Thanks for Not Being There


Tonight, my husband, daughter, and I arrived home to our little Tallahassee abode and began to unpack after 5 days of holiday travel.  After so much catching-up with so many family members in so short a time, my mind was still busy processing the complexities of everyone’s lives: what careers they’ve chosen to pursue, how they’ve chosen to raise their children, how their marriages are going, how their health is, etc.  And amid all the activity still replaying itself in my mind, a memory of my Uncle Gene and Aunt Carolyn–who I still haven’t seen in at least a year or more–kept nagging at me, drowning out all the other emotions and considerations I was processing about everyone else.

Gene and Carolyn Johnson are actually my great uncle and great aunt.  I believe they are in their 70s. Other than that, I can’t say that I’m actually very close to them, as most would consider closeness.  I see them at family functions every couple of years–Christmases, golden wedding anniversary celebrations, and the like, and we don’t correspond regularly.  I’ve been to their house in Alabama just once while passing through on our way to somewhere else, and that’s about it.

However, I know that they love Jesus Christ.

The No-Shows

It wasn’t long ago that the “Johnson” side of my mother’s maternal family decided to plan a HUGE family reunion.  The date was set well in advance to give people plenty of time to make room in their calendars for travel and attendance.  And it was a spectacular success!  Except for one thing:  Gene and Carolyn didn’t come.  My Great Uncle Gene, one of the elder remaining natural and Spiritual patriarchs of the family, would not be in attendance.  I learned upon arriving at the reunion that he and my aunt Carolyn had thought it more important to maintain a previously planned trip to do mission work in a third-world country (Guyana, I believe, but don’t quote me) instead of being with us.  Didn’t they know this could be (and ended up being) the last reunion for some of the elderly matriarchs of the family?  Didn’t they know we would probably never be able to pull something like this together again?  Didn’t they know that they were some of the only members that wouldn’t be coming?  Didn’t they know that some family members were traveling from five states away to be there in hopes to see them?  Didn’t they love their family?

I never forgot that day…not just because of the wonderful time I had spending with family members I rarely get to visit, but because Gene and Carolyn–a couple with every earthly reason to just “retire” and enjoy their family–chose to go to the lost and destitute to serve them right where they were at instead of to partake in reunion with family that was well-fed, well-loved, and already had the Gospel message at their disposal.  This has nagged at me in the most wonderful way imaginable ever since that day.  And I pray it continues to nag at me until I draw my last breath on this earth.

At the risk of my main thought dying the death of a thousand qualifications, I don’t want anyone to hear what I’m NOT saying:

I’m certainly NOT saying spending time with family is wrong.  I’m NOT saying that enjoying retirement by focusing on family is bad.  I’m NOT saying that my husband and I should have gone on a mission trip instead of to our families’ homes this Christmas.  But what I am saying is that we should be WILLING to go wherever the Gospel is needed, at the drop of a hat and with no regrets, if the Lord says to.

Jesus said that anyone who loves his family more than Him isn’t worthy of Him.  Christ obviously wants us to love our natural families, but He’s far more concerned about building His Spiritual family, filling it up with those adopted in by being born again; not of the will of man, or of the flesh, but born of God through faith in the Lordship of His Son.  And so should we be concerned, as well.  In Galatians, Paul writes that, before his conversion to following Christ, he was zealous merely for the traditions of his fathers.  And that is something I think we all must fight.  Far too often, I think I’m zealous to resurrect or redeem “the traditions of my fathers;” the things our culture does and has always done.  We glean our passion from a past sense of nostalgia instead of from a present sense of what God IS doing and constant awareness of what He WILL be doing in the future.

So this Christmas, I’m SO grateful to God for the time I did have with my wonderful, natural family members.  But I am particularly grateful for the constant reminder from my Uncle Gene and Aunt Carolyn that I must never love my natural family or its traditions MORE than I love the calling of Christ on my life to go into all the nations and make disciples of Jesus, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Christ commands.

Uncle Gene and Aunt Carolyn, if you ever get the chance to read this, thank you for the Gift that has kept giving ever since that day you didn’t show up.  I have been so encouraged in my walk with Jesus simply because you refused to come to a family function at the expense of the lost in another land that God had called you to.  So as for that family reunion,

Thanks for not being there.


Spiritual Amnesia

My daughter, Fiona, is now four months old, and over the past two days she has been honing her ability to say, “Mama.”  Granted, it usually comes out first as:


But after a few attempts, she connects the sounds into a short mah muh, at which point much joyous squealing, bouncing and kissing proceeds FROM the Mah Muh, which makes my daughter very happy.  In order to help her mentally associate this phrase with myself, I will hide quietly, my face just out of sight, while she works on the word.  When she finally says it correctly, I BOUND into view and clap with praise at her accomplishment.  The more we play this game, the faster she is getting at calling for me.

The reason this works so well at her age is because of a little concept called “object permanence.”  Object permanence is the ability to know and understand that something continues to exist even when we can’t see it, hear it, or touch it.  Until recently, anything out of Fiona’s eyesight or earshot did not exist to her.  What is “real” to a very young baby is only what they can see, hear, and feel in their immediate environment, and they posses very little memory of these things once they are gone.  But as Fiona  continues to age and develop, she will be able to go longer periods of time without forgetting who I am and that I exist, even when she can’t see my face or hear my voice.

I spent a decent amount of time in my teenage years babysitting other families’ children.  Oftentimes, the younger ones would beg me to let them call their parents after they had been gone for a couple hours.  Initially, I would do everything in my power to prevent the children from interrupting their parents’ date by using distractions and giving verbal reassurances that everything was fine.  Over time, however, I began to realize that this was a perfectly normal stage in a child’s psychological development.  Though these children knew the parents existed, anxiety would settle in after too many hours of their absence as their memory needed to reestablish proof of what it was holding to be true.  However, unlike a baby who needs the parent’s physical presence in order to be reassured, these older children could be calmed by just a few short minutes of the sound of Mommy or Daddy’s voice.  A brief, “Yes, your mother and I are fine.  Are you playing nice?  Okay, take your bath and go to bed, and we’ll be home soon after you go to sleep, I promise,” and they were back on track for their play date with the babysitter!

I can personally recall an even later stage of development experienced during my own high school days, when I would come home from school and find that my mother was already out running errands.  On the kitchen table would simply be a note, in her own unique handwriting, with a list of things for me to do before she came home:

  1. Unload the dishwasher
  2. Move the laundry from the washer to the dryer
  3. Fold the clothes in the laundry basket
  4. Take the chicken out of the freezer to thaw for dinner
  5. CLEAN YOUR ROOM! (Don’t make me tell you again…)
I’ll be home soon.  Love you,

I didn’t need her physical presence to know she existed—that had long been established.  I didn’t need to hear her voice to believe she was still alive—I was big enough to take that on faith and reason for much longer periods of time without tangible contact.  I knew she loved me as she had spent years caring for me, but now there was work to be done.  I had a list of things to keep me busy to help keep the house in order, and I needed to get on them since I knew she was coming back “soon,” whatever THAT meant!


When a new Believer first begins seeking God, the Father often makes His presence undeniably clear through love and support from others in the Body and almost tangibly intimate moments with Him by His Holy Spirit.  Objects in our environment that were once common now seem to jump out in declaration and confirmation of His manifest glory.  Then, He will begin to hide His face just out of sight so that we know how to call on Him; that He is never far from us in our times of need.  As we continue to grow, we learn to respond to His still small voice even when we don’t see clear evidence of His presence around us.  And eventually, if we continue to mature as intended, we set about to simply do His work faithfully, no longer doubting His constancy, character and calling even in the longest, loneliest, and darkest of nights.

Now imagine a 30 year old, financially accomplished man sitting at his desk in a nice, high-rise office building.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, he breaks down into frantic tears, sobbing, “What if my parents never did really love me like they said they did?!?!?  What if I just imagined all those nice things they did for me?!?!!  What if…what if…THEY DON’T EVEN EXIST????”  We laugh, and yet many times, we followers of Christ appear to suffer from a similar spiritual amnesia.  It’s as if our faith in the permanence of God’s presence, His promises, and His character disappears.  We become again like babies who question the very existence of our Creator and His redemption through Christ the moment it isn’t being spelled out on a neon, flashing sign right in front of our faces.  The author of Hebrews addressed this very problem as he wrote,

By this time you ought to be spiritual teachers!  Yet you still need milk, not solid food.  Let’s stop going over the basic teachings of Christ over and over again.  We don’t need to reestablish faith in God, repentance for dead works, the doctrine of baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.  The great champions of faith died for what they believed, and they never got to see the fulfillment of it in the life they lived on this earth.  Jesus was faithful, Moses was faithful, and that’s whose house you’re a part of if you hold fast until the end.

 (MWV from Hebrews 5:12, 6:1-2, 11, & 3:1-5)

So let us continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, not forgetting what God has already proven:


Genesis 1:27


Matthew 6:25-34


Jeremiah 31:3


Hebrews 13:5


Galatians 2:20-22


John 14:16-18


Matthew 28:19-20


Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 13-15


2 Timothy 3:16


John 17:24


Revelation 22:12

Pure and Undefiled Religion is This

Having grown up around a charismatic, evangelical church community, I soon picked up on the idea that it was bad to be “religious.”  I was inundated with phrases like,

“We need to be spiritual, not religious.”

“The people in that sect aren’t sincere, they’re just religious.”

“Don’t do something just out of religiosity.”

Ring a bell? This is the lingo of the modern American, non-denominational church.  We have looked at people who said they were followers of Christ, deemed their lives to be inconsistent with this claim or spiritually fruitless, and therefore decided that the outward expressions of what they believed made up a dead and dry lifestyle within the church, just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time.  They were “religious,” yes, but they weren’t really about the heart of God and the message of Christ for all people.

I’m not saying this hasn’t been true of many nominally “Christian” practices or doctrines.  I’m not even saying that we shouldn’t judge other believers by their fruit, since the Bible expressly obligates us to be discerning within the Body!  But as I grow and mature in my walk with Christ and my knowledge of the Scripture, I find it difficult to maintain my once-negative attitude towards the word, “religion,” especially since the very Scriptures I’m reading continue to use this word, define it, and condone it when applied properly.  “Applied properly,” is the key here.  Let’s take a look:

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. 1 Timothy 5:4

Here, it doesn’t say that children shouldn’t be religious.  It simply instructs on HOW they should first put that religion into practice.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. James 1:26

Religion in and of itself is what we call “amoral.”  Like money or talent, it is neither good nor bad in its own right. It is only when placed in the hands of a moral or immoral human being that a judgment can be made about its application. Religion is simply the diligent devotion to practicing or implementing one’s set of beliefs.  It is in thinking that our form of religion is valuable when in reality it is worthless by Biblical standards–either in this life or in eternity–that we go “wrong” as Christians.

All major religions not centered on Christ alone are “worthless” by Biblical standards, such as Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism.  But this is also true of the more insidious individual religions:  Pride, jealousy, self-centeredness, and those mentalities that focus primarily on earthly prosperity.  The Bible does not tell us not to be religious about good religion, only not to practice religion that is worthless, lifeless, and that misses the heart of Christ’s love for others.

So what is “good religion?”  Well, the Bible tells us that, too!

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. James 1:27

So, as followers of Christ, we need to be diligently religious about two things:

1.  Ministering to orphans and widows and those with no support system as each has need, and

2.  Keeping ourselves unspotted from the world.

The first instruction is clear–care for those who have need and especially for those who will never be able to return the favor.  But keeping ourselves unspotted from the world involves more than just cleansing our outward practices.  It also includes not allowing our minds to be polluted by the mentalities of the culture around us; mentalities of idolatry, and the worship and esteem of created things instead of the Creator.  Mentalities of compromise, of thinking that God is fine with whatever we do and will continue to bless us even in our rebellion.  The mentality that within man is the answer to all of man’s problems.

We must be very careful within the modern church not to adopt a lingo that actually contradicts the very Scriptures we claim to be reading.  If a person simply reads the Bible, saying to them that you “don’t want to be religious” is as much as saying that you don’t want to minister to orphans and widows and that you would like to look and act just like the world does.  Is that what we usually mean?  No… but until the Bible says otherwise, we had better be careful lest a learned heathen call us out on our own hypocrisy of semantics.

Human beings were created to be religious, and it is impossible not to be so about some thing or someone in life.  We are devoted to our favorite TV shows, our favorite authors, our favorite bands, our favorite sports, our favorite hobbies, family honor…  we are a religious species.  You will inevitably be religious about something.  Will that diligent devotion qualify as being pure and undefiled before God?

Regardless of our upbringing, background, or denomination, as followers of Christ the King, LET US BE VERY RELIGIOUS INDEED, increasing in this pure and undefiled religiosity each day, in a way that pleases and honors His Name and testifies to the nature of Christ Jesus Himself.

Criteria for a Lukewarm Person

Examples of a Lukewarm Person as stated by Pastor Francis Chan in the Book, Crazy Love:

1. Lukewarm people attend church fairly regularly. It is what is expected of them, what they believe “good Christians do”, so they go. (Isaiah 29:13)

2. Lukewarm people give money to charity and to the church…as long as it doesn’t impinge on their overall standard of living. If they have a little extra and it is easy and safe to give, they do so. After all, God loves a cheerful giver, right? (1 Chronicles 21:24; Luke 21:1-4)

3. Lukewarm people tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict. They desire to fit in both at church and outside of church; they care more about what people think of their actions (like church attendance and giving) than what God thinks of their hearts and lives (Luke 6:26; Rev. 3:1; Matthew 23:5-7).

4. Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. They don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it; they’re merely sorry because God is going to punish them. Lukewarm people don’t really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one (John 10:10; Romans 6:1-2).

5. Lukewarm people are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act. They assume such action is for “extreme” Christians, not average ones. Lukewarm people call “radical” what Jesus actually expected of all His followers (James 1:22; James 4:17; Matthew 21:28-31).

6. Lukewarm people rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends. They do not want to be rejected, nor do they want to make people uncomfortable by talking about private issues like religion (Matthew 10:32-33).

7. Lukewarm people gauge their morality or “goodness” by comparing themselves to the secular world. They feel satisfied that while they aren’t as hard-core for Jesus as so-and-so, they are nowhere as horrible as the guy down the street (Luke 18:11-12).

8. Lukewarm people say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives. But only a part. They give Him a section of their time, their money, and thoughts, but He isn’t allowed to control their lives (Luke 9:57-62).

9. Lukewarm people love God, but they do not love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength. They would be quick to assure you that they try to love God that much, but that sort of total devotion isn’t really possible for the average person; it’s only for pastors and missionaries and radicals (Matthew 22:37-38).

10. Lukewarm people love others but do not seek to love others as much as they love themselves. Their love of others is typically focused on those who love them in return, like family, friends, and other people they know and connect with. There is little love left over for those who cannot love them back, much less for those who intentionally slight them, whose kids are better athletes than theirs, or with whom conversations are awkward or uncomfortable. Their love is highly conditional and very selective, and generally comes with strings attached (Matthew 5:43-47; Luke 14:12-14).

11. Lukewarm people will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go or how much time, money and energy they are willing to give (Luke 18:21-25).

12. Lukewarm people think about life on earth much more often than eternity in heaven. Daily life is mostly focused on today’s to-do list, this week’s schedule, and next month’s vacation. Rarely, if ever, do they intently consider the life to come. Regarding this, C.S. Lewis wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this” (Philippians 3:18-20; Colossians 3:2).

13. Lukewarm people are thankful for their luxuries and comforts, and rarely consider trying to give as much as possible to the poor. They are quick to point out, “Jesus never said money is the root of all evil, only that the love of money is.” Untold numbers of lukewarm people feel “Called” to minister to the rich; very few feel “called” to minister to the poor (Matthew 25:34, 40; Isaiah 58:6-7).

14. Lukewarm people do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling too guilty. They want to do the bare minimum, to be “good enough” without it requiring too much of them. They ask, “How far can I go before it’s considered a sin?” instead of “How can I keep myself pure as a temple of the Holy Spirit?” They ask, “How much do I have to give?” instead of “How much can I give?” They ask, “How much time should I spend praying and reading my Bible? Instead of “I wish I didn’t have to go to work, so I could sit here and read longer!” (1 Chronicles 29:14; Matthew 13:44-46).

15. Lukewarm people are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control. This focus on safe living keeps them from sacrificing and risking for God (1 Timothy 6:17-18; Matthew 10:28).

16. Lukewarm people feel secure because they attend church, made a profession of faith at age twelve, were baptized, come from a Christian family, vote Republican, or live in America. Just as the prophets in the Old Testament warned Israel that they were not safe just because they lived in the land of Israel, so we are not safe just because we wear the label Christian or because some people persist in calling us a “Christian nation” (Matthew 7:21; Amos 6:1)

17. Lukewarm people do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. They don’t have to trust God if something unexpected happens-they have their savings account. They don’t need God to help them – they have their retirement plan in place. They don’t genuinely seek out what life God would have them live – they have life figured and mapped out. They don’t depend on God on a daily basis – their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health. The truth is, their lives wouldn’t look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God (Luke 12:16-21; Hebrews 11).

18. Lukewarm people probably drink and swear less than average, but besides that, they really aren’t very different from your typical unbeliever. They equate their partially sanitized lives with holiness, but they couldn’t be more wrong (Matthew 23:25-28).

Where do we stand?

Where do we go from here?

(Thanks to Calvary Baptist Church in Sand Springs, Oklahoma for organizing this content.)

Long Overdue

I am a writer who doesn’t take enough time to write. In a culture that so greatly values productivity, I find myself feeling guilty for the hours-on-end that I would prefer to spend with a pen in my hand, journal in my lap, and cup of coffee on the table next to me.

But I am reminded that God is a writer.

One of the greatest revelations I ever had was realizing that I was not the main character in the story of my life. The questions that so many people ask– “If God knew we would sin, why did He create us?” “If God is good, why would He let this happen to me?”–were all answered by the simple yet profound understanding that this story is not about me. As a matter of fact, it’s not about humans at all!

The Great Story we find ourselves in is a story by God, about God. Our Author is the Father, our Narrator the Holy Spirit, and the Star of the Story is Jesus Christ. We know this by reading the Word, remembering that at the end of the script, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord over all!

My life has become far less confusing since accepting that truth–the truth that I was actually created to play a part in a story about Christ. What brings me even more peace is, while I may not know the outcome of each season of my life, I DO know how my story ultimately ends. The grand finale is set in stone, assured to me, and constantly confirmed to me by the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life.

So here, on this little blog page, is where I will attempt to get out of me what the Creator reveals to me about this masterpiece we find ourselves a part of. I hope it blesses someone. 🙂