My Big Hike

Normally, my friend and I meet at Radnor Lake State Park and choose one of the trails to hike while discussing all sorts of random topics (and of course throwing in bad puns wherever appropriate).

Today, I went solo for the day. I challenged myself that I could hike both the Granier Ridge Trail and the South Cove Trail (the two difficult hiking trails at Radnor).

Halfway through Granier, I thought I’d made a serious mistake. I was wheezing like a 90-year old and it was all I could do to keep putting one sandaled foot in front of the other.

Still, I persevered. An persisted. And I didn’t give up.

At some point, my strength revived. I got that proverbial second wind. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as hikers’ high (similar to runners’ high), but I think I might have experienced that at some point.

The key to it all was that I never quit. I did take a short break on the second trail.

At the end of the day, I tallied over 22,000 steps, according to the app on my Apple Watch. That’s a lot of steps.

The old adage remains true. Every journey of 10,000 (or 22,000) steps begins with a single step. And each and every step counts, no matter how hesitant or small or feeble.

Every journey of change also starts with the smallest of steps. All God needs is the most hesitant of agreements and He can still bring about the most amazing transformations. All He’s looking for from you and I is the “I believe. Help my unbelief,”  as a good place to start.

Jesus looks at you right now right where you are and asks, “Do you really want to be healed? Do you really want the brand new world of uncertainty that comes with change and transformation?”

Oh, and yes, my feet hurt. I suppose that’s a given.

 

All Those Transformers

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:1-2, The Message).

The key is to be transformed rather than conformed. So many in an effort to appease the culture we live in have surrendered their convictions and beliefs to the point that they no longer have anything unique to offer anyone in the way of hope and salvation.

That’s being conformed. God wants us transformed.

We’ re supposed to be different. We’re supposed to think, speak, and act differently than those around us. At times that may mean holding unpopular convictions and beliefs. We may be seen as outdated and obsolete. We may be viewed as narrow-minded and hate-mongers.

Yet those same people are paying attention to everything we say and do. Those same people will long for that peace and hope when they see it in us. As long as they see it in us.

No one is impressed when we fit in so well that no one can tell the believer from the non-believer. That changes no lives and impacts nobody.

I still say that if you want to see change, you often will have to be the change. More accurately, you will have to be the one changed a.ka. transformed.

 

 

My Plan for 2016– The Saga Continues

I managed to make it to another of Brentwood Baptist’s campuses today. Originally, I had planned to go to The Church at West Franklin today and then hit up The Church at Woodbine in May. Plans change.

I found out last night that a friend of mine was playing in the worship band for Woodbine, so I went there. The newly revised and updated plan is to visit West Franklin on May 8, God willing.

That was the main focus on the verses that Doug Jones preached from. The gist of the passage from James 4 is this: don’t make your plans and assume that God will automatically bless them. Instead, you and I need to make plans with the added tag of “God willing.”

You aren’t promised next year or next month or even next week. In fact, no one is promised a tomorrow. Every day you and I wake up is a gift from God. Every day we survive is only due to the grace and mercy of God.

Still, I’m thankful I chose this day to visit Woodbine. I got to see the beautiful old church building that has been revitalized and re-energized with new lifeblood. I got to see a visiting middle school choir from Atlanta that plans to stay the week and help out The Church at Woodbine and the surrounding community.

Afterward, I hit up a few thrift stores that I hadn’t been to in a while. I came up with a few finds, including one that may or may not be worthy of Antiques Roadshow. More on that later.

I’m grateful for The Church at Woodbine and for Doug Jones for a community that reaches out to their neighborhood with both love and truth. You need both to see lives change. Too often (especially in this current culture) the church has shied away from convictions under the guise of acceptance and ended up offering cheap grace that comes without repentance or transformation and with little impact on the community. But that’s another topic for another blog.

I’ll give you a full report on The Church at West Franklin two weeks from now.

 

 

Set Free VBS 2014 Day Two

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Again, the weather was perfect. I brought my camera, hence the pictures, and even brought some old-school DC Talk to liven things up a bit. Not that things needed livening up.

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I do think the message is getting through to these kids. They are finding out that Somebody really does love them. They are discovering this Jesus, (hopefully) deciding to follow Him, and at some point defending what they believe when others question their faith.

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I still remember Ronnie Johnson from Memphis. He was from the neighborhood and had done his share of drugs (both using and selling) and being a general all-around low-life. His testimony was his transformation. People simply couldn’t believe this was the same guy from way back. They marveled at how different he was. He made sure to point to Jesus as the reason why.

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Jesus really is the only one who can save communities. Not government programs or welfare or the lottery. Only Jesus can rescue people from themselves and their poor choices. Only Jesus can take broken lives and make them whole again. Only Jesus can take what was dead and make it come alive.

I’m praying for miracles. Not necessarily the Lazarus raised from the dead kind, although that would be nice. I mean the kind where this neighborhood is transformed by the grace of God into a place where people go to meet Jesus and leave as different people. Where instead of coming here to buy drugs, people come to find God’s salvation. I’m praying God will raise up a whole generation from this place who will be the next missionaries and pastors and evangelists. Who knows? Maybe the next Billy Graham or Martin Luther King, Jr.?

With people it’s a pipe dream, but with God anything’s possible.

I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow night.

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Saturday Night’s Alright for Slacking

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I did nothing tonight. Hard as it is to believe, I spent this Saturday evening in front of the idiot box with a very sleepy cat/therapist named Lucy. This jetsetter, this man about town, actually had a quiet night.

And the world didn’t come to a screeching halt.

Do you ever wonder that people forget about you the moment you leave the room? That when it comes to priorities, you’re not high up on anybody’s list? That ultimately you don’t truly matter to anyone?

Sure, I’ve felt that way some nights. But I know this.

There is never a moment that goes by where I’m not in God’s sight, on His mind, and engraved on His hands and on His heart. He loves me completely, unconditionally, unwaveringly, every second of every day of eternity.

God loves you the same way. God loves each person as if they were the only person who had ever lived and could receive the fullness of Love itself.

That kind of love meets you where you are but does not leave you that way. It can’t help but transform the beloved into the image of the Lover. You become most like what you love most. Always.

I can’t say that staying home was my first choice. Or even on my list of top twenty choices.

But here I am, thankful even on a slow Saturday night that I have everything I need in the world right here. Finding the joy on nights like this really does transform how you see the rest of your life. Giving thanks for the small things makes room to receive the greater things.

I think I’ll sign off in a bit here and go do some actual reading of an actual book, with actual pages that turn and everything. How novel.

May you know in full (or as fully as a finite human can comprehend the infinite) how much your Abba really does love you at every moment, whether you feel it or not.

That’s all for now.

All Those Celebrity Crushes

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It seemed so harmless. You know. The game where you name your celebrity crushes? How can there be any harm in it?

But I started thinking more about it today. Probably more than I should have. After all, one of my spiritual gifts is over-thinking things.

I think the problem is this. When we get involved in those crushes, we are buying into the world’s definition of beauty. And it is a very superficial, surface kind that only goes as deep as the glossy 8X10 paper it’s printed on.

Dr. Michael Easley, one of my favorite teachers, always says, “Don’t let the world teach you theology.” I say, “Don’t let the world define beauty for you.”

Beauty is more than body shapes and skin tones. For me, beauty isn’t what’s on the outside transforming the inward, but what’s on the inside coming out on the outside. In other words, a woman whose heart is at rest and who is comfortable in who she is as a woman will show a kind of beauty that make-up and cosmetics can’t touch. A man who is confident in how God made him and who knows who he is in Christ will have a kind of handsomeness that is more than chiseled abs and sculpted arms.

Beauty is who you are more than what you look like. Beauty is character– joy you can’t contain spilling out of every pore and coming out as kind of a glow. You know it when you see it. And like I’ve said before, you have to look with a different set of eyes to see it. You have to be able to look at others the way God looks at you.

Another thing. Celebrity crushes feed into distorted and unrealistic expectations and standards. Girls don’t want a nice guy. They want a nice guy who looks like Ryan Gosling. Guys want a sweet girl who looks like Kate Upton.

The problem is that no one looks like that. Not even those celebrities. There is always photoshopping and touching up that goes into the image. Not to say that physical attractiveness isn’t important, but hopefully what you find attractive in a person will be kindness and grace as much as looks.

So I’m currently deleting all my celebrity photos. Most of all, I’m going to start praying that God transforms my character into one that will attract the woman He has for me. I’m praying you won’t get so caught up in looking for the perfect man or woman that you miss that imperfect person who could make you perfectly happy. I’m praying you will let God choose, for God always gives the very best to those who leave the choice with Him (thanks to Elisabeth Elliot for that one).

I think I’m looking for a face to call home.

 

A Perfect Night for Sand Volleyball

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I had a blast playing sand volleyball tonight. Even though my teams only won once and I sweated like the pig that knows he’s about to be dinner.

It’s not about my mad volleyball skills. In fact, none of us are all that good. Well, maybe one or two. But we have fun and we cheer each other on and we laugh with each other instead of at each other. It never gets overly competitive and no one gets mad at anybody about a bad hit or that occasional moment when someone forgets that they’re in the middle of an actual game.

My favorite to watch (and my new friend) is a girl named Katie. She has an infectious joy and is one of those people who smile with their whole face. It’s hard to not be happy around her. I love the way my friends J.D. and Julie exhibit what a good marriage is and how two married people can be best friends too. Troy is one of the most consistent players who’s as good as any player out there yet able to laugh at himself when he messes up.

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The best part is that we root for each other, even if we’re on opposite teams. I don’t mind losing if I see the people on the other team enjoying themselves and getting in a good hit or two. As long as it’s not a complete blowout.

I love more than anything watching people who get better each time they play and really start believing in themselves. There’s nothing better for somebody than a little taste of success.

I like to think that Jesus roots for His children that way. He knows we’re frail and too often choose badly and fall down. He knows that we still have that old sin nature that sometimes comes out when we make poor decisions and know something is wrong yet  do it anyway.

I heard in church today that we don’t need empathy. We don’t need someone who feels bad with us when we feel bad. What we need is Somebody who knows what we’re feeling but also has the power to do something about it. Somebody who has the power to transform us and our choices.

Jesus is the best because not only does He root for us, but He sees us not as we are but how we could be at our very best. Not only that, but He is changing us into our very best selves. That is, changing us to be just like Jesus.

Scars

I was watching Slumdog Millionaire tonight and the ending got me thinking. By the way, this is a spoiler alert, so if you haven’t already seen the movie and don’t want to know how it ends, don’t read any further.

Jamal, the main character, finds his true love, Nakita, at the train station. She’s trying to hide the scar on the side of her face, but he finds it anyway and gives her a kiss on the scar.

What a perfect picture of faith.

We all have scars we’re trying to hide. Some do a better job, so that you can’t tell they have any. Some don’t do as well because their scars are more obvious and less easily hidden.

We think God will be repulsed by our scars, by the bitter words we’ve spoken, by the horrendous things we’ve done, by the vile thoughts we’ve cherished from time to time. We’re sure that if he ever knew about those scars, he’d want nothing more to do with us. After all, haven’t so many people in our lives treated us that way? People we loved and trusted to be there for us always? They got one look at our scars and couldn’t get away from us fast enough.

I’m thankful every single day that God’s not like that. God seeks us out, and when he finds us, he gives us kisses of grace on our scars. He turns our scars into stories of transformation and amazing grace. Like I heard a pastor say, that one thing you never thought you’d ever confess to becomes the very first line of your testimony.

God appreciates scars because he’s got some of his own. Three to be exact. Two on his wrists and one in his side. They are reminders of the price he paid for you and me.

So maybe scars aren’t such a bad thing after all.

 

Simple Yet Profound

I was skimming through the vast ocean of tweets on Twitter and I ran across one that was simple in its concept, yet the more I thought about it the more profound it seemed. I know Twitter is rarely profound, with 99.9% of my own tweets as proof. But I read this little statement and it grabbed hold of me and hasn’t let go since.

“What you behold you become.”

It’s not only profound, but intensely convicting, for it begs the question, “What am I beholding?” followed by the question, “Do I want to become that?”

Am I beholding what the world defines as love, success, contentment, and happiness? I’ve seen enough of reality TV to know that I’m watching a severely skewed version of reality. What passes for love is really lust, what passes for success is greed, what passes for contentment is selfishness, and what passes for happiness is blissful ignorance.

I’m reminded of a verse in 2 Corinthians. Side note: before you start thinking how super-spiritual I am, you should know I had to do a keyword search on biblegateway.com to find this verse.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Transformation happens when we behold the glory of God. When we turn our eyes upon Jesus and look full in his wonderful face, as the old hymn puts it. If you look at Jesus long enough, you can’t help but become like him.

But how much am I looking at Jesus as opposed to everything else there is to see? For me, not nearly enough for real and lasting transformation to take place. I’m too easily distracted by everything around me.

That’s what I need. To look at Jesus more and look in the mirror a little less. To look at God and how he sees me more and the world around me and how they perceive me a little less. That’s where real change for the better lies.

The Word of God

“God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.” (Hebrews 4:12)

I mentioned earlier that I’m really good at collecting Bibles and carrying them around. I like to talk about the Bible and read books about the Bible, but I don’t really read the Bible as much as I should.

Only the Bible is transformative. The commentaries, as insightful as they are to me, are not living and active. The books on doctrines and theology are not inspired and God-breathed the way his Word is.

Sometimes, that Word cuts deep. It’s described as a two-edged sword. I heard a pastor say that means that it cuts both going in and coming out. If you want a safe, nice book that leaves you the way you were when you picked it up, I certainly do not recommend the Bible. Not if you’re serious about really digging into what it says.

It’s no good to read the Bible if you’re not willing to do what it says. I am as guilty as anyone for reading the Bible for information and not for transformation. If I don’t do what it says, then reading it does me no good. As that same pastor has said many times, “If you don’t live it, you don’t believe it.”

So that’s what I want. To not only read the Bible, but to live it out. A friend of mine once said that you’re the only Bible some people will ever read, and they may only read you for 5 seconds. So it’s important to be living out the Word in such a way that others can see.

Just a thought.