Come Away: An Invitation

Few artists are as easy on the ears as Norah Jones. She’s just so smooth.

Her simple, gentle song, “Come Away With Me,” is a great example of her handiwork. It drips with a longing to simply be together.

You should give it a listen.

Come away with me in the night
Come away with me
And I will write you a song

There is a rich dimension of marriage that resonates in me as I listen to this song. It is that realization that my beloved is indeed my safe place, my shelter from the chaos and strife of life. This relationship is my retreat.

When I listen to Ms. Jones sing these words, it’s the heart of my beloved that I hear whisper, “Come away with me…”

If you’re married, I hope you have that sense in your marriage as well. If you’re not married, don’t worry, there is a provision of this kind of retreat for you as well. But it’s different, even deeper, and longer-lasting.

This gentle call of Ms. Jones’ crafting speaks to many of us. But, even as it stirs my heart’s bond with my love, it echos of the words of Jesus to his closest followers as they returned from a ministry outing. They had been so buy that many of them had not even had time to eat. His call to them:

“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6.31)

There is a deep compassion in his words as he invites them, fresh off of a journey of pouring out from their spiritual buckets, to come sit under the fountain and be refilled to overflowing. You and I, as followers of Jesus, are sent into the world day after day to love and serve and share His great grace with others. And we need, just as they, that retreat for our own souls to refill.

This passage is a more particular invitation but it is in the same spirit of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11.28:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

That invite is open to all of us who are beat down by life and struggling to keep on keeping on. It is the One who loves you so much that He willfully lay down His life for you offering you the one thing you most need—soul-deep, peaceful rest.

That’s not exactly what Norah Jones was singing about. But she was describing the retreat of love that we can find in an intimate marriage relationship. And Paul taught us that this marriage thing has always been a picture of a much greater reality—the love of Jesus for His people (which Paul said comprises Jesus’ bride). So, in a way, she really was talking about this invitation.

She sings, “Come away with me.”

Jesus calls, “Come to me.”

So I want to encourage you to give a prayerful listen to this beautiful song and give thanks for the place of refuge you’ve been given—in oneness with Christ for sure, but also in intimacy with your spouse. They are connected.

Maybe it’s a good time to “come away” with the one in whom your soul finds rest.

Comfortable or Conformable

A letter or two can make a great deal of difference.

I was reading some devotional material and came to what my eyes registered as a common, familiar word. But context caused me to stop and look again.

Comfortable or conformable?

What difference does it make?

In spiritual things (and many others), the different is vast.

One is like a slow-acting poison that almost ensures our lack of growth. It is the most dangerous of luxuries and yet the default to which we cling. This limiting force entices us to thicken into spiritual couch potatoes.

The other reflects a softened lump of clay flung onto the potter’s wheel. It is that readiness to be remade, reshaped, rebuilt. It is a softness of heart, an eagerness of spirit, a submission of will that expects the result to be worth the process. This stretching  warm-up prepares us to become what we were made to be.

One is reflexive and soothing and a necessary part of our lives.

The other is often awkward and sometimes painful and also a necessary part of our spiritual lives.

Centuries ago a prophet by the name of Jeremiah was directed to walk down to the potter’s house and learn. While he watched the potter shape the lump of clay over and over until he was satisfied that it would fulfill its purpose, God helped Jeremiah see that he and you and I are just like that lump of clay. (Jeremiah 18.1-6)

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God’s intention for every follower of Jesus is to be “renewed after the image of its Creator.”(Colossians 3.10) That means that He intends to shape us more and more and more to be like Jesus.

So… does your life look more like you or like Jesus?

Right. Me too.

So there’s more work to be done in this transformation. And the reality that’s hard to accept is that very little growing happens when we are COMFORTABLE. It’s the same as the way that I can’t get in shape without doing uncomfortable things and things can’t be surgically repaired without being uncomfortable.

Let’s be frank about it. The only time our healthcare priority is making a patient comfortable is when there’s no more hope of healing treatment. It’s called palliative care.

Is it possible that many of us are spiritually resigned to just sit and remain comfortable? Are we ready for spiritual hospice?

There is just so much more to experience of God’s wonder and grace. And, to really get the most out of a lifelong journey with Him, we should strive tobe CONFORMABLE to His plan, yielded to His hands, like a moistened lump of clay upon the potter’s wheel.

A letter or two can make a great deal of difference.

Family Ties

It was a very long day.

Almost nothing was crossed off of the list.

There were a few hours on the road. There were a few hours in waiting rooms. There were a couple of meals shared with family. There were painful phone calls and some heavy wrestling with reality.

We had breakfast with son #3 and our soon-to-be daughter-in-law to celebrate her birthday this weekend. It was an early but sweet time of talking with them as they wade through what promises to be a heavy semester as they both approach the end of their college journey in the next year and a half. We’re blessed by the way they love and look after one another and we eagerly await their marriage in just a few months. That’s the plan. But nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.

My mom had a fourth neck surgery to re-do a previous one that just didn’t take. We were there to cut up with the various surgical folks before they took her in and got the usual strange looks in the waiting room as we dealt with things the way we usually do in stressful time – through random absurdities and oddball memories.

The surgery was smooth and successful… but that’s never a guarantee, is it?

We enjoyed a late lunch with my dad and my sister before we got to see mom back in her room. She did seem to come through with both her sense of humor and ability to roll her eyes well preserved—both of which are naturally put to the test when we are together.

We left mom in good hands and went on to see Tori’s grandfather in the Veteran’s Center. He volunteered to join the Navy late in World War II and received a Medal of Victory. This dear man, despite his flaws and mistakes and deep regrets, has been yet another example of God’s grace to use broken tools. Even in his frailty and waning health, he was an encouragement to me to press on—asking about my ministry, my education, my family. It would not be any surprise if that were the last time we were to see him.

As we turned back toward home, we soon received word that my most memorable and earliest childhood playmate, my cousin Molly, had passed away after a long, miserable struggle. She was 48 years old—just two months younger than me. She left a loving husband and four kids behind and big extended family as well.

Molly and I were the first of Grandma’s brood of grandkids. I was the oldest by just a bit (and, of course, always Grandma’s favorite—there’s really not anything to debate there).  Our biggest feuds back in the day came when I found her perched in my spot on the right arm of Grandaddy’s chair. The audacity of this usurper knew no bounds!

There on the wooden arms of that red, rough-upholstered rocking chair, Grandaddy would read to us from the “smoke-a-pipe book” until Grandma’s “bowl-a-soup” was ready to eat. And we’d race for the stool at the corner of the dinner table. “That’s my seat, Chichael!” Molly would point out to me. (For some reason Michael came out of her mouth with a k sound as small children sometimes do.)

Last night I called and talked our Grandma, now 96 years of age, who is so heartbroken to hear of the passing of her oldest granddaughter, the one named after her. My heart hurts.

In the midst of all of these family ties, I realize something of great importance. I am so very rich to have family. And the thing that makes them so much richer is the fact that our ties are not just genetic—they’re spiritual. My cousin Molly, flawed and broken as all of us are, had placed her trust and hope and confidence in Jesus Christ who transformed the grave into a dark doorway to something far greater. Death is no longer a dead end.

I am forever grateful for family ties that go beyond this world. 

While we do not know what will happen today or tomorrow, we have our family meeting place appointed. What a great family reunion awaits all of us who have simply believed.

Will you be there?