WORTH THE RISK

By Lisa Huddleston 

“So don’t sit around on your hands!  No more dragging your feet!  Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle.  Help each other out.  And run for it!” (Hebrews 12:12-13, MSG)

I don’t know what’s gotten into us.  After 27 years of fairly sedate living, Chuck and I have been bitten by an adventure bug.  It’s still a rather small infection, but it appears to be spreading, and we have been exhibiting some erratic behavior.  It started on vacation when I decided to kayak in the ocean with Chuck and the kids.  A first for sure, but I loved it.  Next Chuck opted to buy two kayaks for his Father’s Day present prompting a day trip down the Narrows of the Harpeth, and one thing has led to another. 

Two weeks ago he texted me a curious message, “I’ve found your bike!”  Since I didn’t know I had a bike, I was surprised by its recovery.  But, no, Chuck meant he had found a perfect bicycle for me to ride alongside his road bike.  Oh boy!  I was a little nervous, but we took them out on the greenway here in town, and once again I found that I loved the activity and the breeze in my hair—gently blowing through the dorkiest helmet I could buy.

Last Saturday we rode a beautiful trail called “The Virginia Creeper.”  We went with my son, his girlfriend, her parents, and her 14-year-old cousin, Maurice.  I was a little hesitant at the start of our 17 miles (yes, I said SEVENTEEN).  I was dressed for the 100-degree weather we were experiencing in Nashville, but the Abingdon forecast was rainy and only in the 60’s.  We were freezing!  After finding a store near the start of the trail that had sweatshirts and knit gloves, we were ready to go.

“The Virginia Creeper” is an old railroad path that has been converted into a bike trail, and, wonder of wonders, the part we rode is all downhill!  That sounded great (and it really was), but I was a little dismayed at how fast I could go without nearly constant pressure on my hand brakes.  Whew!  My little bike was flying at first, and Maurice was just a blur on the curvy horizon. 

As we rode and became more comfortable with the experience, I finally raised my eyes from the trail to look around and was astonished by the beauty that surrounded us.  Rhododendron blossoms dotted the mountainsides with blushing pink against an evergreen backdrop.  Clear, racing streams ran and tumbled over gigantic rocks—sometimes right alongside the trail and other times in deep valleys that plunged to the right of our bikes. 

That’s when I noticed Maurice heading for a divot that cut into the right border of our trail and dropped off to the rocky valley below us.  I screamed, “Go to the left, Maurice!”  Thankfully he quickly complied and disaster was avoided, but his near miss made me think.  “The Virginia Creeper” was a gorgeous and easy ride as long as we stayed on the marked trail, but it was not guaranteed to be safe.  We could choose to go too fast and lose control.  We could ride off the trail and get lost in the mountains or soar off the edge of a cliff.  We could head off alone and have no one to help us with a punctured tire (yeah—another story for another time).  The possibilities for danger were many, but the great beauty of the trail, the joy of the adventure, and the time spent with those riding beside us made the experience well worth the risk.

The metaphor spoke to me loud and clear.  Our lives as followers of Christ have many similarities with Saturday’s experience.  We have a race to run, a marked course that has a beginning and end, and we can choose how well we will follow the path.  There will be beauty, there will be pain, and definitely there will be risk.  But as long as we follow his lead, Jesus will be right before us showing us the way.

I love the way the writer of Hebrews calls us to action!  We have a race to run!  We may need to get better prepared, to get the right equipment, and to strengthen our flabby legs and arms, but then we need to run.  And we aren’t running alone.  We have a team of runners around us.  We have a Coach who knows the course and has been where we are.  And we have a clear path to follow.  What can hinder us from running this race?  Only our own laziness and fear. 

I’m not sure what our next adventure will be.  I did jump off my bike for a few skips down a section of the Appalachian Trail last Saturday.  Heck, Chuck even came up with some awesome trail names for us:  Curtis and Bunny Honey.  Maybe a hike is in order.  Coming?

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD

By Lisa Huddleston

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

I finally got around to reading Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, this week. I had read the reviews and knew about the concerns and debates that had followed its debut. I had seen the accusations of “universalism” and watched the normal lines being drawn between conservatives and liberals. But I had not read it for myself, and I felt that I needed to. One of my heroes of the written word, Eugene Peterson, had endorsed it (which, in case you’re wondering, I do not), so I needed to know what Bell really said—not what others said that he said.

It didn’t take very long to read. Really just a long afternoon. But the unsettling questions it raised lasted long into the evening. Is there a real hell? Are some saved and others not? If God desires for all to be saved, what could thwart his will? If Jesus’ work is all that is needed for salvation, isn’t our faith a work?* By the following day, I had had discussions with my son, my husband, a professor friend, my daughter’s fiancé, and my walking buddy. Interestingly, many of these conversations focused around the motivating factor of Hell’s being a literal place of punishment for sin and that without Hell people might be much less likely to obey the teachings of Jesus.

That idea has stuck with me throughout the week, and I continue to ponder my motivation for obedience. Do I strive to obey Jesus just to keep from being punished? Is that what makes me a follower of Christ? I sure hope not. I want to believe that my attempts at obedience are fueled by my love for my Savior rather than fear of retribution. Don’t I love Jesus?

I definitely have plenty of reasons to love him. He participated in the creation of the world that sustains my life and provides me with inspiration. He loved me so much that he was willing to let go of his rights as God in order to stoop down, look me in the eyes, and walk in my shoes. He was horribly punished and gave his life on that same creation in order to be the final sacrifice for the sins of the world—for me! And he loves me still, sitting at the hand of God and interceding for my soul. Even when I scorn his offerings. Even when I fail to follow. Even when I foolishly think I am wise. Still he loves me and works to finish the faith he has begun in me.

How can I not love him? How can I choose to hurt him? Why don’t I always obey him? Not out of fear, not because of a literal Hell (which I still believe in, by the way), but because he is worthy of my trusting obedience. He is my Savior, my Friend, and my Lord.

Just as you chose to keep your Father’s commands and to abide in his love, please, help me to do the same, Lord Jesus. Make my motive LOVE—love for you, love for my brothers and sisters, and love for the commandments that guide my path. Help my work to glorify the Father and my life to prove that I am your true disciple. Amen.

While I am not writing to critique his book, I can say that Rob Bell was right about at least one thing—love really does win. Jesus already has the victory. Don’t you just love him for that?

______________________________
*In case you’re interested, here are my answers to the questions listed above.
1. Is there a real hell? Yes, I believe the many scriptures that speak of Hell as a literal place. Here are a few of them: Matt. 5:22, Mt. 10:28, James 3:6, 2 Peter 2:4.
2. Are some saved while others are lost? Yes, although this is a mystery that is beyond my comprehension. God has a right to choose. He chose the nation of Israel. He chose Jacob over Esau. He chose his disciples. God also gives us the freedom to choose. We can choose between life and death. We can choose between pride and submission. We can choose between masters: self or Christ? But, the truth is that the choice matters and determines the destination of our eternity.
3. Can anything thwart God’s will that all should be saved? Jesus died for all people thereby establishing a way—The Way—by which we all may be saved. Yet, as I wrote above, we get to choose. Again, this is a mystery, but I believe it to be the truth.
4. Isn’t requiring our faith making Christianity a works-based religion? Absolutely not! Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Our faith is his work that brings us to salvation through his grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

UNEXPECTED HONORS

 

By Lisa Huddleston 

“When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, because today I must stay at your house.’ So he quickly came down and welcomed Him joyfully.” (Luke 19:5-6)

We were really enjoying the day. My older son was visiting us with his girlfriend, my daughter and her fiancé were with all of us for church, and Chuck and I were celebrating the joy of being able to worship and enjoy a meal with the four of them. It really was a good morning. With full tummies and spirits, we pulled into Home Depot to let Chuck run in to pick up a couple of things before heading home. While we waited, John, Sarah’s fiancé, decided to check his email. In seconds he said, “Look at this!”, and handed his phone to Sarah and then to me. It contained a message from Billy Block, a Nashville DJ, inviting them to be on his live show that evening at the world famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. The whole car erupted in squeals! What a huge surprise! What an unexpected honor!

It took some scrambling, but it really happened. That evening John, Sarah, and the drummer of Sleepy Eyed Fox, Stephen, were interviewed live on WKDF—and then one of their songs played for all of Nashville to hear. Wow! What a day!

I imagine that Zacchaeus must have felt a little like my kids did. Yes, he expected to see Jesus. And yes, like my kids who had mailed a CD to Billy Block, Zacchaeus had done what he could to improve his odds. But, also like the kids, Zacchaeus probably thought he was the last person in the world that Jesus would single out as his host for that evening. I bet he was stunned! He may have even let out a little squeal or two of delight before catching himself. Then he welcomed Jesus with joy! What an unexpected honor!

Every time I read this story, I put myself in Zacchaeus’ place. Would I have responded with the same joy Zacchaeus displayed? Or would I have started to worry? Are there clean sheets on the guest bed? Do I have anything to prepare for dinner? Will he bring this whole crowd with him? Maybe some of you can relate. Now, perhaps Zacchaeus had a staff to worry about these things—he was a rich, rich man—but it still would have made me a little nervous.

I saw a little of myself in my daughter Sunday as she fretted just a bit over what to wear on the radio. (Hey. I get that.) And then they couldn’t get a hold of Mr. Block to find out what time to be there. Next, who was going to go? Chad and Heather needed to get back to East Tennessee, Nick was out of town to play some music in South Carolina, but John, Sarah, and Stephen were free and more than willing to go. After an hour or so, they had it all pulled together, and it went without a hitch. They said yes, and it was an awesome experience for us all.

That night I had some time to ponder the day’s events. I recalled times in my life when unexpected opportunities had occurred and how I had responded to the moments. Often my immediate excitement was quickly followed by fear and trembling over my capabilities. But I was thrilled to see that, like Zacchaeus, Sleepy Eyed Fox was up for the job, and they didn’t revert to insecurity or doubt their ability to see it through.

Zacchaeus welcomed his opportunity joyfully. Sleepy Eyed Fox welcomed their opportunity joyfully. How will I welcome the next opportunity that comes to me? Am I putting myself in position to serve where God wants me to serve? Am I willing to go out on a limb by letting someone know that I’m available? Am I open to the unexpected? It worked for Zacchaeus, and it worked for SEF. Maybe it could even work for me—who knows what the day will bring?

SHEDDING SKIN

By Lisa Huddleston

“You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ” (Col. 3:9-11, MSG).

The day was just about over. I was tired and already feeling the ease of my pillow as I walked into my room to get ready for bed. As I headed into the bathroom to brush my teeth, I noticed something unusual lying on my bedstand and struggled to make sense of what it could be. Then I knew. I yelled, “Hey! Who put this thing in here?” And I heard laughter from the other room. “It wasn’t me,” my youngest son answered and then gleefully added, “It was Sarah!” Sure enough, my sweet, dainty daughter had left me the gift of a shed snakeskin. My first thought was YUCK! But since then I have reconsidered, and now my “gift” hangs on the bulletin board in my study to remind me of the importance of shedding old skin.

As one who likes to connect the dots, I tend to see the events of life as purposed and even communicative. Pondering the delicate, discarded skin, I knew it was no coincidence that Sarah’s offering appeared at the same time that Chuck and I had a huge stack of old clothes lying in the corner of our room waiting to be taken to the Goodwill store. At the ripe old age of fifty, both of us have arrived at a time of renewal and re-creation and have been in the process of letting go of many of the things that have defined us in the past: labels that we have outgrown, titles that we have stretched as far as we could, and clothes that no longer fit us either physically or emotionally.

It has been both exciting and unsettling to see the new skin appearing in fits and starts as we wriggle and undulate out of the old. Some places slide away with ease while others stick to us stubbornly—as I assume my snake’s skin did—leaving tears in the old fabric we leave behind. Being a little OCD, I grieve over the tears wishing that all could be left intact. But, I know that the process is worth it, and I anticipate with hope the feeling of fitting perfectly into my new skin.

And the process continues. Struggling, growing, stretching forward to fill the new skin God has knit together for us, and at 50 new skin is something I can really appreciate. Thanks, “sweet” Sarah, for the awesome gift!