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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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?

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

“The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.” ― J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan)

Over the past several years it seems like our decorating style has gone to the birds. We got a new couch a year ago and picked out a fabric with giant birds all over it. I didn’t have to work hard at all to sell it to my wife. I think because it had a black background. Her favorite TV decorating show has a “everything is black” theme to it. We just re-wallpapered in the kitchen and breakfast area. A very busy and colorful bird pattern. Guaranteed to make you car-sick if you’re not careful.

Yes, a theme is definitely appearing in our house everywhere you look. All because something bigger has happened several years ago – we’re just documenting it in our living space.

About five years ago I was in the middle of a terrible dark time that I experienced almost every day. It felt as if I was on a runaway ride that I couldn’t control. Like shooting down the rapids in an inner tube. Other people were making decisions about me and my future. Things were not proceeding the way I had always thought they would or had planned. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life.

Sleepless nights, worrying and being angry were getting me nowhere just deeper into a hole. I knew I couldn’t control what other people were doing. While my life headed off in directions I had never anticipated I just stood there in disbelief. I was shell-shocked for several years. When would this end?

[Little did I know that cancer was right around the corner ready to strike us and wage a terrible war we still fight every day.]

Then I remembered – was prodded to remember – that Jesus told his followers to stop worrying about their lives. He directed their attention to the birds. God takes care of them, won’t he also take care of you – He loves you so much more!

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” – Matthew 6:25-27

Of course I had read this scripture many times before. But as is often the case, this time it became a handle to hang on to. Then a series of events – signs, if you will, started over approximately two years. These experiences served to encourage and communicate to me that God is present and very much interested in my survival and transformation.

“I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.” ― William Sloane Coffin Jr.

The tribulations only got worse! But I began to calm down. I was consistently reminded of the truth of God’s presence and care for me.

Well, what happened?

I began to see birds in all sorts of locations and (most importantly) at significant times. I didn’t look for them (as Jesus had instructed, they would just show up at just in time.)

  • Right in the middle of an important decision about two people – there are two birds on the window sill.
  • Rushing out of the house overflowing with anxiety – confronted by a mockingbird at the frontdoor who will not move out of the way.
  • There was a bird who would perch on the corner of my neighbors roof day after day and sing at me when I came and went. He wasn’t there at other times, no one else ever saw him. For about a week or so I felt like he was there to meet me (and remind me).
  • Then there’s the little brown bird who would spend the night in the wreath on the front door and sneak into the house when we came home – never happened before, never since – but he came into the house several times (spent the night once) and reminded us how near is God.

There were all sorts of small and subtle encounters that kept me aware that I was not going to go through this terrible time alone.

Maybe when I was too near stumbling and fumbling my faith, God drew near and reminded me of what was always true?

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6

I teach a course that helps students to understand some of the reasons why people have these kinds of experiences. Often our thinking and perception of the world around us is distorted. We can sometimes experience:

  • Confirmation bias – a kind of selective thinking that happens when we only notice those things that tend to be consistent with our current beliefs – we also fail to notice things that contradict these same beliefs.
  • Pareidolia – seeing significance in random and meaningless phenomenon

Even knowing that these biases in thinking often occur, I am convinced that what has happened to me was not caused by my own crooked thinking. I think I needed some help and there it was.

“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.” ― John Berger

God has promised to be present with us, especially during terrible times. This fact is not dependent upon how we feel or how firm we believe. He has promised it, this makes it true.

Sometimes, because of God’s grace and nothing else, he makes his presence known. He has certainly put reminders in our path every day Jesus said to look at the birds – a sight we all see and maybe never notice.

When you open your eyes of faith and practice looking for the truth, there’s no telling what you might see.

Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.” ― J.I. Packer

How Do You Know What You Know?

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Your faith in God takes all your days and then some…

I’ve just spent the week trying to explain a very abstract concept to my students. The world that we’ve made to live in, a world full of relationships, expectations, rules, feelings, organization and dreams is as real as the natural world all around us. The guilt your dad can make you feel is as real as that river rushing by. But as real as it is, it’s socially constructed, so…unlike the rainstorm that hits at just the wrong time, our man-made reality can be changed and improved.

I encounter God in dozens of ways each week. He reveals himself through social experiences with family friends and strangers.

What we come to believe about God is planted in us by all the people around us our whole lives. Our parents, teachers, friends are essential in helping communicate to us what it means to believe. These people and the social institutions they inhabit (family, church and friendship) are all used by God to strengthen our grasp of eternity.

What we know about God comes from other people. We often expand what we believe as we grow and add new experiences to our menu. As we meet new people and increase our general and specific knowledge of the world around us, our experience of God changes. God doesn’t change. That’s what get’s confusing. As we change, we mistake that experience and come to believe that God is the one that is different.

When I was a child, I spoke, thought, and reasoned in childlike ways as we all do. But when I became a man, I left my childish ways behind.  For now, we can only see a dim and blurry picture of things, as when we stare into polished metal. I realize that everything I know is only part of the big picture. But one day, when Jesus arrives, we will see clearly, face-to-face. In that day, I will fully know just as I have been wholly known by God.  But now faith, hope, and love remain; these three virtues must characterize our lives. The greatest of these is love.

– I Corinthians 13:11-13 (The Voice)

  1. Are you growing up (maturing) in what you know and experience about God? – Do you need to stop what you’re doing and START doing something different, right now?
  2. Do you understand and communicate to others that what you do know is only partial? – If not, change the way you are speaking. If you can’t hear the way you are speaking, ask your spouse to tell you. Stop talking so much and start listening to others. Stop feeling like you have to solve other people’s problems or have an answer all the time. You don’t really have to be God’s number one spokesperson. Just be you. Be authentic.
  3. When you experience God and pass this on to others is it characterized by faith, hope and love? You aren’t trying to fix everyone, are you? Everyone needs more of these gifts. Are you getting out of your private world and spreading your experience to others?

“Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions from what happens to you; simply let it happen. Otherwise it will be too easy for you to look with blame… at your past, which naturally has a share with everything that now meets you.”  ― Rainer Maria Rilke

Be Inspired

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Blessed is the man that heareth Me, watching daily at My gates, waiting at the posts of My doors. – Proverbs 8:34

 

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. – 1 John 3:1

 

Till men have faith in Christ, their best services are but glorious sins. – Thomas Brooks

 

…there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries… – Daniel 2:28

 

Since He hath looked upon me my heart is not my own. He hath run away to heaven with it. – Samuel Rutherford

 

What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how your remember it. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. – Colossians 3:12

 

You will be dead as long as you refuse to die. – George MacDonald

 

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the [a]Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. – Matthew 27:27-31

 

 

The Searcher

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Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. – Colossians 1:15

Humans have always been searching for God. Jump on Amazon, there are hundreds of books written about the topic. The search continues.

The very young, who I encounter in college every day, seem so certain they’ve found all they need in their brief search. I always have one student who’s just brimming with confidence and answers. It’s inspiring.

I’m still searching for answers as I navigate through the shipwreck of this world. Long ago, when I was young and filled with answers, I assumed that one day the search would end.  Someday I’d get to a point where I had it all figured out. Still waiting. God remains a mystery. As He should be.

While I’m searching for the right path to take and looking for more answers to the multiplying problems I keep tripping over, the only certainty that comforts my spirit is what I discover about the words and actions of Christ. More and more, He becomes for me the answer to my restless soul as I search for God each day.

Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. – John 13:5

Putting my vanity out the door and bending my knees to serve someone else (who doesn’t even expect it) – that’s where I know I can find God.

“But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:44-45

Treating people who seem to be out to get me as if they were the dearest of friends is the most difficult of journeys to make, and yet that’s where God is waiting.

“But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail.” – Luke 22:32

While enduring his own most agonizing trial of faith, Jesus invests his heart and mind in the life of his friend. As big as they might seem, I can’t let my own problems distract me from caring about the lives of others. This is where God is calling all of us and where He can always be found.

 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34

Putting down that grudge and taking up my cross is another certain way in which I will find God today. He is always there in the midst of forgiveness. Waiting at the gate to welcome home the wandering child. Pouring out a wealth of forgiveness to ones who owed a debt of sin. “But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea.” – William Langland

As I search, I can look to the words and deeds of Christ and always find what I’m longing for.

Listening and Hearing

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”  ― G.K. Chesterton

I wonder how wide that difference really is?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once made the correlation between the practice of listening to others and being able to listen to God. People who lose their ability to hear what others are saying often stop hearing what God is saying to them as well. He also wrote:

“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

Have you ever just sat there and decided to keep your big mouth shut and hear all that’s going on around you? It’s usually very difficult for me. I’ve got very important things that should be said! Ha. I wonder how many times it will take me to just sit and listen (practice) before I actually begin to hear.

  • I’m too busy to hear.
  • Can you just text me?
  • Interruptions are so frustrating.
  • There are a thousand things racing through my mind.
  • Oh, I’ve got some great advice for you.
  • You always say the same thing.

Listening and then hearing takes practice. You have to be still. You have to PAY attention. You have to focus on someone other than yourself – instead of rehearsing your response. Sometimes it takes too much courage to be silent. It’s always easier to hide behind shallow responses or run away to the safety of my own bloated opinions.

I know that it takes deliberate (thoughtful) attention. Thinking about other people takes time, understanding, empathy and sacrifice. Hearing means that I’m asking questions instead of shooting off about my own experience. When I decide I want to hear someone I have to let go of my own agenda and accept a different kind of invitation.

 “It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and another to hear.”  ― Henry David Thoreau

Live in the truth. Practice the truth with one another. Practice listening and hearing.  Come out of the fog of selfishness.

“We live in the bold confidence that God hears our voices…” (I John 5:14, The Voice)