A Good Night

So I inadvertently recycled my sunglasses tonight.

I was in the process of depositing several plastic bottles into one of the recycle containers in the Connection Center of Brentwood Baptist Church (also known as The Place Where They Have Kairos on Tuesdays).

I’m still not exactly sure of the order of events (or even 100% positive of the sunglasses part) but I believe that when I bent down to beautify the planet by not adding to the already overflowing landfills and being green and all that, my sunglasses slipped off my shirt and into the container (along with one unopened water bottle that I fully intended to drink).

Something a guy I work with came to mind: if that’s the worst thing that happens to me tonight, I’m having a good night.

Later, the main speaker, Chris Brooks, said something that arrested my attention. He said that while emotions can be very real, they aren’t always reliable. Immediately, my mind went to Jeremiah 17:9 where the heart, the seat of all emotions, is described as “most devious and incurably sick.”

I’ve learned that one the hard way over the years. Trial and error have taught me never to trust my emotions when I’m fatigued or hungry (and especially not when it’s a combination of the two).

While feelings can be legitimate, they can be misleading. I remember something a friend said once that I’ve never forgotten– feelings can lie to you, so you go with what you know.

In my case, I remember that Jesus promised that everything would turn out fine in the end (and if it’s not fine, it’s not yet the end). Jesus promised that He’d work all things together for good. Jesus promised never to leave or forsake me.

I cling to these promises when my feelings tell me they have failed. I hold fast to what Jesus said over what I feel because while my feelings come and go, Jesus’ words are eternal and secure.

I ended up making a late night run to Kroger’s and picking up another pair of shades just like the ones I accidentally discarded. Next time, I hope I’ll be a little less careless when saving the planet.

 

10,000 Steps

I recently purchased a Fitbit Charge. It counts your steps and tells you how many miles you’ve walked, how many calories you’ve burned, and how many stairs you’ve walked up. It also acts as Caller ID for your phone. It even makes great waffles. Well, not really, but that would be cool.

The goal is 10,000 steps. When I reach that milestone, I get a pleasant little vibrating buzz on my wrist to notify me of my accomplishment.

I remember what a friend of mine said. He said that every day you take 10,000 steps that either lead you closer to or further away from your desired destination. Those steps will either bring you into more intimate fellowship with God or in a direction away from His plans and purposes for you.

If you wake up and look around one morning and wonder how you got so distant from God, remember those steps add up. Every little decision matters and every little compromise and slip eventually adds up.

The good news of the Gospel is that the journey back isn’t 10,000 steps. It’s about 18 inches, the distance from your head to your heart.

All it takes is to decide once and for all to follow God, no matter what. To put Him first, even above your own spouse and your own children. To obey no matter what backlash society gives you. To lay down your life a thousand different ways every day in dying to your own rights, your own preferences, and your own emotions. To strive to be more like Jesus.

Every step matters. Every second matters. Every choice matters.

Joshua told the Israelites to choose this day whom you will serve. That’s not a once-in-a-lifetime choice. That is an every day, every hour, every minute choice. At every moment, you must choose to serve or not to serve God. Every step is a decision for or against the Lordship of Jesus.

Who will you serve right now? Who will you follow?

It all starts with that first step.

 

God Can Do Anything 

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Repeat after me: God can do anything.

Repeat it again: God can do anything.

Once more with feeling: God can do anything.

Got that?

Nothing is impossible for God. Nothing. And your circumstances are not the exception to the rule. You are not the odd man out, the freak that God looks at and says, “I can’t do anything with this one.”

No matter what you’re facing, God is stronger. No matter how dark it gets, God can still see you. No matter how long it seems to take, God has not stopped working.

I remind you yet again of what a pastor said: “What seems impossible to us is not even remotely difficult for God.”

If God can create the universe in seven days, then He can create order out of your chaos.

If God brought Jesus back from the dead, then He can resurrect the ashes of your dreams into something far more glorious and beautiful than you ever dreamed possible.

If God loved you enough to save you at your worst, what makes you think He will stop loving you now?

Don’t trust your feelings. They lie. Anything and everything affects them, from eating too much spicy food to way too much caffeine late at night.

Make this your mantra: God works all things together for those whom He loves.

Even when your feelings, your senses, your intuition tells you other wise, this is still true. It will always be true.

 

Sign of the Times

“You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant” (2 Timothy 4:3-5, The Message).

“because a time will come when some will no longer tolerate sound teaching. Instead, they will live by their own desires; they’ll scratch their itching ears by surrounding themselves with teachers who approve of their lifestyles and tell them what they want to hear. They will turn away from the real truth you have to offer because they prefer the sound of fables and myths. But you must stay focused and be alert at all times. Tolerate suffering. Accomplish the good work of an evangelist, and complete the ministry to which you have been called.” (2 Timothy 4:3-5, The Voice).

Here’s the thing. Lots of people are determining their theology by whether it feels right or not. If it feels good, it must be true; if it makes me uncomfortable, it must be not I but that doctrine or belief that needs to change.

I don’t claim to understand it all. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I do know this– Feelings are fickle and changeable. Feelings will (and often do) lie to you.

If I put my feelings over the Word of God, then I make myself the final judge of what is or is not true. But if I determine my feelings by what the Word of God says, then I’m submitting to God’s authority.

I really would like everything that’s true to feel good all the time. But I know that I (and the rest of us) are fallen human beings. Our emotions, our minds, our thought processes are affected by the Fall.

I trust God. I trust His Word. Even when it makes me uncomfortable.

 

 

Writing Your Own Story

“One of the arguments we often use for not writing is this: ‘I have nothing original to say. Whatever I might say, someone else has already said it, and better than I will ever be able to.’ This, however, is not a good argument for not writing. Each human person is unique and original, and nobody has lived what we have lived. Furthermore, what we have lived, we have lived not just for ourselves but for others as well. Writing can be a very creative and invigorating way to make our lives available to ourselves and to others.

We have to trust that our stories deserve to be told. We may discover that the better we tell our stories the better we will want to live them” (Henri Nouwen).

One of the reasons I write these blogs is because it’s part of me telling my story. It’s often very therapeutic and healing to get my thoughts out of my head and onto paper (or more accurately, onto computer screen then onto cyberspace via the interwebs).

No one can tell your story better than you. No one has lived your life quite like you have.

It occurred to me earlier as I was watching a Baz Luhrmann movie that the best stories are the ones in which you find your story and I find mine. Those are the stories in which the specifics may be quite different than mine, but the emotions are the same. I find in a good story that I can relate to the characters and the situations in which they find themselves.

Even if you just write what you did that day, it’s something. If you write about your fears and doubts, however odd and neurotic they may seem, someone else out there will inevitably be able to relate. Someone else will be able to say finally, “I’m so very glad I’m not the only one who thinks or feels this way. Maybe there’s hope for me.”

So write your story. My preferred method is blogging, but yours may be writing a novel or short story, taking a photograph, giving your testimony before a church group, or just being intentional about how you live your life.

Three words: tell your story.

 

 

Another Night of Worship

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Kairos is always good. But every now and then, it gets taken up a notch to an epic level known as a Night of Worship. Usually, that means more worship songs. Hence the name.

Tonight’s theme was the love of God from 1 John 4:10. The question was this: “Do you see yourself the way God sees you?”

Often, it’s easy to look in the mirror and see failure, broken promises, and unfulfilled potential. It’s easy to focus on the might-have-beens and on what you lack instead of what you have and who you are.

It becomes infinitely easier to love yourself once you begin to grasp how deep the Father’s love for you truly is. How deep and wide and high and long. How unfathomable. Once you realize you did nothing to earn it and can do nothing to lose it.

It’s easy to worship when the emotions are running high and the crowd is hyped, but what about when you’re stuck in that morning traffic or slogging through emails at work? Or pouring that all-important first cup of coffee while it’s still dark outside?

Music and singing are a part of worship, but not all of it. Not even close. Worship is how you make much of Jesus in everything you do wherever you are whenever you are. Even taking out the trash or scrubbing toilets can be an act of worship when done in gratitude.

Still, the music part is nice.

A Lenten Prayer by Brennan Manning

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I just found this and it reminded me why Brennan Manning is one of my favorite writers of faith.

“In my first-ever experience of being loved for nothing I had done or could do, I moved back and forth between mild ecstasy, silent wonder, and hushed trembling. The aura might be best described as ‘bright darkness.’ The moment lingered on in a timeless now, until without warning I felt a hand grip my heart. It was abrupt and startling.

The awareness of being loved was no longer tender and comforting. The love of Christ, the crucified Son of God, took on the wild fury of a sudden spring storm. Like a dam bursting, a spasm of convulsive crying erupted from the depths of my soul. Jesus died on the cross for me.

Dear Abba,

Ten thousand things are already vying for my attention. Wait, actually make that ten thousand and one. Some of them are shallow — like what shoes I will wear today — but some of them are legitimate: lunch with a friend, a doctor’s appointment, responding to a letter. Still, they are all earthly things. So startle me, I pray. Burst into the compound of my senses and steal me away from the urgent tyrannies already seeking to keep my eyes fixed on things below. You died for me. For me. That is the one thing; nothing else compares.”

Two thoughts: 1) I must find out where  I can get this book and 2) I hope Easter Sunday doesn’t arrive to find me comfortable or complacent, taking God’s love for me for granted. I want it to shake me to my very core and radically disrupt my life. I want to be stirred out of comfortable ruts and compelled into a deeper, wilder, more passionate love for Jesus who didn’t not negotiate percentages on the cross, but gave absolutely 100% of Himself for me.

More Nouwen on Being Loved

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“In my own life I well know how hard it is for me to trust that I am loved, and to trust that the intimacy I most crave is there for me. I most often live as if I have to earn love, do something noteworthy, and then perhaps I might get something in return.

This attitude touches the whole question of what is called in the spiritual life, the “first love.” Do I really believe that I am loved first, independent of what I do or what I accomplish? This is an important question because as long as I think that what I most need I have to earn, deserve and collect by hard work, I will never get what I most need and desire, which is a love that cannot be earned, but that is freely given.

Thus, my return is my willingness to renounce such thoughts and to choose to live more and more from my true identity as a cherished child of God” (Henri Nouwen).

I think that sums up my feelings rather perfectly.

10 Years Later

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In all the hoopla of gift-giving and gift-getting (not forgetting all the food-eating and dessert-eating), I almost forgot a very important anniversary.

It was 10 years to the day on December 24 that my beloved cat, Lucy, came home again after getting out and having an adventure. A very un-Hobbitlike adventure.

She somehow managed to get out and get lost on December 22. All the frantic searching in the world on the next day produced nothing. I vividly remember being distraught and very emotional. I had all but given up hope of ever seeing her again.

We had put up flyers all over the neighborhood. These flyers had her name, age, description, approximate weight, and a black-and-white photo. Apparently, on December 24, the mailman recognized the picture and informed us that she was taking up residence in a neighbor’s garage down the street.

I can imagine her trotting up to a strange lady and saying something like, “I’ve lost my family. Will you be my family?” Of course, this isn’t Narnia, so she wouldn’t actually say these things, but it would all be implied by her meowings.

Apparently, she got rained on a bit, got her nose scraped a bit, and had a few traumatic events, but came out of it the same old weird, goofy cat she’d always been.

I got her back on Christmas Eve. That remains my best gift.

She’s had a few other adventures since then, including a cancer scare which she thankfully survived.

Thinking back on the whole thing, I’m reminded that for those who want to come home, there’s always a way. Even more so with God.

No one who wants to find God, earnestly and truly, and know Him will be denied. All who seek Him in truth find Him and find at the same time that really He was the one seeking them. He was the one pursuing them and wooing them. The only way we ever find and love God is that He first finds and loves us.

And that goes for all the prodigals out there. The Father still waits and looks down the road for those who want to come home. Better than that, He already knows where you are and is whispering the way home to your heart. There is always a way back and a way home.

My reward is that I’ve gotten 10 years of feline therapy and free cat-scans. Your reward for seeking God isn’t as much the gifts and blessings from God, but God Himself. That’s still the best part.

Pre-WordPress Writings Part 3

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From January 15, 2011:

“I may not be anyone’s first choice, and that’s OK. I may be the substitute for the person they really want to be with or hang out with, but that’s OK. When Jesus chose me, it wasn’t because the person He REALLY wanted wasn’t available. He wanted ME. The same way He wants YOU, not as a substitute for someone else He can’t get, but FOR YOU. I am just one note in the symphony of God to the world. I may not be a very high priority on anyone’s list and I am really really fine with that. I will always be in God’s heart and on His mind. That’s enough for me. I am just a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody that can save anybody!”

From January 9, 2011:

“God, I’m giving up. I’m letting go. I’m letting a dream I’ve had in my heart die. It feels like a part of my heart is dying, too, but I know You are the one holding the pieces of my heart together right now.

I felt so certain and sure that it was Your plan and Your will, but now I can only surrender the bits and pieces of what’s left of hope to you.

So, here I am at 12:01. I’m done trying. I can’t do anything else but throw myself on your mercy and plead your grace. Take my dead dreams and if it be Your will, You can make them live again. But if not, You will be my new Dream-giver and give me new dreams to dream.

I will praise You in the silence this moment. You are still good. If I never got one more good thing or any desire of mine fulfilled ever again, You would still have been better to me than I deserved.

I am Yours. That is all that matters. Do with me what You want. Here in this moment, I am laying down and dying at Your feet.”

From February 3, 2011:

“I don’t know if this will speak to you, but maybe it will speak to someone you know and you can pass it along to them. I pray God captures your hearts and minds with these words:

1-3 A white-tailed deer drinks from the creek

I want to drink God,

deep draughts of God.

I’m thirsty for God-alive.

I wonder, “Will I ever make it—

arrive and drink in God’s presence?”

I’m on a diet of tears—

tears for breakfast, tears for supper.

All day long

people knock at my door,

Pestering,

“Where is this God of yours?”

4 These are the things I go over and over,

emptying out the pockets of my life.

I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd,

right out in front,

Leading them all,

eager to arrive and worship,

Shouting praises, singing thanksgiving—

celebrating, all of us, God’s feast!

5 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?

Why are you crying the blues?

Fix my eyes on God—

soon I’ll be praising again.

He puts a smile on my face.

He’s my God.”

From July 10. 2010:

“I have learned a few thing in my time that I want to pass on:

1) Never try to figure out anything, especially people, when you are tired. I personally tend to drift toward the negative when I am exhausted and am not really good at being balanced or fair to others when I am worn out.

2) When you are inclined to judge someone’s actions, remember that there is at least one factor that you don’t know about that person that if you knew, would cast a totally different light on their actions. Also, remember that in the same circumstances you might do the same or worse. Which leads to the next point.

3) If you err, err on the side of grace. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Of course, use common sense and don’t be a doormat, but think of what you would be apart from the grace of God and then you realize that you have no place to give up on or despair of anyone (I totally stole that one from Oswald Chambers!)

4) Remind yourself that in life and the big picture, it never was, is not and will never be about you. It always was, is and always will be about God and His redemptive plan for the world. His will for you is always in context of His plan for the world.

5) Never go by first impressions, regardless of what the world tells you. Some of the best people I know who have impacted me were the ones whose first impression was unfavorable. I think you sometimes have to step out of what is comfortable and familiar if you want to find God’s secret blessings and surprises.

6) What is important in life, what I want you to remember, is not me or how well I write or how clever I am. You can forget all about me and if you remember that God loves you, that God is in love with you, and that God can take the worthless and transform it into somethng priceless, then I am OK with that. As one person said, I’m just a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody that can save anybody. That’s all I am, regardless of what my ego tells me.

What are some lessons you have learned? Share them with me, because I am always learning and God always has something to show me. Plus, we only grow and mature in the faith in community. You can never discover God’s will for your life by yourself, but only with other believers as you share yourself and your gifts to serve one another in love.

That’s all for now. More later.”