It’s time to eat.

You’ve been anticipating this meal all day.

You’re with some of your favorite people at your go-to special occasion spot.

When the server nods at you, you name the dish you’ve been craving.  If you could see the look of anticipation and excitement on your face as you order, you might be a touch embarrassed.  (Should a grown person really be this excited about food??)

Even now, your mouth waters as you catch a whiff of the chef’s handiwork and watch other patrons savoring it by the mouthful.

The music sets the perfect mood. Just loud enough to be enjoyed, but soft enough not to stifle conversation.  The lighting and decor enhance the moment.  Everything seems to be….well…perfect.

Your meal finally arrives.  You resist the primal urge to stuff your face impolitely and somehow muster the patience to let everyone receive their plates too.

Someone suggests a prayer of thanksgiving.  You reluctantly agree- a touch annoyed to be further delayed- but also sincerely grateful.

Amen is said and with all barriers removed, you hoist your fork and target your first bite.

Then you spot it.

A hair.

One that is definitely not yours.

In your food.

Are you still hungry?

Excited to dig in?

Has your appetite been ruined?  Or at least diminished?

Some of us might be able to set aside the follicular invader and eat with abandon.  But most wouldn’t.

Even if we sent our plate back to the kitchen and got an unsullied portion with the manager’s apologies and an appropriate bill reduction- we’d still struggle to recover the bliss we felt before we found the hair.

Isn’t that interesting?  How can one small, unfortunate- and even unintentional- detail negate all the other fantastic parts of the evening?

And yet it can.  And does.

And not just at the dinner table either.

Most of us live pretty good lives.  Things aren’t perfect, but our blessings greatly outnumber our struggles.

Yet our problems carry so much weight that they easily waylay us- capturing inordinate amounts of our attention, time and energy.

We have 50 positive interactions in a day- and fixate on the one person who was rude to us.

We get 20 thank you notes- but obsess over the one critical email.

We cross 99 items off our to-do list- and lose sleep over the 1 that remains.

We make a dozen great decisions- and beat ourselves up over a single gaff.

Isn’t that silly?

And yet true?

What is the “hair in your food” right now? 

What problem or distraction has stolen your sense of joy and gratitude? 

Is there a way set it aside with God’s help and enjoy the moment anyway?

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It happened to me again this morning.

I was busy working.

Providing for my family.

Being creative.

And I spontaneously thought of my children.

As I pictured them in my mind, a chain of reactions followed:

My eyes gleamed.

The corners of my mouth curled upward.

My dimples deepened.

My pulse quickened.

Warmth flooded my heart.

I thought not of their immaturity.

Or flaws.

Or my disappointment with their behavior.

(Although those things certainly exist.)

I dwelt on their beauty as people.

Their uniqueness as individuals.

Of how I love them enough to give them my all.

I longed to see them grow.

To laugh until they can’t catch their breath.

To love selflessly and deeply

To savor every moment.

To thrive.

I wanted nothing but good things for them.

If you are a parent, you’ve likely felt the same.

If not, perhaps you can imagine yourself doing so.

Then it hit me:

THIS is what happens when God thinks of US.

The same light.

Love.

And warmth.

The same affection.

And desire for our best.

Why do we imagine otherwise?

Why do we assume that God focuses instead on our flaws?

Shortcomings?

Deficiencies?

Failures?

(Although those things definitely exist.)

I believe God thinks of us often:

“How precious are your thoughts concerning me, O God!

How vast in number they are!

If I try to count them,

there would be more of them than there are grains of sand.

– Psalms 139:17-18

And I’ll bet He smiles wide.

As our faith community began exploring the truth about ourselves, we started with this:

“We’re all beautiful.”

Why?  Because we’ve been made in the image of God.

But even as we let that marinate, there was a competing idea tugging naggingly on the corner of our minds:

“If we are so beautiful, why do we act so ugly sometimes?”

Hmmm.

Maybe because we’re all a bit BENT

That’s my best guess anyway.  Listen in to find out  why.

And hear me destroy a slinky in the process.

During the month of April our faith community is talking about human nature.

Our hope is that as we better understand ourselves, we’ll develop a deeper appreciation for Jesus’ love, mission, life, death and resurrection.

So, what’s the first- and deepest- truth about us?

Listen in.  You might be surprised.

In spite of April Fool’s day, here’s a direct question, free of malice:

As we seek to understand the things, people and places that are sapping the life from us, have we looked in the mirror?

What if life and other people aren’t our only, or even or most significant, sources of energy loss?

What if we’re being drained by (gulp) ourselves?

Could struggling against our limitations, trying to live up to unrealistic or unclear expectations or unfinished business that is lurking under the surface be draining us?

If you’ve found yourself regularly or deeply tired, frustrated or empty lately- it’s probably worth some consideration.

Our faith community explored this at length last Sunday.  You can find the conversation HERE.

Our faith community is in the process of identifying some of the things that suck the life and energy out of us.

Near the top of that list?  Other people.

I’m sure you can’t relate right?  You don’t know anyone who seems to leave you more tired after interacting with them than you were before, do you?

Thought so.

Here’s the rub: we’re relational creatures, even the introverted among us.  We need- and yes- even want people in our lives.

So, how do we live with each other in ways that are healthy and don’t feel so draining?

In last weekend’s teaching conversation I discussed a couple of possible solutions.

If you could use some ideas about how to deal with your relational drains, feel free to listen HERE.

There’s something that has been bothering me for a while now, but I hadn’t been able to find the words for it.

Guess I finally did.

What are your names for those who don’t see God and the Bible like you do?

Liberal?

Conservative?

Legalistic?

Heretical?

False Teachers?

Un-biblical?

Deceived?

Deceivers?

Have you ever stopped to think that someone out there would probably use those same words to describe you and your theology and praxis?

Unless we reside on the cliff’s edge at the far end of a theological perspective, there’s someone who thinks that YOU & I are liberal, or legalistic, or teaching false doctrine or some other synonym for “they clearly don’t get it”.

Feels kind of crappy, doesn’t it?

We do realize that there are multiple opinions on and interpretations of many things in the Bible, right?  That each of us disagrees with other people who have studied the Scriptures, love God and serve Him as much or more than we do, right?  That one of us- and it may well be us- is probably wrong?

So why do Jesus’ followers (among whom I count myself) tend to act like their views are clearly correct and everyone else must be a little less enlightened?

If God was grading your theology, do you honestly think your paper would come back without any red ink?

Don’t we remember that our own understanding of God and the Bible has changed over the years?  And if it hasn’t, are we engaging them with open, humble, curious hearts?

I’m not saying we all have to have the same opinions or shouldn’t share our views.

But couldn’t we do it with a bit more love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control?  (Unless I’ve totally misread it, those ARE fruits of God’s Spirit in us, right?)

Can’t we humbly express our current understanding, if we so feel led, without the name calling that makes us feel (falsely) superior to those we may currently disagree with?

May it be so Lord.  And please start with me.

“How are you doing?”

I end up talking to a fair number of people every week and ask this question frequently.

Not too long ago, the most common reply I heard was some version of “fine”.

Today, that’s definitely not the case.

Now, more often than not, people tell me they are “tired, busy, worn down, depleted, overwhelmed, burned out, exhausted” or some other synonymous phrase.

Can you relate?  I can.  It takes energy to live.  And at times we all seem to be running a little low.

But are we meant to live in a regular state of depletion?  Can we change this?  Learn to identify the things that are sucking the life out of us and respond creatively?

That’s what our faith community is wrestling with right now.  Last Sunday we began this conversation by exploring the drains that seem to be a part of everyday life.

So, if you find yourself worn down by busyness, weighed down by obligations & demands,  or sapped by routine- feel free to listen in HERE.

It’s the time of the year when people are making lists.  Mostly of things they or others want for Christmas.

I’m sure I’ll get around to that, but before the Thanksgiving holiday is completely gobbled up like the last helping of Aunt Maude’s squash casserole, I wanted to capture a few thoughts.

As I look back on 2010, I’m thankful for:

  • A God who is patient with me when I forget too easily, learn too slowly and live with too much fear and too little faith.
  • Family and friends who love and support us- no matter what.
  • God leading us to good doctors and the right medicine to help keep our daughter’s breathing issues under control.
  • 13 years with my bride and best friend.
  • Stability.  We have lived in our current house longer than any single place in our marriage.
  • A few home improvement projects that have inched said house towards the end of the remodeling phase.  We’re not there yet, but we’re closer.
  • Getting to be a part of and help lead a faith community that I’m genuinely proud of.  Our recent search for a new team member made me realize how unusually healthy and drama-free our church is.
  • That I can be myself in every part of my life and rarely feel the need to project an image.
  • Music.  Especially the voices, notes and lyrics that speak to me so deeply that I sing them after they’ve faded.
  • Watching my daughter learn to read and seeing her love for it grow.
  • My son’s sweet and generous spirit.  He’s the only 3-year-old I know who will willingly divvy up his cookie with the whole family.
  • The challenges and uncertainties of the past year.  They drove me to Jesus in ways that nothing else has.
  • The trip that Jen and I took to WY.  Just the two of us, back in a patch of wilderness we have come to love, being romanced by our Creator at every turn.  It was magical.
  • The chance to live life in NC and the Triangle.  Great people, rich history, natural beauty, good food, 4 seasons, etc.
  • The palpable momentum and burgeoning opportunities that our faith community is experiencing.  I’m excited for 2011.
  • The fact that my kids still think I’m cool.  Those days are definitely numbered.
  • John Eldredge’s ministry.  God has used him to put words to much of what I desire in my life with God.
  • Turning 40.  I feel like a legit grown-up.  I realize I’ve learned enough to have something to offer others and that I still have so much ahead of me.
  • All the bits of growth, maturity, change and healing I’ve seen in my and others’ lives.  By God’s grace we’ll get there eventually.

I’m sure there’s much more, but that’s what comes to mind right now.

How about you?  What are you grateful for?

 

The holiday is just a few days away and many of us are preparing: buying food, dusting off recipes, cleaning the house, making travel plans, packing bags (complete with comfortable pants to accommodate our gluttonous leanings), etc.

But are we doing anything to get our hearts ready?

If so, good for you.

If not, let me offer a couple of ideas.

1. Feel free to listen in as our faith community considers making an “Attitude Relocation”.

We’re asking God to move us from simply knowing we have a lot to be thankful for- to living likes of gratitude each day.  What does that kind of relocation look like?

We’ve been watching God work in the life of Joseph (the OT one) and trying to notice potential parallels to our journey.

You can find the first conversation HERE.   The second should be posted in the next couple of days.

2. For those of you who respond better to music than people talking- check out “Ill With Want” by the Avett Brothers

Here’s a live video (complete with the backing chorus of the crowd):

The Lyrics:

“I am sick with wanting and it’s evil and it’s daunting
How I let everything I cherish lay to waste
I am lost in greed, this time it’s definitely me
I point fingers but there’s no one there to blame

A need for something, now let me break it down again
A need for something but not more medicine

I am sick of wanting and it’s evil how it’s got me
And every day is worse than the one before
The more I have the more I think I’m almost where I need to be
If only I could get a little more

A need for something, now let me break it down again
A need for something but not more medicine

Something has me, oh something has me
Acting like someone I don’t wanna be
Something has me, oh something has me
Acting like someone I know isn’t me
Ill with want and poisoned by this ugly greed

Temporary is my time, ain’t nothing on this world that’s mine
Except the will I found to carry on
Free is not your right to choose
It’s answering what’s asked of you
To give the love you find until it’s gone

A need for something, now let me break it down again
A need for something but not more medicine

Something has me, oh something has me
Acting like someone I don’t wanna be
Something has me, oh something has me
Acting like someone I know isn’t me
Ill with want and poisoned by this ugly greed
Ill with want and poisoned by this ugly greed
Ill with want and poisoned by this ugly greed”

Hope your food, travel and heart preparations go well and you have a restful and grateful holiday!

Blessings,
Fred