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.

A Kindness Revolution

It seems these days the culture around us is becoming more and more hostile to the Church and the Gospel. More and more, they frown upon any mention of Jesus or the Bible and try to silence those who practice their faith in the public arena.

To be fair, the Church deserves some of the blame. For too long, we’ve been known more for what we’re against than what we’re for. We have a top ten list of our favorite pet sins that we love to condemn because those are the sins we don’t struggle with.

Yet we have the message of hope that our culture needs. If the world is suffering from the poison of sin, we are the only ones who have the antidote that will save them. But I think in this day and age, we have to earn the right to be heard again. We can’t presume anymore that people automatically think that Christians are the good guys or that they know anything about the Bible or Jesus.

The way we earn the right to speak into people’s lives is kindness. We can love people outside the faith, not treating them as statistics or numbers or notches on our belts for the number of souls we saved. We can treat them the way Jesus treated people when He was incarnated on earth, the way Jesus treated us when we were yet sinners.

We can show them a better way by how we live a different way, following Jesus down the road of forgiveness and turning the other cheek. We know that the best witness that no one can ever argue against is a transformed life, so we seek that transformation by the renewal of our minds in God’s word and in community.

It’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance, and it’s our kindness that will lead them to God. We can still speak the truth about right and wrong, calling evil for what it is when we see it, but doing it in a kind and loving way– not a harsh and condemning way. It’s not about winning arguments or proving our “right”ness, but about helping people to be reconciled with God and to find true peace. And that’s done by kindness.

What God Loves

“The Shepherd laughed too. “I love doing preposterous things,” he replied. “Why, I don’t know anything more exhilarating and delightful than turning weakness into strength, and fear into faith, and that which has been marred into perfection . . . . That is my special work,” he added with the light of a great joy in his face. “Transforming things” (Hannah Hurnard, Hinds Feet on High Places).

I’m not much on focusing on what God hates as much as what He loves. Here are a few things I’ve noticed that God absolutely delights in:

God delights in turning the impossible into possible. When the world says that something can’t be done or that someone is past all hope, that is when God steps in and shows off.

God delights in making dead things come alive. You and I were dead in our trespasses and sins, according to Scripture, but God didn’t leave us that way. He made us as fully alive as we were fully dead.

God delights in subverting our plans. We think we know what we want and where we want to go and who be, but God has a bigger plan and a bigger dream for us than we could ever hope for or imagine.

God delights in those the world ignores. He lifts up the lowly and places widows and orphans into families. He uses the nobodies to shame those who think they are all that and bag of chips. He built His church using outcasts and outsiders and ragamuffins.

God delights in you. God delights in me. God rejoices over each of us with loud singing and dancing every night and whispers words of love over us as we sleep. If you are His, then He is with you and for you every single step of the way from here to heaven.

My Idea of Dating

One of my favorite movies ever is Say Anything. There’s a scene in that movie where the main guy, Lloyd Dobler is talking with the father of the girl he wants to date. The father asks him, “So what do you want to do with your life?”

In response, Lloyd gets a bit nervous and rambles on about kickboxing being the sport of the future and all that. But then he has a sort of epiphany and says one of my favorite lines from the movie — “I just wanna be with your daughter.” In other words, “I just want to spend as much time with her as I can and learn as much about her as I can to know her and love her better.”

I’m about to embark on a bold odyssey because here I am sitting here able to count the number of dates I’ve been on in my life on one hand and never having been in a dating relationship. Yet here I am about to wander into the deep waters of what my idea of dating is. So here goes.

I know that the vast majority of dates are going to movies and going out to eat. That’s fine. I have no problem with that. But I think I want something deeper.

I want to have deep conversations with the girl and find out as much as I can about who she is. I want to find out all of her favorite things, what makes her tick, what truly makes her come alive, and what can shut down and close up her heart.

I want to take her to all my favorite places and go to her favorite places. I want to stroll through quiet nature trails, walk in the rain, watch the sunset. I want to open her car door and hold her chair for her. I want to buy her flowers every now and then, or better yet, bring her wild flowers growing in a field.

I believe that a man’s job in any kind of dating or marriage relationship is much like cultivating a flower to help it unfold and blossom into something glorious. I think he’s supposed to cultivate and bring out the woman’s inner beauty and help to reveal and uncover all that God has made her be and to help her step into full womanhood as a wife, mother, and daughter of God.

I might not be very good at all this, but I think I’d like to try. I’d like to be an old black and white romantic movie in a sea of The Bachelors and Bachelorettes and all the other reality floating out there in space. Sort of a Humphrey Bogart saying to Ingrid Bergman, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

I know that dating isn’t a perfect science because men and women are imperfect beings, but helping each other grow into their God-given potential is one way dating can be done right, even if it doesn’t lead to marriage.

Again, these are my thoughts. Right or wrong, good or bad, they are mine and no one else’s. This all may be simplistic or naive, but maybe I am simplistic and naive. Still, I know that my Abba is very fond of me and I can now say that I believe that I am ready to venture fearfully yet forcefully into the wild, wonderful, scary world of dating.

Seeing the Goodness of God

Some days are filled with blessings and it’s easy to see the goodness of God. Other days, not so much. Some days, you realize that you have feelings for someone else, only to find out that not only do they not have the same feelings for you but are actually dating someone else. That’s when you can cheer for them and be happy for their newfound joy, but it still hurts a little.

Some days, you listen to the wrong voices. Those voices tell you that you’re not enough — that you’ll never be enough — and that no one could ever love you as you are. Most of the time, you know that voice to be a lie, but on those occasions when you’re tired, you get confused about which voice to heed.

Even on those days, the promise remains: you will see the goodness of God, not in the sweet bye-and-bye pie in the sky hereafter, but in this life. You will see it with your own eyes. Even through the hurt, you will see it.

Then you can have confidence. Not in your own unwavering faith or in your steadfastness, but in the goodness of God even during your seasons of minuscule mustard seed-sized faith and faltering feet.

Those tough times don’t last, but the goodness of God remains forever. That’s what you can cling to every single day that you live.

The Unexpected

“[Life is] getting past the unexpected, and perhaps learning from it” (Violet Crawley, Downton Abbey: A New Era).

I finally got around to seeing the new Downton Abbey movie. It was well worth the wait and served as a worthy successor to the first movie and the series. But that line hit me like a wet pool noodle.

How much of life is different from what you and I expected? How much of it is dealing with interruptions and changes and general chaos that results from things not going as planned?

My joke is that I go to have a conversation with someone and they don’t follow the script I have in my head of how I thought the conversation would go. Anyone else? Just me? Cool.

But growth happens when you can not only get past the unexpected but actually learn from it. As the old quote goes, life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.

I’ve learned not to trust my expectations or my plans. I’ve learned to trust in God and His plans. I’m learning how to lean on the Lord with all my heart and to trust not in my own understanding (to use my paraphrase of the famous verse from Proverbs. I’m learning to keep believing and trusting when my heart is heavy and my faith is weak.

Life is a series of unexpected events, but God is still faithful and will get us through.

Enough

If you’ve ever felt that you were not enough for some people — not tall enough, not thin enough, not rich enough, not good looking enough — then know that to Jesus, you are enough. You are enough because He says you are enough because He died for those like us whom the world calls worthless to make us priceless.

A Compelling Life

“A day is coming when 10 men, people from every nation speaking every language will grab the cloak of a Jew and beg him, ‘Let us come with you because we have heard the True God is among you and we want Him to save us, too‘” (Zechariah 8:23, The Voice).

How cool would it be if we lived in such a way that our friends, family, and neighbors were grabbing the sleeves of our shirts and begging us to take them to the God we love and serve? How amazing would it be if the most compelling argument for God was how we lived out His goodness and mercy from day to day?

I’m not saying that we should preach the gospel at all times merely by actions and never using words. I’m saying that our gospel conversations would be more meaningful if we lived them out as well as verbalized them.

The 1st century world was drawn to the early Christian faith by how they loved each other. They didn’t cancel each other when one of them fell into sin or failed. They forgave each other and kept each other accountable and loved each other into wholeness and repentance.

People are desperately seeking hope and peace. They are looking for real answers. The world around us is angry with us as believers, not because we’re too different, but because we’re not different enough. In too many cases, we’re the same. How can they believe our message if we don’t live it ourselves?

But a compelling life is a life lived with singleness of purpose. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about letting Jesus be everything and in everything letting Jesus be known.

May that be our prayer — to live in such a way that people are drawn to love the God we love as much as we do.

The Cross Is Everything

I saw an article where a church in Texas completely burned to the ground last Friday. Just about everything was lost — with the exception of one lone cross standing in the smoldering ruins of what once the Balsora Baptist Church building.

That spoke volumes to me. How many times have you and I come to points in our lives where we have nothing left to cling to but Jesus? How many times have we watched as every other crutch and support we leaned on in times of turmoil got kicked away until all that was left was the Cross?

The cross as a mere pieces of wood nailed together means nothing. But the cross as a symbol of Jesus dying in our place and conquering that death to give us everlasting life means everything.

Whenever our hopes get dashed and our desires fail, we find out that all we really needed all along was Jesus. As the old saying goes, you don’t find out that Jesus is all you need until He’s all you have, and then when He’s all you have, He really is all you need.

One Thing

I was talking with a friend earlier today. As we were chatting, something I learned a long time ago came to mind. Well, actually two.

In terms of relationships, learn to give yourself grace. You will mess up. You will say the wrong thing. You will do the wrong thing. Sometimes, what you do and say will be taken the wrong way. Still, you can give yourself permission to fail from time to time because you’re still a work in progress. God’s not done with you yet.

Also, when you’re dealing with someone else whose behavior seems mysterious and sometimes hard to accept, remember there is always one fact about that person that if you knew it, it would completely change how you saw them. They might be going through traumatic loss. They may have just emerged from an abusive relationship. In other words, give them the grace of the unknown.

Above all, be kind. Always. Harshness never accomplishes anything productive or benefits anyone. Love people the way Jesus has loved you — expecting nothing in return and with no strings attached.