By the Scruff of the Neck

(Author’s note:  Today marks the fourth anniversary of my brother’s untimely death. While I have read a river of books and devotionals on grief, I do not claim to be an expert. I just know that eventually we will all experience the ebb and flow of emotions that accompany any significant loss, especially death. Yet hopefully, we will make the effort to wade through our feelings and embrace a faith that not only keeps us afloat, but carries us through both the calm and the whitewaters ahead. Jonathan, this one’s for you.)

Nantahala Outdoor Center

Ever wonder why dogs and cats have all that excess skin on the back of their necks? You know, that soft wrinkly fur-skin that often gathers and folds over the collar? In many mammals, the nape or back of the neck is the site of the scruff, a loose, non-sensitive area of skin by which the mother can carry her young, holding the scruff between her teeth.

Thank you Wikipedia.

So there you go, the scruff. Extra skin that serves to provide extra protection when used by a mama for her young. And honestly, there were days when my children were babies and toddlers, when the scruff could have come in handy. Instead it was ponytails and shirt collars!

They all survived.

But what if there’s more to this scruff than meets the eye? What if this “loose, non-sensitive area of skin by which the mother can carry her young” actually exists, if not literally, then spiritually, in each of us?

What if our “spiritual scruff” is the means by which the Father can carry His children when strength fails and hearts grow weary? It sounds almost painless and even comforting to have a Heavenly Father who will rescue and protect us like the mammals He created.

He will and He does.

Yet, in My Utmost For His Highest, OswaldChambers says, “We have to take ourselves by the scruff of the neck and shake ourselves, and we will find that we can do what we said we could not. The curse with most of us is that we won’t. The Christian life is one of incarnate spiritual pluck.”

And sometimes we must.

We have to take ourselves by the scruff and shake off the mood or the bad attitude and make a choice.The Bible repeatedly reminds us that we have a choice. God commands, but we choose. We choose to love. We choose to obey. We even choose life or death, blessings or curses.

Perhaps it all comes down to this. Do we choose God or do we choose ourselves?

Today, I choose to take Oswald’s advice. I choose to take myself by the scruff of the neck, shake off the blue funk or the bad “tude”, and claim the promises of God. Promises like I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Promises like His grace is sufficient and His power works best in my weakness. Promises like in this world you will have trouble, but take heart. Jesus has overcome.

Today, I choose the incarnate life of Christ to reach from within and around me to the scruff, to take hold of me, pluck me out of the pit, and into the safe refuge of His mighty, downy wing.

In the midst of grief, I choose life in Christ.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭43:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Pray with me. . .

Lord, take us by the scruff and lead us to the life everlasting. Amen.

McDonald’s, McJesus, or Just Plain Jesus?

When I was a little girl, one of my adolescent aspirations was to work for, you guessed it, McDonald’s! Go ahead and laugh. Looking back, it is quite hilarious and yet, through the eyes of this child, there was something captivating about the fast food powerhouse.

Maybe it was the free Smurf glasses (who else had the whole collection?) turned happy meal toys that kept me coming back for more. Everyone knows happy meal = happy child, for at least ten minutes. Or perhaps it was my toy McDonald’s play set with a drive through and the roof cut out, where I created a virtual reality of service and order and happy customers.

Nevertheless, I wanted to work at a McDonald’s. I wanted to serve people. I wanted to tell everyone how good the fries are dipped in a milkshake, a revelation shared with me by my cousin, Dustin. I liked the idea of making hungry people smile.

Yet while fast food chains like McDonald’s have helped shape a culture of hurry up, demand, convenience, and high cholesterol, perhaps the church is now suffering from a “fast food” mindset as well.

Allow me to expound:

1. There is nothing about being a follower of Christ that is fast, convenient, or responsive to our demanding spirits. Nothing.

While salvation is a moment of confession and belief (Romans 10:9), sanctification is a long and often lonely walk home toward heaven. Being a Christian isn’t always convenient. It requires tough choices born from absolute truth, firm boundaries, upside-down thinking, and enough grace and forgiveness to fill an ocean.

And don’t get me started on our demanding spirits. I have three children. We can’t even agree on where to eat dinner. Enough said.

2. Furthermore, we can’t order up a “McJesus” to our liking or immediate need. Jesus is who He says He is, nothing more, nothing less. He only comes one way. No condiments or add-ons necessary. We can’t pick and choose the Jesus ingredients we want or need at the moment. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1:19). And the very best way to get to know the real, just plain Jesus is to read the Bible. He’s there in the beginning, from Genesis to Revelation.

One of the trickiest things about being a Christian is not allowing our personal theology, with all its erroneous thoughts and flawed perceptions, get in the way of God’s personal transformation of us and our minds. As my pastor reminds his sheep, we have to learn to accept our acceptance, and allow the Trinity to teach us about the Trinity.

Order up. . . one Holy Bible to go! Let’s start feasting on the Bread of Life. Just plain Jesus, no condiments necessary.

3. While there were approximately 14,146 McDonald’s restaurants in the United States in 2016, there were approximately 384,000 churches across America in 2012 (Christianity Today). That’s 27 times more churches than McDonald’s!

Yet, what entities seem to have shaped our culture more over the last 50+ years? The ones established for convenience and excessive calories (a literal shaping), or the ones established for forming Christ’s character and compassion from the inside out?

Unlike fast food establishments, the church was never meant to be a quick drive thru stop on Sunday, no more than Jesus can be made-to-order. The church was once planted and meant to give bloom in our hearts and homes, and then extend roots out into our neighborhoods and communities. You are the church. We are the church. Your home is a church.

With Jesus at the center of our hearts and homes, we are compelled to serve, not to be served. We come to church to worship a Holy God, not to be entertained. We fellowship in the Spirit, not to self-indulge. We thirst and hunger for righteousness for His name’s sake and feast on The Word. As the old hymn says, “You can have all this world, just give me Jesus”. Just plain Jesus.

* * *

Nowadays, you won’t see me frequent McDonald’s very much for reasons I probably don’t need to explain. Except for the occasional soft serve. And fries. Which, if you’re talented, you can dip into your ice cream cone. Just saying.

Instead, I hope you find me being the church and resembling more of Jesus. I hope you find me serving and working and making spiritually hungry people smile. Not necessarily because they are happy, but because I’m reminding them that Christ has made us holy.

Perhaps what initially captivated me as a child about McDonald’s wasn’t too far from the reality of God’s Kingdom. His Kingdom is a place of order and service and making people smile because there are literally no more tears. It’s a place that, once we find it, keeps us coming back for more. A place where God has saved a spot at the table for all of His children.

So the next time you pass by the golden arches, I hope you think about the streets of gold in heaven where Jesus longs to meet you, face to face. And maybe, just maybe, at the table there will be soft serve, and fries.

Willing Participants

Sometimes our circumstances may feel more like a crisis hostage situation. We feel trapped in the responsibility and chaos of it all. Yet, while sin still tries to hold our thoughts hostage, Christ already paid the ransom for our souls. This truth remains, and calls out to us from the cross. . .


Rise up.

Stand firm.

Take the next step in faith.

You are free.

The truth has, will, and can set you free. You are not a hostage to sin and circumstance.

You are no more a hostage-victim than Christ was on the cross. He was a willing participant in his sacrifice. Obedient unto death.

Do we dare drink from the same cup as Christ? Do we dare trust God in the midst of the responsibility and chaos of it all? Do we dare arise, rise up, stand firm, and take the next step in faith, in freedom from sin?

Do we dare deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him?

Perhaps today is the day we surrender the hostage-victim mindset and become willing participants in the sacrifice.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”‭‭

Romans‬ ‭12:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Let God Love You

Like a string of pearls fashioned by the friction of sand and time, life may seem but an array of chronological moments shaped by the tension between joy and pain. Yet in moments of sorrow or panic, sheer bliss or mundane task, know this. You are not defined by mere moments. You were not created to merely navigate around the next crisis.

You are deeply loved and dearly held in the arms of a Savior whose embrace you have felt but a nudge. The root of all creation is the love of God. God’s love gave birth to your existence. God’s love sustains your being. And God’s love is the only power that transforms mere moments into sacred breath.

Under the blanket of God’s divine love, all of life is sacred. Allow His love to enfold you, swaddle you, nurture you, caress your skin, and breath sacred life into moment upon moment, grace upon grace.

Life’s hardships can create hard, and complicated, and dreary, and dreadful moments; yet somehow in the arms of a Loving Father, these are sacred moments molding hearts and minds into the image of the Divine.

Flesh forsakes. . .God rescues. Let Him love you. There is no substitute. Let Him transcend your moments into sacred time and space. Sacred lessens your grip on the natural to allow expanse for the supernatural.

Let God love you. This is not punishment. This is not consequence. This is sacred ground. This is severe mercy. This is agape holding you still. 💞