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2015 class

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared” (Exodus 23:20).

I wiggled on the plastic seat and squinted toward the floor of the expo hall. Four hundred fifty-four square black caps huddled into rows of folding chairs. Red honor cords, white stoles, and baccalaureate medals flowed to the center of the black robed sea. One precious individual sat in the middle of the crowd awaiting his moment to cross the stage. Four years of excruciating work now hung as distinguished accouterments around his neck and lay as satin remnants over his shoulders. The moment of graduation hung within reach, with a few words to traverse on the way.

The principal delivered his congratulations and exhortations, followed by high-ranked students offering similar remarks. As the International Baccalaureate Valedictorian approached the podium to deliver the final speech, the expo hall went dark. No sound equipment. No lights. Shadows engulfed the commencement process.

The Valedictorian looked back for direction from the faculty, who turned to the school principal. The entire staff hesitated for a moment. The darkness caught us all off guard. Then, the IB administrator urged her top student to press on. As he proceeded to speak, the generator brought up a few stage lights. The sound system resumed. As the lead student offered his concluding words of encouragement to the graduating class, the house lights brightened. With minimized delay, light guided our commencement outward.

On the drive home, my son and I discussed future graduations. With college racing toward us in a  couple of months, we anticipated undergraduate and graduate commencements to outshine the one we’d just completed. Before striving onward, we gathered for hugs and copious amounts of chocolate cake.

Diverse events comprise threshold moments of our lives. Certainly not limited to school achievements, many kinds of commencements spangle our timelines. Periods of intense trial come to a close. Good things end, too, such as cherished bonds or occupations we enjoyed.

At the end of one season, we can often experience a moment of uncertainty. The next steps toward our calling fall under shadows. We hesitate, taken off guard by our blindness.

In the shadows of commencement lies an opportunity to tighten our grip on faith. Turn back to consult the Lord’s wisdom through prayer and Scripture. Even when we cannot see yet, the Spirit might exhort us to press onward. Persevere despite the dim lighting and poor sound reception. Take the next right step. The lights will return to guide us outward into fulfillment of our mission.

Commencement defines the growth stages of our spiritual journey. Challenges and suffering teach us volumes. Compassion and wisdom shimmer over our shoulders more brilliantly than a scholar’s garb. With each threshold crossed, we have an opportunity to deepen our trust in God, develop more Christ-like love for others, and emerge well-equipped for the next level of our mission.

So, let’s pause to pray for wisdom. Prepare with me through frequent meditation on God’s Word. And even if we don’t know it all yet, the Spirit will exhort us to commence. But, before we get going, let’s not forget to celebrate with excessive chocolate.

Seriously, we have way too much cake here for one family. Any volunteers to help with that?

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds . . .encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:23-25, 35-36).

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

go and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

“‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven'” (Acts 1:8-11).

“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-46).

On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus knew each detail of the unprecedented suffering awaiting Him. Jeering pagans would scourge him until near death. The priests who claimed His Father as God would insist they strip and kill Him. He would drag a beam through the dusty streets, as those He suffered to rescue spat upon His battered body. His raw flesh nailed to rough wood, He would hang to suffocate in the blistering sun. And that wasn’t the worst of it. He would also bear the immeasurable weight of every sin from the advent of time until the distant end of all days. Incomparable physical, emotional, and spiritual agony.

Jesus foresaw all this as He poured the Passover wine. Three years of cherished moments with these men culminated in this final message.He ripped the bread and explained its secret meaning to blank stares. In conclusion, He handed the elements to the dear friends who would soon abandon Him.

The scent of roast lamb floated through the streets. Jesus led them beyond the hard-packed roads until the murmurings faded and lush grasses eased their steps. With the steep incline, His legs strained under the added weight of His coming journey. They settled under a favorite cluster of trees in the garden. Gentle breezes lulled His full-bellied companions into repose. Jesus offered a vital exhortation to his too-comfortable students.

“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

He surrendered Himself in a crucial prayer. Angels responded to strengthen Him. Christ continued His fervent interaction with the Father. Until—

Every nerve and hair prickled as He recognized this moment. The time had come.

Jesus returned to wake his dozing supporters. Yes, He realized their frailty. But He must impress the concept of crucial prayer. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Christ’s insistence upon prayer at this moment renders it a crucial matter. The word ‘crucial’ derives its significance from its parent term, crucifixion. Though comprehension eluded the disciples until after the resurrection, we now benefit from Christ’s magnificent teaching delivered on Maundy Thursday. He

  • Forgiveness. He fulfilled the secret meaning of Passover as the Messiah Lamb Who redeems us from the consequences of sin. Despite impending betrayals and our continued undeserving nature, He demonstrated ultimate grace.
  • Service. He modeled the nature of a servant, explaining an additional impact of His coming sacrifice as providing inspiration for selfless living.
  • Submission. He surrendered Himself in prayer to the Father, Who strengthened Him to face unimaginable agony. During His crucial prayer, the Lord sent angelic support.
  • Crucial Prayer. He exhorted His followers to pray against temptation. He knew the trials awaiting them in the coming season. He knows prayer is our essential resource to fortify and equip us foll all that lies ahead.

This Maundy Thursday, as you reflect upon Jesus’ message to the disciples at the Last Supper and Gethsemane, will you join me in committing to a discipline of crucial prayer?

“Therefore put on the full armor of God,so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. . . . Take the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:13,17).

I enjoy a solitary day at the mall, unless I’m searching for one item. Without friends, the fun-potential drains out of hat shopping. A sophisticated cloche or a wide-brimmed style might elevate my image, while a fez or wizard’s hat double us over in giggles. Regardless of sun protection or insulation features, the simple accessory I choose to top my cranium will speak volumes about my identity.

First century helmets offered double benefits to the wearers. With a bronze alloy to withstand crushing blows, armor craftsmen extended the forehead piece to block downward weapon strokes. The headgear extended to cover the neck and cheeks. With such thorough armor, distinguishing one soldier from another could present a challenge. Plumage served tactical and individuation purposes. While the crest added height to intimidate the enemy, it also expressed the soldier’s individuality. The style identified him as a Roman and as an individual.

As soon as we become Christians, the Lord crowns us with salvation. Our spiritual helmet distinguishes us as members of a glorious Kingdom while optimizing our individuality to its full potential. Marching alongside those with equal but unique headgear makes the journey more fun. Unless we take the protective features for granted and tuck that head-topper under one arm for a while.

Whoosh. Incoming doubt arrow. Jab of envy. Then, ooph, comes the axe hammer of fear. Resentment and selfishness poison the wounds. Before you know it, you’ve lost your head.

The helmet offers vital protection to one of the enemy’s favorite targets–our minds. We expose ourselves to unnecessary and serious risk if we fail to guard our thoughts with Christ’s gifts of redemption and abundant grace. Bible study, prayer, and guidance from seasoned soldiers can help us realign our focus. If we take time to meditate on the King suffering an excruciating death penalty in our place, we can no longer imagine a limit to His devotion. Since Jesus would take our place on death row, what do we think He won’t do for us? Mindfulness of our position in Jesus thwarts temptations to doubt, envy, or resent. Selfishness and fear cannot cut through the impenetrable alloy of Christ’s loving sacrifice on our behalf. Salvation secures who and Whose we are.

You have a unique purpose in our Kingdom. Your crest holds a special pattern, and I love how it becomes you. So, hold onto your hat, my friend. Others will need you. Your reminder might keep them from losing their heads.

“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

As we visited Busch Gardens’ one day, I observed a toddler patting the glass of a wildlife enclosure. A lioness sprang toward him from the other side. Massive canines flashing, she pounced again and again. Huge paws engulfed the outline of the child’s hand. He grinned over his shoulder into the camera’s flash, as if playing pat-a-cake with the alpha predator.

If not for the glass shield, the lion would have devoured him like a cupcake.

With the exception of sunscreen, we tend to give little thought to shields these days. Few of us encounter large predators outside the zoo. Battles rage in distant lands, where armored vehicles and fortified bases matter far more to others than to us.

First century military officials knew the importance of defense equipment all too well. An effective shield could win or lose the war. If a soldier lost his scutum, as they were called, he became a walking target. Warriors often chained or strapped their ultimate means of protection onto their forearm, lest they lose their grip.

Roman shields remain legendary icons in military equipment design. Curved to deflect arrows and layered for strength, the scutum was large enough to cover a man and overlap the next shield in reptilian shell formation. Centurions also used shields as an offensive weapon to charge enemy lines.

With faith, we can break through enemy strongholds. Matthew 8 records examples of faith breaking through to the disenfranchised and excluded. The next chapter reveals how the faith of our friends can bring us out of hopelessness into the presence of Christ.

Faith deflects enemy arrows hurtling toward our souls each day. Lies, toxic attitudes, and insecurities glance off the surface when we hold up our faith against them. The King advises us to huddle together in formation so the enemy cannot find any spaces open for attack. Christ’s victory seals our triumph in the protection of our unified and mutually fortified trust in Him.

We must not let our guards slip and get caught playing pat-a-cake with this lion. So let’s strap on our trusty shields and snuggle in close, fellow soldiers. We’ll keep our faith out front and charge onward.

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“Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.  You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. . . Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,  but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” – Matthew 24:4-6,12-13

In less than twenty minutes of evening news, we see evil circling our community. Spouses lie crushed physically–and worse, emotionally. Parents harm infants. Children shoot classmates by the dozen.  The dark-clad terrorists victimizing lands across the sea are not as far away as they seem. Evil plots against those created in God’s image, conscripting pawns to carry out its destruction.

Fields, once green with potential, stand browned and dry. Clouds gather over love’s light, and the earth shudders. Christians murmur about end times. Some huddle in fear as persecution mounts across the world. Ripened wheat fields look rather dead, even hopeless, to the untrained eye. Farm folks know the signs of harvest, as should Christians.

The advancing darkness casts an ominous hue over the world’s landscape. It comes, as Jesus said it would. When things appear beyond all hope of rescue, expect the Savior to show up for harvest. Not just at the end of times, but whenever dry circumstances creep in and threaten to steal our faith. Bleak days occur far ahead of the end days, for the world and for each individual’s personal experience. Instead of growing fearful, we should prepare to offer our fruit.

When things feel uncertain and situations drain your vigor, it’s time to raise your head. Declare and demonstrate your purpose. Show the tasseling Spirit’s power to reap unbelievable benefit when all the worth seems lost. Congratulations on your coming victory over evil’s doom. Thank the Lord for looming challenges, because it’s a certain sign of a magnificent harvest on its way.

I’ve made pie crust from scratch. Grandma’s sour cream recipe complimented our fresh-picked cherry pie with divine bliss. I savor the memory of that incomparable pie.

But since that yesteryear day of baking, I’ve come to prefer another. I don’t craft an heirloom pastry when baking pies. My go-to crust shall ever be the frozen shell. How can you beat a ready-made crust in its own tin? Less mess on the front end. No dish to wash afterward. No one complains.

At Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other special feasts sprinkled across the calendar between them, our gatherings culminate in a representative dessert. Pie unites at the center, yet offers equal joy to all who share it. Whether pumpkin, chocolate cream, or pecan, the flavors sweeten our expressions and satisfy to the wriggling of toes. 

The doughy matter on the outer edges makes no impression compared to the luscious filling. Circumstances hemming the world blur outside the windows as baby giggles and hugs warm the home’s inner spaces. Laughter, encouragement, love. God baked sweet fillings into our middles, with the intention we would share our best with one another. 

Frozen shell tins do not come with storage covers. Leftovers cannot be microwaved in a tin. I bake according to the Creator’s recipe–no sweet thing should be discarded. I look forward to empty pie tins after Thanksgiving, and pray my life will offer a similar celebration. May I share all the Maker’s filling. With no sweet morsel left over that has not been enjoyed by those He loves, let my life be an empty pie tin. 

 

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving, and share all your pie!

 

“I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.” Philippians 2:17

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Centuries ago, a wary king rebuilt his wooden stronghold with stones. He nestled a bluestone in its ramparts to honor the special rock’s donor. Legends swirled from the walls through a nobleman’s lips and into the royal court. His flattery confounded the queen. Rumors stirred the winds and people suspected unnatural origins to his verbal prowess. The Blarney Stone’s reputation cemented itself into Irish lore.

Strongholds anchored castle security. Often located in the center of a fortress, residents and soldiers retreated to the stronghold when enemies threatened to breach the outer walls. Blarney Castle’s owner sought to protect his estate with well-oiled speech. When the English queen presented a threat, he stood within the ramparts of words.

Tourists kiss the legendary Blarney Stone in hopes of obtaining his magical gift of eloquence. Seeking the power of influence, visitors lean backward over the precipice and press their lips against the special rock. Yet eloquence and influence weather away like wooden structures. 

It’s time to seek a stronghold that has been rebuilt with lasting stones. 

The everlasting cornerstone bears a radiant name. Truth remains impervious to weather, time, or enemy attacks. And when our lips stretch to bless Him, He returns the kiss with warm blessings. Much better than smooching a rock, if you ask me. Unlike Blarney Castle, we needn’t end our visit and return to life’s drudgery. The Word of God invites us to join Him as part of the castle. Truth offers far richer delights than legend. Will you join the glorious Kingdom structure and devote your lips to the Rock of Ages?

 “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house … through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:  ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ Now to you who believe, this stone is precious.” – 1 Peter 2:4-7

 

I’m liking the candy corn around me, deep azure skies above, and an extra hour of sleep on the horizon. I like autumn, but it’s not my favorite. Before passionate fall-enthusiasts take defensive aim, let me just honor your right to like whatever you choose. Perhaps your heart skips a beat when pumpkin pie shows up on the table. My eyes glisten at herald angels singing, but my kids wretch at the first carol on the radio. Though I wish they could enjoy my favorites with me, it isn’t a household rule. My family knows what they prefer, and it isn’t always aligned with my wish list.

 

We often bristle against our dissimilar preferences in the family of God. Professing what we like and what we don’t can turn into household rules edging out those who disagree. Options diversify and thereby beautify the world, but make poor legislators. Scripture doesn’t command us to like everything, nor does God insist we all like the same things.

You’re welcome to enjoy the old hymns while I prefer the electric guitar. Both obey the Biblical call to worship. Please serve the homeless, but allow me to encourage the abused. Both follow the call to care for those in need. As long as we follow the Word of God without changing it, we can show His love in the unique ways we like. The Lord created us with intentional differences in likes and perspectives. He knows what His children enjoy better than we know ourselves. 

So, whether you eat candy corn by the layer, by the handful, or never touch the stuff, notice how the varied colors offer beauty to the season. The same ingredients flavor each part, however. In God’s Kingdom, each unique hue carries the potential to deliver joy sweetened by the same Spirit of Love. When we join hands in love, God transforms us into a beautiful family which honors our unique brothers and sisters to more perfectly glorify the same Lord.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink… Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? …But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ …But God has put the body together… so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

 

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With one hand on the shopping cart handle and the other linked to the smallest of three toddlers, a young mother scanned the busy parking lot from the curb.

“Hold your brother’s hand when you cross the street,” she said.

The four year-old wrinkled his nose at the younger boy to his left. Thrusting his chin upward, the elder child folded his arms and sprinted away from the curb. The three year old waddled in the opposite direction. Momma somehow caught a chunky arm from each boy and corralled them to the crosswalk. She set up an effective family safety plan, but her children didn’t understand their need to follow her directions.

I chuckled at the “eldest” child’s expression.  In a few years, he might have words to express his resistance.

“I don’t care if you are my Momma. No matter what you say, I am not holding that kid’s hand.”

God commands His children to hold hands. Unity with one another connects us to Him in a strong bond that protects us from evil. Pride tempts us to shrug off our siblings, as if our few years of seniority offer any significant maturity compared to God. The Lord’s grip is on the other hand of that wee sister, and she is our indirect connection to Him.

We often fail to understand why we need fellowship and remain oblivious to unseen perils. The Lord sees the traffic ahead and around us from a higher viewpoint. Sprinting off alone, we wouldn’t even see tragedy coming before it flattens us.

Whether young or old in Christ, cling in faith to His plan. We don’t have to understand why He commands us to hold hands, but it’s in our best interests to obey the source of infinite wisdom Who loves us more than we’ll ever know.

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