A Good Week

If awe is a longing, then embedded in that longing is the cry for a destination. And if awe requires a destination, then every moment of awe in this life merely prepares us for the incalculable awe that is to come. You just can’t write a book about awe and not talk about eternity. Perhaps we can find no more real and present argument for heaven in the angst that we all carry in the face of the temporary and dissatisfying awes of the present. Whether we know it or not, the awe of every human being-that desire to be amazed, blown away, moved, and satisfied-is actually a universal craving to see God face-to-face. All the awesome things in creation point me to the awesome God who created and holds them together, and his presence is the destination where my hunger will finally be satisfied. God designed this present world to stimulate us so we would hunger for another world. On the other side, we won’t need the fingers of creation pointing us to God’s awesome glory because we will see that glory face-to-face and dwell in the light and heat of its sun forever and ever. We will finally stand in the actual presence of God, and we will bask in heart-satisfied awe, never to long again.


This paragraph comes from the epilogue of Awe, a book I first blogged about in 2016. I just finished my annual reading of it. I committed to read it annually to renew my awe. But I also read it this week in order to consider developing and offering a study of it for groups at my church. If you attend First Baptist Bradenton, stay tuned.

While reading the epilogue, I also couldn’t help but think about Frank (see post from May entitled Serving Frank). We celebrated his life yesterday. His longing is over. His heart is satisfied, never to long again. 

It’s been a good week.

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“Which Way?”

I have a new favorite verse. At least for today.

“This is what the Lord says: Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths, “Which is the way to what is good?” Then take it and find rest for yourselves. But they protested, “We won’t!””‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭6:16‬ ‭CSB‬‬

(Check out how these translations ask the question: ESV, NIV, NKJV “Where the good way is?” The Message paraphrases it as the “tried-and-true road.”)

The visual is so clear, yet we seem blind.

Rest doesn’t have to be that hard. Temptations draw us away convincing us rest is a myth. But according to God’s message through Jeremiah, rest has been found by all our preceding generations. In this day of great change and progress, God’s message is still the same:

“Stop hurrying about looking for a new way. Cease driving up and down the road chasing disguised lights of hope. Search out those who have heavenly peace. Humbly ask them the road to it. Join me on that road where rest awaits anyone who trusts rather than protests.”

Your “Broken” Lyrics

There seems to be an awakening. Some see it. Others are trying.

The awakening is to who we are. And the recurring descriptor is “Broken.”

Those who see it aren’t loathing about it, much like the enemy would want.

Others are allowing him to tattoo “Damaged Goods” on their minds and souls.

Yes, it’s true. We’re all broken. God knew that the minute he breathed life into our lungs.

Yet, it may take experiencing brokenness to see our reflection.

In that moment when we see the imperfections, the scars, or the quirks, we have a choice. Whose voice will we believe?

The enemy cries, “You’re worthless. Done. Pitiful. Useless. Ugly. Undesirable. Lost Forever. Unlovable.” On and on he goes.

Our Creator whispers, “I created you. You have eternal purpose. I love you unconditionally. Your scars are beautiful to me.” On and on he counters.

In their song “Scars,” I Am They sing about this truth. They declare that their eyes have been opened by their deepest pain, the brokenness that brought them back to their Creator. Instead of hating their scars, they say they are thankful for them because they now stand in confidence, they are not who they were before, and they can tell a story of God’s faithfulness and deliverance.

When you sing about your brokenness, what are the lyrics? Whose cries or whispers do you share? 

“We know how powerful those things are”

The smartphone, with its endless apps, is designed to whisper to you that the thing you are doing is not the thing you ought to be doing. The phone isn’t encouraging your progress; it’s causing you stress. Want to know what hostile AI [artificial intelligence] looks like? You’re holding it.


That’s a quote from chapter six, Set Tech Limits, from Ben Sasse’s book Them. There’s a reason that this chapter is the longest in his book. He’s preaching, quite convincingly, that the quick advancement of technology is a major contributor to the cultural challenges in America. These challenges are apparent by the fact that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs creating these advancements don’t want their own kids to have iPads and smartphones. “We know how powerful those things are.”

There’s so much in this chapter that, unless you keep up with all the latest tech news, you have no idea about-the possibility of living to 200 because of advancements like our skin transmitting information to the internet or microscopic computers swimming around in our bloodstream repairing cancers before they are diagnosed, to name a couple. These sound like good things. Sasse shares also some bad things, particularly those that will impact the generations who don’t know a world without AI.

He doesn’t drop the fear and leave. Sasse provides doable suggestions for setting technology limits for yourself and your family. He shares his personal boundaries for how long he engages technology and at what time of day. For his family, they observe a “digital Sabbath” for a big chunk of Sundays. Other practical suggestions include turning off notifications, stop checking likes, read comments only at a predetermined time, and unfollow politics addicts.

This post is my final post referencing Sasse’s book. My recommendation is:

  • If you are American, read it
  • If you are a parent, read it
  • If you are culturally concerned, read it
  • If you are desiring healing encouraged by love in your family and your community, read it

The Wise’s Time

A couple of posts ago I mentioned Ben Sasse’s book Them. I’ll finish it before the sun goes down, but I’m taking a break to ask a question.

The question comes after reading chapter seven entitled “Buy a Cemetary Plot” (you should get your own copy to find out what that title’s about). That chapter contains thoughtful words from a 2017 commencement address by Josh Gibbs, a teacher and author in Richmond, Virginia. Address paraphrase: life is full of seasons in which we are tempted to look forward to the next season in order to find contentment. Sasse includes this quote by Gibbs:

Contentment is a condition of the soul, and it does not come with getting what you want, but in giving thanks to God for what you have been given.

Both writers lead their reader to the third chapter of Ecclesiastes where Solomon describes how everything has its time:

Birth, death; love, hate; gain, lose; weeping, laughing; breaking down, building up; silence, speaking; war, peace; gathering, discarding; mourning, dancing; planting, gleaning; embracing, distancing; tearing, sewing.

Then Sasse wrote this:

The wise man learns how to grow where he is planted. He chooses joy. He embraces the time and season.

And that’s what forms my question: What time is it?

  • What time is it in your season of life?
  • What time is it in your family?
  • What time is it in your community?
  • What time is it in your church?
  • What time is it in your country?

Solomon said every time has a purpose. To wring every ounce of purpose out of their time, the wise make these choices:

  • Choose to embrace this time and season
  • Choose joy
  • Choose to learn and grow
  • Choose to thank God for what He’s already given 

More Than A Backscratcher

Could you imagine Jesus saying, “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”?

Yeah, me neither.

Why is that?

Two good thoughts:

  1. Scratching each other’s backs implies equal benefit. Hard to believe any human could match the benefit received from a Jesus back scratch.
  2. The statement also implies conditions. That’s indicated by “if.” Jesus’ if statements weren’t conditions in which he sought a personal need being met. He was all about his Father’s kingdom. Not his. Not ours. (See Matthew 16:24, 19:21; John 8:42, 11:40)


The Kicker:

He offered more than a back scratch. He offered several times to lay down his life (John 10 and 15). Then he did it. And that provided more than a back scratch. It offered abundant life now and eternal life later.

He’s someone worth following. And to start following, maybe we could say, “Since you laid down your life for me, I’ll lay down my life for you.” 

He’s more than a Backscratcher. 

Serving Frank

Two weeks ago I received an email from a stranger. It was Thursday after a rather trying Wednesday. The email was from a daughter who had an urgent request. Her 86-year-old father was dying from liver cancer, living alone in Bradenton while she and her brother lived in other states. A few weeks earlier she and her husband had visited her dad and had brought him to church that Sunday.  I had spoken that Sunday; therefore her reason to reach out to a stranger with her request.

It was a simple request…Go visit her dad and talk to him about spiritual things. Truthfully, my first thought was, “I’m doing my best to keep up with what’s already on my to do list. I’m drained, but I’ll try to go by.” As it turned out, her dad Frank lived less than two miles from me. I told myself, “There’s no excuse to not go by on your way home.” 

Today, four visits later, I’m so glad I did. What a genuine, rich spirit! We could have visited for hours each time, but his strength required short visits. Thursday we said goodbye. His children came to take him with them for his final earthly trip before his eternal trip.

This interaction is on my mind for many reasons, but one has to do with the reading plan I started this week on @youversion. Author Brittany Rust penned a seven-day plan entitled Pouring Into Others When You Feel Empty. Day two’s devotional included this thought:

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you are stronger than you know. Helping others isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary to stretch the limits of your capacity to discover the limitless strength found in God. God has made you capable of bearing the burdens of others–will you open yourself up to be used by Him to do so?

The verse she connected to her devotional was from Romans:

“Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭15:1‬ ‭CSB‬‬

There are days we don’t feel strong. On those days, God often gives us an opportunity to meet a “Frank.” My prayer is that I don’t miss anymore Holy Spirit moments, that I choose to bear the weaknesses of those who need to be served, and that I reject to please myself in order to serve future “Franks.”

Polititainment & The Gospel

Huh?

Exactly. What is that and how do they go together? Let’s see if I can answer that question.

In Senator Ben Sasse’s book Them, he coined the term polititainment defining the work of journalism that combines coverage of politics while providing entertainment. He states the result is “we have a country of increasingly disconnected people sitting around watching news that riles them up…The pressure to belong, the desire to belong, makes people forget the Golden Rule.” 

Americans are addicted to it. And we are paying the price. I observed this just a few blocks from our church office this past Monday while driving by 2020 presidential campaigners on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. Yes, you read that right-2020 campaigners. Maybe I’m clueless, but surely I can’t be the only person thinking that’s worse than walking by Christmas items on Walmart shelves before Labor Day. 

Much like writing a rare political blog post, I left a “what in the world” voicemail with the affiliated party’s local office. To their credit, they called me back to explain those campaigners were rogues unlawfully using the party name. In so many words, the party V.P. agreed we’re all paying the price of polititainment. 

And sadly, even our churches are included in the gouging. And the roaring lion seeking to devour loves it. He loves the division between believers, the distraction from purpose, and the disengagement of the gospel. Some of the loudest “Amens!” and thunderest congregational applauds given over the last ten years have followed politically charged statements about abortion, marriage, or homosexuality. Inside I’ve cringed because it felt like I was temporarily transported away from a gospel gathering and dumped into a party rally. Some believers have gone so far as to leave their local congregation over disputes concerning the placement of flags in the worship center. The lion roars while the gospel leaves the building.

American Christians, let’s learn from our brothers and sisters in other countries who may be without A/C, lyrics on a screen, padded seats, cars in the parking lot, bulletins, or carpet. Yet they gather underground, under trees, or in very crowded spaces hungry to hear the gospel because they don’t have a personal copy of it, in some cases because it’s not available in print. They would be quite confused by our mixture of politics and the gospel.

If you are curious how mixed these two things are in your own life, here’s a suggested exercise:

  • Compare the amount of time and avenues in which polititainment and the gospel are infused into your day. Those avenues could include social media, TV, books, music, emails, texts, etc. Keep a track of this for a week. Talk with God along the way, and by the end of the week see what you glean from your observations of your time engaged in these avenues.

Frankly, we American Christians should prioritize the Gospel over whether our church has a flag on the stage or not, whether our congregation is red or blue, which network personality to watch, or which party primary registration includes my name. The Gospel supersedes polititainment. Let’s die on the right hill.

Is this a shame post? To some degree, yes. But it’s meant to be more of a reality post. The American church is the frog in the pan of polititainment. It’s heating up. It’s time to leap out of that pan and into the one where the Holy Spirit has freedom, the Son is lifted high, and the Father’s name is hallowed.

That Person

I have them. You have them.

I am one. You are one.

That person…

  • …you are constantly battling the thought that they can’t do anything right
  • …you are tempted to believe is unforgivable
  • …you wish they’d just move on
  • …you wonder if there’s such a thing as too much grace
  • …you’re convinced doesn’t have a clue

That person(s) that you’re thinking about right now is your that person.

As a recovering judger and teller, I’ve labeled many people as that person. The more I own and understand that I’m also that person the fewer people I label. We have to resist labeling in our minds and hearts, and we need to be aware when we’re spreading our labeling to others by talking about that person. Not easy work.

How do we do this work? I’m doing it by asking myself three questions:

  1. How am I praying for that person?
  2. How will I stay engaged with that person?
  3. When’s the last time that person…
  • …had an arm around their shoulder?
  • …heard, “I forgive you”?
  • …believed they weren’t alone?
  • …experienced grace from another human?
  • …felt safe with those who knew them well?

It’s hard relationship work. But that person needs it. And as someone else’s that person, I need it.

Oatmeal & the Holy Spirit

Not sure when it happened, but at some point in my adulthood I became an oatmeal eater. For a ‘Bama boy, I might as well start calling a Coke “Soda Pop.”

When I choose to have oatmeal for breakfast, that usually means one packet of instant oatmeal. Occasionally I intentionally choose to double up. That wasn’t my intent this morning. Yet I did.

When I reached into the box for the one envelope, I actually pulled out two. I told myself it was not a double-up day and returned one envelope.

As I opened the one envelope and emptied it into my bowl, I realized I had unintentionally gotten a double-up bowl. In my structured world, there are one-envelope bowls, and there are two-envelope bowls. So what was I to do? Should I change bowls? Or, heaven forbid, do I double up when I’d already decided not to?

A thought occurred.  “Maybe I’m supposed to eat two packs.  Maybe there was unknown purpose behind my grabbing two envelopes and ‘mistakenly’ getting the wrong bowl.  Maybe I should just follow the signs.”

Is it possible in more life-changing moments that the Holy Spirit works through signs like this, and I just shut him out?  He’s led me to do something unusual, but my need for normalcy or understanding keep me from following?  I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.

Instead of changing bowls, I retook the second envelope.  I doubled up purely to follow the signs.

Has doubling up this morning changed my life?  Doubtful.  But it certainly changed my spirit.