Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The One About My Friend, Michele...Lessons on Dying Well

Each post I write carries one commonality - I write about whatever consumes my thoughts over the course of the week.

It's my way of bringing clarity to whatever the Lord seems to be speaking to my often dull-and-slow-to-understand-heart.

Generally, that's my starting point as I look at the cyclone of words whirling around inside me and pull a few out. 

They may come from conversations I've had with friends; studies I've been researching and preparing; books and messages; but, primarily what I write comes mostly from my daily journal. 

Yesterday morning, I knew exactly the direction I'd go and even mentioned to my online women's bible study that I wanted to filter through some random thoughts about doubt, particularly about "Doubting Thomas." 

That will have to wait, because my world stopped yesterday afternoon as I pondered the life and death of my sweet friend, Michele. 

As I share where I landed, let me say just a couple important things about friends. 


Always surround yourself with people who challenge, inspire, teach and leave you better than you are.


Find friends who are willing to pray, sacrifice their time, go out of their way, are beyond generous, and are willing to pick up a corner of your mat to take you to Jesus when you can't do it on your own. 

(If you stop reading right here, you've caught the gist of today's blog.  BUT THERE IS SO MUCH MORE...)

Anyone blessed to know Michele will tell you she did exactly that. 

Instead of extolling her life; allow me this space to share what I learned from my friend as she journeyed heavenward.

Three years ago, Michele and I paddled Echo Lake together (she introduced me to what's become a place of sweet soul-renewal).

Two years ago, we celebrated my birthday doing the same thing (though instead of standing on her paddle board, she now sat).

One year ago, she was shackled to a wheel chair.

Little by little, a disease we speak of by its initials, MSA (Multiple System Atrophy) began to steal Michele's body from her. 

Once diagnosed, we knew she'd been given a death sentence.

Yet, never once, did I hear Michele complain about dying (of course, she spoke of missing seeing her grands grow up), rather she boasted of the blessings of her life.

Often she'd start a sentence with, "How many women have been blessed with______________ (and it would be any number of things from a husband who would brush her hair even adding a headband, to friends who pop in to simply sit and pray)?"

She poured herself into planning her own celebration of life ("how many women are blessed with getting to plan their end-of-life-service?"), because she wanted the gospel of Jesus Christ clearly communicated.

She found creative ways to leave a legacy and a piece of herself for every! single! grand-treasure, and I got to get in on it!

Bound inside a body that betrayed her, she still ministered to her family and friends...ordering gifts online and sending text messages (until her fingers stopped working), reading books that she'd make sure to extract quotes from for those of us who needed exactly what she'd just read (until her eyes could no longer focus), and then from the purity of her heart, she prayed. Oh! How! She! Prayed! 

Yesterday morning, as Michele entered heaven's gates (as her twin sister says, "By God's grace and Michele's grit."), I led my online workshop for my ministry ladies from all over the world. 

We distilled all the truth we could glean from Philippians 1:12-30 (please take the time to click on the link and read). 

As I read Paul's words again this morning, I could only think of what Michele taught me as I leaned into her suffering and struggle. 

These very words of Paul resonated through her. 

Here are the lessons:

1. EVERY! SINGLE! THING! we are allowed to suffer is a gift of grace. My friend made friends with suffering, and allowed it to strengthen her soul.

2. EVERY! SINGLE! THING! to which we may feel shackled is an opportunity to advance the gospel. Just as Paul was "put" in chains in a Roman prison, Michele was "put" in an uncooperative earthly tent that she might minister to others. It was her greatest desire to keep the main thing the main thing: THE GOSPEL OF JESUS!

3. Oh, and about "advancing" the gospel and allowing suffering to "progress our faith and joy in Jesus?" We can know it won't be without resistance (from inside and out), instead we can view our "HARD" with eyes-of-eternity

In our suffering we can be trail-blazers-of-God's-glory.

4. Death is a win-win. As long as we live in this body, we have opportunity to fulfill God's purpose for us on this earth...but, dying is gain! (We talked often about a renewed body full of energy, the joys of being with Jesus, the long anticipation over and being with her dear son, Keagan, and her precious daddy.) Heaven is so worth it - and she wanted everyone to know that!

5.  Joy is never dependent on circumstances. I've never met ANYONE IN MY LIFE MORE JOY-FILLED! In fact:

All of life is simply an adventure in joy.

6. Suffering can not strip away our ability to worship to the very end. We serve a God who is worthy of worship, who walks the painful journey with us, who helps us endure to the end, and who gives us peace that passes all understanding. 

I pray, like Paul before me, like Michele who walked beside me until yesterday, that I continue to live worthy of this gospel of Jesus Christ.

Well done, my friend! Well done!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Random Thoughts on Reputation

There's a word, reputation, bouncing about in my brain. 

It just so happens it showed up in three (!) different devotionals, all in emails that come regularly into my inbox - all YESTERDAY.

When something seems to have a tendency to repeat itself, I have to ask why.

Is there something to which I need to pay attention?

I don't believe I've ever met anyone NOT concerned about their reputation.

Built within each of us is this desire to be seen in the best light possible.

(...and, it's so hard to let it go when someone thinks ill of us, or has a story wrong, or only has partial information....I SO WANT TO DEFEND MYSELF!!! In fact, I can think of one instance, right now, that has gone uncorrected for years, and it still pops into my head that I should challenge it!)

We desire the affirmation of others, that their opinions and beliefs about our character are more positive than negative. 

Few are the folks who don't care... 

And, I recognize that is the column I fall into. along with the majority. 

I care.

Probably too much.

However, look at these verses:

Speaking of Jesus, Paul says:

He made himself of no reputation... He made Himself nothing.

Jesus wasn't looking for greatness.

We never hear him called "Jesus the Great." 

Instead, He preferred the moniker: 

Servant of All

Along with this, the Psalmist declares there is NOTHING we should desire more than a relationship with the Lord while here on earth: not success, not finances, not power, not fulfillment of potential, and, definitely not reputation.

Like Jesus, I'd love to set aside self and "make myself nothing and desire nothing" more than the Father and serving Him according to His will - no matter what others might say.

They may think me odd - I know of many who would characterize me as "fanatical."

They may think me legalistic - I hear that one quite often, actually.

They may be of the opinion I'm not very loving, or kind, or  _____________________ (maybe you can fill in the blank with something else).

In the end, what matters is what the Lord's opinion of me is!!!

In his sweet daily prayer (The Gospel Coalition: Heavenward Blog) written yesterday, Scotty Smith, points to a young man with whom the Apostle John was acquainted.  John says this about him:

"Diotrophes, who loves to be first..."
3 John 1:9

Smith goes on to pray this:

"Dear Jesus, during the past couple of weeks, a particular phrase from my spiritual dad keeps coming to mind. 

"A reputation is too heavy of a load for a child of God to carry." 
(-Jack Miller-)

Thinking too much about what others think of us will crush us. Tying our sense of well-being to the high regard of others will seduce, then destroy us. Loving to be first, like Diotrophes, might get our name in the Bible, but as a warning, not a blessing..."

What a sad sentence - especially for Diotrophes. 

Especially for me!

In Paul David Tripp's, "Wednesday's Word," he discusses attending Tim Keller's church last Sunday. Pastor Keller - influential, quotable, and a clear exegetic of the gospel - passed away last week. He left a final video message for the congregation dear to his heart. In the message, he said this:

Do not seek reputation!


That was it.

Then quoting Jeremiah's exhortation to his secretary, Baruch, Pastor Keller left these final words of wisdom, solid biblical counsel, for all of us:

"And do you seek great things for yourself?  Seek them not..."
(Jeremiah 45:5)

So, what do we do when our reputation doesn't match the oh-so-hoped-for-reputation which we desire, especially among people who mean something to us, who have been instrumental in our spiritual development, or one-time-good-friends?

Paul has the prescription ready for us in Philippians 2:5-11, which can be summed up in these few words:

Humble yourself.
Set aside your reputation.
Empty yourself.
Fill up with the Spirit of the Lord.
Take the nature of a servant.
Live obediently for an audience of ONE! 
Make your desire be the only thing that matters on earth: God's opinion.

A Haiku Prayer:
Grant me an outlook
That cares not what others think
But seeks out God's thoughts


Thursday, May 18, 2023

When Technology Becomes Delilah

[-Northern Lights in Pagosa Springs! Photo credit Allison Stewart-]

Awe and wonder.

The mystery of God.

These things I've been pondering for some time. 

I have a theory.

Technology is amazing - helps us to double our speed, work more precisely (I'm thinking surgeries, specifically), do away with volumes of paper, watch/read/purchase anything, anywhere, at anytime, keep up with events in real time, bank, and accomplish volumes of other things...

(yes, there is a "but" coming)


Technology steals our wonder. 

Robs us of imagination.

Prevents us from the "WOW!" of seeing mystery. 

Explains away our sense of "how can this be?"

In fact, technology can, if we aren't careful, become for us the Spirit of the Lord.

Waaaaaay back in 2001, Mark Buchanan wrote a book he titled, "Your God is Too Safe." 

Subtitle: "Rediscovering the Wonder of a God You Can't Control."

I revisited that book this week. 

In chapter 5, Buchanan says this:

Like Delilah, technology has wooed us to kill us. 

I believe he's right.

Like Samson, technology can take away what we need most: the Spirit of our God of Unfathomable Mystery. It wounds us, traps us, gouges out our ability to see clearly, and ultimately destroys our ability to do this one thing: 

Glorify the Lord for the wonders He performs.

Praise Him for His amazing deeds.

Technology kills our testimonies, our "stories of the hope that is within us;" because we don't have to rely on our Lord as much.

We certainly don't need to pray any more.

All our wishing and our longings are at our fingertips. 

We don't need deep thought for creativity...AI will do that for us - from answering our text messages, to writing 12-chapter books for us in 5 minutes, to personalizing our shopping experiences (and on and on and on)....

Why travel and journey amidst our spectacular world, when we can walk virtually anywhere at all...

Technology cripples imagination and stunts more than we realize...

It robs us of adventure... 

Strips us of spiritual growth, intimacy with Jesus, hearing His voice, sensing His nearness; because all of this requires revelation...

....and revelation requires imagination...

...and, with all AI offers us, who needs imagination... 

The two go hand-in-glove.

AND, the bottom line is plain and simple: we stop worshipping the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength (with our all in all).

Perhaps it's why we're losing so many of the potential-next-gen-Jesus-Followers...

They aren't intrigued.

They aren't even slightly curious.

What they see in the church are folks who say they believe, but are void of the adventure that ought to characterize the Path of Life, in God's Presence, with GREAT JOY.

Instead, I fear that what they really see is D-U-T-Y: a check list of do's, and the Bible a manual of "how-to's."

I've frequently mentioned to women as I share in retreats: 

When we think of Christianity in terms of duty, we threaten to destroy intimacy with our Savior.

He becomes just another check mark on a list of things I must get done:

Spend time with Jesus. ✅ 

Apparently, years back, author and Bible scholar, Os Guinness was speaking outside of the country. Following his talk, he was approached by a Japanese businessman, who said, "When I meet a Buddhist monk, I meet a holy man in touch with the world. However, when I meet a Western missionary, I meet a manager who is only in touch with the very world I know." Guinness added this comment:

"You could say that many, many Christians are atheists unawares."

[-Interview with Os Guinness, Books and Culture (July/August 1998): 17-]

So...ponder with me AWE & WONDER.

Check your AWE & WONDER meter... 

Empty? Full? Worse yet, in the boring middle?

Take a gander and make some course corrections to refresh your IMAGINATION.

Go on an adventure with Jesus and find your awe again.

Live on the path of "surprised by God."

Maybe the greatest gift you and I can give the next-gen is this word:

"All who were with Him were astonished..." 

[-Luke 5:9-]

Astonished: to be in great wonder with admiration... from Old French:  Uncontained wonder; thunderstruck.

Don't let Delilah, (oops) I mean, technology steal your thunderstruck.

Guard it or find it.

Then hang on to it...

And, open your mouth at what God has done for you!

Thursday, May 11, 2023

The Ezra House

I just returned to the hotel where I'm staying near the airport closest to Harrisburg, PA. 

While here, I spoke at two lovely events, both hosted at Carlisle Evangelical Free Church (Carlisle, PA): a spring event for the women of the church and a MOPS (Mother's of Pre-Schoolers) celebration. Truly, I'm humbled by the opportunities the Lord opens up for me! It's ME, after all! 

Anyway, the women's ministry director, along with her committee, picked the topic of "joy" for our Tuesday-night-theme. 

I do love speaking on joy, and find that the notion of it is sprinkled throughout the entirety of Scripture. For Jesus-Followers, joy should be an attitude of everyday living. 

Paul tells us in Philippians, it's a learned behavior, and we should really find reason to REJOICE (in fact he says it twice) at all times and always (Phil 4:4).

It isn't dependent on circumstances being "just right."

It doesn't even depend on people acting "just right" toward us.

Joy is a contented mindset; a heart at rest, that accepts and even thrives, no matter what the circumstances (my working-definition).

I share this introduction to lead into a little story...

While some folks decide to personalize objects they own, we've never been too creative in that arena.

For over 40-years, we've called the 35-acres where we live, THE PROPERTY. 

(I need to update my pictures. The sign now says "The Forrest's and The Cott's")

I know...imaginative and inspiring, right?

Some folks name their vehicles.

Ours are called THE SUBARU and THE TRUCK.

Again, innovative and novel!

Our house (while I sometimes refer to it as my "sighing place") is just "home."

We draw the line at living, bless their hearts, the children received names, as did the horses.

However, recently, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who have lived next door to us for as many years as we've lived on THE PROPERTY, recently down-sized and we bought their house with our retirement funds.

The plan is that when our son, Adam, and his wife, Cher, retire from the military in a few years, they will buy the house from us.

In the meantime, what do we do with two houses (and, not one of them is on a beach in a sunny location!)? 

Ah, but God...He has been directing our hearts to use this as a bit of a "retreat center." 

A place for small groups of women, or married couples, or (?)...that are looking for a "get away" with spiritual purpose. 

It could help fray the monthly payment and utilities, but, prayerfully, be a gift in deepening relationships, allowing rest, restoration, and spiritual renewal. 

That means, we have to stop calling that house "Truett and Sherri's."

For 40-years it's been "Truett and Sherri's."

So, with our mission-purpose, as stated above, we began to pray what label to put on the house until it one day becomes "Adam and Cher's."

Here's where the word of the week, joy, comes into play.

Along with rest, restoration and spiritual renewal, it is, also, our prayer that when folks leave this sweet place of refuge, they will be leaving with revived joy.

For, it is so true what Nehemiah records, 

"The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10)." 

So, stay with me (smile)...there is a point coming and a question for you to ponder.

The priest, Ezra, spoke those words after the temple and the wall around the city of Jerusalem had been rebuilt (following the Babylonian devastation): a BIG DEAL for the exiles returning to Israel.

So, someone brought Ezra the scrolls (Scripture) and the people stood and listened to the words Ezra spoke from the Book of God's Law. 

With enraptured hearts, they listened through the long day (standing hours ! in the sun), into the coolness of the night.

When Ezra finished his reading, the people wept. They bowed with heads to the ground and worshipped the Lord.

They wept for their ears were attentive to the Word, and the eyes of their hearts saw how far from the Truth they had wandered....

....and, they grieved that loss.

Ah, but, sweet Ezra, stood again, and told the folks, "No! No! Don't grieve. This is a holy day. A day of celebration. Now, that we have direction from the Lord, let us go from here in great joy"...because 

Being in God's PRESENCE


leads us to a joy-filled EXPERIENCE!

Oh, my!

We all need a place to regroup and read the Word (undistracted by the world around us).

A place where we allow our eyes to be open, and our ears to be attentive to the Spirit's voice.

We all need a place for our "Ezra" (the Spirit of the Lord, in our case) to remind us to seek, to read, to listen, to obey, and to go forward in great joy...and, celebrate spiritual renewal!

Hence, Truett & Sherri's will become "The Ezra House" (if I can ever let go of old habits - they die HARD!)...

... A place to be all the above and more.

We didn't need to buy the house next door with our retirement funds to have an Ezra House; but, I am reminded, since I have one, that regularly, we need to step out of the everyday routine, and enter into a spot where we allow the Spirit of the Lord to wash over us with God's Reviving Words.

A place that is set apart from our regular daily quiet time.

A place that gives us specific, intentional, purposeful interaction away from distraction!

A place where we meet with Jesus, and...

...then, leave in the joy of the Lord, our strength! 

Here's your question:

If we all need an "Ezra House," where's yours?

Is it a corner in your own home, or on your property?

A place by a river?

A comfortable retreat center?

A porch?

A tent in a nearby forest?

A kayak on a lake?

Find your spot.

Spend significant time in the Word.

Renew Your Joy.

...and leave restored in the strength of the Lord!

(This is one of Bay's "Ezra" he says, "Life always looks better when looking between the ears of a horse.")

Hope you already have your place!

If not, find one...

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Prison Play-list (a MUST in times of struggle)

Since returning home from Oregon, I recognize I'm pretty close to finishing up a compilation of notes on the study I've done to come up with my own personal theology of suffering.  

With just a couple more thoughts, including this one, I'll start to build my summary. 

In the meantime, here's the Scripture I've pondered this week, ordained I think from the Lord (a simple, but profound lesson):

"About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them - when suddenly.... (Acts 16:25-26a)" 

A little history.

This is the back story to the book of Philippians.

Paul wanted to go spread the Word of God (the gospel, his great love) in Asia, while on his second missionary journey. 

However, for some reason, the Spirit of the Lord would not allow Paul and Silas to head that direction.

So, they passed by and headed toward Troas, when during one of the nights on the road, Paul saw a clear vision of a Macedonian man beckoning and urging him, "Come to Macedonia and help us."

IMMEDIATELY,  Paul and his companions sought to go to Macedonia.

They caught a ship in Troas, and off they went...

Successful ministry awaited them in Samothrace and Neapolis...yet, on they traveled towards Philippi.

The church at Philippi began when Paul and Silas connected with a group of women, who gathered together on the Sabbath, along the river for prayer.

They were "worshiper's of the Lord," though at the current time, they didn't KNOW Jesus. 

Acts tells us "their hearts were open," especially Lydia, a wealthy business woman, who sold purple goods imported from Thyatira.

Paul, and his cohort, stayed on for several days, where they birthed a new and exploding church.

It seems, however, Paul's presence attracted the attention of a young slave girl, possessed by a spirit of divination.

She brought her owners a good deal of money by telling fortunes in the community.

As the men moved about the city, she followed at their heels, proclaiming to everyone who they were and why they were there... 

"They are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim the way of salvation (16:17)."

You'd think her words might be helpful for Paul's mission.

Yet, I don't think Paul wanted either the gospel or the name of Jesus to be advanced by one belonging to Satan, so he cast out the demon.

A thought according to Warren Wiersbe reminds us that -

"Satan may speak truth one minute and the next minute tell lies, so how would an unsaved group of people know the difference?" 

Of course, the owners (not having concern for the girl, only the lost money) complained to the magistrate, and Paul and Silas were beaten with rods and thrown into prison.

Not just thrown into a cell, nope, they were shackled inside the "innermost part of the prison," with their feet in stocks.

So, what do they do amidst this trial of persecution and suffering? 

They pray.

They sing. 

"And the prisoners were listening to them (v. 25)."

Of course they were.

They had a captive audience (pun intended).

The Lord showed up, as He has a habit of doing. 

Following their singing came an earthquake, the doors to cells opened, the chains were unfastened...and the Philippian jailer, certain the prisoners under his watch escaped, drew his sword to kill himself.

But, no! Not a one left the jail...and, after their assurances, the baby church at Philippi gained a new member in-Christ. He and his entire household "believed in the Lord (v. 34)."

This story is filled with lessons for times of suffering, pain, discouragement, persecution, annoyance, trial and affliction.

Here is the BIG  ONE that follows a few question:  What do I do when these things occur? What is my immediate response when, out-of-the-blue I'm traveling a road I never intended to travel? When I'm "put" someplace I never wanted to be "put?" 

My typical?

I complain.

I whine.

I look for an out!

I blame someone else for allowing it to happen to me.

I ask the "why me?" question.... Or, the "why now?"

I might even respond with a hint of anger.

Not so, Paul and Silas.

These bruised, bloodied, stiff and sore men, shackled to a prison wall, PRAYED AND PRAISED.

Whatever your "imprisonment" looks like (financial difficulty, sickness, a difficult job, people problems, an accident that's left you immobile, family issues, trials in your marriage, an addiction you're trying to shake, an emotional handicap, or just life-in-general), declaring truth to yourself through prayer and worship releases the Lord to do an unexpected work.