The Five Longest Minutes

I tried an experiment on my second visit of the evening to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. I set the timer on my phone for five minutes, and I spent five minutes in silence, not reading anything, not saying anything, not looking my phone. It was just me sitting in a pew in semi-darkness for five minutes.

Five long minutes.

It’s amazing how society has conditioned us to need almost constant stimuli from the radio, television, tablets, internet, and smart phones. Our attention span is so much shorter than it was even twenty years ago.

It’s good for the soul to be silent.

I think of it like rebooting a computer every so often. It helps it to run more smoothly and to reset the equilibrium when things get a bit off-kilter.

We need rebooting periodically. That’s what silence and meditation are for.  That’s what prayer and fasting are for. That’s why God instituted the Sabbath as a day of rest, although historically His people haven’t been very good at using that day for the purpose of which it was intended.

I’m not very good at any kind of silence. That five minutes seemed a lot longer to me than five minutes. It definitely seemed a lot longer than five minutes spent on Pinterest or Instagram. I’ve been known to waste way more than five minutes scrolling through the posts on Facebook at the end of the day.

Silence takes discipline, something that the culture around us seems to treat with disdain. You don’t see or hear many advertisements extolling the virtues of discipline and self-denial. Usually, it’s quite the opposite.

So there I was in that quiet space for five whole minutes, not saying anything, not reading anything, praying as I felt led. It was refreshing and soul-cleansing. I felt more relaxed and less anxious. I felt at peace with myself and with God.

I should probably do that more often.

 

Three Reminders for Those of Us Who Need it Tonight

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When I was a senior at Union University, my roommates and I used to go dumpster diving. At least I remember the one time. I came away with a worn out baseball glove and a television. I kid you not. I got a television from the dumpster.

When I ceremoniously placed it in my dorm room and plugged it in, lo and behold it worked. It even had a button on it that would turn the images on the screen green. I still don’t know what the purpose of that was.

That rescued television served me well all the rest of my senior year of college. In fact, it worked all the way up until the day I brought it home. Then it became a very heavy and super bulky paper weight.

I sometimes wonder how God puts people and places and things into our lives for a season. Sure, some friends are for life, but those are rare and precious. Most of the people in my life have come for a week, a month, maybe a year or two. I’ve learned not so much to be sorrowful when they’re gone but to celebrate the lessons they taught me.

I was reminded of three things tonight. 1) Jesus is for me, 2) Jesus is with me, and 3) Jesus is in me.

My pastor tonight said that Jesus was the best evidence that God isn’t pursuing you and me because he’s angry, but because He’s desperate for us to save us from our sins and ourselves. I agree with that. Jesus Himself said He came not to condemn the world, but that it might be saved through Him.

I know Jesus is with me. He promised He’d never leave me, abandon me, or forsake me. That’s a promise I’ve found to be true, whether I could feel it or not.

I know Jesus is in me. Sometimes, I find myself saying and doing things that I know could never come from me. At least based on what I’ve said and done the other 98% of the time. I know that’s not me speaking and acting, but Jesus in me.

So remember tonight that Jesus is for you, with you, and in you.

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Lessons from Lent

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This may be old hat for you or not. I’m not sure. But stop me if you’ve heard some or all of this before: last year, I gave up only Facebook for Lent. This year, I decided to give up all social media. It turned out to be one of my best decisions ever. Although if I’m honest, I was being obedient to what I felt God was calling me to do. It really wasn’t my decision at all.

I don’t regret for one single second going without social media for those 46 days. I got in more prayer time, I read my Bible more, I read more books in general. Plus, I had a greater sense of peace from not being tied down to Facebook or Twitter.

I think sometimes in order to appreciate something more, you need to step away from it for a while. That was the case for me. I did sometimes feel out of the loop after missing all the news from Facebook. But I can always catch up on that.

Lent is more than just giving up. It’s replacing it with something better. It’s no good to give up social media if you’re going to fill up the time with television. Hopefully, you spend your extra free time in learning to hear God’s voice and hear His heartbeat and feel His love for you. Obviously, the best way to do that is through His Word.

I don’t claim that I was anywhere near perfect in that regard. I wasted too much of the time I had away from social media. But I’m not beating myself up about it. Instead I choose to focus on the fact that I was more discipline in regard to prayer and Bible reading than I’ve been in a long time.

I hope to be able to participate in Lent again next year. I hope that I can be free enough to walk away from anything that enslaves me and takes my eyes off Jesus, whether that be social media or TV or anything else.

Like I said before, it’s really not about giving up stuff or sacrificing what you love. More than that, it’s about prioritizing your life and making sure that Jesus and His Kingdom really and truly are first. Then everything else will line up and fall into proper place.

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.

 

This Is The Voice!

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First of all, I bet you just sang those words. Especially if you’ve watched NBC’s The Voice, a reality singing competition. But this blog has nothing to do with that.

Here, The Voice refers to a new translation of the Bible that I’ve chosen for my annual read through the Bible campaign. So far, I’m up to Leviticus. Not bad for me getting a late start this year.

So far, I’m vividly reminded that those pesky Israelites never quite got it right. Even from the start, they were bowing down to idols, sleeping around, and whining like my cat.

Then I’m reminded that I’m a LOT like that. I may not bow down to little wooden statues, but I do have mixed-up priorities where other things and people get put ahead of God. I may not sleep around, but I’ve harbored a few lustful thoughts in my head from time to time.

And I do complain. Maybe not always out loud, but I do get grumpy occasionally and have bad attitudes every now and then (as in every other day).

I’m also reminded that God stuck with His people through all their growing pains and bad choices and outright rebellion. He kept His word, not because they were so faithful but because He was– and still is.

Side note: I’m extremely thankful I’m not bound to offer sacrifices every time I sin. For one, I don’t keep a flock of sheep, goats, and bulls in my backyard. Also, it’s a very messy affair. All that slaughtering and sprinkling blood and burning organs grosses me out a bit.

That reminds me that 1) the cost of my sin is never cheap and 2) the price Jesus paid for my sin was way too high, more than I deserved by a long shot. I should never ever ever take my sin lightly.

I recommend that if you read through the Bible every year that you vary it up and read different translations and different styles of translations. Maybe read a word-for-word version like the NASB one year then read a looser version like the NIV the next. Or possibly even The Message.

More to come on my Bible reading progress. . .

Things I Love 35: Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Get Back on the Internet . . .

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“That which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave” (Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

“God is good and I am always loved” (Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

“The whole of the life — even the hard — is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole. These are new language lessons, and I live them out. There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up”  (Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

Yeah, just when you thought I was done with this series, I resuscitate it and bring it back from the world wide graveyard. I’m not even close to being finished with all these thousand and more gifts I’ve received in my lifetime. It’s probably closer to 10,000. Actually, if I were completely honest, there’d be no way to count the blessings in my life for no human number goes that high. So I’ll do my best, starting at #1,036.

1,036) Yet more good coffee and conversation with another friend at Frothy Monkey (after a bit of confusion as to which Frothy Monkey).

1,037) When I stop comparing myself to others and instead compare myself to where I used to be.

1,038) Politically Correct Bedtime Stories.

1,039) Seeing my Romanian friend and sister-in-Christ happily married.

1,040) Rubbing my bare feet against carpet.

1,041) Not getting elbowed in the head or having my bare feet stepped on during volleyball games.

1,042) That possibly the best days and moments of my life are still yet to come.

1,043) Not getting counted off anymore for split infinitives.

1,044) Friends who actually make time to keep up with me and encourage me regularly.

1,045) All the old episodes of Are You Being Served?

1,046) Memories of watching TV as a kid with my uncle in the old camper on our property in Christiana.

1,047) That I’m not named after an airline.

1,048) Anticipating yet another Jonny Lang album coming out in September.

1,049) My gigantic over-the-ears headphones that I use to listen to music late at night sometimes.

1,050) Making up words when I don’t know the actual lyrics to a song.

1,051) Finding out what the actual lyrics are to a song I’ve been singing wrong all this time.

1,052) Just about any movie or TV show featuring Judi Dench.

1,053) Catching up with Union University classmates.

1,054) Ditto for Briarcrest classmates.

1,055) That God loves the crazy people as much as the “sane” ones.

1,056) The short spontaneous conversation I had with the girl named Rebecca who was reading that Mark Batterson book.

1,057) Every one of the 300+ pictures I took at the Set Free VBS this year.

1,058) Seeing those kids being prayed over and loved on and shown Jesus.

1,059) Every time the Kingdom of God takes back a person or a place from the kingdom of darkness.

1,060) Mastering the art of making pimento cheese.

1,061) Saying the words “pimento cheese.”

1,062) Classic devotionals by people like Oswald Chambers and Charles Spurgeon.

1,063) Bowling a game over 100.

1,064) Silence. Sometimes.

1,065) That even my fidelity to God is a gift from God (thanks to Thomas Merton for that one.

1,066) Friends who know the song in my heart and can sing it back to me when I’ve forgotten the words.

1,067) Any old Frank Capra movie.

1,068) Not being in a hurry all the time.

1,069) Knowing that I have an Advocate and Defender who pleads for me before the Throne of God.

1,070) Not nearly being close to finished with these lists.

Things I Love 8: Greg’s Sanity Has Left the Building

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FYI: these blogs will continue until I get to 1,000 things I love. It’s from the book, One Thousand Gifts, so I’m trying to list out– wait for it– 1,000 little things that I believe are God’s gifts to me and daily reminders that stir me to gratitude and thanksgiving as a lifestyle. Plus, I don’t have to worry about what I will be blogging on until at least July of 2014. Just kidding. Sort of.

Ok. Here goes the list, starting at #168. Drum roll, please.

168) Looking through old photo albums and reliving those old memories and remembering people who’ve been gone from my life for a while (and thinking they’re looking down from heaven and smiling at those photos, too).

169) My extremely loud Hawaiian shirt, which one random teenager called “sick.” I guess that’s a compliment. I’m not really sure.

170) Everything related to either Narnia and Wardrobes or Middle Earth and Hobbits.

171) Surprise birthday parties (hint, hint, subtle subliminal suggestion. . . cough).

172) Celebrating Easter and remembering that the Resurrection changed EVERYTHING. Including me.

173) That Jesus would have chosen the nails and the cross and the agony if only for me alone.

174) By Jesus loving me unconditionally and prodigally, he made me loveable.

175) Silent movies.

176) Box hockey (and the fact that I know what box hockey is).

177) All my high school reunions where I see old friends and get to catch up after 10 (or 20) years apart.

178) That I get to be a small part of Kairos, a worship gathering for young adults, every week and I see God at work there every single week.

179) Being content in my relationships and not obsessively wondering where they might or might not be headed,

180) Knowing that if the absolute worst case scenario should happen, I would still be loved by Jesus and God would still work even that out for my good and his glory.

181) How randomly my brain works these days.

182) The vast array of autumn colors from the leaves changing and falling.

183) Doing small random acts of kindness for people when they least expect it.

184) Any positive news stories (because they are sadly the exception and not the rule).

185) That I’m down to 715 more things to be thankful for.

186) Now it’s only 714.

187) That I’m not what everyone else thinks I am or even what I think of myself, but only what Jesus says I am– Chosen, Redeemed, Beloved, Child of God, Forgiven, Free, etc.

188) That Jesus won’t ever stop reminding me of my true identity and sending friends who will help me remember the song in my heart when I forget the words.

189) Lightning bugs at night in an open field.

190) Cheese grits made just right.

191) That I probably have at least 32 more of these blogs a-comin’ your way. But not in a row.

Praying for Boston Tonight

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“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

I, like so many of you, just happened to turn on the television and spent the next several minutes trying to figure out what was happening at the Boston Marathon. The more I watched, the more I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It felt like I was watching a disaster movie.

It was horrific. People being carried away with missing limbs and blood splatters on the streets isn’t what you normally see on the news, especially that early in the day. The same feeling I had on 9/11 came back, only this time it felt scarier even though the terrorist attack was on a much smaller scale. I thought, “This could have happened anywhere at any marathon or half-marathon or 5k. It could have been The Music City Marathon and one of my friends who got caught in the explosions.”

I still have trouble accepting that it really happened. Did some deranged lunatic really blow up a bomb, then set the second one to go off just as the first responders were arriving? Did he really put shrapnel int the bombs to make them more lethal? Did he target that 8-year old boy or did he just have the misfortune to be in the way?

I can’t fathom the logic behind something like this. This level of evil goes beyond anything my mind can comprehend. A part of me wants to see this guy caught and shown no mercy, the way he showed mo mercy to these victims.

Then I remember the story of Joseph. How he suffered atrocities at the hands of his own brothers. How he ended up sold into slavery, the first victim of human trafficking in recorded history.

I especially remember his words in Genesis 50. What people intended for harm and for evil, God turned it into good and to salvation for a whole nation. Not only did survival come out of these atrocities, but salvation came through the person of Jesus, from the lineage of David.

I don’t know how, but I do know God will turn this heinous evil into good– someway, somehow. I don’t mean the act itself was good or that the aftermath is anything worth celebrating, but a reason for all of us to mourn and weep.

Yet I do believe that there will be stories that come out of this that will glorify God. Stories of people who sacrificed their bodies and lives so that others could live. Stories of how people came together as one, running toward the carnage when others were running away, and giving a little glimpse of what the Kingdom of God looks like.

The most shocking part of all is that God offers forgiveness even to the very individual who plotted and carried out one of the worst acts of terrorism ever. No one is too low for God to reach and no one is beyond his love. No one.

So I’m praying for the families of the victims and for those who are suffering with wounds that are more than just physical. I’m praying for God to make this and every other act of evil right.

I’m praying more fervently than ever, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

Yet I know that one day someone’s testimony of faith will start out something like “I remember exactly where I was when those bombs went off at the end of the Boston Marathon and when God showed up to me in a very real way.”

PS Interestingly enough, today’s Bible verse of the day on my You Version app was Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Running the Race

It’s hard to turn on the television and not hear something about the Olympics. Especially when somebody like Missy Franklin wins the gold medal for the US. You can’t help but want to root for somebody like her, the all-American girl who made us all proud.

I was watching some of the track and field events and watching in awe at the speed of some of these people. They truly are the best at what they do and they win because they’ve invested a lifetime worth of training into preparing for this moment.

Right now, I’m thinking of another race. The race Paul talks about. Only this race isn’t to the fastest or strongest. This race is all about finishing well.

The only way you don’t win this race is not to finish. Sounds easy, right? But there are so many distractions and temptations that try to divert our attention and get us off course and out of the race.

I can personally attest that there have been times when I’ve been paying too much attention to the crowd or who’s around me and comparing my pace to theirs. It’s easy to get too caught up in where you’ve been that you can very lose your way.

There’s only one place I should train my eyes on. One destination I should aim for. The finish line. Paul talks about keeping our eyes on the prize and fixing our eyes on Jesus, the true destination.

In the end, it won’t matter if I ran faster or slower than the person next to me. It won’t matter that I lost focus at times or found myself in the stands instead of in the race at times. It will only matter that I finished well.

It’s not about how you burst out of the gate at the starting gun. It’s not about how fast a pace you set in the beginning. All that matters is finishing well.

That’s good news for me. It means that it’s never too late for me to really start running the race with all that’s in me, arms outstretched toward the destination, eyes locked in on the prize of having Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

It also means that whether I ran great or poorly yesterday doesn’t matter. All that matters is how I run today.

So how will you run your race today?

 

 

A Letter to Kim Kardashian

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Kim,

I don’t know if you will read this or not. Realistically speaking, I’m pretty sure you won’t, since you probably don’t have time to read blogs by people you don’t know who aren’t famous. But if by some extremely remote chance, you happen to stumble on this quaint little blog, I hope you know I’m rooting for you.

I know a lot of people will look at your decision to start a Bible study and question your motives. They will say you just want to hook up with Tim Tebow or give some other reason why you can’t legitimately want to read God’s Word for its own sake.

I am not one of those.

I hope you read the Bible and find all that God has for you in there. I hope you find God’s love letter to His people, including you, and how much He loved His people and what great lengths He undertook to win back His people lost to sin and death.

I hope you will find that true beauty is in what God says about you, not what some magazine or television producer says about you. God says, “I made you and that makes you beautiful, because I made you in My image.”

I hope you will know that Jesus loves you just for you, not because of what you do or what you wear or who you know. I hope you can find joy in the fact that Jesus looked at you in your worst moments and thought you were still to die for.

I hope you fall in love with God’s Word and want it more than anything else. I hope you are transformed by what you read and that every time you read the Bible, you put it down a different person than when you picked it up. More than that, I pray you will take what you read and live it out in compassion for the needy and love for those whom God loves.

I hope you understand that no matter what you’ve done in the past, God has a purpose for you. He can work in and through you to do some pretty amazing things that will blow you away.

Like I said before, I’m rooting for you and hoping you find the peace you’re looking for.

Signed,

A Ragamuffin who is just trying to tell others about the grace of God that he’s found

PS It’s still not too late, no matter how messed up your life seems right now. Jesus can still turn your mess into something beautiful.