Becoming Your True Self

Earlier today, I was watching a couple of little girls playing and a thought occurred to me. Granted, I am not a parent, so forgive me if I speak out of ignorance in what I’m about to say.

Newborn babies are all cute and precious, but they’re pretty much the same. They have typical newborn behavior that all newborn babies do.

It’s only as babies grow into children who mature into adults that their distinctive personalities really begin to emerge. The older they get, the more their uniqueness shines to set them apart from everybody else.

In the life of faith, it’s only in becoming more like Jesus that we come into our truest selves. The more we grow in grace and take on the characteristics and behaviors of Christ that we truly find out who we really are and what our purpose is.

That’s the irony. It’s only in losing yourself that you find yourself. It’s as if gazing on God reveals more about ourselves than looking inwardly ever could.

As always, I share these things not from on high, having mastered the art of living and figured out all the mysteries of the universe. I come to you like one beggar telling another where to find bread (an image that I still love).

I also believe that you only become truly rich by giving yourself away to those who have need. But that will have to be a topic for another day when I am less sleepy.

 

Growing Young: What Maturing in the Faith Looks Like

I listen to a lot of talk about what it means to grow up in the faith. A lot of it sounds like variations of “buckle down, grit your teeth, and try harder” or “have better morals” or “follow this 10-step plan to guaranteed maturity in six months or less.”

My idea of Christian maturity is becoming a child all over again. It’s about growing young.

I don’t mean acting childish. There is a world of difference between being childish and being childlike. You’ve all been around kids enough to tell one from the other.

Children aren’t shy about admitting their dependence. They know they need help– and lots of it. They aren’t embarrassed to seek out that help.

Too often, believers buy into the lie that you have to figure it all out on your own. That your own spiritual growth is up to you. Jesus saved you, but from now on it’s all up to you.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the disciplines of the faith and training your body, mind, and spirit to follow hard after Christ.

The best way to grow is to grow in community with those who will encourage and support you (as well as occasionally challenging you and holding you accountable). The most mature believers are the ones least ashamed to ask for help when they know they need it. They are the most aware of their own flaws and weaknesses and the grace that covers all their sin.

Christianity is all about “we” not “I”. That’s why God instituted the Church. He never intended for Lone Ranger Christians to strike out on their own and try to mature in solitude.

I still love the idea of a declaration of dependence. That’s what the Christian faith is all about. It’s not a DIY religion but an every day surrender and dependence on God and His grace. Your greatest strength still lies in surrendering and submission.

 

 

Wisdom and Correction

The one who corrects a mocker
will bring dishonor on himself;
the one who rebukes a wicked man will get hurt.
Don’t rebuke a mocker, or he will hate you;
rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.
Instruct a wise man, and he will be wiser still;
teach a righteous man, and he will learn more” (Proverbs 9:7-9, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

“One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound judgment” ‭‭(Proverbs‬ ‭18:1‬, ‭Holman Christian Standard Bible).‬‬

In my quest to read through the Bible in 2016, I’ve made it to the book of Proverbs. That means that I am over halfway through. It also means that I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about wisdom.

It’s hard to read Proverbs and not see how precious and priceless the gift of wisdom is. A number of verses tell us to treasure it about silver and gold, above diamonds and rubies. The last time I checked, those trinkets weren’t cheap.

Still, I confess that I see a culture where we value knowledge and belittle wisdom. I scroll through social media posts and don’t see a lot of wisdom.

Recently, God has been showing me that one very important sign that a person is wise is their ability to take a rebuke. No one likes to be told they’re wrong, but those who treasure wisdom seek any opportunity to resist complacency and embrace growth and maturity.

Most people bristle at rebuke. People get very self-defensive at even the hint of correction or negative feedback.

“How dare you judge me?” will get thrown around a lot, mostly as an excuse to avoid any kind of accountability.

But the wise not only endure rebuke; they embrace it. They know that part of Christlikeness is the discipline to put off those habits and actions that contradict our faith message. They understand that spiritual growth may sometimes involve denial and pain, choosing sacrifice over comfort.

Correction does hurt. Still, the amount of hurt from a rebuke is often nowhere near the level of pain that results from a series of bad decisions and poor choices left unchecked. 

I freely admit that I’m not the best at taking correction. Not even close. I get defensive and make excuses whenever I sense that the feedback is heading in a negative direction.

Still, I truly believe that it’s far more dangerous to cocoon yourself from any rebuke. For the record, it’s one thing to distance yourself from verbal and emotional abuse, slander, and hate (which is wise) It’s quite another to close yourself off from constructive criticism of any kind (which is very foolish).

The worst place to be is where you’re only surrounded by “yes-men” who will only agree with you and say what you want to hear but never what you need to hear. The absolute most dangerous place is outside of any kind of accountability.

So may we all seek wisdom, even if it leads to painful places and hard lessons. The payoff will be more than worth it.

 

Once Again, I Got Nothin’

It’s Friday night at 10:55 pm, and I am brain-dead. We’re talking total Night of the Living Dead, flesh-craving zombie kind of brain-dead.

I stayed home on a Friday night because it was grey and rainy. And because I was tired.

Maturity doesn’t mean that you can’t stay out until the wee small hours of the morning, but that you don’t have to. You can survive by staying at home and watching old episodes of The Facts of Life. I did.

I used to think that if I was alone by myself, there was something going on somewhere that I was missing. Not just any something, but something vitally and earth-shakingly important. Something that was bound to come up on a pop quiz later.

Now if it’s just me and Lucy the Wonder Cat hanging out, it’s still a good night. She’s the most affordable feline therapist out there, though she still tends to sleep on the job. That’s okay. She always has room to pencil me last minute into her schedule. She’s good like that.

Tonight will end like this. Me reading a bit of Go Set a Watchman and Luke 18. Some of you may be out painting the town red (or whatever other color you prefer if red is not your thing). I will be very shortly watching with great intent the backs of my eyelids.

Good night.

 

This Is It

“This is the testimony in essence: God gave us eternal life; the life is in his Son. So, whoever has the Son, has life; whoever rejects the Son, rejects life” (1 John 5:12).

The life is in Jesus.

When I was a kid, I thought eternal life was simply living forever. Not that anyone overtly told me this, but it’s what my kid brain grasped when anybody talked about how whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. To me, that meant life that lasted a long time.

I think what I’m beginning to understand is that, while the forever part is right, there is more to it than that. It’s more than just quantity of life. It’s about a quality of life, too.

Eternal life is life with Jesus at the source. It’s where Jesus becomes my life. It’s where even my best days now are nothing compared to what my eternal future will be like.

As I’ve said before, I like to think of C.S. Lewis’ description of the New Narnia in his book, The Last Battle. It’s like everything you were always looking for but never knew it.

It’s like waking up on the first day of summer after school ends, knowing you have freedom up ahead. It’s like that first day of pure vacation bliss. Oh, and it doesn’t end in August or when you go back to work. It never ends.

It’s like that one book I read so long  ago. I can’t remember any of the detail, only that it was one of those books that I couldn’t put down and was sorry to see it end. Eternal life is the realization that this life now are like the title page and the introduction and the rest is the real beginning, a story where each chapter gets better than the last.

 

 

It’s Called Growing Up

“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’“(Jeremiah 33:2-3 MSG).

I think I’ve figured out a lot of the process of sanctification and maturity.

It’s when you look back over a time when you felt like you were completely the injured party and justified in all those things you said and did and realizing, “Well, that was stupid. I shouldn’t have done and said that. I should probably never do that again.”

Maturity is realizing that the one who needs growing up most is me. Sanctification means that the log in my own eye needs to come out first before I start nitpicking about all those splinters I see in other peoples’ eyes. It means I’m the one who most needs to change.

You can never control how others will treat you. You can never make people understand how  hurtful those things were that they said or did to you casually without thinking. Some people are just so good at making and having new friends they never learn to treasure the ones they already have.

You will learn that passive-aggressive is not the way of a child of God, nor is boycotting everyone who slights or offends you. You will also learn that what you intended and what they interpreted won’t always be the same thing. You will learn above all that there is no such thing as too broken or too far gone or too lost or too hopeless for the God who raises from the dead.

You can only control you. You can only forgive the brokenness in others as you come to see your own brokenness. You can’t ever go back and unsay and undo those things that cost friendships and sleepless nights. You can move forward and behave differently from now on.

Above all, you can give yourself grace. You’re not who you were then and you’re not yet who you will be. You’re allowed to fail and make mistakes so that you can learn from them and grow and not make them again in the future.

If you listen long enough and are even the slightest bit honest with yourself, you’ll hear God revealing aspects about you that aren’t your best self. He’ll show you your flaws not so that you can beat yourself up, but so that you can become a better you. He will not only show you, but He will change you if you are willing.

That’s called growing up.

 

That’s How You Know

bacon bandaids

“When you wake up one morning surprised to see the world exists
And your eyes ain’t full of tears
Your heart ain’t full of bitterness

That’s how you know, that’s how you know
That’s how you know, that’s how you know

When you’re thankful that you ever knew a love this strong
When you finally find the courage to write this song

That’s how you know
That’s how you know
That’s how you know
You’re moving on………” (Lori McKenna)

Growth is hard to detect on a daily basis. That wound may not look like it’s healing on an hour-to-hour basis. But here is some of the evidence that I’ve started growing and healing:

1) When a friend seems to so silent on me, i.e. doesn’t comment on my posts nearly as much or quits responding to texts, I don’t freak out and assume the worst. I don’t automatically go to defcon-4 and wonder how I’ve horribly offended the person. I breathe deeply a few times and let it go and choose to believe the best.

2) Rejection doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it did even last year. I’ve learned to let it go and move on and appreciate the people who do want me around. It’s less tiring that way.

3) I don’t get caught up in rehearsing what I will say to this person or that person if I see them. I don’t obsess over what somebody meant by a throwaway phrase or something that hit me wrong. I try to focus on the present and all the blessings there.

4) I don’t feel the need to be appreciated or noticed all the time. I can simply enjoy the moment quietly. Also, I’ve decided that since I’ve stopped trying so hard to be witty and humorous, I’m a lot funnier. At least in my own head.

I heard something I like a lot: time doesn’t heal all wounds; only Jesus does that. Remember that the next time, but also remember He’s still the best Physician when it comes to broken hearts and lives.

 

Things I Love 31: That Black Horse and Those Cherry Trees

island hammock

Going through some boxes, I found my old merit badge requirement book from when I was a Boy Scout. I didn’t realize it at the time, but life was so much more simple then. Relationships were definitely less complicated. I had a lot less to worry about, thanks to loving family who took care of my needs and left me free to enjoy my childhood. And cartoons were better back then. Just saying. On that note, I move on to #906.

906) Homemade bread with homemade jam.

907) Finishing a game of gin rummy with a positive score.

908) A sense of belonging and being wanted.

909) Those people who care enough about me to actually make time for me in their lives.

910) Grape jelly.

911) When someone sees you at your worst and chooses to stick around and love you in spite of the darkness.

912) My vintage California Raisins beach towel.

913) Peach and/or blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.

914) Really old hymnals.

915) All the Cosby Show episodes before Denise left the show.

916) Resting in the greatness of my Savior’s loving heart.

917) The peace that comes with true surrender.

918) Letting go so that my open hands are ready to receive something better.

919) Embracing the mystery of God in all His love and holiness and not just the parts I understand or that make me feel warm and fuzzy.

920) Another good night of fellowship with the Green Hills Community Group.

921) Making Thursdays my designated downtown Franklin night.

922) Being okay with unresolved tension and the cliffhangers in life.

923) Laying in my bed in the dark late at night listening to good music.

924) Taking my shoes off and wading through the creek at Crockett Park.

925) The relief of Aloe Vera on sunburn.

926) Taking a spoonful of local honey to help with my allergies.

927) Cake batter.

928) Being alone but not lonely.

929) Movies like Gladiator and Braveheart.

930) Taking naps on the couch.

931) When it’s there’s still daylight after 8 pm.

932) The way my grandfather told the best stories.

933) When pants that used to be too tight are now too loose.

934) Not having to write in cursive anymore if I don’t want to.

935) That I’m not fighting for victory but fighting from the victory Jesus has already won.

936) That moment when I’m hopelessly lost and I see a familiar landmark and realize I know where I am.

937) Trying to wrap my brain around the concept of eternity.

938) The prayer I learned from Brennan Manning that I repeat daily– “Abba Father, I belong to You.”

939) Sighing the deep sigh of contentment at close of day.

940) That face.

SONY DSC

Things I Love 12: Tested And Approved by Lucy The Wonder Kitty

island hammock

Lucy is in my lap, approving  whatever I type. Of course, she can’t read, but if she could, she would add her own comments (most of which would not be fit to print in a family-style blog such as this one). So I’ll take her silence as either approval or extreme sleepiness.

The list commences with #264 (I think).

264) Ice-cold water to quench my thirst on a humid summer day.

265) A long walk alone under a full moon at night (as opposed to all those moonlit walks during the day).

266) That I’m finally at a place where I’m comfortable alone or in a crowd.

267) Planned spontaneity.

268) That I’ve come to the place where if I never see a certain person ever again (and at the moment it appears very likely to be the case), that I will be glad for the friendship; I will miss her, but my life will go on.

269) Those quiet moments of peace where God speaks into my silence.

270) That with God, every day is a day to look forward to.

271) Reading collects out of The Book of Common Prayer and seeing my own prayers expressed better than I could ever put them.

272) That this blog site has spell-check so that I can appear smarter than I really am, i.e. that I can actually spell.

273) That I really don’t have to be friends with everyone or have everyone like me to be content.

274) That everything will be fine in the end, and if it’s not fine, it’s not the end.

275) Good lines from good movies (like the one I just referenced earlier).

276) Chocolate bars with bacon in them (it sounds gross, but tastes divine).

277) All of my quirks

278) That I have to show my driver’s license to prove that I really am the age I say I am.

279) That even though Jon Acuff might have more readers for one blog than I’ve had for all my 1,000+ blogs combined, that I have touched and impacted lives that wouldn’t have been touched and impacted had I chosen not to write a blog.

280) That I can use bad grammar, and bad punctuation, in my blogs, if I so, choose.

281) Those rare times when the Church is known for what it’s for rather than what it’s against.

282) That I can learn something from anybody, no matter what their philosophical, theological, political or social beliefs and regardless of whether or not they have the same worldview as mine.

283) That hamburger from The Pharmacy with bacon, ham, and a fried egg (10,000 calories of deliciousness!)

284) That the last spoken words from Jesus in the Bible aren’t a condemnation but an invitation.

285) When I talk into a box fan and make my voice sound like a robot.

286) That being grown-up doesn’t always mean having to be mature all the time.

287) That the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.

288) The way my cat Lucy hovers when she goes to the bathroom.

289) Not knowing all the answers (or even all of the questions).

290) A perfectly made and perfectly thrown paper airplane.

291) That I saw the actual Batmobile from the campy 60’s TV show tonight in downtown Franklin

292) That this list will continue– maybe tomorrow, maybe not. You’ll just have to tune in tomorrow to find out. Same bat time, same bat channel.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

“Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known” (Garrison Keillor).

I’m generally not the best judge of what I really want. How do I know? Because of all the times I got what I thought I wanted and thought would satisfy me and almost instantly was out looking again for what I really wanted.

I’m thankful (as I know you probably are) that I didn’t get most of what I asked God for. First and foremost, because God’s not a cosmic vending machine bound to give me whatever I asked for. Also, I’ve changed and my wants have changed and– hopefully– matured since then.

There’s the old saying that what looks good to you isn’t usually what’s good for you. You have to be disciplined and mature enough to know the difference. And I have not been very good at either of those. Improving, yes. Very good, no.

I think if I ever focused on what I have, I’d be a lot better off. My checking account would be, too.

What do I have?

All that really matters.

I have family, friends, air to breathe, health, freedom, a good mind, and today. Most of all, I have a God who knows what I need better than I do. He knows what I’m seeking after when I can’t even put a name to it.

As the old Rolling Stones song says, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.” There’s some good theology in those lyrics.

There’s not a neat and tidy theological wrap-up to all this. I just realize that if I’m not getting what I want, sometimes it’s because I need better “wants.” By the way, that sentence made perfect sense in my head.

May you always find that even though God doesn’t always give you what you want, he does always give you what you need.