Singing in the Dark

“If we wait till we have clear enough vision to see the expected end before we stay our mind upon Him who is our Strength, we shall miss an opportunity that will never come again: we shall never know the blessing of the unoffended. Now is the time to say, ‘My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed. I will sing and give praise,’ even though as we say the words there is no sense of exultation” (Amy Carmichael).

It’s much easier to praise God and be thankful when all our plans come to fruition, when we have the perfect spouse and the perfect kids and the house with the white picket fence.

But what if you don’t have any of these things? What if your spouse and kids aren’t quite perfect? What if the picket fence is faded and peeling and the house is falling down?

If you drew a breath in the last few seconds, you have a reason to praise and give thanks, if for no other reason than you’re still here. You still have a purpose to fulfill that no one else can do and a gift to contribute that no one else has.

You can praise and be thankful without knowing all the answers or, sometimes, without knowing any of the answers, because your trust is in the One who is the Answer to all questions, in whose face questions fly away into nothing.

Usually these times mean that God is preparing something for us that our feeble minds can’t handle at the moment. If we truly knew what He has in store for those who love Him, namely us, then our brains would explode. It’s too much to handle all at once.

So trust in God’s heart when you can’t see His hand.

That’s all for tonight.

 

Examen of Consciousness

I’m still mulling over that little book, Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr. Did I agree 100% with every paragraph and sentence? No. Would I recommend it? Yes, for those with discernment. Did I love it? Yes.

One of the parts that resonated deeply with me was a section called the examen of consciousness, questions to ask yourself at the end of the day to see if you lived deliberately and mindfully instead of simply existing.

These are good questions for each of us to ponder at the close of another Monday:

  • Have I been a good memory in anyone’s life today?
  • Have the ears of my heart opened to the voice of God?
  • Have the ears of my heart opened to the needs of my sisters and brothers?
  • Have the eyes of my heart beheld the Divine face in all created things?
  • What do I know, but live as though I do not know?
  • Have I been a good student of the hours today?
  • How have I affected the quality of this day?
  • Have I been blind or deaf to the blessings of the day?
  • Is there anyone, including myself, whom I need to forgive?
  • When did I experience my heart opening wide today?
  • Have I worked with joy or drudgery?
  • Have I waited with grace or with impatience?
  • What is the one thing in my life that is standing on tiptoe crying, “May I have your attention please?” What needs my attention?” (Macrina Wiederkehr, Seven Sacred Pauses)

Hopefully, someone has asked you one or more of these questions today. All of us need at least one person to hold us accountable and not let us off with pat answers to the tough questions. We all need someone who will call us out on our crap and who will hold us up to being our very best selves.

Next, I think I’ll tackle reading through The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien yet again. Wish me luck.

What Are the Questions?

This is a post by a surprise guest blogger. Actually, it’s a quote from one of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, that I posted on social media a year ago today.

I may not always 100% agree with everything he says, but I like most of it. Plus, I appreciate good writing, and he is a very good writer.

Here is what he said that impacted me so much back on May 17, 2015:

“On her deathbed, Gertrude Stein is said to have asked, ‘What is the answer?’ Then, after a long silence, ‘What is the question?’ Don‘t start looking in the Bible for the answers it gives. Start by listening for the questions it asks.

We are much involved, all of us, with questions about things that matter a good deal today but will be forgotten by this time tomorrow—the immediate wheres and whens and hows that face us daily at home and at work—but at the same time we tend to lose track of the questions about things that matter always, life-and-death questions about meaning, purpose, and value. To lose track of such deep questions as these is to risk losing track of who we really are in our own depths and where we are really going. There is perhaps no stronger reason for reading the Bible than that somewhere among all those India-paper pages there awaits each one of us, whoever we are, the one question that (though for years we may have been pretending not to hear it) is the central question of our individual lives. Here are a few of them:

• For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? (Matthew 16:26)

• Am I my brother’s keeper? (Genesis 4:9)

• If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

• What is truth? (John 18:38)

• How can anyone be born after having grown old? (John 3:4)

• What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:3)

• Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? (Psalm 139:7)

• Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29)

• What shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 10:25)

When you hear the question that is your question, then you have already begun to hear much. Whether you can accept the Bible’s answer or not, you have reached the point where at least you can begin to hear it too.

~originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

Why I Love the Psalms

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Here’s my update on my Bible reading. I’m up to Psalm 127, which is probably ahead of the pace I need to get through the Bible in a year, but I’m okay with that.

I’m reminded of why I love the Psalms so much. Yes, there’s a lot of “praise the Lord” and “hallelujah” verses, but there’s also plenty of “Where are you, God” verses. There are stories of both victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, health and illness, strength and weaknesses. In other words, it runs the gamut of human experience.

I love the honesty. I used to feel like David, or whoever else happened to write the particular Psalm I was reading, was boasting about how perfect and obedient he was. Now I think I see it as a man who feels like he’s giving everything he’s got to do the right thing.

I see that life is hard, bad things happen, and sometimes the bad guys get the upperhand. Still, the last word is always how the loyal, steadfast love and faithful God (or the Eternal One, as my translation puts it) never ceases.

That’s a good reminder for anyone going through struggles and pain and loss. God’s faithfulness never runs out. His love never lets up. It always finds us and brings us back to His heart and one day will lead us home.

To paraphrase an old saying, victory is never final and failure is never fatal. It is trust in the strong arms of God that wins out in the end.

When You Grow Up

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I’m sure you’ve been asked this inevitable question at some point in your formative years. At some point in grade school or high school or college, someone asked you this:

“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

There’s a few things wrong with that question.

First, some people take longer than others to find that supreme calling. Some are well past grown up and still haven’t decided what they want to be yet.

Second, the likelihood these days is that you won’t spend 30-40 years in one job at one place. You’ll more than likely have several jobs and more than a few careers. Anymore, people change jobs every 2 years and most will change careers at least once.

You are not defined by what you do for a living or how much you make at your job. No matter what society or your friends or your family tells you.

You are defined not by what you do or who you are but by Whose you are. If you belong to Jesus, that’s how you’re defined from now on.

Your identity doesn’t crumble when you get laid off or (perish the thought) fired. Your identity rests securely in the person of Jesus.

You are Forgiven, Paid For, Forgiven, Child of God, and (my personal favorite) Beloved. You could probably think of a few more names associated with being in Christ.

So on those nights when you don’t feel particularly special or like you matter, remember Jesus paid the ultimate price for you because He believed that you were worth it.

One Second and One Year Later

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“What was intended to tear you apart, God intends it to set you apart. What has torn you, God makes a thin place to see glory” (Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift).

I just realized today that it’s been exactly one year today since I got hit by that car. And for those who weren’t keeping up with my blogs or my Facebook posts then, I got hit by a car. FYI.

I was crossing the street in downtown Franklin, ticket in hand to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I didn’t look both ways before crossing and stepped in front of a Ford Mustang. Hey, I only get hit by the finest American-made vehicles.

I actually only got side-swiped. It was enough to knock me down and to take off the side-view mirror of the car.

I felt worse for the young girl driving the car than for me. She was so apologetic and remorseful. And it really wasn’t her fault. I was the one crossing where there wasn’t a crosswalk, walking without looking.

Even now, it’s easy to wonder what would have happened if I’d waited one second. Just one second.

I’d have seen that movie. I’d have skipped a few hours in the ER. I’d still have roughly $1,600 in my pocket.

I’m sure you’ve done that.

Maybe it’s a word or a phrase spoken in the heat of the moment out of frustration or anger.

Maybe it’s a bad decision made in haste or out of desperation or anxiety or exhaustion.

Maybe it’s the friendship you ruined or the family member you drove off with an insensitive remark or unkind word.

Maybe it’s one false step on a slick spot in the garage or on a slippery patch of ice on some stairs.

You wonder what it would be like if you could just have that one second back to do over.

I know two things: 1) if you could go back, you’d erase every good thing that’s happened since, and 2) you can’t go back anyway (at least not without a 1985 DeLorean or some other time-travelling device).

What you can do is:

1) Be thankful that you’re still here and that you’re still alive and blessed with life and friends and comforts and (best of all) God Himself.

2) Remember that God can turn even the worst moments of your life into stories worth hearing, stories that make people want to know more about your God.

3) All really and truly is grace (something I borrowed from Ann Voskamp). Nothing that happens to you is in vain or needless. God works everything– and I mean EVERYTHING– together for your good and His glory.

I finally got to see that movie. My finger looks a bit funny but it still works. I look both ways EVERY time before crossing the street now. Life is still good, God is still great, and I am still very much blessed.

Questions to Ponder (from May 20, 2010)

“I’ve been thinking about grey areas lately and the question as to whether or not something is a sin or not, like a particular TV show or movie or song or social activity or a particular group of people or whatever.

Here’s are some questions to ask:

Does what I am doing or what I am watching or who I’m around draw me closer to Christ or drive me away?

Does it lead me toward desiring communion with other believers or to despising their company?

Am I in a place where I am wanting to be surrounded by people who are passionately pursuing Jesus or their own pleasures and agendas?

Do the people I hang around with inspire me to be more Christlike?

I think the answer to these questions will indicate whether something is a sin for you or not.

Sin leads you away from God every time. Sin separates you not only from God, but from His people. Sin keeps you playing a role and never being your true self.

These are questions I have to ask of myself and I am by no means offering myself as the expert on the issue. I’m just offering up some food for thought.”

One additional thought: it’s one thing to be around non-believers and try to be an influence. It’s quite another to spent time with people who profess faith with their words but deny it with their lives.

 

The Final Exam of Life

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If there is a final exam at the end of my life (and I seriously hope there’s not one because I haven’t studied in a very long time), I like to think there would be one question. I think of all the questions God could ask, it will not be these:

“DId you read your Bible enough?’

“Did you tithe enough and support enough missionaries and causes?”

“Did you have the correct theological beliefs and vote for the person who toted the biggest Bible?”

None of these. One question will be on that final and it will be this:

“Did you love well?”

Did you love those people in your everyday life? Did you take time to speak to those in your office or classroom? Did you give friendly smile to people who passed you on the street? For all your talk of how much you love God, did people see it lived out in you toward those who needed it?

Love is about saying to someone, “I see you when nobody else does. I hear you when no one else will listen. I will do whatever I can to help you become the person you always wanted to be.”

That kind of love is the love God has toward us.

The problem is that we have too many likes and not enough love. We have too many Facebook friends and not enough real relationships. Our vision gets narrow and we miss the people around us who will go through an entire day without anyone speaking to them or acknowledging them.

I will say this.

It is not okay to ignore someone who speaks to you or texts you or messages you.

It is not okay to get up and move when someone sits down at your table just because you don’t feel like talking to them.

It is not okay to defriend someone or cut them off as punishment, especially if that person never knows what they did wrong.

It is not okay to be friendly to everyone in your office or class and single out one person to not talk to.

Remember, each person bears the image of God, distorted as it may be though sin. Each person is a uniquely valuable creation that God made and Jesus died for. To treat anyone less is to treat what God made and what Jesus died for with disdain. You can’t love God if you don’t love His people. All of them.

Even further, what you did to the least of these– regardless of whether they live in a third world country or next door, whether they dress in rags or tailor-made three piece suits, you do to Jesus.

I want to live my life so that at the end I can say I loved well as I was loved well by Jesus. I will never love perfectly, but I will never stop trying. I may lose my way from time to time, but God’s love will always gently guide me back to His heart for His people.

May we all find that love and live that love. May God’s heart for people be ours. And when that final question on that final exam comes, I’m praying we will not only know the answer in theory, but will have lived it out so that our lives are an essay and a testimony to how good God’s love is.

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

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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.

Just Another Sleepy Sunday

I have been sleepy all day today. Maybe it’s because it’s been grey and overcast just about the entire day. Maybe because it’s Sunday. Maybe it’s because I didn’t take my customary Sunday afternoon, choosing instead to watch an old movie on TCM.

Regardless, I have a feeling I’ll sleep really good tonight.

I’ve never been more aware of my dire need for God than lately. I need him desperately every hour of every day, every minute of every hour, and every second of every minute. He’s the one who holds me together.

I’ve also never been more aware of the abiding peace of knowing that God is in control of my life. I don’t know what the days and weeks and months ahead hold for me, but I know God knows.

So instead of seeing problems and obstacles, I’m choosing to see blessings. Like the blessings of family and friends, good health, freedom of worship, and life. I hope I never get over the joy of celebrating each and every day as a gift and every person in my life as a blessing that I don’t deserve but I get anyway.

So many will go to bed hungry. So many will end the day alone. So many will have to wake up tomorrow without purpose or meaning or God in their lives.

I need to remember that I’m not blessed so I can grow fat and happy. I’m blessed so that I can in turn be a blessing to someone else who needs it.

So my questions to you are the same ones I’m asking myself. Who are you going to be a blessing to today? Who will you pray for? Who will you encourage? Whose lives will you speak into, whether through a phone call or a text or a facebook post?

If you woke up at all today, you’re blessed. If you had at least one meal today, you’re blessed. If you had shelter from the rain and a car to drive, you’re blessed. If you had family and friends to cheer you up, you’re blessed.

So, how will you pay it forward?