Praying vs. Panicking

“Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come. And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One” (Philippians 4:6-7, The Voice).

I don’t know about you, but I have my moments of anxiety as well as anyone else. For me, anxiety tends to take me to a future of what ifs and what might happens, where I envision all sorts of scenarios.

I’ve noticed that my anxious thoughts take me to a future with no God in it. I find it’s just me having to solve all my own problems, and none of my scenarios play out very well. Most of what I dread and fear in the future never comes remotely close to happening, yet that never seems to stop the obsessing when anxiety strikes.

The secret is to take every moment of anxiety and turn it into an occasion for prayer. After all, prayer is really about reminding you and me who’s really in charge. When we give thanks for God’s mercies in the past, we find that we can hold fast to the same God in the future to be as faithful.

And that peace? It really does defy all human understanding. Once you’ve decided that you’re not the ruler of your own life and destiny, you let go trying to control every possible outcome and find that God is more than able to take your place. That’s very freeing.

I was reminded yesterday of the truth that when storms and troubles come, you don’t tell God how big your storm is, you tell your storm how big your God is.

 

 

Another Week Up Ahead

“Lord, You sure do tell it like it is — You said in this world, we will have trouble, hard weeks, heartbreak.
You said straight up that we’d have to carry a cross, and You said ‘we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’ (Acts14:22)
But You said this in the midst of the madness:
‘But take heart!’
We take heart —
that You have our heart,
that You have our hand,
that You are our peace,
& that You have overcome the world & the dark and whatever overwhelms us.
We take heart — we take Your heart
and we pour a brave and willing love like Yours
over all the open wounds of the world…
that the world may even now
take hope.

In the name of Jesus, the only One who loved us to death
and back to the real & forever life….
Amen.
#RealHonestPrayers#SharingPrayerTogether

(Ann Voskamp).

If I’m honest, I have to confess that I’m not highly excited about the prospect of another week looming ahead. I’m not jumping for joy at the thought of waking up at 5 am for 5 days straight.

But I know that good things are ahead as well as the unpleasant and the annoying. I know that despite whatever my fears and anxieties tell me, that Jesus will be there and if I fear God, there isn’t anything or anyone else that I need fear.

I don’t mean me going around shaking in terror that God’s going to strike me down with a lightening bolt. I mean me having a healthy, reverential respect for God that helps me remember who’s in charge of the universe (God) and who’s not (me).

Plus, there will be coffee, which is always a nice perk for having to be grown up and do grown up things. See, it’s not all bad, right?

Thought for June 22, 2018

“If He does not support us, not one of us is safe from some gross sin. On the other hand, no possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded of the greatest saints is beyond what He is determined to produce in every one of us in the end. The job will not be completed in this life: but He means to get us as far as possible before death” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

That’s enough to keep us both humbled and honored.

Before you start to boast, remember that you have the capacity in you apart from grace to be as bad as any Hitler or Stalin.

Before you start to despair, remember that God is working in you such holiness (or even greater) than was ever found in any Mother Teresa or Florence Nightingale.

I have to remind myself every single day that apart from Jesus, I can do nothing. That anything good in me is God. Yet with God I can do all things.

 

 

1 Corinthians 13 Love

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always ‘me first,’
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love” (1 Corinthians 13, The Message).

This isn’t warm and fuzzy, Nicholas Sparks romantic love. This is agape unconditional love that’s impossible by strictly human standards.

It’s the love that Christ loved us with when He laid down His life for us when we were yet sinners.

It’s the “not I, but Christ in me” love that fills us up to overflowing and spills out to those around us.

It’s still the only love that can change the world.

I want that kind of love. I want to be that kind of love.

Let Go

“Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper a surprised thanks. This is the fuel for joy’s flame. Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

Five years ago, I read a book that changed my life. It changed the way I look at my circumstances, allowing me to seek joy and to always be on the lookout for those 1,000 small daily gifts for which to give thanks. There’s always, always something to be thankful for.

I still have moments of grumpiness and days where entitlement and bitterness seem to win out. I go through seasons of complaining and comparison, unrest and envy. I can Debbie Downer with the best of them.

But the best days are still the ones where I give thanks and live out of gratitude and awe. That’s where I see God at work in me and around me. That’s when others see Jesus in me.

Regardless of how well or how poorly I lived out my thanksgiving, tomorrow’s always a chance to do better or start over or simply surrender and let God have His way. I think door number three sounds best.

 

 

24,000 Steps

I hiked Radnor solo today. My friend and accountability partner wasn’t able to meet with me today, so I did the Unofficial Radnor Lake State Park Triathlon. That is, I hiked the Ganier Ridge, South Cove, and Lake Trails back-to-back-to-back.

I didn’t have a reason other than seeing if I could do it. There was a moment halfway through the second part where I thought I was about to give up the ghost. I even sat down for a minute.

But I persevered. I may not be the fastest (and in fact, I got outpaced twice), but I have stamina to keep going. At the end of the day, I walked 12 miles.

My goal in relaying all this information isn’t for you to say how awesome I am. It isn’t one of those things where I’m looking for a pat on the back.

What I’m saying is that if I can do it, so can you. You don’t have to start out hiking 3 trails in one day, but you can hike one. You can do something outdoors for 30 minutes.

For me, getting back to nature is therapeutic. As strenuous as it can be, hiking is also very relaxing at the same time. I think Henry David Thoreau had it right:

““I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”

A Good Pastor is Hard to Find

I’m blessed to be able to sit under the teaching of one Aaron Bryant at The Church at Avenue South. He is most definitely God’s man for the role of campus pastor.

I’ve been to more than a few churches in my lifetime. I’ve sat under men who had a heart for people but weren’t the greatest expositors. I’ve also know a few that could alliterate with the best of them but weren’t that good with people outside the pulpit.

I remember I worked in a church office once where the pastor insisted that everyone address him as Doctor. I’m fairly certain that he didn’t pay for all that education only to boost his ego. Well, hopefully not. I’m sure he had his good qualities, but that onesn’t one of them.

But Mr. Bryant is the real deal. He’s a gifted communicator and a compassionate shepherd. He’s one of the main reasons that Ave South has flourished in just under 4 years of existence.

I seem to remember that while it’s good to have a good pastor, that doesn’t give me any excuse to opt out of ministry myself. If I read my Bible correctly, we’re all in the ministry, whether that’s what we do professionally or not. We’re all called to be evangelists at some point in our dealings with those with whom we live, work, and play.

As Dwight Moody put it, we just might be the only Bible some will ever read. We might be the only sermon some will ever listen to, and we might be the only Jesus that some will ever see. You might be the only gospel access to people who would never set foot in a church building.

That’s a sobering thought. Hopefully, that changes the way we live. Hopefully, it changes our conversations and helps us see that God has strategically placed these people in our lives for a reason.

 

Wise Words

“Jesus, the favorite Child of God, is persecuted. He who is poor, gentle, mourning; he who hungers and thirsts for uprightness; is merciful, pure of heart and a peacemaker is not welcome in this world. The Blessed One of God is a threat to the established order and a source of constant irritation to those who consider themselves the rulers of this world. Without his accusing anyone he is considered an accuser, without his condemning anyone he makes people feel guilty and ashamed, without his judging anyone those who see him feel judged. In their eyes, he cannot be tolerated and needs to be destroyed, because letting him be seems like a confession of guilt.

When we want to become like Jesus, we cannot expect always to be liked and admired. We have to be prepared to be rejected” (Henri Nouwen).

I seem to remember that Jesus said something like woe to you when all people speak well of you. If you’re doing the right thing the right way, you’re going to rub some people the wrong way, regardless.

It’s better to stand alone in your convictions and remain true to what you believe than to compromise away your beliefs for the sake of conformity and tolerance.

 

More About Laments

I have a random mind. I have all sorts of songs playing in my head all the time that seem to almost come out of nowhere. Also, I don’t know why certain topics come up in my head at random times, but today, the theme that popped up out of nowhere was that of laments as a form of praise.

I took a class in early spring about Laments. Basically, a lament is a form of gut-level honesty that most of us are afraid to express. It’s along the line of the Psalms where David wonders where God is in the midst of his suffering and why evil men seem to prosper and live long lives while the righteous lives are short and full of woe.

I think my takeaway from that class is that a lament is not only a viable form of worship but also a necessary one. It’s good to vent. It’s good to give voice to anger over injustice and wrong and take it to God, knowing that He will be the one to repay the wrongdoing.

I’ve figured out in my own life that I can take my frustrations, complaints, and doubts to God. He already knows my deepest thoughts in spite of my dressed up prayers that say what I think He wants to hear instead of what’s on my heart.

A good place to start to discover the lost art of the lament is the Psalms and Job. Oh, and there’s a little book called Lamentations. I’d also check that one out, too.

Above all, God desires honesty and transparency above praying the “right” words in order to sound more spiritual. In the words of the old MTV reality series, maybe it’s time to stop being polite with God and start getting real.

Memorial Day Thoughts

“Jesus comes into the prison of our fears and regrets and guilt and shame and sadness and says ‘I love you no matter what.’ You are free” (Tullian Tchividjian).

It’s nice to have a three-day weekend periodically. Having Monday off is just about always a plus, although that generally means that the following Tuesday will be like a regular Monday on steroids.

Still, that extra day to sleep in is nice.

Better still is remembering why we celebrate Memorial Day.

It’s not National BBQ Day. It’s not Take Your Boat to the Lake Day. While all these activities are fun and great, they aren’t the reason for this special day.

On this last Monday in May, we remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy. We say to those who fell in combat, “What you did was not in vain.”

We also remember as believers that Jesus paid the ultimate price so that we could be free. Not just from hell, but from our own prison of shame, guilt, regret, and fear.

We’re saved not just for a heaven down the road but for a full and abundant life here and now. We get to know and experience all of God’s love here and now.

We’re saved because Jesus chose the way of suffering out of a great love for us. Not because He had to but because He’d rather go through hell for us so that we could know heaven with Him.

I hope your Memorial Day was memorable. I hope you spent quality time with family and friends. I even hope you got lots of good food.

Most of all, I hope you and I never forget that our freedoms, whether national or spiritual, are never free. They always come with a cost.

Let’s be thankful to all who paid that cost.