Who Are You When No One is Looking?

And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden.  Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it.
                                                                                    – Matthew 5:14-16 (The Voice)

At the football stadium this year, before the game, the camera operator puts people’s images up on the giant screen. People are selected who are busy and not paying attention. It’s called the “oblivious camera” – with a timer ticking off how long it takes these unsuspecting “victims” to notice their images and actions projected on a 5000 square foot screen.

I often wonder if the camera operator is given any limits on who or what he can put on the screen during this little game.

As I sit here and watch students in class taking exams it’s always interesting to see what kinds of actions some do when they believe they’re all alone (in their head) yet sitting in a room full of others. Some will rub and scratch out of nervousness. There are all sorts of grooming rituals that take place, just mindless activity some do while thinking real hard. Cracking knuckles very loudly (mostly females), sniffing and snorting (no tissues), and so many different ways to stretch and yawn!

Did you know that yawning is contagious?

Since no one was taught handwriting in school anymore, it’s gruesome to watch all of the ways that students hold their pens and pencils while writing on an exam. It’s as if many had their hands broken and wrongly reset. Most are perfectly legible but there’s always a few examples that need to be sent over to the hieroglyphics department (we don’t have one of those, by the way).

Do you honestly believe that there’s any part of your own life that goes unnoticed by someone?

  • Parents with young children are always warned that little eyes are watching everything that goes on, be careful about what you say or do.
  • You just haven’t lived long enough if you haven’t heard a younger person telling you of some word or deed of yours they will never forget (I sure have!).
  • There are security cameras everywhere, monitoring most public locations.
  • What about that camera lense in your computer screen that’s aimed at you right now?
  • Sometimes, when it seems safe, I will walk past a screaming child in the store and say with much confidence, “Santa Claus is watching…”

When all goes haywire or you feel down in the dumps – just stop, sit still and repeat the truth to yourself, “God is watching me.” Don’t get up and run back into the fire until you’ve awakened to this truth. Let it be a light on each step you have to take.

His Eye is On The Sparrow (1905), Civilla Durfee Martin (1866-1948)

“Why should I feel discouraged?
Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely
and long for heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion?
My constant friend is he;
His eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.” 

God isn’t watching you in order to make fun, to find out what’s wrong, or to make you feel shame. He’s watching you because he loves you. When you decide to believe in Him and become His child, there’s nothing you are going to do that will drive Him away. Even as oblivious as you are at times, He is forever watching and caring for you.

“Should we not invariably act in this life as though the God whom our heart desires with its highest desire were watching our every action?” ― Maurice Maeterlinck

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The Sound of That Bird

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky. Remember him before your legs—the guards of your house—start to tremble; and before your shoulders—the strong men—stoop. Remember him before your teeth—your few remaining servants—stop grinding; and before your eyes—the women looking through the windows—see dimly. Remember him before the door to life’s opportunities is closed and the sound of work fades. Now you rise at the first chirping of the birds, but then all their sounds will grow faint.  – Ecclesiastes 12:1-4

I hear a very loud bird chirping away each morning this week as I leave the house. He’s very excited to be awake and ready to catch that worm. Perhaps he’s searching for a date.

Time passes and there are opportunities now that won’t be here tomorrow.

Each night I put my head on the pillow and it seems I was just doing this a few minutes ago. I know that living isn’t passing by more quickly than it did in the past. What’s happening is I’m not as connected as I once was. Sitting in the dark theater not paying attention to the film and then suddenly the credits roll by. Time didn’t speed up. Disengagement made the present seem to pass by too fast.

In the West we are born into a culture that’s shaped to think about linear progress – moving forward, maybe a few steps backward. Standing still is really not an option.  When people find themselves stuck in neutral or pushed off the side of the road, it can cause a great deal of anxiety – this isn’t what’s supposed to happen, is it?

“There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.” 

― Franklin D. Roosevelt

I often wonder where I’m really going during this stage in my life?

Thinking about the progression of life, there are stages; childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age. I think each can also be subdivided as well.  I read a stage theory from a guy named Mark Manson. He doesn’t seem to have any academic credentials and likes to cuss a lot (maybe that draws attention?).  Anyway his four stages of life struck me as worth thinking about; (1) mimicry, (2) self-discovery, (3) commitment and then (4) legacy.

I wonder where I am right now?  Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in the middle. Does unfinished business in one stage keeping me from fully passing to the next? Do I really want to venture into a “legacy” period of life? Then I hear that bird calling out each morning. Make today count for something.

It’s not like my life isn’t filled with activity. I’m heading off rapidly in some direction each day (who knows if it’s the right way?). There’s always something to do, somewhere to go, someone to meet. Yet, when I think about it, I spend a lot of time drifting in circles.  My life seems busy, but it’s not always going anywhere. That’s a problem.

“Now that it’s all over, what did you really do yesterday that’s worth mentioning?” ― Coleman Cox

I used to have big goals that drove me onward into the future. These no longer exist. For many reasons, they disappeared. Having something meaningful to accomplish, no matter how distant, always pull me through the dreary here and now and produce an expectancy about tomorrow.

Focusing on others instead of yourself, that’s the right path to walk each day. My life ought to be something I can give and do for those around me. I’m losing too many days to the past and the future.

“The timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.” ― Khalil Gibran

That bird each morning reminds me that here and now matters. There is something to do today. I am to open my eyes and look for the opportunity to practice my faith, heal wounds, speak truth, give sacrificially, and turn my cheek if need be.

I heard a benediction at the end of worship a few weeks ago. It was written by our pastor (I think) and it struck me between the eyes because it seemed to provide some assurance to all of us who are in transition and wondering where we are supposed to be going/doing right now:

Wherever you go, God is sending you.
Wherever you are, God has put you there.
God has a purpose in your being right where you are.
Christ, who indwells you by the power of his Spirit,
wants to do something in and through you.
Believe this and go in his grace, his love, his power.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
                                                                              Amen

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?”

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.”