The Most Reluctant Convert

I did something that I rarely do these days — I went to an actual movie in an actual movie theater. It’s been a while.

Normally, I like to wait for it to hit streaming services because few films are worth paying the current price of movie tickets. But in this case, I made an exception. I wanted to support a faith-based film from a group that I’ve grown to respect as I’ve gotten to know about them, the Fellowship for Performing Arts, led by one Max McLean.

The film is centered around the story of C. S. Lewis’ 10-year journey from atheism to Christianity. Without giving away too much, the narrative device they use to tell the story is unique and compelling. I feel like Mr. McLean masterfully portrayed the title character and the filming locations gave the production a note of authenticity.

But what captivated me most was the way the movie used Lewis’ own words. I believe a lot of the narrative came directly from his autobiography Surprised by Joy. For once, it’s a faith-based film that actually succeeds at being a good film first, and without being preachy or didactic.

It will make you want to dive deep into the writings of C. S. Lewis, both apologetic and fiction, as well as possibly leading you to check out some of writers who inspired him such as George MacDonald and G. K. Chesterton. I can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone who wants a quality movie about the nuances of faith and intellect.

Do Thou for Me

“Do Thou for me, O God the Lord,
Do Thou for me.
I need not toil to find the word
That carefully
Unfolds my prayer and offers it,
My God, to Thee.

It is enough that Thou wilt do,
And wilt not tire,
Wilt lead by cloud, all the night through
By light of fire,
Till Thou has perfected in me
Thy heart’s desire.

For my beloved I will not fear,
Love knows to do
For him, for her, from year to year,
As hitherto.
Whom my heart cherishes are dear
To Thy heart too.

O blessèd be the love that bears
The burden now,
The love that frames our very prayers,
Well knowing how
To coin our gold.  O God the Lord,
Do Thou, Do Thou” (Amy Carmichael).

There are times when we simply don’t know how to pray for a circumstance or a loved one. Try as we may, the words will not come.

I think even then God hears the groans and sighs of our petitions and knows what they mean. He hears the deepest desires of our hearts and knows best how to grant them.

Even when we have words, they aren’t always the best ones. Sometimes, we ask without such a limited point of view. Sometimes we ask selfishly. Sometimes we have too small a view of God and ask too little.

In Jan Karon’s Mitford series, Father Tim Kavanaugh always has his go-to prayer, or “the prayer that never fails,” as he calls it. The prayer goes “Thy will be done.”

You can never go wrong with leaving the matter in God’s hands.

When God Ran

When I was reading the parable of the prodigal son, something struck me. Usually, all the emphasis is on the younger son who basically took his inheritance and ran away from home. But not much gets said about the long-suffering father who waits and watches down the road in hopes for the return of his son.

One aspect of the story really hit home. It’s the part where after the father sees his son coming down the road, he is overwhelmed with compassion and runs to meet his son. I think that part of the parable often gets lost in translation because these days, running is no big deal.

But back in the first century Middle East, running was considered undignified. I ran across a quote from Aristotle that said, “Great men never run in public.”

Get that? An older, well-to-do man would never ever dream of running to meet anyone. But this father chose to become undignified in his expression of his love for his wayward son who had just squandered a third of the family estate and shamed the family. By all accounts, this father should have held a funeral for the boy to show that he was no longer a son or an heir. But he ran to meet him.

This parable shows that God’s grace is scandalous. In order to win back his prodigal sons and daughters, God did something much more undignified than running. He took on the form of a servant in Jesus and endured the public spectacle of a humiliating death on a cross to pay for the sins of His children who had openly rebelled against Him.

Recently, I learned about a Hebrew word, hesed. It is just about untranslatable into English, but the King James Bible translators coined a new word to describe it — lovingkindness. Perhaps the best definition I’ve ever heard of what hesed means is when the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.

That’s what God did. I had no right to expect anything from God, but through His undignified death, He gave me everything. He gave me a clean slate from my sins, a right standing with God, and an eternal and abundant life. He made me a son and and heir to all that belongs to Him.

I’m forever thankful for that scandalous grace.

Advent Season

It is officially Advent season. This is where we enter into a time of waiting for the arrival of the Messiah. In our case, the Messiah has already come once. He showed up in Bethlehem on a cold December night, and the world has never been the same. We celebrate that first coming.

But we also anticipate the second coming. This time it won’t be in the dark. This time it won’t be known only to a few. The next time Jesus shows up, the whole world will know. He won’t arrive as a helpless infant but as a conquering King. He will once and for all put an end to all evil and injustice. All wars and sickness and pain will forever cease. He will bring the true peace that we have been longing for and singing about since that first incarnation almost 2,000 years ago.

We can look forward while at the same time looking back. We can see the manger and the cross because both led to the victory that Jesus won that will very soon be consummated. It will be like in The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis when Edmund, Susan, Peter, Lucy and the rest have that delicious feeling you get when the school term has ended and summer had begun. Only this time, this feeling will go on to infinity and the best part of the story won’t have ended but will only have just begun.

Advent is when we say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

A Thanksgiving Peanut Update

So I suppose it’s time for another Peanut update. As you can tell, she’s living her best life these days. By her best life, I mean she basically takes naps and has snacks all day. That should probably be my goal for my best life.

She also managed to stay out of the way of any hard work involving putting up the annual Christmas decorations. If there’s anything that even hints of work and effort, she goes and hides until the feeling passes. Or until the work is done.

As you can tell, all the napping and snacking have helped her to maintain her girlish (or should I say kittenish?) figure. She gets plenty of belly rubs and head skritches, so I’d say she’s doing rather well for herself. Now I just have to figure out what kind of tuna to buy her for Christmas. Decisions, decisions.

Boosted

So I did a thing today. Or technically, I did THE thing today. I got my Moderna vaccine booster shot. It’s something that I decided was right for me to do at the time. I don’t feel like I have the right to tell anybody else what they need to do regarding vaccines. Each person should be able to assess the facts and come up with a decision based on sound logic. Unfortunately, sound logic and common sense aren’t very common these days.

But I’m ready for this whole pandemic thing to be over. I’m praying for God to eradicate this coronavirus. I’m praying for no more new cases, no more hospitalizations, and absolutely no more deaths from this virus. I want the term COVID-19 to be a past tense thing.

Maybe I’m being naive and unrealistic. Still, I believe completely in the power of prayer. I believe that if God can cause a valley of dry bones to stand again as a living, breathing army, He can deal with a simple virus. If God can bring Lazarus back from the dead, then He can handle a pandemic. I’m trusting in the power of God way more than I’m trusting in any vaccines or boosters or shots. That’s where my true hope lies.

Thanksgiving Day 2021

I didn’t exactly eat my weight in food this time, but I managed to put away a good bit of turkey and dressing, as well as the other usual Thanksgiving meal staples. I even left room for some strawberry rhubarb pie with ice cream. It was a good day.

The best part was that I got to experience all this culinary goodness with my family. Good company always makes food taste better, especially when it’s people that you love who love you back. A meal shared is much better than a meal eaten alone.

I remain supremely grateful for my life. I choose to look at the blessings I have rather than all that the world says I need to have before I can be truly happy. Do I have everything I want? No. Do I have everything I need? Yes. I choose to do the most counter-cultural thing in this current culture and say that I am completely content. I won’t need a bunch of Black Friday deals give me any more peace than I already have.

But you know what’s better than a good Thanksgiving meal? Thanksgiving leftovers the next day.

Thanksgiving Eve 2021

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but Thanksgiving isn’t what it used to be. I feel like Thanksgiving is kind of the Pluto of holidays. Remember how Pluto used to be a planet? Then some bigwigs decided that it wasn’t really a planet, but a dwarf planet. Like it didn’t count as much because it was smaller? I believe in you, Pluto. I still think you’re a real planet.

I think Thanksgiving has also been demoted a bit. Now it’s a day to eat a lot and watch football. It’s not even considered a real holiday anymore. It’s more of a gateway holiday to Christmas when people start getting all their decorations down from the attic and preparing to deck the halls and adorn the Christmas tree.

Thanksgiving as I see it is a celebration of the original Pilgrims who came over in 1622 with little more than hope and faith in God. They took a day as a way of saying thanks back to God for having delivered them to a new land full of promise. Whether or not you believe that story or not, it’s good to take a day to reflect and give thanks. It’s good to take 24 hours to be intentional in your gratitude.

Obviously, thanksgiving should be a mindset that we keep all year round. Gratitude should be not an occasional act but a constant mentality that comes from focusing on all that God has blessed us with rather than seeing only what we don’t have that we wish we did. Thankfulness keeps us from becoming entitled and keeps up humble.

Tomorrow, I do hope you get a lot of good food. I hope the football games are competitive this year. But I hope more than anything else that you will take time to be thankful and to express your gratitude to those you love with words and acts of kindness. Above all, I hope you include room in your day to show gratitude to God for another year of providential care and grace.

Joy in the Journey

Tonight, Mike Harder spoke about what it looks like to live out our yes to God. He went to Abraham in Genesis 12 as the example of someone who left his home, family, and city without knowing the place to which God was calling him. Abraham said yes in faith to the first step of God’s plan without asking to see the rest of the journey.

God asks us to trust him in that first step of obedience. Often, we want to see the big picture before we commit to God’s plan, but God isn’t as much seeking our approval as He is our obedience.

I’m reminded of an episode of The Chosen where we see a man named Nathaniel sitting under a tree crying and yelling at God. He says, “Can you even see me? Do you even know I’m here?”

He doesn’t get a response in the moment, so the scene dissolves with him looking dejected and depressed, thinking God hasn’t heard him at all. Later, he gets invited by a friend to come and see a man who could be the Messiah. At first, Nathaniel is hesitant, but eventually he goes.

When Nathaniel meets the Messiah, Jesus says to him, “When you were sitting under that tree, I saw you.”

He was answering Nathaniel’s prayer. But Nathaniel would never have been in a position to hear the answer had he not made that first move to come and see. Nathaniel wouldn’t have known Jesus as the Messiah unless he was willing to literally and figuratively take that first step.

God doesn’t promise to tell us where we’re going, but He promises to be with us along the way. Abraham’s greatest joy was in the following as much as in the final destination. So it is with us. The goal is just as much about knowing and trusting God more and more as it is about reaching the place where God is calling you.

But Seriously

I’d like to think that I’d be the exception rather than the rule. You know that most of the people who win the lottery end up going bankrupt, right? That’s because they don’t have discipline with money so they overspend and throw money away and end up in debt.

I’d like to think I’d be different. Sure, I’d buy a nicer car and a modest mansion. Maybe a vacation island or two. Nothing fancy. And I don’t even have to be a millionaire to be happy. I think I could do nicely with $50,000. That would come in very handy right about now.

I’d even tithe my winnings. So everybody wins, right?

My All in All

I think the old adage is true — you never know Jesus is all you need until He’s all you have. I also think that most of us in America have Jesus plus a lot of other stuff. Jesus has become for many one option among many instead of being supreme in our lives.

I heard a sermon today where the pastor said that any circumstance, good or bad, can be God’s way of pointing us back to our deep need for Jesus. When God takes away what we hold dear, we then can find out that He is the one who truly does supply all our needs through His abundant riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

When we understand that everything we think is ours is really because of God, we can learn better to hold on to things with open hands. We can rejoice whether in plenty or in want because we know that God is our ultimate provision. We can be radically generous because we know that we have received the extravagant grace and mercy of God.

The way I see it, anything that drives me deeper into the presence of God is ultimately good. Anything that opens my eyes to my dependence on Jesus for every breath is a blessing. A famous writer once called his wife’s cancer a severe mercy because through it He saw the faithfulness of God at work in her and in him.

The simple truth is that if I have God and all the world, I have no more than if I had God and God alone. God is and will always be sufficient. God is enough.

A Refreshing Reminder

“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one. None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us” (Romans 8:31-39, The Message)

I’m a fan of the traditional translations of the Bible that closely follow the original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic texts, but every now and then, I like a little bit of The Message to give new insights on old tried and true Scripture passages. Romans 8:31-39 is a good example of something I have probably read hundreds of times to the point where it can almost seem rote. But when you get Eugene Peterson’s unique rendering, it makes the words and ideas seem as fresh and new as the day Paul penned them.

My suggestion is to take these verses and read them over and over until you can say them from memory. Then read them again. Read them until they become embedded in your very being and will come to mind whenever you feel worthless or defeated or just no good. Read them like God is audibly speaking the words to you — over you — with compassion and love in His voice as a Father would speak words of love to his child. Then maybe, just maybe, if we did that we might actually begin to believe and live them out.