Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Monday, November 22, 2010


"Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms." Psalm 95:2

Promises, Real Promises

Did he have his fingers crossed?

Did she?

Did their vows mean anything? They gave themselves to each other, forever. Their love declared, no matter what, through it all, until death do they part. Was it just the feeling “in the moment?” So when things change, feelings shift, the magic disappears, we’re out? Is there “fine print” at the end of the contract?

Whatever happened to: One’s word once given is binding?

And so it happened, it really happened, the bride came down the aisle in all her beauty. The groom waiting to receive her. The church packed, standing, and joyful. The pastor ready to officiate the ceremony.

Did she just say, “…faithful, as long as we both shall love?”

Maybe she’s nervous. She misspoke unintentionally.

But then, did he just do the same thing? Did he just say, “…faithful, as long as we both shall love?”

The pastor was horrified. He had a choice right then and there, and he took it. He excused himself and the couple. He told the musicians to play and they went off through a door in the front of the church.

Two words. One vowel. “Which is it?” the pastor asked sharply. “As long as you both shall love? Or as long as you both shall live?” The couple was caught. Yes, they had planned it. Yes, they wanted an “out” clause in their vows so if they fell out of “love” they wouldn’t be bound for life.

Five minutes later, they were back out in front of the church. They repeated their vows. This time, they did it right.

Fingers crossed.

Is it possible that this is it? That relationships rise or fall on a single vowel?
What if the world is constructed this way? What if the core design, the basic structure of the universe, rests on this relational principle “as long as we both shall love?” Imagine it, a world that only promises love today. Right now. Deeply. Passionately. But never binding. No commitment for tomorrow.

Maybe it goes something like this: We’re in love today. Few years later, out of love. Few years later back in love but with someone new. Head over heels in crazy love! Feels like forever love until the one we love actually falls out of love with us and finds a new love to love.

As long as we both shall love.

And the impact on our children?

Of course we love them. But if we think about it, the same goes for them too. It’s not binding. It’s love without commitment for them too. They have to take it all in stride – when Mom leaves. Or Dad. Or there’s a new Mom. New Dad. New school. Weekends with one. Weekdays with another.

Big hugs with funny words: We love you as long as we’re here to love you.

A world where nothing is safe. Where trust is never known.

So imagine this is who God is. That when the Bible says God is love it means this kind of fickle, feeling-based, no commitment, no promise for the future kind of love. Imagine that He entered into a legal, binding covenant with Abraham and all his descendants with this never forever kind of love.

As long as we both shall love.

So that’s it? There when He feels like it. Gone when He doesn’t?

Surprising, isn’t it? This might actually reflect our relationship with God. We go to Him when we need Him. When our lives are a mess and we can’t handle the storms shaking our world. But the moment the sun pops out? We’re gone.

Fingers crossed.

But is He? That’s the question. Is He like us? Are His promises like our promises? What does the Bible mean when it says God is love?

Here it is, the incomprehensible! A love story like no other love story the world has ever known. The Lord, the God of heaven and earth, takes to Himself the picture of the Bridegroom in pursuit of His Bride.

And here is what the Bridegroom does: He enters into a covenant, a binding, legal, marital covenant with His people and He makes promises. Real promises. With real words like Faithfulness, Compassion, Forever.

                 "I will betroth you to Me forever;
                  Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,
                  In loving kindness and in compassion,
                  And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.
                  Then you will know the Lord.
                                                           Hosea 2:19-20

This is our God. He is faithful. He is trustworthy. He promises as long as we both shall live and then He promises us forever. A real forever. Because when He speaks, His word is binding. His commitment is true because it is not based on a fickle, feeling-based passing whim “in the moment.” It’s based on Him. His character. And He not only gives love. He is love. This kind of love.

Though we may come and go. Love Him then leave Him. He remains faithful. Always faithful. Trustworthy. Always trustworthy. And that’s how the story goes. At the end of time, there He stands, the Bridegroom, with His most beautiful Bride. A people of His own choosing. Bought with a great price.

No fingers crossed.

Is this what you’ve been looking for? Do you know this kind of love?

Promises, real promises.

Monday, November 8, 2010



I think about Julie a lot.

It was my first pastorate. She was adored in the church. For over a decade, people came around her to drive her, three times a week, to the dialysis center. When she suffered a heart attack, we were amazed to hear her story.

“I was there!” she told us, “in the presence of Jesus.” Then – thump! – she was back, looking into the face of a doctor. “Oh how that surprised me!”

Years later the phone call came. Julie was taken to the ER. I rushed to the hospital and found her already in the ICU. She was conscious but weak. A team of doctors coming in and out until they finally decided to take her to surgery. Another demanding, invasive, not-sure-she’ll make it surgery.

“I’m done,” she told them. “I can’t do it.” She was bleeding inside, just weeks after open heart surgery. The doctors wanted to go in, find it and stop it. But she didn’t have the strength. Her body was done and she knew it.

I will never forget the brightness in her eyes.

Her daughter and I stood on either side of her bed. At some point Julie asked me to recite Psalm 23. I didn’t have my Bible, gave it a try and completely messed it up. Julie looked me straight in the eyes and frowned, “That’s not it. You need to memorize Psalm 23 in the King James!” And I did, the next day.

But what surprised me most was something I’d never seen before.

She had faith to go home. Not just faith in the Lord. She had that. I had that. This was different. She had strength in her broken, weak heart to see the door of the Kingdom of God opening to her. I saw it as she comforted her daughter. I heard it in the gentleness of her voice. I felt it in the touch of her hand.

Nearing midnight she said to me quietly, “I’m sorry it’s taking so long. You need to go home and get rest.” And then she smiled. How was it possible? Here she was facing death and concerned for me? So peaceful. So ready to go home.

Julie, I’d rather you not go.

But she did. As if it was all perfectly orchestrated, Julie’s daughter began to sing Amazing Grace and, just before the last verse, the Lord came for her.

Home at last.

In the weeks and months that followed, I struggled with what happened that night. Julie had faith I didn’t have. But why didn’t I have it? Shouldn’t all Christians have it? I mean, it’s the heart and soul of who we are and what we believe. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. He has forever defeated death.

Julie knew that. But not just knowing it in her head. She experienced it. She held it, or was held by it, like a little girl safe in the arms of her Father. She was not afraid. But I was. She was not anxious. So why was I?

Does it mean I’m a Christian in my head but not in my heart?

I turned to the Bible. I continued the story God laid out from the beginning. It amazed me to find Abraham in the same struggle of faith. This man knew the call of God on his life. He eventually left everything and followed the Lord to the Promised Land. He even received the blessing of Melchizedek.

But he didn’t understand.

He was told he was going to have a son. He was an old man. His wife beyond child-bearing years. It was impossible for them to have children. So Abraham did what most of us would do. He came up with a plan. He reasoned that Eliezer of Damascus, a man born in his house, would be his promised son.

“This man,” the Lord shot back, “will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” Then the Lord showed Abraham the stars in the heavens. “Count the stars, if you are able to count them” the Lord declared. “So shall your descendants be.” (Gen 15:4-5)

Then it happened. The impossible became possible. The Genesis 15:6 miracle.

The Lord opened Abraham’s heart to believe the promise. He gave him faith to see the child before the child was ever born. Faith leaping beyond reason! Faith that sees with God’s eyes. Faith that knows. Faith that experiences. Faith that holds the promise to come as if the promise is already here!

The gift of God come down from heaven!

Oh, thank God, it’s something He does. It’s not something I do. Faith is not something worked up by me or in my own strength. He does it. He opens the heart. He gives the gift both to believe in Him and to believe in His promises.

That’s what Abraham had. Faith to believe in God, yes. But also this special, particular faith to believe that he, in his old age, would have a promised son.

It’s also what Julie had.

It seemed to make sense to me. Julie had a call of God on her life that I didn’t have. It was as if she stood at the Jordan River ready to make the crossing into the Promised Land. It was her time. The Lord was calling her home. And with the call came the faith she needed to see Jesus, to know, rejoice, and cross over.

And she did. And I got to be there. At first, it confused me. Why didn’t I have this gigantic miracle faith coursing through my veins? I wanted it. I felt guilty not having it. It made me question everything. Was I, in fact, a Christian at all?

But then I understood. The gift the Lord gave me was front row seats! I got to come right up to the banks of the Jordan. I got to see Julie hear the call of God and then to receive the gift of faith that triumphs in the face of death!

The impossible altogether possible.

Faith to go home! I knew that night that someday in the future the same would happen to me. I’ll find myself at the riverbank. I’ll hear the Lord call my name. And suddenly my eyes will see. My heart will know. This gift of God will come at just the right time. It’s all because of this simple biblical principle I saw lived out in Julie’s life that night. Something I will never ever forget.

With the call comes faith.

John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?