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.

Peace in Stressful Times

I wish that I could say that I was peaceful and calm all the time. I wish I could say that stress never got to me because I always went to God in prayer first and got a proper perspective on my circumstances before freaking out.

Unfortunately, no.

It seems to me that a lot of my anxiety is just me looking at my circumstances with me in the place of God trying to figure out how to make it all work. The problem with that little scenario is that I’m not God — not even close. I don’t have nearly all of the answers. I don’t see every part of the problem. I am nowhere near omniscient or omnipotent or anything omni.

But God is.

The sooner I relinquish my anxiety, the better off I am in the midst of my stressful situation. And many times God doesn’t remove me from the trial but uses the trial to make me more like Jesus. In other words, to borrow the words from a song, He doesn’t always calm the storm but He calms His child in the middle of the storm.

It helps if you are able to see the stress in perspective. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s not probably something you will remember next month. Or possibly even next week. Beyond that valley of trial is a greater joy and a greater hope and a greater vision of a great God who got you through. And beyond that is the ultimate happy ending where God in Jesus makes absolutely everything right and we get to be on winning team when evil and sin finally are defeated forever. Not bad, eh?

Good Finds

Going to Goodwill can be a kind of hit-or-miss thing. Sometimes, you don’t find anything. You wander all through the store and don’t see anything you can’t live without. Sometimes, you hit the proverbial jackpot.

Today, I found five vinyl albums, including this one by Kenny Rogers. The others were by Carly Simon, James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, and the Eagles. I’d call that a pretty good score, especially when you consider that each record cost me about $1.

It’s funny how Goodwill and thrifting can echo life sometimes. You never know what you will get from each day, but if you just keep showing up with expectations, you will occasionally find hidden treasures and blessings in places you never would have expected.

I’ve found that God shows up and speaks to me in the most unlikely places. The more I live in gratitude and expectation that God is working, the more I see Him and the more He speaks to me.

So keep showing up, keep praying up, and keep expecting God to do what only God can do. And the rest will surprise you . . . in a good way.

Loving in Truth

It’s June. That means that summer is nigh, although today felt a whole lot like a typical summer day with its heat and humidity. I wasn’t quite ready for that.

It’s also Pride month, a month in which we’re supposed to celebrate all things LGBTQIA+. We’re supposed to embrace all kinds of diversity unquestioningly. To do otherwise would be unloving, wouldn’t it? But what does it mean to be loving?

I think you can love a person without accepting everything about them. You can love someone while disagreeing with their lifestyle choices and habits. You can love someone and tell them the truth in a loving and compassionate way, as Jesus did many times during His ministry.

The mistake the Church in general has made in the past is to demonize homosexuality and other lifestyles and make them the unforgivable sin while giving ourselves a pass on things like pride (a different kind where you think more highly of yourself than you should) and gluttony and sloth and those other struggles that we have that we minimize. It’s all sin. We’re all sinners. We all need the grace of God.

I’m perfectly willing to lose followers. Jesus said that if they hated Him, they will hate you. If they rejected His message, they will reject yours. But I’d rather be on the side of Jesus than be popular or liked by a majority.

Jesus did say to the woman caught in adultery that He didn’t condemn her, but he also said, “Go and sin no more.” He didn’t justify her lifestyle to love her. He spoke the truth but in the most loving way possible.

It’s not loving to compromise your convictions and beliefs to be approved and accepted. It is loving to see each person, no matter their lifestyle or choices, as one for whom Jesus died and one who bears the image of God.

The goal is not to get them into a traditional marriage relationship. The goal is not so much to get them straight. The goal is to get them set free in Jesus. Their brokenness (and ours as well) isn’t just limited to the area of sexuality. We’re fallen in every area of our lives and need to be completely and wholly redeemed. All of us.

The Bible says there is no one apart from Jesus who has not sinned. No one who doesn’t need a Savior. No one who can get to heaven apart from Jesus. And especially no one whom Jesus does not love and whom Jesus will not save if that person calls to Him in faith.

So if the worst case scenario happens and I have two readers after this, then I can be okay with that. To gain the world by throwing away everything you held dear in the way of convictions and beliefs and faith is to gain nothing, but if all you have to hold on to is Jesus and nothing else, you have everything.

Hello June

And just like that, it’s June.

Every year, the days and weeks and months go by a little faster. In less than three weeks, we’ll hit the summer solstice and the days will start getting shorter. But it already feels like they race by.

Back in the day, June meant total freedom. It mean no school, no classes, no homework, no tests. It meant not a lot to do and a whole lot of time to do it. I remember thinking summer would never get here, but when it finally did, it didn’t last long enough.

Now June means I still go to work. I still do all the boring grownup things I did in January and February. The only thing that changes is the temperatures start getting hotter and I sweat more. I do love the longer days, especially when it’s 8 pm and still light outside.

But I know that if I blink, it’ll be July. I close my eyes for a moment, and it’s August. Before you know it, schools will be back in session and summer will be over. But then comes my absolute favorite season of all, autumn.

But until then, happy summer and happy June!

A Good Mid-Week Prayer

“Dear God,

Speak gently in my silence.
When the loud outer noises of my surroundings
and the loud inner noises of my fears
keep pulling me away from you,
help me to trust that you are still there
even when I am unable to hear you.
Give me ears to listen to your small, soft voice saying:
‘Come to me, you who are overburdened, and I will give you rest . . .
for I am gentle and humble of heart.’ Let that loving voice be my guide.
Amen.” (Henri Nouwen).

It’s easy to let the chaos drown out the calm, and the noise to cancel out the still small voice that speaks your true name. I know that I can get caught up in the stress of the moment and forget the big picture. I still believe that 99% of what brings out my anxiety won’t matter a month from now . . . or a week from now. So why does it matter so much now?

Lord, help me to be in every moment but also not lose sight of the end — Your victory and my overcoming. Help me to remember that you have already overcome and defeated all that I will ever face in this life by Your blood and Your cross.

Holding on to Hope in an Off Kilter World

“Lord, yeah, the world may tilt off kilter tonight,

but it should have known better than to try to rattle the likes of us because we know that

though we’re broken, we’re not crushed,

though we’re battered, we’re never destroyed,

though we’re we’re not sure what to do, we absolutely know it like a burning inferno in our bones, that our God knows what to do,

though pressures keep coming from right & left, we can feel how God hasn’t left our side,

‘So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, *not a day goes by without His unfolding grace.* These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us.’ 2Cor4MSG

And all the weary people smiled and said their brave Amen, the celebration beginning even right now.

#RealHonestPrayer#StrengtheningEachOtherWithPrayer” (Ann Voskamp).

I love that. All the hardships in this world are small potatoes compared to what’s coming. They’re all a light and momentary affliction compared to the eternal joy that awaits.

Right now, the small potatoes look a lot bigger. Like they’re all we can see. But when we shift our perspective from the immediate to the forever, then we see things in their proper place. Everything we’ve been stressing over will seem so small looking back. In fact, I’d guess that a year from now we won’t remember what was giving us so much anxiety in a lot of cases. We will remember that God was faithful.

And when we look ahead, we can even now see glimpses of the coming glory. The closer we get, the bigger it gets, and the more glorious God appears to our senses, failing as they are in one sense yet becoming sharper and clearer on the eternity side.

So remember that. Small potatoes versus eternal joy.

Even When I Don’t Feel It, You’re Working

“It is quite right that you should feel that ‘something terrific’ has happened to you (It has) and be ‘all glowy.’ Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift. I mean, it is not the sensations that are the real thing. The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be—perhaps not ever—experienced as a sensation or emotion. The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be most operative when you can feel it least” (C. S. Lewis).

I think feelings are great, especially when they’re connected to worship. But it’s dangerous to make feelings a barometer of my worship experience. Worship that comes without feelings can be just as genuine and real because you’re still declaring the worth of God from a place of one who has experienced the goodness of God, even if you’re not currently feeling it.

On the converse, it’s just as dangerous to make the abundance of feelings equate with good worship. Feelings are good, but they’re not God. Feelings can and will mislead you because they are influenced by so many factors outside of yourself and God — how hungry you are, how tired you are, how stressed you are . . . . Feelings can lead to wrong beliefs about God if those feelings aren’t subjected to the Word of God, rather than the other way around.

Jesus told us that true worship happens in spirit and in truth, with the heart and with the mind. Sometimes, that means feelings and sometimes not. But it is still worship if it focuses on God and not what you feel.

Something Borrowed, Something True

I found this posted on Facebook and thought it was too good not to share:

“It’s too easy to let pain dictate your response. When people strike you, literal or otherwise, the cry for Justice wells up within you.

We look at the world and find injustice on every corner, both real or imagined. A literal flood of darkness provoking people to anger and offense.

The cause of the offense does not matter, only that you are offended. They don’t call the devil the accuser for nothing.

I find myself sinking into those dark waters from time to time. It threatens to sweep me away.

Yet the cross stands before me. An immovable anchor in the midst of raging tides.

The sound louder than thunder shouting from pierced hands and feet is not one of contempt, bitterness or anger.

Outrageous injustice is met with unfathomnable mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

What is this power that overcomes all sin, death, and darkness?

The Son of God has shown us the way to calm every storm.

The voice of accusation howls and rages, but the voice of peace outshines these shadows with radiance, glory, and resurrection power.

The mighty do not rage, they walk in peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers they shall be called the sons of God” (Glen Datugan).

May the Prince of Peace grant you perfect peace today and every day as you strive with all that is within your power to make peace in the places and people around you.

Why We Need Each Other

I wrote the following words a long time ago, but I think they still resonate with me even now. Community is the strength of the Church. Together, we are a temple for the holy God to dwell in. Individually, we are weak and prone to temptation, but together we can hold each other accountable and be strong where the other is weak and visa versa. Here’s what I wrote back in the day:

“I think one of the reasons that community is so important is that it enlarges our view of God. I like to think that each of us carry puzzle pieces of what God is like. Each has a few pieces that reveal a limited aspect of God. When you get to know me, you add more pieces to your puzzle and your view of God gets bigger and clearer. When I get to know you, the same happens for me.

The more people whose lives we invest in, the more pieces and the bigger our view of God becomes and the more the pieces fall into place and connect into more coherent forms.

I truly believe that we grow as believers and our knowledge of God increases only in the context of community, where we share with each other and serve one another in love. There’s no way I can figuire out God on my own, apart from other believers.

There it is. That’s my thought for the day. Hope it helps.”

Also, you can view community as a kind of mosaic. Separately, each piece doesn’t look like much or add much value, but put together, they become something beautiful and tell a story that they could not tell as individual pieces. There is a collective power when the body of Christ comes together in the name of God to worship God that is much more powerful than when we each individually worship God apart from each other.

That’s why the Bible compels us not to neglect gathering together, even if it’s only two or three, because it’s then that Jesus is truly in the midst of them.

Three Day Weekend? Yes, Please

Am I ready for a three day weekend? Heck yeah.

I’m excited for the extra day for different reasons than when I was younger,

Back when, I’d be all pumped for an extra day to get out there and do all the things and see all the things. Now, it means an extra day to sleep in and one less day with waking up to a heart attack thanks to the alarm going off at 5 am.

I wish I were better at living according to Sabbath rhythms. God established a Sabbath, not so we’d have a day with a different set of have-to’s to keep up with but so that we’d actually rest. But instead we turned it into another checklist that we can mark off to show that we’re spiritually superior.

But that dog in the picture has the right idea. Doing nothing may seem unproductive and lazy, but sometimes it’s good to be still and make room to hear from God. Or just take a nap.

I guess it’s the same as restarting your computer or your phone periodically. It resets everything to make it work better. Or at least that’s my go-to when things stop working or start freezing up.

So this weekend is my reboot weekend. Time to turn it off and turn it back on again, I guess.