Soul Train


Would you like to have your heart warmed? Well, maybe not on a very hot summer day, maybe you’d prefer a nice cool drink under a large tree, but I had the pleasure of both today. As I sat with a friend and had lunch, my heart was truly warmed to hear of how God is working through her life right now. Like all of us, she has many things to do each day, but one specific “thing” she does filled my soul with God’s goodness. She spends a part of most every day with a friend who’s learning to live life without her dearly loved husband. He has been gone less than six months, but I’m sure to her it feels like a lifetime. And each day “Jesus” visits with her, takes her shopping, writes her notes of encouragement, listens to her stories of heartache and missing… Jesus “walks with her and talks with her and tells her she is His own” most every day…so she won’t have to feel like she is walking through the valley of the shadow of death alone.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
(“In the Garden,” by C. Austin Miles, 1912)

The Encarta-World Dictionary defines tarry as:
Wait: To wait in expectation of somebody or something
Remain: To stay temporarily at a place

“And the joy we share as we tarry there”…how sweet is that? In this fast-paced, sometimes seemingly-cold and indifferent world, someone has made the decision to tarry with another, “to wait in expectation of something, to stay temporarily at a place” of discomfort and pain with them, and help to see them through it. It was wonderfully refreshing to hear about the time being taken with another soul on this earth, putting out that effort, loving that much so as to wait with them for the storm to ease, for healing to come, for joy to return. I was so touched to hear how much one heart cares for another. I looked at my friend and I said, “Thank you for doing that for her.” I know what it means, I have been there, needing that same comfort, and I am grateful for those who tarried with me through the storm.

This story was not told to me so that I would share it with all of you—and I will call my friend “Melissa” so as not to reveal her identity or to possibly steal her Heavenly reward for such a work “well done”—but share this story I will because it needs to be told. We all need to know that when it seems no one out there cares, someone does…there are people slowing down long enough to care deeply enough, and to love as thoroughly and as unconditionally as God commands. When this happens, it needs to be noted! Not only to encourage all of us, but to give a great big “atta girl” to “Melissa” for what she is doing in another person’s life.

(Different parts of the following verse will be used as we work through this message. When I was finished writing these stories, I realized that only this one verse had been used, piece by piece along the way, instead of many verses as is normal in my writings. I love the way God changes things up.)

Here’s the verse:

And let us consider and give attentive, continuous care to watching
over one another, studying how we may stir up (stimulate and incite)
to love and helpful deeds and noble activities. Not forsaking or neglecting
to assemble together [as believers], as is the habit of some people,
but admonishing (warning, urging, and encouraging) one another,
and all the more faithfully as you see the day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (Amplified Bible)

When I used the “Google” method of finding lyrics to the song, “In the Garden,” I not only found that C. Austin Miles wrote it, I also found these words written there.

I read…the story of the greatest morn in history: “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, while it was yet very dark, unto the sepulcher.” Instantly, completely, there unfolded in my mind the scenes of the garden of Joseph….Out of the mists of the garden comes a form, halting, hesitating, tearful, seeking, turning from side to side in bewildering amazement. Falteringly, bearing grief in every accent, with tear-dimmed eyes, she whispers, “If thou hast borne him hence”… “He speaks, and the sound of His voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” Just one word from his lips, and forgotten the heartaches, the long dreary hours…all the past blotted out in the presence of the Living Present and the Eternal Future.

This speaks so of a heart grieving…but then there’s the sound of a voice, His voice. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ Just one word from his lips, and forgotten the heartaches, the long dreary hours…” Melissa’s friend needs to hear the sound of Jesus’ voice right now. She needs to hear Him call out her name, to tell her she is His own. She can pray to Jesus, but sometimes when the fog of pain is very, very thick, the sound of the Savior’s voice can seem very, very faint. So, the “Savior” shows up in the form of a friend, or a relative, or a therapist, or a pastor, or a mentor, and they speak words of Truth and Hope that need to be heard, or are there to listen…listen…listen…when that heart needs to cry out to someone, anyone willing to stop long enough to hear what’s needing to be said.

Melissa and I were talking about how long grief takes, and about time. She said she knows her friend needs time to heal and yet time is one thing she can’t give to her. It is true, the days, the months, the years all come at a set pace, and we have to use that time to work through the process of healing, but as I write this I think, “Melissa is giving her time. She is giving her her time by being with her, and that is priceless right now.”

“If a man walks in Christ, he then acts as Christ would act;
for Christ being in him, his hope, his love, his joy, his life—
he is the reflection of the image of Jesus, causing people
to say, ‘He is like his Master.’” Charles H. Spurgeon

When I think about the verse in Hebrews we’re using for this message, and how it talks about “not neglecting or forsaking to assemble together,” it’s reminiscent of assembling a train track, and how all of us together are a very long train with each one of us being an individual train car. As believers, we’re all on the same track, and we’re all moving towards the same destination…our Heavenly Home. We could go it alone with Jesus Christ in the lead, we could travel on down the track and arrive safely Home without being connected to the other cars on the track, but how much nicer is it to be connected to each other along the way. To be assembled as a train of one, as One Body of believers in Jesus Christ, and to help one another as we push and pull each other along, to “stimulate and incite” as the Amplified Bible says. That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? To do “this thing” together!! The whole “thing,” the whole walking with Jesus works so much better that way, doesn’t it?

One of my boys’ favorite books was, “The Little Engine That Could.” I read it to them over and over, and now I enjoy reading it to my grandson, Jackson. We have fun as he tries to repeat, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…and then, “I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.” He loves trains, especially Thomas the Train right now, and it’s fun to relive those little-boy days with him, especially since our oldest “boy” will turn 30 this week! Wow, that’s hard to believe! But Jack and I read along in the very same book I read to my boys, and he has that new sense of excitement for trains and cars, and life in general. Last night we were at his Papa’s baseball game, and as our son, Chris, played softball, Jack and I looked up at the nearly full moon as he tried to repeat after me, “Mr. Moon.” It came out more like “Miss Moon” at his age of 27 months, but “Miss” is just fine too. Jack marvels at the moon, at everything, because he is excited about it all, and that renews a sense of wonder and excitement in me, his Oma, as I get to experience the world through his young heart again.

I was filled with that sense of wonder and excitement as I listened to Melissa’s story today, about how she is walking through this hurting experience with her friend. It seemed to bring a sense of purity and goodness back into what can be a harsh world. I heard words of commitment, of love, of trying to understand as best she could even though she’s not walking in her friend’s shoes. Sometimes perhaps, her hurting friend voices things that aren’t easily understood, just like Jack when he starts singing about pizza, and I just smile and try to sing along acting like I “know” even when I don’t. Melissa is doing the same—listening, loving, and willing to be there, even if it’s difficult to understand all that her heartbroken friend is trying to express. When Melissa points up and says, “God loves you,” and her friend points up and repeats, “Melissa loves me,” Melissa understands that as her friend grows and heals through this grief, in time she will understand that it was God’s love that she was truly seeing, not Melissa’s. Melissa knows that we love, because God first loved us. In time, her friend will realize it was “Mr. Moon” that has been her Comforter, not “Miss Moon” after all. “Miss Moon” was simply a reflection of “Mr. Moon’s” Great Light!

As Oswald Chambers talks about Hebrews 10, he writes:

“The note struck in Hebrews 10 is that of provoking one another and of
keeping together—both of which requires initiative, the initiative of
Christ realization, not of self-realization. To live a remote, retired,
secluded life is the antipodes (diametrically opposed) of spirituality
as Jesus Christ taught it.”

As I left my time at lunch with Melissa, I noticed a sign out in front of one of the shops nearby. It said, “Fitness Together.” I thought, isn’t that so true, we keep more spiritually fit when we work together on this journey through life. As trains on a track, we will move along more productively if we are keeping together, all being pulled along by the power of the main Engine up front! God has all the power we will ever need to get us over any hill, or through any dark tunnel we face. He doesn’t “think” He can, He knows He can! There’s no, “I thought I could” about it, it has already been finished in His Book. Jesus is the finished work on this earth, a work finished on the Cross for our forgiveness and eternal salvation. And now as we assemble together, we can begin to feel the power of the Holy Spirit that flows through the Body of Christ, one to another, to another, helping us make to make our way along the narrow track towards Home.

As I sat with Melissa today, I felt the energy of God in her, and it energized me towards “love and helpful deeds and noble activities,” as stated in Hebrews 10. How can it not? How can we not want to be a part of what God is doing when it’s the best thing this world’s got going? Melissa wonders if she should be doing something else, something grander, something more “Billy Graham(ish)” perhaps. Don’t we all? Bigger seems better! Louder seems more effective. Many seems greater! But is it really?

Jim and I went to see the movie “Hancock” just the other day. It’s sort of a silly movie, with some entertaining parts in it, but what caught my attention was when the superhero saved a man from being demolished in his automobile that was stuck on the railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train. The superhero saved him by tossing his automobile off the tracks and then standing there in front of the train to stop it. The train engine came to a SUDDEN stop, which then caused all the train cars behind it to derail, one after another after another after another…causing major destruction and calamity along the track. If the train car in front of us or behind us “derails,” we’re not looking so good either are we?! Perhaps that one “car” that God places next to ours in life right now is the one we should be concerned about, spend time with, and love as we have been loved! That one life is very important to God, so it should be very important to us! God knows what He’s doing when He connects us to another person.

When we are connected to one another in the Body of Christ, it would behoove (I love that word! It’s fun!) us all to “consider and give attentive, continuous care to watching over one another” wouldn’t it? Each of us as train cars are connected one to the other, filled up with the Holy Spirit Who was sent to us after Jesus ascended into Heaven. Jesus is now sitting at the Father’s right hand, watching over all that happens here. Talk about Grand Central Station!! The whole shebang on earth is set in motion from the Heavenlies as God sees the entire world—perhaps like a board of lights, all of us moving and growing and learning together. Our Father watches over us all, pleased when we are reflecting His good will towards man along the way. Maybe our little light shines brighter in those moments of kindness, and our Father points to the board and says to Jesus, “Look! There’s a child of mine reflecting My image!”

As believers, sometimes stories shared give us momentum to keep moving through life when times get tough. “God stories” help us to see the power of the Almighty at work. I received a phone call the other day from someone I know. She wanted to share a great story with me. Of course, I’m always thrilled to hear about it! My friend began to tell me how she had heard a voice…and I was like, “Uh oh!!” But she laughed and said something like, “No, not a bad voice, His voice!” I felt relieved, as she then began to tell me that she was being prompted by God to stop in at the hospital and pray for a person she knew who was in the ICU. And she did! And it was the first time ever she had prayed with another person like that. Well, you can bet I was excited, and I thanked her so much for calling me and telling me. What a courageous act of obedience! She was listening when she was told what to do, and she did it! I felt energized and inspired by God’s power working in and through her life.

Instant obedience will teach you more about God than a lifetime of Bible discussions…Wholehearted obedience is done joyfully with enthusiasm. The Bible says, “Obey him gladly” (Psalm 100:2 LB). This is the attitude of David: “Just tell me what to do and I will do it, Lord. As long as I live I’ll wholeheartedly obey.” (Psalm 119:33 LB). —Rick Warren

When God works through the life of a believer, and it is shared with other believers, it can be used for, “admonishing (warning, urging, and encouraging) one another, and all the more faithfully as you see the day approaching.” There’s no time to waste! One day, the track will end, and we won’t fall off the edge of the cliff as seen in some old westerns, we’ll fall into the loving arms of our Savior if we have accepted all that Jesus came to earth to give to us. We need to remind each other of that, and of how God works through all of us with His mighty power until that day comes.

When our son, Phil, was living out his final days with us, it seemed he could sense he was running out of “track” on this earth. He told me it felt like he was just waiting…he said it was hard to explain. I said, “Like waiting for a train to come and get you?” (Just thinking about that now, maybe it was just what he needed to hear, he so loved trains!) Our soon-to-be-30-year-old son was standing there (he was 23 at the time), and he said, “The Soul Train.” I have a small spiral-bound notebook that I’m looking at as I write these words, it is filled with quick scribbles of the conversations we had with Phil during his last days with us. Some of these details might have been forgotten had it not been for writing them down. Even then, God had me writing. After I wrote about Jimm saying, the “Soul Train,” I wrote this about Phil: “I pray God will take him soon. He is so ready. He passed through the week of tears and anguish, through being scared and feelings of missing everyone. Now he is peaceful and ready. No pain, no anxiety. God’s angels hover over his bed, waiting to take him Home. We are not having visitors or calls…it’s just an intimate time together. It is good, as God is.”

Wow, I am still amazed even having lived through it that the goodness of God can be so evident during such a terribly difficult time in our lives, and yet I believe sometimes that is when we will most see God. Especially upon looking back at it, as I am able to do on this day. We are coming up on seven years since Phil came to the end of his earthly track and took the Soul Train on Home. “It is good, as God is,” when we realize Who we’re traveling with, and that God is there waiting to welcome all who have looked forward to meeting Him face to face—we can enjoy the journey so much more that way! Sometimes we’re too young, or too blind, or too busy to realize where we are, where we’re going, or who we’re traveling with. We can miss out on so much if we’re not willing to “be” in the moment, to live in it fully, to embrace the goodness of God in it—in the best of times and even in worst of times. The Lord is our Greatest Friend and Ally.

Our family of five lived overseas for eight years, two in England, and six in Germany, between the years of 1989 and 1997. During the last month of living in Germany, we were enjoying one last trip down to Italy. We were riding on a train traveling to Rome, and it was wonderful…if you had asked Jim and me. If you had asked our sons, they would have given you a very different answer! As we sat in the dining car, enjoying a delicious dish of pasta on white linen tablecloths, and a small glass of wine, we looked out upon the Italian countryside, and Jim and I felt like we had “arrived,” if you know what I mean. Our boys, on the other hand, though sitting across the very same table from us, eating the very same meal, looking out at the very same scenery, were in a very different place. So different in fact, that I remember asking them to please leave the table and go back to our seating cabin so that Jim and I could at least enjoy the meal if they were not going to. You see, they were teenagers, and they didn’t want to be going to Rome to see the paintings in the Vatican or visit the Coliseum, they wanted to be at home, hanging out with their friends. This was not surprising, just frustrating! And may we say as parents are prone to do, “We hope one day they will have teenagers that act just like they did, so they too can ‘enjoy’ the pleasures of traveling together!” We did a bit of “warning, urging, and encouraging” our boys on that trip, as well as many others! Today, we laugh about it, but at the time, it was no laughing matter!

Many years later when our son, Chris, was in college, he took an art appreciation class. They talked about paintings in Europe, some in the Sistine Chapel. When asked of the class, “Has anyone seen these paintings in person?” Chris hesitantly raised his hand. He knew then what he didn’t know years before, the experience God had given him was very valuable and to be treasured. He had not appreciated it at the time, but he does now. I don’t say this to belittle Chris, or any other teenager or adult who misses what’s being given, only to use it as a story to remind all of us to take note of where we are, where we’re going, and who we’re traveling with. It is important to see the gift that it is being given, and to realize we may never pass this way again…we need to be aware of all that God is doing, “and all the more faithfully as you see the day approaching.”

I talked to Chris about this writing, and told him I was telling the story about our trip to Rome. He sort of gave me a little smile and said, “I just wanted to have a friend along.” Don’t we all as we travel through life? Doesn’t having a friend by our side make the journey a little bit smoother? Just like Melissa journeying through grief with her friend, or someone stopping at the hospital to say a prayer for us…we all want company through the good times and the through the tough times. That’s why Jesus said He would never leave us nor forsake us. He knows we need and want some companionship.

As we grow, as we learn, we will move from being babes in the family of God, only able to drink milk and “sleep” through much of what God is doing, to being teens and sometimes eating too much of the world’s junk and listening to things that aren’t healthy while pouting through things we should be enjoying, to adults where tender steaks are on the barbie and a star-filled night causes us to look up and say, “There’s Mr. Moon, and he’s part of God’s creation little Jack!” And the little “Jacks” in our lives, those following behind us on the train track will reply, “Miss Moon”…and we’ll know that a new generation of cars has arrived to grow and learn about the ways of God, and that we can be there to teach them and to help them along on the journey.

We’re all a part of life’s train of cars. Let’s not let one another get derailed or sidetracked along the way! Let’s “give attentive, continuous care to watching over one another.” The track of life is windy, and it goes up hills and down into valleys, and along the seashore, and beside the still waters, and through the desert. But one thing we can be sure of, whether we’re one of the first cars behind the Great Engine of God from the days of Adam and Eve, or one of the last cars as we “see the day approaching,” we’re all doing this life together. We should never stop assembling together and sharing our stories of faith, and helping one another through the trials and tribulations, and rejoicing with one another at the weddings and the feasts, and mourning with each other at the gravesides. One day, as believers in Jesus Christ, we’ll all be assembled together in the Great Hall…and what a glorious never-ending day it will be!

I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could…

But I couldn’t…

Only Jesus could.

And He did!

All aboard the Soul Train!

Until we meet again,