Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

“I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. Brothers and sisters, as I said, I know I have not arrived; but there’s one thing I am doing: I’m leaving my old life behind, putting everything on the line for this mission. I am sprinting toward the only goal that counts: to cross the line, to win the prize, and to hear God’s call to resurrection life found exclusively in Jesus the Anointed. All of us who are mature ought to think the same way about these matters. If you have a different attitude, then God will reveal this to you as well. For now, let’s hold on to what we have been shown and keep in step with these teachings” (Phil. 3:12-16).

One thing that I keep learning and re-learning is that you can’t keep doing the same old things in the same old way and expect new results. You can’t keep doing things the way you’ve always done them and expect change.

The old definition of insanity holds true: doing the same thing over and over and each time expecting a different result.

Growth in the Christian life is a matter of discipline drenched in grace. You supply the disciplines and the effort and realize that even then, it’s only grace that brings about the real change.

Without grace, you can grit your teeth and lace up those old bootstraps and work for all you’re worth and still be the same old you.

It’s all grace. Even the desire from within to change is because of grace.

Let’s make 2016 different because we no longer belief that maturity and growth come through the osmosis of sleeping with a Bible under our pillows. Let’s train ourselves to be not the same old people we were in 2015, but people who will diligently hunger and thirst after Jesus and His words, no matter what.

The end.

 

The Five Longest Minutes

I tried an experiment on my second visit of the evening to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. I set the timer on my phone for five minutes, and I spent five minutes in silence, not reading anything, not saying anything, not looking my phone. It was just me sitting in a pew in semi-darkness for five minutes.

Five long minutes.

It’s amazing how society has conditioned us to need almost constant stimuli from the radio, television, tablets, internet, and smart phones. Our attention span is so much shorter than it was even twenty years ago.

It’s good for the soul to be silent.

I think of it like rebooting a computer every so often. It helps it to run more smoothly and to reset the equilibrium when things get a bit off-kilter.

We need rebooting periodically. That’s what silence and meditation are for.  That’s what prayer and fasting are for. That’s why God instituted the Sabbath as a day of rest, although historically His people haven’t been very good at using that day for the purpose of which it was intended.

I’m not very good at any kind of silence. That five minutes seemed a lot longer to me than five minutes. It definitely seemed a lot longer than five minutes spent on Pinterest or Instagram. I’ve been known to waste way more than five minutes scrolling through the posts on Facebook at the end of the day.

Silence takes discipline, something that the culture around us seems to treat with disdain. You don’t see or hear many advertisements extolling the virtues of discipline and self-denial. Usually, it’s quite the opposite.

So there I was in that quiet space for five whole minutes, not saying anything, not reading anything, praying as I felt led. It was refreshing and soul-cleansing. I felt more relaxed and less anxious. I felt at peace with myself and with God.

I should probably do that more often.

 

Listening with Soft Eyes

I heard someone use an intriguing expression today in a conversation. She talked about empathetic listening and used the expression “listen with soft eyes.”

If you take it literally, it sounds kind of stupid. Of course, people listen with their ears, not their eyes. But when you take into account that 90% of communication is nonverbal, it starts to make more sense.

Most of us (me emphatically included) tend to listen not to hear but to respond. All the while the other is speaking, we’re coming up with the perfect retort to win the argument or the perfect solution to fix the other’s problem.

To me, listening with soft eyes means listening with compassion. It means I don’t try to fix the way you feel– even if it seems irrational and counterproductive to me. It’s me saying, “I know what you’re going through is hard and I know you must feel scared or tired or frustrated. I’ve felt like that lots of times before.”

Real listening is an art form that takes practice. Especially if you have a flighty attention span like me. You have to train yourself to listen not to just words being spoken but to facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, etc.

I confess that while I like to think I’m a good listener, many times I am anything but. I can get distracted and lose the train of the conversation and walk away without any clue about what the other person was saying.

I think a lot of us do that. It’s happened to a lot of us. And it’s frustrating when you know you’re not being heard. Truly heard.

So one of my Second Half of 2015 Resolutions is to work on listening better. Being a better friend, husband, wife, lover, father, mother, son, daughter, or anything else starts by being a better listener.

So, I’m learning to listen with soft eyes.

 

300 Words

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My goal every time I sit down to write one of these posts is 300 words.

I don’t always have a defined topic when I start typing. Sometimes, I’ll be halfway through a blog before an idea will hit me. Sometimes, I end up with a very stream-of-consciousness, vague-and-shadowy type of blog.

I’ve decided that not every blog I write has to reinvent the genre. Not every single post will be a literary classic. Some will stink like my cat’s week-old kitty litter. But for me, the joy is sitting down in front of my trusty laptop (or iPad) and clicking away on the keys to produce something that wasn’t there before.

Honestly, there are times when I get discouraged by the fact that less people are reading these than were a year ago. I’m just keeping it real. But then I have to remind myself that this is for me and if I only have an audience of one, I’m okay with that.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m repeating myself and essentially saying a lot of the same things over and over. Maybe some of you are like me and it takes you way more than once before a truth sinks in. For me, it’s more like five or six times.

For me, it’s about the discipline of writing something down every single day. Plus, it’s always fun to look back at some older posts and remember what was going on in my life and what I was thinking and feeling at the time. It’s a good indicator of how far God has brought me along the road of healing and wholeness.

So there’s a little more insight into what goes on in my little ol’ noggin. In case you were wondering. And that, my friends, brings us to 300 words.

 

 

 

 

Lessons from Lent

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This may be old hat for you or not. I’m not sure. But stop me if you’ve heard some or all of this before: last year, I gave up only Facebook for Lent. This year, I decided to give up all social media. It turned out to be one of my best decisions ever. Although if I’m honest, I was being obedient to what I felt God was calling me to do. It really wasn’t my decision at all.

I don’t regret for one single second going without social media for those 46 days. I got in more prayer time, I read my Bible more, I read more books in general. Plus, I had a greater sense of peace from not being tied down to Facebook or Twitter.

I think sometimes in order to appreciate something more, you need to step away from it for a while. That was the case for me. I did sometimes feel out of the loop after missing all the news from Facebook. But I can always catch up on that.

Lent is more than just giving up. It’s replacing it with something better. It’s no good to give up social media if you’re going to fill up the time with television. Hopefully, you spend your extra free time in learning to hear God’s voice and hear His heartbeat and feel His love for you. Obviously, the best way to do that is through His Word.

I don’t claim that I was anywhere near perfect in that regard. I wasted too much of the time I had away from social media. But I’m not beating myself up about it. Instead I choose to focus on the fact that I was more discipline in regard to prayer and Bible reading than I’ve been in a long time.

I hope to be able to participate in Lent again next year. I hope that I can be free enough to walk away from anything that enslaves me and takes my eyes off Jesus, whether that be social media or TV or anything else.

Like I said before, it’s really not about giving up stuff or sacrificing what you love. More than that, it’s about prioritizing your life and making sure that Jesus and His Kingdom really and truly are first. Then everything else will line up and fall into proper place.

17 Days In

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I reported to you earlier that I had decided to give up not only Facebook, but all forms of social media this year for Lent. Obviously excluding WordPress.

It’s been 17 days (by my count) out of 46. So far, so good. I haven’t missed social media like I thought I would. In fact, most of the time, I don’t really even think about it much.

I’ve used my newfound free time in catching up on my reading and movie watching. On the book front, I’m currently reading Anne of the Islands (the third book of the Anne of Green Gables series– don’t judge) as well as diligently reading through The Voice translation of the Bible (I’m up to Isaiah 23).

Recently, I re-watched all the Harry Potter movies and remembered why I liked them so much the first time. Also, I was astounded all over again at how many incredible well-known actors they enlisted for these film adaptations of children’s books.

I find myself less anxious and more calm without social media. I do miss seeing what my friends post, but I also don’t miss checking to see who commented on my own posts (a bad habit that I still sometimes struggle with).

I’m still praying for more discipline and more willingness to create space and silence for God to speak to me. I’m praying for the ability to quiet my own mind and listen to that Still Small Voice that will never compete with my own noise.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll keep you posted for the remaining 29 days of Lent.

My Prayer Life

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I went to part one of a conference about Spiritual Practices. The guy who spoke focused on the discipline of prayer.

I have to be honest. Most of the time, I suck at prayer. When I try to pray early in the morning, I fall asleep. My mind wanders. I end up thinking about anything and everything but God.

One of the good takeaways (so far) from this conference is the idea of praying through the Bible, specifically the Psalms. It’s a good way to literally pray God’s Word back to Him and to keep your mind from wandering. It also keeps you from falling into rote prayers where you pray those same old tired cliches and phrases you’ve always prayed because you don’t know what else to pray, i.e. “Bless my family, bless my dog, etc.”

The point is to keep praying and not give up. It’s called a discipline because it takes effort and time. No one is born spouting off beautiful prayers. Everyone has to learn and everyone has to start somewhere.

Just because you’re not an expert at something is not a reason to quit. Besides, you become an expert only after you’ve put in 10,000  hours at something. At least that’s what I’ve read somewhere. The point is that it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of looking (and sounding) foolish.

Think of someone learning to play an instrument. At first, it sounds like an animal is being tortured to death and needs to be put out of its misery. But eventually you get better. But not by giving up after a few off-notes.

Jesus didn’t teach us to pray perfectly or even to pray well. He just said to pray. Other parts of the Bible tell us to pray boldly, without ceasing, and with confidence.

So take it from this guy. I’m still learning to pray and probably will be for the rest of my life. But the good thing is that it doesn’t take eloquence and perfect theology for God to hear. It just takes a sincere heart and a willing spirit.

That’s all.

 

 

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

“Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known” (Garrison Keillor).

I’m generally not the best judge of what I really want. How do I know? Because of all the times I got what I thought I wanted and thought would satisfy me and almost instantly was out looking again for what I really wanted.

I’m thankful (as I know you probably are) that I didn’t get most of what I asked God for. First and foremost, because God’s not a cosmic vending machine bound to give me whatever I asked for. Also, I’ve changed and my wants have changed and– hopefully– matured since then.

There’s the old saying that what looks good to you isn’t usually what’s good for you. You have to be disciplined and mature enough to know the difference. And I have not been very good at either of those. Improving, yes. Very good, no.

I think if I ever focused on what I have, I’d be a lot better off. My checking account would be, too.

What do I have?

All that really matters.

I have family, friends, air to breathe, health, freedom, a good mind, and today. Most of all, I have a God who knows what I need better than I do. He knows what I’m seeking after when I can’t even put a name to it.

As the old Rolling Stones song says, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.” There’s some good theology in those lyrics.

There’s not a neat and tidy theological wrap-up to all this. I just realize that if I’m not getting what I want, sometimes it’s because I need better “wants.” By the way, that sentence made perfect sense in my head.

May you always find that even though God doesn’t always give you what you want, he does always give you what you need.

Taking Your Medicine

My niece was not having a good day. She’s teething and has a cold, among other things. My sister was trying to get her to take the medicine that would make her feel better and not be in as much pain, but she wanted no part of it.

It would be easy for me to scoff at a 17-month old who is refusing what is obviously good for her. But then I have to ask myself how many  times I’ve done the same thing.

I don’t mean when I was growing up and adamantly refused to take my cough medicine (namely, because it tasted like cherry-flavored death in a bottle). I mean now when I don’t want the disciplines from God that will make me more like Jesus and less like that selfish sinner I used to be.

I want every day to be sunny, but without constant sunshine without the occasional rainy days leads to a desert. If I never have bad days or days that don’t make sense, then I don’t appreciate the really good days.

I’m sure God looks at me like I looked at my niece today, smiling and shaking his head. He knows what’s best for me. I only think I do. I only see a limited part of the picture. He sees it all.

I think the lesson for me is to be thankful when things don’t go the way I wanted them to. I can’t count the times I look back at my life, grateful that I didn’t get some of the things I asked for and desperately wanted at the time, because I didn’t know what I wanted or how to ask for it. And most of the time I still don’t.

The story has a happy ending. Once my niece settled down and took her medicine, she felt a lot better. Once I stop fighting God and demanding my own way and finally agree to his way, I often feel a lot better. I have a peace that only comes with acceptance and surrender.

Now if I could figure a way to get my cat to take her medicine.

 

Borrowed Thoughts

I think a part of me would very much like to sleep until noon every day. That part of me would love to gorge myself with chocolate as much as possible and only eat foods that while being extremely tasty, are extremely bad for me.

I remember what a pastor said once. He said that no one ever wakes up in them morning and thinks, “Hey, today I’m gonna screw my life up beyond all recognition.” It all starts with choices.

I’ve never woken up thinking, “Today I’d like a heaping helping of humility and trials and crappiness in my day. I want everything to go wrong and to feel like the day is never going to end.

Just like the Israelites probably never thought, “Gee, I’d like to wander around in a desert for 40 years, eating some strange pastry that falls from the sky and drinking water out of rocks. That sounds like my cup of tea.” But that’s what they got.

God doesn’t often give us what we want as much as he gives us what we need. I may want non-stop chocolate, but I need to be healthy and not weigh 800 pounds. I may want to sleep late every day of my life, but I need to spend time with God in the morning to get my bearings put right.

I heard that discipline is getting us to a place we would have never thought to go on our own. On my own, I’d never think to develop a constant prayer life and a complete dependence on God. But when I find myself in places where my way just doesn’t work and I have no more answers, I find myself praying to and depending on God a lot more.

I’m grateful now looking back that I didn’t get a lot of what I asked God for in prayer. I thought I knew what I needed, but it was only what I thought I wanted at the time.

A perfect illustration is looking at a 1-year old. He may think he knows what he needs and what is best for him, but he doesn’t. He has to be told what is and what is not good for him. The father may have to discipline him to get him to see what he wants and what is best for him aren’t always the same thing. I’m a lot like that little boy.

May you and I come to embrace the hard days as well as the good ones, because they remind us of how much we really do need God every day. May Jesus use the trials and troubles we face to develop in us a constant faith and a undying hope and a love that won’t quit.