Going Through the Motions

“Then she let him fall asleep on her lap and called a man to shave off the seven braids on his head. In this way, she made him helpless, and his strength left him. Then she cried, ‘Samson, the Philistines are here!’ When he awoke from his sleep, he said, ‘I will escape as I did before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him” (Judges 16:19-20, Christian Standard Bible).

“But he did not know that the Lord had left him.” That may be one of the saddest statements in the entire Bible. Samson had come to trust in the gift– his hair– rather than the Giver. His hair wasn’t what made him strong. It was only a symbol of the command God had given him much earlier.

He had come to rely on his strength and not in the God who gave him that strength. In the end, God wasn’t even so much as an afterthought in Samson’s mind.

Sometimes, I wonder if this could ever apply to the Church.

We sometimes rely so much on high production values, musicianship, and charisma that we’ve left little to no room for the Holy Spirit to work and move. If God suddenly removed His Spirit from our worship services, would we even notice? Would it make any difference?

It’s one thing to be able to manipulate people’s emotions by overwhelming them through powerful songs and dramatic preaching, but that’s not always synonymous with the moving of God’s Spirit.

What if you took away the comfortable chairs and the modern facilities? What if you took away the professional lighting and sound system? What if there was no worship band or charismatic speaker?

Would God’s Word be enough? Could we still sense the Spirit moving without all the sensory overload?

The saddest testimony about the modern Church would be that the Spirit of God one day left and we went about our business as usual and didn’t even know it until it was far too late.

 

The Comforter

There’s a great book by Francis Chan called The Forgotten God. The gist is that so many pay little heed to the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

I’m learning more and more of what the Holy Spirit’s role is and how He affects my life on a daily basis. He is called the Paraclete, literally one who walks alongside of us to guide and encourage and comfort and convict and challenge us.

One of my favorite aspects of the Holy Spirit is that when I am at a loss for words, He takes my sighs and groans and tears too deep for words and interprets those into prayers that God hears.

There have been lots of times when I simply can’t find the words. Many times, I just can’t corral my mind into any sort of coherent prayer. Even in the middle of stress and panic, the words that are buried in my heart can find their way to the throne room of Heaven, thanks to the Holy Spirit. Often, the prayers that God answers are far better than any that I could have thought up on my own left to my own devices.

So many are on their knees tonight with sighs and sobs and groans and tears as their prayers. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, their prayers are heard and God is with them in the midst of their anguish and grief and pain.

Holy Spirit, be near all those who cry out in pain and all whose grief is too deep for words. Be their Comforter and Advocate in their darkest hours. Be their voice when they can’t find their own.

In case you’re interested in the book I mentioned earlier, I’ve provided a link for you to follow and purchase it if you want:

Hey Y’all, It’s Fall!

“There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! “(Romans 5:3-4, MSG)”

Today, September 23, is officially the first day of fall, or as those who prefer the pronunciation po-tah-to call it, “autumn.”

Whatever you call it, I love it. I love the brisk air and the leaves changing colors. I love bonfires, hayrides, and all things pumpkin spice.

Even more than that, I love that fall signifies change before winter comes. Change can be scary, but in God’s economy all change eventually leads to something good, due to the fact that He works all these things together for good for those who love Him.

I personally can’t wait to see what God will do next in my life.  I can’t wait to see what God will do next in the life of The Church at Avenue South. I can’t wait to see how He will stir up His Church all over the world to even greater deeds of love and sacrifice.

Even when the circumstances look as bleak as the tree limbs barren of leaves, we do not lose hope. We know that the same God who kept His promises throughout the history of the Bible and through the centuries won’t fail to keep them now. That’s a fact.

So bring on the mid-60’s temps. I’m ready. I’m also ready for flannel and jackets. I’m ready for hot dogs and s’mores over an open fire.

Bring it all on.

 

Something That Spoke to Me

I read this yesterday and I’m still thinking about it. It’s what C. S. Lewis wrote after his wife died after battling cancer. What spoke to me so much wasn’t as much the grief (although I have known that all too well), but the part of not being able to hear God speak to you because you’re too frantic to listen. We’ve all at some point been stressed and overwhelmed to the point where we can’t hear what anybody else is saying to us, much less God.

Here’s what he said:

“Why has no one told me these things? How easily I might have misjudged another man in the same situation? I might have said, ‘He’s got over it. He’s forgotten his wife,’ when the truth was, ‘He remembers her better because he has partly got over it.’

Such was the fact. And I believe I can make sense out of it. You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately: anyway, you can’t get the best out of it. ‘Now! Let’s have a real good talk’ reduces everyone to silence. ‘I must get a good sleep tonight’ ushers in hours of wakefulness. Delicious drinks are wasted on a really ravenous thirst. Is it similarly the very intensity of the longing that draws the iron curtain, that makes us feel we are staring into a vacuum when we think about our dead? ‘Them as asks’ (at any rate ‘as asks too importunately’) don’t get. Perhaps can’t.

And so, perhaps, with God. I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.”

Summer Nights in Franklin

“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19, The Message).

I love those summer nights, partly because of that song from the movie Grease and partly because that’s when the humidity becomes slightly more bearable. Plus, there’s something about the nocturnal breezes that stirs up a multitude of memories for me.

I visited all my usual Franklin places– McCreary’s Irish Pub, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and the Frothy Monkey. I walked up and down Main Street and noted that there were three houses for sale, though one has a contract pending.

It was about being in the moment, not anxiously obsessing over an unknown future and possible scenarios that may or may not come to pass. I remembered that God’s love, while it is omnipresent, can only be experienced in the present. I can’t plumb its depths or rise to its heights if I am dwelling on the past or focused on the future. Especially not if my head is buried nonstop in my smart phone.

God knows the future, because He’s already there. It’s not like anything that happens to me is going to take Him by surprise. Jeremiah 29:11 says that God knows the plans He has for me, and that they are good plans. I can trust not only those plans but also the Planner with full confidence.

I still prefer autumn. With the way I sweat in all this humidity, I’m sure everybody around me prefers it, too.

 

For Those Who Grieve

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.

There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man’s life. I was happy before I ever met H. I’ve plenty of what are called ‘resources.’ People get over these things. Come, I shan’t do so badly. One is ashamed to listen to this voice but it seems for a little to be making out a good case. Then comes a sudden jab of red-hot memory and all this ‘commonsense’ vanishes like an ant in the mouth of a furnace” (C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed).

C. S. Lewis wrote this after his wife passed away from cancer. It is the most brutally honest book on grief that I’ve ever read (not that I go around reading books on grief all the time).

“Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.’

‘Yes,” says the Spirit, ‘let them rest from their labors, for their works follow them!'” (Rev. 14:13, HCSB).

“I heard a voice out of Heaven, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who die in the Master from now on; how blessed to die that way!’

‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘and blessed rest from their hard, hard work. None of what they’ve done is wasted; God blesses them for it all in the end’ (Rev. 14:13, The Message).

 

 

For the Fourth Sunday of Advent

“Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

This is it, folks. 5 days left until Christmas.

Hopefully you’ve got all of your presents bought and wrapped, unlike me who has half bought and none wrapped. Sadly, that’s good for me. Last year at this point, I had no presents bought or wrapped. And next year, despite all my best intentions to do better, I’ll likely be in a similar fix.

But all you need to do to be ready for Christmas is to open your heart to the coming King. That’s all. Make room in your heart to receive the King.

Not buy and wrap presents. Not make your house spotless for all those family members who will be coming over. Not have the most awesomely decorated yard in the neighborhood. Not have that sumptuous feast prepared. Not outdo what you did last year.

Just be ready for Jesus.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. So many things distract us from Jesus, so many ads for new products that they say we need, so many news stories that are mostly depressing and tragic. There’s so much noise that keeps us from hearing the silence of the silent night.

But Christmas is a reminder, as C. S. Lewis put it, that the rightful King has landed and has invited us to take part in His campaign of sabotage against all the powers of the world that seek to lie to us and to destroy all that is good and beautiful in the world.

Jesus is here. That means your peace is here. That means the victory is here.

Coming to Stay

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish” (John 1:14).

Have you ever noticed how sometimes friends come and go?

I mean, have you ever had a friend completely disappear from your life? It’s like one day you see them all the time and the next you don’t see them anymore. It feels like they moved on and forgot about you.

Not all friends are meant to be in your life forever. Some are meant for only a season or two. Yet it still hurts when they’re no longer around.

I love how The Message puts it. Jesus moved into the neighborhood. He didn’t come to visit for a while. He came to stay. He came to take up residence and be among us.

Jesus may have physically left, but He’s still around. He promised He would be when He sent His Holy Spirit. Jesus Himself promised that He would never leave us or forsake us.

That’s what I cling to some days. I cling to Jesus as the only constant in a world racked by constant change and turmoil and instability. My pastor said that when the Bible talks about the glory of God, it conveys almost a kind of weight. It’s like saying that only God deserves glory because He’s the only one weighty enough to hold our lives in orbit and to keep us from spinning out of control.

That’s what Jesus does. He keeps us together on those days when it’s all we can do to put one foot in front of the other and to remember to breathe in and breathe out.

That’s what Immanuel means. God is still with us.

 

Spring Storms

image

This is the time of year for what I like to call spring. Actually, I’m sure everyone calls it spring.

It’s also the time for changing weather patterns and all those fun storms that come out of nowhere around this time of year.

Today was no exception. I think I saw warnings for tornados, thunderstorms, and flash floods, but I didn’t personally witness anything much more than some heavy rain.

I remember the old adage that April showers bring May flowers. Paul wrote something in Romans that echoes those words:

“And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love” (Romans 5:3-5).

All the bad stuff we go through is not in vain. It makes us better people. Not only that but it leads to better things down the road.

There’s nothing bad that happens to any of us that God can’t turn into something good. Nothing. That’s one reason why I love God so much. I’ve seen many examples of that in my own life.

As always, I believe. Lord, help my unbelief.

Easter Sunday 2014

Empty-Tomb1

“Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen”

It’s Easter.

I celebrated with about 130 or so others at the future location of The Church at Avenue South. Though the building has been gutted and won’t be ready for official use for another two months, still the real church got together to proclaim to anyone and everyone that this is Resurrection Day.

The resurrection DOES change everything. It means no more fear of death because Jesus overcame that last enemy when he walked out of the tomb with the sunrise on that first Easter Sunday. It means that whatever I’m afraid of has already been defeated and overcome by this same resurrection power that brought Jesus from death to life.

It means that there is no such thing as TOO LATE, that there’s always time for a do-over and a second chance and a fresh start, that as long as we’re alive we have a purpose and a God willing to bring out that purpose in us.

So I revisit an old Easter toast that I blogged about three years ago today: “We lift our glasses and drink to a Love that never gave up.”

https://oneragamuffin.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/an-easter-toast-stolen-from-someone-on-facebook/

I’ve posted a link so you can read the original post if you want.

Regardless, I’m glad that Easter has come. I’m glad that it isn’t just one day a year, but something that I can celebrate all 365 days (and 366 on those leap years). I’m thankful that just because the holiday ends doesn’t mean the power of that resurrection or its effects do.