need to draw near to God and have my priorities aligned.

Well, I’m done with this substandard life. There is nowhere more miserable than the middle ground, and I am done with it.

Forsaking All

Jesus said, “any of you who does not forsake (renounce, surrender claim to, give up, say good-bye to) all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

As vibrant and active and fulfilling as my churches have been, they all largely preached to, as Rai writes, “people who already knew God and were content with just that.” I’ve never once had a church really impress on me that I had to forsake everything in order to truly be a follower of Jesus. Sure they mentioned it, but if you tried to drive that point home too much, you’d end up like Jesus chasing good people away.

Jesus never left any wiggle room, though. It was absolutely black and white. Forsake everything and follow me, or don’t follow me at all. We’ve completely neutered the Spirit’s power because we’re telling people — by our actions if not by our words — that anything less than complete surrender is fine. Paul warned about that more than once:

But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed.

I gladly accepted this easier gospel for years and believed that I was quite happy. I believed it when people told me that “Behold! I stand at the door and knock,” was Jesus speaking to those who didn’t know him. The truth is completely the opposite, though:

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation:

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

A New Community

Following Jesus, by God’s design, must take place in community. We can’t go it alone. We have to be joined with other like-minded people if we want to succeed. If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past two years, it’s that.

So we’re expanding on our original mission. We almost had it right, but we still weren’t focused on forsaking all. It was more about simply building community. That’s going to change.

You have an open invitation to change with us. If you’re tired of business as usual and genuinely want to change the world, come join us.

Be aware, though, that we’re going to hold each other accountable to the same degree that the early church did. We’re very much going to be swimming against the current, so it will take all of us swimming together in order to keep from falling back.

Also be aware that (as Shaun so effectively describes), “Change sounds pretty but actually looks ugly, feels like hard labor, takes time, and pushes every limit we have.” It’ll be the hardest thing you ever do, and you’ll lost count of how many times you want to just quit. For the past few years, I have wearily echoed the thoughts of Peter over and over again, “Where else would I go? What else would I do?” The thought that there really was no alternative was the only thing that kept me going.

Joe Boyd’s warning to church planters is, instead, what all who choose to truly forsake everything to follow Christ will experience:

Expect pain.

Expect to be misunderstood.

Expect to be persecuted and expect it to come first from those who follow Jesus.

Expect to be maligned, attacked and ridiculed from all sides.

Expect to grow tired and weary.

Expect to want to give up.

Expect to lose many old friends. Expect to lose all of your friends where the “church” is the central reason for your friendship. Only your deep and Christ-centered friendships will endure.

Expect to be labeled. (a freak, a hippie, a cult leader, a quitter, a fraud, an idealist, a purist, a heretic, a divider, a communist, a jerk, an egomaniac, a devil worshiper) Yes, I’ve been called them all to my face.

Expect to weep…deeper and stronger than you ever have.

Expect to doubt your calling, your convictions, your path, your faith, and your life.

Expect to be lonely.

Expect to be seen as utterly unsuccessful.

Expect to die…nothing will be left of you. You will cease to exist. The last things in you to die will be your desire to be great for God and your desire to be happy. And then, you will finally…

Live. Expect life. Expect meaning. Expect to finally understand the prophets and apostles. Expect to know Jesus and his life…for that is all that you will have…and that is all that you need.

If you’re ready, let’s do it.

Filed under Spirituality
Video Screenshot - Blatantly Biased Bibles

Choosing a Study Bible

I feel like The Ten Minute Bible Hour should have far more subscribers than it does. The Bible is the greatest book ever, and Matt is one of the few people I’ve seen who a) seems genuinely excited about it and b) really knows what he’s talking about. It’s easily my favorite YouTube channel.

This week he released a video on different Study Bible editions. If you’re thinking about maybe buying a new Bible, it’s definitely worth watching. If you absolutely know what you’re doing, just jump right into the video. If not, see my notes below.

Here are my notes. Your mileage may vary, so if they help you, great! If not, totally disregard them.

Note: Anytime I refer to a “bible”, I’m referring to a product that someone has published for you to buy. When I refer to the “Bible”, I’m referring to the holy word of God as it was written down and preserved for us outside of any particular translation or format.

What is a Study Bible?

This video will be confusing if you don’t know the difference between a bible and a study bible. When you’re buying a Bible, you make three choices.

1. What Translation?

This is the most important. The original writings that make up our Bible were written in three different languages. Those languages (obviously) have to be translated into English so that we can read them. There are a number of great translations, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Read some passages and pick the translation that is easiest for you to understand. That will vary from person to person. My wife loves the NIV, but, for studying, I was always an NASB guy before recently shifting over to HCSB and now CSB (the newer version of HCSB).

2. What Format?

Once you’ve picked a translation, you can buy that translation in paperback, hardback, or a wide array of leather and leather-like bindings. The content is 100% exactly the same; it just has a different container. Crossway has a good article on choosing a bible cover material.

3. What Else Do You Want?

If you just want the Bible and nothing else, there are plenty of choices. However you will also find a dizzying array of bibles that package your preferred Bible translation with other information. The key thing to remember — and the number one thing that can be confusing about this video — is that these other things are not the Bible. They are things that people added around the Bible to (hopefully) help you understand it better.

Bibles can have introductions at the beginning of each book to give you an idea of what you’re reading, cross-references (those tiny things down the middle column), notes (those things at the bottom of the page), dictionariesindexes, and more. The combinations are almost endless.

The notes are the biggest differentiator. There are bible versions designed simply to help you understand the material better, but there are also versions specifically targeted to a particular segment of people or topic: multiple different versions for both men and women, kids, middle school and high school students, college students, life application, recovering addicts, etc. They simply describe and discuss the material in a way more specifically relevant to their audience. The Bible itself doesn’t change — just what they package around it. If you buy an NIV bible, it’s the exact same Bible translation across every different version, regardless of what else is in it.

(Got Questions — a great site for helping you understand the Bible– has a good article on What is a study Bible? if you want to read more.)

“A Ridiculous Amount of Money”?

This is the only point I really disagree with him on — but he and I were actually on the same page until a few days ago :)

Near the beginning he makes an offhand comment about dropping “a ridiculous amount of money” on a new study bible. Laying in bed Tuesday night talking my way through the “How to Study the Bible” session I was teaching the next day, I used basically the same phrase to describe study bibles. They are expensive. But then God posed this question: “Expensive compared to what?”

Well, expensive compared to non-study bibles — but, I quickly realized, not at all expensive compared to other things I buy.

Let me show you what I mean. Let’s say you wanted the absolute most top-of-the-line Bible you could buy. This Goatskin Leather ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible looks pretty nice at $310. Maybe that’s too steep for you, though, so you settle for an ESV Cowhide Study Bible for $179.99. Don’t want the premium cover? Get the same version — just with a lesser leather cover — for $79.99.

I think $80 is a pretty good price point for this discussion. You can get a really phenomenal study Bible for $80. That’s definitely high when you can get a full Bible for $2, but let me take you through my thoughts as I lay there Tuesday night.

If you added up the cost of everything I wear to church on a given Sunday, that’s way more than $80.

My car payment used to be $431 — every month.

Know how much I pay to have cable TV — every month?

And how long will this Bible last you? My wife had her last one for 25 years before it fell apart — and it was her daily driver. It was the only Bible she read out of, and it went with her everywhere. Imagine if you only used it to study out of, though, and bought a cheap Bible to take with you back and forth to church and everywhere else. How long would it last you then?

Let’s just use 25 years, though. $80 spread across 25 years is only $3.20 per year — less than 27 cents per month.

Once I thought of it that way, I realized $80 wasn’t ridiculous after all.

What is a “Theological Persuasion”?

In one part he specifically uses the term “theological persuasion”, but that theme runs throughout. There are so many things in the Bible that a) people interpret differently and b) don’t have concrete answers — just how extensive is our free will, how sovereign is God, etc. (Read about Calvinism vs. Arminianism for a more in-depth example of just how different views can be.)

If you hold to a particular viewpoint, you might prefer a study bible that shares your viewpoint. That’s what he references both directly and indirectly throughout.

You’ll “Outgrow” Certain Study Bibles?

Near the end he talks about outgrowing certain study Bibles (the Life Application Study Bible specifically). I agree with that, but it’s not to imply that those versions aren’t as outstanding as others. The Student Bible I had in high school was fantastic, and exactly what I needed. I used a Life Application Study Bible for years after that, and it was exactly what I needed. What you need is what you need. A more advanced study bible isn’t a better study bible. That’s not what he’s saying.

Don’t Buy a Bible from Amazon

This is my last note. I buy everything I possibly can from Amazon because I like not overpaying for things — especially expensive things like this — but this is one case where I absolutely would go to a physical store. As I type this, Amazon shows over 1,000 results for “NIV study Bible” even if I limit it to Prime. Searching for just “study bible”, I get over 100,000 results 😲

Let’s suppose that you could press forward and choose one despite that. What you’ll find is that there is just no way to know what that Bible feels like in your hands — and that’s so critical. Great example: I never would have chosen the large print version of the Zondervan Study Bible, but when I saw it in person the font size was actually perfect and the bible opened up flat, unlike the regular-print version.

This is such an expensive — and important — purchase. Nothing can compare to holding the bible and flipping through it in person. If at all possible, find a store with lots of versions so that you can find the perfect one for you.

– – –

Did you watch the video? I’d love to hear what you think below!

Filed under Spirituality

Our Journey to Harvard (Literally and Figuratively)

Harvard

At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions of gifts from the Holy Spirit according to his will. – Hebrews 2:4

We have never experienced God working in the way that he has in our lives this year. It’s been so dramatic that this verse just keeps coming to my mind. The signs and wonders have been overwhelming.

I don’t know what he ultimately has planned, but I wanted to document things so far while we could still remember them.

February 2017

Our son is an outstanding student and an outstanding person. He has a perfect academic record since starting school, and his test scores are good enough to qualify him for anywhere he wanted to go. Despite that, Ivy League was never on our radar — heck, nothing outside the Southeast was really on our radar.

Especially these days, college is about what you do with it as much as where you go (if not more so). The homeschool program we’ve been a part of for the last five years has taught him to love learning, so we knew he’d excel wherever he ended up. We didn’t feel any pressure to send him anywhere in particular, and he wanted to be close to home as much as we wanted him to be close to home, so we assumed we’d end up somewhere within a few hours drive. Plus, he doesn’t know what he wants to do, so there’s no chance an Ivy or equivalent would even let him in anyway (or so I thought).

Then we got the letter.

Shortly after PSAT scores were released, we started to average at least a couple of letters from colleges every day. On this particular day, he got letters from Princeton, Yale, and Harvard. That’s pretty fun; I’m not going to lie.

The Harvard letter stood out — literally and figuratively. For one, it’s Harvard. But more than that, they sent it in a full-size envelope so that the letter wasn’t folded. We had all these regular-size business-sized envelopes… and Harvard.

The letter begins:

Have you considered Harvard? Your strong grades and standardized test scores indicate that Harvard and other selective universities may be a good fit for you.

OK, you got me.

Later in the letter, they note that it costs less than a state school for 90% of American families. Now you’ve really got me!

So I did; I took a few hours to really consider Harvard. It’s definitely impressive. I ultimately decided it wasn’t a good fit, though, because they didn’t offer a finance major or anything closely related except for economics. (Finance is what he’s strongly leaning to, and the only thing we’ve found so far that strongly piques his interest.) Oh, well. Maybe for grad school.

March 2017, God Starts Intervening

1 – The Article

A few days after ruling out Harvard, I just “happened” to come across an interesting article about hedge fund manager Bill Ackman. The article just “happened” to mention that he did not only his grad work but also his undergrad at Harvard. “Wait,” I thought, “this finance guy did his undergrad at Harvard? Did I draw the wrong conclusion?”

2 – His Major

Well not only did he do his undergrad at Harvard, he majored in History, which Harrison has always loved — and which we’ve always discouraged him majoring in (because what kind of job can you get with a History degree, right?). Hmmm… Maybe I should take another look.

3- Harvard’s Mission

So I did. And then I saw something I had not seen the first time around. On their Mission, Vision, and History page they write:

The mission of Harvard College is to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society. We do this through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.

Beginning in the classroom with exposure to new ideas, new ways of understanding, and new ways of knowing, students embark on a journey of intellectual transformation. Through a diverse living environment, where students live with people who are studying different topics, who come from different walks of life and have evolving identities, intellectual transformation is deepened and conditions for social transformation are created. From this we hope that students will begin to fashion their lives by gaining a sense of what they want to do with their gifts and talents, assessing their values and interests, and learning how they can best serve the world. [Emphasis mine.]

So, completely contrary to what I originally believed about colleges like Harvard, they actually believe that students should decide what they want to do once they get to college.

One of the many huge things I’ve learned from Jennie is that our job as parents isn’t to mold our kids into something (however good our intentions), it is to shepherd them into realizing the full potential of who God created them to be. Harrison is crazy smart with a great heart. He’s also very grounded in and serious about his faith. As much as we would hate having him so far away (a feeling he shares 100%), Harvard appeared to be a place where he could realize his potential to a degree that few other places could offer, and it seemed like an eerily perfect fit for him. (This page in particular seemed like it was almost written about him specifically.)

It was clear that Harvard was an option we should explore in-depth, so I reached out to a good friend to see if he had any good Harvard contacts that could help us learn more.

4 – The Email

Without question, God loves making me laugh. As I’m talking back and forth with my friend, I just “happened” to get an email from one of the hotel rewards clubs we belong to. The subject line? “Great Spring Deals in Boston!

April 2017

As you can imagine, the pressure of being solely responsible for your child’s education can be extreme — and it’s particularly stressful with the oldest. If you screw up, there’s always time to fix things for the younger ones maybe, but the oldest one only gets one chance.

The closer Harrison got to high school, the more Jennie felt this. She is an elementary school teacher. She worried constantly that she wouldn’t be able to help Harrison live up to his potential now that he was getting further and further beyond what she had been educated to do. How could she possibly do for him what teachers in a “real” school could do?

We had no doubt that God wanted us to keep homeschooling, though, and as Harrison started high school, God told Jennie that what he wanted her to focus on was this: Is he with me? — that education was crucial, but far and away her most important responsibility was leading Harrison to continually grow closer to the Lord. Is he with me?

There’s a pretty common perception that the farther you travel from the Southeast, the more Godless it gets. While there’s some truth to that (based on things like church attendance), it’s too easy a jump to get from there to thinking of the Northeast as completely Godless. That’s obviously not true, but we did want to explore how Harvard would impact Harrison spiritually.

Thankfully, my friend connected us with a local Harvard grad who not only has been very successful, but is also an ardent advocate for Harvard and as strong a Christian guy as I’ve ever met. He took time out of his completely packed schedule to have lunch with us and answer all the questions we had. We left the lunch feeling even more strongly that Harvard could be a good fit for him, so it was time to visit in person.

God had shown us enough to get us on a plane to Boston, but we had no clue how much he still had planned.

July 2017

5 – The Napkins

Jennie will carry much of the story from here on out. (You can read more in her post.)

I had been praying that God would help me to know with certainty where Harrison should go to school. I prayed mostly that God would put him where he could grow closer to God and where he could be used by God. I also prayed that he would help Harrison to know and be excited about where he was going. I longed to see him get excited and show some emotion about the school he would attend. I mostly prayed that God would give me a peace about everything. It was truly such a weight on my shoulders that I desperately wanted to remove, but simply couldn’t figure out how. I wanted so badly to give it to God and release the worry.

As we boarded the plane, I was flooded with emotion. I could not believe that we were going to visit Harvard with our son. Harvard? Really? How did I raise/teach a child who had a legitimate chance at getting into Harvard? He certainly did not get the intelligence gene from me. My heart was full of gratitude for having this chance and for having the means to take our family on a vacation like this. We have been so incredibly blessed and it really hit me in that airplane seat. I thanked God and prayed that he would continue to use our family to bring him glory. I continued to pray that God would show us where Harrison could best do that. I still held onto my thought that Harvard might not be the best place for a Christian young man to grow in his faith. But God, in his infinite wisdom and abundant grace, began to show me, in his perfect timing, that he indeed had Harrison in the palm of his hand and that no matter where Harrison landed, he would take care of him. Little by little, God began to tug away the fear I was so tightly hanging onto.

napkinsGod speaks to people in different ways. For me, God almost always gives me little or not so little signs when I pray for them. I believe it is because knows he my insecurities and realizes I need the affirmation of a sign. Well, God gave me one sign after another on this trip that he was indeed in control and that he was a loving God that cared for my son. The first of those signs came on the plane when the polite stewardess placed our beverage napkins onto our tray tables. My napkin said, “The world is changed by those out in it.” Jonathan’s napkin said, “No one changed the world by staying put.” Ok, Lord, I hear you, but my mama heart is not convinced. I am going to need a little more.

Knowing what was to come, he had to have laughed at her asking for a little more.

6 – Emotion

More from Jennie:

As we were walking around Boston the first day I asked Harrison what he thought of it. He said he liked the city, but that he felt it was a one and done type of place. He would enjoy seeing it, but probably wouldn’t come back any time soon. In my human reasoning, I thought, okay, so Harvard and MIT are going to be off the list. However, God in his faithfulness gave me more. … I prayed before heading out to Cambridge Thursday morning, “God, help me to know if he will be ok here. Help me to know if this is the place for him. Help him to know for himself if he should go here.” I was a bundle of nerves as we drove there. I prayed for peace. He answered.

When we stepped out of the car, I was thinking this is pretty, but not quite what I expected. Then we opened the door of Sanders Theater. I think I literally gasped. It is so amazingly beautiful. The stained glass, the woodwork, the Latin all took my breath away. I heard Harrison say,” Wow!” He didn’t balk at all about having his picture made and the smile on his face in those pictures is a true smile. The students at the check-in table were so nice and genuinely friendly. They were not the serious, solemn, arrogant students I had pictured in my mind. They directed us to the theater and we sat down in the pew and looked up and saw “Welcome to Harvard” on the big screen. I almost cried at that moment. What followed next was a video, put to the song “Anything Could Happen.” The video featured students from Harvard and their personal stories. The first person featured was wearing a Harvard Basketball t-shirt. (Basketball is Harrison’s sport.) He was from Tucker, Georgia. Ok, Lord, you have my attention. It helped that they showed him playing basketball with friends, playing video games with friends and wearing a ghostbusters t-shirt in addition to showing his classes and research. The next story featured was also a basketball player. I liked that he said, “Harvard let him explore everything.” Since Harrison is really not certain of what he wants to do, this made me feel so much better. After the video, we heard from two different students as well as an admissions officer. They were fantastic. Harrison was engaged and smiling and interested the entire time. I loved everything the admissions officer had to say. He painted a lovely picture of Harvard, but without any trace of arrogance or elitism. We then toured the campus. Our tour guide was very personable. The campus was beautiful. Harrison looked at me during the tour and with a big smile said, “I really like it here!” I had prayed for emotion and now I had it. After our tour we visited the Harvard book store. At other campuses, I had asked if he wanted a shirt and he replied that it seemed weird to get a shirt if he wasn’t sure if he was going there. However, he was thrilled to get a shirt from Harvard. I was amazed at how much he liked this school.

Harrison is not a very emotional guy. He’s a deep thinker, but that doesn’t present as emotion very often — and definitely had not shown up in our prior visits to Samford and UGA, despite the fact that he liked them both. When Jennie told me later what he had said, I knew it was a big deal.

7 – That Nichole Nordeman

Saturday night as we were getting ready for bed, Jennie was browsing through Instagram and exclaimed, “OK, that Nichole Nordeman has made me mad.” Oh, no. Nichole is one of her favorites. What happened??

Turns out, she had posted this:

You'll find him everywhere you thought he wasn't supposed to go. So, go.

It was powerful all on its own, but looking back we can see now that God was setting up for the grand finale.

8, 9, 10, 11 – Park Street Church

Park Street ChurchWe got into Boston Wednesday afternoon and saw a ton of sights before bed that night. And Thursday and Friday we saw so many more that I began to wonder whether we had planned too long a trip. What were we going to do with two more whole days Saturday and Sunday? More than once I pondered changing our flight home from Sunday night to Saturday. (Hotels in Boston are not cheap; leaving a day early would make a huge difference.) God wouldn’t let me, though, and Friday night I found out why.

I woke up at one point that night and God said, “You should go to church on Sunday.” Well, duh. If one of the main reasons we came is to see what life would be like for him here, shouldn’t we see what church would be like?

So the next morning I started looking for churches near Harvard and God led me to Park Street Church. I spent a long time researching them and felt confident that’s where he wanted us to go.

Man, did he.

We showed up at 10:30, well before service started or before anyone much was even in the sanctuary. It probably seats 600 to 800, and we had our pick of seats — plus time to settle down and take everything in.

The first thing I thought to check was the hymnals. What kind of songs do they sing? Do I know any of them?

The previous week in Sunday School, we had talked about one of my favorite hymns. I had noticed that it wasn’t in our own church’s hymnals, so I figured that might be a fun one to look for. As I picked up the hymnal and flipped to the index, Mary Elizabeth whispered loudly to me from farther down the pew, “Mom says we’re singing one of your favorite hymns.” Sure enough, I looked in the order of service and there it was in black and white: “Come Thou Fount.” Not only was it in the hymnal, God had picked it out for our visit.

The service started with a large Methodist youth choir from Brentwood, TN, singing an amazing Latin piece. I was just blown away. I love choral music, and especially when it’s sung in a large, soaring church. (I even have a Pandora station just for choral music.) To be sitting three rows away from them, just swept up in the middle of the singing, was one of the most personal, loving expressions of love God has ever given me. He didn’t have to do that, I didn’t need him to do it, but those are the truly amazing gifts — when he does just because he can. It was overwhelming.

Later in the service, they sang again — this time for Jennie:

The second song they performed really caught my attention. It was not the song they had planned to do. It was not the one listed in the bulletin, but it was the one God wanted me to hear. The words said, “Can the hand of God, can the voice of love find me even here?” At this point, I was just trying to hold back tears.

I mean, come on.

Then the sermon:

His sermon was on the prodigal son. Ok, I can relax a little. He spoke not only of the prodigal son, but also the other son. He said both had heart issues. It was a great message. Then he said this line in reference to the other son, “We can do lots of things for God, but what matters most is not what we do for God, it is whether or not we are with God. Are you with him?” These were the words God had spoken to me when Harrison was entering high school. “Is he with me?

12 – Mark & Bev

Mark and Bev deserve their own section. There weren’t 10 other people in the sanctuary when we got there, yet God had Mark and Bev come sit right behind us shortly after we sat down. Right behind us — in a church where they could have sat a million other places. We soon found out why.

I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder and was sweetly welcomed by a lady named Bev. She and her husband Mark asked if we were visiting Boston and then asked if we were visiting colleges. She looked at me and said, “It is both exciting and terrifying all at the same time.” My thoughts exactly. She shared how her three boys had gone off to college. She said they all left home and only one came back. Sensing my anxiety, she placed her hands on mine and said, “Only one came back home, but I see them all often. They visit a lot.” This woman understood. Her husband then looked at me and said that he would pray for my son and for us as we were making these decisions. He laughed and said he would do his best to remember. His wife then leaned in and whispered, “He never forgets. If he said he will pray for your son, he will.” I wanted to cry. These people we just met were already willing to pray for my son.

They talked for a few minutes before the service, then several more minutes afterward. I couldn’t hear them, but I could tell Jennie was enjoying it.

Before we left, Jennie stopped by the ladies’ room. When she came back to meet us, she had this look on her face like something unsettling (in a good way) had just happened. I asked her about it, and she said it was nothing. I could tell it was because it was taking everything she had to hold it together.

Before we left, I needed to visit the ladies’ room. Bev ended up in line right next to me. She proceeded to tell me about the wonderful college ministry they had through campus ministries and that the chaplain of Harvard actually attends church there. Before she left the restroom, she told me to tell Harrison to look them up if he came to school in Boston. She said, “Tell your son, that if he comes to Harvard to look us up and know that if he does, his lunch on Sunday afternoons will be taken care of.”

I don’t have the words to adequately describe to you the power of that moment. Except for a span of a few months, the churches that God had us a part of from 2007 through 2015 were all younger people, and we talked often about how much we missed getting to be loved by those who are older and wiser, who have such a great perspective on everything. And here we have an older woman not only loving on Jennie, but telling her that she will personally take good care of her baby? Mary Elizabeth, astutely, described it best: “The only way God could have spoken to Mom more clearly would be to actually speak out loud.”

He could not have given her a more intimate, loving sign.

13 – The Basket in the Water

God had worked, with an intensity we had never seen, to show clearly that Harrison would be well taken care of at Harvard. He then wrapped it up by having this post cross Jennie’s Facebook several times over the course of the weekend, for us to bookmark and finally read once things were complete:

basketBut this past spring, as I sat in church after Easter yet still meditating on those days of old, a thought entered my mind: It’s over now. Jesus had been reunited with the Father. The disciples were on their own. The Bible gives us an account of what the disciples were thinking and doing after Jesus ascended into heaven, but what was the Lord thinking? Was he watching over them, wondering, “Was it enough? Did they get it? Did I teach them everything they needed to know to do this on their own?” As these thoughts continued to run through my mind, I couldn’t help but make the connection to the thoughts we often feel as parents embarking on the next phase of our child’s life. “Did I teach him enough? Did we spend enough time together? Was she listening?”

The realization I had that day that Jesus truly and fully does know what we feel as parents was overwhelming.

There comes a time — many times, actually — in the lives of our children where we have to put the basket in the water. We have to let go and trust the plan of the Father. The world is a scary place — a place where we fear our children could drown. But we must remember that we have to let go so that God can draw them from the waters for His great purpose. He has called us to be their parents, but they were His first.

I think Jennie best summarizes things at this point for us:

We have been home several days now and as reflect on our trip, I am just so thankful for the way that God answers prayer. He has not only given me peace and helped me to release my fears, but he has shown me how much he loves and cares for us. While I still am not convinced that Harrison will end up at Harvard (after all their acceptance rate is only 5.2%) I am certain that no matter where Harrison ends up, he will be taken care of. God has a perfect plan for his life. He is in control, not me, and he loves Harrison with a perfect love that I cannot even begin to comprehend. God showed me in visiting Harvard that he will take care of Harrison and that I don’t need to be afraid. God can find him even there.

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