Lord, It’s Friday

This happened Friday, last Friday to be exact. I was on my way to the Solace Center for another day with Dad. As I crested Old Fort Mountain I began to pray a prayer that I’ve grown accustomed to praying the last few months. I’ll begin simply by reminding myself (God already knows) what day it is. Once I have done that I follow with these words: “Lord, I am here. I present myself to you. Here I am.” I’ve learned this from John Coe’s work on prayer and have found that it puts me in a place of expectancy. As a matter of fact Coe writes that “this protects the will from becoming asleep to the will and Person of God.”

Back to last Friday.

As I’m driving past Black Mountain I pray, “Lord, it’s Friday.” And before I could continue with the usual, “I am here. I present myself to you. Here I am,” these words came out of my mouth: but Sunday’s coming.  For this particular week, Friday had seemed such a long way off, but when it finally came I realized I really wanted to see Sunday. No, I didn’t simply want to see the day after tomorrow–I wanted what Sunday meant.

And I didn’t know then that between Friday and Sunday, Dad would go to be with Jesus. I just knew I wanted to see Sunday.

Why? Because to me, as a follower of Jesus, as one redeemed from my sin by his precious blood, that dark Friday when Jesus hung suspended on a cross between heaven and earth, my future hung suspended between life and death, between a glorious heaven and the bottomless pit of hell. That particular Friday, without a Sunday, spelled doom for me. If Satan wins on the cross, I lose in life.

I prayed all the way to Asheville. And I spent that Friday with glimpses of Sunday. I wondered if Dad was looking into the portals of glory. I honestly doubted he was ever with us that day. In less than twenty-four hours he had breathed his last on this earth.

What I want to remind you of is this: Sunday is of no importance without Friday. If Jesus had not died, there would be no need for a resurrection. On Friday, Jesus died for my sins. On Sunday, Jesus rose for my salvation. On Friday, Jesus died for my past. On Sunday, Jesus rose for my future.

We live at a time in history that has already seen the most important Friday and Sunday that will ever be. No Super Bowl Sunday comes close. No Friday night lights can compare. Lord, it’s Friday.

 

Yes I Will…Sing

It’s a mother’s prerogative. Mom ran into a housekeeper, Patsy, at the Solace Center who knew our family when I was just a kid. “She remembers you when you were this tall,” Mom said, holding her hands lower than my waist is now. And then looking at Patsy said, “He plays the piano. Jerry, play a song for her.” When your mom asks, you do that.

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Great Room at the Solace Center

I sat down at the black baby grand piano in the Great Room and began playing Til the Storm Passes By. Looking through the window across the hall, I saw a door open and a short, gray-haired woman walk out. She came up to me and said, “I love that song. They say people can still hear even though they’re not conscious.”

“Yes, I answered,” while playing, “that’s what I’ve heard.

“I opened the door so my mom can hear it,” she said.

She found my mom, or I guess they found each other, and while the music filled the air, their  words comforted one another. I made my way from one song to another, old hymns that randomly came to my mind, eventually remembering Because He Lives. God sent His Son, they called him Jesus… the melody filled the emptiness in that great room.

Suddenly another woman emerged from a nearby room. She sat down in the first chair she came to, head in hands, body shaking while she cried. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mom and nodded toward this grieving woman. Mom looked at her, looked back at me, and gingerly made her way across the room. She bent over, and two soon-to-be-widows embraced.

I kept playing. Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives. As they, for a moment, hugged one another I was reminded that the God who holds the future has forever wrapped his arms around them. I was also reminded of the power of praise. Worship doesn’t ignore our circumstances–no, it sometimes drops us deeper into them, but has a way of lifting us up above them.

David knew that too. Even while hiding in a cave he wrote these words.

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. (Psalm 57:7-10, ESV)

So we sing. Not because we feel like it. But because He’s worth it.

 

 

Unseen Footprints in the Day of Trouble

This has been a long week…and it’s only Thursday. Long days. Longer nights. The closer Dad gets to Heaven, the more I realize that we can’t do this alone. We were never meant to. And it’s okay to cry, and really okay to cry out to God.

Psalm 77 was today’s scheduled Psalm for me. Asaph opens with these words: “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me.” (Psalm 77:1, ESV) In those words are both despair and confidence, faltering hope and faithful hopefulness. He cries out of despair, confident that the God he cannot see will hear what he says.

He’s honest too. “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying, my soul refuses to be comforted.”(Psalm 77:2, ESV) At first read, you might think that Asaph won’t even let God comfort him! It isn’t that Asaph won’t let God comfort him–he can’t seem to find comfort in God. Whatever Asaph is going through, it’s as if he’s trying to catch a glimpse of the sunrise over the ocean, only to be slapped by a pounding wave. As soon as he gets back up and cleans the salt out of his eyes, another wave slaps him. The anticipated sunrise eludes him.

Life is like that sometimes. Prayers appear unanswered, circumstances are crippling.

Then Asaph makes a decision. What follows is a litany of “I wills.”

  • I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.
  • I will remember the deeds of the Lord.
  • I will ponder all your work.
  • I will meditate on your mighty deeds.

Asaph’s “I wills” lead to another list of “You are” statements.

Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph.” (Psalm 77:13-15, ESV)

Notice the one act Asaph went back to–when God redeemed Israel. There’s an underlying principle here. When I can’t understand where I am, remember where I was and what God did to get me out of it.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32, ESV)

For the last twenty-four hours I’ve prayed the Gospel. As Dad slips away I’ve stepped into the reality of who I was and what God did…and I’ve been reminded that if God would meet my greatest need, my heavy burden is no challenge to Him. As a matter of fact, I am not only Ross Lewis’s son, I’m the Heavenly Father’s Son.

Asaph goes into detail about the exodus and then makes a remarkable observation: your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters, yet your footprints were unseen. (Psalm 77:19, ESV)

I cannot see God. I cannot audibly hear his voice. But I promise you that the song of his grace and the truth of his gospel are louder than the crashing waves he is carrying me through.

This old gospel song sums it up.

Better Together: The Why and How of Christian Accountability

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-13, ESV)

four men sitting on ground

Two surprising phrases occur in just one sentence: brothers and evil, unbelieving heart. Brothers (and sisters) in Christ can have an evil, unbelieving heart. Gradually, over time, you can come to believe something else entirely. Sin has a numbing effect, a hardening of the heart and the conscience. Or a sudden disappointment, an unexpected life-changing circumstance can rock your world and wreck your faith. This isn’t a new development. In the early church people were “prone to wander, prone to leave the God they loved.”

What do you do? Exhort one another. Every day. An exhortation is an encouraging warning. In order to carry out this command of Scripture, two realities have to be present: you must be in the position to give an encouraging warning, and you must be willing to receive one. You need an accountability partner (or partners). Here are three simple principles.

Relationship

Is there anyone in your life who makes you better? (Men with men, women with women). Who is willing to be bold enough to ask you difficult questions and transparent enough to answer difficult questions? The best accountability partners are those who, in C. S. Lewis’ words say to one another, “What! You too? I though I was the only one.” Accountability and friendship go hand in hand. If you don’t have this person, pray for this person. Discern God’s will. He is able and willing to send someone to walk with you.

Rhythm

Once you have someone willing to hold you accountable, you must establish a regular rhythm of accountability. Notice that the writer of Hebrews says, “every day.” Perhaps you need daily accountability. That isn’t a sign of weakness–it is a sign of strength, a willingness to know and be known, to grow and help someone else grow. Establish a rhythm of checking in with one another.

Real Questions

Ask one another questions pertinent to your walk with God and your areas of struggle. Rather than providing a list, here’s a link to a blog by Ed Stetzer. (https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2008/may/accountability-questions.html) It is the most comprehensive list of accountability questions I’ve ever seen. Choose from these questions. If none are specific enough to your own struggles, make them specific. For example, if you struggle with gossip, have an accountability question about it. If you worry, make sure someone checks you on it. If you battle lust, be specific about both your thoughts and your habits.

Start today. That’s the urgency of Hebrews 3. Waiting until tomorrow gives sin one more day to harden your heart.

I Can’t Sing or Say it Any Better

Today, I can’t get over God’s mercy…and I don’t want to. And I couldn’t sing it any better than what we sang this morning.  Here’s a version from Shane and Shane.

And I can’t say it any better than David Mathis from Desiring God. This blog is on point. Take the time to take it in. We are most blessed as God’s people. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/have-mercy-on-me

He Knows Your Name…So Pray Like It!

Today (Sunday) I touched on something that I never realized in Matthew 6.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6, ESV)

What does it mean that God is in secret? You may recall that I said that we also see this word in Romans 2:28-29: “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” (ESV) The word “inwardly” is the same as the word “secret” in Matthew 6:6. Paul is saying that you are who you are inwardly. Your outward appearance is just that–an outward appearance. It may, or may not, be reflective of the heart.

The only man who ever lived who had absolutely no distinction between his heart and his outward appearance is Jesus. In other words, you could take Jesus’ words and say them like this: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is who he is all the time, inside and out, never changing.” In theology this is call the immutability of God–the reality that God never changes.

Prayer takes us into the very heart of God. And he will let you know Him. This a tremendous thought. The king of heaven knows you and is willing for you to know him. How should this affect how you pray?

Pray intimately. Tell God your deepest needs and your greatest desires. Go into your inner room and be yourself with Him. He knows what you need before you ask him. A few months ago I was headed to preach at chapel at Fruitland. On my way, God sat down in the Jeep beside me (not physically of course). But his presence was so strong, his grace so great that I couldn’t stop crying. I was listening to this song. Let God speak to you too.

Getting Into the Word

A habit (good or bad) begins with the first step. The goal of spiritual disciplines is not for you to turn over a new leaf or make a New Year’s resolution: spiritual disciplines begin with a single step, and then another…and another. If you don’t have a practice of daily time in the Word, these simple next steps can get you there.

man facing road

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. (Chinese Proverb)

Pray
Pray for God to give you a hunger for His Word. If you don’t have a desire that causes you to turn off Netflix or get out of bed earlier, pray that God will give that to you. He will answer that prayer.

Start small
The Bible is a large book (actually it’s 66 books in one!). Choose a book of the Bible and decide to read one chapter a day. (John is a great place to start in the New Testament; Proverbs in the Old Testament).

Start soon
Start today. Not tomorrow. Today. You’ve probably heard the Chinese proverb: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Choose a time. Choose a place. Start today.

Succeed
Know what success is and isn’t. Success in Scripture intake isn’t understanding everything you read. As a matter of fact, you seldom understand everything you read in any book you pick up. Before you begin to read ask God to speak to you. He will. I promise. He speaks through his Word.

Success is reading the Bible. Success is taking that first step, and the next, and the next.

Make Room for One More

After the early service Sunday, Zach Gaddy, who now lives in Charlotte and attends a dynamic church there, said that his church has this focus right now: make room for one more. I love that! If you’ve ever enjoyed a meal around a crowded table, filled with family and friends, you know the feeling of warmth and togetherness.

woman preparing christmas tableSo we’re asking you to make room for one more. That’s the focus of the “Who’s Your One?” initiative. Who can you bring to the table? Who will you set a place for?

Today, I’m officially beginning my 30 days of prayer. Here is the prayer from day one:

God, I know there is only one way to salvation. Jesus is clear; He is the only hope for a lost and dying world, and that includes ________________. His/Her salvation depends on acknowledging Jesus is who He says He is, and He alone is the source of salvation. Use the people and circumstances in _______________’s life today to point him/her to the reality of Jesus. Give me courage and boldness to call ___________________to faith in Jesus when the opportunity arises, and help me make it clear there is no other way to be saved.

I honestly can’t wait to see who is going to slide up to our table here at Grace in the next 30 days…and especially on Sunday, October 6.

When You Fast

Fasting is sacrificial. It is giving up something of value for something of greater value. Technically in Scripture fasting always referred to going without food for a certain period of time. Fasting, by extension, can refer to giving up certain foods, specific comforts, or oft-used technology.

Kinds of Fasting

Normal: abstaining from food, solid or liquid, but not from water (Jesus in Luke 4)
Partial: restriction of diet but not total abstention (Daniel)
Absolute: abstaining from food and water (Esther, Paul’s conversion)
Corporate: public (Day of Atonement); people in sorrow and affliction over their sins; times of distress (2 Chronicles 20:1-4)

Why Fast?

Fasting reveals what controls us. (Psalm 69:10)
Fasting reveals what sustains us. (Matthew 4:4)
Fasting reveals what balances us. (1 Corinthians 6:12, 1 Corinthians 9:27, Psalm 35:13)

Where to Begin

Partial 24-hour fast from food: lunch to lunch
24-hour fast from anything: social media, sugar, etc
Fast with someone else: they will provide strength and accountability

Justin Earley writes, “Fasting is a way to resist the original sin of trying to eat our way to happiness and to force ourselves to look to God for our fullness.” Here’s my encouragement. Choose one of the beginning points above, share your commitment to fast with a good friend or family member, and do it. Fill your fasting time with a focus on God, especially during the time you would normally eat. Sing. Pray. Serve.

Watch God work.

Laughter in the Walls…A Vision for My Home, a Prayer for My Kids

Yesterday (June 16, Father’s Day) I shared a poem and a prayer. The poem was written by Bob Benson, an architect. The prayer, I wrote, as a prayer for dads for our families. Enjoy them both.

Laughter in the Walls

I pass a lot of houses on my way home—
some pretty,
some expensive,
some inviting—

But my heart always skips a beat
when I turn down the road
and see my house nestled against the hill.

I guess I’m especially proud
of the house and the way it looks because
I drew the plans myself.
It started out large enough for us—
I even had a study—
two teenaged boys now reside in there
and it had a guest room,
my girls and nine dolls are permanent guests.
It had a small room Peg
had hoped would be her sewing room—
The two boys swinging on the dutch door
have claimed this room as their own.
So it really doesn’t look right now
as if I’m much of an architect.

But it will get larger again—
one by one they will go away
to work,
to college,
to service,
to their own houses,

And then there will be room—
a guest room,
a study,
and a sewing room
for just the two of us.

But it won’t be empty—
every corner
every room
every nick
in the coffee table
      will be crowded with memories.
Memories of picnics,
parties, Christmases,
bedside vigils, summers,
fires, winters, going barefoot,
leaving for vacation, cats,
conversations, black eyes,
graduations, first dates,
ball games, arguments,
washing dishes, bicycles,
dogs, boat rides,
getting home from vacation,
meals, rabbits, and
a thousand other things
that still fill the lives
of those who would raise five.

And Peg and I will sit
quietly by the fire
and listen to the
laughter in the walls.
Bob Benson

A prayer from a dad for his kids…

Father, I come to you as the ultimate Father and I only an earthly representative. I pray for my family. They are yours, a gift from you to me. I pray that they will know the gospel, live by grace, and grow to love you even more. I pray your bright future for them. Give me wisdom beyond my years, strength beyond my capacity, and grace beyond what I deserve, that I may be to them, in my limited way, who you are to me in your unlimited way. In Jesus’ strong and saving name. Amen.