I don’t need to tell you how hard life can be. How you have to deal with pain that pierces your soul. Or feel so out of control it’s as if you’re on a runaway roller coaster. Or what it’s like to be so depressed you know exactly what the 23rd Psalm means when it speaks of the valley of the shadow of death. Or the experience of waking up in the middle of the night and wondering if your life has any real purpose.
These things are real. And they can never be dismissed or diminished. But there’s something more real than the most real pain, struggle or failure you ever feel. And it is available to you right now. It is Jesus’ love that takes every single thing that happens in your life – especially those things that you most want to hide – and embraces them in his love that changes everything about everything.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you have questions, or even doubts, about how this can be true. And I also know there are lots of things churches do that make it difficult to take it seriously. I understand because, if I am honest, there are days that’s exactly where I am. Yet I know this. The whole point of Jesus’ coming – fully human and fully divine all at the same time – was to share the gift of this transforming love at the very moment it was most needed, but least expected. Not just long ago – and for other people. But now – and for you.
TGIF – Thank God It’s Friday! It’s one of the few acronyms that’s virtually universally known. And whenever you utter it, it’s usually with a mixture of relief that the work week is over and joy that the weekend is about to begin.
But there’s another meaning for TGIF – Thank God It’s Free! The ‘It’ is Jesus’ love for you. It’s a love that freely takes the initiative to reach out to you when you least deserve it, but most need it. It’s a love that freely invites you into a personal relationship with the One who loves you so much that he freely died so you can experience life with him as Savior, Lord, Brother, Teacher and Friend. It’s a love so free that Jesus promises it will transform you from the inside out so that you become perfect in love.
Indeed, TGIF! Not just one day a week. And not just for everyone else. But every moment of every day! And for you!
A part of the human condition is being wounded deeply as you journey through life. I know it’s true for me. Someone speaks a hurtful word that leaves a scar. A trusted friend betrays me. I am treated in ways that make me feel invisible.
Sometimes, however, God takes a painful experience I would rather not have had in the first place, and uses it to nudge me in a new direction. This happened not too long ago when a message popped up on my phone informing me of my day’s screen time – in other words, how much time I had spent on my phone for the day. Of course, that’s just a piece of information, right? But that simple piece of information was immediately followed by a question that pierced my heart, “How much more time do I spend on my screen than I do with God?”
That question was so painful because It forced me to face a difficult truth about myself. But it also was a moment of amazing grace because God was there. Walking with me through the pain, helping me think through how I can do things in new ways and encouraging me as I made some changes in my life.
Life is filled with pain. But sometimes that pain leads to abundant life. Not because the pain is good, but because God’s resurrection power is far more powerful.
I have this thing about TV’s. And truth be told, I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. I still get excited thinking about getting our first color TV (a Curtis Mathis) the day before the very first Super Bowl. Or purchasing one of the first stereo televisions on the market (never mind that the right speaker never quite worked right). Or setting up my very first HD TV (with accompanying surround sound speakers set up all over the den), and watching a NASCAR race replay for an hour transfixed by the clarity of the picture and the real-life sound. Or most recently (because there have been many more chapters in between), buying an OLED TV with ATMOS sound system that provides a clearer picture and precise sound than I think my old eyes and ears can appreciate.
Now I’ll be the first to say it because I’m sure you’re thinking it. There’s nothing remotely spiritual about any of this. But I’ll be transparent. I’m not going back when it comes to sight and sound!
Something became crystal clear last Saturday evening when the Hogs played Texas that I had become increasingly aware of in recent months. On a couple of the sound settings, there was so much background noise that I hardly could hear the announcers describing the action on the field. Not surprisingly, I did what I thought was the most rational and reasonable thing to do. I turned up the volume. And I kept turning it up until it became a point of deep theological discussion with Karen. At which point I did the thing I probably should have done in the beginning – I turned up my hearing aid volume as high as it would go.
But guess what? Nothing changed. Everything was louder, but nothing was any clearer.
I think this is what happens in my life all too often. There is so much background noise from social media, 24 hour news cycles, ideological diatribes, music, conversation that doesn’t have much substance, my failed attempts to be in control of my life and my own negative self-talk, that I simply don’t hear God speaking to me. That’s a crazy way to live. So please pray for me, that I listen to God in a way that I may truly hear. And if by chance you are struggling in the same way, I will pray for you.
I am a lump. Sometimes – probably more than I ever want to admit – I feel like a lump of pizza dough that is being pounded, kneaded, twisted, folded over and pounded flat because of what’s going on in the world, my life, the lives of those I love or my own soul. At other times, I feel like a holy lump of clay because I experience the Master Potter lovingly shaping me into a vessel that holds the wonderful gift of Christ dwelling in me that transforms me and miraculously touches the lives of others. Today, Lord, help me be muddy instead of doughy!
Narratives shape your life. Your family has given you a narrative that is deeply embedded – usually unconsciously – in your soul. Culture bombards you with a narrative that causes you to feel like a ping pong ball being smashed back and forth across a net. And then there’s social media, that craftily manipulates you with a narrative controlled by an algorithm. Sadly, these narratives too often work together in ways that leave you feeling anxious, empty and as if you don’t matter. Thankfully, God has another narrative about you that is far more powerful than all of these narratives put together. While it is ultimately complex and mysterious, it is also quite simple. And it is true regardless of who you are and how painful your life’s narrative is. God loves you more than you can possibly comprehend. God has sent Jesus to change your narrative through his sacrificial love on the cross. And God gives you new life that begins right now and lasts forever.