Where Are You Heading These Days?

“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” Paul Theroux

I think I’ve decided that I like being there but I just don’t like the traveling part of the trip. Getting older is turning me into much more of an old fart every year. But journeys seem ever more important to me as years go by. As I progress down my own dirt road I realize how important it is to pay attention and how much has happened that I was just too inexperienced to notice.

“We shall never learn to feel and respect our real calling and destiny, unless we have taught ourselves to consider every thing as moonshine, compared with the education of the heart.” Sir Walter Scott

We are all traveling somewhere, somehow.

Friends have recently returned from a trip to Iceland – the pictures they posted were unbelievable. What a fantastic journey they took. Who would have thought all of that splendor in Iceland?

Another friend traveled for work to India, right after his visit to Iceland. What a contrast! He’s the world traveler from East Texas, chalking up incredible experiences in places most of us can’t even pronounce.

You’re traveling everyday, aren’t you? That automatic trip down the busy highway to work which lulls you into so many other thoughts.

What about those trips up and down the aisle at the grocery store? (or are you having it all delivered nowadays?)

My wife travels through each room in the house, two or three times every morning as she’s getting ready for the day. It’s like a Navajo fertility ritual. She’s done this for over thirty years. Doesn’t strike her as odd or bother her one bit.

Living in a giant city like Houston means that there are always new places to see – even though most of us get stuck in our same routine ruts.

Do you have time in your busy life to think about where you’re going on the inside? In all your travels, exotic and mundane, would you say that on the inside you’re experiencing progress – forward motion?

Put me on trial and examine me, O Eternal One! Search me through and through—from my deepest longings to every thought that crosses my mind. -Psalm 26:2

  1. When you talk to people, are you reciting the same script, over and over? You don’t sound like a broken record do you? Is it time for you to move on to some new ways of talking to people, especially people you love?
  2. Has your daily routine become thoughtless? Are you in automatic pilot most of the time? Do you look back and think about actions you should have taken, words you wished you’d said, time you’d taken to shut up and listen? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with you other than you’re not paying attention to the steps you take each day. The cool word today is being “Mindful” – or you could just stop and smell the roses more often. Your desk is always going to be on fire isn’t it?
  3. Haven’t you taken a trip in the car with several people and noticed how quickly everyone reaches for their device and tunes out of the immediate experience? Maybe that could be a metaphor for so many other aspects of life. Is your device that you’re clutching for dear life causing you to miss the train – the people, conversations and moment that are right in front of you? Any good trip takes some work; planning, packing, travel, waiting, etc.  Being with others usually takes work too. Being plugged into a device is so much easier isn’t it?

“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” Hermann Hesse Continue reading “Where Are You Heading These Days?”

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A Good Time to Pray

“Accustom yourself gradually to carry Prayer into all your daily occupation — speak, act, work in peace, as if you were in prayer, as indeed you ought to be.” François Fénelon

 

 

What if everything that happened in your life was really an opportunity to take or to leave behind? Certainly you’ve missed many chances in life just because you were unaware, asleep, afraid, busy, suspicious, worried, satisfied or even hopeless. Missing your chance isn’t a unique experience in life. All of us have this experience, all of the time!

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”  ― Soren Kierkegaard

But what if, instead of looking at what’s happening all around us with “here and now” eyesight, we started more and more to see our circumstances and situations with the eternal perspective of God?

  1. What if there was a chance each day to say something important to someone that might change their life, even a little?
  2. What if you had your eyes open to what might really be going on in the lives of people you really know, the lives of acquaintances and even the lives of strangers? Watching closely enough so that you could do the right thing.
  3. Can you imagine living each day with your head in the heavenly clouds and seeing your situation from God’s point of view?
  4. What if you walked through your day praying instead of: complaining, whining, worrying, sulking, gossiping, or cynically making fun?

“Help” is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray–with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors. Years ago I wrote an essay that began, “Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.”  ― Anne Lamott

Isn’t right now a good time to pray about something/someone? What are you waiting for?

Disconnected

“He was one of the most supremely stupid men I have ever met. He taught me a great deal.” ― John Fowles

I’m walking across my college campus. From my office to the classroom today takes me from one end of the university grounds to the other. All along the way I get to watch our student population move. Some are moving from class to class, others are meeting with friends, a few are heading off to a part-time job. Lots of movement between class times. Every other person has their head bent down, intently focusing their gaze on that ever present cell phone.

Today it’s raining.

What consistently amazes me semester after semester is the number of students who appear completely unprepared for the weather. The predicted rain happens all week and barely an umbrella or jacket to be seen. We don’t have much in the way of winters down here in Houston, but there are times when a cold, wet freeze will blow through. I will bundle up and walk to class and pass up students wearing their current “uniform” of gym shorts and flip flops. (I sometimes wonder if the males on my campus even own a pair of long pants?)

There were a few art students today making their way through the drizzle with very large charcoal drawings – waving about in the wind and wet. Nothing covered up from the elements – all that work running off in puddles.

Here’s the irony of it all. As connected as these college students are to their cell phones and the gateway to information that these provide, they remain ever in the dark about the most basic information available to everyone. The most connected generation in the history of mankind – connected to information at a the swipe of a finger – remains as disconnected as ever when it comes to some of the basics; weather, directions, history, news, popular culture, etc.

Ease of access does not always guarantee better use of resources. My students are walking across campus with their noses inches from the cell phone, yet they have no idea about the weather forecast. Their dress gives them away.

Is there a larger lesson here?

What about me? I have access to God instantly. I can find help at a moments notice. I don’t need to waste another day worrying.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews :16)

I wonder if I’m living out an ironic sort of Christian life?

Knowledge, relationship, understanding, peace, are all right there as I turn and approach the Maker of Heaven and Earth. Instead, I typically muddle through each day carrying around a bag full of fear, worry, stress and pride. These leave me completely unprepared for any normal day of weather that usually occurs.

By weather I mean; failures at simple things, angry people, uncertainties about the future, boldface lies, arguments with loved ones, and bad habits that never go away. To name only a few examples of social meteorology that can rain down.

“A forecast can be wrong, but not the weather.”  ― Marty Rubin

It’s not necessary to trudge through the weather unprepared, with wet feet, windblown hair and a chill that stays all day. Yet I have spent weeks in “bad weather” just because I never approached that throne of grace. Maybe I was too busy filling up sandbags? Or was I over-involved in the crisis of the day, windblown out of my spiritual senses?

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28)

It looks like rain. It’s always right over the horizon. Don’t you need to stay dry? How about coming in and finding some shelter? I think I hear your phone buzzing…

The Loneliest Moment

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”  ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

But there is something else that the believer can do…

  1. Realize that this earthly world is supposed to fall apart – nothing, including frail relationships can last.
  2. Put faith in your Heavenly Father who has promised to take you through these kinds of disasters, giving you more courage, hope and love in the process.
  3. Open your eyes to the disasters all around you – be present in the lonely moments of even strangers who are watching their own worlds fall apart. Provide an end to loneliness. Be a part of the rescue effort of others.

So when the troubles begin, don’t be afraid. Look up—raise your head high, because the truth is that your liberation is fast approaching. – Luke 21:28 (The Voice)

This kind of liberation is the eternal kind. What we get so distraught about are all the little things that weigh us down and eat us alive again and again. Raise your gaze above all of these kinds of problems and look for what’s surely come – your certain hope.

Remember what hope really means for the Christian, it’s not wishful thinking. It means a confident assurance about what has been promised. Hope in our future draws us through the deep valleys and dark forests of our lives. We know that we never travel alone and what awaits us – a certain deliverance from every tribulation and trial.

Paul prays for the Christians in Rome like this, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

What’s it like when you overflow? According to this prayer request, it’s a supernatural effect, not something we can generate with the right amount of positive thinking, mindfulness and extra yoga… The presence of God in your life gives you hope, confident hope. So much that it flows out of you and touches the lives of everyone else in your life. What’s the evidence? Joy and peace are the fruits of hope. It doesn’t matter how close the fire comes, there’s a song of joy and an unexplainable peace of heart and mind.

Do you feel alone sometimes? Look up. Even if it’s only to notice that bird singing on the fence.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.     
– Emily Dickinson

I Am Willing

A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed.   (Mark 1:40-42 NLT)

Is that the way you imagine God responding to your pleas for help? Has that been your experience so far? Reaching out to God and hearing Him say to you,

“I am willing”

What about becoming a child of that same God and responding to the pleas that you surely hear all around you in this same way?

What if instead of saying…

…I’m not sure I have time

…I can’t solve that particular problem

…I shouldn’t get into your business like that

…I don’t really know you that well

What if instead of saying what comes to mind first, what makes sense, what is safest, we let God’s Spirit within us speak. What if we listened first to that still, small voice. What if the Spirit desired to say through you to someone else, “I am willing”?

Who knows where the time, resources or emotional courage will come from, but I’m going to follow the Spirit here – and have faith that whatever is needed, He will supply.

In this story of Jesus healing a leper (the type of social outcast who probably suffered more than any other) He not only declares His willingness to change the man’s life forever, he demonstrated to everyone looking how willing He really was. Jesus reached out and touched the leper. This was illegal and would make Jesus unclean as well. But Jesus was willing…to break the rules.

Jesus touches the man first. Who knows when this outcast had ever been touched before. Now, in front of everyone who normally looked away, Jesus reached out and touched him. What do you imagine he must have felt? What must the gathered crowd have thought? Jesus was willing…to demonstrate how deeply God loved His children. 

There were several works of healing that took place that day. The leper was made physically well. His place in society was restored (Jesus commanded him to follow the rules about being declared healed). As important as anything else, he was healed as a person – his worth was acknowledge by the Son of God in front of everyone. Jesus was willing…to reach out and heal the inner wounds that mattered as much. 

These days I keep going back to that command from Paul to the church in Galatia…

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”  (Galatians 6:2)

Over the past several years, I’ve had so many people demonstrate “I am willing” as they’ve helped me carry burdens right and left. For me, all these loved one’s have demonstrated the law of Christ – they have loved God and loved me, not with words but with their actions. Not an idea, but a certainty.

That kind of love makes it easy to say over and over again, “I am willing.”

Walking in Favor

“The Return of the Prodigal Son,” unknown artist, at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City Jan.. 17, 2008. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The parable of the Prodigal Son teaches us about the great joy that filled the house when a son who had run away returned to be reunited with his father and brother.  “For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” (Luke 15:32).

This son that had run out on his true life and was living another life – one he he believed to be right. Sooner or later, he came to his senses and realized he was living in a nightmare. For him, it was never too late to come home. The story also teaches us something important about our status as Children of God. No matter what we do, or don’t do, we are always his.

I hesitate to use the term “favor” here. It’s also used by some Christians to designate those who have sent in their check, gotten their names on the list and are paid up members in the health and wealth club. These Christians have been taught that “favor” is a status that must be constantly earned and can subsequently be lost. The Christian life is one of losing and finding favor with God. A glorious treasure hunt, chasing after a mysterious Santa Claus.

This isn’t what I mean when I write about “favor” and I don’t think it’s what Jesus taught when he described the way that God wanted to relate to us who believed in Him.

  1. Favor with God is a state that we enter into when first we believe. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)
  2. Walking in God’s favor means to remain in His love. We obey Him and follow Him as disciples because we love him (because He first loved us).  “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”  (John 15:9-10)
  3. As God’s creation, we always have our free will. We choose each day to follow as disciples, deny ourselves and carry our cross. Or, like the Prodigal Son, we makes choices that lead us away into our own pits of disaster. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. (Galatians 5:24-25)

When I am walking in God’s favor, that means that I am no longer living a prodigal life but am instead back home at His side, right where I belong.

Walking in God’s favor means that I am decreasing and He is increasing (John 3:30). This is exactly the opposite advice that the self-help culture we now live in is teaching us. Work harder, find the next trick, manage yourself better.

I experience God’s favor when I am near to Him, not away on my own. His favor makes me more like Him, not a better version of myself.

Each day that I walk in God’s favor is another day closer to His great purpose for me and everyone else.  Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.  (Ephesians 4:21-24)

Slopping pigs doesn’t always seem like a bad thing. I understand they have a great retirement package. There are friends to text and nowhere else to go but up. It is your own journey after all. You make all your own decisions, except when you get hungry or need somewhere to live. Pig keeping may not be where you started out, but it’s where you end up.  It’s where all our own fears one day take us.

“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.”  ― William Faulkner

The story of the Prodigal Son reminds us that the only way to walk in favor is to go back home.

Is Going to Church Out of Style?

Church membership and attendance is on the decline.

It has been for several decades. Is attending church out of fashion for the online generations? Have we overbooked and overworked everyone, with no clear 9-5 boundary anymore? Weekends (including Sundays) have turned into safety zones for family and retreat?

Our world will never cease to change as technology evolves, social life fractures and capitalism dominates more of our choices. So, is the future of the church in jeopardy?

The church, the Body of Christ, is not going to become a fashion victim. The ways that we carry out its functions probably will. As people and the way we live change, so too will our methods of ministry. But church isn’t going out of business because it has an eternal purpose.

Here’s what Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright believes about the church:

“The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world … The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship.” ― N.T. Wright

There aren’t any other social organizations fulfilling these essential tasks. Here’s my list I’d like to add to answer the question, Why Do We Need The Church?

  1. It is a place to become yourself
    We become more and more real as we experience transformation. The church is the one place where we can see who we really are and be changed. It’s a gathering of those who are living out a brand new life because of following Christ – as disciples. Our true self is emerging when we are a part of God’s church. Your local church is a place that challenges you and allows you to experience transformation in all areas of your new life.
  2. It is a place to suffer
    When we do suffer, and all of us surely will, we need others with us as we navigate those treacherous waters. Christians find eternal meaning in the suffering they experience. A large part of this meaning is experienced together as the Church when others help to share our burdens of fear, worry and pain. God cares for our every need through the actions of the church.  We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.” – 2 Corinthians 1:7
  3. It is a place to make sacrifices
    Once you’re a part of a church you quickly learn that it’s not really about you anymore. A church is a place where people come together and make sacrifices of their resources, time, efforts and even their will. It’s not what I want or what I think is best, but what others need. The sacrifice of your will is going to be the most difficult you will make. It takes much practice.“Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
  4. It is a place to grow up
    Literally and figuratively we mature in this body of faith. The church has a schedule filled with activities for every age group. It is an essential “agent of socialization” into the Christian faith. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (1 Corinthians 13:11-12)
  5. It is a place to become more and more like Christ
    This is the direction we head as we die to ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. When John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to his own followers he said, “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30). The church is the gathering of people who will love us in our successes and failures as we journey toward Christlikeness. This is where we come to learn, to grow and to see firsthand the great mission we are called to follow.
  6. It is a place to worship, pray, serve and give, together
    When we come to church we do something different. We are challenged to act, think and to imagine a different way of living. The world outside we’ve made for ourselves is increasingly oriented toward the individual, helping to make us successful and less obligated to others. Our life within the church contradicts this alien culture with practices and beliefs that bind us together and challenges our selfish inclinations.
  7. It is a place that’s not really a place
    Usually the word “church” makes us think about a building, a location or even the distant memory of place. On my way home each day I drive past churches in traditional looking buildings with steeples, with big signs in strip shopping centers and even one located in an industrial workshop. In America, churches are located in all sorts of places.But we all know that the church isn’t really a location, it’s really a group of Christ followers. The church is bigger than a building, it’s all those people who love you no matter what. The church takes care of family, friends and strangers. It embodies love as it shares an eternal message of hope. It’s a group of people who try as hard as they can to pull away from this world and live as if there’s something bigger and better that’s eternal and means more than this life can give.

“The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians, and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes- a time for men and women to be heroic in their faith and in spiritual character and power. The greatest danger to the Christian church today is that of pitching its message too low.” ― Dallas Willard