The Long and Winding Road

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to” (Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings).

I had another good night in Franklin. I hit all the usual places– McCreary’s Irish Pub, Kilwin’s, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. I had to cut it short when it started to rain.

I also had to improvise a bit for my drive home. Franklin Road going north was blocked off for the Pilgrimage Festival, so I tried a new way. More accurately, I started to try a new way and resorted to GPS when my way led me into unfamiliar territory.

When you’re not sure where you are, i.e. lost, nothing feels better than finding a familiar landmark or street.

When I turned on to Berry’s Chapel Road, I knew I was finally heading in the right direction. It was literally the long and winding road that led me back home.

The faith journey often takes us into unfamiliar territory. Usually, God does that to increase both our awareness of dependence on Him and to grow our faith as we discover new aspects to God’s ability to come through in the clutch.

Sometimes, I’ve been guilty of viewing God as my GPS, a sort of last minute back-up plan in case my own way of getting home fails. Too many of us have prayer and God as a last resort after every other effort has failed.

The lesson from tonight is to start off with prayer. It involves less stress in the end. It also will save you from a lot of heartache and disappointment and distractions that your own “short cuts” inevitably lead to.

One other note: I’d have probably done better if it hadn’t been dark and raining. I probably missed a street or two from not being able to see street signs very well. I think sometimes when you’re tired and frustrated, it’s best not to figure things out because you can’t always see everything properly. And definitely hold off on those emails and posts until you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Just FYI.

 

Belonging

“That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

All of us have probably gone through times in our lives where we felt like we didn’t belong anywhere. Many of us have known what it’s like to feel unwanted and unloved (whether real or perceived).

Most of us have done and said stupid stuff- stuff we’d normally never even dream of saying or doing– in order to fit into a group. Nine out of ten times we found out that being in the group wasn’t worth the cost of wrecking our consciences.

Get this. In God’s Kingdom, you belong. I belong. We belong. Not because any of us are so great or special or wonderful, but because God wanted us to be there. Why? I can’t speak for any of you, but I have no idea why God wanted me, other than it gave Him pleasure for some mysterious reasons known only to Him.

That’s my motto for the evening. We belong. Of course, now I have that Pat Benatar song stuck in my head (one of the many perils of being a music nerd).

The best part of belonging in the kingdom of God is that there will never be a time where you and I no longer belong, where we are once again outcasts and misfits.

This belonging is forever.

 

What Is Your Second Mile?

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41, NIV)

The gist of the passage is that back in ye olden Bible times, a Roman soldier could conscript anyone to carry his gear for up to one mile. Many Jewish people would put a marker exactly one mile from their houses so they would know precisely how much they were required to do.

Remember Simon of Cyrene? The Roman soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross, probably based on this idea.

But pay attention to Jesus’ own words.

If anyone asks you to go one mile, go two. In other words, do above and beyond what is expected of you.

So the question that I heard today is the one I now pose to you: what is your second mile?

How can you serve where you’re planted in a way that goes beyond the minimum requirement?

It’s not necessarily about doing more, but about how you do what you’re doing. It’s all about your attitude.

Where you are, what you are doing, is your ministry, whether it’s in a church building or a seminary or a classroom or in a grocery store or in your own home.

I think the Apostle Paul nailed it when he said this: “Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work” (Colossians 3:22-25, The Message).

That goes for any sphere of life for wherever you live,work, play, and serve.

Do it all as if you were doing it directly for Jesus Himself.

See everyone you meet as possibly Jesus in disguise and treat them like you would treat Him if you knew He was standing right in front of you.

It’s 11:15 on a Saturday

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It’s March 1, the day after my birthday. It’s also (wait for it) the first day of March and (wait for it) 20 days away from the first official day of spring.

Winter, it was fun and it was real, but it’s over. It’s time for you and your cold weather to go home. Don’t overstay your welcome.

And yes, it is Saturday, 41 minutes away from being Sunday. I got a few more Facebook birthday well-wishes today, which always makes my day better. Such fun.

Anyway, God is still in control. He’s still got a plan for me and He hasn’t abandoned me or forgotten about me. He still knows the plans He has for me and I can’t wait to see what they will turn out to be.

That last bit was just me reminding myself of a few things. Take whichever of these you need as helpful reminders in the event that you get anxious or discouraged. All of the above are true and all apply to you, too.

That’s all I have for tonight.

If It Hadn’t Been for Those Meddling Hypocrites!

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For some odd reason today, I thought about the movie Annie Hall and a great line. Woody Allen’s character says something to the effect of: “I wouldn’t want to be a part of a club that would have me for a member.”

Then I thought of all those people who stay away from church because of all the hypocrites. So here are my thoughts on that.

First of all, if you never went any place where there were hypocrites, you’d be at home alone in the dark with your pet ferret. You’d never go anywhere for fear of running into one of those hypocrites. You might even have a hard time looking in the mirror, because . . .

That’s right. You’re a hypocrite. So am I. We’ve all pretended to be something or somebody we’re not from time to time. We’ve played the calm dispassionate part when we’re falling apart and screaming on the inside.

Society teaches us to be hypocrites, to never let our true selves out but to only show what is culturally acceptable and normal. You can be yourself as long as that fits a certain cookie-cutter mold.

If there’s anyplace where you can be you, it should be the Church. If there’s a place where you can let your guard down and admit your hurts and flaws, it should be in the midst of the body of Christ.

Churches aren’t perfect because Christians aren’t perfect. As the old joke goes, if you find the perfect church don’t go there because you’ll ruin it with your imperfections.

Church is about doing life together and figuring it all out together. And if you’re not getting anything out of it, maybe that means you’re not putting in your fair share. Isn’t faith about more than just receiving? Isn’t there the part of giving and losing yourself?

I’m glad I’ve found a church where I feel like I belong, where I matter, where I can be a part of what God is doing in the world. I hope you find a place where you can feel like family, too.

Untitled Blog #1,239

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Yeah, it was a Monday. A 12-hour workday Monday.

Normally, that recipe makes for one grumpy Greg. But not today.

God reminded me that joy is a choice that I must make every single day, even on a cold winter Monday at 6 am.

Thanksgiving means not seeing a long work day ahead but me having a job, not me having an annoying cough that sounds like a car that won’t start but me being awake and alive.

I still have those people I don’t get. One won’t ever speak to me unless I speak to her first and even then she sometimes doesn’t respond. One I’ve pretty much learned to leave alone and pray for from a distance.

But God still can teach me something in every circumstance and use every person I meet as a blessing, a lesson, or a caution.

I’m learning to slow down and appreciate the small moments, the short conversations, the texts, these moments of quiet grace.

I lost my joy for a little while. I took my eyes off of Jesus and got swamped by worry, fear, and lack. I bemoaned all that I didn’t have instead of practicing the art of thanksgiving for all that I do have.

Right now, I’m thankful for friends who still want to know me after I’ve gone a little nutty on them, white chocolate covered oreos, my Jeep, a faithful 13-year old feline, a warm soft bed, and for Jesus. Most of all, for Jesus.

God Loves Even Hot Messes, Right?

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I confess. I am a mess.

Ooo, I was just a poet and didn’t know it.

But I am a mess.

Sometimes, I frighten people with my friendliness. It comes across too strong a little too early. I am an acquired taste, a bit odd and unusual. And sometimes I confuse someone who is friendly and nice to everybody with someone who genuinely wants to be my friend.

In other words, I’m unique.

So are you.

Maybe you’ve tried way too hard to make someone like you or be your friend.

Maybe you’ve wondered why all the people in your life seem gradually withdraw from you and go away after a while. Maybe even family members. Or spouses. The ones closest to you who you thought would always be there.

Here’s the thing. To God, you’re beautiful. To God, you’re a priceless work of art. To God, your worth is more than the very lifeblood of His only Son, all the agony and torture of a painful death on a cross. You matter.

I’ve come to believe the right people will see your mess and stick around anyway.

The right people will call out the good they see in you and help you to see it in yourself. They will help you remember that song in your heart when you’ve forgotten the words.

Even a Van Gogh painting probably looked like a mess when it was still in progress. And that’s what you are, dear friend.

A work in progress. A masterpiece in the making. Heaven’s poetry etched onto lives, as one translation of Ephesians 2:10 puts it.

Don’t despair. Don’t give up or give in to the pressure to be someone else or (perish the very idea) try to be normal.

Take courage, dear heart. God made you to be you. He delights in you being you. He’s even helping you find your truest self, the “youest” you.

Christmas is all about messes. Do you think the manger scene was pristine? Do you think the place where Jesus arrived was a 5-star hotel? It was not.

If Jesus arrived in the middle of a messy manger, then He above anyone understands what messes look like and how to make them clean. Not better, not improved, but new.

Celebrate that you’re you and no one else. One day, you’ll find out that your part in God’s Story might not have been the leading role, but it was vital to the Story and you made a difference in the outcome.

These are just the thoughts of one hot mess directed to all the other hot messes out there.

And The Star Stopped

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“And so they left, and on their way they saw the same star they had seen in the east. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” Matthew 2:9, 10 GNB).

I never thought about that part of the story. I’ve heard all my life about those wise men who travelled so far to see this baby Jesus. I knew they had a star to guide them.

But I never thought about how they knew when to stop looking and start worshipping.

Most people chased hopes like the cartoon of the rabbit chasing a carrot that is always dangling in front of him, just out of reach. Yet that silly old rabbit keeps chasing.

I’ve chased after my share of hopes, did a lot of running, and never got any closer to realizing them than when I started. Sometimes, I got to a place where I could see my hopes but couldn’t find a way to actually get there.

But the beautiful part of the story of Christmas is that true hope and true joy are always accessible to the ones searching for them. They can not only be found, but embraced and cherished and celebrated every single day.

Hope is not wishful thinking. It is a reality so certain that it is as good as done. In other words, it is a future event so guaranteed that it can be spoken of in past tense.

May you rediscover hope this Advent season. Or may you find it for the first time.

Not only is it available, Jesus Himself offers it to whomever will simply reach out and take it.

Will you? Will I?

I hope so.

Why I Love Room in the Inn

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I have to confess something. I almost skipped Room in the Inn tonight. I mean, it’s frickin’ cold outside and I am tired from a long workday and a not-so-great night of sleep.

But then I remember that the guys who benefit most Room in the Inn would otherwise be sleeping out in that bitter cold. Room in the Inn brings homeless men into different churches during the week to have a warm meal, a hot shower, and a place to sleep that’s out of the elements.

I remember how blessed I am every time I volunteer at Room in the Inn. I have all these things every day and routinely take them for granted. Which makes me wonder if all i had were those things I had given thanks for the night before, what would I still have left?

These guys put me to shame in many ways. They are grateful for everything. They have literally next to nothing but they also are always so thankful and kind. I always end up receiving more blessing than I ever could think of giving.

How are you serving and giving to those who can never repay you? How are you serving Jesus by serving the least of these? Will you give thanks for those little things in your life?

Just some food for thought on a chilly Monday night.