Category Archives: Introspection

The (Lunch) Kids In The (Band) Hall

They rant. They rave.

They rage at all that isn’t “fair” in their world.

They laugh, they smile, they curse.

They martyr themselves for a shred of recognition … or admiration … or pity.

They reinvent themselves without shame weekly. Sometimes daily. Sometimes hourly.

They are as corrupted as they are innocent – and they are riddled with honest contradiction.

They are glorious. They are grotesque.

Freaks and geeks. Athletes and artists. Angels and demons.

You create the role and cast them in it. And they might play it for a while, but then, like a butterfly from a chrysalis, they break free and surprise you.

They will confirm the worst of stereotypes with their narcissism and selfishness. Then shatter the same with bursts of empathy and altruism that streak across the room like meteors.

And they are growing, morphing, changing, developing … constantly – almost before your eyes.

Snap a picture for your memories. They will not look this way again.

Examine it closely. See if you can find yourself.

What they are now, you were once. What you are now and more, they will become.

But for this frozen moment they sit.

Plugged in, wrapped up in jokes and opinions they may remember years later with laughter or cringing and shaking heads.

They scarf down pizza and fries and leave banana and orange peels on the floor.

Then a bell rings and they all file out.

To finish their time, dreaming of 3:30 like a kid waits for Christmas morning.

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The night was humid…

The classic 1987 comedy “Throw Momma From the Train” has taught me two things:

1. “YOU’RE NOT OWEN’S FRIEND! OWEN DOESN’T HAVE A FRIEND!”

and

2. “A writer writes… always.”

I’m not sure I can do anything with the first, but the second has stayed with me for quite some time. I used to write for a living. Now I teach writing. When I talk about myself or my hobbies or interests, writing and being a writer consistently come up.

But I don’t write. Not with any consistency. Not with any drive. Not with any passion. At least not until recently.

Is there a word for a writer who doesn’t write? A musician who doesn’t make music? An artist who doesn’t create art? Several come to mind for me. None of them are good.

A beautiful and brilliant writer who I’m blessed to know says that writing is a muscle. If you work it out regularly it will grow strong and toned and will be able to do much more than when you started exercising it. If you neglect it, it will shrink and atrophy. She shrugs when people comment on how much she writes or how quickly she can produce something. She just sees it as the expected result of her exercise.

I think there’s a bit more to it than that, but basically she’s right. And having been stuck in a hospital bed for more nearly two months last year, it’s an analogy that’s painfully familiar and true to me.

So as the days continue to creep toward the new year, I’m left thinking about resolutions (a subject which I plan to write about this weekend). I don’t know if I’ll be making any standard resolutions. But I do want to get muscles moving, both physically and in this sense. Time spent exercising and developing gifts and talents that I believe are given by the Creator can be time spent in worship. I don’t want to feel like a hypocrite when I tell people I write, and even more so I don’t want to squander a talent that God intended me to have.

With that in mind, I’m thinking about reasons why I write and why I don’t.

Why I write:

  • I feel like it’s something I’m meant to do. I see it in my family history, in the places I’ve felt drawn to since I was a child.
  • I enjoy using words, turning phrases, making connections, telling stories, sharing ideas.
  • It’s an outlet for me to share the gospel and for me to work outwardly what God is working inwardly.

Why I don’t:

  • I’m scared. Scared of what people will think. Scared of being a fraud. Scared that I really don’t know what I’m doing (and convinced that everybody else does).
  • I’m lazy. Writing can be hard. It requires commitment. Decisions to be made. The ability to finish. And it requires me to risk. But it also has the potential to reward.
  • I’m busy or I’m just uninspired. Or more likely, I squash inspiration by filling my time with noise and nonsense, distraction and escape.

I look at these two lists and in the first one I see truth; in the second, lies. There’s no good reason to be found in that second list, only evidence for a lack of trust that I want to see changed in my life. So I know which list I’m going to embrace.

I believe that writing is meant to be read, and I always encourage my students to give their writing an audience. Thinking about readers shapes our craft, polishes it, refines it, challenges it and makes those muscles stronger.

If you’re reading this, you are part of that audience. The comments are open for your feedback. I have to approve the first one you post, because I still get some stuff that isn’t caught by the spam filter. But I don’t intend to shy away from comments. If you’re encouraged by this, let me know. If you have advice or even warnings, I’d appreciate that as well.

Thanks for reading and giving me an opportunity to stretch my limbs.

What matters most

I didn’t know spring until I came here
Here we’re pushing up the lid on the cool hemisphere
Everything melts I know even your tears
Here in this hemisphere

What matters the most is what you do for free
Me believing in you and you in me
You try to find work and you do your best
You get what you get and you deserve the rest

– “When The Ice Goes Out” by John Gorka

trinity churchI went to visit my girl this past weekend in a region of New York known as the North Country, up near the Ontario border. She’s been staying up there for the past three weeks, visiting old friends and family. I went to get a taste of the place and people she so often talks about and found that she didn’t exaggerate when it came her descriptions of the land and the souls who live on it.

It started snowing the night after I arrived and accumulated several inches by the time it was time to leave the next day. I had never seen so much snow outside of the Rocky Mountains and it was beautiful as it blanketed the Grasse River, frozen in parts, still running in others and visible from the kitchen window. I kept saying how beautiful this place was and everybody kept replying, “No, you really need to see it in spring or summer when it’s so green.” But I’ve seen incredible, lush green, this summer in Seattle and the Puget Sound, everything growing and constantly saturated with a sheen of fresh rain.

But all that white frosting a rural area like this was something I wasn’t used to and it WAS beautiful. Still, I get the point the locals were trying to make. The green of springtime, at the end of so much winter white, must really be breathtaking.

As we were driving around town on that last day to meet a friend with a more winter-ready car to drop me off at the airport, I tried to imagine what spring might look like. I remembered a line from a song by one of my favorite songwriters, “I didn’t know spring until I came here.”

In Texas, everything is flipped. The summers seem never-ending and often brutal. Fall is what I look forward to here, and it comes late, but when it finally arrives with that first crisp turn in the air temperature and a hint of woodsmoke in the air, it’s a joyful occasion for me. Spring seems to last about a day in comparison. There’s the first break in what we consider winter, then bluebonnets, maybe a tornado or two, then the mercury rises and rises and rises.

I don’t have an appreciation of spring, not like these winter folk do. But I kept reciting those lyrics aloud and came to the next line. Maybe one of my favorites.

“What matters most is what you do for free.”

This fall (and really even a bit longer than that) has been a time of learning for me. Learning about what really matters. Learning to silence the premeditated resentments of expectation, edit out the constantly-comparing language of pride, and to reframe life’s goals, joys, pleasures and treasures in terms of what truly lasts.

I’ve always liked Gorka’s lines but there’s a double edge to them. On one hand, the things that are most important are things for which we don’t receive a check – being good husbands/wives, raising a family, glorifying the Creator with all the blessings He’s given us. Or even some of the more trivial things, talents, hobbies, pursuits we do simply for the enjoyment of them – music, cooking, writing, art.

On the other hand, there’s the implication that we assign value to the ways we spend that “free” time. Look at how we spend our moments away from our day jobs or routine responsibilities – what does it say about what matters most, deep in our hearts? The lyric used to make me smile. Now it convicts me. I think good music can do both.

What matters most to me is changing, slowly but surely (it’s just the way I seem to operate). Because I’ve been coming out of a winter of sorts, and it seems that I’m starting to truly know spring for the first time myself.

The only place

Note: Before continuing, you should know that I don’t think of Jesus as a last resort and this is not a post to promote that kind of faith. I know He’s the only resort. I’ve been given some great encouragement in recent weeks and have done a lot of thinking on what it means to know Christ as your hope and treasure. But this is a post from the midst. When you find yourself surrounded and cut off and maybe a bit confused as to how you got here. I assume some of you can relate. Thanks for reading.

Sometimes I just freeze. It’s a psychological paralysis, but I often find it hard to do much physically in those moments.

Have you been there?

That moment where you’ve just watched your best efforts return empty. You did things right. You weighed all the options and you picked the course that you’re not only sure was the best, but it seemed to be the only one to take.

And yet… nothing. Not even nothing with a little confirmation of nothing, which would be better than just a vague sense of failure. Nothing without the benefit of feedback. No drawing board to which you can return. Like hitting a ball into darkness with no way to track the trajectory, to adjust, to try again on solid ground.

What are you left with in these moments? If our eyes are open and we’re honest, I’d say it’s probably the same stuff with which we began. And that’s not much.

And where are you left to turn? I’m sitting here in the middle of it right now. Frozen, except for these fingers across these keys. Working it out.

There’s only one place I can go. Only one place a man like me can plead. Christ. The Cross.

Jesus is the only person I know who can take all my insufficiency and make it work. More often than not, he makes abundance out of the minnows and crumbs I present as bread and fishes. A lot of times he does it when I don’t ask Him too. He’s THAT kind of good to me.

But I know He likes it more when I do ask. When I do acknowledge that need. He likes me at the end of my rope sometimes because He knows I’m less likely to get in His way there. Some of you will read this, unbelieving, and mock or think me simple or brainwashed. Some of you will think me simple for not having this post studded with theological vocabulary or some cacophony of buzzy church words.

I don’t have it all figured out. I just know that there’s no where else I can go. And I really believe that there’s no where else I should go.

I used to think the Christian life was all about having everything together so that you didn’t “need” Jesus. He’d be there, in case of emergencies. All you’d have to do is break the glass. But He’d really prefer it if you’d just handle this stuff yourself so He could be busy doing Lord knows what.

That’s bad theology. Foolish thinking. Worldly ambition. And it got me nowhere.

What does He want? Not my independent, pulled up by my bootstraps faith. I’m not that good to begin with. The best of us is not that good.

He wants me to need him every hour. Not because He’s needy. Because I am. I’m desperate and helpless and hopeless without Him and even though He’s God, I’ve a hard time believing he’s not exasperated by all my attempts to put off an air of “I’m fine” or “I got this.”

Because without Him, I’m not and I don’t.

But with Him… oh boy. My junior varsity faith has only gotten tastes of it. But I know that I’m far more than fine and scripture would call us “more than conquerors.” I’m not even sure what that looks like but I’m sure it’s doing better than “got this.” Because “got this” only sees one side of the coin, this life. But “more than conquerors” with Christ – we’re talking eternal perspective – sin, death, shame, fear.

So what I do? I pray. Passionately. Feebly. Whatever I’ve got in the tank. Minnows and crumbs. Sometimes I can’t even see the edges of this thing to have a clue of what I should really be asking for. But I put it down and bottle it up and toss it in the ocean of Him, to borrow a metaphor from David Wilcox. And after that, it’s got more to do with the ocean than with me. And this ocean can be trusted.

I love the story in the Gospels where Jesus has just given a hard-to-understand teaching on communion – but they just don’t get it. How can they? It’s thick with symbolism of events that haven’t yet come to pass. Many of the people following Jesus find it offensive and leave until it’s just Him and the Twelve.

And He asks them, Are you going to abandon me too?

And Peter (God love him) answers.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Sometimes I confess I don’t know much more than that. But it has been enough in the past. And I trust it will be today as well.

The din of noisy nonsense

I saw it in my Facebook newsfeed, courtesy of Gizmodo.

“Facebook changes its mind again: It’s now re-banning decapitation videos”

The story, accompanied by a deeply distressing though not gory still of the beginning of one the videos, talked about a re-reversal of Facebook’s policy on allowing graphic videos of vigilante/terrorist executions/murders. The still image illustrating the story was of a woman who was about to be murdered by members of a Mexican drug cartel. Some commenters were defending their posting as a form of raising awareness and condemning these atrocities. Others worried for children who might see the images. Still others took the stance that responsible parents would keep their children shielded from sites like Facebook in the first place. I wondered if any of the latter had children, or had ever even taught children.

I did note at least one “LOL” in response to the whole debate. Just seeing the still was enough to turn my stomach. I worked in a daily newspaper editorial department for five years and had grown used to some darker humor. But such a callous comment was hard for even me to swallow.

I remember when videos of the beheadings of journalist Daniel Pearl and businessman Nick Berg were posted from Iraq for the entire world to access. I knew people who couldn’t wait to go and see – online rubberneckers and gawkers, their morbid curiosity aroused in the most base of ways.

I avoided those videos. I couldn’t bring myself to watch something so awful. I was afraid for what it might do to me.

There’s an abundance of truly awful, soul-killing content on the Internet. I don’t think we all have to believe the same things to agree on that.

But I’m not sure if that’s the big enemy for us in the online world. Because the truly awful, soul-killing content is far outweighed by the constant hum of benign time-sucking garbage that shows up everywhere you turn.

I just wonder if the din of noisy nonsense is worth the occasional gem I turn up on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. And the problem is not that I hate the nonsense.

The digital noise, however harmeless, that we allow to constantly buzz in our consciousness can dull our ability to focus on subjects that have a deeper significance.

The digital noise, however harmless, that we allow to constantly buzz in our consciousness can dull our ability to focus on subjects that have a deeper significance.

The problem is how much I enjoy it, and how easy it is getting sucked into the black hole of it all.

Start with asking the question of whether or not any of this really enhances your life – feel free to exempt the stuff you need for work, or the blog where you post updates on the kids for your extended family, or even one or two or three activities you really enjoy that require some online time. But ask yourself about the hours on Facebook, pouring over the personal minutiae of someone you haven’t known since high school. Or, if you’re like me, the hours you spend on Facebook crafting silly little jokes to amuse a small group of friends.

Question the compulsion to check your Twitter feed every five minutes. Or Instagram. Or any number of pet websites or blogs, or the feeling of needing to read and watch and comment on the latest thing that everybody else reads or watches or comments on. I think we might all be a bit like the grandmother in the Flannery O’Connor story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” The snotty daughter claims the grandmother is crashing their family vacation just because she’s afraid of missing something. Spoiler alert: They all get murdered.

For me, it used to be hours spent surfing one Wikipedia page to the next. I’d suck down the information like a garbage disposal – and I’m still able to call upon my knowledge of Zamfir as the unquestioned master of the Pan flute, but that info has never served a purpose in my life outside of one magic moment in a bar trivia contest. I wasn’t doing it because I was hungry for knowledge. I was just restless and bored. And that’s where I turned. On the surface, it’s a harmless choice considering some of the other options those moments present.

But the small things bring about the same result as the big.

A multitude of termites can leave a home just as destroyed as a hurricane. Destruction is destruction no matter what speed it happens. Break a man’s legs or shatter his confidence. Cut off his hands or dull his senses and dampen his drive until he stumbles through life useless and irrelevant.

Your Facebook fixations or my Wikipedia binges might not twist us up inside like some brief lurid piece of video. But they do suck away our time, and they sap energy to do anything with the time that remains. Doing the easy things does not make it easy to do the hard things.

The grains are falling through the hourglass and they only move in one direction. In my better moments, I’m haunted by the words that John Piper said have hung in his family’s home for at least two generations. “Only one life, twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ shall last.”

12 for 12: January’s theme – Renewal

Image: arkorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I spent some of my first lucid hours of 2012 at Fellowship Church in Jacksonville, Texas, listening to my brother preach on “Putting First Things First.”

He laid out the text, Matthew 6:33 – “a Biblical resolution for the new year,” and then identified three obstacles that keep us from the goal.

  1. Earthly interests are here and now.
  2. Sin has skewed our view of the world.
  3. It’s easy to be mastered by stuff.

It was a well-chosen message for the new year, but the second point really caught my attention and got my imagination working.

“Our minds have been seriously damaged by sin,” he said. “That’s why they need to be renewed. Believers need to be renewed on a daily basis.”

I’ve always liked the idea of a new year. A fresh start. A chance to reset and begin again. To remember and reaffirm promises and plans of the past. To empty out a vessel and prepare to refill it. I think it’s an ideal time to think about the topic of renewal.

In an attempt to be more intentional about this new year than I have in years past, I’ve decided I’m going to try to approach each month with a theme in mind. Twelve themes for twelve months for Two Thousand and Twelve. I want to take each month’s theme and focus on it – in what I read, the songs I listen to, the conversations I have, the movies I watch, the photos I take, the words I write, the prayers I pray.

And so, in January, I begin with the theme of RENEWAL. I’ve got some potential themes for the coming months as well, including love, friendship, identity, acceptance, perseverance, hope, joy and thankfulness. But I’m always open to suggestions. And I definitely would appreciate suggestions for movies, songs, books, activities that will help me focus on renewal.

That’s the way it works in my happy little fresh new year’s brain of course. You know, the one that hasn’t yet been ground up by a million and one deadlines, projects, time-wastes, sick days, setbacks and the general craziness of life.

So here’s what you can do in all this… pray for me, encourage me, advise me, engage me, even join me. And let’s see what kind of year this can be.

Walking the line between faith and fear

I had a talk with a close confidant yesterday, and we spent most of the discussion about the contrast of faith and fear. We talked about how those two concepts are opposites of each other and how deep self-deception can run when fueled by fear. I don’t have time to go into more detail now, and I’m still fleshing out all my thoughts on the subject, but it was a very enlightening conversation.

And it reminded me of the song below by the Old Crow Medicine Show. Not sure if I know the exact sentiment behind this song, but I love to play it on repeat when I’m driving or just working around the house. It’s a slow tune with a weary end-of-the-trail quality to the lyrics, but there’s hope beneath it all. I think that’s my favorite sort of song.

Yes, this is my first post of 2011. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say. I just haven’t been exactly sure about how to say it. More to come…

We’re all in this together – Old Crow Medicine Show

Well my friends, I see your face so clearly
Little bit tired, little worn through the years
You sound nervous, you seem alone
I hardly recognize your voice on the telephone

In between I remember
Just before bound-up, broken-down
We drive out to the edge of the highway
Follow that lonesome dead-end roadside south

(Chorus:)
We’re all in this thing together
Walkin’ the line between faith and fear
This life don’t last forever
When you cry I taste the salt in your tears

Well my friend, let’s put this thing together
And walk the path with worn-out feet of trial
‘Cause if you wanted we can go home forever
Give up your jaded ways, spell your name to God

(Chorus)
We’re all in this thing together
Walkin’ the line between faith and fear
This life don’t last forever
When you cry I taste the salt in your tears

All the hour there’s a picture in a mirror
Fancy shoes to grace our feet
All there is is a slow road to freedom
Heaven above and the devil beneath

(Chorus)

We’re all in this thing together
Walkin’ the line between faith and fear
This life don’t last forever
When you cry I taste the salt in your tears

When the idea of authority is shattered…

I enjoy reading, though I don’t read novels nearly as often as I should. I really enjoy a well-turned word and phrase, but even more, I love the authors who can take a really difficult, abstract subject and make it easy to understand. I’m much better with the short and simple. It’s the same for photography. I love complex compositions, but I don’t seem to have an eye for them myself.

A few nights ago, I started the first chapter of All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I’d never read this World War I novel written from the perspective of a group of German soldiers. Other people I’ve spoken to have vague recollections of this book being assigned in the 9th or 10th grade. It would have been completely wasted on me at that age.

I chose to start it a little late in the evening… and fell asleep. I picked it up again the other day and was really impacted by the following passage.

I think Remarque is doing what Roy Peter Clark calls “climbing the ladder of abstraction,” but I could be wrong. The context: the soldiers have just mentioned that someone in their group received mail from their old schoolmaster, Kantorek. He was the one who really pushed them to “do their duty” and enlist to serve in the war. Even Behm, the one student to resist, eventually conceded to Kantorek’s appeal to his masculinity and bravery.

Strange to say, Behm was one of the first to fall. He got hit in the eye during an attack, and we left him lying for dead. We couldn’t bring him with us, because we had to come back helter-skelter. In the afternoon suddenly we heard him call, and saw him crawling about in No Man’s Land. He had only been knocked unconscious. Because he could not see, and was mad with pain, he failed to keep under cover, and so was shot down before anyone could go and fetch him.

Naturally we couldn’t blame Kantorek for this. Where would the world be if one brought every man to book? There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best– in a way that cost them nothing.

And that is why they let us down so badly.

For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress– to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases and in cleverness. The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.

While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards– they were very free with all these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.

On one hand, this makes me think of my role as a teacher. It makes me give more consideration to the words I say to my students, the charges I give them. They are listening even when I think they aren’t. I’m always surprised at the things I’ve said that resonate with them years later.

On the other hand, it makes me think of the nature of authority. We all reach that point where we realize that all of our teachers and mentors and guides are just men and women like us, subject to all the natural forces of this world and all the chaos and hurt and pain that a life here can hold. And when we see them as they are, fallible and feeble and flawed – just like us, our hope can be shattered. And that’s where I believe we reach a fork in the road, a point of decision.

One choice is to abandon hope in any kind of authority and fall into a life of self-reliance with trust placed in what you can reason from your own experiences.

The other is to acknowledge that the problem is not with hope itself, but where it’s been placed. To realize that there is “a greater insight and a more humane wisdom” though it’s not found in any human authority. That the only thing worthy of full trust, faith and hope in this world is the being who created it. To realize that even the people who believed and spread the message of the Creator were themselves not to be respected as the authority, but only as rough, imperfect signs to point to Him. Incidentally, it’s also when we do this, that we are able to see other people in a different light, without all the expectations that we had previously shackled them with… we see them as we should see ourselves, as creatures bearing our Creator’s resemblance. At this point, I think we become truly free to love them.

Faith and trust and hope in Christ is the other path, and it’s not an easy one to follow. It’s not even difficult. It’s impossible without divine assistance. But if we trust the words of Jesus in the Bible, then we can find that divine assistance there for the asking.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.       – Luke 11:9-10

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.     – Jeremiah 29:13

For, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”     – Romans 10:13

That’s the way I see it. Two paths you can take when the idea of authority is shattered. Trust in yourself. Or trust in Christ. I’ve tried to choose the latter. Partly because I’ve come to know Him, and partly because I know myself all too well.

I don’t do it perfectly, but that’s not the point. His perfection is demonstrated in my weakness and it’s taken me 33 years to realize what a beautiful thing that is.

All of this is a departure from the plot and theme of the novel, sure, but it’s where my mind was led.

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Thank God for Charles Spurgeon

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the prince of preachers

I was working late up at school, worn thin and bare by some recent circumstances and in need of some encouraging words. So I turned to an old friend, who despite having gone to his reward more than a century ago, has provided much uplifting advice for my soul over the past 10 years or so.

And sure enough, the killer combination of the Holy Spirit and Charles Haddon Spurgeon came through for me again.

I went to the words of Spurgeon found in his daily devotional Mornings and Evenings; then I went to the Lord in prayer.

It’s one of the things I admire most about the “prince of preachers,” how he consistently urges me to run toward the Prince of Peace. Thanks Charles… I look forward to meeting you on the streets of Glory and hugging you like my own brother.

Here was this evening’s entry (emphasis mine). I pray it guides you toward hope and reminds you that in this world of darkness, we have a great and piercing light.

“A very present help.”—Psalm 46:1.

Covenant blessings are not meant to be looked at only, but to be appropriated. Even our Lord Jesus is given to us for our present use. Believer, thou dost not make use of Christ as thou oughtest to do. When thou art in trouble, why dost thou not tell Him all thy grief? Has He not a sympathizing heart, and can He not comfort and relieve thee? No, thou art going about to all thy friends, save thy best Friend, and telling thy tale everywhere except into the bosom of thy Lord. Art thou burdened with this day’s sins? Here is a fountain filled with blood: use it, saint, use it. Has a sense of guilt returned upon thee? The pardoning grace of Jesus may be proved again and again. Come to Him at once for cleansing. Dost thou deplore thy weakness? He is thy strength: why not lean upon Him? Dost thou feel naked? Come hither, soul; put on the robe of Jesus’ righteousness. Stand not looking at it, but wear it. Strip off thine own righteousness, and thine own fears too: put on the fair white linen, for it was meant to wear. Dost thou feel thyself sick? Pull the night-bell of prayer, and call up the Beloved Physician! He will give the cordial that will revive thee. Thou art poor, but then thou hast “a kinsman, a mighty man of wealth.” What! wilt thou not go to Him, and ask Him to give thee of His abundance, when He has given thee this promise, that thou shalt be joint heir with Him, and has made over all that He is and all that He has to be thine? There is nothing Christ dislikes more than for His people to make a show-thing of Him, and not to use Him. He loves to be employed by us. The more burdens we put on His shoulders, the more precious will He be to us.

“Let us be simple with Him, then,
Not backward, stiff, or cold,
As though our Bethlehem could be
What Sinai was of old.”

Kiwi, hold the keys

I was blessed today to share what might be my last meal with a good friend, at least perhaps the last North American meal.

I met my friend Paul James and his brother Mike at Weck’s for lunch. I’ve known Paul for a few years, one of several great people I’ve met through several incarnations of a homegroup at the Village Church. I once drove him to Dallas so he could get his eyeballs laser-beamed or something like that. He’s actually come to hear my band play more than once. We’ve even jammed some together with mutual friend Adam in my living room.

We drifted apart a bit when he moved to Tyler a while back, but we’ve always kept up via technology, blogs and texts and Twitter feeds. And this is the second time in the past six months that he, Mike and I have gotten to meet at Weck’s and share what’s going on in our lives over a plate of tasty goodness.

In a little more than a week, Paul is hopping a plane and moving to New Zealand. He’s in love with a girl named Lydia who lives there. I’ve never met her, but she must be pretty great, because Paul is one of my favorite people on the planet.

He’s sold his car, and is boxing up everything but some clothes, his Mac, a digital camera and a baby Taylor guitar, which will accomany him on his flight to the land where they filmed the Lord of The Rings, and to a lesser extent, Xena: Warrior Princess.

During our lunch, he noted that when he checks out of his apartment in Tyler, he won’t own a single key.

“Do they use keys in New Zealand?” I asked. “Or do they just scan your thumbprint?”

“They used to have them in Old Zealand,” he replied quickly. “But they left all that behind when they came to New Zealand.”

I love this guy.

The rest of the conversation was good – with goofy jokes about putting a video evidence on YouTube of how New Zealand toilets flush backward, and good affirming talk about both of our struggles to feel accepted and loved by our Creator. I left feeling so thankful for the time together, for the friendship, and for the guidance that seems evident in each of our lives.

We paid and said our goodbyes… Paul gave me the heads up to go ahead to start looking for a plane ticket to NZ so I could come visit him. I told him I’d do my best. I gave him a semi-awkward but totally sincere hug. And then we left… both heading the same direction because we had parked near each other.

“Isn’t it awkward when you say goodbye to someone and then have to walk with them to get to your car?” Paul said.

“Don’t say goodbye again,” Mike added.

“Don’t even make eye contact,” I chipped in, laughing.

It was a great way to leave a guy whom I’ve always felt on the same wavelength where sense of humor is concerned.

Lord,

Thanks for Paul and Mike. Thanks for a great meal and conversation that ran deep and full. Bless him as he leaves the States. Bless he and Lydia and whatever you have in store for their future. Thanks most of all for loving all of us with a love so big and wonderful that we can lose ourselves completely in its midst. And give us the grace to do just that.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen