Space Invaders

Space Invaders

Down here betwixt the Golfo de México and the Atlantic Ocean we’re smack dab in the throes of C.F.M.S. (Central Florida Monsoon Season)—and have been for a couple weeks or so (probably more like “or so”). Plus, with Tio Alberto doing a drive-by and adding his own brand of joie de vivre in the mix, the rain has refused to let up for any extended period of time and everything is starting to mildew. The mouseke-tourists have even been trying to use their Fastpasses to go to the head of the line to buy ponchos. (On the upside, a few pasty Yankees will probably be spared the threat of skin cancer.)

Don’t get me wrong—we need the rain. A few weeks ago, everything in my yard was brown. And not a pretty brown, like a Hershey Bar or a roast beef sandwich, but a given-up-the-ghost brown, kind of like old guacamole. The only greenness to be had in my yard was due to a big, lush patch of invasive flora—a/k/a weeds. From a distance, though, it still looked green, thanks to the weeds. I’m sure passersby were thinking, “That man has a nice green yard. I wonder what his secret is?”

Laziness. Laziness is my secret. Makes me think of a verse from Proverbs…

I went past the field of a sluggard…the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. Proverbs 24:31-32 NIV

(I don’t have a stone wall, but my driveway has a few cracks…

And now for the rest of the story…

Turn, turn, turn

turn turn turn
Being born and raised in Alabama and a long-time resident of Florida, I’ve heard all the redneck and hurricane jokes. Some of the rest of y’all got some good some good local jokes, too, though. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • You know you’re a Californian if the fastest part of your commute is down your driveway.
  • Top sign you’re a New Yorker #4: You believe that being able to swear at people in their own language makes you multi-lingual.
  • Q: What do a divorce in Arkansas, a tornado in Kansas, and a hurricane in Texas have in common? A: Somebody’s fixin’ to lose them a trailer.

In the years I’ve lived in Florida, I’ve come to appreciate all of ours, especially the ones that have to do with the climate. Por ejemplo:

You’re a true Floridian if…

…you judge a good parking place, not based on distance from the store, but on its proximity to shade.
…you consider anything under 70 as “chilly” and anything under 95 as “just a little warm.”
…you’re on a first name basis with the Hurricane list. They aren’t Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Frances, etc., but Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.
…you’ve worn shorts and used the A/C on Christmas.

I can especially attest to the last two. I actually washed my car wearing my swimsuit one New Year’s Day. (I was wearing the swimsuit, not the car…)

And now for the rest of the story…

Holy Spectacles

untitled“One…” *click* “…or two?”

“Ummm…”

*click*

“One…” *click* “…or two?”

“Two… I guess—maybe just a little.”

*click* *click* *swivel* *click*

“One…” *click* “…or two?”

And so it went. My optometrist would click a lens in place—“one”—then click a different lens in place—“two”—and ask me which one made the little teeny-tiny row of letters I was looking at more clear. Sometimes it was pretty obvious, but most of the time it was more like a Moe’s burrito vs. a Chipotle burrito—it’s a tortilla with beans, meat, and cheese. Bueno.

While the whole optometrical once-over—including the air rifle blast in the eye and the blinding dilation drops—is kind of a chore, it’s worth it to get a new pair of glasses every year.

And now for the rest of the story…

Power-aid (re-publish)

This is a re-publish of a post I wrote a year or so ago. (You’ll notice it’s a tad out of date, as I’ve since rejoined the Facebook crowd and even have my own page.)

I promise I’m working on a new post, but recently the Lord used two of my dearest friends to communicate some fresh encouragement and validation that writing the book I talk about below—and am still struggling with finishing—is definitely His will.

I wish I could say I’ve conquered all the stuff I talk about below, but… I can’t. If the Lord lays it on your heart, I would appreciate your praying for me to tap into the power the Holy Spirit makes available to us to conquer my fears.

• • •

God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7 NIV

I’m finally doing it—I’m writing a book. (Cue the choir for the “Hallelujah Chorus.”) It will be a self-published paperback called “I Am the Clay” and will be a compilation of some of the things I’ve written for this blog adapted into book format. (There will also be a Kindle version.) But since I wrote them originally—or rather, God used or inspired or directed me to write them—it’s pretty much the same thing.

A real book—who’d a thought? (Some of you did—thank you for your ongoing encouragement.)

Not to dampen the “woo-hoo” moment of announcing a book-in-progress or anything (or muffle that choir), but let me linger here a moment so that I don’t blithely skip over the part about God using / inspiring / directing me to write.

And now for the rest of the story…

Gracias, Senõr

The van ride up the side of the mountain on the curvy, bumpy, Guatemalan gravel road was just short of being a health hazard; however, that fact didn’t really seem to bother the load of mission team members laughing and talking, trying to get phone reception, and generally having a wonderful time…

“Volcano!” “Where?” “Quick—open the window!” “Where’s my phone? Move your head!”

“Does anyone want one of these chips I got at the store?” “What are they?” “Spicy.” “I mean, what are they called?” “I don’t know—I can’t pronounce it.”

“I’m serious, ya’ll—another six inches closer to the edge and we’d’ve been communion wafers.”

“How do you say ‘Jesus loves you’ in Spanish?” “Jesus te ama.” “Jesus te amo?” “No—Jesus te ama.” “What’s the difference?” “The difference between good grammar and bad grammar.” “They have grammar in Spanish?”

“Does anybody have any Dramamine?” “I have spicy chips and hand sanitizer.” “Not helping.”

This was my third mission trip to Guatemala and, regardless of the day of the week or the mission-trip-related activities of the day, the trip through the countryside was never boring.

And now for the rest of the story…

10 Ways to Live a Holy Life, Part 1

[God] has saved us and called us to a holy life. 2 Timothy 1:9

“Listicles” are everywhere. You know what I mean: “18 Ways to Know If Your Cat Is a Presbyterian” or “13 Foods That Will Make You Clairvoyant.” The theory is that we just don’t have enough time to read regular paragraphs, but we do have time to read lists.

So in the spirit of listicality (not a word, but totally should be), this is the first of a four-part series on 10 ways to live a holy life. After all, God Himself said:

“Be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)

Great – but what did He mean?

Being holy means that, now that I know Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I’m supposed to be different from the average non-Christian guy on the street – different in the things I do, the things I say, and the things I think about. For me, holiness means that I don’t cuss, or go to R-rated movies, or miss church to stay home and paint my bathroom.

But notice in the verse above that God doesn’t say “Be holy just like me.” (Because that’s just crazy talk.) We can never match the standards of God’s own holiness, but we can be holy within the parameters of our humanity. And God totally gets that; He created us, so He doesn’t have any delusion that we can be anything more than He made us to be.

The list below (and in the following days) will most likely make some folks squirmy, because we don’t want someone telling us that something we’re doing isn’t pleasing to God. But if you’re a Christian, the squirminess is good, because that means you still want what God wants for you.

In the end, though, it’s not what anyone’s list says; as Christians the litmus test for each of these items is whether or not Jesus would do it. (You can already see where this is going.)

So here we go…

The Holiness Listicle (1-3)

1. Go to Church

You get this, right? You need to be there in person every week (unless you have the plague). Church isn’t always perfect – and neither are the people who go there. If they were, they wouldn’t need to be there. But as the author of Hebrews says:

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another. (Hebrews 10:25)

(Apparently 1st century Christians stayed home to paint their bathrooms on Sunday, too.)

I’m fairly certain that there is at least one church within driving distance with music you like and/or a preacher who isn’t afraid to preach from the Bible (or both). And if one or the other of those isn’t available, there are a million worship tunes on iTunes and YouTube and at least that many good online sermons.

So comb your hair and grab your Bible (or electronic Bible display type device thingy) and go be a part of God’s plan for the Church (capital “C”). And if you have to suffer through uninspiring music or preaching, smile and thank the Lord you still have the freedom to be there. Then go home and log in and listen to the good stuff.

Would Jesus go to church?

2. Read the Good Book (and other good books)

I get it – the Bible can seem daunting to read. Even with a version written in contemporary language, it’s hard to know where to start – all those difficult to pronounce names, and sacrifices, and kings, and Jewish customs (if you’re not Jewish) in the Old Testament and the not-for-the-novice book of Revelation in the New. Definitely daunting.

But it’s all good:

All Scripture is God-breathed… (2 Timothy 3:16)

…it’s just finding a course of study that fits your learning style and where you are in your Christian walk. God planned for us to be able to read and understand His Word, but I think He also meant for us to work at it a little and mull over it and talk about what we’ve read with others. (Thus the “Bible Study” was born.)

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Start with the book of John. John loved Jesus – and Jesus loved John (as John loves to remind us). He was quite the eloquent communicator for a back-water fisherman. When you’re finished, read it again.
  • Read Paul’s letters to the churches he planted; Romans, Corinthians, Galatians – pretty much any New Testament book that ends in “ans.” He is truly the author of much of our Christian theology.
  • Remember all the worship tunes and sermons online? There are about that many Bible reading plans online. Your favorite search engine can point you to a few.
  • There are great Bible apps for phones and tablets that include built-in reading plans (Bible Gateway and The Bible are two). Plus, these apps are all free.

There are also lots of good books by Christian writers out there. You’ll find daily devotional books, Bible commentaries, books devoted to unpacking the life of a Bible character or theme, Christian fiction, and books with themes like this blog about living the Christian life with grace and style. These make great supplements to your Bible reading.

Ask a friend from church (see #1 above) who has lots of books to loan you something. Nothing pleases us book collectors more than to wax eloquent on the books in our library. Just borrow a book someone suggests with the understanding that if you don’t enjoy it after giving it your best shot, you’ll return it unread. Be honest. (More on that in Part 2…)

Wouldst Jesus read the Bible and, verily verily, “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis? Behold, I say unto thee – He would.

3. Pray

Just like church going and Bible reading, praying should be a given for a Christian.

Praying isn’t hard – just talk to God like the friend that He is. There are no magic words to say and He doesn’t care about your grammar. Sometimes praying is as much about hearing yourself articulate your thoughts as it is about God hearing them. (Kind of like therapy with the greatest therapist in the universe, but without the fake plants and shelves full of books by Freud and Jung.)

After all…

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

Living life as a Christian can be amazingly awesome – but it can also be incredibly hard. Mostly, it’s somewhere in between. Talking to God about it at each of those stages can make that life come alive. You can tell Him anything: “I’m sorry,” “Thank you,” “I don’t know what I was thinking,” “Help me know what to do,” “I can’t do this without you – I’m not even sure I can do it with you,” “Today – just grace for today…” Absolutely anything.

Paul says to:

Pray continually. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

You can do it in the shower, in the car, during that boring meeting, sitting on the porch having coffee, mowing the yard. David said that God…

…does not slumber or sleep (Psalm 121:4).

The lines of communication are always open to talk to someone who will listen.

Did Jesus pray? Three words: The. Lord’s. Prayer.

 


 

Not too bad so far, huh?

So far. Stay tuned for Part 2…

To the nth degree

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Ephesians 3:20-21

When I was 12 or 13, my sister and I, along with my cousins up the road, created our own township in my Great-Uncle Buford’s backyard. His backyard was the perfect place for us kids to play, as he had a collection of ramshackle sheds, barns, and lean-tos he had built to hold farm tools, woodworking equipment, vegetable canning supplies for my great-aunt – basically, the random stuff old country people collected and held on to in days of “yore”.

We laid out streets on which to ride our bicycles amongst uncle Buford’s outbuildings and we each chose a profession. My oldest cousin was the banker and kept tabs of everyone’s bottle caps, our currency. (The more common the soft drink – RC Cola or Sundrop, for example – the less the top was worth. I’m sure that illustrates some economic principle perfectly – the law of soda and carbonation, maybe.) He also created checkbooks for each of us to use to draw funds from our stash of bottle caps stored in the bank vault (which, best I remember, was a shoe box).

I owned the store where I sold jars of my great-aunt’s canned tomatoes and shovels and hoes. No credit cards were accepted – mine was strictly a bottle cap-only business.

My youngest cousin was in charge of law enforcement and would stop anyone who ran one of her imaginary stop signs (which tended to move on an ever-changing and unpredictable whim) and levy some sort of fine. She was always on the take, though, and could be bought off for a couple of Nehi Grape Soda tops.

Down past the garden in a copse of pine trees, was our residential neighborhood. My dad brought us each a big cardboard box from the manufacturing plant where he worked and we cut a door and windows and arranged the fallen pine straw as best we could on our individual plots to give our kid-size McMansions some semblance of curb appeal.

Not only did these activities help develop my imagination, they kept me busy and out of my mama’s hair.

Without the internet and video games as distractions, it was much easier to develop a rich imagination that kept one from ending up on the 10:00 news for all the wrong reasons. And mine was indeed rich. In addition to being retail entrepreneur in Backyard-ville, I pretended to be a rock star and lip-synced to the latest 45s with a toilet paper roll as a microphone, built condos for my sister’s Barbie dolls out of album covers, and flew around the house wearing a super hero cape made of a bath towel.

It was never boring being me.

That imagination continued to follow me throughout my life. Eventually I traded in my cape for a drafting table and began imagining the cool house I would design and live in when I became an architect. Later, I banged out tunes on the piano, imagining the huge choir and orchestra I would conduct one day while they sang and played one of my compositions, a piece so moving and powerful that it would bring the audience to their feet in tears and thunderous applause. (One thing I never had to imagine was being overly dramatic.)

But neither of those ever came true. In fact, none of my imaginings came true: super hero, rock star, seller of canned tomatoes and shovels and hoes – none of it. Big dreams; unfulfilled life…

…At least until June 17, 2010. On that Thursday morning the faithful, loving, merciful, gracious almighty hand of the one true God (as David so beautifully wrote)…

…lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. (Psalm 40:2)

On that day I became an adopted son of God, a follower of Jesus, a Christian. Exit unfulfilled life, stage left; enter Spirit-led life, stage right-hand of God. For all my life I had imagined with my imagination and not God’s. Suddenly, anything I could ask, anything I could imagine, anything I could hope for, He could do to the nth degree without even breaking a sweat. (I realize that totally anthropomorphizes the Lord here, but you get my point.) He makes what I always thought was a vivid, well-honed imagination, sharpened from years of wishing and dreaming and flying around the house wearing a towel, look like a pre-schooler’s crayon drawing hanging next to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

God’s imagination and His ability to make it a reality is infinite – and not only as revealed in the spectacular, like the creation of everything we see, but also in the comparatively simple human things he enables us to do. Paul said it beautifully in his letter to the church at Ephesus (3:20-21):

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!

(I especially like how Paul puts an exclamation point at the end.)

So keeping that verse in mind, let’s revisit my unfulfilled past life…

Designing a house? I absolutely could have done that. Composing a moving piece of music? I could have done that, too. But instead of choosing salvation by faith in Jesus early on in life and letting God work through His Holy Spirit, possibly opening up an opportunity down one of those paths or one far more fulfilling, I chose another path: a dead-end path that seemed exciting at first but ended up being self-indulgent and empty. And as Shakespeare wrote, “There’s the rub.”

Although God in His love and mercy saw fit to bring me unscathed, for the most part, through those dark times (in spite of some of my best efforts to the contrary), He let me go my own way down the path I chose – though, thankfully, not forever. Looking back now, I can only imagine (that word again) the blessings He might have had in store had I chosen a life of faith in His Son.

However, during these past four years – again, His love and mercy ever on display – He’s made up for the time I wasted by giving me opportunity after opportunity to grow my relationship with Him and take stuttering but sure steps down the path of sanctification. (Of course, He never makes me walk that path alone.)

Here are some of those steps:

The B-I-B-L-E

As Psalm 119:105 says. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” I recall day-dreaming through Bible reading before I became a Christian. The classic Bible verses were OK – John 3:16, for example – but anything that didn’t make it on a sign at a football game was of no import to me. Now, though, I can’t get enough. I’ve read it through twice in chronological order and at least that many more times in bits and pieces. (Right now, I’m doing a topical study on end-times prophecy – you know… just gettin’ ready…)

And now that I have a living relationship with the Lord, it’s never just passive reading – it’s an interactive adventure. These are God’s words, and reading them is like having a conversation with Him. Sometimes a passage I’ve read dozens of times before will suddenly hit me like a Blackjack dealer in Vegas. And when it does, it may be just the card I was hoping for or it may be the one that makes me “go bust.” (Let’s just think of that as conviction.) Either way, it’s worth the odds.

Let us pray

I’ve developed – am still developing, actually – a pray-without-ceasing kind of prayer life. I’m learning what it means to pray in Jesus’ name, and when to talk and when to listen. And when it’s time to talk, I’m learning to do just that – talk to the Lord just like I would a cherished friend. No pretense (He can see right through that); no Pharisaical pride and pomposity (nothing will shut Prayer Time down quicker than that); no pity party. Just seeking Him with simple, straight-shooting supplication, and – all too often – sorrow at falling short of what He wants for me. But He’s quick to forgive. He’s even teaching me to pray in public without my voice going up an octave from panic. (Talk about doing immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine…!)

Testify

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that I would be blogging about my spiritual life – I used to not even have a spiritual life. Yet, here I am, depending on God to give me the words to share what He’s done for me, writing about the day-to-day process of living out His will for my life, testifying to His ability to truly and totally make a new creation out of the vilest sinner. Because of God’s hand on my life, what I write may even touch hearts and lives, or have eternal significance, or be turned into a book. Again – immeasurably more…

Re-imagined

Because of that new-found relationship with God, I find my imagination lingering on totally different things:

  • I imagine how things I’ve read in the Bible really took place, like what that wheel within a wheel looked like that Ezekiel saw and what John heard in Revelation 10:4 when the voice from Heaven told him: “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.” I’m dying to know.
  • Speaking of Heaven, I imagine what it’s really going to be like. While reading Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, my imagination truly soared, as he piqued my interest with his own interpretation of what the Bible says about eternity. Maybe once I’m there I truly will conduct a composition so moving and powerful it will bring the heavenly hosts to their feet. Except that any adulation will be directed to the Lord and not to me – and, miracle of miracles, I’ll be totally fine with that.
  • I imagine what it will be like when I meet Luke and Ruth and Rahab and Daniel face-to-face. Even better, I imagine that day when I finally meet Jesus face-to-face. (Actually, I can’t even comprehend what that will be like; at this point, I typically have to just stop and mull on that one for a while.)

So even though I’ll probably never become an architect, or build that cool house I imagined; even though I’ll never tear through Gotham City in the Batmobile or leap tall buildings in a single bound; even though this blog may be the most significant thing I ever do while on this earth, I have something bigger than rock stardom and composer fame to dream about – this former kid-encaped-in-a towel is now imagining what God has for him in this life and, more important, in the next.

Whatever it is, it will be to the nth degree more than I could ever ask or imagine.

Off the hook

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

I’ve learned that getting people to read blog posts can be challenging. (Thank you for reading, by the way.) For starters, most people don’t like to read. Twitter has trained us to shut down after 140 characters and Facebook has taught us to never click that See More link at the end of a status update. After all, who wants to read even more nattering on about the Chinese chicken and sweet potato casserole recipe someone found and plans to try for dinner tomorrow night?

The fact that it’s a Christian blog makes it even trickier. Start a blog post with “The Bible tells us…” and you can rest assured that post is DOA. (Welcome to the age of “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”)

So in order to grab the reader’s attention right from the start, it can help to open with a “hook”. A hook (an aptly named literary device) can be:

The unsuspecting reader starts out reading a funny story about gnats colonizing the kitchen garbage can and, before they know it, they’re reading about Jesus.

I know – it’s a little mean. But so is letting someone die without hearing about God’s grace.

My original intention for this post was to say that Isaiah 41:10, the verse at the top, didn’t need any sort of hook or distraction:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about this? Who wouldn’t revel in the message of this promise from God: “Don’t worry – I’ve got you covered”?

However, I’m realizing now that I actually did start this post with a hook – a hook about hooks.

So sue me. Anyway, since you’ve read this far…

I love Isaiah 41:10 – I want it screen-printed on a t-shirt. (I guess it would need to be written backward so I could read it when I looked in the mirror – or upside-down so I could just glance down and read it. The t-shirt place would probably look at me funny.) This verse lets me know that, with God in control, when it comes to having the strength to do what I have to do, I’m totally off the hook – I got nothing to fear.

Sweet.

One (minor) caveat: even though everything from God is ultimately good, that doesn’t mean that it won’t ever hurt. After all, Christians get killed in car wrecks and end life with Alzheimer’s. Christians who manage their money Biblically still sometimes struggle to live from paycheck to paycheck. Christians lose their jobs, their homes, and their loved ones.

I’m reminded of a dear friend who, a few months back, wrote me on Facebook: “I need your prayers. I was diagnosed with cancer last week and am having surgery Thursday. I’m not scared of the surgery, just the unknown afterward…”

(Side note: to be requested specifically by someone to pray for them is probably as great a blessing as there is. Seriously.)

I confess: I would have been scared of the “unknown afterward” too, had I been in the same situation. So where does that fear come from? Maybe it’s due to the reality of our frail humanity or our struggle with trusting God without reservation. Fear is nothing new, as Isaiah was writing about it 2700 years ago, give or take a couple of days.

Obviously it doesn’t come from God, because in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, chapter 1 verse 7 he says:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (NKJV)

He knows we have a tendency to do so, though. “Do not fear” and “Do not be afraid” are some of the most oft-repeated phrases in the Bible.

So do not fear, for I am with you…

That’s a difficult lesson to learn, but one God wants to teach us. So I wrote my friend back with some encouragement and the promise to pray, then ended with, “One more thing: read Isaiah 41:10 before Thursday.”

And I waited – and prayed…

The post-surgery message I received was, “I read the scripture before surgery. I had this beautiful image of God with his huge hands holding me in the palm of his hands! I am going to be fine. Whatever the outcome, I feel a great peace.”

I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Indeed He will; He did for my friend and He has for me, just as He promised through Isaiah. He can – and will – do it for anyone.

So if you got hooked into reading this and have made it this far, just know that, in addition to strengthening and helping and upholding us and taking away our fears, God has taken everything else on Himself as well:

  • He came and lived as a man and willingly gave His life to pay for and cancel our sin debt – we couldn’t do it ourselves.
  • He offered this cancellation of our sin debt to us as a free gift, out of graciousness and mercy – there’s no way we can work hard enough to earn it.
  • He made the gift of salvation simple – we only have to believe, ask, and accept.

And not only will He do all of these things in this life, He will do even more in the next. (I just finished reading Randy Alcorn’s book, “Heaven,” so I’m all up on how eternity’s gonna work.) There will be no more cancer, no more death, no more fear. In other words, if the upholding we get from God’s righteous right hand now happens to pinch a little (or a lot), it won’t pinch forever.

So before you get the hook in this life, be sure you get hooked on Jesus. Trust me – life with Jesus? It’s off the hook.

All groan up

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Romans 8:26

Do you have someone in your life that you’ve spent a considerable amount of time with or someone you just hit it off with from the start – spouse, longtime friend, twin sister, disco dance partner? Someone with whom you’ve developed a kind of “secret language”? You know – you finish each other’s sentences, have inside jokes that no one else thinks are funny (and that can’t be explained to an outsider), or you dissolve into hysterical laughter every time you both see a corndog?

I imagine that most people who have been on band trips, or were in sororities, or spent life somewhere besides alone on an iceberg have developed some sort of exclusive communication with someone else.

For instance, my family has a legendary story from one of our vacation trips that, 40 years later, still gets rehashed at least once a year. All one of us has to do is mention “Kiwanis Club Ice Cream” and we’ll spend the next 10 minutes retelling it and having a little family bonding moment all over again. By now, we all know our parts and can shorthand it pretty well:

“Daddy asked you what kind of ice cream you wanted…”

“And I was watching the Kiwanis Club meeting going on next door to the ice cream parlor…”

“So when I got to the counter I said ‘We’ll have two chocolates and a…what was it? A Kiwanis Club?’”

“When we got outside, Dorothy and Orville were laughing so hard they were doubled over the hood of the car…”

You had to be there.

When my friend George was still living, all I had to do was start singing “Okinawa” to the tune of “Oklahoma” and we would be done for the evening. It only took me singing that one word for us to relive the entire experience that time in the car when we almost had to pull over. (Makes me giggle thinking about it.)

I’m sure you have those same sorts of shared memories with people who know you well. They draw you closer, make you feel a part of something bigger than yourself, and serve as reminders that you’re with someone who knows you so well that you don’t have to start from the beginning every time – you can jump right in the middle with a cryptic word or phrase or look and suddenly everybody’s on the same page.

As a Christian, I have that same sort of exclusive communication with God through the Holy Spirit. After all, every day I feel part of something way bigger than myself; plus, He knows me so well that, when I pray, I don’t have to start from the beginning every time. (Me: Do you remember yesterday when I asked you…? God: Are you kidding me?) While He and I may not always be on the same page in every aspect of my life – totally my fault, not His – we definitely are when it comes to His knowing my every need and the desires of my heart.

I’ve talked a lot about my Prayer Time (capital “P,” capital “T”) here on “clay” – when I pray, how I pray, how God speaks to me, that sort of thing. But lately, I feel as though my experience with Him through prayer has gone through a sort of metamorphosis, transforming into this really sweet and amazing two-way communication, complete with what Paul talks about in Romans 8:26 when he says:

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Lately when I pray, I’ve had the distinct impression that, at times, the Holy Spirit is saying, “I’ve got this;” that He’s interceding for me “with groans that words cannot express.”

Those times, for example, when I’m having trouble syncing the desires of my heart with God’s desires for me; when my desire to be obedient and honor Him at any cost keeps butting its head against my desire to do it my way or even to do nothing at all. I don’t know how to say in prayer what I know God wants to hear and truly mean it, because I can’t seem to overcome my pride manifesting itself as fear rather than faith or self-consciousness rather than Christ-consciousness.

Or those times when God floods every fiber of my being with the incomprehensible fullness of His love and grace and mercy; when my vocabulary is woefully inadequate to conjure up appropriate words of gratitude; times when “thank you” just isn’t good enough.

It’s at those times I feel the Holy Spirit stepping in to express my true, deep-down “desired desires” to my Heavenly Father in that secret language He has cultivated with me over the past three years; a language I can only speak through Him.

So it would seem the “groans that words cannot express” are my groans, my aching feelings of inadequacy, my impossible-to-put-into-words overflowing wellspring of… of…

Can I get a groan? (Where’s the Holy Spirit when you need Him?) It’s humbling and overwhelming and transcendent, all at the same time.

It’s important to note that this “to the next level” prayer experience isn’t some sort of skill I cultivated – this is totally the doing of the Holy Spirit. It does take a lot of faith and trust and a true desire to know God intimately, though. Psalm 145:18 says:

The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.

So…

  • When I come before the presence of the Lord and open my heart to Him…
  • When I “be still and know” that He is God…
  • When I “call on Him in truth”…

…regardless of my need, I know the Holy Spirit will intercede for me and say to me, “I’ve got this…”

…and fill in the gaps “with groans that words cannot express.”

Most gracious Heavenly Father, thank you for your Holy Spirit: encouraging, comforting – yes, even convicting – and enabling my desires to match your desires…

…even when there’s nothing good in me.

Amen.

discipl(in)e 2

The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3:12)

As I’ve mentioned here on “clay” before, every verse that introduces one of my posts is a verse I’ve memorized. For today’s verse, however, I inadvertently chose pretty much the same verse twice (and a year or so later am just now discovering it – leave me alone…). The first time I wrote on “The Lord disciplines those He loves” it was based on Hebrews 12:6 in my post discipl(in)e. Interestingly, the author of Hebrews was actually quoting today’s verse from Proverbs.

As I’ve pointed out, I know the Lord had a hand when I was choosing these verses to memorize, and He also knew I was going to be writing about them, so obviously this particular one from Proverbs 3:12 bears repeating:

The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

It helps me better understand what Solomon was saying when I insert a couple of words – maybe it will you, too:

The Lord disciplines those he loves, [just] as a father [disciplines] the son he delights in.

Better. (I mean Solomon was wise and all, but…)

In the post linked above, I wrote about how God sometimes uses punishment to discipline me; however, I’ve also experienced God’s discipline through another meaning of that word from the dictionary:

“A regimen that improves a skill; training.”

I like that definition much better than the “punishment” one. It also makes me think of my dad when I was growing up.

Even though he and I were different in a lot of ways, we both shared a love of music. He had a naturally great singing voice and would often sing to himself while he worked around the house or to us when we were little. Mostly he sang hymns, but occasionally a little Hank Williams would sneak its way in there.

He loved the fact that I played the piano, and was never hesitant to pay for my lessons and music books. Watching him work long hours and sacrifice to make my life easier than his made me learn what it took to be disciplined at something. In a way, he disciplined me to improve my skill at the piano by setting an example of hard work and dedication.

Now that I’ve become a Christian, I’m learning that building a relationship with God and “continuing to work out [my] salvation” (Philippians 2:12) also requires a lot of discipline.

Stepping out in faith and dependence on Him doesn’t come easy for me. It takes practice, just like playing the piano – but practice spent through prayer and Bible study and not by sitting on the piano bench. That’s the only way I can know God better and, as a result, learn to trust Him without reservation.

Learning to “go and tell” also takes practice. The way He’s chosen for me to share my testimony of Him and what he’s done for me is through writing for this blog – a sort of electronic version of the great commission. Learning to communicate a message of hope and salvation requires that I do it regularly while being sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Before I go any further, though, let me dispel any impression I might be giving that I’ve got being disciplined spiritually down pat…

As much as I love experiencing the presence of the Lord through prayer, sometimes I find myself dozing off because I stayed up late the night before “piddlin’ around,” as daddy would say, on Facebook. Other times, I realize it’s been a while since I’ve written something for “clay”, spending my time working crossword puzzles rather than taking time to prepare, research, and write a post.

It’s important to stay in touch with family and friends but how many pictures of grumpy cats do I need to see? And games are good for my aging brain and all, but how often do I need to know that the answer to 24 across, “British heiress, ____ Khan” is “Jemima”?

Answers: none and never. (Unless Ms. Khan is looking to funnel off some of her inheritance to an American lad who’s handy in the kitchen…)

Both would fall under the category of diversion or distraction – not discipline.

It takes discipline:

  • To offer God my best and be “all in” before Him in prayer.
  • To put the puzzle away and start researching the scriptures and writing a post in order to “give the reason for the hope that [I] have” (1 Peter 3:15).

But both of those areas of discipline are underscored by an even more important form of spiritual discipline: waiting on the Lord. You see, that’s where He helps me learn discipline the most: He makes me wait for him.

In Psalm 37:7, David wrote:

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.

Easy for David to say. (For me, though, I’m afraid I may doze off again…)

  • Sometimes when I pray I have to let go of my agenda and wait for God to show me His.
  • Sometimes when I write a post, I have to start over – occasionally from scratch – because I didn’t wait on Him to tell the story He wants me to tell.
  • Always I have to “wait patiently for him” to be sure I’m taking the next steps He wants me to take.

God waited patiently for me most of my life. Now that I can look back and see how gracious and merciful He was, how can I not wait patiently for Him? He’s definitely worthy of my every moment.

In reality, though, all of these spiritual disciplines have a higher purpose: they draw me to Him. Waiting for Him, listening to Him, studying His word, and trusting Him are all disciplines I can achieve only by drawing closer to Him.

Without drawing closer to the Lord and seeking His will, His presence, and His guidance I would end up missing the most important thing He can give me –

Himself.

And without being disciplined spiritually and giving Him all that I have – heart, soul, mind, and strength – He wouldn’t have the thing He wants from me the most –

Me – all of me.

So I’m finally learning something my dad learned long ago: even though he was a disciplined craftsman, provider, and teacher, his most rewarding area of discipline was as a follower of Jesus.

I’m a lot of years behind him in that last one, but I hope to catch up enough to at least taste his dust…