Life Like A Movie

When I reflect back on my life, what happened to me often does seem more like a movie I’ve watched rather than something I’ve experienced. There is a certain detachment I feel about my experiences, especially the good ones that feel tainted by the bad experiences that loom so much bigger, and consequently feel more “real.” They’re not any more real, of course, than the good ones but for some reason the bad experiences have a way of lingering on in my heart.

Life may be like a movie in the sense that our lives certainly play out like stories. In fact, they are stories, stories that are lived and experienced in the present moment. We are both the authors and the actors in our stories, so in some sense we can control our present story lines, but we don’t have editorial control over our past experiences/scenes/chapters.

I think the analogy of being an actor in a story is a helpful one. It helps us to remember that we have a role to play not only in our own personal story’s but also in the bigger Story we’ve been placed into. As actors in this story we can learn from our past, to both regret and rejoice in it, but we can also relish in the fact that the story continues no matter what has happened earlier.

What I’m thinking here is that I don’t have to bury the past because it’s a series of scenes that have qualified me to be here at this moment playing the role that I am and the role I will play in the future. It’s an adventure. And yes, every adventure has those moments when all seems lost, but every adventure is a journey as well. And every journey is a moving forward toward something.

Since I’ve been running with a lot of analogies lately, I may as well continue. One of my favorite movies is “Braveheart,” a story of heroism by a man who wished only for a simple life revolving around his first love and family. Early in the picture, we know that an outside evil takes his father away from him and then years later, it takes his bride from him as well. He becomes a hero when he defends his people against this evil instead of giving in to the temptation to live in the past and check out of his story. A terrible one at that. And yes, he does make the ultimate sacrifice in the end by giving his life up for his people. But he chose to reengage in his story and have an important say in the outcome of the bigger story around him. And by the way, this movie was based on the true story of William Wallace.

Most of our stories will not have this kind of story arc, but I’m thinking about the former scenes in my story, and I realize that there’s a lot more story left to be told, and now the tinge of depression I was feeling takes a backseat to the reality that this is still my story to tell, and I do, by the grace of God, have a say in how its written and an Advocate telling the larger one who has my back through it all.

One last thought/analogy. I’m reminded here of watching reruns of old serials that originally ran in movie theaters back in the 1940s-50s. At the end of each episode, which often involved a harrowing cliff hanger, the words “to be continued” filled the screen. In other words, “it may look hopeless now but it ain’t over yet”, and in the back of our minds we know good always wins in the end no matter how many cliff hangers we have to endure. As a believer, I have the assurance that the story of my life will end in victory, which means being united with all who have fought with me through the ages with our Author and Advocate even if all seems lost in the short run.

 

 

 

 

Nature Myth

In the last days, as the night slowly descends on the human drama, love will bring rest to the tired soul, warming the frail, shivering frame on the coldest night of winter. In the last days, as the air becomes too heavy to breathe, hope will cease to float like a dream or any other unseen, unrequited pledge in the roaring westerly winds of May, or storm gusts through falling October leaves. It will descend into our lungs and exhale songs & psalms of joy.

In the last days, joy will rush out to greet the world like twelve excited apostles at Pentecost with a message of love and hope that only willing ears will hear. That the truth, after all this time, was indeed reflected in the myth of nature.

Then in these days, myth will cease to exist in the past as primitive answers to our fears as the stones will cry out “have you not read, have you not heard?!” in the presence of an unwilling audience. And as they run to find cover beneath these lively stones, they will know that the poets and prophets did indeed eat at the Master’s Table.

 

 

Bigger Than The Lion

“The moonlight arrives late in the long, hot days of August. There is that often unnoticed world between sundown and starlight called dusk where deer and other night creatures dare to emerge from forest and foxholes to watch the sunset with poets, prophets, and lovers.

They come in silence, alone not alone, to the edge of what we call the civilized world; a land of traffic lights and flashing neon signs. This is the land of Middle Earth for those creatures human and four- legged who come together on country roads and backyards to let the enchantment of not quite day not quite night hold them as the intensity of daytime activity gives way to moonlight and haunted forests.”

Darkness takes over the night sky late at the height of summer in eastern Kansas, which allows the observant time after the work day to watch the sunset from one’s porch. The sky over the landscape is much bigger than in the city and storm clouds, no matter how hard they try, can’t just sneak up on you. For those who can read the signs in the sky, the incoming clouds from the west, mixing white and gray with a sky transitioning from blue to orange, red, purple, and navy blue to finally black provide a chance to set the problems of life aside for a living motion picture.

There is a sort of haunting feeling that comes with stopping long enough to observe the grand beauty of a Nature that’s big enough to ignore the world around and below it. A wolf howls in the unseen distance and the world becomes bigger, at first a little frightful, but then more mysterious and eternal. I’ve missed this, as much as I love the big city and all the hustle and bustle that goes with it, there is definitely a peace that transcends the cares of the world if only until it’s time to go to bed.

One of the themes reoccurring in my life lately is the pursuit of an abundant life. Can it really be pursued? At least successfully? I’m beginning to think not, it looks more and more like abundant life can be obtained about as successfully by force of will as the joy out of nowhere I’ve mentioned a few times earlier. As I sit here, at least, abundant life proceeds out of the choices that I make, like choosing to spend time in the Word and choosing to sit outside and watch the storm front roll in.

The storm, may in fact, produce damaging winds and even a tornado but that possibility is exciting even though it may bring danger along with it, maybe it’s exciting because it is dangerous. All this is to say that slowing myself down at times allows me to actually live a little in the midst of all this merely existing. The evil that hunts us on a daily basis wants us to feel hunted moment to moment so we get caught up in the feeling of being able to do little more than escape a danger that won’t let us rest. In that sense, the stalking lion has already won. If all we do is concentrate on survival then the thought of actually living doesn’t occur to us; at least not me.

Let the lion roar again tonight. He frightens me at first, but his cries remind me that there’s more out there in the wild, something bigger, more mysterious, and eternal that will outlive his power. That is why the night, though it keeps me from seeing much of what is around me, things that will not last, it also excites and comforts me because it allows me to see instead the things that will.

This is all, of course, a metaphor. Yes, the lion (Satan), momentarily has the power to try to steal, kill, and destroy not only my abundant life but my life itself if I succumb to the fear. And his is a very real threat because evil is relentless like war. But the picture is so much bigger. It may not seem like it when I’m running for my life or standing up in, but losing, the battle, but the truth is the journey I’m on will last long after the lion (evil) has been defeated. My savior, J, died on the cross, but he rose again and sin and death died with it. That’s the Big Picture. That is why the darkness of night, which can momentarily scare me, really inspires me.

“I’ll take the enchanted forest tonight, follow the lone doe as she drifts back into the familiar neighborhood of ancient trees, their struggling saplings, and their fallen grandparents. I feel your heartbeat as you follow along through the leaf and limb covered pathway, my friend, a little unsure of why you feel compelled to join me on this quest for who knows what.   I don’t think it a sin, I begin in answer to your anticipated question, to expect to see a unicorn or night hawk between the shadows of the redwoods who stand and watch.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Circles Of Love And Tolerance

I heard a sermon about the “circles of love” this morning. The Pastor talked about small circles, including family and friends, and larger circles that included our city, then our state, then our country and so on. It sounds good, loving others and expanding that ability for us to love a wider and wider circle of people. Showing our love to others is a worthy goal or endeavor.

He really didn’t go on to explain how that love worked in our lives and expanded into other people’s lives other than in the interest of tolerance. Now, tolerance is a good thing, actually it’s a great thing. Yet, I found myself thinking “is tolerance the beginning of our ability to love or an end to the means?” Or neither? Certainly learning to be tolerant will make it easier to “feel” love for others we might not necessarily love (or tolerate) otherwise. Yet, there must be more to love than merely tolerating others

I can’t consider tolerance without its opposite, intolerance. This morning’s sermon didn’t mention intolerance but if love shows itself only through tolerance then it seems to be more a barrier to bad thoughts and actions than an active voice (a verb if you will) that desires to love no matter whether “the loved” appear unlovable at first appearance or over time.

Love is an easy word to throw around because, after all, “love conquers all.” Would that it did! The good news is that actually, it does. But to do that, it must really be a love that conquers all. It can’t be a feeling of good will or tolerance, or even desire, though desire comes closest of all. Love has to be active, it has to be a verb as well as a noun. Here is why I believe the concept of Christian love, the concept of loving others as we love ourselves, is the strongest, and most accurate conception of a love that can make a difference in our circles both small and great.

Loving others as ourselves is the act of putting them on an equal footing with ourselves. It transcends mere tolerance because it envelopes “the loved” with that love we all want for ourselves. It’s a strong kind of love that isn’t only fighting off its inverse, it’s seeking to be an active participant in the life of those who invoke its name.

To try to sum this all up, a proactive love, one that actively causes us to embrace ourselves and others is much stronger than a passive love whose strength lies in merely showing goodwill by tolerating others. It’s still love but it’s not a love that can overcome our emotional and spiritual weaknesses. It takes an active good to defeat an active evil. This is why one of the names of God is literally Love.

 

 

Introducing, Mr. Luke Warm

I like to read through the Bible in different ways. Sometimes, I’ll read my favorite passages, ie Psalm 23, Isaiah 52:13- 53, John 1:1-14, Philippians 4:4-8 to name a few. Other times, I’ll read the four gospels, other times the Gospel of Luke followed by The Acts, etc. Lately, I’ve been working through the New Testament only reading the words of Christ. I finished today with His words in the book of Revelation. In chapter 3 he chides the church in Laodicea for being “too comfortable.” A warning follows, “I will spit you out” for being neither hot nor cold.

I hate rereading this passage because it hits me where I live. I’m haunted by a sense of waste. Am I really “about the Lord’s business?” Consistently? No, not really. This verse speaks to larger issues like letting the cares of the world chip away at my resolve until the Apathy monster rears its ugly head. Another 70 hour work week blows by (or blows me away), and I’m too worn out to fight to find personal time with J let alone find the time to read the Word, let alone study the Word.

At the end of a long and frustrating day or week, I can’t find the desire, let alone the resolve to resist the Apathy monster, so I let him win for the night or the week or the month. And I know it’s just a cop out on my part. I can ignore evil but evil will not ignore me. Every time I give up an hour or an evening or a day to Apathy, it’s more of him and less of me in my life. It becomes harder to answer the call of “wake up, o sleeper” to do whatever it is I’m called to do. Jonah was literally spit out of the whale for running away from what God had called him to do. I don’t want to be “spit out.”

The problem, I’ve found, is that the Apathy monster gets heavier the longer I let him feed on me. He becomes harder to resist, let alone defeat. It’s like trying to lift a heavy box and thrust it onto the shelf far above my head. And yet, I have to do just that. The good news is that I’ve done it before, and I can do it again, even though there is a voice whispering somewhere nearby, “that was when you were younger. That was when you were stronger. Look at you now.”

There is a weapon that I’ve used before, it’s called “stubbornness.” That part of me that refuses to “get played,” as it were, by someone or something else. That’s the “hot” part of me that can be an asset rather than a hindrance as I try to regain that sense of purpose and urgency that I need to be “about the business,” whether I feel up to it or no.

 

Streams Of Living Water

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog on my thoughts about a verse from Proverbs, titled “Have A Heart.” The verse reads, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” I’ve been thinking about that blog and this verse a lot lately, because I’ve had a nagging feeling that I didn’t go far enough in my analysis. The safety of our heart’s is kind of a big deal, after all. I alluded to J’s assertion that he wants us to have more than just life, he wants us to have abundant life, which if you’ve read many of my previous blogs, you know I’m a bit obsessed with finding that promised quality of life. Maybe that’s why I felt like there was more in there than I had previously considered.

A few days ago, I began rereading John Eldredge’s “Waking The Dead,” and he mentions Proverbs 4:23 early on and also quotes a verse from the Gospel of John, “Whoever believes in me [Jesus] as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” When I read these two verses side by side, it was like a key (John’s verse) opening a lock (the verse in Proverbs), and I felt like I was beginning to understand something. The paradox I found in Proverbs in that while we had to guard our hearts because it was the wellspring of life, we, at the same time, needed that wellspring to have the ability to guard it had been perplexing me. Was this some sort of “what came first, the chicken or the egg” irony? What I realized after considering these two verses side by side is that, once again, a verse in the New Testament confirms, or explains something from the OldTestament.

Jesus says streams of living water flow from within believers. Proverbs states that the heart is the wellspring of life. Notice the “water” connection here? This is where I see the connection, if we believe, we literally have Jesus in our hearts, and from that wellspring of faith comes the “streams of living water that flow from within.” Our faith in Jesus is the “wellspring of life” that gives us the strength to guard our hearts. See the correlation? There are other instances where seemingly meaningless or not very important phrases take on greater meaning in the context of the New Testament. For example, a line in the book of Psalms that reads “taste and see that the Lord is good” is artistic but doesn’t necessarily move me intellectually. However, if you think about it in terms of taking Communion it makes more sense, to me anyway.

Before I leave this subject, I think it’s worth noting that there is something awesome that’s going on here. It’s not just that faith in Jesus gives us the power to guard our hearts, we now also have streams of living water that will flow from within us. If that water is flowing from within us, then it is flowing out of us as well, and extends the love and power of our faith in Jesus that can affect the hearts of others. To quote one of my favorite phrases, “pretty cool, huh?”

 

                                                                                   

                                                                                  

A Distant Kind Of Tomorrow (Worth Waiting For)

“The horizon fading below the Atlantic’s gray waves appears to tell only stories past because the sun glides over and away toward the west, leaving the promise and prophecy of tomorrow to a distant land.”

Tomorrow, not the day but the promise of a new beginning, seems lost somewhere between the wilderness we walk through and the sun shedding its light on the other side. Tomorrow, the day we stress over today, will arrive with the insistent demand of the alarm clock. “Tomorrow” is the promise of better things to come, the destination we dream and sing about where happy endings and reunions really happen. Tomorrow is New Jerusalem descending, a city we will enter to be reunited with loved ones and protected by the presence of the Lord. We certainly need to feel a hint of that to help us to continue through the ominous wilderness called life.

The breeze blows and for an instant we feel the peace of the inexplicable, the presence of the Holy Spirit, who touches us to remind us that “tomorrow” with all its peace, rest, and glory is not only coming, it’s coming toward us, indeed it is coming for us.

It’s early springtime and the winds that blow harder everyday as the celebration of Easter approaches, remind me that the promise of tomorrow is in some sense already here.

Is It Hip To Be The Teacher’s Pet?

I recently saw a photo on a friend’s Facebook page that was a notebook page with the words “When you are going through something hard and wonder where God is, remember that the teacher is always quiet during a test” written on it, and left the comment “And gives the answers if you show up for class and ask.” It’s a quaint phrase designed to bring comfort. Yet, it can be considered a truism of sorts. My first reaction was to remember teachers who would sometimes give pop quizzes when most students failed to show up for class on days when the snowfall in eastern Kansas made it hard to get there. These teachers would write the answers to the quiz on the chalkboard, thus rewarding the brave minority with a few extra points. I don’t think they ever changed the overall outcome of my grades but it was kind of fun to be a part of an inside joke.

Now, I’m thinking about how this applies to the idea of a Teacher who gives answers to those students who make the effort to show up when the weather called life’s challenges seem intent on keeping them inside for fear of the discomfort of braving them. Another “quaint” truism we have all heard is that, “the answers are in the Book (Bible).” True, but we’re still here experiencing the inclement weather, wondering where the shelter (comfort) and the food (answers) are to be found.

As long as I’m throwing out truisms, “seek the truth and you will find it” fits that bill. God is a patient teacher, waiting for that rare student who will make a visit to his office to learn the answers to the questions, whatever they may be at any given moment during their lives.

I went to a school (Kansas University) where many classes had fifty or more students in them. I can tell you the teacher feels just as distant from the student as the student does from the teacher. Be one of the fifty that makes the effort to get one on one teaching from the teacher and they will go out of their way to help you. Not just that day but for the rest of the semester. They’re just like us, they need to know they’re being heard, that what they are doing means something.

I think this may be a fair, if flawed, example of how God feels. He desperately wants to be relevant in our lives and responds in kind to those who reach out to him. Yeah, it’s scary (and quiet) when we are going through tests but having the desire, and let’s say stubbornness, to brave the storms to take the quiz (and get the answers) begins to build a stronger long term relationship with our Teacher.

Have A Heart

I was reminded of an Old Testament verse recently, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life (NIV).” I don’t spend a lot of time in the book of Proverbs for reasons I haven’t really considered. Maybe it’s the wave after wave of words of advice that can be quite overwhelming. And come to think of it, there haven’t been any verses that have, up until now, stuck with me. But I recently met a nice girl who went to the trouble of having the verse tattooed on her arm. Now that’s a long term commitment. So, I thought I would take another look at the verse and taken by itself it is quite profound.

Do I guard my heart? No, I rarely, if ever, even think about my heart. It’s so much easier, at least for me, to think about the hearts of others. Maybe it’s because I tend to be compassionate by nature (here, I pat myself on the metaphorical back) and try to be a positive influence on other people’s lives. I like to be that guy, the one people can count on. Of course, the bonus of living out the Golden Rule is that it makes me feel good and feel relevant. That’s all well and good but if I let my heart die aren’t I committing a sort of spiritual suicide?

The first thing I have to remember is that it is OK to “guard my heart” as long as I don’t get caught up in a victimization mindset. How do I defend my heart without dwelling on the assaults on it? The second part of the verse is intriguing to me, “because it is the wellspring of life.” First, I must guard/ protect my heart against its enemies, but second, it’s the source of my ability to defend it. I’m thinking now about when J told the crowd that He came not only to give us life but abundant life. It appears that the writer of Proverbs is here foreshadowing the source behind “the wellspring of life,” the originator and the power and importantly, the renewing energy behind it. That’s an encouraging thought but not the end, I think.

We are told to guard our heart’s. That’s the command. We have the responsibility of guarding the heart given to us by God. The war, as we all know, is coming at us whether we want it to or not. So, as what typically happens, J starts with one thought to get me to another. It’s not about a victimization mindset, causing me to fight to survive but a victory mindset that there is a power already inside me, which was given to me by J. That is a comfort. J calls the one he sent the Comforter, after all.

I must guard my heart because it’s the wellspring and source of abundant life. My life. It’s a positive command for a more practical and purposeful way to approach the trials I/we face. And I can get behind that mindset.

Sufficient

For a child’s innocence, my soul cries out on heavy days. What I would give to dine on milk when a lack of peace stays the food of grace from my mouth. Today, I read about perfection formed by forty days of flood and famine for the man who does not stray from the course determined by God.

The night always ends with the rising of a new day, and I find again the patient one waiting, smiling, and saying once more, “isn’t this the day I made?”