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.

Living the Legacy

I love that. The best way to honor someone that you love who has passed is to be the things about them that you loved the most. You can honor their generosity by being generous yourself. You can honor their sacrificial spirit by having that same spirit in you. Of course, it won’t look the same in you as it did in them, but you can still pay it forward.

As much as I love seeing flowers at funerals, this is a better way of celebrating their lives and legacies. Not that you can’t do both. Flowers are pretty, but they don’t last very long. Good deeds and kindness will carry on through generations and no one knows how many people will be transformed by your living out the legacies of those you loved.

An Oldie But a Goodie

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.”

I’m a fan of modern worship, but there’s something deeply resonant about an old-school hymn that speaks to me in a way that few of the newer worship songs can. Maybe it’s that people by and large wrote better back then. Maybe it’s that they had deeper and better theology.

Whatever the case, this one is from a hymn called “The Love of God Is Greater Far” written in 1923 and penned by Frederick Martin Lehman. I know because I just looked it up, but this is one that I don’t remember ever singing back in the day. Or maybe it’s just one of those third verses to hymns that we always skipped.

But still, it’s a beautiful reminder of the lavish — even prodigal — love of Father God for His children. It’s something to remember on the dark days and cold nights of pain and loss when God doesn’t seem near.

Basking in the Glorious Past of Nashville

I recommend you read the whole advertisement. I recently paid $84 plus tax for one day at Dollywood (which I do not regret), but back in the day you could get a whole lot of entertainment for $39.95. I wish I had a DeLorean or a Tardis some other form of time travel machine to take me back. Of course, back then some people complained about how EXPENSIVE $39.95 was. And how dare they charge over $1 a gallon for gas.

It’s interesting to think that this year marks 25 years since the closing of Opryland theme park, which in my humble opinion was not one of Nashville’s most shining moments. Especially since they replaced it with a mall.

But I have memories. And occasionally I’ll see a vintage picture or ad that brings it all back like it was yesterday. Good times.

The Wounding of God

“Sometimes the most gracious, merciful thing God could ever do is wound you. To wound you, (and in that wound bind you to Himself) is far more gracious than to bless you with everything you want and have you not know Him” (Matt Chandler).

Wow. That’s hard. My first response isn’t to give this comment a like and a heart. My first is to try and find some kind of loophole or way out of this wounding. Why would God purposefully hurt me? Isn’t God all about love, and love never ever hurts anything or anyone, right?

Most of the time, God wounds me by letting me go my own way and get what I want. That’s when I find out that where I thought I wanted to go and what I thought I wanted completely failed to bring me any satisfaction or contentment. Sometimes, God lets me endure the consequences of my own choices and actions.

I read this recently and it spoke volumes to me about why God allows suffering and tragedy in the lives of His people:

‘The reason verses such as Romans 8:28, which promise Christians ‘good’, seem to jar with our experiences is because we don’t really know what good is. In the Bible, good isn’t a longed-for marriage. It isn’t a comfortable home, a great job or even a faithful church family. Good is God’s name being glorified and his Kingdom advancing. Good is God’s people being made holy and learning to trust in him more. God’s ultimate purpose is to glorify himself and he will not be thwarted. So, when pain seems pointless, the God who wounds shows me that it is good. The God who wounds has done this for his glory, to grow my reliance on him, to make me more like Jesus and to have his name proclaimed. That is good” (Brianna McClean).

I think about the time when Jacob wrestled with God. At some point, God wounded Jacob by dislocating his hip so that from then on he walked with a limp. But with the limp came a change in his character. He went from being the deceiver Jacob to being the fighter and prince of God Israel.

Ultimately, I define good not by my standard but by God’s. If I believe that God is good and everything He does is good, then that defines goodness more than what I see and feel and experience, so I can trust in the true goodness of God.

Here’s a link to the full article by Brianna McClean, entitled When God Wounds.

So Nice to Come Home To

So many people don’t like cats because they say that cats aren’t friendly. I for one can’t speak for every single feline in the world, but I can say that my little tortie was quite pleased to see me back home after me being away for a few days of vacation.

She was curious about the contents of my suitcase, so she did her usual investigating until she was satisfied that there was nothing to 1) eat and/or 2) play with. She may also have been telling me that I’m not allowed to go anywhere out of town for a while after this.

Then she decided to curl up in my lap and expose her belly for a good belly rub. Apparently, not all cats are fans of the belly rub, but this little tortie is a fan. That was her way of letting me know that she has forgiven me for abandoning her for those five days and not bringing her anything back with tuna or catnip in it. All is well.

Continual Prayer and Obedience

“Use what little obedience you are capable of, even if it be like a grain of mustard seed. Begin where you are. Live this present moment, this present hour as you now sit in your seats, in utter, utter submission and openness toward God. Listen outwardly to these words, but within, behind the scenes, in the deeper levels of your lives where you are all alone with God the Loving Eternal One, keep up a silent prayer, “Open Thou my life. Guide my thoughts where I dare not let them go. But Thou darest. Thy will be done.” Walk on the streets and chat with your friends. But every moment behind the scenes be in prayer, offering yourselves in continuous obedience” (Thomas R. Kelly).

What I’ve learned is that when you feel stuck spiritually, you can go back to one step of obedience that you’ve been slow to take or not even taken at all. Do that, then the next step will come. And keep on praying.

Rage Vs. Hope

“Do you know why strangers rage at each other online and are so quick to be angry and offended these days? ⠀

Because their passion has no other outlet. When you refuse to deal in joy, you don’t quit being emotional, you just funnel all that energy somewhere else. ⠀

Many a troll was born from the heartache of a goal he dared not finish. ⠀

Maybe a troll is just someone who lost to perfectionism so many times he gave up on his own goals and decided to tear down someone else’s.⠀

Does your passion have a healthy outlet? If so, what is it?” (Still Jon Acuff)

I can’t tell you how many times I see people lashing out at other people on social media for the absolute dumbest stuff. People rage against each other over why Grease 2 was the worst movie ever or the best 80s movie. They get enraged when you don’t agree with them over why the current Doctor Who series is the best in history (or why it’s the worst).

I think it’s easier to be mean and critical when you’re hiding behind a keyboard and will likely never see your opponent face to face. Also, as society continues to devolve into chaos and violence, there’s less and less room for things like mercy and grace.

Those who follow Jesus know there’s a better way. We’re called not just to know it but also to show it. A great quote from one of my favorite TV series says that we live in the world as though it were the way it should be to show it what it can be.

In other words, we live out God’s original design for humanity and creation — namely, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever by how we speak and act. More specifically, how we speak to and act toward those outside the faith. T

he way of responding to rage with more rage says that we’re no different and that our words are meaningless. But to respond to a harsh word with a gentle answer shows the better way and allows us to be heard over the din. May we always choose grace and mercy as well as truth.

Let Yourself Be Useless

“Prayer is not a way of being busy with God instead of with people. In fact, it unmasks the illusion of busyness, usefulness, and indispensability. It is a way of being empty and useless in the presence of God and so of proclaiming our basic belief that all is grace and nothing is simply the result of hard work. Indeed, wasting time for God is an act of ministry, because it reminds us and our people that God is free to touch anyone regardless of our well-meant efforts. Prayer as an articulate way of being useless in the face of God brings a smile to all we do and creates humor in the midst of our occupations and preoccupations.

Thinking about my own prayer, I realize how easily I make it into a little seminar with God, during which I want to be useful by reading beautiful prayers, thinking profound thoughts, and saying impressive words. I am obviously still worried about the grade! It indeed is a hard discipline to be useless in God’s presence and to let him speak in the silence of my heart. But whenever I become a little useless I know that God is calling me to a new life beyond the boundaries of my usefulness” (Henri Nouwen).

Be Still and Wait

“Maybe I have been living much too fast, too restlessly, too feverishly, forgetting to pay attention to what is happening here and now, right under my nose. Just as a whole world of beauty can be discovered in one flower, so the great grace of God can be tasted in one small moment. Just as no great travels are necessary to see the beauty of creation, so no great ecstasies are needed to discover the love of God. But you have to be still and wait so that you can realize that God is not in the earthquake, the storm, or the lightning, but in the gentle breeze with which he touches your back” (Henri Nouwen).

When was the last time you were still? I don’t mean just sitting down or sedentary while looking at your phone. I mean you were still. No books, no phone, no television, no radio or streaming. Just you alone with your thoughts and God.

One of the most needed commands in the Bible comes in Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”

How can we ever hope to hear from God when we are allergic to silence and stillness? How can we discern God’s voice if our days are filled with constant noise and tasks filling up the margins of our existence?

Being still isn’t natural. It’s as much a discipline as prayer, fasting, meditating, or studying your Bible. And if you wait until you have time, you will never start. As with anything that’s important, you have to make time by prioritizing stillness over activity and busyness. But in the end, it’s worth it.

Name It

If envy is the enemy of joy, then gratitude is surely its friend. When we harbor critical spirits, we double down in our fallenness, but when we embrace thanksgiving, we remember that the present isn’t eternal but only temporary. Hope is eternal. Joy is forever.