My Way

Frank Sinatra My way

“Alexa, play the Frank Sinatra station.”

Alexa’s my Amazon speaker-thingy.  You just tell it what you want to hear, and it provides the soundtrack for your life! This morning, I felt like some old standards.  This is what I got:

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

Listening, I thought to myself, “this is such a good song.  An old classic.  Well written, and ole Blue Eyes really knows how to belt it out.”

I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

The words to the song, I just looked them up, were written by Paul Anka.  But the philosophy of life clearly belongs to that of the Chairman of the Board.

But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way

The song is about a man, near the end of his life, looking back with pride. Every time life got tough, he made his own uncompromising decisions.  He did it “My Way”.

For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

It was at this point that I decided to write this devotion.  Did you notice that this song is seriously missing something? There’s no leaning on God.  No leaning on others.  There’s no collaboration, no love.  There’s only a man standing tall.

And you know what?  That’s not enough.

I know lots of people who have graduated from the Frank Sinatra school of hard knocks.  They learned to keep their own interests front and center.  They learned not to trust others or accept much help.  They learned to be strong and determined and single-minded.  They aim to be King of the Hill, A-Number One, and they aim to do it “My Way”. But they don’t learn to trust in God’s way, and that means missing out on the greatest experience of life.

It’s a tricky thing, putting your faith in God’s hands, especially when the world keeps telling you to go it alone.  Even long-term Christians can struggle with this.

I went hunting for “my way” quotes from scripture.  Here are 4 that I found from the Psalms:

It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.  –Psalm 18:32

I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. –Psalm 119:59

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. –Psalm 139:3

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way.   –Psalm 142:3

Apparently there’s room for both “My Way” and God’s Way.   That balance between God’s sovereignty and Human agency is a mysterious one — humans have been asking about that theological question since day one.  I’m apt to think that we can be strong people of integrity who are guided in our steps, hearts, and minds by a loving God.  We can have it both ways.

When I get to the point in my life when I say, “And now the end is near…” I hope I sing a very different song about my life.  One filled with lots of harmony and inspiration and love, one that reminds me that if I keep God in my life…

I’ll never walk alone.

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

 

Your Word for 2018: THEOLOGY

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Your Word for 2018: THEOLOGY

Well, it could be.

I know several folks who choose a word as their theme for each year.  I’ve done it myself.  One year my word was “Discipline”.  I know others who’ve chosen words like  “Happiness” or “Deliberateness”.  It’s kind of a nice substitute to the seldom-kept New Year’s Resolution.

May I suggest the word THEOLOGY as your word for this next year?  I think I’m going to make it mine.  It’s probably not the first word that might occur to you as an underlying theme for your life for the next 360+ days, but here’s why I think it should be:

1. WE NEED SMARTER CHRISTIANS.

I swear I’m not impugning your Christian IQ!  But as I’ve looked around this year, I’ve seen instance after instance of Christians who either don’t know what they believe, or why they believe it.  People claim deep seeded values and practices based on their faith, but they don’t have the understanding that goes with it!  Theology is the deliberate work of understanding God, God’s people, and God’s creation.

2.  WE NEED A ROAD MAP FOR OUR ROAD MAP.

To be effective in ministry, we’ve got to know where we should be going and what we should be doing.  That’s what the Bible is for, right?  Absolutely, but there is so much history, translation, literary criticism, and deep symbolism involved that we need a road map to help us read our road map.  Theology helps us understand the Bible with more clarity, depth and meaning.

3.  WE NEED AN INFORMED ETHIC.

Christians, at our worst, spout values and morals with little thought to the ethical system behind them.  Jesus taught an ethic of service, acceptance, obedience, and action that calls for deeper refection than many of us give.  The more we study God, the stronger a foundation we have to launch our work in the world.

4.  WE NEED MYSTERY.

I think the worst Christians are know-it-alls.  As if every question has been answered, and every shadow has been illuminated. Not so!  The greatest theologians in history published volumes and volumes of their systematic theologies, but that did not mean they’ve “solved” theology.  There’s always more to understand about God.  There are theological concepts, problems, and approaches that you and I have never pondered.  These mysteries give a robustness to our faith, and challenge us as believers!

5.  WE NEED THEOLOGY IN OUR DEVOTION.

After writing these devotions for some fifteen + years, I look back at my writings and see too many of them summed up with a simple “God is Love” punchline.  While I suppose my faith could be summarized in those three words, there is so much more to say.  To that end, I plan to engage a deeper level of theology in my work going forward.  I want to share more study of this learning, direction, ethic, and mystery in my life and my work. 

How about you?  No matter what Word you pick (or don’t pick) for 2018, you can choose to be resolute in your journey to know God, God’s people, and God’s creation. 

Remember, the only qualification for being a Theologian… 

is being a Curious Christian.

Have a great week,

Mitch

(If you’re interested in a place to start, here’s a bit of United Methodist theology:  A Few Methodist Basics)

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Reclaiming “Thoughts and Prayers”

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What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  –James 2:14

In the last week, I’ve read several comments, cartoons, and editorials that were, in effect, bashing the phrase “Thoughts and Prayers”.  I understand why.  Some people carelessly throw that phrase around during a tragedy.  The words seem empty, not followed up with action.

And there’s so much going on that demands action.   The need to stand up for justice, or donate to a relief effort, or write your congressperson is very real.  If we don’t do any of these kinds of things, the possibility of positive change becomes less likely.

I get it.  I see that urgent need as well.  But please, stop treating the notion of “Thoughts and Prayers” as if the words were pointless.  In the rush to condemn human apathy or criticize lip-service, a vital activity at the heart of Christianity is getting caught in the crossfire.

Thinking is NOT doing nothing.  In fact, we could all stand to do it a little more.  Critical thinking in a time of crisis can be hard to come by.  People are scared, numb, in survival mode.  Rash actions and words are not the answer.  God gave us minds, and wants us to use them.  When faced with a crisis, there are few things that can be more important than taking a deep breath, examining the situation, and sorting out our thoughts as clearly as possible.

Similarly, Praying is definitely NOT inaction. Prayer sets the foundation that makes sure future actions align with the Kingdom of God.  Prayer focusses one’s own spiritual energy, and joins with others pursuing common goals.  Prayer conveys our great needs to God, and invites us to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Prayer opens us up to receive the improbable or seemingly impossible.

When a person of faith says, “My Thoughts and Prayers are with you”, it is not an empty phrase or a polite brush off.  It is a statement of alignment, with God and with neighbor.  It is a promise of attention and focus.  It is the promise of divine action, channeled in part through the believer.

Or at least, it can be.  Truly, that phrase has been dumbed-down and co-opted, but that’s not the way it is supposed to be used.  Rather than letting sacred activity be mislabeled as inactivity, let us put this false dichotomy to rest.

The work of the Christian in the world has internal and external components.  Thoughts and Prayers not without Action.  Faith not without Works.  All these words are to be taken with utmost seriousness.  Reverence, even.

Those are my Thoughts and Prayers.

Can I get an Amen?

Have a good week,

Mitch

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Light, Beer

There’s a convenience store in my town. Here’s what the sign out front says this week:

“WE SELL
BEER ON
SUNDAY
NOON TO 8PM
1 JOHN 1:5″

One sentence, no breaks.  Just a beer advertisement and a scripture reference.

The family that owns that convenience store is clearly Christian.  There’s even a cross on their logo.  And this is not the first time they’ve posted a scripture verse on their sign.

This is just the funniest.

Do you notice that they wait until noon to start selling beer?  I wonder if that’s to catch everyone on their way home from church? I suppose that’s better than folks picking up a six pack on their way to church that morning!

Seriously, though…

These folks have a sign with five lines, and they reserve one of those lines for sharing scripture.  That’s double tithing of their space!

And the single-verse scriptures they’ve picked are good.  I like this one especially.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  –1 John 1:5

I wonder what it would mean to someone who got curious about that “1 John 1:5” line, and typed it into Google?

“God is light; in him there is no darkness”.  That’s a statement of God’s immense power and goodness.  It would definitely leave me wondering: Who is this God?

And, think about this:  While there are many out there who can drink beer responsibly, there are others for whom alcohol has become a source of great darkness.

What a strange twist, then, to have this verse of hope at the end of a advertisement for Sunday beer sales?

It seems to me that this family is undermining their own ad–with something, Someone, who brings more joy into the world than anything else.  Even beer.

Well, the store’s sign has gotten a few chuckles in my town.  Who knows, maybe it brings in the Sunday afternoon crowd as intended.

For me, I’ll keep watching for signs to come,

and raise a glass to people who put Good News into the world…

Even when it isn’t a Convenience.

Have a great week,

Mitch

Calling Off The Search

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Today, almost three years after it went missing, investigators have called off the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

Here’s what a joint statement from the three governments conducting the search had to say:

“Despite every effort using the best science available, cutting edge technology, as well as modeling and advice from highly skilled professionals who are the best in their field, unfortunately, the search has not been able to locate the aircraft,”  –http://www.cnn.com

There may come a day when someone finds the wreckage of that plane, out there in the ocean, but that’s little solace for the loved ones still wondering what happened.

It reminds me of other difficult searches people undergo.  Most notably, the search for God.

There may be circumstantial evidence–like debris washed up on the shore–but pinning down definitive proof of God continues to elude us.

In cities and villages, on college campuses and even in our local churches, there are many who have been searching, searching to no avail.

And so, many have called off the search.  If there is a God, the proof remains murky, down in the depths where it cannot be found.

There’s a problem with giving up the search for God, and it this:

It presupposes that God is the One who is lost or hiding.

And that’s not true.

God is not lost.  We are lost.

God is, in fact, searching desperately for us.  Longing to bridge the gap between God’s powerful Grace and our stubborn hearts.

God is near.  Close as our next breath. Obscured from view by sin and fear and doubt and anger and shame and even the coldness of our logic.

People are like Malaysia Airlines flight 370.  Lost, hidden, damaged. Desperate to be rescued but broken and silent.

Ah, but unlike that aircraft, we have a locator beacon that works, if we choose to use it.

It’s called faith.

Faith is a steady, spiritual “ping” that cuts through the layers of murk that separate us from God. Faith signals our desire to be found. Delivered.

For some, it may take years to tune that beacon in to the frequency of God’s Grace.

I know this because I once was lost, but now am found.

I know this because faith is a spiritual muscle that must be strengthened and developed.

I know this because millions and millions have been pulled from the oceans of chaos by our powerful Rescuer.

God will never call off the search.

Nor should we. Keep looking. Keep pinging.

It may not happen today.  It may not happen tomorrow.  But it will happen.

A light in the depths will surround you.

And you will know.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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LEAVE ME ALONE

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I was leaving church last night, turning onto College Street, when I saw a figure crossing the road.

My car lights cut through the silhouette, revealing it to be a young woman, walking by herself.  She could have been high school or college age.

She kept her head down as she crossed in front of me.  Once she’d crossed, I was able to see what she wore on her back.

In huge letters, on the back of her hoodie, were three words:

LEAVE
ME
ALONE

So many thoughts went through my head:

  • She could have chosen so many messages to wear.  Why would she choose that???
  • Maybe she was a total introvert, and truly just needed her space.
  • Perhaps she was deeply troubled.  Coming from a rough home.  Broken and isolated.
  • How do we share God’s love with someone who wants to be left alone?

She passed on by.  I have no idea who she was.

But I’ll admit it.  It bothered me.

It made me wonder where she got that hoodie from.  Did she put the letters on herself?

No, it turns out there’s a market for that kind of catch phrase.

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I found her hoodie online.  $50.

There were t-shirts, bomber jackets, hoodies, hats, pants, and more, all with that same slogan.

I wish there wasn’t.

It’s one thing for a person to desire solitude. For regenerating, for peace and quiet.  It’s another for a human being to send out a message to the cosmos expressing a desire to not be part of it.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. –Genesis 2:18

I believe this is true.  Men and women were not created into isolation.  We are a people of family, a people who live and love together, even when things are tough.

The fact that there are millions of kids out there wearing these messages of isolation reveals nothing we shouldn’t already know:  Some people have been so burned by being with others, they’d just as soon go it alone.

Hey, maybe she wore it to be cool, or ironic, or trendy.  I don’t know. And I want to respect her privacy if that’s really what she needs…

But I’ve also learned not to automatically believe everything I read.

If I knew that girl…she’d have definitely gotten my attention.

Whether she thinks she wants it,

or not.

Have a great week,

Mitch

together

EVEN

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As for me, I will always have hope;
    I will praise you more and more.
Psalm 71:14

Don’t despair.

Even if the world today seemed to conspire against you.

Even if the work outweighed the play.

Even if it seemed nobody spoke your language.

Even if the Kingdom seems farther away than it did yesterday.

And don’t give up.

Even when you were embarrassed or shamed.

Even when the nightly news cut you to the quick.

Even when the momentum is pushing in the wrong direction.

Even when everything just hurts.

For the Lord is our God

Even at the gates of destruction.

Even at the end of time.

Even at the darkest dusk.

Even at your side.

And our God is good!

Even in spite of it all.

Even in your heart, and mine, and theirs.

Even in this very moment.

Even in ways you cannot fathom.

Rejoice!  Do not despair!

Have a great week,

Mitch

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