Thursday, January 13, 2011

Peaks and Troughs

Life has really had a lot of ups and downs lately. Mostly by my own hand, mind you, but I have been left wondering by it all.

C.S. Lewis wrote about peaks and troughs in The Screwtape Letters, and I've always agreed that life does indeed seem to consist of these up and down cycles.

I just didn't imagine they'd come so quickly, so deeply, or be composed so entirely of my own doing.

See, I can't say that I struggle with my faith in the sense of those words that most people speak them. I believe quite firmly in my God and in Jesus Christ. But I engage in behaviors, outwardly and in my mind and heart, of which I am deeply ashamed. In addition, I feel I am a very weak pray-er, and that I really don't read the Bible enough, or with consistency enough.... especially for someone who leads a Bible study group. Ugh.

And thus, while I am indeed very blessed and I thank God that my life has many high points, there are lots of lows, lots of troughs, and I can say that many are connected to everything I wrote about in that last paragraph... that distance I create between myself and the God I say I believe in.

Many Christian blogs would right about now throw in a happy ending, and sometimes that frustrates me, because that feels artificial to me. But you know what? We do have a happy ending. We do have a God who loves us enough to descend to our earth, take on a human body and walk about among us, get to know us, feel what we struggle with, overcome what we struggle with, and for everything we've done wrong, die on a cross so we wouldn't have to die in punishment and shame, and live again and forever so that we might live forever, too. My challenge sometimes is to replace "we" and "us" with "I" and "me". (Trying reading the paragraph making those substitutions; it's pretty cool!)

But there is one more challenge for me in those troughs. The challenge to remember that God expects more from me. See, it seems to me just as often as the Gospels and the Letters talk about redemption and grace, they talk about forsaking those things that cause us to be ashamed, that cause us to draw back from God. I know it would cause a lot less troughs if I were more disciplined -- more devoted -- to prayer, to the Scriptures, to my God. And I know it would hurt His heart less.

And I know I really really really want to hear those words one day... "Well done, good and faithful servant..."

So time, I hope, to get out of some of these troughs. Time to draw nearer my awesome God.

What keeps you from God? What causes you troughs? And how do YOU draw nearer to Him?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Game Over... Right?

I was watching part of a hockey game a few weeks ago, and it came to a most interesting conclusion. The game was tied; it was in overtime, so the next goal would win, immediately ending the game. A player skated in and shot the puck at the net fast... very fast. The puck came ricocheting back, as though the goalie had stopped it, but it didn't look like he had. There was no telling "clang" that would have sounded as the puck hit the post... had the puck gone into the net and bounced back out too fast for anyone to see?

The crowd anticipated a stoppage in play, when the play would be reviewed. The television announcer was really, really excited. "This game might already be over!!!" he shouted, but players kept skating around the ice. They had to keep playing until that game was decided, until they knew it was over.

The game was indeed over. At the next whistle, the referee watched a replay that clearly showed the game had already been won. The celebration began, seemingly late but assured all along by that goal.

It's easy to see the analogy to the Christian faith here, I think. The decisive blow has been struck. The Anointed One, the Christ, has been sacrificed, and our sin has been forgiven, even before we were born.

And yet...

And yet we keep skating.

See, this is what we're called to do. We know how this game has ended. We know our God is the winner, the victor over sin, over death, over pain. But as players, it is our duty, it is our necessity, to keep working in this world. To work for the poor, the oppressed, the hungry and the sick. To love and forgive relentlessly. We know, when that final whistle blows, (or trumpet, I suppose), who the winner already is. But for now, there's more skating to be done.

Let's play with confidence. Let's play hard. Let's play like it all depends on it. In some odd way, it might. But at the end of the day, when you're exhausted and wondering how much longer until that whistle, and wondering if you've fumbled the puck enough to lose the game, have peace.

The game is over. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Revolution

  Some folks at work were laughing recently about a verbal gaffe someone had made. After a string of such malapropisms most of this school year, they mentioned New Year's revolutions, meaning to say resolutions. I shared in the laugh, but trying to be helpful, offered that to revolve means to turn around, so perhaps this person was just promising to turn it all around in the new year.

  However, in the intervening days, I realized that a revolution of that sort simply brings you back to where you started. The earth revolves around the sun and, in some ways, the earth ends where it started. This seemed dissatisfying to me; I really liked the original analogy! So, a quick trip to turned up the following possible definition for "revolution":

     "a sudden, complete or marked change in something: the present revolution in church architecture"

  I have several small resolutions this new year. Mostly they come down to being a better man, to removing some of the sin I regularly walk in, to break some bad habits, to build some good ones, and also to be more organized and timely about things. But what I hope all these things lead to, by the grace of God alone, is a New Year's Revolution: a complete and marked change in me.

  An apparently popular verse around this time of year is Ephesians 5:17: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" The New American Standard Bible translates the verse as: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (Emphasis added.) This year, I want to be that new creation. I want to be that new creature. I want a New Year's Revolution, God making a complete and marked change in me.

  What are your New Year's resolutions? (Or revolutions!)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Prayer

Help me be a better man in YOUR eyes today than I was yesterday, and a better man tomorrow than I was today.

In the name of the Christ, Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Lights

I love Christmas lights. I really, really do.

I don't love "holiday" things that, in my opinion, have nothing to do with what Christmas is about. Certain Christmas songs, certain types of decorations, really get on my nerves -- probably far too easily! -- if they're not "really" about Christmas. About God. About the birth of Christ into this world. (That, or the songs are just old and I get tired of listening to them!)

But I LOVE Christmas lights! And here's why...

Christmas lights remind me of hope. They bring me comfort, and help me find peace.

My freshman year of college was, in many respects, a very difficult time in my life. (And, by extension, a difficult time in my parents' lives... sorry Mom and Dad!) Without going into too much detail, I really struggled with what it meant to follow God, where I was meant to be in the world, and by some stupid choices I made, my own health. But I remember, near the Christmas break, they set up a "holiday" tree in the student center. It was in a large alcove, surrounded by chairs where students could sit, and I remember one quiet night going down to that room. I was the only one there and, in the midst of my troubles, I remember just looking at that tree. Looking at the small lights. And somehow, someway, feeling better. Those lights brought me more than a measure of peace. I guess, more than that, God used those lights to bring me that peace.

Even earlier than that, I remember being really young and spending time in my living room. We set up a tree every year, and my dad strung it with lights that sometimes blinked in patterns, quickly or slowly, or simply stayed lit. I remember laying on my back with my brothers in the darkened room, watching the light from those blinking bulbs dance around the ceiling, casting shadows of branches in reds and blues, and loving every moment. Everyone came to my parents' house this year and did kinda the same. The lights didn't blink, but looking at the bulbs is still a wonderful experience. And so Christmas lights remind me of family, too.

Even driving from place to place, when it's cold and dark seeing hundreds of tiny lights, white or colored, covering houses and trees or simply draped over a bush or two, makes me happy in otherwise cheerless winter nights.

In John 8:12, Jesus says, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life." When I think of this verse, I think of all that light does. We see where we are going by it. We are warmed by it. Without light, life as we know it could not exist on this planet. Just as light guides, and warms, and gives life, so does Jesus. And when I see lights at Christmas time, in my best moments I'm reminded of this guidance, this warmth, this life that Jesus gives, and I'm comforted, given peace, and sometimes even happiness by all these tiny lights shining in the night.

It reminds me right now of friends, like lights shining in my life. Of God, the ultimate light.

Yeah... I LOVE Christmas lights!

What gives you peace or hope or comfort around the holidays? Or anytime?

Saturday, November 27, 2010


The weather, as I write this, is as follows.

Telford, PA. Cloudy, and 36 degrees. (It feels like 31, though!)

Mechanicsburg, PA. Also cloudy, but a mere 34 degrees! (It feels like 28!)

This reminds me... two people can be going through exactly the same day, in nearly the same place, but it can feel quite different to the two of them. You may be having a great day... but I may not. You may be having, in some ways, a better day, a better year, a better life than me. And I may be struggling with a lot right now, and taking it pretty hard.

I don't always understand what the people around me are thinking... or feeling... or going through. But one thing I've found to hold true: Treating people with love with do more to smooth over the differences in our days than anything else. Just giving someone the time of day, listening, caring, is huge.

If your weather is a little different than mine... or the same... or whatever. I love you very much. And my life is a little better for having you in it.

Special thanks to the two friends who inspired this post! May the weather of everyone reading this be bright, and even if it's not, can I pray with you through whatever life is throwing your way? God's Peace everyone!

Praying After a Meal

I once heard, I'm not sure where or from whom, about a particular group who prayed AFTER a meal was eaten. We as Christians seem to always pray BEFORE a meal, so the thought of praying afterward intrigued me when it came to mind again recently. I seem to recall the point being to show God gratitude for the gift received... Now that you've eaten the food, to give Him thanks for it.

I thought the custom mentioned might have been Jewish, and a quick Google search tonight led me to an article on Wikipedia on Birkat Hamazon, a particular type of prayer after meals involving some types of bread. Wikipedia says the custom is based on Deuteronomy 8:10: "When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you." The prayer is actually made up of four blessings of thanks: for the food, for the land of Israel, for Jerusalem, and for God's goodness. You can read the whole article here, it's pretty interesting:

So, the thought of showing gratitude to God not just before a meal, but after had been bouncing about my head today. I realized after eating most of my dinner that I hadn't, so I said a quick and probably not very sincere prayer to God of thanks. And shortly thereafter, I heard my mom calling from the kitchen. And it didn't sound like good news.

Running to the room, she said someone was bleeding, and there were small tracks of blood across the entire kitchen floor. We quickly found our dog Tyson had an injured paw, bleeding not heavily but well enough to be scary. Something didn't seem right about the way the paw looked... one nail was oddly bent. My dad and brothers were quickly involved, we were trying to stop the bleeding, call the vet, clean up the floor, and I found myself praying a quick, probably not very sincere prayer that God would help this poor little dog and that everything would be okay.

Well, we took a trip to our wonderful veterinarian, who opened her door for us on a Saturday night and bandaged up his paw. God willing, the little guy will be okay, and he was romping around the house again by evening's end. Which was about when I realized...

I never thanked God for answering my prayer and bringing him home safely.

So very often, I pray to God before a meal, but I don't think to thank Him after it's done. And when an emergency arises, I most usually go to Him in prayer (with varying levels of sincerity, but still I do). But then I don't often thank Him afterward. I am thoroughly lacking when it comes to gratitude in my life, in little things and in big. So close on the heels of Thanksgiving, can we be thankful... even after the meal is over?

What are your thoughts on gratitude?