What I Learned from an Uber Driver

 

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While in England recently, I had a brief conversation with the Uber driver who was delivering us to our destination. When he found out that we were Americans on vacation in the UK, he asked where we had visited and what we had enjoyed most. I mentioned our hiking in the Lake District as a highlight for me, and his face brightened as he shared his similar enthusiasm for the outdoors.

I was bemoaning the fact that in LA where I live, there is very little greenery and natural beauty, at least in comparison to what we were experiencing in England. Living amidst the unending concrete jungle and dead brown desert of a Southern California metropolis makes a visit to the natural beauty of the English countryside very refreshing.

In response our Uber driver made a rather profound statement. He said that when we stop enjoying nature, we lose something of our personhood. I don’t think he was saying that from a Christian worldview, acknowledging nature as God’s creation that points us to His beauty and glory. But even so, I appreciated his implication that we as humans are made to encounter and enjoy beauty and nature; thus when we are not regularly immersed in the beauty of creation (whether due to busyness or to lack of interest), there is something of our personhood that shrivels and withers.img_2027.jpg

Now certainly each one of us is wired differently and distinctly by God, and not everyone enjoys being immersed in the beauty of the outdoors to the same degree as I do, so I cannot make this a universal prescription. But I do know that my own soul is refreshed greatly through the beauty and stillness and wildness of God’s creation; thus when I get caught up too long in the treadmill of busyness that keeps me tied to an office and laptop and long commutes, my soul begins to shrivel. But when I can set the busyness aside and step away from the city and enter into the beauty of all that God has created, there is a refreshment and life that enters my soul.

Hiking in the Lake District of England is amazing and wonderful, and if you have a chance to experience it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. But there is natural beauty and stillness to be found much closer to home as well…yes, even in LA! May you be reminded (as I was by my Uber driver) that God has made us to enjoy and learn from and be refreshed by the beauty of His created world—so we would be wise to take regular time for retreat, not merely to enjoy nature but to enjoy the Creator of that nature, that our souls may be expanded and refreshed in Him.

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A Daily Prayer…in Song

Songs are powerful. As my friend Ian put it, songs “sneak into your subconscious and lie in wait in the trenches of your memory.” In our happiest moments, and our darkest hours, music ministers to our hearts like nothing else can.

And so I was delighted when another friend (Thanks Terry!) introduced me to a song called A Christian’s Daily Prayer. A beautiful prayer of trust put to music–I’ve already memorized more of this prayer (without trying!) than any of the prayers I have written out and prayed repeatedly. What a blessing!

The lyrics express a morning, midday and evening prayer of need and trust in the powerful presence of our sovereign God:

As morning dawns and day awakes, 
To You I bring my need 
O gracious God, my source of strength, 
In You I live and breathe 
Each hour is Yours by wisdom planned, 
Each deed empowered by sovereign hands 
Renew my spirit, help me stand; 
Be glorified today 

As day unfolds, I seek Your will 
In all of life’s demands  
And though the tempter tries me still, 
I cling to Your commands 
Let every effort of my life 
Display the matchless worth of Christ 
Make me a living sacrifice; 
Be glorified today 

As sun gives way to darkest night 
Your Spirit still is here 
And though my strength fades like the light 
New mercies will appear 
I rest in You; abide with me 
Until our trials and suffering 
Give way to final victory 
Be glorified, today

I rest in You; abide with me 
Until our trials and suffering 
Give way to final victory 
Be glorified, today; be glorified, I pray*

I especially appreciate the final verse. Evening and night are often when the darkness of despair drains me of rest and hope, so I need the reminder that new mercies appear in my weakest moments. Even more so, I need to hear the despair-defying declaration that the trials I am experiencing will one day give way to Christ’s final victory, when all things are finally and fully made new!

God, be glorified today, as the words of this prayerful song echo in my mind and heart.

 

*Music and Words by Matt Merker, Jordan Kauflin, and Dave Fournier
© 2017 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)/Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

My Favorite Book (of the Bible)

In an online course I’m taking on research and writing, my professor encouraged the class to pick a favorite book of the Bible as a go-to topic to focus our writing around. His inspiration for that recommendation was from a sermon by Pastor John Piper in which Piper encouraged his listeners to make a life-project out of getting to know one favorite book of the Bible really deeply. That simple suggestion sparked some serious reflection on what my favorite book of the Bible would be.

I realized I had never really considered that question before. I have a favorite verse: Second Corinthians 9:8. I have a favorite chapter: Romans chapter 8. I have several favorite Psalms: 46, 63, and 130, among others. Jonah is a little book that I have studied and taught often. Philippians is a book I have memorized. But if I had to pick one book as my favorite, what would that be?

I figured it would have to be a book that I keep coming back to again and again, both in my own devotional life and also in my teaching and preaching. It would have to focus on key themes that have become my heartbeat and passion. It would have to contain multiple large sections that continually minister deeply to my heart. And if it were to become a life-long project of plumbing its depths, it would have to hold my curiosity and interest throughout varying seasons of life.

So as I thought through the various sections of Scripture that I am regularly drawn to, what God brought to mind was 2 Corinthians chapters 3-5 and portions of chapters 1, 9 and 12. In those sections are themes of transformation, suffering, dependence, hope, and glory. It is the intersection of those themes that is becoming more and more the driving passion of my ministry to the Church. So 2 Corinthians takes the prize as my favorite book in the Bible.

Granted, there is much in 2 Corinthians that I have not studied very deeply and which may not carry the same interest to me as these favorite sections, but as I compared this book with other possible favorites, I became more and more convinced that this was the one for me to invest deeply in for the remainder of my life on earth.

What about you? If you are a Christian who reads the Bible, what is your favorite book? I pray that this consideration might spark in you the same kind of interest and desire as it has surfaced in me. And feel free to leave a comment–I’d love to hear your favorite book of the Bible too.

A Soggy Sinner

In the beautiful city of Claremont where I live, there is a lively little section of shops and dining called The Village, and I occasionally go there to study and write. Recently I was sitting in the outdoor plaza there, which has a creative, interactive fountain that is well-loved by the children of our town. As I was working, I happened to see two ladies walking past with a little boy in tow, who was perhaps 5 years old. fountain ClaremontThe boy’s mom had a hold of his hand, but as they walked past the fountain (which the two ladies seemed not to notice at all) the boy was visibly attempting to get out of his mother’s grasp, and he kept longingly looking at the splashing water as he was dragged past it into The Coffee Bean cafe.

I smiled to myself at the boy’s obvious preference of playing in the fountain over sitting in the cafe while his mom and her friend chatted, and inwardly commiserated with him in his unfortunate situation. But then I got back to my work and forgot all about the boy, until some time later when he emerged with a grin from Coffee Bean, unrestrained by his mother’s grasp, and headed straight for the fountain. His mother was still deep in conversation with her friend, but threw a halfhearted threat in the boy’s direction, telling him not to get wet. Sarcasm got the best of me as I thought to myself, “Good luck–that’s not going to happen!”

Well, sure enough, the gravitational pull of the water proved to be greater than the fear of mom’s threat. But it was intriguing to watch that play out in front of me. First the boy just walked up to the edge of the fountain, then he pretended to dip one foot in the water. Eventually the foot that was hovering over the water accidentally got a little wet, then it was a full step down into the water with just that foot. After the first foot was soaked, it wasn’t long before the second foot joined in, and with both feet in the water, the delighted little boy couldn’t help but dance around and splash his feet.

I think you can guess as well as I could how this story played out. The stomping feet produced wet pants, and since the pants were wet, why not just sit down in the water? And since sitting down was so delightful, maybe laying down would be even better! In fact, the raised part of the fountain with water pouring into the lower part looks like a little waterfall, so why not crawl through that head-first? So it wasn’t long at all before this little boy was completely soaked from head to toe, and loving every minute of it. All the while, his mother would occasionally look up from her conversation and scold him, but never intervened to stop him.

As I watched this little drama unfold before me, I was enjoying the obvious delight of the little boy, yet at the same time I was dismayed by his complete disregard of his mother’s instructions (as well as her complete failure to follow through). It was as if James 1:14-15 was being acted out in front of me. James describes the progressive nature of sin, starting with desire, giving birth to sin, and finally leading to death. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

The little boy’s desire was obvious–he wanted to play in the fountain. That was not a sinful desire in and of itself, but it became sinful when it was set against his mother’s command to not get wet. But desire is strong, and the boy was lured and enticed by what he desired, until desire morphed into action and the sin of disobedience was born. Unfortunately, if that little boy is not rescued from his sin through trusting in Christ, that seemingly insignificant disobedience will end in total separation from God–he will one day get what he desires and find that he has desired the wrong thing.

To be fair, the mother’s desire was also obvious–she wanted uninterrupted conversation with her friend. That also is not a sinful desire in and of itself, but it became sinful when she elevated her enjoyment over the well-being of her son. She also was lured and enticed by what she desired, and her desire translated into disregard and abdication of her parental role. Unfortunately, what took place that morning was probably already a pattern in her life, and the longer that pattern persists, the greater her need of rescue grows.

So what are you–and what am I–desiring in this moment? Is that desire starting us on a path toward deeper trust and dependence on God? Or is it starting us down the path toward sin and death? We would do well to regularly consider those questions…

Waterfalls & Rotten Logs

From way back in my childhood, God has often wooed me to Himself through the stillness of the forest and the beauty of mountain streams and waterfalls. One of my first experiences of the discipline of solitude–before I knew what spiritual disciplines were or that solitude was one of them–was as a youth serving at Trout Creek Bible Camp in Oregon. On the days when the campers went home, I would hike through the woods to my favorite spot by the creek, where there was a small waterfall and I could be alone to think and rest. In all the years since those times by the creek, I have always loved being alone with God in the woods and along streams–that is where I feel closest to Him.

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So here at another camp–Mt. Hermon Conference Center in the mountains around Santa Cruz, California–I took a walk alone in the woods today and discovered a little waterfall I had never seen before. Amidst the beauty of the sun filtering through the giant redwoods around me, surrounded by the pleasant cadence of the falling water, and breathing deeply in the few minutes of time alone, I again felt the gentle wooing of God and relaxed in His presence and love.

In remembering my times alone with God next to the waterfall at Trout Creek, I recalled seeing something there that made a lasting impression in my mind. There was an old tree that had fallen across the creek many years prior, but as that dead log decayed, there were all kinds of new plants–including a new young tree–growing out of the fertile soil of the damp, decaying wood. As a youth by that creek so long ago, God used that image of life springing forth from death to illustrate the Gospel reality of my life coming out of Christ’s death.

So here at Mt Hermon, as I sat and enjoyed the stillness and beauty, I realized there was brokenness and deadness here too: a section of the fencing was broken down next to where I sat, there were thorns intertwined with the plants growing by the stream, and there were dead limbs and leaves in some of the trees. Yet even in the midst of such evidences of the curse of sin and death, the beauty and life of God’s redemption and creation far surpass it.

In this season of life for me–especially in marriage and parenting–God is allowing me to see much of my own brokenness and sin, and there is much that feels like it is dying. At this point, while I do not yet see the life and redemption and beauty that God is bringing out of that death and loss, I trust that He is at work and that He is indeed bringing beauty out of ashes and gladness out of mourning (Isaiah 61:3), because that is who He is.

 

 

 

3 Attitudes that Kill Thanksgiving

Entitlement: If I think that I deserve more (or better), or if I think that I have earned all I own by my hard work, or if I believe that God owes me a good life, then I will feel entitled to more and will not be thankful for what I do have. But, if I see all that I have as a generous gift from a gracious God, I will be thankful for it because I know I don’t deserve it and I haven’t somehow earned it and God doesn’t owe it to me. It is a gift, and therefore I am thankful. 

Comparison: If I am constantly comparing myself with others–by noticing that someone is better dressed than me or eats better than me or lives in a nicer home than me or serves more than me or seems to be happier than me–I will never be satisfied and certainly never thankful. But if I think deeply about the blessings God has bestowed on me and meditate on all the ways that He has surprised me with His mercy, my heart will well up in thanksgiving for His goodness to me.

The Upgrade Mentality (a.k.a. Newer-Is-Always-Better): If I am constantly sucked into the marketing that promises I will save so much time if I have this new gadget, or my health will be so much better if I follow this new diet, or my Christian life will be so much more fulfilling if I read this new book, then thankfulness will be a fleeting idea that gets tossed aside like last year’s iPhone. But if I learn to see the value in enjoying deeply what I already have, and start to actually utilize things instead of just consuming them, and discover the relational joy that comes in making something together as a family, then thankfulness will take root and flourish like a shade tree that’s been growing for a century.

A Painful Poem

As a child in school, I dreaded the part of English class in which we had to write poetry–I was too precise and rule-bound, and the free-flowing creativity of poetry made me freeze up. So the poetry I tried to produce in those classes was probably quite painful for my teachers to read.

But the poem I want to share here is not painful because it’s poorly written. (In fact, it’s not written by me, so there is a much greater likelihood that it’s not painful poetry.) Rather, the reason I call it a painful poem is because it comes out of much pain and gives perspective on pain. And it was written for–and gifted to–a woman whose genuine joy in the midst of tremendous pain stands in stark contrast to my oft-complaining spirit in suffering that does not come close to hers.

This was written by Nan Powlison, and given to Joni Eareckson Tada as a birthday gift. Joni was speaking at the CCEF National Conference (which I was privileged to attend last month), and her birthday landed on the second day of the conference. So at the end of the evening session, in which David Powlison (Executive Director of CCEF and one of my favorite teachers) had been dialoguing  with Joni about joy and sorrow and suffering, Nan (David’s wife) came out to present this poem to Joni, in celebration of her birthday.

Joni is not first and foremost a quadriplegic, nor is she primarily an artist or an author or an advocate, but she is a woman whose life is defined by her relationship with God and her deep trust and delight in Him. But because she is also an artist, and because she suffers from quadriplegia and chronic pain, this poem from Nan is so beautifully descriptive of Joni’s deep desire.

Draw me into you, Lord

Rough me in and draw me

Sketch me and erase me

Sketch me and erase me

Trace me positive in negative space

Balanced

Composed

Defined

By shades and shadows

A light design

Then fling me out

Across your page

Bold strokes for service

‘Til they see

Your face in mine

Draw me, Lord

(Nan Powlison)