Lost!

Today, my friend and I hiked through Radnor Lake State Park. I love that place, primarily because I feel like it’s a place where you can still be in Nashville but feel like you’re stepping into another world. To me, it feels a lot like Middle Earth and I always feel like a hobbit out on a quest whenever I go there.

This time, I flashed back to a less pleasant memory. I went back to when I was a Boy Scout at my first Boy Scout Camp in Arkansas. I vividly recall that I went walking by myself and got incredibly turned around and lost.

Yes, I was that Boy Scout who got lost at Boy Scout camp.

I remember being absolutely terrified and panicky. At that moment, I felt sure I wasn’t ever going to find my troop or anyone else I knew ever again. It was not a good moment.

Then there have been times when I got lost in a very good way.

I can remember times when I got so caught up in serving, particularly at Set Free Church, Christian Alliance for Orphans, or Nashville Rescue Mission, that for a precious few moments I forgot about me and all my issues. I got so completely lost in what I was doing that I had no time to overthink and overanalyze what was going on in my life.

C. S. Lewis once said that the perfect worship service would be the one you were completely unaware of. You wouldn’t be able to recall what the songs you sung were or what the sermon was about. You would only know that God had shown up.

May we live our lives in such a way that we lose ourselves and only remember that God showed up. Maybe then one day we will find out much later that those were the times when God did His best work in and through us.

 

An Unexpected Detour

Im-Lost-Ive-Gone-To-Look-Inspirational-Life-Quotes

I have my homeward trek fairly down pat by now. At least you’d think I had it down after all the times I’ve made the afternoon commute.

Today, for some reason known only to God, I took I-40 East instead of I-40 West. Immediately, I knew I’d messed up.

Still, I looked for anything familiar and found the exit for Stewarts Ferry Pike and the Tennessee School for the Blind, which I pass every morning on my morning commute to work.

It was probably a bit out of the way, but I got back to where I started (almost) and made it home from there. All it took was finding something familiar.

I think all of us get lost on our spiritual journeys. We get to where nothing looks familiar and wonder how we got to the place where we find ourselves. We wonder how to get back to what we know.

I truly believe God will give familiar signposts to those who have lost the way and seek to find their way back. He will send an old friend or a familiar Scripture or a song from the past.

Many times, we find that Jesus will show us that He Himself is the way back. For those who are lost, the best way back is to return to the trust and obedience we knew before we got off-track.

I know that for those who get lost when driving, nothing is more comforting than finding that familiar landmark. Suddenly, you know where you are and you can navigate from there.

I believe that just as much as His lost children long to return to places they know, the Father longs to get them there. The Father longs to see them running down the dirt road into His arms, just as that prodigal son did all those years ago.

If there are people in your life who have lost the way, maybe you’re the signpost that will get them finally headed in the right direction again.

PS I survived day one of my Lent fast from social media. I resisted the urge to check my Facebook page several times throughout the day. So far, so good.

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.

 

Sheep

“Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. ‘What a huge harvest!’ he said to his disciples. ‘How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!'” (Matt. 9:36-38, The Message).

I’ve observed that so many people are like sheep.

They will follow whatever is trendy and fashionable, no matter how ridiculous it seems. Six months later, they will jump on the next fashion bandwagon and laugh at those who are still into the old fads.

They will believe whatever the leaders of their chosen political party tell them without question.

They will never take the time to find out the truth for themselves, choosing to believe whatever the media, i.e. Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN) and those in power tell them.

This doesn’t apply to all of us, right? Surely some of us are learning to think for ourselves and not see everything though either red- or blue-tinted glasses, right?

I’m a sheep. You’re a sheep. We’re all sheep.

Jesus called us sheep. It wasn’t a compliment.

Sheep are smelly and stupid. They are helpless without the shepherd.

It wasn’t an insult either.

Jesus Himself proclaimed that He had come to seek and save the lost sheep. No matter how foolishly His sheep act sometimes, He still loves them enough to have died for them.

Maybe wisdom is admitting that I am anything but wise and trusting Jesus who is perfectly wise.

How much does Jesus love His sheep? His parable about the shepherd who leaves the 99 in search of the one who strayed is really autobiographical.

Jesus would have died for one sheep, if that was all that was lost. Even if it had been you. Even if it had been me.

I’m so very thankful for a Shepherd who never stops looking for me when I wander off, who never stops guiding me back on to the right paths, who never for a second leaves me defenseless, and who will not fail to get me home in the end.

Long Journey Home

“We cannot find God without God. We cannot reach God without God. We cannot satisfy God without God- which is another way of saying that all our seeking will fall short unless God starts and finishes the search. The decisive part of our seeking is not our human ascent to God, but His descent to us. Without God’s descent there is no human ascent. The secret of the quest lies not in our brilliance but in His grace” (Os Guinness, Long Journey Home).

That’s it.

It’s not that I found Jesus. As one pastor I know always puts it, it’s not Jesus who was lost. I was. Jesus found me.

It may sound like semantics to you, but I think it’s important to know the difference.

Salvation is all God. It’s not like I was smart enough to figure it out or brave enough to seek it out. If God hadn’t sought me out first, I never would have sought Him in the first place.

That’s humbling. I can take no credit whatsoever for my being saved. It is all of grace.

That’s also good news. It means that if it’s not up to human efforts or human goodness, then anyone can find it (or better yet, anyone can be found). There’s no such thing as too lost, too far gone, too out of reach for God.

That helps when you’re praying for a son or a daughter, a brother or sister, a mother or father who seems hopelessly unreachable. It helps when you have a friend who seems bent on self-destructing and won’t let you help.

There are countless stories of those whom the world had basically given up on that God saved. The best example is the Apostle Paul. Maybe the next one will be someone you love. Maybe the next one will be you.

 

The Ultimate Mash-Up TV Show

15-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-the-show-that-spawned-an-academic-discipline

I was thinking how great it would be if Chris Carter (of X-Files fame), Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly), and J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost) got together to create the ultimate TV show. I’d watch it.

You’d have a teenage girl who finds out she is the  chosen one to fight the evil forces of vampires and other things that go bump in the night. She also happens to be a secret operative for the CIA and has a younger sister who was abducted by aliens and sparked her obsession with all things paranormal. She ends up on a plane that crashes on a mysterious deserted island with its own set of mysteries and paranormal activity. She does all this while maintaining a relationship with her boyfriend who is an RA at the state university.

I personally think we have the next colossal blockbuster series. As long as it’s not on Fox.

 

 

Keep Calm and Don’t Forget to Breathe

hyperventilation_kitty

All of us have those moments of panic. Or maybe it’s just me. Like yesterday when I couldn’t find my keys. It was like they went to that special hidden worm hole where all those socks go.

I was sure I had set them down, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember when. In times like these, I remind myself to breathe. Take a deep breath and exhale it slowly.

I found my keys hidden under my wallet.

Sometimes, you get to anxious over what you’re missing and can look right at it without seeing it because you’re too distracted by trying to find it. Raise your hand if that made sense.

I have to remind myself that God is present even when my senses tell me He’s absent. Too often, I miss Him when I look for Him in times of stress and anxiety. Too many times I might be looking right at Him and not see Him because I’m too worried about finding Him.

He’s not lost. He never was. It’s me who gets lost. Breathing deeply helps me remember that. It helps to remind me that if I only stand still, God will come to where I am and find me.

The Condescension of God

con·de·scen·sion

 [kon-duhsen-shuhn]  Show IPA

noun

1.

an act or instance of condescending.
2.

behavior that is patronizing or condescending.
3.

voluntary assumption of equality with a person regarded as inferior.
Ok, for the purposes of this blog, forget #1 and #2. Put them out of your mind. I want to focus on #3. Because that’s what God did for us.
Let me explain.
This is the God of whom Isaiah wrote, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
This God would be completely unknowable unless He had first chosen to reveal Himself to us. He would have remained completely incomprehensible unless He had chosen to reveal His nature and His character. And  He didn’t get all high and mighty with us or look down His celestial nose at us. He looked at us with pity and compassion. But mostly with love.
Truly, this God is not like one of us, only bigger, stronger, faster. He is not the ultimate $6 million dollar man. He is holy, set apart, wholly other.
Jesus is the ultimate example of God’s condescension to man. He who was infinitely higher than we could ever hope or aspire to be, voluntarily assumed equality with those who were His inferiors, i.e. us. He became one of us. Or as Paul puts it in Philippians,
Though He was in the form of God,
    He chose not to cling to equality with God;
But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new;
    a servant in form
    and a man indeed.
The very likeness of humanity,
He humbled Himself,
    obedient to death—
    a merciless death on the cross!
So God raised Him up to the highest place
    and gave Him the name above all.
So when His name is called,
    every knee will bow,
    in heaven, on earth, and below.
And every tongue will confess
    ‘Jesus, the Anointed One, is Lord,’
    to the glory of God our Father!”
I’m thankful that when I couldn’t get to God, He came to me. I’m grateful that it wasn’t me who found God, but rather it was He who found me. He wasn’t lost. I was. I’m mostly glad that He didn’t (and doesn’t) leave me where He found me but constantly makes me a little bit more like Jesus every day.
So, yeah, I suppose I do like that word condescension now.

To Every Zaccheus Out There

Zacchaeus in the Scyamore Tree Luke 19:2-5

 For the Son of Man came to seek and to liberate the lost” (Luke 19:10).

If you grew up going to Sunday School, you’ve heard the song that starts with “Zaccheus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he . . .”

Zaccheus was more than just a vertically challenged man. He was also a crook and (according to the majority of his own people) a traitor. His job was collecting taxes for the Romans and he made a very comfortable living by hiking up the taxes and lining his own pockets with the extra profits.

No one wanted to be friends with Zaccheus. No one wanted him around. Certainly, no one ever invited Zaccheus over for dinner. Until Jesus came along.

Zaccheus had heard about this Jesus and wanted more than anything to meet Him. His desperation won out over his dignity and he found himself climbing a tree and hanging out of it like a schoolboy. I’m sure everyone around him thought his cheese had slid off his cracker or there were a few bats in his belfry. In other words, he’d gone nutty.

But Jesus didn’t think so. Jesus said to him, “Zaccheus, today I’m having dinner at your place!”

The rest is history. Zaccheus walks away from that dinner a changed man.

I wonder if you’ve ever felt like Zaccheus. Like you’ve made a train-wreck of your life and alienated everyone around you. Maybe you think even God won’t have anything to do with you anymore.

The good news is that just as Jesus came looking for Zaccheus, He’s looking for you. And it’s not like He can’t find you. He’s waiting on you to admit that you’re the one who’s lost.

Jesus didn’t say to Zaccheus, “Get your life cleaned up” or “Get your act together” before He showed up at his house. He didn’t throw Zaccheus’ past in his face or  let him have it for all his bad choices. Instead, He loved him as he was.

Jesus calls us to love the people around us like that. Regardless of whether they choose to follow Jesus or not, we’re still called to love them, not because of anything other than that’s the way Jesus loved us first.

PS I wonder if Zaccheus was really a leprechaun. He was short and loved his gold. Whaddya think?

 

My Bracket’s Got a Hole In It

Busted-Bracket

I recently checked my NCAA basketball tournament brackets– you know, the ones that were supposed to make me rich beyond my wildest dreams and completely irresistible to women?Yeah, that one– and was more than pleasantly surprised at one of them.

As it turns out, my Fox Sports bracket was doing better than 99.6% of all the brackets out there. If I believed in jinxes, which I do not, I would have thought that I jinxed myself. That was as good as it got for my bracket.

After that, my brackets went in a direction decidedly warm and southward in a handbasket. Three of my Final Four teams lost, including the team I had pegged to win it all. The team a LOT of people had marked to win it all– Michigan State. They lost. So did my runner-up, Michigan.

So, I won’t be rollin’ in a Rolls Royce or Maserati anytime soon. But I had fun filling out my brackets. And at least I got this far before my brackets busted. Unlike most of my efforts in the past.

For those of you who don’t follow sports, it means that the world didn’t end. I didn’t have any money to bet on these games, so I didn’t lose any. Not that I would EVER have bet money on sports, says the good Baptist boy.

Nothing will happen to me other than maybe me being knocked down a rung or two on the ol’ ladder of my sports pride.

I’ll be back next year, filling out as many brackets as humanly possible and basing all my picks on gut instinct and my sportly intuition. Which loosely translated looks a lot like eeny-meeny-miney-moe. . . .

I have no illusions about having a perfect bracket. I just hope my championship pick doesn’t lose in the first round.