Real Prayer

“My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real—really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.

So prayer is our sometimes real selves try­ing to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold. Even mushrooms respond to light—I suppose they blink their mushroomy little eyes, like the rest of us.

Light reveals us to ourselves, which is not always so great if you find yourself in a big disgusting mess, possibly of your own creation. But like sunflowers we turn toward light. Light warms, and in most cases it draws us to itself. And in this light, we can see beyond shadow and illusion to something beyond our modest receptors, to what is way beyond us, and deep inside” (Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow).

Sometimes, the best prayers are the ones without any words, the ones that express themselves in tears and groans and sighs.

Sometimes, it’s good to know on the nights when it feels like our prayers are getting no further than the ceiling that God hears anyway because He’s in the room with us while we pray.

Just keep asking. Just keep seeking. Just keep knocking. Just keep praying.

 

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.

 

 

Easter Even

“If Easter says anything to us today, it says this: You can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there. You can nail it to a cross, wrap it in winding sheets and shut it up in a tomb, but it will rise!” (Clarence W. Hall)

Sometimes Saturday can seem to take forever.

I don’t mean the Saturday where you get to sleep in a little later and take it a little easier.

I mean that day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. That day between utter despair and renewed hope.

For most of the time most of us live in a perpetual Saturday. If you look at the headlines, you will see almost nothing but tragedy and horror staring back at you from the front pages or the biggest bold print on the news website.

How do you cope with all that devastation without the reality of the resurrection? How do you even begin to process all the evil that goes on without the knowledge that Jesus will one day ultimately set all things right?

The only way I can get through the crucifixion part of the story is that I already know the rest of the story. I know that death and the grave are not the end. They don’t get the final word.

Those who are staring the imminent loss of loved ones in the face can look to Jesus who wept over His friend Lazarus but then proceeded to call Him out of His four-day old grave clothes and decay into life. The same Jesus who looked His own death in the face and stepped out of His own tomb on a bright and sunny Sunday morning.

Without that, those who cling to faith are the most pitiful and pathetic people. With it, they are the ones who have the most reason for joy.

It was Friday and it’s been a long Saturday, but Sunday’s comin’!

 

Thoughts On Mr./Mrs. Jenner

I’ve been thinking about the former Bruce Jenner, now known as Caitlyn Jenner. There are a lot of people applauding how brave he/she is and there are other’s villifying him/her.

Here’s what I think.

I think that if Bruce wasn’t happy with who he was, then I doubt Caitlyn will be. I think that once all the media hoopla has died down, once Caitlyn returns to whatever semblance of normalcy that she can manage, she will find out that changing the outside won’t fix what’s wrong on the inside.

Here’s what I’ve learned in my own life. Actually, it’s something that I keep coming back to again and again because I’m so forgetful.

It’s only in Jesus that you can have enough or be enough because Jesus in and of Himself is enough.

Those who chase after fame or wealth or status will eventually find that it doesn’t quite fill the vacuum inside. Nothing fills that God-shaped hole except God.

I have enough because I have Jesus. I am enough because Jesus is enough and He has me. It’s really that simple. No matter what happens from this point forward, it will always be that simple and true.

I truly hope that Caitlyn Jenner finds for herself that Jesus is enough.

I hope that I keep finding out and keep being reminded that Jesus is enough, because chasing after the Joneses and the brass rings and climbing the ladders are all so very exhausting.

Jesus is enough.

I can feel my heart-rate slowing as I read those words. I remember that it’s really not up to me to make my life work, to give my own life meaning. I remember that Jesus promised He would meet me where I was, love me as I am, and take me where I need to be.

That is enough because Jesus is enough.

 

Sheep

“Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. ‘What a huge harvest!’ he said to his disciples. ‘How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!'” (Matt. 9:36-38, The Message).

I’ve observed that so many people are like sheep.

They will follow whatever is trendy and fashionable, no matter how ridiculous it seems. Six months later, they will jump on the next fashion bandwagon and laugh at those who are still into the old fads.

They will believe whatever the leaders of their chosen political party tell them without question.

They will never take the time to find out the truth for themselves, choosing to believe whatever the media, i.e. Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN) and those in power tell them.

This doesn’t apply to all of us, right? Surely some of us are learning to think for ourselves and not see everything though either red- or blue-tinted glasses, right?

I’m a sheep. You’re a sheep. We’re all sheep.

Jesus called us sheep. It wasn’t a compliment.

Sheep are smelly and stupid. They are helpless without the shepherd.

It wasn’t an insult either.

Jesus Himself proclaimed that He had come to seek and save the lost sheep. No matter how foolishly His sheep act sometimes, He still loves them enough to have died for them.

Maybe wisdom is admitting that I am anything but wise and trusting Jesus who is perfectly wise.

How much does Jesus love His sheep? His parable about the shepherd who leaves the 99 in search of the one who strayed is really autobiographical.

Jesus would have died for one sheep, if that was all that was lost. Even if it had been you. Even if it had been me.

I’m so very thankful for a Shepherd who never stops looking for me when I wander off, who never stops guiding me back on to the right paths, who never for a second leaves me defenseless, and who will not fail to get me home in the end.

Sign of the Times

“You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant” (2 Timothy 4:3-5, The Message).

“because a time will come when some will no longer tolerate sound teaching. Instead, they will live by their own desires; they’ll scratch their itching ears by surrounding themselves with teachers who approve of their lifestyles and tell them what they want to hear. They will turn away from the real truth you have to offer because they prefer the sound of fables and myths. But you must stay focused and be alert at all times. Tolerate suffering. Accomplish the good work of an evangelist, and complete the ministry to which you have been called.” (2 Timothy 4:3-5, The Voice).

Here’s the thing. Lots of people are determining their theology by whether it feels right or not. If it feels good, it must be true; if it makes me uncomfortable, it must be not I but that doctrine or belief that needs to change.

I don’t claim to understand it all. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I do know this– Feelings are fickle and changeable. Feelings will (and often do) lie to you.

If I put my feelings over the Word of God, then I make myself the final judge of what is or is not true. But if I determine my feelings by what the Word of God says, then I’m submitting to God’s authority.

I really would like everything that’s true to feel good all the time. But I know that I (and the rest of us) are fallen human beings. Our emotions, our minds, our thought processes are affected by the Fall.

I trust God. I trust His Word. Even when it makes me uncomfortable.

 

 

Lessons from The Walking Dead

dead

I watch a show called The Walking Dead. It’s not for the squeamish. Yes, there are zombies (referred to as ‘walkers). Yes, there is plenty o’ blood and guts a-flying’ everywhere. Yes, you get attached to characters only to see them killed off.

But I think there are a few life lessons from this show that I’d like to pass on:

1) If these zombies ever took to lifting weights, would they then be “power walkers?”

2) Family matters, even if that family isn’t flesh and blood. It’s better to be with imperfect people who care about you and have your back than to be alone.

3) No matter what face you may present to the public, the truth of who you really are will always come out. It’s no good to fight evil and become worse than the evil you’re fighting.

4) No matter how far you’ve sunk or what you’ve done, there’s always the hope of becoming something better. There’s nothing so bad in people that can’t be redeemed. I happen to believe that God does the redeeming and I am the one being redeemed.

5) If you ever do run into a zombie, make sure you kill the brain. And be sure not to wear anything you don’t mind getting ruined by blood and guts.

I think that covers it for now. I just finished up season 3, which puts me roughly one season behind (so no spoiler alerts, please).

Easter Season Liturgy Part I

ko1

Tonight at Kairos we had a liturgical Easter service but with a Kairos-style twist. It was a very cool blend of modern and ancient forms of worship. I was particularly moved by the responsive reading we did at the start:

“Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us a little child 
one of us,
flesh and blood to share in our humanity
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us as carpenter
and yet in whose creative hands a world was fashioned
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us as fisherman
and yet pointed to a harvest that was yet to come
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us as teacher
and opened eyes to truths that only 
the poor could understand
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us as healer
and opened hearts to the reality of wholeness
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us as prophet, priest and king
and yet humbled himself 
to take our place upon the cross
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us as servant
and revealed to us the extent of his Father’s love 
for human kind
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus, who rose 
from the ignominy of a sinner’s death
to the triumph of a Saviour’s resurrection
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son
for the sake of me
and you
and other sinners too
God so loved the world
Blest are you Lord Jesus, our Saviour and Redeemer.
ALL: Thanks be to the God of Love. Amen”

I think it’s good to step out of your comfort zone when it comes to worship. For me, that meant going to a Roman Catholic Ash Wednesday service last year. Whatever it is for you, it’s good to get out of your own faith tradition and see things from different points of view sometimes. It helps you to know what you believe and– better still– why you believe what you believe.

More on that to come tomorrow.

 

Those Facebook Quizzes

image

If you have some down time, I recommend trying out one or two of those Facebook quizzes. Or if you’re a bit OCD like me, you’ll try them all.

Sometimes, they can be quite revealing. Some are spot-on. Some are not. But nearly all of them are entertaining.

I’ve taken more than my fair share of them. I even took one about who my Disney best friend would be (it was Abu, the little monkey critter from the movie Aladdin).

The most unexpected result was when I took the “Which Friends Character Are You?” quiz. I was expecting maybe I’d be most like Chandler or Ross, but it turns out I am most like Phoebe.

Some results weren’t as accurate. Apparently, the states I should live in are Wisconsin, Kansas, and New Hampshire. And yeah, I took that one three times. I was hoping for somewhere with a warmer climate (especially in winter).

I can’t remember all the results from all the quizzes I took but most were fairly accurate in describing my personality. And the best part is that they were all free.

It’s nice to have those family members and friends who really know you and can gently point out to you when you’re not acting like yourself. Sometimes, they can even tell you the hard truth in love. Even if you don’t exactly want to hear it.

I’ve said it before but the best thing you can do for the world around you is to be the best you that you can be. You have your own unique take on life, combination of skills and talents and passions, and personality traits. There will never again be another exactly like you. That makes you unique and special and valuable.

Now for me to find out what Simpsons character I’m most like.

In His Own Words

image

I thought it fitting on a day set apart to celebrate the legacy of one Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I shouldn’t try to speak for him, but instead let his own words speak for themselves.

I found this excerpt of a speech he gave in accepting the Nobel Peace award in 1964. I hope it resonates with you like it did with me:

“I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. ‘And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.’ I still believe that WE SHALL OVERCOME!”