Caroling, Caroling

I did something I haven’t done in a long, long time. Not since college. Maybe even high school. I went caroling, complete with printed sheets of lyrics and everything. Just like it was back in the late 1900s.

It’s been that long.

Back in the day, we’d all gather together and carpool from place to place with our arsenal of festive seasonal classics. I’m sure we were joyful and triumphant in our attempts to pull off the carols and jingles. We probably came closer to making a joyful noise than anything else. I couldn’t tell if the guy next to me was trying to harmonize or was just really off-key, but it didn’t really matter in the end. A good time was had by all.

Tonight, we started off visiting the house of a deacon who very recently had been fighting for his life. It was heartwarming to see him standing in the doorway, a sort of miracle in itself, with his wife wiping away tears of gratitude as we sang loudly and zestily (if not always in tune or in the same key).

Then we headed over to my pastor’s parent’s to do more yuletide crooning. They’ve both had health issues and have had a rough 2022, but they were both pleased and grateful to see us gathered in their front yard, singing about those herald angels.

The last stop was the next-door neighbor who was a founding member of Brentwood Baptist Church along with her late husband. She lost him around this time last year, and I’m sure she was thankful for the company. Christmas is a beautiful time, but sometimes I forget that it’s not the easiest season if you’re missing a loved one.

I snapped a picture of this forlorn little reindeer in one of the yards. Hopefully, someone got a good snapshot of all of us singing in different keys and sometimes different verses at the same time. The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir we were not.

But I’d do it all again tomorrow night if I could. In fact, I hope this caroling thing becomes another tradition that I can look forward to through the spring, summer and fall.

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.

Come to Me, All Who Are Weary

“…turn us to toward You, Lord — not to comparing our day to anyone else’s day. Help us to drop all our measuring sticks. Because if we walk through life with a measuring stick – our eyes get so small we never see You, God, at all. Measuring sticks always become weapons of Self-Harm and and scales always lie.

They don’t make a scale that ever told the truth about value, about worth, about significance. And all mine tonight is solely in You, Lord. Everything isn’t a marker to make me feel behind or ahead. Everything is a flame to make us see that You, GOD are here. At the end of this week, we’re breaking all our measuring sticks — so we can rest in Your measurement of us in Christ: perfectly loved.  In Jesus’ Name… Amen” (Ann Voskamp). 
#EndofDayPrayer #SoulRest

I’m listening to a book called The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. It speaks to the the glorification of busyness and hurry in the present culture. There’s no time for rest.

For most of us that’s true. There’s no time for rest . . . unless you deliberately and intentionally make time for rest. If you take Jesus’ words to heart and come to Him, He gives you shalom — deep soul-rest and wholeness and peace.

He’s not talking about a two-hour nap (although for me sometimes that would do the trick). He’s talking about a reset of heart, mind, body, and soul. He’s talking about relearning rhythms of grace and going from a mindset of hurry to one of balance and purpose.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).

The Great Exchange

“It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear, and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it — I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it — I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit of Jesus could come into me, then I could live a life like that. This is the secret of Christian sanctity. It is not that we should strive to live like Jesus, but that he by his Spirit should come and live in us. To have him as our example is not enough; we need him as our Saviour” (John R. W. Stott).

I’m so thankful that Jesus didn’t die as just another martyr or as a great example to follow.If so, I’m just as bad off as I was before. I’m still lost in my sins and as good as dead.

But Jesus was more than a martyr and more than an example. He was Messiah. He is my Savior. He offered the great exchange — taking my sin on Himself and giving me His own perfect sinless righteousness. That’s how I live. That’s how I am no longer dead but alive, no longer lost but found, no longer bound by sin but set free.

A Hard Prayer to Pray

“I wish thy way. And when in me myself should rise, and long for something otherwise, Then Lord, take sword and spear And slay” (Amy Carmichael).

I think the hardest prayer to pray and really mean is also one of the simplest. It’s “Thy will be done.”

The risk with that prayer is that God’s will often looks like the polar opposite of my will. As one writer put it, praying that God’s will be done may mean that my will is undone.

God’s will is that I look like Jesus. The means to that end are often not the means I might have chosen. The way God makes me more like Jesus often involves having my patience tested to (and beyond) its limit. Often, God uses difficult people and difficult circumstances to smooth away my rough edges. None of those sound like my idea of a good time, but all are what God uses to give my life purpose and fulfillment.

“Thy will be done” means that if there’s anything in me that doesn’t look like Jesus, it has to go. All my dreams and desires that run contrary to God’s will must die.

It seems that I learn a lot more on bad days than good ones, though defeats rather than through victories, and in the midst of pain rather than in the midst of joy. And above all, growing and learning involves a lot of inconvenience and discomfort. Growing up is painful.

Yet while “Thy will be done” is a hard prayer to pray honestly, it’s the prayer that never fails. It’s the prayer Jesus taught His disciples when He told them to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

May that be the prayer of my heart every single day.

A Peanut Update for January 2023

It’s been a while since I gave an update on my cat Peanut, who is 5 going on 6 and still a whole lot of fun.

She still loves her naps early and often. She prefers to be awake as little as possible and views those rare times of consciousness as very annoying, as you can see by the above picture.

She also prefers to be underneath a blanket or covers of some kind. If you ever find a cat-shaped lump in the bed, most likely it’s Peanut doing her undercover thing. I really think since it’s winter, she’s doing her best to hibernate until it gets warmer.

She also still loves her belly rubs. There are not many felines that will allow you to touch the sacred tummy without getting attacked, but she actually likes it. She will roll over as a kind of invitation for the belly rubs and gets a little put out when you stop prematurely.

Her name is Peanut, and she’s definitely living her best life now.

Eden in the Everyday

It’s easy to spot God in the spectacular moments that feel like the pages of Scripture coming to life in real time, but it’s harder to keep your focus in the middle of dishes and diapers and the daily grind.

It’s not the crises that derail us as much as the monotony of the mundane and the clamor of a multitude of things that vie for our attention and affection.

But if you want to see God in your everyday, look in the small details. Learn to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Make your worship as much about doing dishes and taking out the trash as singing praise choruses.

While in once sense Eden was lost when Adam and Eve fell, in another Eden is wherever and whenever we meet God and hear Him speaking life to us. Eden is where God never stops looking for us as much as we sometimes want to hide from Him.

Lord, help me to practice the art of remaining in Your presence no matter where I am. Help me to remember that you are never far from those who seek You in faith.

Don’t Forget Your Blessings

I remember seeing a picture of someone from an impoverished part of the world who had plastic soft drink bottles tied to their feet for shoes. That image blew my mind and broke my heart at the same time. There I was probably wishing I had newer more comfortable shoes and so many around the world would give anything to have my old worn-out shoes. Or any shoes for that matter.

I also remember reading a post that also wrecked my world in the best possible way. It said that someone out there would give absolutely anything to have one of your bad days. I keep forgetting that if I had a meal today, if I had access to clean water, if I had more than one change of clothing, if I had a roof over my head, then I am considered rich by global standards.

The culture we live in thrives on forcing people into comparison and envy. The idea is that your neighbor put in a pool, so now you need to put in a bigger pool. Your friend bought a truck, so now you need a truck with a bigger engine. You need to keep up with those enigmatic Joneses if you want to be successful.

But if you woke up today, you’re blessed. If you took a deep breath unassisted by machines, you’re blessed. If you could dress and feed yourself, you’re blessed. If you have a place to live, a job, a car that works semi-regularly, and people who love you, you’re rich in blessings.

Don’t let comparison be the thief of your joy. Don’t let envy blind you to your blessings. The key to seeing more of God in your world is thanksgiving. The way to experience more of your blessings is gratitude for the ones you already have.

A Benediction for the Week

Where you are in life is not a mistake. God has you there for a reason.

It’s easy to complain and look for a way out of what you feel is a bad situation. It’s easy to want to quit.

But it’s better to look for how God is using this present circumstance to refine you and mold you and shape you and make you more like Jesus.

It’s easy to blame everyone else for your current predicament.

But it’s better to look for the people God has placed in your path as those who need to see God’s love exhibited through you. They need to see what you profess to believe lived out in real time.

The best part is that God never asks you to be anywhere or do anything unless He first empowers you to be there and do it. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. That’s where your willingness and availability meet God’s opportunity and a blessing is born.

Cultivating and Waiting

“Cultivate the greatest confidence that, though you cannot see into your heart, God is working there by His Holy Spirit. Let the heart wait at times in perfect silence and quiet; in its hidden depths God will work. Be sure of this, and just wait on Him. Give your whole heart, with its secret workings, into God’s hands continually. He wants the heart, and takes it” (Andrew Murray).

It takes discipline to wait well. To wait in God’s way is not to do nothing, like sitting idly by the phone waiting for it to ring with a job offer or a proposal. It’s living your life, looking for how God is working in the world, and obeying what you already know. It’s preparing yourself to be ready with no hesitations or hindrances for when God’s call does come.

Above all, waiting is a continual act of surrender. The old joke about living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off of the altar. You have to keep putting your heart back on the altar, in God’s hands, to do with what He wants and wills. In no other place is it safe or secure.

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:1-2, The Message).

Stay Our Mind

“If we wait till we have clear enough vision to see the expected end before we stay our mind upon Him who is our Strength, we shall miss an opportunity that will never come again: we shall never know the blessing of the unoffended. Now is the time to say, ‘My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed. I will sing and give praise,’ even though as we say the words there is no sense of exultation” (Amy Carmichael).

Faith means not knowing and trusting anyway. It’s being certain in the midst of uncertainty without knowing how everything will resolve. It’s knowing the end result but not how you will get there.

I love the idea of staying your mind on God. To me, it means you cease striving and working out every possible scenario in your head. To stay your mind is to release the illusion of control and have the simple faith of a child, knowing everything will work out for good.

May we choose every day to stay our minds on God and not on our circumstances or our problems.