Nothing Else Matters

Pastor Brandon delivered a great sermon yesterday about the requirements and rewards of following Jesus. Wholehearted devotion to Jesus has tremendous rewards… God Himself being the most wonderful… but it doesn’t come without counting the cost.

He quoted great Scripture to validate his points…

1) Acknowledge His Kingdom as more valuable than His gifts:

Luke 14:26: Love Him more, compared to everything else.
Mark 12:29-31: The Great Commandment – love God with all that we are.

2) Acknowledge His Kingdom as more valuable than yours:

Luke 14:27: Carry your cross, the instrument and of death. In our case, the symbol of death of self.
Mark 8:34-38: The paradox of hanging on to our lives in this world system causes us to actually lose what’s really important.

3) Acknowledge the eternal as more valuable than the temporal.

Luke 14:33, Matt 13:44-46, Phil 3:18-20: The kingdom of heaven has tremendous rewards, both in the life to come and in the here and now.

But as a believer, I never knew how to get there. I never knew how to get to that level of commitment. I thought I knew. I tried harder. I worked harder. I even prayed more and read my Bible more. But somehow I knew there was more to it than that.

After making these great points, Pastor Brandon stressed that this was not a “works” message. He stressed that it is “the intention of the heart” that matters, and he asked us to think about and pray the Scripture found in Ephesians 3:16-19:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (NLT)

To me, this was the key. Not actually the verse or the prayer, but what’s contained within. You see, all the good intentions in the world won’t make it happen. All the thought that humanity can conjure up won’t help us make that leap from merely a churchgoer to a authentic follower of Jesus. All the acknowledgement and commitment (or re-commitment) that I can muster will not help me follow-through and be victorious. It is the “intention of the heart.”

It is a fresh revelation of the love of God. It is knowing IN MY HEART OF HEARTS that God loves and accepts me as I am that produces undying devotion and compels me to live my life wholeHEARTedly for Jesus. It’s not perfect behavior, to be sure, but I am compelled by something I can’t fully verbalize, to live a life for the One who lived and died for me. It is a freedom to be “me”, knowing that will be enough.

That sounds like a resignation to stagnation, but what it produces instead is a freedom to grow, blossom and fly. It is a freedom to risk. It is a freedom to try (and fail, possibly) because I am walking with the One who succeeded and is ultimately victorious.

In essence, I am BEGINNING to understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. That is how I get from head knowledge to heart knowledge. That is how my commitment moves the eighteen inches from my head to my heart. A fresh revelation of the love of God. That is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians because it makes all the difference in the world… literally.

I don’t need to move Jesus up on my priority list. I don’t even need to count the cost. Once I realize and internalize how much God loves and accepts me, I don’t need to evaluate my commitment. It automatically occurs. It just happens. There’s nothing else on my list. The costs become immaterial.

Nothing else matters.

Looking, listening, and praying…

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I was up in New Jersey for my granddaughter’s high school graduation. We gave her a couple of gifts and my wife Sharon asked me to write a couple of notes to go along with each gift. In my self-absorbed mind, she wanted me to impart some “wisdom” to the young lass. Ha!

I’ve mentioned that I’m trying to listen more and talk less. I’m searching for direction and confirmation. My ears and eyes are wide-open. And I’m hearing things from God. It’s a great thing. I’m hearing them from unlikely sources, too.

While staying in Jersey at my step-daughter’s home, I went imageupstairs to her bedroom to see what she was doing. She was talking with her brother in her bedroom and as I came in the room, I saw what appeared to be giant Post-It Notes stuck to her walls all around the room. She is chasing a God-given dream to pursue modeling, singing, and even acting. On each of these notes are different areas of the dream: one for modeling, one for singing, a giant note with a prayer list, one with the heading “The Dream Giver”, and so forth. When I saw these giant Post-It Notes I was flabbergasted! I was overwhelmed by the thought and imageprayer and purposeful planning that had gone into chasing her dream. I am in awe of God and what he is doing in her life.

As we were driving to a wonderful spot in North Jersey, the New Jersey Botanical Gardens at Skylands Mansion, I was telling her of a dream that I believe the Lord has given me, something that’s been building for a few years. She said one thing I may never forget. she said, “When God gives you a dream, the one thing I found out is that there will always be naysayers. You can’t listen to them.”image

If you have a dream, keep your ears and eyes open. You never know what you’ll see and hear.

Still looking, listening, and praying…

Does it even matter?!?

As I recently posted, I’m doing more listening and less writing for the next 40 days or so.

While I’m doing so, I want to continue to post things that are meaningful to me. One such thing is this video by Andy Andrews.

Andy is a well-known author and speaker. I highly recommend listening to him and reading his books. A couple of my favorite books are The Noticer and The Traveler’s Gift. His writing is humorous, meaningful, life-changing, and extremely easy to read.



I’m having trouble writing recently. I don’t think it’s so-called “writer’s block” because I have all sorts of thoughts rolling around in my head (contrary to what my friends and family think). I’m just trying to “listen” more in this short season in my life.

I gave my notice at work about 30 days ago and my last day is June 30th. I had planned some summer travelling, first with my wife Sharon and then motorcycling out west. It’s roughly a six-week hiatus.

For the past couple of weeks and for the upcoming six-week period, I plan on talking less and listening more. Writing is the equivalent of talking, so I plan to write a bit less in the hopes that my ears will be open to God’s leading.

I recently wrote an inscription in a gift book my wife and I gave our high school graduate granddaughter which included something like this:

“Your entire life is seemingly before you and you’ll be facing many decisions and ‘forks in the road’. You’ll wonder which way to go. How will you know what decision to make? How will you make the right decision? It’s simple, really.

“Follow the instruction found in God’s Word:

‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
Lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways, acknowledge Him,
and He will direct your paths.’
(Proverbs 3:5-6)”

I pray she follows those simple verses all of her days. I pray I follow those words for the next six weeks or so (and all of my days).

So… less talking, more listening.

It’s a journey…

So I’m up in New Jersey celebrating our granddaughter Kennedy’s high school graduation. To think that Kennedy is this old, nevermind graduating, is almost unthinkable. Wasn’t my wife holding her in her arms just yesterday? Didn’t we just play “tea party” last week? How did this happen?

Kennedy is ready to move on. She can’t wait to start her “new” life learning all about make-up in cosmetology school. She wants to do make-up professionally. Before she graduated, you’d hear her say something like, “I can’t wait until I graduate! Then I’ll _____________” or “I can’t wait until I’m 18; then I’ll ___________.” You fill in the blanks. It’s not uncommon to hear that from a teenager. Now it’s on to the next big thing. Now she’s saying, “I can’t wait til I move out; then I’ll _______.” Again, pretty common for someone Kennedy’s age.

We all do it. We look longingly at the future we imagine or expect and can’t wait until we get there. Once there, we do it all over again. The problem is that we miss the journey. We miss the golden moments with those we love. We fail to notice those that are supporting us or helping us along the way. We fail to be grateful. We miss the lessons God is trying to show us in the process. We’re in such a hurry. One day we wake up and we’ve missed it.

Enjoy the journey. It’s the only one this side of heaven you and I get.

Hanging on every word…

When I (stupidly) mention to my dog, Bella, that we’re going for a ride, or use the word “go” or “going”, she hangs on every word I say thereafter. She looks expectantly, waiting on the next word I might say that she recognizes. She’s doing it right now, waiting for us to go.image

Our black lab, Sam, was a little different. He would perk up for things he heard that he recognized, but he lived to obey. Retrievers are wired that way. They love to obey their master, and they, too, hang on every word you say.

I wish I would live to obey my Master, Teacher, Father, and Friend! He is working everything out for my own good, whether it feels good or not. He can be trusted with every detail of my life. I just wish I could lie at His feet, hang on every Word, and look as expectantly to Jesus as Bella looks at me. She is obsessed.

I want to be obsessed with Jesus and following Him!

All that really matters…

“What really matters is what God says about us. What would it matter if a thousand people bowed before us and praised our name if God condemned us? What would it matter if ten thousand people reviled and cursed us if God accepted us and loved us? We have already been accepted by the one whose acceptance is all that really matters.”
— James Bryan Smith, Embracing the Love of God

I find myself dependent on the approval and acceptance of others, from my friends and co-workers to my wonderful wife, Sharon. I may say outwardly that I don’t care what others think, but my thoughts and actions say otherwise. Approval addiction is what some would call it. I’m not sure where this comes from… early childhood probably.

But what James Bryan Smith is getting at in this passage and in this book is that knowing — really knowing — that God loves you and me and accepts you and me, JUST AS WE ARE (before we shape up, improve, get our act together, kick our bad habits, or clean up)… this love and acceptance can (and should) profoundly transform us. When it really gets deep down inside us that you and I are truly God’s “beloved” as His Word says over and over, we are changed. This is all that matters.

We then can accept ourselves as we are. We no longer are perfectionists, aggravated and disturbed by our weaknesses and flaws, our shortcomings and warts, and our repeated failures. We are loved and accepted. That’s all that really matters. We all want to be loved and accepted by others, but we are no longer ruled by it. Whatever we lack from others, God gladly, freely, and overwhelmingly makes up for. His love is all that really matters.

Knowing that God loves and accepts us, as we are right now, allows us to love and accept others, with all their flaws and failures. We don’t have to accept their behavior, but God’s love for us allows us to accept and love others as they are right now. We are able to give grace to others because we have received it so abundantly.

Lastly, God’s nearly unbelievable acceptance produces in me and in you an unexplainable desire for holiness. It is not a matter of being more pious, but a desire for more of God. The former leads to self-righteousness; the latter to His righteousness. This wonderful love, acceptance, and grace does not lead to loose living as a license to sin, but it is a springboard to the life of love and freedom that God desires for each one of us.

It is abundant life. It is eternal living.

His love and acceptance… all that really matters.

An Uncommon Day…

I had a bizarre day yesterday.

I spent the morning reading and in prayer, like most mornings, but as I continued to read “Room of Marvels” by James Bryan Smith, I thought about the strange coincidences in meeting my new friend, Tom, which I wrote about HERE.

As I continued to read, and it being Father’s Day, I began to think of my dad, who passed away in ’04. In fact, as I sat there thinking, I closed my eyes and began to “walk” through my childhood home. I walked down the hallways, I peered into the closets (I can still remember what was in the closets!), I went into the basement, around the furnace, into the backyard… I went everywhere. But nowhere did I find a good memory of my dad there. I found several bad memories, which I quickly shoved away. I found a good memory of my dad at his house in North Carolina a short time before he died, where he finally said he was proud of me.

Then, off to church, where I heard a Father’s Day message (as you probably did), a nice lunch with Sharon, a short motorcycle ride with her, and then home, watching the Nationals lose again to the Cardinals. We went to the family night for Gordon Parker, and then came back home. It was about 6:30, so I went for one last ride while Sharon did some cooking.

I rode up to Shenandoah National Park and headed north on Skyline Drive, hoping to ride to US33 and then head south back toward home on US340. Just south of my favorite overlook, Trayfoot Mountain Overlook, I came around the corner going a little faster than I should, and a bear about 6 ft long was ambling across the road. When he heard and saw me, he picked up the pace and with a couple of gallops, went into the woods. That was my Father’s Day present! Nice!

I continued on but looked at my watch and decided I really didn’t want to ride down 340 in the dark, so I turned around at the Dundo Overlook and headed south on Skyline Drive, fully satisfied because I saw my first bear in years up there. That changed about 30 seconds later as I came around another curve, this one a little sharper. As I came around the right-hand curve, it was heavily overgrown in the shoulder, and there was another bear in the middle of the overgrowth! I startled him, I think, and he jumped out at me. I had to twist my throttle just a bit to make sure he didn’t hit my rear end. I looked in the rear view mirror and he ran across the road behind me. I’ve heard of (and had) close calls with deer, but not with bear!

Needless to say, I slowed my pace the rest of the twenty or so miles south on Skyline Drive. When I came out of the park, passed over I-64 and US250, I decided to head a short way down the Blue Ridge Parkway, knowing I’d see a deer or two. And that’s exactly how many I saw: two. I saw a baby deer nursing on its mom as I rounded a curve. I’d never seen that before either. Enough wildlife for one day! I jumped over to Route 610 and headed north past Swannanoa Golf Course and Swannanoa Mansion. I pulled into the Inn at Afton as the sun was setting to get a drink of water from the bottle I brought. I jumped off the bike and paused, relishing all that had occurred on the ride.

As I was putting my helmet back on, a Jeep Liberty pulled up with a family in it. He parked facing me but quickly turned around to face away from me. I thought, “I’m leaving in a second, buddy. Hang on and you’ll have a great view without me around.” Just then, he turns around again, faces me, and then gets out of the car. He walks over to me with a smile on his face and says, “I feel like Jesus wanted me to come over to you and talk to you and pray for you. I wanted to be obedient, so here I am. Can I pray for you? I said , “Sure.” He asked me if and where I go to church and we exchanged pleasantries for a moment. He then prayed for me. He prayed that I would know the love of God like never before. He prayed that I would know the Lord’s favor and have the Lord’s protection. After he finished, he repeated that he just wanted to be obedient, and that maybe that would save my life one day (as he looked at my motorcycle).

Was it bizarre? Maybe. But I prefer to think of it as an “uncommon” day. I felt like God was touching me all day long, reminding me of just how close He really is.

I wonder what today holds…

Divine Coincidence?

As many of you know, I’ve been reading a series of books by James Bryan Smith. First, The Good and Beautiful God; next, The Good and Beautiful Life; lastly, The Good and Beautiful Community. Everyone at Church on the Hill has been reading these books, as Pastor Brandon has been preaching from them in a nine-month series entitled “The Disciple’s Pathway”. All the small groups are working through them in unison as well. The series has had a tremendous impact on my life and I heartily recommend them.

I’ve enjoyed them so much that I’ve searched out more books by the same author and I’ve found two more: Embracing the Love of God, and a piece of fiction, Room of Marvels. I’m reading these two books a little bit each day.

James Bryan Smith is a chaplain and theology professor at Friends University in Kansas. He was a close personal friend of singer/songwriter Rich Mullins, who died in an auto accident in 1997. In fact, when Rich was at Friends University, he spent two years living in a makeshift apartment in Smith’s attic. The two became very close friends.

The book, Room of Marvels, chronicles a period of time in the life of a man who is a spiritual leader in his church and his community, but who has reached burnout and despair after the death of his toddler-aged daughter, his mother, and his best friend in an auto accident — all in a span of a couple of months. After reading a short while, it seems to be more of an auto-biographical piece of fiction than anything else, recounting Smith’s own struggles in life, and with death and tragedy.

This past week, God has brought a tremendous intersection of… well, I don’t even know what to call it. I’ve been training a gentleman named Tom, who answered a Craigslist Help-Wanted ad to do some property evaluations. We’ve spent several hours together this past week, and one thing led to another, and I asked him about his background – where he went to school and so forth.

He answered, “I went to Friends University.”
“Huh?!? What? Really?” I replied.
“Did you know… do you know… of an author, a teacher/professor named James Bryan Smith?”
“Well, there was a chaplain by the name of Jim Smith.”
“Oh my goodness.”
“And he was best friends with Rich Mullins when he died in that car wreck.”
“Yes! Yes!”
“Yeah, I knew Rich, too. That was so tragic. In fact, I played with Rich in the last concert he played at Friends.”
“Wow,” was about all I could mutter, trying to figure out what God was trying to do here.

I explained to him all I’ve been reading, and he didn’t realize “Jim” Smith was such a respected and prolific author. We finished our work together that day and I mentioned that I didn’t want to miss what God was trying to do or trying to teach me with this divine “coincidence”. Tom then said, “It probably is more for me than for you.” Not knowing what to say, I just let that hang there in the air, and we continued to finish up the work for the day.

The next day, in the midst of our work, I mentioned that we should have coffee together, and he eagerly agreed. We meet a little later today.

I’ve been in prayer ever since we agreed to meet, using the prayer my friend Donna taught me this week: “I want your will, God. Nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else.” I don’t know what to expect or where this might lead but I’m going in with my eyes and ears wide open.

Stay tuned.

Fight Like a Man

I have a men’s devotional booklet at work that my friend and riding buddy, Paul, gave me. I’ve used it a few times when I’ve a free minute or two, which is rare these days. I was looking at its cover, and, as you can see, it has a boxer on the cover with the words, “Come Out Fighting.”

Those words appeal to men. We want to fight. We want to fight for what’s right. We want to fight for our honor. We want to fight for our families. Our heroes (which aren’t only men) want to fight for our country, for our freedom, for our way of life. We want to fight.

But I think that title may give the wrong impression. I think that for 95% of the “Christian Soldiers”, fighting means praying harder, trying harder, having more faith, or serving in as many ways as possible. While prayer and service are wonderful things, showing us the heart of God, many times we do them in our own strength. We engage in spiritual warfare with naivety, praying louder and louder, thinking that we can shout down our enemy, Satan. We serve others at a frantic pace, hoping that by doing more, we become more acceptable to God.

I say, “WE”, because I include myself. I’ve been guilty of this most of my Christian life. But I’m discovering that, first and foremost, I’m acceptable by God just as I am right now. I don’t need to do anything else. In fact, as I’ve said before, there’s nothing I can do to make me more acceptable or less acceptable to God. He loves me and accepts me RIGHT NOW, with all my flaws, with all my mistakes, and with all my weaknesses. (Romans 8:38-39)

In fact, that’s where the Jesus-follower fights from: a position of weakness. It is from a posture of weakness that God can truly show His strength. It is through weakness that His power is made perfect (2Corinthians 12:9-10). We can come humbly and boldly to the throne of grace and find mercy and grace in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16). And in doing so, we can have a confidence that in our weakness, we can “fight the good fight” that the apostle Paul talks about (1Timothy 6:12, 2Timothy 4:7)

It’s counter-intuitive, but as Jesus-followers, that is where the fight is won: a position of weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:10 NIV:
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.