Darkness

Occasionally, I like to invite guest bloggers to write my blog posts. What I mean by that is that there are some nights when I am just too lazy to do any original thinking, so I “borrow” from some of my favorite writers who have expressed my own thoughts better than I could.

This is another one of those nights. The writer is Frederick Buechner and the topic is darkness. Here goes:

“The Old Testament begins with darkness, and the last of the Gospels ends with it.

‘Darkness was upon the face of the deep,’ Genesis says. Darkness was where it all started. Before darkness, there had never been anything other than darkness, void and without form. At the end of John, the disciples go out fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. It is night. They have no luck. Their nets are empty. Then they spot somebody standing on the beach. At first they don’t see who it is in the darkness. It is Jesus.

The darkness of Genesis is broken by God in great majesty speaking the word of creation. ‘Let there be light!’ That’s all it took.

The darkness of John is broken by the flicker of a charcoal fire on the sand. Jesus has made it. He cooks some fish on it for his old friends’ breakfast. On the horizon there are the first pale traces of the sun getting ready to rise.

All the genius and glory of God are somehow represented by these two scenes, not to mention what Saint Paul calls God’s foolishness.

The original creation of light itself is almost too extraordinary to take in. The little cookout on the beach is almost too ordinary to take seriously. Yet if Scripture is to be believed, enormous stakes were involved in them both, and still are. Only a saint or a visionary can begin to understand God setting the very sun on fire in the heavens, and therefore God takes another tack. By sheltering a spark with a pair of cupped hands and blowing on it, the Light of the World gets enough of a fire going to make breakfast. It’s not apt to be your interest in cosmology or even in theology that draws you to it so much as it’s the empty feeling in your stomach. You don’t have to understand anything very complicated. All you’re asked is to take a step or two forward through the darkness and start digging in” (Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark).

Darkness Defeated

  
I used to be absolutely terrified of the dark. As a child, I suffered though nightmares and anxiety and phobias, all associated with darkness. I even dreaded going to sleep at night because of my fears.

Eventually, I overcame those fears through the normal process of growing up. That and I would cram every stuffed animal I owned in the bed with me when I went to bed at night.

Lately it occurred to me that if a single candle can dispel all the darkness in any given room, then darkness is revealed to be powerless and impotent.

Jesus stated that He is the light of the world. He has already overcome darkness and everything associated with it. In fact, He has already overcome anything we could ever possibly be afraid of.

That’s a very comforting notion in a world where anxieties run rampant and fear rules the major part of the lives of the majority. In fact, both the news and social media are driven by fear.

Fear has no place in God’s economy. Perfect love casts out fear. The more one truly knows and understands how much he or she is loved, the less place there is for fear, because love and fear cannot co-exist within the same human heart. One displaces the other.

The ultimate destiny of darkness is defeat. There is no scenario where darkness ultimately overcomes the light. The only way darkness wins at all is in the absolute absence of light. The only way evil wins in this world is when good stays silent and hidden.

The final victory of light over dark is found in heaven where there is no need of sun or moon or stars, because Jesus is the light there. There is no more night or darkness or shadows because there is no place where the light is not present.

Here, we are the light of the world. May we not only find deliverance from our own anxieties about darkness but be instrumental in helping others overcome as well.

 

 

Music and Endorphins

I read somewhere that one of the reasons so many people love good music is that it causes the release of the endorphins which cause pleasure. In other words, for me a good song can take me to my happy place.

There’s nothing better than the right song at the right moment to create a soundtrack event. It’s almost like you’re suddenly inside a movie when that song comes on.  Maybe I’m the only one, but I have those moments often.

I think all the hymns and praise songs are a testament to the power of music to convey truths in a powerfully emotional way. Music is the only experience that engages all of your brain at one time (and I’m fairly certain that’s right because I read it on the internet. They can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true, right?)

For me, the perfect song was Creepin’ by Stevie Wonder right as the sun was setting on my drive home tonight. Heck, there is no bad time for a Stevie Wonder song. Any Stevie Wonder song.

Jazz is good for late at night, especially after midnight. Nothing is more perfect than some Red Garland in the wee small hours of the morning.

My point? I love music. I probably love it too much, if that’s even possible. I have music and songs in my head almost non-stop. It’s like my life has it’s own incredible soundtrack that no one hears but me. Maybe they make pills for that. I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t change it if I could.

While music in worship is important, worship is more than music. It’s more than singing. In fact, if you’re not worshipping already when the music starts, if your worship isn’t a lifestyle, then you’ve missed it. But that’s another topic for another blog on another day.

 

Why I Call Myself Blessed

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say” (C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair).

Good ol’ Puddleglum. For those not familiar with Narnia, that’s the character speaking these words. And I like them.

I am currently jobless. Again. But I still consider myself blessed.

I’d rather be where I am right now with God than in my dream job, making ridiculous amounts of money, without Him.

I’ve found out this simple equation:

Me + God > Me + Everything Else – God

I don’t know if that’s grammatically or mathematically correct, but it’s right as far as I’m concerned.

I’m blessed because I have God. I’m blessed because this God promises not to give me what I need or lead me to it, but because He’s promised that HE HIMSELF will be my provision.

Even if God never did another blessed thing for me, if God never gave me another sign or another visible reminder of His prescence, He would still have been better to me that I deserve for saving my soul.

So if I wake up tomorrow and draw breath, if I get out of bed and live through the next 24 hours, I’m blessed because God is with me. If I don’t wake up tomorrow, I’m still blessed because then I’ll be with God.

I call that a win-win.

Joy in the Midst of Sadness

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I celebrated with the rest of the family as my niece turned 2. Finally, I can stop counting in months. I was seriously running out of fingers and toes to count on.

I loved seeing the pure unadulterated joy on her face when she saw her presents and the complete love and trust she has for her mommy and daddy and two big brothers. It did my heart good.

But I also remembered Adrian Peterson’s 2-year old son who was allegedly beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend. My heart hurts and I have questions I can’t answer.

Who does that to a 2-year old? For what possible reason?

I know we live in a broken world filled with broken people. Creation groans for deliverance and for everything to be made right. Too many defenseless and helpless children suffer, too many people go to bed hungry, too many marriages fall apart, and too many die way too young.

Then I remember how this story ends. I cheated and read the last page. It’s about God wiping away every tear from our eyes. It’s about a new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth where lambs lie safely next to lions, where others is no need for sun, moon, or stars because God is there.

I love what the guest pastor said. God didn’t want an only child, so He chose us to be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus and become heirs with Jesus to all the promises of God.

I love this version of Romans 8:29-30: “God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.”

That’s what keeps me going in the midst of so much suffering and sadness. That’s why I can find joy in everything. Because ultimately Love does win.

Things I Love 39: If It’s Not Fine, It’s Not the End

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“The joy of small that makes life large. Hadn’t I personally experienced it before too, that vantage point that gave a sense of smallness before grandeur? At the tip of the Grand Canyon, peering into the carved earth, the vastness of the hewn and many-hued chasm. A late June night peering into the expanse of heavens nailed up with the named and known stars. A moon field. I hardly dare brush the limitlessness with my vaporous humanity. But the irony: Don’t I often desperately want to wriggle free of the confines of a small life? Yet when I stand before immensity that heightens my smallness – I have never felt sadness. Only burgeoning wonder.” (Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

Most of what I’m thankful for are the small things that most others take for granted. Or things that remind me of how small I am in the grand scheme of things. Truly, some of the best things in life come in small packages (like the feline package curled up and asleep in my lap as I write these words. So, starting at #1,176, this journey of thanksgiving continues.

1,176) Even the possibility of a Friends TV show reunion.

1,177) Just under 11 pounds of sleeping fur in my lap.

1,178) That to live is Christ and to die is gain– the best win-win ever.

1,179) Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches at The Arcade in Memphis, TN.

1,180) The feeling of finally having a job after 14 months without one.

1,181) Seeing my prayers for a job answered.

1,182) A blue sky filled with white clouds.

1,183) Another Kairos Night of Worship coming up next Tuesday.

1,184) The songs of birds on a sunny day.

1,185) My friend Erica Grant’s smile.

1,186) Not feeling the need to be anyone else but myself.

1,187) Knowing that at any moment people are praying for me.

1,188) A momma deer with her baby.

1,189) That huge feeling of relief when I paid off the last of my student loans.

1,190) The freedom that comes with truly forgiving someone.

1,191) Wednesday being “hump daaaay!”

1,192) Icy Hot on a sore muscle.

1,193) Finally having a little bit of a tan on my legs so they’re not so ghastly white anymore.

1,194) “Living the dream,” as my friend Michael Boggs puts it.

1,195) The extended prayer times at Kairos.

1,196) Getting free tickets to Titans games.

1,197) Scrolling through friends’ homepages and seeing all their photos (but not in a stalker kind of way).

1,198) Imagining the things my cat would say if she spoke human.

1,199) Just about any vehicle that is over 50 years old.

1,200) Posting about my new job and already having 40 likes and 6 comments.

1,201) Watermelon (especially after reading all the amazing health benefits).

1,202) The fruit tea at Calypso Cafe.

1,2o3) That another episode of Friends starts in 15 minutes.

1,204) Newborn puppies and kittens.

1,205) Muting an annoying commercial.

1,206) Having caller ID to avoid the telemarketers.

1,207) Those rare movies where the nerd gets the pretty girl at the end.

1,208) Adding stuff to my amazon.com wish-list.

1,209) Bringing a smile to a total stranger’s face.

1,210) Knowing that there will be at least one more of these Things I Love posts.

Things I Love 20: Still Living the Miracle

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“And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me” (Ann Voskamp).

That’s what it’s all about, in case you’ve missed the first 19 of this blog series. It’s about naming and giving thanks for little things that most people would take for granted and not give a second thought to. I’m moving away from a very American sense of entitlement to one of gratitude where I see everything in my life, both the good and bad, the easy and difficult, as gifts and grace. All of it is emptying and enlarging me so that I can be filled with more of Jesus.

So I start with #516

516) That cold glass of water that perfectly quenches my thirst.

517) Waving at strangers in Radner Lake State Park (and having them wave back).

518) A perfect albeit unusually cool summer evening for hiking.

519) Bare feet on a sand volleyball court.

520) Drinking right out of a hose and feeling like I’m 10 years old all over again.

521) My Monday men’s small group where we all share joys and sorrows and do life together.

522) Seeing older pictures of me and realizing how much weight I’ve lost.

523) That I’ve seen The Princess Bride on VHS, DVD, and blu ray (and too many times to count).

524) Whenever TVLand has a marathon of Friends episodes.

525) Being able to pray for someone who’s constantly on my mind instead of obsessing over them.

526) Any of the black and white episodes of The Andy Griffith Show (especially the ones with Don Knotts).

527) Real authentic Christianity with answers that don’t fit on a bumper sticker.

528) Rescuing turtles from becoming roadkill.

529) Finding money in the pockets of clothing I hadn’t worn in a while.

530) The part of that Friends episode where Monica tells Phoebe not to get the sucker mixed up with the home pregnancy test ’cause that would be really bad for the sucker.

531) Really being able to relate to a character in a movie or TV show or in a book.

532) Song lyrics that speak the language of my heart.

533) The way the evening sunlight reflected off of Radner Lake and made it sparkle.

534) All the old Miles Davis jazz albums.

535) Finding out about a new Charles Martin book.

536) A tall glass of orange juice (but not after just having brushed my teeth– blech!)

537) Finding out that friends from different parts and places in my life know each other.

538) William Powell and Myrna Loy in all those Thin Man movies.

539) That Grease is still the word.

540) The steadfast love of the Lord that never ceases.

541) The perfect blend of sweet tea and lemonade.

542) The adventure of picking out a new book to read.

543) The turnip greens from Kleer-Vu in Murfreesboro.

544) Turning actual pages of an actual book and the feel of the paper in my hands.

545) The Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong version of Porgy & Bess. It’s the best.

546) Wearing my cowboy boots to church.

547) Being cold and crawling under warm blankets.

548) When a good song gives me  the good kind of chills.

549) Random memories of my old black lab Murphy.

550) Those chairs at Costco that give the best back massages.

Things I Love 7: The Blog Series That Wouldn’t Die (Like Freddy Krueger)

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I realize that I’m getting ridiculous with this 7th installment of the blog series of things I’m thankful for, but I do really have so many things (most of them small and seemingly insignificant) that I love and am thankful for. This one starts with #146. And yes, I am that scatter-brained that every time I do one of these I have to look up the last one to see what numbers I ended with.

146) The people who read my blogs. Each and every one of you make me feel special.

147) That  even if I’ve completely blown it with a friend and the worst case scenario happens and she never wants to see me or talk to me ever again (which I hope is NOT the case), then my world won’t end and life will go on and I will be okay because God’s grace is still sufficient.

148) Running my favorite trail in Crockett Park.

149) Dog-sitting (or cat-sitting) for a friend or family member. And yes, I can be hired for a reasonable fee.

150) When I realize how truly blessed I am to be alive and healthy for another day and how many won’t ever get that privilege again.

151) When I can make people smile or laugh.

152) When I see the face of someone who really gets how much God truly does love them.

153) The salty smell of the ocean air when I’m near the beach.

154) Listening to my grandfather’s old pink tube radio and thinking that it’s the same one that kept him company in his workshop all those years.

155) When I am simply overwhelmed by the joy of the Lord.

156) The sun breaking through after several grey, rainy days in a row.

157) Whenever and wherever mercy triumphs over judgment.

158) The calming sound of a ceiling fan at night that helps me drift off to sleep.

159) Seeing answered prayers for those I’ve prayed for a long time.

160) When I fail family and friends and find grace and forgiveness rather than judgment and condemnation.

161) My old comfortable pair of sandals that have taken me to many places and adventures with good friends (and kept me from getting blisters).

162) Being able to look back on friendships that ended and remember the joy and good times instead of the hurt.

163) Mixing the creamy jalapeno ranch and the salsa at Chuy’s for the perfect dip for those amazing tortilla chips.

164) The chicken tortilla soup at Chuy’s (after those chips and dip).

165) The joy of sparking new conversations at restaurants and coffee shops with strangers who become later become friends.

166) That my Abba Father still delights in me, dances with joy, and sings me to sleep every single night.

167) Sitting still in the pre-Civil War St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Franklin and feeling the peace of Christ wash over me.

My kind of protest

You’ve probably heard of the pastor in Florida who was planning to burn Korans on 9/11. Or the Afghans who are burning tires in protest of our protests. On any given day, you can pick up a newspaper and read of a protest or a picket or a rally against for for any number of things. Here’s my idea of a protest: love.

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you” (Matthew 5:43-48).

I’m not talking about feel-good warm and fuzzy love, or flowers and candy romantic love. I am talking about Love that changed the world. Love that caused Jesus to lay down His life for His enemies. I’m talking about turning the other cheek when someone strikes you. By the way, I learned from someone that in Roman culture, it was considered shameful to strike someone with either your left hand or the back of your right hand. So, turning your cheek is saying in fact, “You will either have to shame yourself or back down.” It is a non-violent protest. It means that my love is stronger than your hate.

I’m talking about when someone asks for your shirt, you give him your coat as well. When some forces you to do something you don’t like, not only do that thing, but go beyond what he is asking and go the extra mile. I’m talking a lifestyle of generosity. Giving your life away every single day. Dying to your rights and coming alive to the Kingdom of God. So love your enemies and pray for them. Pray that God’s love would change them into allies. Remember that God’s blessings falls on us all, regardless of whether we are good or bad or ugly. And without the grace of God, we are all ugly and wicked. All of us.

Lord, show me one practical way I can live out Your love toward my enemy. Let Your love conquer my hate, and Your grace overwhelm my pettiness. May I be Jesus not just toward those I think deserve it, but to everyone, especially the undeserving, because I was once undeserving, too.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.