The Season’s Not Over, Yet!

Last Friday, I attended a high school football game in my home town.  It was homecoming, complete with floats and balloons, face paint, and screaming fans (myself included).

My hometown team is having a fantastic season so far– their record is 6 and 0, and they are winning by wide margins each week.  I’m a little biased, not only since this is my home town, but because I have a nephew and a cousin on the team!  They have already qualified for a spot in the playoffs for their division, and they have dreams of becoming state champions.

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I hope they make it.  I pray that they will play their best; that they will stay safe and healthy, too.  I want them to win, and I think they have a good chance.  But the season’s not over yet.  They still have to play a couple of tough teams in the regular season, and they will face stiff competition in the playoffs.

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As good as they have been so far, the teammates and coaches will still drill, train, and learn how to adjust the way they play based on whatever the next game throw at them.  Next week’s team may be better at passing, or rushing.  Their players may be bigger, or more agile, or more experienced than others.  The weather conditions may play a bigger role next week.

All that to say that we all go through seasons– sometimes even “winning” seasons– and each one requires that we prepare, work, train, and persevere until the season is over.  Some of us are facing a season of trials and losses–we’re waiting and hoping for the season to end.  And it will.  But the season’s not over yet.  Stay in the game– keep praying, keep training, and keep believing that there will be a new season of hope.  Some of us are in a season of victory!  That’s great, but the season’s not over yet.  Stay focused– keep training and preparing, and learning, knowing that there will come a season of trial.  Some of us are watching others in their success–but the season’s not over yet.  Stop comparing– reach out and connect.  Show respect; show compassion.

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This is true in all areas of life– there are seasons in our education, seasons in parenting and relationships, seasons in our careers and service, seasons in politics, economics, and even in our faith walk.  And in every season, God is there.  Like a proud parent or an ardent fan, He is cheering you on; like a great coach, He gives guidance and instruction; like a cherished teammate, He has your back.  In all of this, God roots for all His children– not that some will “win” and others will “lose”, but that all will learn to play their very best and become “victors”.

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No matter what kind of season we are in, or where we are in our season, we should remember a few things:

  • Life is both an individual and a team activity.  None of us can “win” on our own, nor can we expect the team to “carry” us to victory without any effort on our part.
  • We can’t see the end from the beginning (or even the middle).  But God can.  And we can trust His guidance and His timing, even if we don’t see the whole picture.
  • God goes not see “winning” and “losing” in the same way the world judges it.  What looks like “winning” to us may be superficial and false.  What feels like losing may be building a Godly character that will overshadow the temporary struggles of this season.
  • Seasons come and go, but not everyone experiences them the same way or at the same time.  In other words, don’t compare your winning swim season to someone else’s losing soccer season, or your dry summer to someone else’s monsoon season.  Instead, focus on your own season and your own growth.  Don’t close yourself off to others– you may have an opportunity to give or accept help, advice, training, and encouragement along the way–but don’t let others become more powerful (or less worthy of respect) than they really are.
  • At the end of the “season”, if we know Jesus Christ, we will share in the ultimate victory.  The celebration that occurs over each person who comes to Christ makes any celebration here on earth seem dull and timid–no amount of parade floats, lights, fireworks, screaming fans, balloons, or other excitement can compare to the joy of welcoming a lost soul into the Kingdom of Heaven.

All of Nothing is Still All

What do I bring before God when I pray?  Awe, gratitude, requests, confession, what’s on my mind, my heart…there are many things I can lay on the altar.  But what do I bring God that doesn’t originate with Him?  What do I bring that has value independent of God? Nothing.

My relationship with God is completely uneven.  God is the provider of everything I need.  I owe Him everything, and have nothing to give that can begin to “repay” Him.  What a blow to my pride, my self-sufficiency!  What is the point of pretending I have anything to bring before an all-knowing and all-powerful God?  All of nothing is still nothing.

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But wait…

What do I bring before God when I pray?  Awe for the beauty and power that inspires and uplifts me; gratitude for the blessings He has poured out so lavishly– life, health, family, joy, peace, grace, love…  I bring requests, not idly, spewing them out to the wind or to random passers-by, but purposefully, to a God who hears.  Confession, not coerced through torture, not met with unbearable punishment, but given freely in the knowledge that there is forgiveness and restoration on the other side of confession and repentance.  I can bring thoughts, fears, hopes, dreams, joys, pains, disappointments, and frustrations and lay them on the altar–not as a reluctant sacrifice of a servant, but as the outpouring of love from a child to her beloved Father.

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I can’t out-give God.  But that’s not a fault or a lack.  Instead, it is the mind-blowing reality that God is able to GIVE abundantly above all that I can hope or imagine.  And even though He needs nothing, He eagerly desires to share with me all the awe and wonder, all the beauty and grace, all the majesty and power of who He is, and to accept from me the joy and humble acceptance of His gifts–nothing more, and nothing less.

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I could give God nothing– no time, no credit, no joy, no love.  Instead, I want to choose to give all.  Because even all of nothing is still ALL, thanks be to God!

Hi-Fi or Wi-Fi?

I know by writing this, I’m dating myself a bit, but when I was younger (MUCH younger!) we used to listen to a Hi-Fi stereo system.  It was a piece of furniture, made of wood, complete with legs and fabric-covered speakers, and it had an enormous hinged cover that had to be locked into the “open” position or it would slam shut as your head and upper body was “inside” trying to adjust the settings!  It had a turn-table for records, an AM/FM radio, and even storage for albums and other gear.  It stood proudly, if awkwardly, in the living room or family room, off to the side of the other large piece of entertainment furniture, the giant television set, complete with rabbit-ear antenna.  Hi-Fi stood for “High Fidelity”, reassuring us that the sounds issuing from this box were as close as we could get to “being there” for concerts, broadcasts, and other recordings.  Our model was “old school”– there was no remote control, no way to record in any other medium (no tape deck or USB port), no “pause” or “mute” function– all the knobs and buttons and “arms” had to be operated by hand.

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Today, we have “Wi-Fi”– a word that looks and sounds very much like the earlier “Hi-Fi.”  Most people think that Wi-Fi probably stands for “Wireless Fidelity.”  I looked it up– the “Wi-” does stand for wireless, meaning that information is transferred via radio waves, eliminating the need for a wire or cable connection.  But the “Fi” part does NOT stand for fidelity (or anything else, exactly).  It is simply a brand name for a particular wireless protocol See more about the definition of Wi-Fi here.   Still wireless communications, including cell phone service and internet, has radically changed our world, making it possible to connect with virtually anyone, anywhere, any time.  It is a marvelous innovation with potential for great good.  In our world and culture of global communications, we rely on Wi-Fi or wireless connections every day.  We use them for information, entertainment, business, and social networking.  I rely on it for this blog.

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When it comes to prayer, it’s important to recognize the important difference between Hi-Fi  and Wi-Fi .  Both are important, but they are not the same.

High Fidelity Prayer (as I see it) is consistent, daily prayer.  Faithfully coming before God and seeking His face.  Some may use a rote prayer for grace, or bedtime prayers, matins, or other standardized prayers.  Others may set aside a daily time to pray–15 minutes in the morning, or an hour after breakfast, or even 10 minutes before bedtime.  Some people set an alarm to pray at a certain time each day.  Many even make a habit to pray with a group once or twice a week.  To some, this type of prayer may seem passe, outmoded, old fashioned–after all, if God already knows our every thought, why does it matter if we pray every day or meet with the same group?  It matters because fidelity matters– faithfulness, even in the “small” things, matters to God.

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High Fidelity Prayer may seem awkwardly placed in the middle of our “living room”–forcing us to take time; to make and keep a commitment; to face questions or ridicule–it may seem clunky and wooden at first, even scratchy and hard to tune.  And they depend on being “plugged in” to our power source!

Wi-Fi Prayer is not the opposite of Hi-Fi Prayer.  It is not “wrong”, or illegitimate.  In fact, it is great to know that we can talk to God anywhere, any time, for any reason.  Wi-Fi Prayer (again, as I see it) is spontaneous prayer that is poured out to God “in the moment”.  It can happen as you are driving or walking down the street (just don’t close your eyes!)  It can happen alone or with a group.  It can happen in response to something you overhear on a bus or a train, or read in an e-mail, or hear on the news.  It is not a substitute for Hi-Fi Prayer, but it is certainly a healthy addition to it.

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But Wi-Fi Prayer, just like Wi-Fi communication, can be taken for granted.  Wi-Fi prayers can become “small” and “hand-held”– things we bring before God because it seems like the thing to do.  We tend to put little thought, and even less grammar, into our wireless messages; we sometimes put little thought, and even less doctrine, into our Wi-Fi prayers, relying on common phrases that sound religious, but lose meaning.  “Jesus just be with _____________ during this time”, “put a hedge of protection around ________________”, “I’m just claiming your promises, Lord.”  There is nothing “wrong” with any of these statements, but what do we really mean?  Isn’t Jesus always with us?  Why is protection always a “hedge”?  Which promises are you claiming?  Again, there is nothing wrong with any of these phrases, and we know that the Holy Spirit can understand even our deepest utterances and wordless groaning.  But just like auto-correct can mess up the simplest message, so our auto-pilot praying can mimic real communication with our Lord and Creator.  There are entire comedy routines built around this kind of praying– but it creates an uncomfortably convicting kind of laughter.  We should not be shamed out of Wi-Fi prayer, but we should also be careful not to let our prayer lives become a joke.  Thankfully, God listens to our hearts and not just our words!

Hi-Fi or Wi-Fi, prayer is a sure connection to a faithful God.

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On a final note, whether we have to turn down the knob or hit mute, there is another important “sound” principle of prayer– LISTEN!  There have been some voices mocking this element of prayer, claiming that those who claim to hear from God are hallucinating or just plain crazy.  God rarely ever speaks aloud and directly to an individual–even Jesus, while He claimed that He only did what His Father “told” Him to do– never claimed to hear the audible voice of God telling Him what to do or where to go next.  There are only a few recorded instances of anyone else “hearing” the voice of God directly throughout history.  But there are countless instances of people discerning the “voice” of God, and the leading of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages.  How?  Often through changes in circumstances, other trusted voices, new insights into scripture, or the “still small voice” of their own conscience giving confirmation.  The one caveat about “listening” for the voice of God– it will NEVER lead you to contradict God’s own word or act in contradiction to His character.

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We have a Hi-Fi, Wi-Fi kind of God–let’s keep in tune, log in, and listen!

 

 

Coming Home

It’s homecoming season–in small towns around the area, high school football stadiums are being turned into parade grounds as students decorate floats, dress up, rally, and prepare for a chilly Friday night game.  Hot cider, coffee, or cocoa, hot dogs, caramel apples, donuts; hats, scarves, and sweatshirts with team logos; scores of alumni in the stands to cheer on the home team and share memories of years gone by.  Young and old will cheer themselves hoarse hoping for a victory, and the band will play fight songs, as the cheerleaders jump and shout with all their might.  Fans will argue the calls of the refs, and discuss the plays and players.  Some eyes will be glued to the action on the field, while others will be looking around for familiar faces, and greeting old friends.

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Some people are more “into” sports than others, but there is a contagious excitement on Homecoming night for almost anyone.  People are stirred up; pulses are racing, hope and anticipation run high.

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What happens on Friday night should be what happens on Sunday mornings…

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Do we “come home” to church with an air of excitement and anticipation?  Do we expect victory?  Are we eagerly looking for faces in the crowd?  Discussing the “action on the field” of spiritual warfare?  Do we pray with the same enthusiasm as we use to cheer on a high school football team?  Do we even know the other members of our team?  Or have we stopped showing up for the game, expecting defeat and shame, or shrugging our shoulders– “After all, it’s just a game…”

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Two Women

Based on Proverbs 9

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“Let all who are simple come in here.”

Two women, so alike in some ways–
Both attractive and energetic,
Both young and vivacious.

But

One has prepared a table; the other has prepared her bed,
One talks of virtue and honor; the other whispers secrets.
One requires commitment; the other promises no strings.
To enter either door is to be changed.

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A man entered the door of the wise woman.
He was simple, uncomplicated, straightforward;
A man of few words, but noble heart.
He ate at her table, put his boots outside the door–
Carried her over the threshold.
Time passed, children came.
They added on to the house.
Put in a garden; got a dog.
Others took note.
There were gatherings–
Holidays, barbecues, reunions.
The house was a home.
He never looked back.

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Years later, the man died.
His neighbors and family all spoke
Of his honesty, integrity, and wisdom.
His wife mourned, and was comforted.
He was the father of three,
The grandfather of seventeen.

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Another man entered the door of the foolish woman.
He was simple, uncomplicated, straightforward;
A man of few words, but a yearning heart.
He ate her food and drank her wine; slept in her bed–
Wallowed in her perfumed sheets.
He laughed at her coarse jokes,
Reveled in her cat-fights with the other girls,
And the stares of other men.
He bought her jewelry.  She bought him a car.
They lived the dream: parties and vacations;
Dancing ’til dawn and no responsibilities.
They forgot to pay the bills; they wrecked the car.
Others took note and shook their heads.
She moved in with someone else.
He moved into a hotel.
There were other women
And other hotels.
There were neighbors, friends–
Cars, jobs, maybe even children
Along the way.
But he was never the same.

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Years later, the man died.
His neighbors and friends
Spoke of the loss
In passing or over a beer.
The woman didn’t hear of his passing.
When someone brought up his name,
She said, “Such a simple, stupid man.
I wonder what ever happened to him.”

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“Let all who are simple come in here.”

 

 

Walk This Way

There is an old comedy/vaudeville gag, where a character enters a stately home, or an office, or arrives at an  important event.  They are greeted by a “straight man” character, who tells them to “walk this way”.  The “straight man” then turns and begins walking in a manner that uses exaggerated mannerisms.  The comedic character doesn’t just follow in the general direction of the other character– s/he imitates the exaggerated mannerisms as well.

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In the last of three prayers from the song, “Day by Day” (see last Friday and Saturday), I want to explore how to “follow Thee more nearly.”

I have this quibble with the song lyrics– I know that “nearly” rhymes with “clearly” and “dearly”, but it is not grammatically correct, as it implies that I almost, not quite, but nearly want to follow Jesus, instead of saying that I want to follow Him more closely, or become a better reflection of His character.  That said, I sometimes think that I fall into the comedic trap of thinking that “walk this way” merely means following Christ with exaggerated mannerisms– I follow “more nearly” when I should be following more closely.

Years ago, a good friend of mine suggested that I read a book called “God On a Harley” (Review and summary here)  It is a fable, and an interesting read.  I don’t recommend it for theological content (the Christ it presents is more of a New-Age life coach, not a Messiah), but I’m glad I read it for two reasons:  It challenged my conventional view of Jesus, and it challenged the way I thought about discipleship.  At the time I was reading the book, I was also considering making some big changes in my life– changing careers, moving away from my home town, and trusting God to be “sufficient” in my singleness and lack of guaranteed income.

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When we talk or think about Jesus’ time on Earth, we generally focus on His birth, His miracles, His death, and His resurrection.  We don’t usually think of His everyday life…where He ate or slept or how He lived.  If He were to walk among us today, He wouldn’t appear like the paintings we see– flowing long blond hair (which has always been inaccurate), white robe and sandals.  He might wear a T-shirt and jeans, ride the bus or subway train, and hang out at Starbucks or the corner convenience store.  Jesus didn’t live in a “holy huddle.”  And, though He famously walked on water, He mostly walked the streets.  He lived and walked and ate and spent His days among ordinary people–in fact, it was His willingness to eat with and talk to the marginalized, the forgotten, the ostracized people of Him time, that got Him in trouble with the religious leaders and those in power.

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I don’t think Jesus in our time would be a tattooed, beer swilling, biker– but I’m convinced that He would be found sharing a story or a pizza  with one; and with the kinds of people many of His “followers” would shun.  The Jesus I want to follow “more nearly” is Holy, but He is not “Holier-than-thou.”  I can’t follow Jesus more nearly if I’m following an image that only exists in a picture or my self-righteous imagination.   In my youth, I had a picture of what “following Christ” looked like– but it was more about following expectations and selfish desires– successful career, marriage, giving to the “right” charities, becoming a pillar of the community.  There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but if God calls me to serve in humble (even humiliating) ways, doing thankless tasks, and spending time, not helping the needy at my convenience, but truly serving– pouring out my time and my heart until only His strength keeps me going–I have learned the joy and honor that transcends anything I once imagined.

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I’m not a biker, but I love the image of Jesus on a motorcycle, asking me to come along for a ride.  If I want to follow Him “more nearly,” I couldn’t come up with a better metaphor.  If Jesus came and asked me to ride off with Him on a Harley, several things would happen that relate to discipleship:

  • First, I have to commit.  You can’t “sort of” ride along — you either get on the bike or you stay behind. You might know all about the motor, you might know how to ride, you might know the traffic laws, you might even watch a video of someone riding, but you won’t experience the horsepower under you, the wind in your face, the road slipping away behind you.  The same is true of the Christian life.  You can know about God; own a Bible– even memorize it; you can sing God’s praises, all without experiencing a relationship with Him.  But you’ll never know the full power of His grace and acceptance until you commit.
  • Part of that commitment is to be willing to go when and where He’s going…you can’t go on the ride and stay at home.  You can’t go two hours after He does.  And that brings me to–
  • Trust!  You won’t get on the bike if you don’t trust His ability to drive and His wisdom in knowing how and where to go.  Once you’re on the bike, hanging on from behind, you can’t see all of the road ahead.  You can’t steer or hit the brakes.  In my own experience, I ended up leaving teaching after seven years with no “safety net.”  I had no job waiting in the wings, no money saved up, and no “plan” other than to take whatever honest work I could find and follow God’s leading.  I learned by experience that I can trust God’s ways to be better than mine; better than my expectations!
  • Riding together takes teamwork.  Just because God is doing the driving and steering doesn’t mean that I just sit back and watch the scenery (though I can do a lot of that, too).  If I’m not paying attention at curves, intersections, stops, turns, etc., I can throw everything off-balance.
  • Riding together, with my arms wrapped around Him is the closest I can “follow” Jesus.  It’s not about what I know, or what I can “do” for God– it’s choosing to be in a deepening relationship with Him.  As I live with Him, listen to Him, and trust Him, the knowing and doing will come naturally.

I want to follow with abandon– not just to walk several steps behind, or wander in His general direction, or watch what He’s doing from a distance.  I want to hang on and share the adventure.  That’s the way I want to “walk” with Him.  That’s my prayer, “Day by Day.”

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