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.

Reaction

Gut-level response. Whether it be a response to pain, joy or anything in between I think that our heartfelt and honest passions are more important to God than we know. In the gospel of Luke Jesus gives several different examples of people who responded in the moment and took initiative despite their circumstances at the time.

The seventeenth chapter of Luke tells about ten lepers that met Jesus and yelled out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus then told them to go and show themselves to the priests. Then, once they turned and did what He instructed, their leprosy disappeared. The ten lepers cried out to Jesus in desperation, they acted on His instructions and, as a result, were healed. Then one of them, as a knee-jerk reaction to the realization that he’d been healed, gave even more of a gut-level response when he turned, shouted praise to God and fell down at the feet of Jesus who commended his real and present faith saying, “thy faith has made thee whole.”

I’ve found that the bell curve of daily life certainly brings moments, and perhaps even days, when I am either bouncing through the sunny joys of life or, alternately, being thrown around and beaten by the waves of a midnight storm at sea. There are moments in life when I feel compelled and inspired beyond belief and there are days when I can’t muster enough energy to even open the blinds in the morning, let alone go outside. The majority of my days, however, consist of everything in between: partly cloudy with rays of sunshine breaking through.

Real hope in our daily lives rests in our ability to empty our hands repeatedly, in as many individual moments as we can in the course of a day and we can do this by finding small moments to be thankful for. I truly believe that in taking the initiative to thank God for the small blessings I have, whether it’s a squirrel that scurries across my path during a morning run or a conversation with a friend, my need to understand His plan and earn His love (as if I even could) becomes less while my trust in him simultaneously becomes more.

A song called “Now” by a long-time favorite band of mine, Poor Old Lu, contains a line that has become a solid foothold for me: “…Don’t wait for cloudless skies when the sun breaks in between…”

Additionally, Josh Harmony’s song “Paradox” parallels what I’m learning when he sings: “…I know you enough to know to trust you with what I don’t…”

Taking all of this into consideration, I cannot help but to respond with gratefulness to God for everything in life that has provided joy and sustenance to me. Through difficult times, hope and purpose has blossomed and its beautiful colors are showing up all around me in places that I’d never noticed before. What’s more is that in each new place I find not only a blessing, but, an opportunity to give thanks, at a gut-level, by giving to others.

God’s economy defies human logic. Grace is a divine mystery that one who has truly accepted it can’t help but to react to gratefully in a profound manner. While I don’t know what my journey will look like down the road past the light that shines from the lamp at my feet, I don’t need to. I’m not waiting for cloudless skies. I know Him enough to know to trust Him with what I don’t. His grace, through faith – my trust in Him, has healed me and made me whole.

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.    Luke 17:35-43

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:

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”