Real Magic

“Real magic can never be made by offering someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back.” ― Peter S. Beagle

You never really know who you are, what you’re really made of, deep down at the root, until you are forced to make sacrifices. Not sacrifices that you get to choose out of free will. I mean when you are backed into a corner and your choices are taken away and you’ve got to set up all night, go without, give it away and keep your big fat opinion to yourself. You’ve got to clean it up again and again just because that’s the way it is right now. No one is asking you to fix it, just help us endure this for now.

Real magic comes when my own suffering fades away into the background as I draw my attention and efforts toward someone else. Not when it’s convenient, but when it really costs something. Even my own blood and guts. Wonder what tearing out your liver feels like?

Transformation always seems like magic in the end.

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On Earth As It Is In Heaven

Do you remember what we call The Lord’s Prayer?

Pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13

That’s a New Living Translation.
Here it is in the good old King James,

After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

We have been going through a life and death illness for the past five years. When that happens one hears everyone’s ideas about why. Human beings are always searching for reasons why. We just can’t help it.

“The Lord’s mercy often rides to the door of our heart upon the black horse of affliction.” ― Charles Spurgeon

In social psychology this human proclivity to look for answers is called attribution. Sometimes…

  • we use our common sense to find explanations
  • we sort out whether something was intentional or accidental
  • actions are based on internal personality
  • other causes are due to external factors (bad traffic!)

I don’t think people would consciously do this with God, assigning him blame for bad news. But sometimes it sounds like it.

We pray our way through every day we have to live. Try to make it count. We thank God and try to walk in joy. Sometimes we feel like old Matisse, sitting in his bed cutting out shapes…

“I didn’t expect to recover from my second operation but since I did, I consider that I’m living on borrowed time. Every day that dawns is a gift to me and I take it in that way. I accept it gratefully without looking beyond it. I completely forget my physical suffering and all the unpleasantness of my present condition and I think only of the joy of seeing the sun rise once more and of being able to work a little bit, even under difficult conditions.” ― Henri Matisse

When I go back and pray the Lord’s Prayer I am instructed to pray for God’s will to be done on earth. This reminds me that I’m not living in a world where God is always running everything. I know he’s not always in charge of my life – I don’t submit to his will every day as I could and should. I still have a free will.

(I’m fully aware this is going to drive my Calvinist friends crazy)

  • I do know that sometimes God intervenes on his own and makes things happen as history and humanity move toward his planned larger purpose for us all. No one stops God from doing what he wants to do!
  • I also know that he answers the prayers of his children. He steps in and acts because of my faith. I can tell you this happens all the time in my life.
  • There isn’t anyone in my Bible who didn’t suffer for one reason or another. It’s the life on earth Adam and Eve chose for all of us and the death that Christ delivered us from.

So, while we live out each day with a dark wolf at our door, we work to make it count. We pray for God’s will to be done in each of our interactions and decisions. We want to be conscious, not oblivious. We want to be aware of opportunities to make suffering count.

“God speaks in a soft voice I can hear better when I resolve to listen and stop putting words in His mouth.” ― Elaine Orabona Foster

Pray for God’s will to be done, in your life, in your thoughts, in your words, in your hopes, in your actions and in every minute of your life right now. Then say yes.

Someone That I Used to Know

Do You Ever Wonder Who You Were Meant To Be?

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” ― Ernest Hemingway

When we experience hard times in our life, it gets difficult to imagine that we are truly becoming who we are meant to be. I often think with regret about bad decisions I’ve made. Don’t we all? I have friends who can’t seem to move on from terrible events that have struck them off course. Moving on and becoming our real self is a steep mountain to climb at times.

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I’m a sociologist who studies religion. One of the significant areas of American religion is our booming self-help industry. This ties in to religion because so many of these groups approach self improvement using religious language and spiritualistic methodologies.

Many point to America as the birth place of self improvement. Our early history is filled with stories of people who came here to start over again. As our economy cranked up we got even better at “selling” not just new and innovative products, but even ourselves – selves that were constantly improving.

Since America is a nation of religious choices – it’s not surprising to see a wide variety of religious beliefs lining the shelves like boxes of cereal at the grocery store. There’s almost everything you could imagine when it comes to religion here in our country.

When obstacles or difficulties arise, the positive thinker takes them as creative opportunities. He welcomes the challenge of a tough problem and looks for ways to turn it to advantage. – Norman Vincent Peale

Peale himself is one of the “fathers” of American religious self-improvement with his positive thinking theology. Maybe you’re familiar with his most famous successor, Robert Schuller who arrived just in time to use the television for his Hour of Power weekly worship service filled with positive inspiration from sunny California.

Here in Houston where I live we are home to the largest church in America, Lakewood Church. Its pastor, Joel Osteen, is a world famous speaker and author who is thought of by most as a proponent of the prosperity gospel – another American invention. In a nutshell this very popular Christian belief promotes the idea that if one has enough faith (usually demonstrated in giving donations), one can experience God’s earthly blessings (healing and wealth).

These two phenomenon: (1) a wide variety of religious choice and (2) the eager desire for self-improvement, have created a special slice of culture that is unique but sometimes harmful to genuine, meaningful and lasting growth.

  • Americans are trained to be pragmatic – we tend to want self-improvement now
  • As we work hard at building our own redemption, sometimes we can accidently leave God out of the picture
  • When we don’t find what we are looking for at one religious “shop” it’s often too convenient to move on to the next one, and never really address our real problems
  • As we try and fail on the latest self-improvement fad, we can grow cynical about those aimed at helping us with our spiritual identity

Eternal self improvement, is it something to accomplish, working hard at spirituality or is it someone to know, someone to know even more each day?

Christianity doesn’t teach self-improvement, instead it teaches becoming more like the one we follow, Jesus. It sounds more like a relationship than a list of accomplishments (to earn God’s love).

For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing. (Ephesians 2:8-9, The Voice)

The person you were meant to be was a person who is friends with God.

  • It’s difficult to keep a relationship going if you never talk
  • Friendships work best when you’re open and honest, right?
  • Our best of friends make us want to sacrifice and be better people – they challenge us
  • Friendship is a process not an event, it takes time
  • It’s always worth it to keep working at relationships that matter, they do bear fruit if you’ll stick with it and maybe pull some weeds

You were meant to be friends with God who never leaves you, never forgets you, no matter what you do, say or think.

You were meant to walk with God in this kind of personal relationship each day.

You were meant to be a person who reflects to others the transformation that’s taking place in your own life.

 

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” 

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

What Chapter Are You In Right Now?

There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.  – Mark Twain

 

Everyone’s life is filled with chapters of joy, sadness, triumph and tragedy.  The trick to surviving it all is to keep reading your life, a new chapter is sure to arrive before long.

Every night I read before going to sleep. Sometimes, if I’m especially tired or the book isn’t as interesting as I had hoped, I will start to flip through the pages to see how long I have until the end of the chapter. This is where short chapter books become most enjoyable.

Have you thought about your life like chapters in a book? Are you on an adventure, mystery or a self-improvement manual right now?

What chapter are you in right now? A short one that gets right down to business or full of action with over the top characters? Maybe you’re ready to start turning the pages to see when the next chapter gets here?

I’m living through a long chapter right now. But there will be another one sooner or later. The point is to not get stuck in the chapter you’re in today. Keep your eyes open for what might lie around the next corner. Never turn loose of hope.

The chapter you’re living in right now, whether it’s exciting or full of despair, isn’t your life. It’s just one chapter. Keep turning the next page.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Don’t you feel like there are still too many pages ahead of you? Why stop right now and feel defeated, scared or stuck? This is just one chapter. There are miles and miles to go.

Don’t put the book of your life down and stay stuck in that chapter – keep turning the pages!

“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.” – Søren Kierkegaard

Time passes quickly. It’s when I stop and brood that I feel like I’m in an endless chapter. I can’t even remember the endless chapters of years ago in my past. What’s important is not to lose today by being lost in the past or worrying about tomorrow. When I lose the days like that, I’m losing my self.  I’ve got to remind myself to stay in today and make it count.

Keeping reading your life, one page at a time.

“So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today.” – Matthew 6:34 (The Voice)

Ready to Listen

There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. (John 16:12)

Jesus said this to His disciples as He was preparing them for the end. His arrest, crucifixion and resurrection were coming next. Events they were completely unprepared for.

When I read this short sentence this past week I stopped in my tracks.

When I am reading my Bible, especially the words of Jesus (in red), I am looking for a message, something I need to hear right now. I always want to be careful and not end up talking to myself, hearing what I want to hear. I want to learn more and more to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide me as I read, be still, and listen (John 16:13).

So, when I read this sentence I stopped and had to think and pray about what it meant. I had read this larger story many, many times before. This time, the sentence jumped out for several reasons.

There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now.

  1. What if this is still true about the way God relates to his followers today? Does He still want to communicate and tell me things? Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice…” (John 10:27). He is like a shepherd guiding, guarding and caring for his flock (us).
  2. What if God’s message to me is waiting for me to get caught up? What if I’m not ready? What if He’s waiting on me, not the other way around? “The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).
  3. What if God is preparing me in so many ways as I follow Him (stumbling and bumbling), to be able to hear even more from Him? What if He has a message like this one Jesus gave to His disciples for me? What if my Heavenly Father has much more that He wants to tell me? “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). God isn’t holding back his love, grace and knowledge from me, he’s caring for me and telling me exactly what I’m ready to hear.

What I learned this week from this single sentence is that God has heavenly things to share with me but that his revelation is always measured by his care for me.

So many wonderful things to hear and learn as I walk every day in friendship with Jesus. That relationship is the source of revelation for me and all of us.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”  ― Henri Nouwen

Does Church Attendance Matter?

“The church is like Noah’s ark. It stinks, but if you get out of it, you’ll drown.” ― Shane Claiborne

Church attendance among younger adults is on the decline

Attendance typically dips at this time but has historically increased once people marry and start families. But today, that number – the return to church – is also on the decline. People are waiting later to have children and more people in America today are living together, not married. Most Americans believe in cohabitation.

This means church attendance is declining in young adulthood and doesn’t seem to be bouncing back.  Add to this an increase in the number of young people in our society who claim to have no religious belief at all. This means that church attendance is on a general decline.

“When introverts go to church, we crave sanctuary in every sense of the word, as we flee from the disorienting distractions of twenty-first-century life. We desire to escape from superficial relationships, trivial communications and the constant noise that pervade our world, and find rest in the probing depths of God’s love.” ― Adam S. McHugh

But every indicator we have has always demonstrated that church attendance has tremendous benefits for both individuals and society. In an effort to spread the word, here are some of the personal benefits of attending church.  These aren’t religious or spiritual reasons – just physical, emotional and social benefits that help to explain why attending church is still a good idea.

  1. People who are a part of a church report that they experience better marriages in all kinds of ways
  2. Longer life (here on earth, even longer in heaven!)
  3. Lower blood pressure – religious practices and beliefs reduce stress and have a measurable effect on overall health
  4. Managing your daily time and overall life is easier for people who are a part of a church community. The routine and the commitment help with life management.
  5. Less susceptible to depression and suicide – especially when you get involved in helping other people through the ministry of your church
  6. Better sleep (not during the sermon!)
  7. Drink less, smoke less, use fewer recreational drugs and are less sexually promiscuous
  8. More friends and a larger support network – wait long enough on this earth and you’re going to desperately need this!
  9. Teenagers who attend with their family (or even on their own) do better in school both  academically and socially
  10. Getting up and going to a worship service and/or a Small Group each week provides a routine in your life, something that helps you to manage all of the unexpected chaos that comes your way.

“Then the singing enveloped me. It was furry and resonant, coming from everyone’s very heart. There was no sense of performance or judgment, only that the music was breath and food.” ― Anne Lamott

What’s on your list of why attending church is good idea?

Sources:

Aleteia

Tyler VanderWeele and John Siniff

Peter Haas

T. M. Luhrmann

The Health and Fitness Revolution

 

 

Waiting Always Matters

“For a while” is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.” ― Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

Waiting is a necessary part of living. How well have you mastered the skill of just waiting? Usually I’m very impatient. Sometimes, when I’m more thoughtful, I can sit down and wait for what I know will surely come (one way or another).

Think about all the waiting you have to do while you live your life…

  •  Waiting in line at the grocery store too long because you still can’t pick a fast moving line (there’s always someone ahead who’s going to dig out her checkbook, right?)
  • Waiting at the doctor’s office. Why did I schedule this appointment so late in the day when every other appointment is backed up?
  • Waiting in traffic, welcome to Houston. Hasn’t that road been under construction since Dolph Briscoe was governor?
  • Waiting for that baby to walk his first steps. What’s the hurry? He’ll be gone one day too soon. Enjoy every minute that he has to be carried about.
  • Waiting for an answer to that prayer you’ve been asking again and again. Makes you wonder, is God even listening to me anymore?

“I hated waiting. If I had one particular complaint, it was that my life seemed composed entirely of expectation. I expected — an arrival, an explanation, an apology. There had never been one, a fact I could have accepted, were it not true that, just when I had got used to the limits and dimensions of one moment, I was expelled into the next and made to wonder again if any shapes hid in its shadows.” ― Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

I don’t need to remind you that you are living in the fastest society in the history of the world. We are bathed in fast information, fast work, fast food, fast schedules, fast relationships, fast transitions into adulthood and even fast thinking.

This world we’ve made has probably produced in us a razor thin tolerance for waiting. What’s the value in waiting and the time it takes from the fast life we think is normal? Psychologist Stephanie Brown has come to believe that we even fear waiting (slowing down).

“Waiting turns men into bears in a barn, and women into cats in a sack.” ― Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven

So often there are big things in life that we can’t fix ourselves. These are matters that must be left in the hands of God. Anyone who has waited on God knows how  agonizing, frustrating, and discouraging these times can be.

“One of the greatest strains in life is the strain of waiting for God.”  ― Oswald Chambers

When I’m in a situation that calls for a time of waiting for God’s will to come about there are a number of things to remember:

  1.  I really do want God’s plan and not my own.
  2.  Waiting can bring out the better in me. Sitting still, praying, reflecting and putting things into their right perspective always bears fruit.
  3.  Waiting calls for action on my part. When I wait on God I work with great effort at praying, writing, reading and reflecting. There is much to do while waiting.
  4.  Often, while waiting, I realize that what I thought I needed from God was a mistake. After serious spiritual reflection, I misunderstood my situation and what God was already busy doing.

I’m sure there are other great lessons that could be added to this list. I’m not there yet. I’ve got more waiting to do.

What about you? Are you waiting these days? Do you need to stop what you’re doing right now and start waiting? That’s where I am at this point in my life.

“Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.”  ― J.I. Packer, Knowing God