Wise Worship

The Christian calendar for 2018 marks January 6th as the day of Epiphany.  What is Epiphany? 
- The religious tongue defines Epiphany as "the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles." 
- The less-specific tongue defines Epiphany as "a moment of sudden revelation or insight."

Let the languages meet! 
- As the religious and secular speak in accord, they highlight the joy of fresh discovery.  John Henry Hopkins wrote of one such discovery - the Epiphany - when he penned a Christmas carol in 1857. 

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.
While, most likely, not kings nor three, curious travelers nevertheless brought gifts and followed yonder star while traversing afar.  The second chapter of Matthew provides the account of a group of magi (astrologers) who journeyed to Bethlehem to worship the newborn King of Israel.  Those travelers were indeed wise. 

They were wise through contemplative academic study.  They were also wise because they allowed the Holy Spirit to guide their hearts.  They chose not to reason away the unique, strange even, urging to head east in search of a king, a king of a kingdom not their own for that matter.  They trusted and, therefore, traveled.  When they arrived in the village of Bethlehem, they walked to the house of Joseph and, upon seeing the Christ, bowed in reverence.  While their gifts to Him of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were significant, their best gift was their bowing.  It foreshadowed the glorious day to which Paul referred.

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11 (NIV)
The greatest gift we can give Jesus is reverence.  He deserves it and any who deny Him that gift will, regardless of what else they give, fail to offer their best.  I possess no frankincense or myrrh.  My only gold forms a circle around the third (not counting the thumb) finger of my left hand.  So what can I give Jesus this year?  To name a few:
- my marriage
- my parenting
- my finances
- my trust
- my preaching
- my writing
- my health
And, most importantly, my reverence

12 In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Revelation 5:12-14 (NIV)

Amen

#ordinarylives

Saint Stephen's Day

On this, the twenty-sixth day of December, children wake to play with toys only yesterday received as moms pick up the remains of shredded wrapping paper and dads rinse the special dishes that appear on the dining table but once a year.  Others begin their Kwanza celebrations or enjoy the holiday named after boxes.  Still others pause to remember the life and death of the early (some say first) Christian martyr on this, the Christian calendar date dedicated to a young man who spoke boldly and stood faithfully for Christ.

The first words about Stephen in the biblical writings refer to him as "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit."  The second statement about the chosen servant for the noble task of feeding widows describes his character and acts.

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.
Acts 6:8 (NIV)
In addition to displaying God's power, the young deacon declared truth with great courage - even as stones careened toward him as angry hypocrites hurled them.  Near the end of his sermon summarizing the highlights of Hebrew history, Stephen quoted words of Isaiah, the prophet of old.
49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’"
Acts 7:49-50 (NIV)

Those words from Isaiah 66 declare the majesty of God.  Once the prophet did such proclaiming, he continued writing by describing those who please God. 

“These are the ones I look on with favor:
    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
    and who tremble at my word."
Isaiah 66:2b (NIV)

After Stephen quoted Isaiah, he described those listening to his message . . .

“You stiff-necked people!"
Acts 7:51a (NIV)

On this twenty-sixth day of December, just days away from a new year, a careful look at the descriptions is worth the effort.

Isaiah's favored one: 
     humble, contrite, trembling at God's word
Stephen's listeners: 
     stiff-necked

I'd rather be described as the former.  To live the Ordinary Life in a Christ-worthy way is to loosen one's neck.  To live the Ordinary Life is to love, laugh, honor, forgive, and walk humbly in our everyday lives.

As you offer toasts as 2017 gives way to 2018, lift a cheer to Stephen in appreciation of his job well done and example well set.

#ordinarylives


Handling Eves' Next Days

The next two Sundays, in various ways, people across the globe will celebrate two Eves.  Not two spouses of Adam, mind you; but two evenings prior to significant calendar days - the Eve of Christmas and the Eve of 2018. 




Eves serve as periods of anticipation. 

The two in December offer times to anticipate a joyous celebration of the first century birth of Jesus the Christ and the arrival of a fresh set of 365 days. 

During the next set of days, you will experience many more eves - mostly non-calendared.  Eves occur as expectant mothers prepare for their baby's introduction to the world.  Eves occur as terminally ill patients' days shorten.  Final exams serve as eves as do performance reviews.  Whether an eve is calendared or unexpected, the day that follows it holds surprises - always! 

Those surprises take the form of things like:
- exciting mysteries at the foot of your Christmas stocking
- "It's a girl!"
- aced exams
- "negative" results on biopsy tests

Those surprises also take the form of things like:
- disappointment upon unwrapping your gift
- "We need to get her to the NICU!"
- C-s or, worse yet, Fs
- "positive" results on biopsy tests

We have no way of knowing, with complete certainty, what each tomorrow (each day after our eves) will bring.  We do know, however, how we can handle each eve's next day.  We can handle those days' events when we echo (and believe) the words of Job.

25 I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:25-27 (NIV)

And we embrace the words of Jesus.

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”     Matthew 28:20b (NIV)

The eves are coming; as are the days after.  As they do, we will do well to echo the words of Ira Stanphill from his song, "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow." 

"Many things about tomorrow I don't seem to understand;
But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand."

#ordinarylives

No Easy Hope

In September of 1915, one year into the First World War, eighteen-year-old John Kipling (known as Jack) died during the Battle of the Loos.  Grieving his son's death, British author and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote his poem, "My Boy Jack."  It begins:
"Have you news of my boy Jack?"
Not this tide.
"When d'you think that he'll come back?"


Jack never came back.  His death was among many and it was the result of a war that his father felt was worth fighting.

Exactly one year prior to Jack's wartime death, Rudyard composed a poem entitled, "For All We Have and Are."  In verse, Kipling speaks to the dignity and necessity of facing war; of standing for family, nation and freedom.  Hear his poetic word here in part.

For all we have and are,
For all our children’s fate,
Stand up and take the war.
The Hun is at the gate!
Our world has passed away
In wantonness o’erthrown.
There is nothing left to-day
But steel and fire and stone!
Though all we knew depart,
The old Commandments stand—
“In courage keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand.”
                  ***
No easy hope or lies
Shall bring us to our goal,
But iron sacrifice
Of body, will, and soul.
There is but one task for all—
One life for each to give.
What stands if Freedom fall?
Who dies if England live?

I can't help but wonder if the gifted poet's words from September, 1914, played in his head in September, 1915.  He stated with conviction that:

For all we have and are,
For all our children’s fate,
Stand up and take the war.
Then his child's fate led to a grave.  His boy Jack died for his nation, England . . .  for family, nation and freedom. 

Listen to the theme.  A father who recognizes the perilous situation in which his nation stands, advocates for the war effort - a war effort in which his son engages.  In fact, the father used his influence to ensure that his son received a commission in the war.  In other words, the father sent his son into the war.

Does that sound familiar?

On Christmas Eve, we will pause in the midst of holiday chaos to celebrate a birthday - the Lord's birthday.

Everyone's birth is unique.  Babies are born in hospitals, homes, and cars that hit too many red lights.  Parents hold their newborns close and, if they call on the Divine, pray for their child's safety and health.  A proud father soon thereafter puffs out his chest and parades his daughter before all who will attend (and even a few who care not to).  A thankful mother soon thereafter feels a healthy sense of pride that that child is her son.

Jesus' birth was likewise unique.  Yes, it took place in an unlikely location - a manger.  And, yes, the first visitors were daunted heaven-struck shepherds.  But those facts are not the most interesting examples of his birth's uniqueness.  Even the fact that his mother birthed a child without having known a man - while certainly, interesting - is not, I believe, the most astounding piece.  Rather, the most interesting (indeed startling) aspect of Jesus' birth is the fact that, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2 . . .



#ordinarylives

More Stuff

He spoke in extremes.

"No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon"(Matthew 6:24). 
No wiggle room there!  The Lord Jesus chose the Aramaic word “mammon” in reference to riches because the word’s root is associated with the act of trusting.  His message is clear.  Each person who would follow in the Jesus Way cannot simultaneously trust in God (the Provider) and riches (the stuff on earth). 

You and I, however, live in the world of Black Friday, zero % interest loans, endless credit card offers, and the American Dream.  Considering that stores opened before the Thanksgiving turkey meal was digested, most of us find it difficult to count our blessings without doing the math to figure how soon we can buy and therefore count higher.  

It is time to trust in Who rather than What.

I delight in knowing that I will join with my church family on December 24th to sing praises to God for His gift of Jesus. 

I look forward to ripping wrapping paper and reaching into my gingerbread man-adorned stocking. 

I smile in anticipation of watching my daughter and sons bolt down the stairs on the 25th. 

I pray that my wife likes what I picked out. 

Eagerness for Christmas, however, should not overshadow Advent.  The season of Advent helps us to avoid the trap of mammon.  It helps us focus on what really matters - to trust the only One worth serving. 

December 2nd marked the first Sunday of a four-week observance of Advent (a coming). 

Christian believers look forward to that day which the Apostle Paul referred to as “the blessed hope – the glorious appearing” (Titus 2:13).  On that day the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will appear. 

While Christmas reminds us of Jesus’ first arrival, Advent declares the promise of His return - His second arrival.  Christmas without Advent is a reflection on an historical event alone.  Advent, while allowing time to look back, draws our attention forward so that we can look forward to God coming to set all things right. 

No matter how much we buy, even if everything in our shopping bag is 40% off, we will tire of the gifts sooner than we think.  How many shoes do you really need?  How many rifles does it really take to bag next year’s game?  Do you really just have to have the newest iPhone?  If you must, go ahead and buy it.  But don’t count on any purchase to bring you happiness. 

I am no Grinch.  I will buy and open as you do.  Yet, I sure hope that I will remember to count my blessings before I do and not pout if the number, as it increases, does not include that certain “must have.”  Join me, won’t you? 

#ordinarylives

The Highest Love

Three hundred and ten years ago, Issac Watts penned the lyrics to the still-oft-sung hymn, "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross."  In one verse, Wells wrote . . .
Were this whole realm of nature mine

That were a present far too small

Love so amazing, so divine

Demands my soul, my life, my all

Love so amazing!

Two blogs ago I focused on the need and value of platonic love.  Last week, the focus was on romantic love.  Today I write of Divine Love, the highest love of all.  Watts was willing to give up "the whole realm" for love.  All other loves flow from God's love.

We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:19 (NIV)
Because of Jesus, His followers live on a two-way road of love -- God's love toward us and ours toward Him.  While His love is perfect, ours is flawed; yet, He receives it nonetheless.

Two days ago, the Christian Season of Advent began.  Advent celebrates anticipation.  Advent observers imagine the anticipation of those BC "waiters" upon the arrival of the Messiah and imagine with equal anticipation His AD return.  He will return with love at the ready.  He, as Creator and Savior, will welcome His followers home.

While we wait, we anticipate and we (if we are doing as we should) love as He first loved us.  That kind of love begins with worship.  To love God is to worship God. 

During this season of Advent, determine to love God through worship.  How?  I share some suggestions.
1. Attend a worship service.
2. Read Luke, chapter two.
3. Read Colossians, chapter one.
4. Read 2 Peter, chapter three.
5. Listen to (and sing along with) songs of worship.
6. Drive to a spot of beauty and thank God for His craftsmanship.
7. Thank God for helping you through your difficult time.
8. Write a "thank you" note to God.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
1 John 3:1a (NIV)

#ordinarylives

Choosing We

Keep those fancy things
Keep your magazine
I don't even want what I'm chasing
Because all I know isn't ordinary love is
What we're made for
So Ben Rector croons in his song, Ordinary Love.  In his lyrics, Rector penned . . .
gimme an ordinary love
that I touch
that I hold

Far too often, people miss out on tangible love because they fail to recognize the value of ordinary love. 

In regard to romantic love and the Ordinary Life, how does one go about enjoying an ordinary love?  To answer that question, one must first answer another.  Namely - what is ordinary romantic love?  Ordinary romantic love is . . .

one based in the desire to share life with another
one based on shared giving and receiving
dependent on trust
realistic in expectations
exclusive
God-honoring
Now, back to our first question.  How does one go about enjoying an ordinary love?  I offer some suggestions.  (I base them on my twenty-two and one half years of marriage experience to the woman of my life, my bride.)
  1. Be kind.
  2. Listen.
  3. Hold hands.
  4. Speak words of encouragement and love.
  5. Date your spouse.
  6. Know what your spouse enjoys.
  7. Know what your spouse dislikes.
  8. Be patient.
  9. Be realistic.
  10. Be thankful.

I agree with Rector that "ordinary love is what we're made for."  In any healthy romantic love, a couple will experience times of great joy and true pain, surprisingly amazing moments and profoundly frustrating events, and they will do so together

Ordinary love falls apart when one person (or both) in the relationship chooses "me" over "we."  Those who choose "me" abandon their life partner when their frustration with the one they love drives them into a life of romantic distancing or the arms of another.  Those who choose "we" continue in their commitment to love their mate even through the most trying times.  "We" trumps "me"!  Those who choose "we" live in a manner that provides a 3D picture of Ephesians 5:21.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

#ordinarylives

Tough Enough


That intriguing question rests within U2's song, "Ordinary Love."  As with so many areas of life, the area of love (one's relationship with others) is littered with neglected relationships.  One or the other or both individuals took one another for granted or simply stopped tending to or fostering a relationship supported with pillars of trust, devotion, and compassion. 

Some ordinary relationships are lost in the glare of extraordinary expectations. 

Enjoying the Ordinary includes welcoming smile-generating surprises when they come one's way, as well as the often less-than-appreciated joys in life.  Ordinary things live in plenty in the relationships of love - platonic, romantic, and divine.

I dedicate this week's blog post to the platonic relationships.  I will address the other types of love in two subsequent weeks.

In order to appreciate a platonic relationship, one must learn to give attention to the less noticed gifts within the friendship.  In your friendships, you can live your ordinary life to its fullest by . . .

  • Offering to help your friend by listening.
  • Buying your friend a coffee.
  • Loaning your truck to a friend as he or she moves.
  • Or, better yet, load the truck and help pack.
  • Remembering to say "thank you."
  • Practicing grace, aka "I forgive you."
  • Speaking truth (please remember "truth in love").

Are you tough enough for ordinary love?

You answer that question, in part, by practicing acts of kindness such as these.  You answer the question in part, as well, by loving your friend when he or she acts in less-than-lovable ways.  In one of His most straightforward teachings, Jesus voiced to Peter this charge.

"Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34b-35 (NIV)

A matter of just a few sentences later, Peter boldly declared to his Lord, "I will lay down my life for you."  Peter thought he could love his teacher and friend in such an extraordinary way.  As the story continues, we learn that his bold declaration proved false.

Then the story of the fallout grows rather interesting.  Eight chapters later, we find Jesus loving Peter, His friend, after the less-than-bold disciple acted (through three denials) in less-than-lovable ways.  We then read . . .

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
John 21:17-19 (NIV)

Jesus explains to Peter that, sure enough, he would die; he would "lay down [his] life" for Jesus.  But, first, Peter was to love in a more ordinary, and no less important, way.  He was to feed Jesus' sheep.

How could a disciple not yet loving in "small" ways die with courage as a martyr?  He needed to first love through ordinary ways.

Are you tough enough to love in ordinary ways? 



#ordinarylives

100

The smallest three-digit number draws attention to itself.  We mark significant events in history by their centuries.  We celebrate when one of our own (fellow human beings) reaches the status of "centurion."  When teams like the World Series Champion Astros (and, for that matter, the Dodgers) reach 100 in the W column, we salute their accomplishment. 

Prior to today's post, a good friend drew my attention to the fact that this post would be my one hundredth blog post.  While #100 is no more extraordinary than #9 or #99, I delight in knowing that my words in support of the Ordinary Life continue to be read by fellow "appreciators" of the everyday, ordinary events of life. 

In celebration of the 100th birthday of The Ordinary Life, I devote today's blog to the words of Psalm 100.

1-2 On your feet now—applaud God!
    Bring a gift of laughter,
    sing yourselves into his presence.
3 Know this: God is God, and God, God.
    He made us; we didn’t make him.
    We’re his people, his well-tended sheep.
4 Enter with the password: “Thank you!”
    Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
    Thank him. Worship him.
5 For God is sheer beauty,
    all-generous in love,
    loyal always and ever.
Psalm 100 (The Message)

The psalmist applauds God and invites his readers to do the same.  He attempts to lead a grand parade for the God who is God.  I enjoy the simplicity of this psalm.  It's call for a worshipful party relies not on a list of "becauses."  The psalmist acknowledges God's greatness while feeling no compulsion to provide the Creator's resume.  That He is God is reason enough for a parade.  When the writer chooses to add a footnote of reason (as a "because"), he keeps it simple.

 

God is loyal.  God is all-generous.  God is sheer beauty.  We stand and applaud Him, knowing all three of these attributes stand the tests of time and truth. 

The psalmist surely could have listed 100 reasons to applaud God.  I imagine that a number of them filled his thoughts as he quilled the psalm. 

Check out Psalm 104.  He listed thirty-five verses of "becauses."  As you applaud God, think about your "becauses."  Then, with a pen in hand, a lyric in your heart, or a gift of laughter,

"Make yourself at home, talking praise.
Thank him.  Worship him."

Here's to what God, who is God, is doing in your everyday, ordinary life!

#ordinarylives

My Story

I told my story last night.  Our church's student pastor asked me to kick off the series of stories that the teens will hear.  They will listen to stories, including mine, of people who speak of their life journey. 

Everyone has a story.  The stories of Christ-followers center on how they encountered Jesus.  For a Christian, his or her story (aka "testimony," "My God Story," "witness") cannot, if it is to be true, be told without Him. 

Paul, while openly debating himself on which is better - life or death - wrote, "to live is Christ."  (See Philippians 1.)  


Believers live for Jesus.  Perfectly?  No.  Yet, believers seek to live for Christ in the knowledge that "to live is Christ." 

I share with you now a portion of my story and I do so geographically.



El Paso, Texas
I was born in William Beaumont Army Medical Center.  By God's grace, my mom and dad were (and are)
Christ-followers.




Birmingham, Alabama - After brief layovers somewhere in Missouri and Tacoma, Washington

Preschool.  Kindergarten.  A family and a church family who loved me.


Arlington, Texas
By the grace of God, my older sisters told my parents which church they enjoyed best out of two; and my parents chose the same.  Therefore, God used a great woman of faith (the children's pastor) to join the encouragement of my parents and grandparents, by explaining "How To Be A Christian."  Their devotion was coupled with the heart of a senior pastor who loved children as Jesus does.  I confessed (quietly), "Jesus is Lord" before he plunged me beneath the water and he "raised me up to the newness of eternal life" and continued, along with my parents, grandparents, children's pastor, and Sunday School teachers to guide me in God's ways. 

For the next ten years, I encountered Jesus.  Then one day, while listening to our senior pastor preach, God sent me a message - "You are called to do that."  "That" referred to preaching.
Waco, Texas
While serving as a youth minister, working on two degrees, and learning how to love my wife as Christ loves the church (She makes that rather easy for me to do.  Thank you, Babe!), I continued to encounter Jesus.

 

Anchorage, Alaska
Six and one half years of pastoring.  Birth of my daughter and first son.  Viewing God's beauty daily.  Adjusting to "below freezing" and learning that working "on the slope" didn't refer to the ski patrol.  Encountering Jesus.

Tyler, Texas
Three years of pastoring.  Birth of my second son.  Deep friendships.  Adjusting (back) to 100 + degrees.  Realizing that my state of birth, while great, was not the home for my heart.  Encountering Jesus.

 

Anchorage, Alaska
Nine and one half years of pastoring and, with the grace of God, many more to come.  Adjusting (back) to "below freezing."  Deep friendships.  A church full of encouragers.  A pastoral team who loves Jesus and each other.  An amazing wife and three great kids.  Encountering Jesus on a daily basis.  I am home.  Well . . . sorta . . .

My story, thanks to encountering Jesus, is eternally growing better.

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Philippians 3:20-21 (NIV)

Everyone has a story.  God uses ordinary people with ordinary stories.  This is my story.  What is your story? 

Not So Easy

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 
John 8:31-32 (NIV)

Everyone appreciates authenticity.  As a Christian, I want to live as an authentic disciple of Jesus.  Thankfully, John the disciple recorded Jesus' statement that instructs me how to live with such authenticity.  The instruction begins with the word "if."  Sometimes that is a rather big if. 

 
While her subject matter varies from Jesus', when I think about the calling to follow Jesus, I hear the words of Sheryl Crow -  "No One Said It Would Be Easy." 

The Apostle Paul, in his most vulnerable moment, with pen in hand (or dictating to his amanuensis), confessed . . .

Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
Romans 7:25 (NLT)

Perhaps you relate.  While, truth be told, some people frustrate you and me, the one who frustrates us most is self.  Like Paul's question, we ask our own. . .

"Why can't I stop?"
"When will I learn?
"Why is this so hard?"
"I know better than that!"
Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?
Romans 7:24 (NLT)

When Paul wrote that question, he knew the answer.  Thankfully, he shared it with us.

Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 7:25a (NLT)

Thanks be to God; through Jesus, we find freedom and the strength to do that which we should do and not do what we should not do.  No one, including Jesus, said following Him would be easy.  He did, however, say it would be worth it.

33

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Psalm 139:23 (NIV)
King David invited God to know his anxious thoughts.  In their book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, the authors address the dangers of toxic fear. 

Before I ponder the adjectives, I give attention to the nouns "thoughts" and "fears."  I am thankful for both, at least the healthy variety of each. 

I enjoy healthy thoughts of . . .


  • raindrops on roses (Sing if you know the rest.)
  • time with my wife and kids
  • memories of joyful events
  • Jesus' love for me
I welcome the fear that . . .

  • tells me when danger lurks
  • reminds me to remember that drivers often don't see motorcyclists
  • keeps us from doing stupid things (sometimes!)

Now to the adjectives . . .

The words "anxious" and "toxic" make me . . . well, anxious.  When someone begins a sentence with "Don't worry, but . . ." - it's already too late, even before the "but" perhaps even before the ",".  Nevertheless, the wisdom in Jesus' words rings as clear and true as it did two millenia ago.

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
Matthew 6:27 (NIV)

How then are we to avoid anxiety and reject toxicity?  Jesus comes through yet again.

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:33-34 (NIV)
Thirty-four is brought to you courtesy of thirty-three.  When I live the words of 33, my anxious thoughts fade and my toxic fears give way to faith-based assurance.  So when the bee stings and the dog bites (Singing yet?), I simply remember my favorite things (Yet?). 

One of my favorite things is the collection of history, letters, poetry, theology, and story known as the Bible.  God's word defeats bee stings and dog bites.  For example . . .

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:37-39 (NIV)
and
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NIV)

Just a few sentences after verse ten, the Apostle writes an explanation that reminds me of 33.  When anxious thoughts and toxic fears creep your way, recall and cling to this explanation . . .

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

Unwritten

It arrived by mail two weeks ago.  After unwrapping it from the protective plastic wrap, I grabbed my Pentel P205 pencil and wrote thirty-two names in their appropriate spots.  Than I circled numbers such as 1, 11, 25, and 24.  The names belong to the members of my family (immediate and extended); the appropriate spots are the spaces next to the calendar dates of their birthdays.  The numbers I circled reference New Year's Day, the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, Palm Sunday, and Christmas Eve; many other circles appear throughout the 365-day log.

While I own a newish smart phone with the, according to my wife, ever-handy calendar app; I really like my pencil-prepped paper calendar.  Next to my Bible, it is my most valuable (no reference to financial) leather-bound possession.  In fact, just last week, I paid one of the children in our church a bag of Skittles for the return of my 2017 version.  (He initially requested $400.  I convinced him to settle for a bag of rainbow candies.  Quite a bargain!) 

The paper of little value gains worth as it bears the notes that organize my life, week after week.  I like knowing what's next as well as having a memory-jogging log of what has been. 

The pages tell my story - much of it, at least.  Other parts of my story stay in my pencil.  While I write "No school" on the days when I know my kids will have an academic break, I refrain from writing "lost" on the days a racquetball game didn't turn out the way I prefer.  While I write "Date Night" on the evenings when I am gifted with time with my amazing wife, I refuse to make marked reference to days like today when I chose to wear yet-unwashed jeans that I wore a few days ago which, unknown to me until I donned them at the gym, smell like the baked halibut we ate the last time I wore them.  Halibut tastes great!  The smell of days-old halibut is another story. 

One thing I really enjoy about the accounts in Scripture of the likes of David, Deborah, Martha, and Peter is the inclusion of the parts of their stories that reflect events more akin to smelly jeans and lost games than to wins and great feasts.  The Bible includes the events that a more cautious historian would choose to leave unrecorded.

Think David's cover-up.
Think Deborah's doubt.
Think Martha's complaining.
Think Peter's adamant denial, repeated twice.

The Bible is perfect; yet, save One, no one in it is.  While I dare not rejoice in their failures, I take solace in knowing that I am not alone in mine.  You see, while I don't write of lost games and stinky pants, I choose also to leave other parts of my story untold - other failures, doubts, struggles, and unwashed acts.  Rather than writing them in a collection of dated events, I confess them to God.  And here's the cool part - He doesn't write them down!

3 If you, LORD, kept a record of sins,
    LORD, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,

Psalm 130:3-4a
(NIV)

It's Worth Telling

Calling all storytellers, singers, and writers.  The great opportunity awaits.  A wealth of material is ready to be voiced through story, song, and pen. 

Some artists will choose to project softly; other inspired ones will tell stories of heroes of renown. 
Eager fingers take up pens, pencils, or rest on keys - ready to script a truthful tale (no need for tall ones) of adventure.
Guitar strings, ivory keys, taut bows, and didgeridoos await - ready to serve as tools of expression.

What wealth is there to be found?

1 I lift you high in praise, my God, O my King!
    and I’ll bless your name into eternity.
2 I’ll bless you every day,
    and keep it up from now to eternity.
3 God is magnificent; he can never be praised enough.
    There are no boundaries to his greatness.
4 Generation after generation stands in awe of your work;
    each one tells stories of your mighty acts.
5 Your beauty and splendor have everyone talking;
    I compose songs on your wonders.
6 Your marvelous doings are headline news;
    I could write a book full of the details of your greatness.
7 The fame of your goodness spreads across the country;
    your righteousness is on everyone’s lips.
8 God is all mercy and grace—
    not quick to anger, is rich in love.
9 God is good to one and all;
    everything he does is suffused with grace.
10Creation and creatures applaud you, God;
    your holy people bless you.

Psalm 145:1-10 (The Message)

Tell your story of God's grace. 

Compose your song of exultation.

Pen the brief reflection that captures volumes.

Write the volume that inspires a life to change.

Preach boldly of the love of God. 

Sing and lead others to do so with all their hearts.

Tell the old, old story and lift up a new song. 


In your generation - speak, sing, and write so that the next will hear, sing, and read.

"God is magnificent; he can never be praised enough."