Roads Traveling

Inspired by Hebrews 12:11-13

It’s funny how roads bring us back

to haunts and hollows each season,

direction turning, heart yearning

to see a new way up ahead.

Like rings in trees, we age each year, 

memories spinning, refining

like bits of glass caught by the sea.

Discipline brings a full harvest

when the path is walked, each knowing

that though waves crash, they bring about

strength to stand, and smooth our edges.

As clinging sand washes away,

our feeble arms and weak knees leave

us walking, smiling in the wind.

Walls Broken, Gas Tank Full

This week, I am teaching the lesson in middle school ministry at the church where I work. The theme of the message is repentance as it relates to Jonah and his interactions with the people of Ninevah (Jonah 3).

As I was preparing, I had to think a lot about the word repentance, because it isn’t a word that frequents the lunchroom of most 7th and 8th grade students. I came across a good definition that labeled it as, “feeling real regret about your wrongdoing or sin, and expressing that regret.” In a nutshell, this translates to fully understanding our sin and how it hurts God and others, then asking for forgiveness.

Those of you who know me know that when I am going through something difficult, I handle it by going on long drives with no direction and blaring music. I realized this week, that in those moments, wedged between the concrete and a chorus from Simple Plan, my guard is completely down…the walls around my heart are gone. It’s in this space that God takes my pain and makes a metal bucket with wheels and speakers blasting punk rock holy.

The walls around our hearts have to be broken in order for repentance to have its true effect. It is imperative to remember that our hearts are sacred space, and they can either be gardened by God, or left in disrepair.

When you look at the story of Jonah, he repented to God in the belly of the fish, but as soon as he got to Ninevah, his walls were back and he was half-hearted about proclaiming God’s message. If we only ask for forgiveness in the moment, then we run the risk of keeping ourselves from the transformation that God longs to create in us. Life-change is a process.

Paul warns us about walls around our hearts in Romans 2:5 when he says, “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself…”

Living with an open heart is hard, but we are called to be a people of repentance. We are called to be completely open to God so that he can heal us, and in turn, heal others through us. What do you need to repent this week? What walls do you need to break down for God? Just like taking a long drive, having your heart open to repentance requires some gas. Thank goodness for Kroger fuel points, and a God who is so patient with us.

Driving With the Windows Down

We’ve all had those days, right? Our lives feel like they’re in shambles, and we feel completely disconnected from God. Throw in some rain and tired eyes and you could write a new Johnny Cash album (without the ring of fire).

There never seems to be a formula that completely cures this physical and emotional upheaval in life. Sometimes it seems that time is the only vehicle to true wellness. Chinese food and good movies help speed up the process, but I often find myself wondering where God is in the midst of these seasons.

Earlier this week, I was in a bit of a valley, so I turned to one of my foolproof pick-me-ups: going for a long drive with the windows down and the radio blasting. Every now and then, I turn to this rhythm of life, blaring my favorite worship music and loosing myself in the wind (with both eyes on the road) when I’m in a slump.

There is something powerful about offering something mundane, like driving, to God as worship. It brings into perspective our great need for God in every area of our day, and minimizes the irksome tidbits that often throw us over the edge.

One of my favorite songs, “Our Father,” by Hillsong came on while I was on a drive the other day. Its lyrics are loosely based on the words of the Lord’s Prayer,

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.”

The simplicity of these words struck me, and I was reminded of the fact that although it may seem as though I am far from God, he always knows my needs and hears my prayers before they are spoken. His name is hallowed and his kingdom is coming. My valleys are already filled with God’s Spirit.

I have two challenges this week:

  1. Remember that the little ways you bring worship into your daily rhythm can make all the difference
  2. A head cold gained from driving with your windows down in winter can be worth it if the song is good enough

 

God is not the God of, “I told you so.”

Our latest American election cycle is one that will certainly make history. Regardless of where your sympathies or your vote lay, emotions were high and anger was heated. I found myself intermittently stuck between seeking to prove that my opinion was the right one and trying to be a peacekeeper between friends, family, and perfect strangers that I ran into at my barbershop, or the milk isle at Kroger (I guess people just like to talk to me sometimes).

In all of this, many of us felt lost and confused. For so long, we knew that voting for a certain party meant that we were correctly aligning our morals at the polls in the way that we did at church, but this election proved to many of us that politics are no longer rooted in morality. Maybe they never were. What an idea.

Now as we stand amidst countrymen who are either overjoyed, saddened, or indifferent, the words, “give Caesar what is Caesar’s,” ring loud and clear in our minds or are splashed across Facebook statuses and hastily-made t-shirts. Now where do we go whether we’ve won or lost? The sun will still rise and Death Cab for Cutie will still be the perfect band for a rainy day, but what will happen if all goes well or if all hell breaks loose?

We must remember that God is not the God of, “I told you so.” The way forward for our country is not the Way. Republican, Democrat, Independent, Ex-patriot British Nationalist…none of these labels are followed by perfect descriptions, because ideology is not an easy-bake oven.

In the coming days, there will be many opportunities for anyone to say that their way is the right way. My challenge to all of us is to remember that we are called to something greater than what is around us. Our mortal citizenship may be to this country, but our eternal citizenship is to a different Kingdom.

Regardless of your religious, social, or political views, I wager that you can agree on one thing. Success in society is hampered by a build-up of bitterness. This is what happens when we spend our time either waiting on others to fail or putting everything we have into proving we were right all along. This is the result of saying, “I told you so,” and this is not who God calls us to be.

As it says in Isaiah 32:17, “The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” The answer is righteousness, not “rightness.” Some days, righteousness will seem impossible to attain, but we know that where there is a desire for new life, God will make a way.

Listen, Eat, and Delight

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”

Isaiah 55:2

A wise colleague told me recently, that when studying scripture, our impulse is often to look at the surface of what is being said, the face-value. You will more often than not, walk away either challenged or encouraged by the verse you read, but the meaning of that verse does not necessarily dig into the meat of the words. The individual words of scripture each carry a weight that pushes beyond the skin of the surface and into depths of rich knowledge.

For instance, look at the verbs in the second part of the verse above: listen, eat, and delight. Here we have actionable steps toward experiencing God’s will for our lives more deeply. What are the different ways that you listen? How do you define the components that go into eating? What does it mean to delight in something?

God’s Word is a rich cavern filled with gems that is waiting to be mined. Every word carries weight, and sometimes merely sitting with the words themselves creates a space for our faith to grow.

Look at our current political climate. Some days it seems that our only options are either to dramatically declare a side, or slip into despondence. Personally, either of these options leaves me tired, angry, or mired in my sin. You could say that I’m spending my “money,” or my energy, on something that I do not need to live, and my “labor,” or my time, on something that does not give me life.

Rather, I can sink myself into Jesus, listening carefully to his words and examples. I can eat what is good, which includes fully experiencing all of God’s goodness: tasting, savoring, chewing and swallowing that reality. Then, I can delight in my Lord and Savior, allowing joy and peace to fill me.

Doing all of these things doesn’t make this election or global political climate melt away, but it does affect the way that I approach it. Having an opinion is vital, but that opinion needs to be checked by the position of your heart. Where is your heart when it comes to watching debates and speaking with friends? Is it pointing toward scripture, or toward the world?

The Dwelling of the Heart

Over the past few months, my pattern of writing has become one where the Lord will reveal a particular verse of scripture to me that inspires me to prayer. More often than not, that prayer morphs into a poem. This has become a valuable spiritual exercise for me that I encourage all to try. Whether your attempts are poetry, song lyrics, or merely writing out your prayers verbatim, I find that being able to come back to my writings awakens something new in me each time my eyes scan the pages of my musings.

There is certainly something to be said about finding creative ways to experience God. The beginning of the world was creation…God is our creator, and if we profess to be fashioned in his image, then we must be creators as well, stewards of the beauty that he wove into the fabric of this world. Nothing that I write is ever necessarily “good” (seriously…ask my friends), but it is something new created between my Father and myself. I encourage you to try this out and see how it impacts your time with the Lord. With that being said:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” – Luke 12:34

The heart dwells on simple objects,

objects that, left unchecked, blossom into chaos.

Both love and pride occupy space,

a vast horde of glittering treasure, beckoning;

Do you see me? What is your choice?

Whether madness or peace, the choices seem pre-made.

Seductive fumes of darkness waft

over succulent gardens where light seeks to dwell.

The garden needs a gardener,

the treasure, a King to place it where it belongs.

Indeed, the question must be asked:

Who holds court within the dominions of your heart?

A nation?

A notion?

A person,

or a King?

small-treasure-chest-on-beach

Stained Glass

stainedglass

James 2

How often I want what I want.

I’m partial to seeing my view

as the only truthful story.

I hear faith without works is dead,

free from the law, yet free in it.

Is forgetting others my trap?

Lord, your sacrifice made a we,

molding I into something else.

Forever is here, death is dead,

and we all have pieces you form

as a perfect, stained glass window,

leaking light through faith in the world.