Get Away

“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” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden).

Sometimes I think Thoreau had the right idea. Lately, I feel overwhelmed by the amount of information coming at me from every direction at literally every waking moment. I deliberately stay away from watching any kind of news programs, yet I still feel like I’m drowning in a flood of images and stories, mostly tragic and sad.

Every now and then, it’s good to get away from all things electronic and technological. Every once in a while, it’s good to lose yourself in the beauty of nature and drink in deeply the silence of the woods.

I love Radnor Lake State Park because it is as close to Eden as I can get these days. It’s as close as I can get to how we used to be before we became social media junkies, craving the next Instagram or Facebook fix. I saw a woman walking through Radnor with nature in full bloom all around her who would not look up from her phone. That’s a sad commentary on what we value and where our priorities lie.

Nature has a way of resetting the default on our brains to where they’re not always running like a computer with 50 tabs open at the same time. I still believe that nature is a place where we can better hear the voice of God, away from the distracting noise and clatter that constantly demands our attention.

I think I could live in a place like Walden Pond for a year or more. I could use a break from all the media madness. Maybe I’ll settle for reading the book.

 

Free Stuff

“Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,
    a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.
And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.
    The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders.
His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—
    He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,
Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, The Voice).

I confess. I love free stuff.

I periodically go by the Brentwood Public Library where they have two bookshelves off the front lobby to the right where they put all the books and other media that they can’t for whatever reason take.

I always look for hidden treasures there. Mostly, it’s old VHS tapes and 80’s-era computer manuals and other equally useful items.

Every now and then, I do find something worthwhile. A few months back, I found a 1945 Book of Common Prayer in more or less decent shape. Win.

I also like to look through the bins in front of McKay’s Used Books, Movies, Music, and So Much More Store (which isn’t really the name, but what it should be named).

Again, there’s a reason a lot of these got discarded and left behind. Still, every now and then, I can find some really cool stuff. Like the last time I was there, I found three Christmas CDs that I’ve added to my already astounding and amazing collection.

The best gift of Christmas was also free. It came in the unlikeliest of places– in a stone manger inside of a barn on the outskirts of the little town of Bethlehem. It came wrapped not in a fancy package with ribbons and bows aplenty, but in a worn-out cloth.

That gift was Emmanuel. God downsized into human flesh, infant flesh, born ultimately to be the ultimate sacrifice for you and for me.

The gift wasn’t free to God. It cost Him everything. But the gift is free to you and me. The only problem with a gift– any gift– is that it doesn’t become yours until you take it. So will you?

This Christmas, don’t get so distracted by the gifts under the tree that you miss the best gift in the manger.

The end.

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.

Elvis Turns 80?

Elvis-Presley

So, today would have been Elvis Presley’s 80th birthday. August 16 will mark 38 years since he passed away very suddenly in 1977 and left the music world in mourning. People still show up at Graceland on the anniversary of his death almost 40 years later to mourn and grieve his passing.

I was a huge Elvis fan when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because my dad loved Elvis’ music. Maybe it was because even at a young age, I connected with the singer who grew up in Memphis and never forgot where he came from even after he became mega-successful.

Elvis is a reminder to all of us that fame can be the best and worst thing to happen to a person. It’s the best because all their dreams come true and it can be the worst because all the scrutiny and pressure on that person increases a thousandfold and any character flaws that person has are magnified and exposed in a myriad of ways.

So maybe that’s why I haven’t been hugely successful and popular with my blog. Yeah, I’ll go with that.

I’ve heard stories about how Elvis never lost his love for Gospel music and always sung spiritual and sacred songs at his concerts. I can’t speak into the man’s beliefs, but to me that says something. It reminds me of my grandmother who passed away from Alzheimer’s a few years back. She couldn’t tell you her address or probably remember your name, but she could still remember the old hymns that she grew up loving.

There’s power in those songs, both old and new. When Andre Crouch sang about the blood that never loses its power, he was singing powerful truth.

So I watched a couple of Elvis movies and remembered that as an actor, Elvis was a really good singer. His movies aren’t the best ever made and can be painfully bad at times, but they’re still fun to watch.

I personally would much rather listen to his Gospel recordings.

My Favorite Day

wtp

If you asked me right now what my favorite day was, I’d have today it’s today.

Today is the day I’m alive. Today is the day I’m given– not tomorrow or yesterday, but right now.

I found out today that my cat Lucy is 76 in cat years. She’s no spring chicken. As much as I’d love for her to live forever, I know she won’t. There’ll be a day when I’ll have to say goodbye to my little furry friend.

The point of that isn’t to be excessively morbid, but to remind myself that I have her today. That’s why today is best.

I’ve said it many times before and I don’t claim that it’s my own original thought, but gratitude is what makes me love today. Gratitude makes what you have enough, as one of my favorite writers, Ann Voskamp, put it. Finding joy in each moment comes from giving thanks for the little blessings that I normally take for granted.

I’m not saying today was my best day ever in terms of one of those magical movie days where you get the dream girl and win the lottery.

I ran the media at my church today and managed not to blow anything up. I made less mistakes than the last time and felt more comfortable in what I was doing. Plus, I really felt that God used my small contribution in helping people draw closer to Jesus.

I had a good lunch at Chipotle. I went to Office Depot and found a phone cover for my iPhone 5 for only  . . . wait for it . . . . $5. I call that a win.

I got to see my sister and her family and her lovable dog that I get to take care of from time to time.

That’s the operative word. Like I heard in a sermon, the life of the believer itsn’t a “have-to” but a “get-to.” I get to worship Jesus, not just in that one hour when I’m singing songs or hearing God’s Word read aloud, but hopefully 24/7 in whatever I’m doing to the glory of God. I get to find out about Him through His word and through sharing life together with fellow believers. That’s a good thing.

So I’ll agree with that ol’ bear. Today is my favorite day.

Maya Angelou, Twin Peaks, and Other Thursday Offerings

Best-Life-Quotes-Maya-Angelou

I found out with the rest of the world when Maya Angelou died yesterday. I was saddened. More than than, I regretted not taking the time to know more about her. I had read one of her autobiographies a few months ago, but I honestly couldn’t say that I still remember much from that.

Her last tweet was “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

I like that. I don’t think that I listen to myself because I myself am divine, but more like I listen to myself because God dwells in me as much as He dwells out there. I’m reminded of something Ralph Waldo Emerson said: ” ‘What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

You can’t find quietude and stillness unless you take the time to interrupt your busyness and make space for quiet. You have to turn off the TV, turn off the radio/streaming/music device, and put down your phone. You have to be still and tune out all the distractions that the media is throwing at you from every angle. Then maybe you can hear God.

I can tell you more about Twin Peaks, an early 90’s short-lived TV series that I’ve been watching lately. It is odd and compelling. It’s got David Duchovny in drag. I think that says it all. You probably need serious drugs to understand what all goes on during each episode. At least I think so.

There were only 29 episodes in the series and I have seen 23. I think there was a sort of prequel movie that followed. Only in Hollywood would that last sentence make sense.

But yes, it is Thursday, which makes tomorrow Friday. There will never ever be a time when that is not a good thing. I always love Fridays even when I’m not working. Because Friday always leads to sleeping in on Saturday and church on Sunday. Both of those are favorites of mine.

So, RIP Maya Angelou. And Happy Friday to all of you.

mayaangelou

Not All the News Out There is Bad

Sometimes, when you read the headlines, you get the sense that everything is going wrong and we’re all headed to hell in a very large handbasket. You sometimes get the feeling that all the news out there is depressing and bad with no redemption anywhere in sight.

But I ran across this little news story just now and it gave me hope.

http://www.today.com/pets/final-goodbye-dying-zoo-worker-gets-kiss-giraffe-2D79416546

It’s bittersweet and a bit sad but also a bit hopeful as well. It shows that people can be decent to each other and that even animals can be kind. I won’t add any more to spoil it.

Of course, not all the news is gloomy and bad. The Gospel, which literally means good news, says otherwise. The Gospel is the best news ever shared because it gives us hope. It gives me hope.

It says that no matter how bad my present may seem, the future will be much better. God has guaranteed it. The Gospel says that the ultimate and final victory has already been won and the ultimate Good Guys are the victors. It may not seem like it right now, but God’s promises are as good as done.

In fact, what God promises is so sure that we can speak of it as if it were already accomplished. We can speak of the future in past tense because it’s that certain. That’s what I love about the Gospel.

Here’s my take on the Gospel. You and I were born messed up and diagnosed with a terminal case of sin. We’ve rebelled against God and messed up our own lives as well as the lives around us. But God wouldn’t let it end that way.

He became one of us and lived among us and showed us how it’s done. He lived the perfect life. Not only that, but He died in our place, taking the punishment we deserved and offering a free and full life of abundance that we don’t deserve. Life that is rich and full and that lasts forever.

That’s the good news of the Gospel. And I think that’s good news.

Becoming the Un-cool Church

stpauls

I’m taking a break from my Things I Love series. I figure I’ve earned it after coming up with 1,400 entries. Plus, I’m seriously running out of ideas.

So tonight, I’m writing my own take on the Church, inspired by one or two articles I’ve read (more like skimmed) on Facebook in the past week.

I think too many post-modern churches are trying to hard to be hip and edgy and trendy and forgetting why they’re here. The millennial generation is leaving the Church, as I read in an article, not because they find it too hip, but because they’re not finding Jesus there.

I look at it this way. Churches can be all about having 50 different kinds of coffee and come across as a second-rate Starbucks. No matter how edgy the music, somewhere out there someone is doing it better. Watered-down messages and feel-good theology only work for so long until people run into difficult seasons in their lives and find out that Christianity Lite just doesn’t work.

I’m not against coffee or modern worship music. I’m not even against churches being culturally relevant, though I think I’d personally rather see a church be faithful and committed to Jesus. And if the Church isn’t faithful to Jesus, no matter how relevant it is it will be eternally outdated and obsolete.

The church will always be second-rate at the things it was never called to be, but what it can do better than anyone else– what it has always been called to do– is be a dispenser of grace and a displayer of the love of Jesus. Grace is a uniquely Christian commodity. By that, I mean the grace that turns the other cheek, blesses those who curse them, walks the extra mile, and forgives those who persecute them. It’s the grace that loves enemies and forgives the inexcusable in others because you knows God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. Or so said some British guy with the last name of Lewis.

That kind of radical love and obedience isn’t hip or trendy or cool. It will make you look very foolish in the eyes of pop culture and the media and the rest of the world. They won’t understand it and they will revolt against it (and you). But those who need God’s grace and love the most will be drawn to what they see. Those nearest to God’s heart– the outcast, the downtrodden, the poor in spirit, the nobodies of the world– will find their place in this Kingdom ruled not by dictators and power-mongers, but by Lovers and Servants.

The Un-cool Church just doesn’t talk about Jesus. They think Jesus is the most brilliant Man who ever lived and want more than anything to live out what He taught. Not just have the right answers or the right beliefs, but to actually do what Jesus said to do. All of it.

I still love the motto of a church I used to attend, which goes something like this. “Everyone’s welcome. Nobody’s perfect. Anything’s possible.” My prayer for the church is not another hip club or trendy coffee spot or a Christianized meet market for singles. It’s not a neverending behavior modification seminar. It’s about grace that transforms and love that heals and Jesus doing what only Jesus can do– save.

Things I Love 40: The Farewell Tour a la The Eagles and the Rolling Stones

island hammock

“The cynics, they can only speak of the dark, of the obvious, and this is not hard. For all it’s supposed sophistication, it’s cynicism that’s simplistic. In a fallen world, how profound is to see the cracks?

The sages and prophets, the disciples and revolutionaries, they are the ones up on the ramparts, up on the wall pointing to the dawn of the new Kingdom coming, pointing to the light that breaks through all things broken, pointing to redemption always rising and to the Blazing God who never sleeps” (Ann Voskamp).

This may or may not be the last of the series. Ok, probably not. These are just too much fun to quit entirely. Even if you don’t blog and actually have a life, I recommend writing down all the things you’re thankful for. Not just the big things, but the little things like morning dew on the grass or butterflies lighting on flowers. You can steal mine if you like. Ideas, not butterflies. Starting at #1,211.

1,211) Those purple flowers that I can’t remember the name of.

1,212) Friends who speak the truth in love when I need to hear it and stick around after I’ve royally made a mess of things.

1,213) That messing up doesn’t mean the end of the world.

1,214) Being defined by the love of my Abba.

1,215) Finally believing that I will be a good husband and father one day.

1,216) God never ceasing to amaze and delight me whenever I have sense enough to stop and pay attention.

1,217) Chocolate in all its many glorious forms.

1,218) The way God speaks to me where I am and always knows where to find me.

1,219) Men and women who sacrifice their lives protecting the freedom that I so casually take for granted so often.

1,220) Me finding and living out my very own brand of awesome almost every single day.

1,221) Finally trying a Granny Smith apple just to say I’ve eaten one (and Oh my Lord, they’re tart).

1,222) For July days when the high temperature is 84.

1,223) For the chicken cobb avocado salad at Panera Bread on Old Hickory Blvd in front of Target.

1,224) That I care less what other people think of me and much more of what God thinks of me.

1,225) That there is absolutely nothing that will separate me from God’s love, nothing he hasn’t overcome by the cross, and nothing that he can turn into something beautiful and glorious.

1,226) When I can borrow from other posts and hopefully you won’t notice.

1,227) The Wilson County Fair coming up in August.

1,228) Having a full tank of gas in my Jeep.

1,229) Reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (my favorite of the Narnia books) yet again.

1,230) Promoting my friends’ music or books or art or causes.

1,231) That my last name isn’t Weiner.

1,232) Advancing to level 63 in Candy Crush Saga.

1,233) Finding an extra large box of Cocoa Pebbles at Publix for $1,50.

1,234) The number 1,234 (’cause it’s in order).

1,235) All, 721 of my facebook friends.

1,236) Still having all ten fingers and all ten toes.

1,237) Burl Ives singing “Silver and Gold.”

1,238) Learning to think for myself and not be spoon-fed by the media or talking heads (either conservative or liberal).

1,239) Being able to simplify my life by getting rid of books and CDs I won’t ever listen to or read again.

1,240) People who know how to use “your”, “you’re”, “to”, “too”, and “two” correctly.

Aw heck. You might as well count on there being at least one more of these.

Speaking Louder than Words

I heard a great illustration from a pastor today. The way our culture is becoming so image-driven, in a few generations we’ll all be walking around with huge thumbs for texting, enormous eyes, and tiny ears just big enough for ear buds and to hold our eye glasses up.

In other words, it’s all about the eye. But did you ever stop and think for a moment that the old saying is not, “The hand is quicker than the ear?” Magicians don’t set out to fool your ears, do they? Why? Because the eye can be deceived much more than the ear can.

So listen carefully. Don’t be deceived, whether it’s politicians or elevision preachers. Listen carefully to what they’re saying and whether it lines up with the word of God.

And now, since I don’t have a clever or witty segue way (or one at all, actually), I moved on to point #2, which is that talk is cheap. I will tie these two thoughts together at some point. I promise.

But speaking of promises (see, now that was a clever segue way), it seems to me that my generation and younger are really good at making promises, but not so much at keeping them. It’s sad, but you hear someone say a variation of “I’ll be there” or “I’ll meet you there,” you usually expect them not to show. If they do actually keep their word, it’s a minor miracle.

Words are cheap. Especially when it comes to politics and faith. It’s easy to talk a good game, but much harder to back it up. In the arena of faith, people are sick and tired of professing believers who do nothing but profess. If they never see any evidence behind those words, why should they believe anything the person says?

Jesus told us that his family isn’t flesh and blood. It’s those who follow him and do what he says. The evidence of whether or not someone belongs to Jesus is obedience to Jesus. Period.

So don’t talk love. Show love. Don’t talk compassion. Show compassion. Your actions really do speak louder than your words, especially if they don’t match your words. People will remember how you acted far longer than they will remember the actual words you spoke.

And every single bit of this is for me as much as it is for anybody else. I’m bad about speaking and then not following through with my actions. May you and I both be known to keep our promises no matter what and to live out what we believe rather than just talking a good game. May we speak our faith out loud, but live it out even louder. And no, I couldn’t come up with a way to tie both my points together, so I’ll leave that up to you. Just preach the gospel at all times with your attitudes and actions and, if necessary, use words.

That’s all.