God of Wonders: Thoughts on Community

It’s amazing what true community will do for the weary and heavy-laden. Or just those who are in need of a nap.

My community group met again, and it was good. We started our study of Philippians, focusing on the first twelve verses.

For me, the best part was afterwards. I can’t really point to any one moment as extra magical, but it was really just the five of us sharing life together. One of the bright moments that I do recall is one of the girls breaking out the guitar and leading us in the oldie but goodie, God of Wonders.

Community doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or ground-breaking (or any of those other tried and true cliches). It can mean sharing the small moments of life together. It can be me saying to you, “I see you and I’m a witness to the fact that you’re not in this alone. I’m with you.”

Sometimes, that’s all we need– just a voice that says, “No, you’re not the only one who struggles with fear and doubt. No, you’re not weird or crazy. Yes, you will get through this. Yes, we will be with you.”

If you find a group of people who will let you be yourself, warts and all, you have truly found a blessing. It may not always look pretty, but then again, those healing moments never are. What we need most is quite honestly a lot less pleasant that what we’d like. But you’re never broken, you can never be truly whole.

My goal is to lead my own group soon. Hopefully sooner than later. But for now I’m enjoying being a part of a group where the leader sets the example of authenticity and honesty better than just about anybody I’ve seen. Thanks, David. Also, thanks to Jeff, Abbey, and Paige for making me feel so welcome.

The end.

 

 

RIght Living and Right Speaking

Occasionally, the creative well runs dry and I end up “borrowing” from other great writers. One of my favorites that I’ve quoted many times in the past is Henri Nouwen (who along with Brennan Manning are probably my two favorite authors).

Here’s what he wrote that again struck me so powerfully:

“To be a witness for God is to be a living sign of God’s presence in the world.  What we live is more important than what we say, because the right way of living always leads to the right way of speaking.   When we forgive our neighbours from our hearts, our hearts will speak forgiving words.  When we are grateful, we will speak grateful words, and when we are hopeful and joyful, we will speak hopeful and joyful words.

When our words come too soon and we are not yet living what we are saying, we easily give double messages.  Giving double messages – one with our words and another with our actions – makes us hypocrites.   May our lives give us the right words and may our words lead us to the right life.”

Right speaking comes out of right living. People will sense the authenticity of your words when they see what you say lived out. Your faith will be more caught than taught, and if your words don’t match your actions, then people will dismiss the words and not the actions.

If I speak and act out of a need to be liked or thought well of, then what I say and do won’t be as effective as if I speak and act as one who knows who he is and who knows that he is the Beloved of God. My identity informs my authenticity.

I hope and pray that from this point on I will speak only what I live, and I will live only what God has already spoken about me.

 

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.

If It Hadn’t Been for Those Meddling Hypocrites!

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For some odd reason today, I thought about the movie Annie Hall and a great line. Woody Allen’s character says something to the effect of: “I wouldn’t want to be a part of a club that would have me for a member.”

Then I thought of all those people who stay away from church because of all the hypocrites. So here are my thoughts on that.

First of all, if you never went any place where there were hypocrites, you’d be at home alone in the dark with your pet ferret. You’d never go anywhere for fear of running into one of those hypocrites. You might even have a hard time looking in the mirror, because . . .

That’s right. You’re a hypocrite. So am I. We’ve all pretended to be something or somebody we’re not from time to time. We’ve played the calm dispassionate part when we’re falling apart and screaming on the inside.

Society teaches us to be hypocrites, to never let our true selves out but to only show what is culturally acceptable and normal. You can be yourself as long as that fits a certain cookie-cutter mold.

If there’s anyplace where you can be you, it should be the Church. If there’s a place where you can let your guard down and admit your hurts and flaws, it should be in the midst of the body of Christ.

Churches aren’t perfect because Christians aren’t perfect. As the old joke goes, if you find the perfect church don’t go there because you’ll ruin it with your imperfections.

Church is about doing life together and figuring it all out together. And if you’re not getting anything out of it, maybe that means you’re not putting in your fair share. Isn’t faith about more than just receiving? Isn’t there the part of giving and losing yourself?

I’m glad I’ve found a church where I feel like I belong, where I matter, where I can be a part of what God is doing in the world. I hope you find a place where you can feel like family, too.

Authenticity

authenticity

I did one of those personality analysis tests and was not too surprised at the results. Basically, it turns out that I’m an idealist who wants to make a difference in the world around him. I pretty much knew that.

The test also said that I am drawn toward authenticity.

I think there are few who wouldn’t want some kind of authenticity in their lives, to be in a place where they can truly be themselves. Not only that, but a place where the people around them are just as genuine.

Ideally, the Church is just the place where that should happen.

Sadly, that’s the last place you find true authenticity these days.

These days, especially in the American Church, most believers feel they have to wear the “super spiritual, got it all together” mask and act as if their lives are perfect. Very few feel comfortable being open and honest about their struggles, addictions, and fears for fear of being judged and condemned.

That’s sad. That’s also not at all the Church Jesus had in mind when He prayed that they be united and one just as He and the Father are one. That’s not the Church portrayed in Acts as sharing possessions and helping out the less fortunate.

That’s not the kind that will draw the hurting and helpless, the kind Jesus told us to reach out to.

Pretending to be perfect is a damaging facade in two ways. First, it’s an impossible illusion to maintain because no one is perfect. Second, it creates the false image that to become a believer, you can’t have any issues or problems or sin-issues.

I think what people are looking for when they look to believers are people who make mistakes and fess up to those mistakes, who fail miserably and pick themselves up and move on, who have flaws and choose to see the good in themselves and others.

I’m praying that I can live with that kind of authenticity. I’m praying you will seek to be just as honest and real and transparent in your own lives as well.

Remember, God above all knows your deepest secrets, your utmost failures and flaws, and loves you just as you are. Not as you wish you could be or how you see yourself on your very best days but just exactly as you are when you’re feeling lowest.

That’s the kind of love I’m craving and the only kind of love that can change me into someone who can love others the same way.

 

Live Naked

I need to preface this blog by emphatically stating that by “live naked,” I so do not mean join a nudist colony or walk around all day in your birthday suit. If you do, we will disavow all knowledge and pretend you don’t exist. This blog will self-destruct in 15 seconds. . . .

For real, I do think that we need to live naked. By that, I mean live transparently and honestly. You will always be a second-rate version of someone else, but a first-rate version of you, because God made you to be you, only you, and no one else.

That means you don’t have to force yourself to believe that everything is fine when it’s not. You can honestly admit that you’re having a bad day, that your brokenness is showing, and that you feel completely inadequate to handle what the day is throwing at you.

To like naked is to live a life that is 100% 24/7 completely and utterly dependent on God for every single moment and every single thing. You know you need God in the next moment to avoid a full-on falling apart mental and emotional meltdown. You need all of God’s strength to hold you together and you need all of his love to keep you sane.

To live naked is to live trusting without understanding, following without knowing the way, and believing without having all (or even most) of the answers.

That’s how I am choosing to live each day. That’s how I pray you choose to live. Because believers aren’t perfect, but forgiven. If anything, those who have given up everything to follow Jesus know that Jesus is all they have and that Jesus is all they need.

It’s a battle to trust when your emotions and thoughts are screaming at you that God won’t come through. It’s a lifelong struggle, but it’s so much more than worthwhile.

May we live naked starting today and every day.

Naked

At Kairos, Mike Glenn spoke about how Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden and unashamed. That got me thinking. How great would it be if we were all naked?

I don’t mean naked in the sense of those movies they show late at night on those pay cable channels with the cheesy background music. Not that I would know anything at all about those kinds of movies.

I mean naked where there are no masks and no facades, no faking or pretending. Where you and I can truly be ourselves, with baggage and scars and hang-ups and be accepted as we are.

A good marriage is one where each person can truly be naked and unashamed; that is, each is genuine and authentic and real and honest and vulnerable and forgiving. That’s what I long for some day.

I think the Church is also a good place for people to be truly themselves. Where you can confess to one another and not be ostracized for it. Where you are allowed to be weak and doubting and insecure and temptation-prone and still belong. Where you’re family.

The nearer you draw to God, the more you are able to be your true self, the one God made you to be and the one He is transforming you into. You worry less and less about the opinions of others and are more comfortable standing outside the popular opinions and trends.

I still love the fact that Jesus saw me at my worst and set His love on me in that moment when I couldn’t possibly be more messed up. I love how He’s seen all the hidden sins and vile thoughts and ugly attitudes and His love for me has not diminished one bit (and it never will).

My prayer for you is that you can come before God completely naked and not hiding behind religious pretense and holy words and find shelter in His love.

Singleness of Purpose and Action: A Confession

It’s time for another one of my soul-cleansing confession blogs where I ‘fess up to messing up. Better that than me eventually winding up on Jerry Springer right after the gay, cross-dressing nympho Quakers. That would be awkward.

Lord, I confess that I’ve spent way too much time and energy striving to be noticed and liked and appreciated. I haven’t spent nearly as much time trying to be faithful and righteous and God-honoring.

I confess that I’ve attempted to impress others with my Bible knowledge, yet I’ve hardly picked up my Bible except to parade it around so that others think of me as oh-so-very-super-spiritual.

I confess that I’ve been trying to knock down the doors that You closed on me for a very good reason. I’ve been fighting You for something I don’t really want rather than taking what You give that I need (to borrow from the great theologian Rich Mullins).

I confess that You’ve become a means to my own ends instead of my Ultimate End and Joy.

I confess that I’ve trusted in what I think and what I feel instead of trusting in what I know to be true of You and Who You have proved Yourself to be to me over and over. I’ve listened to my fears way too many times instead of waiting for the Still Small Voice that says good things about me and speaks peace into my chaos.

I confess that I have put myself in the spotlight that only You deserve and my goal has been for others to make much of me instead of making much of You.

I confess that I am weary from chasing rabbit-holes and dead end paths and roads that go nowhere but lead back to themselves. I confess that I have lost my first Love.

Help me to hunger and thirst for Your Word more than any meal and to seek You with all my heart and soul and strength and mind.

Help me to have a singleness of purpose and of action so that people see in me what it looks like to truly honor God and they find out the greatness of this God and are drawn not to me, but to Him.

Chances are, this is your prayer, too. Chances are you’ve fallen into the same trap of self-worship that I have. I hope you know that you’re not the only one who struggles with this from time to time.

My hope is that we can encourage each other to follow hard after Jesus and to seek purity of heart in everything we say and do.

Amen.

For All the Phonies in the World

Let me ask you something. Just between you and me (and the world wide web). Do you ever feel like a phony?

Do you ever hear yourself giving Sunday School answers to real life questions? Do you ever feel that you’re praying what you think God wants to hear instead of what’s really in your heart? Do you ever lie awake at night wondering what would happen if the people around you knew what you were really thinking? What you were really like?

There’s good news that sounds like bad news at first. God knows. God knows it all. He knows all the faux-prayers and the religious jargon you talk sometimes. He knows what you do and what you think when no one’s watching. That seems like bad news until you get to the clincher. He loves you anyway.

He loves you at your phoniest. He loves you at your meanest. He loves you at your darkest moments in the middle of the night. He looks at you and doesn’t see phony. He looks at you and sees Jesus and what Jesus did in your place. He sees the perfect life Jesus lived instead of your own very imperfect existence.

Best of all, God sees you for who you will be instead of who you are. He sees what He designed you to be. He promised to not stop working on you until you’re 100% real and complete.

In the meantime, it’s okay to be real and honest and admit you have made a mess of your life. It’s okay to confess you don’t have all the answers, or even all the questions. It’s really not about how much you know or how well you act but how much you are loved.

I raise my glass and toast to all the phonies who are stepping forward to take off the mask and be honest about themselves. I drink to all the pretenders who just got real. I salute all of you who are letting down the walls on what God is doing in your life so others can see grace at work and how love can transform a person. That’s where the freedom is. That’s where I want to be. I hope you do, too.

My pledge to all of you

I pledge to always give the benefit of the doubt. I pledge to look at you in the best way possible and to see you in the best light at all times. If I have a discouraging or disparaging thought about you, I will renounce it in the name of Jesus as a thought from the Enemy and I will not agree with it. I will believe the best about you, hope the best for you, pray God’s blessing upon you and stand with you even when you feel like giving up on yourself.

I will probably fail at this. A lot. But I will keep trying. I will love each of you like Jesus loved me. Whether or not you notice or care is not my concern. What is is that I keep my end as best I can. Of course, I can only love you with God’s love flowing through me. I want to see you fully alive in God as He meant you to be.

I want to pray for you, so feel free to share whatever concerns or issues or anything that is on your heart, or on the heart of anyone you know. I will not stop until I die or Jesus comes back. This is my pledge to you.