Getting There

The last few days of our back roads trip started with a final descent leaving foothills in the rearview mirror. But not without one last hold-on-to-the-wheel-here-we-go moment.

I thought the twists and turns were behind us, it was okay a few more were left, but our timing made it a bit more treacherous. Shortly after climbing a hill and making a turn, a dense fog set in. I noticed as I made the turn a law enforcement car turned the same way. As I ever so slowly crept through the curves trying to see more than the three feet in front of me, I was glad someone who knew the road and would help if I messed up, was behind me.

Consider this verse: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12 NIV) Solomon, who wrote this verse, chose some great paths, but too often he chose his own way and learned the hard way. He spent a lot of time writing about wisdom – ironically it was the one thing he asked God for and the thing he often neglected.

That foggy road was not near as winding or steep as the others had been. The difference was my vision was limited. In life when we are going along and all is falling into place, it’s easy to see what the next step should be.

But when we hit those places where everything has suddenly changed, and not for the better, we lose sight of the way. We begin to doubt God – we retreat, or we pull up our ‘bootstraps’ – either way, we want out. Oh, we of little faith.

That is the joy and peace of knowing Jesus as Savior. Just like the officer in the car behind me, our Messiah never leaves us. We may feel all alone, wondering why we are on this road. But the truth is, as we most often discover, our constant Companion is faithful, even when we are not.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14 BSB) We must never forget this – the world would lead us down its broad road – and it does appear easier, happier. But the road that will leave all sorrow and pain, heartache and body ailments, fear and death in the rearview mirror, that road is a bit more challenging to navigate.

In the end, it leads to LIFE. Getting there is an earth journey full of triumphs and defeats, sorrows and joy for all mankind, believer or doubter. Which road are you on? Do you know the way? The narrow road to life is a forever of all God intended for His beloved creation; the broad road, that’s a sorrow-filled eternity.

The Climb

Native Florida girl that I am, elevation changes make my ears pop. Lots of chewing gum and yawning. But something about those Tennessee/North Carolina mountains beckons me.

Thinking I had already tackled the most challenging part of driving on this trip, I had no idea what I was in for as we set out to begin the trek on the backroads home. We woke to no electricity – also meaning no running water. So, we set out early thinking we would get breakfast in a quaint town just twenty-seven miles away.

Abraham’s story in the Old Testament is fascinating. Full of ups and downs – and a whole lot of faith. Not only did God call him to leave everything he knew and go to an unknown place, the Lord promised him a son. Just when he thought it was never going to happen, Sarah bore Isaac. Their pride and joy. A few years later: “Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2 NIV)

Umm, Abraham was old – Sarah was old. Isacc was it. But faithful man that he was, he made the three-day trip (walking). And then, he and Isaac, had to climb a mountain – no trails marked out or cleared.

Long story short, as Abraham was about to show his devotion and love of God, exceeding that of his love of Isaac, God provided the sacrificial ram. And we have the benefit of a powerful witness showing us how we are to respond in our life’s challenges.

What I thought was going to be about forty minutes before I was sitting in front of a hot breakfast – was actually about two hours with a steep elevation climb of two thousand feet – and then a descent of another thousand feet. Once we made it, only one place in town was open – and take-out pastries and coffee were it. Pout. Acquiesce.

“…Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone.” (Matthew 17:1b NLT) And the events that happened next, they will never forget. But first they had to climb the mountain – probably grumbling a bit, wondering how long. The very voice of God spoke on that mountain, and all the struggle to get there was forgotten. I bet when they came down, they were practically floating in amazement.

My journey that day wasn’t quite as significant, but it was a teaching moment with lessons I can carry. Things like, expect the unexpected when you’re in unfamiliar territory and embrace it. Things like, look for the beauty and provision in what is there, not what you hoped was there. And most of all, that Jesus makes the climbs with us, and steadies us on the descents. Our lives are gonna have hard climbs, but someday there’s going to be a forever that we can’t even begin to fathom. “That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1Corinthians 2:9 NLT)

Coasting

There were stretches on our back roads adventure that were smooth sailing. Easy roads without elevation changes or blind curves. Other than watching the speed limit, we could coast along enjoying the scenery.

Thankfully we have times in our lives like that as well. Days where all our plans come together. Months where no one gets sick. But I’ve found we don’t stay in coasting mode long.

David, (as in the greatest King Israel ever had), met many obstacles on his path towards ruling the nation of Israel. But then came the time of coasting. Life is good: wealth, popularity, heirs. What more could he want? So, when he neglected to lead his army on an expedition and decided instead to stay home, coasting up to the roof for some nighttime fresh air made for a whole lot of trouble. (See 2Samuel 11-12)

We tend to enjoy life when all seems well, we tend also to forget/neglect/ignore God. We get a little too comfortable. We begin to think we deserve the break, the financial security, the lack of conflict, the good health, the esteem.

I’m not saying God allows troubles to come our way just when things are going well. God is always about our good and His glory. Honestly, it really comes down to our priorities getting off track – forgetting how much we need to stay connected to our Savior – that leads to many of our issues. “I know your deeds; you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were one or the other!” (Revelation 3:15 BSB – see 3:14-22 for how the Lord feels about our apathy)

Then again, God does often get our attention in a way that will grow us. And there’s the fact that we live in a fallen world, and we can’t escape those effects. As I drove the easy stretches of road, taking in all the scenery, I would sometimes hear the bump bump bump of having gone over the double yellow line; or the rerouting of the gps because I missed a turn. Both got my attention, both helped me pay attention to what was important.

The church at Laodicea mentioned above in Revelation 3 looked like they followed Jesus. But the Holy Spirit knows our hearts. Outward appearances aren’t enough. God wants our hearts. Not because it benefits Him, but because He knows it’s what we need to truly live the life He has routed out for us. “The Lord does not look at things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1Samuel 16:7b NIV)

Our enemy is sly (satan) and deception is his specialty. We can’t let him, or the world distract us. Keeping focused on the journey towards eternity, whether we’re in coasting mode or survival mode, will get us to where we’re going. “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b NLT)

Winding Road

Mountain roads can be tricky. The curves, switchbacks, and altitude climbs aren’t for the faint of heart. Our most recent excursion was the most challenging. While I truly enjoy driving those mountain roads, these particularly put me to the test.

If you go back to the book of Genesis, you’ll discover Joseph. Way too much to tell about him here, but suffice it to say his brothers were super jealous of him and the actions they took put him on a winding road with lots of challenges for many years. How would you react if every time you did the right thing, you wound up in jail forgotten?

Winding roads – like when you buy a home, then lose a job. When you plan on children, then can’t conceive. When you celebrate an anniversary, and your spouse unexpectedly passes away. These are stories of our lives. Where is God? Joseph, like us, probably questioned God many times along the way. In the end it was obvious to him and he declared “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Genesis 45:8 NIV)

Relief came when I saw the sign for the turnout for the waterfall trail. It was nice to park and stretch. The thought occurred to me that the walking trail might have a few turns of its own – but there was promise of a reward.

Fortunately, the hike was nowhere near as windy as the drive, and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves standing behind a waterfall. Water roaring over the side so loud we could barely hear each other talk. It was worth the drive.

Fast forward to the book of Acts. A man named Saul (later called Paul) was at the zenith of his ‘career’ – a Pharisee of Pharisees as he was known. It hadn’t been long since Jesus had risen from the dead and gone back to heaven, when Paul decided it was his duty to round up every follower of Christ and squash their foolishness.

But God…He had other plans for Paul. On the road to Damascus, which had enough challenges of its own, suddenly Paul was blinded. He was led, by those with him, groping the rest of the way to town; for three days he refused food or drink. The ironic part is the house he was led to was on a road called Straight Street.

A man named Ananias was sent to Paul by God. After saying to Paul all God had instructed him to say, the Holy Spirit did His mighty work. Paul’s blindness left him and the first thing he wanted to do was be baptized as a follower of the Savior. Only God takes us from our winding roads and leads us to Straight Street. God used Paul to write most of the New Testament. Just like Paul, we are blinded by our selfish hearts – and just like Paul, we can follow our winding road straight to eternity. Every curve is worth that reward. “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17 NIV) He wants to do the same for us!

Road Trip

(For the next few weeks I invite you to go on a road trip with me. Some of them will be uphill, some winding, some smooth – but the final destination is worth the trip.)

Done any road trips this summer? We did – with a twist. We decided that once we left Florida, we would avoid all major highways and only take back roads. It took longer, but it was worth it.

This reminds me of life. So often I just want to take the direct route, get the outcome I want, and go on to the next thing. While the destinations may not have always looked like I thought, I wouldn’t change them.

Whether you’re a Bible scholar or on the fence about Jesus, I’m thinking you’ve heard of Moses. From the beginning his journey was a bit precarious. But the part everyone remembers is Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. The road they were on led straight to the Red Sea with the army of Egypt close behind. The miracle of the sea parting and walking through on dry land has got to be the ultimate journey. The Red Sea Road, God’s provision at its most spectacular. But somewhere on the other side, the gps got lost…for forty years. Yikes! (Exodus starting at the end of chapter 13)

While I don’t think we’ll see seas parted, that doesn’t mean we won’t see God make a way. Sometimes we insist on making our own way – and wander about for days and maybe years. But when that dead end stops us, Jesus isn’t saying ‘Told you so’. More like, ‘This way, follow Me’.

I have an innate sense of direction and a good memory for how to get places I’ve been on previous travels. But sometimes there’s another way, a better way. So, instead of second guessing the GPS, I followed – and it was an easier route to the mountaintop. Hmmm, wish I would apply that to life. Our GPS (if you’re a follower of Jesus) is the Holy Spirit. But sometimes…we just don’t listen. “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 BSB)

Here’s the funny thing, I’m a momma of three and grammy to six, daily I pray they don’t have hard roads. Wishing they could learn from my mistakes. It doesn’t work that way (much to my dismay). For each of us God has a purpose, a plan, a destination. How we get there, that’s another thing.

I get to do the driving on our trips – my hubby is content to sit back and enjoy the ride (make his phone calls and keep up with business). That pretty much correlates to my life at times. At the wheel, going my way. I’ve learned – slowly – that it’s a pretty good idea to let Jesus lead.

He knows the way. We’ll avoid a lot more potholes and, though they won’t be completely without hazards, we’ll be on the right track. Still ready to join me on a journey the next few weeks? I’ll share some crazy roads with you – and our Father, God Almighty, will tell us about some He’s led others along too. “Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom.” (Psalm 145:3 NIV)

Want you to know

For the first time in nine years, I’m taking a break for a month. Lord willing, I will post again towards the end of July. Until then, here are a few things I want you to know…

  1. 4th of July – God is working in our country. Souls are being won for Christ. Babies are being protected. Prayer is being protected. Now it is to us to love others into His arms – that is what matters most. “But how can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him? And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:14 NLT)
  2. Your comments/emails/likes give me joy in hopes that the Father is glorified by your rejoicing in Him and His words of wisdom. “I rejoice in Your Word like one who discovers a great treasure.” (Psalm 119:162 NLT)
  3. Always remember: this life is not all there is. There is so much more, too much to fathom – but it awaits every believer in Jesus in forever. Live now to glorify God, but keep your soul focused on eternity. “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.” (Philippians 3:13-14 HCSB)

Finally: “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 NLT) Paris

Reminders

I’m a list person. I love making a to-do list, a packing list, a grocery list – a list for my hubby (smile). I love crossing off the lists. So much so, that when I do something not on the list, I sometimes write it then cross it off – weird, I know, but satisfying somehow.

Lists are my reminders; they make my life simpler. God knows this is true for most of us – so, His Word often reminds us of the things we shouldn’t lose sight of. In 1 Corinthians Paul starts off in the very beginning giving us three key reminders. We don’t need to cross these off, we get to hang on to them.

Reminder number one: “Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Corinthians 1:7 NLT)

Every spiritual gift you need – He’s not holding back on you. Not waiting for you to get ‘good enough’, not waiting for you to own up to your shortcomings, not waiting til just the right time. The moment you tell Jesus you want Him as your Savior, you get it all.

Problem is, we don’t live as though we do. We think we must ‘do’ something, pray something, read something, sacrifice something. Messiah tells us otherwise – He’s done all that’s needed. He’s redeemed us, He loves us, He is with us. Reminder number two: “He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns.” (1Corinthians 1:8 NLT)

Strong – I want to be strong, right now. What a promise that Jesus keeps us strong. Oh, we may not feel that way at times – mainly because we aren’t. He is. He is our strength. Through every storm, ups and downs. To the end – end of earthly living. Whether that comes by death or Christ’s return – earth life ends, forever life begins.

Then Paul tells us that when Jesus does return for us, we will be ‘free from all blame’. How can it be? I blow it every day. That goes back to reminder number one, He’s taken all our blame, done deal. This certainly is a good addition to our reminder list, and we can rest in the fact that it never gets crossed off.

Reminder number three: “God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1Corinthians 1:9 BSB) This may be the most important reminder: God is faithful. Hard concept for us fickle humans. Our love, devotion, sincerity runs hot and cold – depends on our feelings. Faithful isn’t a feeling for God, it’s Him. He is the definition of faithful. Even when we are not. I needed these reminders today – maybe we need to make this list in big bold letters and hang it on the wall.

Whatever

Sometimes we realize we just completed a journey – yet we didn’t leave our normal day to day. Not all journeys require a plane or car, just a surrendered heart.

It’s that moment when we realize God just did a work in us that grows us, matures us, makes us a little more like His Son. Yeah, those aren’t always fun journeys. They often have their beginning in adversity. Could be hurt feelings, could be tragedy.

Always, always they are meant for the glory of God and for our good. Hard to see the good, isn’t it? Until the journey is completed. How long will the journey be? That depends – on us. We tend to turn to self, lost in our thoughts and mired in sorrow or anger. Where we focus our thoughts is the vehicle we ride for the journey. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true” (Philippians 4:8a NIV)

I recently had to work my way out of a downward spiral of self-recrimination. Ever been there? Oh, how the enemy of our soul loves those times. Our focus is totally on self. No room for Jesus. Just a buzz of words that drown out…truth.

Paul wanted the Philippians to know the truth. How to live like followers of Christ. How important prayer is. That their lives have purpose. And then he shows them how to pull it all together. Finally is the word he uses to emphasize the path. “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Philippians 4:8b NIV)

In other words, show your soul the truth – God is our only truth. When you see something noble, think about it. You know what is right, focus on that. Pure is rare, don’t forget it. Lovely brings light, look that way. Admirable is a goal, reach for it.

“if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8c NIV) Tell your thoughts – the ones that say, ‘you’re not good enough’, ‘you failed’, ‘things will never be good’, ‘the ache won’t end’ – tell them: Whatever! You are choosing to invite God’s goodness in and let Him shine truth, and light, and love on them.

Because when we do this, the promise shows up…“And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9b NIV) The journey suddenly shows a horizon – one where God says I’m walking with you, you are not alone. And someday, not so long from now, this road leads straight to His arms and a forever of rejoicing. Come what may, WHATEVER is of God, this is how we find our way.

Singing in the brokenness

I don’t know about you, but I can’t sing – well I can, but most would not call it that. Problem is, when it comes to singing to Jesus, I can’t do it quietly. I have to raise my voice and my hands.

I’ve always been fascinated by King David – who sang and danced. I can’t dance either. I don’t even try. But when I sing to Jesus I have to sway and move to the rhythm. Truth be told, I think God knits us all together with a desire to lift our voices and show our joy – but we squelch it.

In these dark days we find ourselves in – worldwide – we might think singing frivolous, might wonder what there is to sing about. “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1 NIV)

At the time David wrote Psalm 63 he was in the desert of Judah. Right now, there are a lot of ‘desert wanderers’ around us – maybe we even find ourselves in that dry place. Thirsty, seemingly no refreshment, weary sets in.

Oh, this is why it is so necessary for us to know this Savior. A Messiah who knows weariness, who went to the desert, who declared someday no more deserts for my beloved. Then David remembers the truth He knows about God: “Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your Name I will lift up my hands.” (Psalm 63:3-4 NIV)

The world has made music for its own ears – glorifying self, putting down others, spewing hate, or making sex the focus. What a mixed message we are giving young ears. Melodic or pulsating messages that, at best, lead us and our children to think the world is all about what makes us happy, or at worst promotes base or hostile behavior. Wow, is there nothing mankind doesn’t turn to darkness?

Here’s something we can learn from David, the man after God’s own heart: let our singing be for the glory of God and the pouring out of our struggles to Him, acknowledging He is our source of rescue, strength, healing – and yes, of joy, hope, life.

Singing is a language between our soul and God. Do you remember a picture that circulated a few years back of a momma bird on a limb with wings unfurled just enough to shelter two baby birds? Creation shouts to us to see God’s messages to our hearts. And David puts it into words for us: “Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. I stay close to You; Your right hand upholds me.” (Psalm 63:7-8 NIV) This then is how we sing in the brokenness.

One Way

Life seem a bit heavy? Good news hard to come by? Yeah, it is. Sometimes the sad news is half a world away, sometimes just a couple thousand miles, and sometimes right where we are.

Last week one of my grandsons ‘graduated’ from preschool. His momma and daddy and grandparents proudly watched. Then a little guy from another class, the last graduate stepped up, the music stopped. Turns out his daddy, who was a deputy, passed away several months ago. And now surrounding him were four deputies who were standing in to proudly usher this little guy across the stage and into our hearts.

How do we walk these roads? “Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.” (Psalm 4:1b NIV)

Two days later we found ourselves at a memorial service for a guy who lived long – and lived most of it as a believer in Jesus. He, too, graduated – and his diploma read ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.

All the times in between preschool and heaven – however many or few those days may be – have purpose. We may not think so, may feel like we’re floundering, may feel lost in it all. “Many are asking, ‘Who can show us any good?’ Let the light of Your face shine upon us, O LORD.” (Psalm 4:6 NIV)

Sometimes we feel like a vulnerable five year old – alone, no dad cheering us on. Usually happens about the time we think things are going smoothly. We’re blindsided and teary eyes blur what’s ahead.

That’s why it’s important the eyes of our soul have a focus beyond what we see now. When our head tells us all is lost, we need a heart filled with truth that reminds us the victory is already won. When our circumstances have us taking anxious breaths, our soul needs to be sure that eternity with Jesus is real.

Recently, finding myself doubting, I had to reach deep for truth. I’m still trying to figure out a few things but the Voice of Truth keeps reminding me I’m His, He’s got this – all of it. Without the assurance’s of God’s Word, without the constant presence of the Holy Spirit, and without the victory of Jesus, truly all would be lost. We can only walk the hard roads one way – hand in hand with the One who knows the way. “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8 NIV)

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