Six Years Later

Lost in all the hoopla over both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions and all the madness that ensued was the fact that recently I celebrated my sixth anniversary of blogging for WordPress.

Part of me feels that it can’t have been six years because the time has gone by so very quickly. Another part of me is shocked that I’ve only been doing these posts for six years because I feel that I’ve grown so much since that very first one way back in July 28, 2010.

C. S. Lewis wrote that often on a daily basis you can see very little change, but when you look back over a number of years you see a huge difference between your present self and your former self. Time can be deceiving in that way.

I truly believe that monumental change happens in the form of daily small changes that happen over time. Every 10,000 mile journey begins with a single step and the daily choices you make that take you either closer to or further away from your desired destination.

I’m thankful for a vehicle like WordPress that makes it easier for me to get my thoughts out there into cyber-land. I also love the fact that it corrects my bad spelling so that you think I’m smarter than I really am.

My advice for those who want to write is two-fold: 1) find your own voice and 2) stay true to it. Finding your own voice means that you tell your own story and not someone else’s. It means that you write about what you know and what makes you come alive. Staying true to your own voice means that you write what’s in your heart, not what you think others will want to read. Most of all, just write.

Thanks, everybody, for six amazing years. Here’s to at least six more years of me writing and you reading.

 

Revisiting Revelation

I’m in the middle of a class on the book of Revelation at Brentwood Baptist Church. Actually, I started in the middle of the class after another one I was in ended.

This book is not for the faint of heart. There’s a lot of imagery. Some of it’s pretty, but some of it is unsettling and disturbing.

There’s also quite a bit of disagreement on what it all means. I’ve come to decide that there are people on all sides that are strong believers with solid theology who have come to different conclusions about this book.

There are a few things that most everybody agrees with when it comes to Revelation:

  1. The hardest part of the story is never the last part. There may be a lot of darkness but there are also much brighter days ahead when Jesus truly comes back for his Bride the Church.
  2. The good guys really do win. That is, Jesus wins. Good overcomes evil and justice prevails over injustice. There’s not a wrong that won’t be made right when Jesus comes in sight.
  3. Worship is still the best witness. I don’t mean just singing hymns or worship choruses. I mean a daily life of sacrifice and surrender, of renewal and transformation. I mean a life that declares the worth and glory of God 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  4. The end of the story is really only the real beginning. I still love how C. S. Lewis puts it inThe Last Battle where he says that all of history was just the title page and preface while eternity is where the real story begins– a story that gets better and better with each new chapter.

Having said all that, I confess that this particular class still makes my head hurt. I really can’t keep up with all the dragons and beasts and bowls and trumpets and all that other imagery.

It helps to keep in mind that John wrote this book to believers undergoing incredible persecution and torture for their faith. The purpose was (and still is) to show that no matter how bad and hard life gets, God will always have the last word.

 

Palm Sunday

“A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act” (Mahatma Gandhi).

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song” (Pope John Paul II).

“The gifts of the Master are these: freedom, life, hope, new direction, transformation, and intimacy with God. If the cross was the end of the story, we would have no hope. But the cross isn’t the end. Jesus didn’t escape from death; he conquered it and opened the way to heaven for all who will dare to believe. The truth of this moment, if we let it sweep over us, is stunning. It means Jesus really is who he claimed to be, we are really as lost as he said we are, and he really is the only way for us to intimately and spiritually connect with God again” (Steven JamesStory).

So we have reached Palm Sunday, one week before Easter.

That means that in eight days, I can resume my social media activities.

More importantly, it reminds me that Easter and what it represents are never very far away.

Easter is more than bunnies and candy.

Easter is even more than wearing my Sunday best to attend church on Sundays as a kid.

Easter means that even though death doesn’t have the final say. It means that although there is a battle raging around us, it has already been won.

Easter means that there is no such thing as too late, too far gone, or hopeless.

If God could raise Jesus from the dead, there is nothing dead in your life that Jesus can’t resurrect.

Easter means there are no final goodbyes for those who are in Christ.

Easter means that Jesus wasn’t just a good man or a great example to follow but God in the flesh, Immanuel who came near to us who were far away so that we who were dead might live again.

That’s Easter.

 

Judges: A Book Review

So here I am, reading through the Bible again. I just finished the book of Judges. In my opinion, that has to be the most depressing book in the Bible.

In the first few verses of the book, it tells us that after the generation that claimed the Promised Land died out, the very next generation that came after didn’t know the Lord or what He had done for His people.

That didn’t take long.

There is a familiar pattern in judges, repeated ad nauseum. The people run after the next available god, fall into sin, get into trouble, and call on God. God sends a deliverer who bails them out and there is peace in the land — until another cheap idol shows up.

I read the Bible and I see the people of God by and large acting like anything but the people of God. It can be very frustrating.

Then I remember that I am one of those people of God. I find myself falling into familiar patterns of sin over and over, despite the guilt that remains from the last time. I find myself renewing the old promise of “never again,” which lasts until the next opportunity presents itself.

So I can relate.

I’m not excusing my (or anyone else’s sin). I’m just saying that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. It doesn’t have to be the familiar refrain.

I’m thankful for a grace that goes deeper and longer than any sin. I’m also thankful for a God who refuses to let me wallow in my self-destructive sin, but will provide me a way out. He won’t rest or quit with me until I am 100% sin-free.

I know that my story is your story. It’s the story of every child of God. But I also know that story doesn’t end with sin. It ends with grace.

 

 

Enjoying the Ride

I confess. I do like to go back and reread books and rematch movies. Sometimes, the second time is better than the first.

I can get caught up in the storyline and in wondering how it will all turn out. The next time, I already know how it ends, so I can relax a bit and enjoy the scenery a bit more.

I have another confession to make. I’ve read the last page in this Great Story and I already know how it ends. Jesus wins.

Knowing that, I can enjoy the journey more. I can look around and see the beauty in my life and actually be present in the moments as they occur.

There’s great peace in knowing that victory is the ultimate destiny for those who love God and belong to Him. I still love the idea that as believers, we fight not for victory but rather from it. Just as obedience doesn’t mean that God will love us more but that knowing fully the love of God can spur us to greater obedience out of gratitude than any sense of duty or obligation could ever incur.

At present, my story may not look anything like I hoped it would. It may not seem like it’s headed for a positive outcome. But what I read trumps what I can see with my eyes. God has told me how my story ends and even though I don’t fully know what it looks like, I do know it’s far better than any ending I could have devised on my own. It will be the perfect storybook ending.

I love the part in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Lucy reads the beautiful story and even though she tried her best to remember, soon forgets it all. Aslan later promises that He will be telling her story all the time to remind her.

The gospel is Jesus telling us our story and how it ends so that we don’t forget, so that we can be reminded when it feels like the present chapter can’t get any darker and that it will never get better.

Don’t give up on the Story. Trust the Storyteller to end it as only He knows how.

The end.

 

Absolutely Positively Definitely Maybe

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“That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens” (Romans 8:18-21, The Message).

Such a great moment in the movie. I’ve actually owned Definitely, Maybe for a while and just now got around to watching it (one of the few perks of being without a job).

I love that line because it reminds me so much of God and the Story He is writing. And I do so love stories, especially when they’re well-told and have happy endings.

I know that ultimately God’s Story is about God, as it should be, but one of the very happy side effects is you and me finding redemption and freedom and abundant life. Because of God’s Story, you and I have a Story that we get to share. Because of God’s Story, we know that our Story will always have a happy ending because God has written it already. I read the last page of the book and I know that it’s good.

It’s hard to remember that when the Story seems headed for tragedy or when the current chapter seems like it will never end and circumstances will never change or get better. It’s hard to see that happy ending when you’re wondering how you’ll pay the bills or make your struggling marriage work or find that job that makes you come alive.

As I’ve learned in reading books, you don’t put down the book when the characters run into hard times. You keep going with the hope that those struggles will lead to something better. As Corrie Ten Boom says, you don’t jump off the train when it goes through a dark tunnel. You trust the Engineer to get you through.

I don’t want to be that guy who says things like, “Hold on, it will get better” or “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” When you’re feeling overwhelmed with anxiety or discouragement, bumper sticker quotes don’t really do the trick.

You need to know that God is still faithful to His promises. You need to know that the same Jesus who conquered death and the grave can conquer your circumstances. You need to know that He will finish what He started in you because He said He would.

That’s a happy ending.

 

What I’m Watching These Days

As a public service to you all (and as a result of having nothing better to write about), I’m letting you in on what I’ve been watching these days. Note: I very rarely watch current television and tend to stay away from all reality TV like the plague.

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I’ve just started watching the AMC original drama Breaking Bad, which ended its 5-season run last year. So far, it’s intriguing and has kept me guessing about how the different plot twists will turn out. I’m definitely not about to start a meth lab, but the story and the characters are compelling and believable, if not always quite likeable.

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I also revisted a classic adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice. It almost made me wish for a time machine, so I could travel back to 1800’s England and breathe in the fresher air and take a break from the current overhyped and oversaturated culture that’s obsesses with all things media and electronic. There’s a reason why this is the standard version of Pride and Prejudice, even if it is a bit long at nearly 5 1/2 hours.

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I also saw an old Cary Grant movie. This one won’t go down in history as one of my favorites of his, but it was entertaining, insightful, and amusing. It’s hard not to watch this movie without thinking of the Red Scare in Hollywood, Joseph McCarthy and all those blacklists of actor and directors who supposedly had Communist ties. The movie sometimes feels a bit dates, but you can never go far wrong with either Cary Grant or Jeanne Crain. And it ends happily enough.

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I’m also making my way through all the episodes of Arrested Development, which is probably my favorite sitcom of all time. Granted, it’s not for everyone, but it appeals to my offbeat nature and decidedly weird sense of humor. I recommend it if you’re looking for something funny AND smart AND sophisticated.

That’s my report for April. Check back for my report in May (depending if I hit another creative dry-spell). And as always, I look forward to hearing from you on what you’re currently watching, whether new or old.

 

A Repeat

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“Everything will be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end.”

Every time I hear those words, they ring more true than ever. These words are from a movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but that doesn’t make them any less true.

That’s the story of the Bible. That’s the story of unfolding redemption, played out through history. The Gospel.

Adam and Eve knew fine, but their wrong choice ended that. Their sin, the choosing of self over God, made it so that everything was not fine. And so it remains.

Ever since that first sin, it’s been the opposite of fine. It’s been a catastrophe, a disaster, an epic fail. We are cut ofd from God, from each other, and from our true selves– who we really were designed and created to be.

But Jesus came to undo what Adam did, to bridge the gap between man and God, as only God in human skin could. He came to make everything fine again.

Paul says it a little more poetically in Romans 8:28: “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.”

That’s the whole story. It will be fine in the end because God has promised it would be.

Everything will be fine in the end. It’s not fine yet, but that only means it’s not yet the end.

Sleeping in a Storm

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I was recently reading over a very familiar passage in Matthew 8 where Jesus calms the storm. I’ve actually lost count of how many times I’ve either read that story or had it read to me.

The scene opens with Jesus and the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat. It’s a calm sea, nothing unusual or unexpected. Suddenly, out of nowhere, hurricane winds start rocking the boat and the disciples start majorly freaking out. Like I would probably have done. I’m sure there was some hyperventilating and breathing into paper bags.

They find Jesus sleeping in the boat. I guess that’s not hard to imagine, since Jesus is likely exhausted from a very full day of ministry and teaching. Plus, He undoubtedly has been up all night praying.

What gets me is what I read today in a commentary. It said that one of the signs of true trust in God is being able to sleep in the midst of trouble. Like Jesus slept in the storm.

Jesus more than anyone modeled perfect trust and faith in His Heavenly Father. That allowed Him to sleep in the midst of crashing waves and strong winds.

I think the point of the story isn’t how Jesus keeps His children out of storms, but how He is with them during these storms. And just like the disciples, we end up finding out that Jesus really is in control of the wind and the waves and our lives.

I’m sure that if I got the easy, comfortable life I’ve often longed for, my faith would be weak and worthless. I’d never have front row seats to see how Jesus has faithfully come through for me in every crisis and storm and trial.

So I guess I’m thankful even for those storms. That’s where I learned just how close Jesus is to those who cry out to Him.

Life Lessons from A Great Movie

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I finally watched a movie that I had known about for a long time and had always meant to see but never gotten around to. I even bought the movie from the $5 bin at Wal-Mart.

Tonight, I finally got around to it. The movie was What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

The movie is filled with memorable, eccentric characters. The story is anything but formulaic. There are no high-speed car chases or topless women or pyrotechnics or CGI spectacles. Just odd and endearing people living their lives the best way they know how.

One was mentally handicapped. One was morbidly obese. One was just unsure of himself and what he wanted to do with his life. But they loved each other.

I’m sure you have a few of these people in your life. People you wish were different. People who have flaws and bad habits and have done and said some really dumb things. People who can’t help the way they are. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you sometimes feel like you wish you could be anywhere else in the world except with these people.

You can still choose to love them. You can see them as they are, warts and all, and love them anyway. Remember that God saw you at your very worst and chose to keep loving you.

Love isn’t blind. Not in the least. Love sees the flaws and imperfections but chooses to seek and find the best in others and help draw it out in them. The way God has loved us all along.

I guess you can tell that I liked the movie, huh?