An Ancient Lady, A Megachurch Man, A Skateboarding Folk Singer, and Getting What I Deserve

Over the last couple of days I’ve been reading the book of Ruth from the Old Testament during breakfast. I’ve also been reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson when I’ve had a moment here and there over the past week. In addition, I had a good talk with one of the pastors at a church that we’re in the process of settling into about faith and figuring out what God has in store for us. It is the convergence of these three influences that has me blogging this morning.

I’ve found myself inspired, at times, by points that Batterson makes regarding faith, prayer, and God’s vision for his followers. From what I’ve read so far, the theme of The Circle Maker has been the important role that faith and prayer play in growing our ability to reach out to others. Many of the examples the author gives are focused on the way that his church, National Community Church in Washington D.C., has been able to grow from a small group of tens to a mega church with multiple satellite sites around the D.C. metropolitan area. The most compelling aspect of this book for me, so far, is the idea of how important it is to not underestimate God and that tasks He’s called us to. Batterson makes the point that God doesn’t necessarily call the qualified, but, instead, He qualifies the called. I’ve seen God work so far beyond my means already on multiple occasions over the past few years of my life and I certainly want to be available to do whatever He calls me to do. What will that be? I’m still trying to figure that out. But, without doubt, Batterson believes that the act of prayer and our willingness to pray persistently with passion has been critical to his church’s growth. Admittedly, I’m only about halfway through the book and I look forward to having a clearer understanding of the book’s overall message once I’ve finished.

Josh Harmony

The book of Ruth, from my perspective, addresses a similar theme in that it tells the story of Naomi and Ruth and the difficulties that Naomi had to endure en route to a gracious miracle that she and Ruth experienced in the latter stage of Naomi’s life through Ruth. It was a song called “Mara Naomi” by pro skateboarder and musician Josh Harmony that I first heard the story of Ruth and Naomi from. But, the good book verified Harmony’s account. It was the selfless faith of Ruth through years of difficulty that they both endured after Naomi lost both of her sons (one of them being Ruth’s husband) that proved to be so critical in extending the bloodline that would soon give birth to King David and, eventually, Jesus. But, the fact that so many generations preceded Ruth and Naomi and that many more would have yet to come and pass before the birth of Jesus, struck me. These two individuals struggled and endured in faith throughout their lifetimes, but, because they did, forged a critical link in a long chain of events and lifetimes through which God would, eventually, release those who believe from the chains of destruction that selfishness (also known as sin) has and will continue to confine so many with.

So, seemingly anyway, there is something to be said for persisting and following God beyond what we can see with our own vision. But, earlier this week I was talking to one of the pastors of the church that we’re now attending about good books to read when I mentioned The Circle Maker. After noting that he wasn’t familiar with the book, he explained the conclusion that he recently came to after finishing a book study on another well-regarded book by a Christian author with a few other church members. I can’t remember what the book was that he said they were studying, but, he made a point that, after I thought about it, seems to be true: a lot of the best-selling Christian authors write books that contain some kind of formula or multistep process intended to help the reader move closer to God or achieve greater success as a Christian. The problem here is that, while such steps may be productive, it tends to bolster the idea that we, as people, can do something that will earn more love from God. We can ascend the ranks of Christianity if we just follow certain steps.

I’m not a theologian, but, I know enough about the life I’ve lived and the beauty of the gospel to tell you, confidently, that it has been by no means of my own that I have survived this long, that I have so many blessings (e.g., family, friends, career, purpose, etc.), or that I’ve been able to witness the miracles that I have. In my wildest dreams I could never have predicted the joy that I have in my life now as a consequence of God’s good grace – His unmerited, unearned favor and love. It is out of gratitude and thankfulness that I live and breath. Should you see me stumble or screw up in some way shape or form, know that it is because of my own weakness, but, that it is by His grace that I can have peace and get back up and keep walking where He wants me to go. I’ll be the first to admit, that I don’t often know quite where He’s taking me, but, I trust Him and I’m having the ride of my life.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

-Ephesians 2:1-10

So, I’m not sure if the key to life is simply persisting as I walk forward through life or seeking earnestly with blood, sweat, and prayers, but, if you have some perspective on the topic, I’m all ears. In the meantime, I’m just going to do my best to heed the words of Micah 6:8:

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Land and Water

A major difference between water and land is the fluidity of water. It moves. It can be contained, to a certain extent, and it may even be characterized by currents that travel within in predictable ways. But, in general, it is free, wild and anything but still. Even when sitting in a glass, seemingly motionless, particles of liquid are evaporating into the air, out of sight.

I live in the south. I didn’t grow up here and I don’t honestly see myself living out the rest of my days from this cul-de-sac point of view, but, who knows? It is, after all, comfortable. I have a decent back yard, an office space to myself above the garage, a membership to the local Y, and plenty of places nearby to run as I continue trying to work toward one of the characteristic benchmark achievements of middle-aged, middle-class, health-conscious white folk like myself: running a marathon. One has to have goals, right?

I  teach in a rural elementary school where, if you pull out of the parking lot, turn left, take another left at the intersection, and follow the road to it’s end, you’ll end up on the church grounds of a congregation that pre-dates America’s independence from Britain. My wife, my kids, and I attended that church for a few years and enjoyed its beautiful grounds and storied history.  Members of the congregation were very kind and fairly welcoming. A few especially loving members of the church family even played a significant role in providing company and comfort to my Dad during his battle with brain cancer before he passed in early 2012 and I am sincerely grateful for their compassion. I certainly have fond memories of the church. It was very comfortable.

In terms of personality type, I would have to classify myself as an introvert. I appreciate routine and an environment where I have some level of control. Spending a lot of time in a room full of people isn’t my cup of tea. So, after a day full of teaching fifth graders, uttering greetings to colleagues that I pass in the hall, and putting students into their cars when they are picked up at the end of the day in the car-rider line, all I really want to do is go home, go for a run by myself, or sit down and relax. The fact that I have a nine year old daughter and a five year old son that don’t always have the same idea of a good time as I do means that my blissful afternoon decompression time doesn’t always materialize. But, overall, I can’t complain. I’ve got a decent job that, for the most part, I enjoy, I work with people that I like, and I love my wife and kids to pieces. It’s comfortable.

Taking all that I’ve said so far in consideration, I’d have to admit that I’m much more of a land-dweller than a seafarer. I like to have my feet kicked up and resting on a sturdy ottoman that sits upon a sturdy floor in my comfortable living room.

I’m learning, though, that God is a lot more like water than land. My father’s final two years were characterized by a lot of pain, frustration, stress, and fear. It was a period that could have been characterized as anything, but, comfortable. But, in the midst of that storm, as I rode upon waves in a boat that I’d not planned to be in, I experienced the love and compassion of many around  me, the likes of which I’d never have know were it not for the rough seas around me that tossed my life, and even more so, my dad’s, around so violently.

In addition, I’ve learned lessons in the past year, in the midst of mourning, about the real and vibrant role that acts of faith can play in opening the door and allowing God’s beauty to flow in. The impact of His love on my life simply can’t be quantified. With eyes opened wider than ever before, I’m finding moments of grace and blessing in my life that I could’ve never dreamed of. Their cumulative force has brought me to the point where I am checking under every rock and looking at every face in anxious anticipation for what blessing will reveal itself next. But, I’m doing so knowing that the proportion to which God reveals his plan is often related to the extent to which I put comfort aside, move out of my cul-de-sac mentality, and get in the boat He has waiting at the dock for me. While I know that the waters I will float upon have the potential to become wild and stormy at any given moment, I have a growing faith that the journey that I take upon His water, water that is living, will be well-worth it.

As Josh Harmony sings in his song Paradox, “I know You enough to know to trust you with what I don’t…”

“God’s desire is that we get out into the open water, because it is there that the real relationship happens. A real relationship with God doesn’t happen in the harbor, safely tied up to the dock. The boat wasn’t made to stay tied to the dock; it was meant to sail in the open water.” -Mark Stuart, Hands And Feet Project director

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” -Psalms 119:105

For Your Benefit: BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT by Josh Harmony – free download available 6/5/12

For those of you who are familiar with this blog, you know that the music of Josh Harmony has played a significant role in my life over the past year or so (see earlier Harmony-related posts). I was graciously introduced to his music by the ever-accomplished Erick Cole (who collaborates with Josh on a good deal of his music) a year or two ago and, since that time, have gradually become more and more appreciative of the distinctive and sincere approach that Josh Harmony takes in making music. It wasn’t until much later on that I found out that Josh Harmony is actually already a well-respected name in the skateboard world (see some great shots of him in action, an interview clip, and a music clip here). Anyways, my main point of this post is that Josh’s first full-length album, BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT, will be available for free download from his site starting tomorrow, Tuesday, 6/5/12 for a limited time. You owe it to yourself to check it out. Your typical run-of-the-mill-sausage-product music download, BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT is not. In the meantime, check out two songs already released by Josh via You Tube:

New Josh Harmony Tunes!

“Paradox” and “Broken Man” from Josh Harmony’s upcoming BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT were unveiled today! Its certainly enough to make one want to take advantage of the limited time download of the whole album next week. See details on the video:

Encouragement For Encouragement: Josh Harmony

Skateboarder and musician Josh Harmony has a very worthwhile project in the works that he could use some help with to get off the ground. While its true that he is a pro skateboarder, the down economy has hit the skating industry as well and the funding necessary to give his new full album project the support it needs is simply not a given. He’s got some great incentives listed for pledge categories starting out as small as $1, so, please, take a moment to watch the video and give it some thought. Music from his last two EP’s LAMPS and TALLER THAN TREES have been a tremendous source of inspiration and encouragement for me in the wake of the end of my father’s battle with brain cancer. For that, I owe a great deal to Josh, Erick, and all involved with this great music.  Please check out the video and consider making a pledge. Thanks.

View the video here.

Wheels

In that early morning hour

Of the only night

That winter chose to bite

The wheels left tracks

In a thin layer of snow

From the back door past

The reach of the porch light

Into the dark

Of little consequence

A business transaction

Complete

With an appointment made

For later

In the day

To seal the fate

Of the broken jar

The gurney carried

But that you

Left

Behind

It was the tracks

In the snow that continued on

In my mind

As I drove home

The singer sang

“Let Jesus lead you,

Let Jesus lead you,

Let Jesus lead you

All the way

All the way 
Lord

From earth to heaven

Let Jesus lead you

All the way”