Raise my Ebenezer

The second verse of the old hymn reads: “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I’m come; and I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home” (Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing). Ebenezer is not a common name. Perhaps the only one you’ve heard of is from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In the Old Testament, the prophet Samuel erected a stone to commemorate the protection and provision of God when Israel was able to recapture the ark of the covenant from their fierce enemies, the Philistines. “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer, for he said, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’” (1 Samuel 7:12)

The helping stone became a memorial to the people to help them remember. This weekend stones also serve as memorials in cemeteries in our nation and around the world. Flags will be planted by simple white crosses and Stars of David to honor and remember the ultimate sacrifice of men and women. For many people Memorial day will signify the advent of summer or mean a day away from the routine. For those who grieve over the loss of a loved one, the day carries a far more personal meaning.

Markers should not just recognize death. We should have markers throughout our lives so that we can remember the faithfulness and goodness of our God. We can raise our own Ebenezers, spiritual markers that have helped our journeys of faith. I challenge you to mark those turning points, those moments of commitment, those times when you followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit to act in the name of the Savior. Spiritual markers come about because of important events or influential people when your life in Christ took significant steps higher.

I can map my journey of faith by the spiritual markers in my life. Your map might look different than mine, but that is the beauty of the uniqueness of who we are and how God has related to us. We can also anticipate that, as long as we draw breath, more markers will be needed. I am so glad that God is still working on me!


God, are You listening?

Sometimes you wonder if He is paying attention. We may feel that way about the condition of the world or perhaps the circumstances of our lives. When we pray, we want to know the channel is open. Maybe we need some help in knowing the proper way to pray?

  • “Hands together, fingers pointed, folded hands, bended-down knees. And don’t open your eyes until they say ‘Amen.’”
  • “If you’re Catholic, you gotta kneel down on boards. If you’re regular, you just keep your eyes shut and don’t lean on the bed.”
  • “You hold hands with anybody in the room and make a big circle, like duck-duck-goose.”

That’s how some of our young friends think you should do it. Ahhh … the etiquette of prayer.

But if God is listening, how long does it take to get an answer to our prayers. We turn to our panel of experts again.

  • “About a minute.”
  • “About six million years.”
  • “Infirmity.”
  • “You really want to know how long it takes? Okay, I’ll tell you. Nobody knows.”

Good. We cleared that up, but why does God make us wait for answers?

  • “You’re not the only one praying, you know!”
  • “It’s not like He’s out on vacation or something. He has a lot to do and no time off. And He’s entitled to a life of His own. He’s not your slave, you know.”
  • “God takes only one day to answer your prayer in the summer, and eight days in the winter. Only He takes forever if you’re asking for a Barbie doll.”

We have made prayer too complicated, too mysterious. George Herbert wrote; “Prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night.” It should be as natural as breathing. It is more attitude than action. Paul said we were to pray without ceasing – being constantly aware of the presence of One who loves us more than we could possibly know.

Let’s let prayer achieve its primary goal: “The reality is, my prayers don’t change God.  But, I am convinced prayer changes me.  Praying boldly boots me out of that stale place of religious habit into authentic connection with God Himself.”  Lysa TerKeurst

Make no little plans

Make no little plans

Ray Ortlund wrote a blog by that name in tribute to David Burnham, an architect who designed the master plans for some of America’s largest cities. He was also the chief designer and planner for buildings in New York and Washington, D.C.

During the height of his career, he gave a speech that included these words: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans. Aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that those who follow us are going to do things that would stagger us!”

This is the season when graduating classes will hear songs of inspiration and challenge. In my long-ago era it would have been “Climb Every Mountain” or “To Dream the Impossible Dream.”

From time to time, we need to step up our game. Perhaps this will help … or not:

  • From a new graduate: “I would like to thank Google, Wikipedia, and whoever invented copy and paste.”
  • Unknown: “I would like to thank my arms for always being by my side; my legs for always standing up for me; and my fingers because I can always count on them.”
  • From John Wayne: “Life is hard; it’s harder if you’re stupid.”
  • From a grad: “I didn’t graduate Magna Cum Laude or Summa Cum Laude or Cum Laude; I graduated, thank the Laude.”
  • Line from Phoebe (Friends): “Do I have a plan? I don’t even have a pla.”
  • From Rae Lewis-Thornton: “I have this crazy idea that my purpose is bigger than me.”
  • From Mark Cooper: “Life has no remote. Get up and change it yourself.”

The Bible contains some “Impossible Dream” people:

  • 85 year-old Caleb who told Joshua, “Give me the hill country.”
  • Jabez who petitioned the Lord: “Enlarge my territory!”
  • David said about Goliath: “Don’t worry about this Philistine. I’ll go fight him!”
  • Esther to her uncle Mordecai: “I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.”
  • Paul who wrote to the Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Make no little plans!

Makes Sense

When truth becomes inconvenient or relative, it loses its power. We live in a day when too many claim to believe truth as they see it. Paul’s words to Timothy seem particularly relevant today: “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good” (2 Timothy 3:1-3). Sounds like Paul was reading today’s headlines.

Where do we turn for truth? There are plenty of voices being raised, mostly strident. Have you noticed that those shouting the loudest for tolerance are most intolerant of anyone who disagrees with them? Humans will never abide in the truth apart from dependence on the source of truth. Jesus said in John 8: “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (v. 32). What did He mean? Pilate challenged Jesus when He responded to the Roman governor’s questions. Jesus said, “I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” Pilate’s cynical reply echoes the emptiness of life lived futilely: “What is truth?” (John 18:37).

Can we trust the Bible? Can we believe it is true? People like atheist Richard Dawkins don’t think so: “The virgin birth, the Resurrection, the raising of Lazarus, even the Old Testament miracles, all are freely used as religious propaganda, and they are very effective with an audience of unsophisticates and children.”

The Bible tells us about God, the God who makes sense of the universe’s origin, of the universe’s complexity, of objective moral values, and of the Resurrection. The Bible has been dismissed by the skeptics, the debunkers. Reading the Bible raises plenty of questions, but it also provides many answers to what matters most. It reveals the answer to the darkness, the ravages of sin, and the fate of evil through the words and deeds of the One who said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6).

The truth is not just a set of facts or a code of behavior. It is best discovered in a relationship with the Living Lord. Peter was right when he told Jesus, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life” (John 6:68). Makes sense to me. How about you?



Got the time?

In 2016, I had the privilege to attend a day at the Master’s with my father-in-law. Knowing the rules about cell phones, we had left ours in the car. Throughout the day, we were both approached by people asking for the time. It finally struck me. Nobody was wearing a watch except us. That’s the only way I would ever be noticed at the most famous golf tournament.

Time is important. We all know that. It seems that we are always running out of it. We all get 24 hours each day and make choices as to how we spend our time. Yes, there are other people in our lives that often dictate how our day is scheduled. You don’t feel like going to work? If you feel that way too often, you won’t have to worry about work. You’ll have plenty of time on your hands … to look for work. You don’t feel like going to school, finishing that project, studying for that exam? Good luck with that.

The pace of life seems to be increasing. Being over-scheduled and under-resourced is common. A first grader asked his mom why dad had to bring home a briefcase of papers every night. “Mom, why does dad have so much homework?” She tried to explain, “It’s because Daddy has so much to do he can’t finish at the office so he has to work at night.” That raised another question from her son: “Then, why don’t they put him in a slower group?”

Where is that slower group? I’d like to join. We all feel the press. Well, most of us. The old dude was sitting in his rocking chair but wasn’t rocking. “Anything wrong?” asked a passerby. “Nope, just tryin’ to decide whether to start ‘er up.”

Some time ago I posted some words of encouragement found in a plaque I have had on my office wall. Forgive the repetition but this is per request:

“Take time to work … it is the price of success; to play … it is the secret of perpetual youth; to think … it is the source of power; to read … it is the fountain of wisdom; to pray … it is conversation with God; to laugh … it is the music of the soul; to listen … it is the pathway to understanding; to dream … it is hitching your wagon to a star; to worship … it is the highway of reverence; and to love and be loved … it is the gift of God.”




This story was in Homiletics magazine: Three friends were playing their favorite golf course. One was a minister, one was a doctor, and the other was a time-management expert. The group ahead of them was particularly slow. The time-management guy kept looking at his watch – “What’s up with these guys? They have been on this hole for over 30 minutes and they still haven’t reached the green.” The doctor and minister started grumping, too. A groundskeeper came by in a cart. The minister hailed him and asked, “Why is the foursome ahead of taking so long? Surely we can play through if they’re going to be this slow.” The keeper responded, “Oh, these guys are fire-fighters. Three of them were blinded fighting a fire in our clubhouse last year. We let them play for free.” The minister apologized for his attitude. The doctor was embarrassed and offered to contact a colleague who was an ophthalmic surgeon to see if he could help the injured men. The time-management expert was silent for a moment, then said, “Why can’t they play at night?”

Not very funny. Our perspective in life can be warped by pettiness, by selfishness, or by out-of-control schedules. We can see the outcomes in the traffic snarls in Atlanta or in the local grocery store when the lines don’t move fast enough for us. We experience it with total strangers as well as within our closest relationships.

Somebody told me last week that Atlanta needs to take a really large chill pill. I’m not certain where such a pill can be obtained, but it sounds like a good idea. When Paul wrote to the Galatian churches, he spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. The fruit of the spirit is a cluster of nine qualities: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23).

This would be a good time to let the Holy Spirit do His work in us!


“Presumably [Jesus] could have had any resurrected body he wanted, and yet he chose one identifiable mainly by scars that could be seen and touched. Why? I believe the story of Easter would be incomplete without those scars on the hands, the feet, and the side of Jesus. When human beings fantasize, we dream of pearly straight teeth and wrinkle-free skin and sexy ideal shapes. We dream of an unnatural state: the perfect body. But for Jesus, being confined in a skeleton and human skin WAS the unnatural state. The scars are, to him, an emblem of life on our planet, a permanent reminder of those days of confinement and suffering. I take hope in Jesus’ scars. From the perspective of heaven, they represent the most horrible event that has ever happened in the history of the universe – the crucifixion – Easter turned into a memory. Because of Easter, I can hope that the tears we shed, the blows we receive, the emotional pain, the heartache over lost friends and loved ones, all these will become memories, like Jesus’ scars. Scars never completely go away, but neither do they hurt any longer. We will have re-created bodies, a re-created heaven and earth. We will have a new start, an Easter start.”                                                                                                                       Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew.

Friday comes before Sunday every week … just like the cross comes before the tomb. We cannot truly celebrate if we do not understand the cost of the victory Christ won for us. “Jesus fought the battle, but it would be against the forces of evil, corruption, and death itself. Jesus came to believe that the only way one could defeat death itself, and thereby launch the new creation was to take on death itself.”

He bore the wounds of the battle. He carried the scars. The cross is not a piece of jewelry; it is a stark reminder of a cosmic contest that used the most powerful weapon against our most powerful enemy. With His love, Jesus killed death, robbing it of its power.

Easter is about new beginnings, renewal of life, hope, and joy. But the scars … don’t forget the scars. His scars make ours bearable. He is risen! “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again” (John 11:25).