Blog #1,796 (or What I Took Away from Another Good Night at Kairos)

Tonight’s guest speaker was Tyler McKenzie, who spoke from the Beatitudes about what it meant to be blessed.

American culture has a decidedly different take on what being blessed looks like than Jesus. Unfortunately, too many believers (including me at times) have fallen into their idea that wealth, success, power, popularity, and recognition are what it looks like when you’re blessed.

Jesus had a very different idea. He said that you were blessed if you were poor in spirit, mourning, meek, righteous, merciful, pure in heart, and persecuted. Those are not concepts that you’ll find in the self-help section of the bookstore or in any motivational speeches. At least not in 99% of them.

Blessing involves foregoing the immediate and temporary pleasures of the now for a greater and lasting joy that’s partly now but mostly later. It means following the path of Jesus, who for the future joy set before Him endured the present pain and suffering of the cross.

Pain and suffering aren’t words we normally associate with blessing. I’d much rather have comfort and convenience (and chocolate as often as possible). I’d rather choose the easy over the hard path. Sometimes, I’m content to hunker down in my safe haven and pray to be able to coast into heaven. But that’s not the gateway to joy.

As I remember, the Greek word for blessed is a very interesting word. Before Jesus used it in this context, it wasn’t ever used to refer to people but rather to the gods. But here Jesus is saying that if you’re poor in spirit, you have the joy that God has. You can experience (or come as close to experiencing as any fallen human can) the state of blessedness that God lives in. You can have joy overflowing and life abundant.

I don’t want this to turn into another burden of “you and I really need to add this to the list of things we need to work on.” It’s not something I need to work on, but something Jesus is already working on in me. Ultimately, I’m not blessed because I have it all together but because I know that Jesus has it all together and He has me.

 

What’s It Worth?

“Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, ‘Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?'” (Mark 8:34-37).

God is not your co-pilot. If He is, it’s time to switch seats.

But enough of cliches. This is the gospel. It’s not about prosperity and happiness. It’s about following Jesus, no matter what, even if it hurts.

Sometimes where Jesus leads is pleasant, but not always.

Sometimes, it feels good to follow Jesus, but sometimes it feels like swimming against the current.

Sometimes, you’ll really feel like saying yes to whatever Jesus asks of you, but sometimes you will have to say yes when your feelings are saying no.

It’s about letting Jesus lead, wherever He takes you and through whatever He brings you.

As much as I love my comfort and convenience, that’s not the road that Jesus took.

His road was marked with suffering and pain.

His road was definitely the road less traveled, the narrow road that few find that leads to life eternal.

His road was the road that led to you and me in our worst moments, where He invited us to follow and find out what a different and better life could look like.

What good would it do me to get everything I’ve ever wanted and dreamed about, everything on my Amazon wish list, everything on my bucket list, and lose my soul in the process?

If I have everything else and no Jesus, I have nothing. If I have nothing else but Jesus, I have everything.

The end.

 

Hymns in the Dark

“Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears. Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose.

 Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, when Paul stopped him: “Don’t do that! We’re all still here! Nobody’s run away!”

The jailer got a torch and ran inside. Badly shaken, he collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. He led them out of the jail and asked, ‘Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live?’ They said, ‘Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you’ll live as you were meant to live—and everyone in your house included!'” (Acts 16:25-35).

Today at The Church at Avenue South, Matthew Page preached on the passage where Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison. I wonder if I could do that, especially if I were behind bars for something I didn’t do.

Matthew spoke about how they lived a questionable life, as in a life that led people to ask questions about what kind of men they were and why they lived the way they did.

The most powerful part of their witness was being able to sing praise songs in a prison cell. That more than anything captured the attention of not only the fellow prisoners but of the prison guard as well.

I wonder if the earthquake would have happened if Paul and Silas has remained silent. Or if they had chosen instead to make a laundry list of all the wrongs and injustices inflicted upon them. Maybe. Maybe not.

The result was that a prison guard and his entire family came to faith in the Jesus that Paul and Silas sang about. Some scholars think that the other prisoners converted to Christianity as well.

Matthew went on to talk about being in the ER with a family whose daughter was near death. The prognosis was grim but some of those there with the family broke out singing hymns.

Do you sing as loud during the dark as well as during daylight? Do you praise God during the hard times when life doesn’t make sense? Does your speech reflect gratitude and thanksgiving in the midst of extreme trials and tribulations?

There was a doctor in that ER that eventually chose to follow Jesus because he saw what he couldn’t understand. He had probably seen people rage and curse at God but he had most likely never seen people worshipping through tears in the midst of tragedy.

By the way, the girl miraculously survived.

I won’t say that every time you praise Jesus, everything will automatically turn out the way you want it to, but I will say worship will change the way you see your circumstances.

It was convicting. Maybe I need a little more praise and a little less anxious analysing.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.

 

Wednesday Thoughts

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I got another sneak peek of autumn. It was warm, but not too much, with no humidity and just the tiniest hint of frost in the air. I loved it.

I drove home listening to a Billie Holiday CD. It was in fact the same CD that I lost in my transition from Memphis to Nashville almost 9 years ago. Her voice always takes me to a soothing happy place. It’s sad that her own life was so tragic and filled with heartaches and poor choices.

I took my iPad to the Apple Store because the Big Honkin’ Button hasn’t been working right. And no, that’s probably not the name that the Apple tekkies use, but it works for me. Anyhow, THAT button can be stubborn and not always do what I want. Imagine that.

It turns out I can either trade in this iPad for partial credit toward a new iPad or learn to bear with the Big-Honkin’-and-Sometimes-Annoying-Button. I chose option #2 as it was the affordable option.

I’m thinking about all the celebs we’ve lost so far in 2014: Philip Seymour Hoffman, James Garner, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple, Lauren Bacall, and Robin Williams.

I still can’t imagine being in a place where death seems like the only option. Then again, I’ve never struggled with clinical depression. I do know that it’s not something you can just “snap out of,” but a real chemical imbalance. A broken brain is just as broken as any broken foot or arm or leg. You just can’t see it.

I also know that you never know the secret battles that others are facing. I can look down on a Philip Seymour Hoffman who overdosed or a Robin Williams who hung himself with his own belt. But who knows how I would have fared under similar circumstances? Maybe I would have done far worse.

So yeah, it was nice outside. Too nice to not take a little time, roll down the windows, and breathe in the air. I may not have everything I want but I do have everything I need and then some. I am blessed.

Joy on a Rainy, Yucky Sunday

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I had an amazing time dining at Chuy’s with some friends old and new. And by that I mean friends that I’ve known for a while and friends I met today. Compared to me, they were all young whippersnappers.

I had my standard taco salad with both chicken and steak. I had my water with both lemon and lime. I figure why should you be an either/or person when you can be a both/and person? Life’s much more fun that way.

Life’s also more fun when you see the sun behind all those grey clouds and joy in the midst of difficulties and hardships. It’s not like the sun went AWOL during all this rain. It’s still there, behind the clouds and waiting to be unveiled at just the right moment.

Joy’s like that. It’s always there. There’s never a moment without a blessing or a place with no joy to be found. You just have to see with eyes of thanksgiving and gratitude to find the blessings and the joy. Even in the darkest of times, you can always find light if you know where to look.

Later on, I’m celebrating Thanksgiving with some more friends. This year, it’s more than a lot of turkey and dressing. It’s about being truly alive and counting all my gifts that I once took for granted. It’s about celebrating the people in my life who are helping me find and love out my miracle.

Truly, life is good, God is great, and I am still blessed.

Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive

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Sometimes, life will hand you lemons. You could make them into lemonade, but without sugar and water to go with it, your lemonade is really going to suck. Or you could freeze those lemons and throw them at all those people who really annoy you. Just a thought.

Maybe it’s a friend who really disappointed you and wasn’t around when you needed them. Maybe it’s a long work week where you seem to have not only two left feet but two left hands as well. Maybe it’s just a general sense of discouragement at where you find yourself compared to so many others.

Here’s the cure. Focus on the good things in your life, or as the old song says. accentuate the positive.

Here are some of my positives which may or may not inspire you to find your own (or you could just steal mine if you like):

1) I woke up this morning and got out of bed and got dressed and went to work. It may not seem like much, but I know a lot of people who didn’t get that privilege today.

2) I greet on Tuesdays at Kairos (a young adult worship experience) with some of the most amazing people, each of whom I am blessed to know and to call friends.

3) The three C’s essential to any early morning– coffee, chocolate, and caffeine. All three are marvelous.

4) I can pull out my Bible (or pull out my iPhone or my iPad and bring up my Bible app) and instantly be encouraged and motivated and strengthen at any time of day or night.

5) Instead of lamenting about how far I am from where I need to be, I can celebrate how far I’ve already come and who I am now versus who I used to be.

6) If I look through eyes of faith, I can always find blessings and joys stashed throughout my week and choose to live out Eucharisteo in every moment.

7) No matter how bad my day may suck, it will never last more than 24 hours. No matter how bad the week seems, it will never have more than 7 days. And that includes Friday and Saturday.

8) My cat Lucy is always happy to see me when I come home and loves to tell me how her day went. Ok, not really. She’s more the silent type, but still her presence is a great comfort to me.

9) I love seeing how my nephews and niece are discovering this great big world and their place in it. They are becoming who God made them to be and I love the previews I get of what that will look like.

10) I have my favorite places that always make me happy: my corner of the couch in the morning, downtown Franklin, serving at Kairos and Room in the Inn, and being around my family and friends.

Joy is a choice that I must make every single day. If I want my life to matter and if I want the people I live with and work with and play with to see a difference in me, the only way is me living out of joy and gratitude and thanksgiving at the never ending goodness and mercy and steadfast love of God.

And there’s those three C’s.

Theology from a BBC Sitcom

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I’ve discovered a great new (to me) BBC sitcom called Miranda. It’s about a very tall and very awkward English woman named– wait for it— Miranda, played by –again, wait for it– Miranda Hart.

The whole concept of the show is Miranda being socially awkward, clumsy, and hapless in just about every situation. Something none of you can relate to, I’m sure.

Maybe you find your self talking to someone you’re romantically interested in and you find the most bizarre things coming out of your mouth. Your mind is thinking, “What in the world?” but is completely helpless to stop your mouth from talking.

No one? Then how about this one, sports fans?

I’m not a woman. Big shocker.

And I’m not 6’1″. At least everywhere except in my own happy little world.

But I’ve had my share of socially awkward moments, of trying way too hard to be friendly, of being both obsessive and compulsive with certain relationships, and of not being “normal.”

But I’ve come to the place where I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. I’m having way too much fun being me. I’ve finally caught a glimpse of God’s heart for me and His dream for me and how He made me like no one else.

Not everyone will get you. That doesn’t make you inferior or less worthy. Trust me, God will bring people into your life who will more than just get you. They will embrace you and celebrate you and champion you. They will make you feel like a superhero on days when you can’t even button your shirt up right.

Remember that God Himself more than gets you. He made you. He designed you just the way you are to be like no one else and play a part in His ongoing Story that absolutely no one else could possibly fill.

I’ve seen 5 episodes so far and I love it. I also love the way my family and friends love me. I adore how God adores and celebrates and rejoices in and dances over and shouts over me.

I call that a very good reminder for this All Saints Day.

Joy in the Midst of Sadness

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I celebrated with the rest of the family as my niece turned 2. Finally, I can stop counting in months. I was seriously running out of fingers and toes to count on.

I loved seeing the pure unadulterated joy on her face when she saw her presents and the complete love and trust she has for her mommy and daddy and two big brothers. It did my heart good.

But I also remembered Adrian Peterson’s 2-year old son who was allegedly beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend. My heart hurts and I have questions I can’t answer.

Who does that to a 2-year old? For what possible reason?

I know we live in a broken world filled with broken people. Creation groans for deliverance and for everything to be made right. Too many defenseless and helpless children suffer, too many people go to bed hungry, too many marriages fall apart, and too many die way too young.

Then I remember how this story ends. I cheated and read the last page. It’s about God wiping away every tear from our eyes. It’s about a new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth where lambs lie safely next to lions, where others is no need for sun, moon, or stars because God is there.

I love what the guest pastor said. God didn’t want an only child, so He chose us to be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus and become heirs with Jesus to all the promises of God.

I love this version of Romans 8:29-30: “God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.”

That’s what keeps me going in the midst of so much suffering and sadness. That’s why I can find joy in everything. Because ultimately Love does win.

Hello, My Name Is . . . More of What Jesus Wants to Say to Every Woman

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I felt like I had to revisit this because there’s so much more that I felt needs to be said. So much I feel like Jesus wants to communicate to women, both single and married. So here goes:

“My Precious Daughter,

Why are you so concerned about the future? Do you think by worrying you can hasten its arrival or change one iota of your destiny?

If you are single, be single. Regardless of whether I’ve called you to be single for life or not, I have called you to be single today. Embrace this stage as a gift and especially embrace all the lessons and wisdom that you can only gain from this part of your life.

If you are married, remember I am your identity now. Not your husband, not your children, not your job. All these things belong to Me.

Your marriage is not yours. It’s Mine. So is your husband. I expect you to give him back to me better than when I first gave him to you– more like Me.

Your children do not belong to you. They are Mine and I have entrusted them to your care for such a short time. They will form their opinions of Me much more by watching your daily actions and habits and lifestyle than by listening to your words. Live what you profess to believe.

Make time to find rest in Me. Notice I did not say to take time. In your hectic schedule, you will never have time for Me unless you make time for Me. And you will always make time for what really matters to to you.

Remember, whenever you hear the voices reminding you of your past, your shortcomings, your faults, and your mistakes, speak My name aloud. Do not dwell on such things, but rebuke them in My name.

Your feelings will lie to you. Your woman’s intuition will lie to you. Your mind and heart will deceive you. I will always tell you the truth, for I am the Truth. Trust me.

Let My love for you captivate and enthrall your heart tonight. Repeat the phrase, “Abba Father, I belong to you” over and over until the thought becomes as ingrained as breathing.

I love you just as you are right now but I will not let you stay that way. I am far from finished from the masterpiece I am making out of you.

Thoughts on Grace and the Abundant Life

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The following material has been previously published or preached or taught elsewhere at least once. It is all “borrowed'” based on the BASE principle of writing (which is Borrow And Steal Everything).

Following Jesus isn’t about praying a prayer or signing a card or walking an aisle. It’s about lining up with Jesus, doing what He said to do and going where He said to go. It’s really and truly about following not a moral code or set of rules but a Person.

It’s about seeing colors when the rest see only black and white. How do you explain the color red to someone who’s only seen black, white, and shades of grey? How do you convince someone that you really gain your life by losing it and win by putting others before yourself? That’s where faith comes in.

Faith is confidence in a God Who is in the past, present, and future at once. Because He’s already in the future, it’s already a done deal to Him. So faith is living out God’s declaration of how the future will be like it’s that way now. Like the victory is completely won.

When Jesus promises us eternal life, it doesn’t just mean living forever. As C S Lewis said of the White Witch in The Magician’s Nephew, ““But length of days with an evil heart is only length of misery and already she begins to know it. All get what they want; they do not always like it.”

True eternal life that Jesus gives is as deep and wide as it is long. It’s so deep that no matter how low you sometimes sink, you can never get beneath the grace of God. It is as wide as the ocean of God’s love for you which you can never see the end of or ever run away so far that you’re still not covered by it.

It is life to the full. It is the abundant life. It is living in the strength and provision of Jesus Himself and having everything you need to live a content and godly life now. It means deeper friendships, deeper dating relationships, deeper marriages, deeper families, deeper careers, and a deeper life that has meaning and purpose beyond anything you could ever dream up or imagine. It means eucharisteo, an overflowing joy and gratitude in everything and for everything.

I love the way The Message ends Romans 5. It’s a good way to end this blog:

“All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end. (Romans 5:20, 21 MSG)