Enjoying the Ride

I confess. I do like to go back and reread books and rematch movies. Sometimes, the second time is better than the first.

I can get caught up in the storyline and in wondering how it will all turn out. The next time, I already know how it ends, so I can relax a bit and enjoy the scenery a bit more.

I have another confession to make. I’ve read the last page in this Great Story and I already know how it ends. Jesus wins.

Knowing that, I can enjoy the journey more. I can look around and see the beauty in my life and actually be present in the moments as they occur.

There’s great peace in knowing that victory is the ultimate destiny for those who love God and belong to Him. I still love the idea that as believers, we fight not for victory but rather from it. Just as obedience doesn’t mean that God will love us more but that knowing fully the love of God can spur us to greater obedience out of gratitude than any sense of duty or obligation could ever incur.

At present, my story may not look anything like I hoped it would. It may not seem like it’s headed for a positive outcome. But what I read trumps what I can see with my eyes. God has told me how my story ends and even though I don’t fully know what it looks like, I do know it’s far better than any ending I could have devised on my own. It will be the perfect storybook ending.

I love the part in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Lucy reads the beautiful story and even though she tried her best to remember, soon forgets it all. Aslan later promises that He will be telling her story all the time to remind her.

The gospel is Jesus telling us our story and how it ends so that we don’t forget, so that we can be reminded when it feels like the present chapter can’t get any darker and that it will never get better.

Don’t give up on the Story. Trust the Storyteller to end it as only He knows how.

The end.

 

When You Know the Ending

I’ve mentioned it before (I think) that I have a few books that I like to re-read every year. One of those is The Lord of the Rings, which is actually one novel with three parts and not a trilogy of novels as is commonly believed these days– but I digress.

You might think that for me to already know the outcome would diminish my enjoyment of this book. Actually, it’s quite the opposite.

For me, knowing the end makes some of the darker parts of the book more bearable. Knowing that Frodo and his faithful Samwise will come out alright in the end (spoiler alert) helps me through some of the passages when it seems that all will be lost.

It’s like that when I read the Bible. If you look at the metanarrative of the Bible story and keep the ending in mind, it makes some of the Old Testament passages (particularly Judges and the majority of the writings of the prophets) easier to stomach. Knowing that the Messiah is soon to arrive helps me get through all the apostasy and idolatry of the people called out by God.

In my own story, there have been many times when I’ve had to remind myself of the happy ending that awaits me. I am no different than most of you who have gone through dark and difficult chapters where the villain seems to be winning and hope seems all but lost. Sometimes, you think that if your life were a novel, it would be either a black comedy or a dark tragedy with no chance of a redemptive ending.

But the ending has already been written. God wins. Love does actually win in the truest sense. Not the warm fuzzy kind of love that comes with butterflies in your stomach, but the kind that lays down its life for a friend. That’s the love that wins in the end.

Everything good about this life will be redeemed. All the evil will be undone and all the lies exposed and banished forever. All the best parts of your deepest longings and dreams will be fully realized.

You are allowed to skip ahead and read the last chapter, Revelation 22. It’s my favorite ending of all time.

 

Peter, Peter, Peter

 “As soon as the meal was finished, he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.

Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. ‘A ghost!’ they said, crying out in terror.

But Jesus was quick to comfort them. ‘Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.’

Peter, suddenly bold, said, ‘Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.’

He said, ‘Come ahead.’

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, ‘Master, save me!’

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, ‘Faint-heart, what got into you?’

The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, ‘This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!'” (Matthew 14:22-33, The Message).

I’ve been thinking about Peter, the disciple with the chronic case of foot-in-mouth disease. He got into trouble by saying things and acting out without really thinking it through. Not that any of us can relate, right?

He often gets a bad rap for the whole sinking bit. After Jesus calls him to walk on water, he gets so far out and sees the waves and panics and . . . . down he goes. Only a fast-acting Jesus keeps Peter from sleeping with the fishes. Literally.

But for a moment or two, Peter walked on water. Other than Jesus Himself, Peter is the only other in history who can make that claim.

While it’s easy to chide Peter for taking his eyes off Jesus, you have to give him kudos for getting out of the boat in the first place. After all, there were eleven other disciples who stayed put.

Peter left everything he knew, everything that was comfortable, and everything that made sense in that moment to come to where Jesus was. To me, failure would have been Peter staying in the boat and saying, “No thanks, Jesus. I’m fine. Really.”

I can relate to the other disciples. It’s easy to stay in the boat and criticize the ones who try to get out and do something. It’s easy to sit where you have something tangible to hold onto in the middle of raging waves.

But that kind of faith never gets you anywhere. It’s the faith that takes risks, that takes that step of faith out into the scary unknown, that leads us to where Jesus is. That’s the faith that takes us to places where we see the impossible becoming reality.

Lord, I want that kind of faith that Peter had in that moment. I want to step out of the boat, get my feet wet, and make fool of myself if it will help get me a little closer to You.

Amen.

 

Quotes I Love Part One

I think this says it all.

“WE CAN SAY THAT the story of the Resurrection means simply that the teachings of Jesus are immortal like the plays of Shakespeare or the music of Beethoven and that their wisdom and truth will live on forever. Or we can say that the Resurrection means that the spirit of Jesus is undying, that he himself lives on among us, the way that Socrates does, for instance, in the good that he left behind him, in the lives of all who follow his great example. Or we can say that the language in which the Gospels describe the Resurrection of Jesus is the language of poetry and that, as such, it is not to be taken literally but as pointing to a truth more profound than the literal.

Very often, I think, this is the way that the Bible is written, and I would point to some of the stories about the birth of Jesus, for instance, as examples; but in the case of the Resurrection, this simply does not apply because there really is no story about the Resurrection in the New Testament. Except in the most fragmentary way, it is not described at all. There is no poetry about it. Instead, it is simply proclaimed as a fact. Christ is risen! In fact, the very existence of the New Testament itself proclaims it. Unless something very real indeed took place on that strange, confused morning, there would be no New Testament, no Church, no Christianity.

Yet we try to reduce it to poetry anyway: the coming of spring with the return of life to the dead earth, the rebirth of hope in the despairing soul. We try to suggest that these are the miracles that the Resurrection is all about, but they are not. In their way they are all miracles, but they are not this miracle, this central one to which the whole Christian faith points.

Unlike the chief priests and the Pharisees, who tried with soldiers and a great stone to make themselves as secure as they could against the terrible possibility of Christ’s really rising again from the dead, we are considerably more subtle. We tend in our age to say, ‘Of course, it was bound to happen. Nothing could stop it.’ But when we are pressed to say what it was that actually did happen, what we are apt to come out with is something pretty meager: this ‘miracle’ of truth that never dies, the ‘miracle’ of a life so beautiful that two thousand years have left the memory of it undimmed, the ‘miracle’ of doubt turning into faith, fear into hope. If I believed that this or something like this was all that the Resurrection meant, then I would turn in my certificate of ordination and take up some other profession. Or at least I hope that I would have the courage to” (Frederick Buechner).

-Originally published in The Alphabet of Grace

When Fear Ends

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Today I open a Bible and flipped around randomly through its pages. I just so happened to look down at where I landed and, lo and behold, I looked right at Psalm 27. Here’s what I read:

The Eternal is my light amidst my darkness
    and my rescue in times of trouble.
    So whom shall I fear?
He surrounds me with a fortress of protection.
    So nothing should cause me alarm” (Psalm 27:1)

That reminded me of something I learned a long time ago about fear.

What are you afraid of right now? What is the greatest cause of anxiety and stress for you at the moment you are reading this?

Imagine the worst-case scenario were to come true (which is highly unlikely– think 1 out of 1,000 times). Imagine that you get fired from your job, you flunk out of school, your checking account goes belly-up.

Now, picture this. Even in the midst of all that wreckage, God is still there. You can lose jobs, money, possessions, friends– even spouses– but you can never lose God, because it’s not you holding on to God, but God holding onto you.

I love the image that I heard somewhere. When you hit rock bottom, you find that God is the Rock at the bottom. And maybe that’s a good place to be, where you have nothing left to stand on but the One True Foundation of Jesus.

An old black preacher described fear as “False Evidence Appearing Real.” The future that fear shows you may look legit, but it is always a lie. That’s because fear will always show you a future without God in it.

God promised in His word that perfect Love casts out fear. Fear can’t stand in the presence of God’s unfailing love. The only way for fear to win is for you to doubt God’s love and believe that it has come to an end. Faith is the antidote to fear and it doesn’t have to be great faith in God. All you need is faith in a great God.

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A Small Sign

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I went to downtown Franklin for the Main Street Festival. I visited all my usual haunts: McCreary’s Irish Pub, Frothy Monkey, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

While in my favorite church, I prayed that God would lead me to the person or people I needed to see that night. Or something like that. I don’t remember exactly. I prayed I would see at least one familiar face that night.

I did. Toward the end, I ran into a friend I haven’t seen in a while. It was a short conversation, but it was a good reminder: God hasn’t forgotten me yet.

It’s funny how God sends little signs like that all the time. I confess that most of the time I miss these little signs in my quest to find the ultimate sign from God.

But God is always patient with me, more so than I deserve. There’s a verse in 1 Timothy, I think, that says that if we are faithless, God will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.

I’ve claimed that verse many times for myself when I felt faithless or just full of doubts and fear. And never once has God proved to be anything less than 100% faithful to His promises to me. Oh, and to me, too.

A Prayer for the Weak

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Maybe this is your prayer tonight:

Lord, I feel like giving up tonght. It’s just not worth it anymore.

Whatever I’m desiring most seems always just out of my reach. Right now, it feels easier to quit holding on to that dream of mine.

I want to pray “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” but I don’t even have enough faith for that. I’m bankrupt when it comes to believing.

I’ve just about quit believing that I’ll ever get married. Or have children. Or that the children I do have will ever turn out right. Or that anyone will hire me. Or that I’ll ever be able to work in a place where I come alive instead of counting the hours and minutes until the weekend.

I feel like I’m completely screwing everything up. I don’t feel like anything I do matters or makes the tiniest bit of difference.

I do know that You’re still God. I do know that my impossibles aren’t impossible to You. In fact, they’re not even difficult for You.

I know You are truer than my feelings and though You seem so far away, You’re nearer to me than my next breath.

I don’t know how any of this will work out, but I know You will take care of me. Even if You deny my dreams, it’s only because they weren’t big enough for You.

I declare all these things with a faith that’s barely a blip on the radar screen. A faith that’s as small as a mustard seed. But still I declare.

So here’s me offering all I know of me to all I know of You. Take me and use me in whatever way You want. Let me know You’re near and let me feel in this moment how much You love me.

I surrender.

Why I Love the Psalms

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Here’s my update on my Bible reading. I’m up to Psalm 127, which is probably ahead of the pace I need to get through the Bible in a year, but I’m okay with that.

I’m reminded of why I love the Psalms so much. Yes, there’s a lot of “praise the Lord” and “hallelujah” verses, but there’s also plenty of “Where are you, God” verses. There are stories of both victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, health and illness, strength and weaknesses. In other words, it runs the gamut of human experience.

I love the honesty. I used to feel like David, or whoever else happened to write the particular Psalm I was reading, was boasting about how perfect and obedient he was. Now I think I see it as a man who feels like he’s giving everything he’s got to do the right thing.

I see that life is hard, bad things happen, and sometimes the bad guys get the upperhand. Still, the last word is always how the loyal, steadfast love and faithful God (or the Eternal One, as my translation puts it) never ceases.

That’s a good reminder for anyone going through struggles and pain and loss. God’s faithfulness never runs out. His love never lets up. It always finds us and brings us back to His heart and one day will lead us home.

To paraphrase an old saying, victory is never final and failure is never fatal. It is trust in the strong arms of God that wins out in the end.

Where My Trust Is Without Borders

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I think I’ve alluded to this in previous posts, but I am currently unemployed. I haven’t worked since January. There have been times, some of them very recently, when I wondered how I was going to pay my bills. That’s a scary place to be.

Then I sang a song during the 11:11 worship service at Brentwood Baptist Church. It spoke of keeping my eyes above the waves and walking out on the water to wherever God calls me to where my trust is without borders.

I honestly never thought until just now that that’s where I am. When you utterly reach the end of your resources, you find out where your faith and trust lie. You really understand that old cliched saying about never knowing how much you need God until He’s all you’ve got left.

So many can’t find jobs. So many probably have felt worthless and useless and unemployable. Like no one wants or needs what they have to offer.

But as I sang those words, a sweet peace came over me. My faith will be made stronger and I will know more deeply than ever how near my Savior is to those who cry out to Him in desperation. As weird as it sounds, the butterflies are still there. My stomach still feels tied up in knots. But I also know it will be okay in the end. No, more than okay. I will end up EXACTLY where God wants me to be and all this will totally have been worth it to get there.

So as much as I sound like a broken record, I’m still thankful for my life. I’m grateful for waking up this morning and living another 24 hours. I’m thankful for the best family and friends a guy could ever ask for who have stuck with me through good and bad, thick and thin (and through all sorts of other overused phrases like these).

Sometimes, faith really is believing when common sense tells you not to. It may not always look courageous. Sometimes, it may look like barely holding it together and summoning every ounce of strength to not quit on God. It may be praying the most honest prayer ever recorded in history: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief” and making it through the next five minutes.

All I know is that I have never seen God forsaking His own. I have never seen their families abandoned or left wanting (my paraphrase of a Proverb). I haven’t seen God fail me or let me down or let go of me.

I do still believe, Lord. Help my unbelief. Amen.

A prayer for My Future Wife in 2014

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Lord,

You know how tired I am from waiting. You know how weak my faith is and how unstable my belief can be.

I’m still holding onto that mustard seed-sized faith, clutching it with everything I’ve got, with all my heart and strength and soul and mind. I want to rest tonight not in Your promises or provisions, but in Your person, Your character, in You.

Lord, I’m still believing in the miracle that some woman will fall in love with me and want to spend the rest of her life with me. It seems impossible sometimes, but then I remember the words of a pastor: what seems impossible to me isn’t even remotely difficult for you.

I’m praying you will be with her tonight and envelop her with your peace and surround her with your everlasting arms. May her joy be full as she rests in you, completely comfortable in who You’ve made her to be and in Whose she is– Yours.

May she cast aside every hindrance, every distraction, every clamoring voice, and run only after You, her true heart’s desire. May she keep a single-minded focus on Your Son, Jesus, and not fall into the lies and deceptions that tell her she is not enough.

May you bring her into my life, but not until the time that both she and I are ready– and not a moment sooner. Help her faith not to falter and her trust to remain stedfast and secure in You only.

Help me to be the man who can win her heart and guard it until the day you ask for it back. Help me to become the man who will help her to unveil all the beauty and wisdom and lovingkindness you have placed in her so she will become all that you created her to be.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief. And hers, too.

Amen.