While on a Treadmill…

white-male-1856182_1280On a recent rainy Saturday, I headed to the gym and slipped on my headphones. Sometimes, to distract myself from the boredom of the treadmill (just being honest here!), I watch Netflix. Sometimes, I watch a sermon. I chose a sermon that day and started streaming one by Francis Chan It was a great talk on obedience and sacrifice, delivered in his usual way—disarmingly casual, surprisingly funny and always in-your-face challenging. But on that Saturday, it wasn’t a sermon by Francis Chan that renewed my resolve to trust in our loving lord. It was, of all things, an ad for the movie “Hellboy.”

Since I’m not an aficionado of those movies, I can’t tell you which sequel Hollywood is offering this month. What I can tell you is that, as I began to jog along on a noisy sweat machine, the flat screen TV in the corner of the room caught my eye. There in poster-like fashion, bold against a brightly colored background, was this announcement:

ON APRIL 12, OUR FATE IS IN HIS HANDS.

I had to laugh. I was about to spend 30 minutes listening to what would unquestionably be a fantastic sermon by a well-known pastor, but nothing was going to stick in my mind that day like those few words. Because, of course, on April 12th, and every other day as well, our fate IS in his hands. (I hope you’ve figured out by now that I don’t mean the hands of Hellboy!)

Those words are one of the keys to our walk of faith, the reason we can be at peace no matter what is going on around us. Our fate is in the hands of the Lord who loves us. Not in our hands. Not in the hands of any enemy or even in the hands of a loved one. In HIS hands. Ultimately, at all times, whether we see it or not, our Lord is at the helm. And isn’t that the most wonderful news?

So, on April 12th, and on every day thereafter, I hope you will join me in remembering—perhaps with a bit of a chuckle over the source of these words—

OUR FATE IS IN HIS HANDS!! Care to comment? Just click here.

Photo by pixabay

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The Herbie Guy Strikes Again

vw bug unsplash @karol smocyznskiWhat does the name Dean Jones mean to you? He was inducted into the Disney Legends Hall of Fame nearly 25 years ago, so maybe you associate his name with That Darn Cat or Blackbeard’s Ghost. Have you ever seen The Love Bug, that first beloved Herbie movie which, incidentally, was one of the highest grossing films of 1969? Dean Jones played racecar driver Jim Douglas alongside comedian Buddy Hackett and a very lively Volkswagen Beetle.

Dean Jones provided the comforting voice that will read the New Living Translation of the Bible to you via YouVersion anytime you want to hear the spoken Word. ‘Talk about a great way multitask while driving to work or doing dishes! But now I’ve discovered my favorite Dean Jones gift of all.

St. John in Exile.

What can I say to convince you to forgo your favorite video entertainment sometime this week and choose to watch this gem instead? “St. John in Exile” is a one man play, filmed beautifully before a live audience without, as I understand it, any editing. Dean plays an aging John, author of both the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation, exiled on the island of Patmos.

  • He reminisces about his time with Jesus, relates his experience of the crucifixion and the later loss of fellow apostles.
  • He speaks of the triumph available to believers even when imprisoned in a damp and uncomfortable cave.
  • He shows you Jesus!

By the end of its 90 minutes you will have laughed, learned and worshipped. I love the way this film entertains, encourages and educates all at the same time. And I’m amazed that one actor could carry out such a feat without a supporting cast.

Go, go, I say! Trust me on this! It’s free to stream on Amazon Prime. The rental and the hard copy DVD are both on sale here at Christianbooks.com.

Oh, and next on my viewing list? The Most Reluctant Convert, C.S. Lewis portrayed on stage by Max McLean.

Enjoy! Enjoy! And then tell all your friends, including me, what you thought of St. John in Exile. You can add your comments here.

And So We Sing!

prairie-dog-1470659_1280 sing pixabayHave you seen the movie “Sing”?  I smiled throughout that whole film. Perhaps I was simply amused by the thought of Matthew McConaughey as an entrepreneurial koala bear, but I think it was the music that lifted my spirits. My brother has been a worship leader for years, yet I am just now beginning to grasp the power of music, and the importance of music in the Bible. Check out these verses:

“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 69:30).

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18b-19).

Those verses don’t treat music, and singing in particular, as something we are meant to do once in a while, under our breath, when no one is listening, or sometimes in the shower. The Israelites appointed music makers and singers to full time positions! Music must be important to God. Those verses make me think it is important to all of us.

Pandora’s Box

I was the last in my family to get a smartphone. A fan of pocket-sized flip phones, I made the trade when I knew my grandson was on his way. (I wanted a way to watch him grow via photo and video and chatting apps.) I never dreamed that Pandora would become such an important tool in my life. My two favorite stations are (‘probably dating myself here) “Instrumental Praise Radio” and “Michael W. Smith Radio” (unless I’m with 1-year-old Nick, in which case “VeggieTales Radio” wins.) If I’m a bit down or weary, the music encourages and energizes me. If I’m simply in need of a background reminder of who is in control of my day, Pandora does the job. And if Nick is cranky? Yep, Veggietales helps! Most of the time the music is simply a delightful way to spend time praising God.

Music. Singing. I’m adding more of it to my day as I work, rest, or play. I see now that this is yet another way to obey our Lord and glorify him. Won’t you join me? (And if you have a favorite station, let me know, and I’ll give it a try!)

Lovely Day

Levites siteThe sign at the corner said “Gospel Brunch.”

Steve’s take: “I wonder how much gospel vs. how much brunch. Maybe this is just an Austin start-up band looking for a place to play.”

My take: “I’ve been wanting to try Threadgill’s anyway, so let’s give it a try.”

And so, on a sunny Sunday during our month of “Let’s consider Austin,” we walked down the road to a vintage BBQ joint, wondering if we should have gone to church instead.

Oh, my goodness! (And I’m not talking about the omelets.) We were in for a treat.

The Levites ( http://www.levitelab.com/bio )sang their sermon with hearty helpings of encouragement, conviction, and just plain fun.

  • “Keep Your Mind on Jesus.”
  • “Lay Your Burdens Down.”
  • “Don’t Worry. Be Happy.” (Because you trust the Lord).
  • “Lovely Day”

That last one surprised me. It’s clearly a romantic love song, yet it has become a worship tune for me  now. Its message is this:

Sometimes I wake up with my mind burdened by the seemingly impossible challenges ahead of me. Then, once I’ve looked at you, I know everything will be okay.

Doesn’t that pretty much cover how our best days begin? We rarely wake up to face a day free of all difficulties, but we always wake to a chance to remember Who is really in charge. We have a choice, each morning, as to what our focus will be. And when we make the right choice, many of our days can be lovely.

Because I take copyright laws seriously, you’ll have to go here  to read or here to listen to the full lyrics written and performed by Bill Withers in 1977. I hope you’ll take the time to do so. Then I hope you’ll take yet another moment and post an answer to this question: What “secular” song has become a song of worship for you? I would love to know!

Practice Hospitality

cell phones

A few weeks ago I was invited to dine at a famously scenic restaurant in Austin. I was ushered into a beautiful room overlooking the lake. My vantage point, one of the top stories of a multi-tiered establishment, also gave me a view of several crowded tables below me. One gave me pause. It was party of ten, apparently a family plus a couple of friends. They were enjoying appetizers and beverages as sunset approached…and eight of them were bent over their smart phones for many long minutes. I admonished them in my mind, then caught myself in a similar crime just days later.

  • When was the last time you looked at your smart phone?
  • When was the last time you looked someone in the eye?
  • And do you ever call someone, hoping to get their voicemail so you can just leave a message?

We have allowed ourselves to become broadly connected, yet at the same time oddly isolated. Is this shyness? An enslavement to efficiency? Just a bad habit?

Romans 12:13b is exquisitely direct. “Practice hospitality.” There was a time when I thought hospitality meant simply opening one’s home and serving cookies. (More about that in a later blog.) A bit of research has extended my understanding. Here are a few more detailed definitions.

  • The generous reception and entertainment of guests.
  • A relationship between a guest and host, in which the host received the guest with goodwill.
  • Showing respect for one’s guests, treating them as equals.

Reception, relationship, and respect all speak to our definite and deliberate focus on another person. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” The gathering of believers is a sacred thing. What do we miss when we are distracted? And if we are gathered with those who do not know the Lord, what does our distraction say to them about their worth?

Furthermore, children may be heavily impacted by the number of words spoken to them in their early years. How much has that volume been reduced by the constant pull of a smart phone screen?

Focus. Attention. Concentration. These can be difficult to maintain in our swirling culture. But they are gifts we can give to those around us. They are gifts I think our Lord would have us mete out with generosity. They are a part of hospitality. Will you join me in a renewed effort to be fully present at the table–or at the office, or in the kitchen or…? Let me know how it goes. And if you discover tips that help you pay attention, I hope you’ll share them here.

Weed or Flower?

It’s a weed.dandelion-blowing-1269626_960_720[1]

No, it’s a flower.

Or maybe it’s a wildflower, but I’m not really sure.

I spent some time today researching the difference between weeds and wildflowers and found this delightful quote.

“What’s the difference between a wildflower and a weed? Nothing more than society’s judgment.”

Maybe plants and habits have a lot in common. We often let society determine which habits are “weeds” and which are “flowers.” And society often changes its mind.

  • Chick-fil-a is closed on Sunday. That’s a bit out of place these days, but was a common practice for many businesses when I was a child.
  • Sex and violence were far less common elements of network television programming years ago. On the other hand, many a TV cowboy or detective lit up a string of cigarettes while solving the problem of the week.
  • Once upon a time we all ate less sugar and processed food, but we hadn’t really given much thought to organics yet.

Society is an unreliable compass. We know that truth in our heads, but do we embrace that it as fact in our hearts and show it in our actions? We are often called to a life that is out of sync with what is cool. Our wildflowers may look like weeds to others. (I mean, really, why would anyone want to fast periodically, or get up early on a Sunday morning to head out the door, or give away a significant portion of every annual income?)

Sometimes what we identify as a weed is labeled as a wildflower these days as well. (While we know better, it can be easy to allow certain sins into our lives, because they simply aren’t as clearly labeled as sin these days.)

So, as always, it’s back to The Book. We have to take our cues from The Manufacturer’s Handbook, regardless of what is “in” or “out” in popular culture. And we can do just that, with great result, because the Bible and its Author do not change. They do not lie. The Lord who loves us set down many do’s and do not’s for us long ago for our good and for his glory. Living his way works well.

I hope you’ll adopt some new, true-flower habit this week, and maybe yank a weed or two out of your life as well. Want to tell me about it? Your comments mean much to me, so write away!