Feeling Left Behind?

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“The greatest joy is not finding something that we’ve been looking for. The greatest joy is when we’d given up on ever finding it and then it found us.”― Craig D. Lounsbrough

In these weeks after Easter I remain two weeks ago in that resurrection weekend. Our church, like all the rest, is meeting remotely. We hear sermons and worship from afar and then connect with each other in smaller groups using social media. We are “doing” what has historically been called Eastertide – continuing to celebrate the miracle for 50 days until Pentecost (the arrival of the Holy Spirit).

At HBU, our faculty in my School of Humanities, have been sharing a devotional twice a week. These have also focused our attention on events after Easter. Today’s devotion was about the Apostle Thomas – who we all identify with and call  Doubting Thomas.

I noticed something today that I had missed before.

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”   (John 20:24-29)

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to a great number of his followers – to confirm his resurrection. But what I noticed today was this particular special trip that Jesus made. Remember, eight days earlier he had appeared to the disciples as they were hiding out behind a locked door. He gave them a mission to go and share the Good News. Thomas was absent from this gathering.

Jesus returns, eight days later, to find his followers still cowering in fear behind locked doors. They were not following orders. But isn’t it remarkable that Jesus comes back to find Thomas, the follower who was so vocal about all his doubts.

  • The others gathered in the room had seen the risen Jesus, yet they remained hiding in fear
  • Thomas doesn’t have to first prove himself or show his faith – Jesus comes looking for him where he is
  • Remember the parable about the lost sheep? The shepherd leaves his 99 to go in search of the one that is lost
  • I had missed this my whole life – Jesus comes looking for the big mouth who was full of doubts, who spoke up against the rest of the eyewitnesses, the man that offended his friends by almost calling them liars

What kind of lesson is this for me and you? What do we do about our constant need to prove ourselves, to earn our way, to keep God happy with us?

I looked at this passage in The Message, when Jesus came for this second time he focused his attention on Thomas. That’s what hit me between the eyes. The greatest movement in the history of humanity is about to be launched and Jesus returns to see about Thomas. Church history tells us that Thomas was the disciple who took the Good News further than any other – he went all the way to India. That meeting changed him forever.

What would a meeting with God do to you?

“And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from wherever you are, to look for your soul?” ― Mary Oliver

We remember the one-to-one meeting that Jesus had with Peter (John 21:15-17) – who was carrying the guilt of denial heavy in his soul. Paul writes that Jesus also spent time with his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7) – who at first tried to talk his older brother out of his controversial mission but would later become the leader his church in Jerusalem. What did they talk about after the resurrection?

  • Easter isn’t about straightening out my life so that God will like me
  • It isn’t a route to achieving problem-free living
  • It’s not even about joining an extra wholesome new group

Today I realized that one crucial message and meaning of Easter was that God is willing to search for me, like Thomas. As many doubts as I have and express with my words and actions, these are not going to stand in the way (like those locked doors) of him finding me.

What a wonderful message in the story of Thomas – I’m going to stop calling him by that old nickname. Instead he now reminds me that no one is immune to God’s love and search.

We love each other because he loved us first.  – I John 4:19

 

Learning to Fly

Well, some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
So I’ve started out for God knows where
I guess I’ll know when I get there

I’m learning to fly around the clouds
But what goes up (Learning to fly)
Must come down

I’m learning to fly (Learning to fly)
But I ain’t got wings

– Tom Petty, Learning to Fly

Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.  – Romans 12:2 (The Voice)

I get to keep my grandson this weekend. It’s one of those rare treats that don’t come along often enough. He just turned two. Every time I see him he seems to have changed. He’s literally growing up right before my eyes.

Every now and then I see a former student of mine. It seems like I’m stuck in time, they always look so grown up. These college graduates have launched themselves into careers, families and difficult but bright futures.

My peers at my church Bible Study all have grown up children. I’ve gotten to watch them move through school, off to college and now entering into the world of work. What’s always remarkable to me is the tremendous change that always takes place in the lives of these young people. They each become their own marvelous version of an adult right before our eyes.

“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another. ” ― Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

I must confess, when I do run across former students or people from the past, I’m not sure there’s always much change in my own life that’s evident. I look back over years of journals I keep and, sad to say, there’s not much progress. I’m too often writing the same lyric over and over. You know what that’s like, being stuck in the car for a too long road trip with only one tune on the radio?

But, keeping track of myself by writing it all down, does help tremendously. I am able to see patterns that all too often lead to ruts in the road. There are also breakthroughs that demonstrate, little by little I really am making forward progress in the process of transformation.

“Either your purpose is running your show or your process is.” ― Jim Lawless

What about you? What transformation is taking place in your life? Is it intentional? My grandson is really working on learning words because he wants to be more specific with his important constant stream of requests.

When all of us get to a certain age, we tend to sit back and just let things happen. Until an emergency knocks us off our groove. But you don’t have to wait for a crash to start moving out of the lane you’re in right now.

“If you spoke to your friends the way you speak to yourself – would you have any friends left?” ― Jim Lawless

  • Keep a journal each day and reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going
  • Easier to do if you get in the habit of self-talk, while you’re alone in the car, waiting in line, sitting by yourself for a few minutes
  • Self-talk is much more constructive if you turn it into prayer

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Ongoing internal conversation can help to raise your awareness of both external and internal reality. This practice builds your connection between who you are and how you are transforming. Regularly let someone in to listen so that you can remain grounded in social reality as well. Transformation isn’t a solitary experience.

Becoming more self-aware is usually the first step in transformation.  The next step is to start making some realistic goals. Find some more ways to love, that’s always going to be the right move.

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” ― Paulo Coelho

Another Day To Be In Love

“We don’t need love to be eternal, only to be in our lives here and now.” ― Marty Rubin

One more day to lay in that bed and suffer in silence

One more day to watch from the fog as your world passes by

One more day to see the long train of visitors pass by, unable to express your heart

One more day to sleep alone in a different place, in a new darkness, while your mind slips out the door a little more each night

One more day to be tossed and turned by strangers, no more humiliation left to bear

One more day to see history pass by, a photo at a time and try to remember when you were once so happy

One more day to hear and see from a distance in the shadows

But one more day to be loved by so many

One more day to be the center of the universe

One more day to draw attention away from so much pettiness toward the things that really do matter when all is said and done

One more day to make sacrifice the only option and only tribute

One more day to remind each one of us of what we know in our hearts that all our hope longs for – that eternal home on the other shore

One more day to come awake and in so doing awaken in each one of us one more chance to live transformed

One more day to see what the Kingdom really looks like here and now

 

No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.  – 1 John 4:12

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.

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.

Automatic Faith

Do you drive to work everyday? This “every single day procedure” typically becomes so routine that our brains turn it into automatic thinking. We’ve all experienced it. You arrive at your destination and can’t really remember the trip. That’s what automatic thinking is – our brains can’t process all the information and decisions that we face all day long, so what it does is it takes routine activities out of the “deliberate” and conscious part of the brain and sinks them into the semi-conscious and “automatic” part. In this way, we can accomplish so much more in our busy lives each day.

What I worry about is when my faith drifts into automatic thinking and I’m not really as spiritually conscious as I should be.

Automatic thinking works when it comes to driving to work and other routine activities, I get there every day AND I’m able to think about all sorts of other important items. But I miss everything all along the way. Not that there’s much to see on this same route day after day. But when it comes to my walk of faith – I don’t want to miss ANYTHING.

How to start having a more deliberate walk of faith…

Bring Your Faith Into Present Consciousness

  1. Get up each day and think about all your taken-for-granted blessings FIRST. Let these thoughts fill your mind before everything else crowds in. Letting a blessed life guide your thinking can make you more conscious of everything else.
  2. Watch your speech. How are you framing, defining, declaring the world around you? We develop patterns early on and they become unconscious routes we travel in our interactions. This is usually an automatic activity. It prevents conscious faith. Instead – stop, drop and roll. Wake up and STOP talking like that, DROP all those tired talking points from your speech and then ROLL out a new and conscious perspective each time you open your mouth (maybe you should keep it shut more often?).
  3. Each time a problem, situation, or person crosses your mind – needing to be dealt with somehow – don’t revert back to past patterns (automatically). Instead really think about these situations and apply your faith; how would you want to be treated, what could you give instead of take, what needs some grace for a change?

Instead of Automatic Faith – Deliberate Faith

As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

How do the people around you think about your life?

When we are unconscious of the guidance of the Holy Spirit and our own transformation, we run the risk of living with automatic faith – not really using our faith to live a new life, but keeping it shelved away for a rainy day. It’s there, ready for when the fire alarm sounds or when someone close to us falls into a disaster. But isn’t faith supposed to be a WALK and not a RUN?

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  (Philippians 4:8)

Fixing your thoughts sounds like a deliberate practice doesn’t it. When was the last time you (and your faith) fixed your thinking rather than having your situation determine how you thought about things?

“Miracles… seem to me to rest not so much upon… healing power coming suddenly near us from afar but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that, for a moment, our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there around us always.” ― Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

Transformation takes time. Learning to put our faith into practice takes one step at a time. One certain step in the right direction is to be more deliberate about this part of our life and less automatic (and unaware). 

 

Kicking and Screaming All the Way Home

This is a strange title for a post about choosing to follow Jesus as one of his disciples. But when I think about it, so often I’m not all lined up, packed and ready to start the journey (each day). Instead, I am often pulled into the next stage of my own spiritual development kicking and screaming. In the end, I’m glad I got there but always wish I had not fought so much. I’d rather have been more awake spiritually and realized each step of the path before me was leading in the right direction, taking me right where I needed to go. Less kicking and screaming and more surrender and sacrifice is what I want to characterize my life as a follower of the Son of Man.

“However high be your endeavors, unless you renounce and subjugate your own will — unless you forget yourself and all that pertains to yourself — not one step will you advance on the road to perfection.” — John of the Cross

Back in the 1500’s when Saint John of the Cross was living, “perfection” was his way of expressing the desire to be transformed into the image of Christ. What he was writing about was what we now call discipleship. It’s almost impossible to be a disciple of Christ and still want to do things my own way. My prayer here is to ask for forgetfulness about so much that plagues my daily stride, so much that doesn’t really matter.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18

What is it about myself that I have to forget? How do I become invisible? It’s easy to put all my bad habits and nasty qualities on that list. But I’ve also got to put down each one of my hopes and dreams on that list. This is where it gets really difficult. It becomes easier when I turn my gaze away from my own itching fear and list of grievances and toward “the Lord’s glory.” My prayer here is to turn my eyes toward the maker of heaven and earth and to see with the eyes of my spirit.

 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  – Matthew 16:24-25

This doesn’t mean “make sacrifices”, this means to put yourself to death, a humiliating execution, not a quiet suicide in the dark. Withdrawing from the world and all it’s attachments is painful and can be agonizing. We never go quietly.

  • Step out of the boat, then you can walk on water in the right direction.
  • Give what little you have, watch thousands of needs be met.
  • Come back home, see who’s waiting at the gate.
  • Listen to the song of that bird, know that you are loved beyond measure.

I can’t seem to get past all the disappointment, all the lost days. But I’m looking in the wrong direction. Following in my Master’s steps is the only directions to take. It’s grievous because it costs everything. John the Baptist had his own followers before Jesus began His ministry. They asked John who this Jesus was, why he seemed to be taking over (John 3:26-36). Among other things, John said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” That’s the whole thing in a sentence. My prayer is John’s declaration. He would soon be imprisoned and beheaded. Literally put to death. All I have to do is surrender each day and listen to His command, “Come, follow me…”