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“In India, we have a saying: ‘Everything will be all right in the end.’  So, if it’s not all right, it’s not yet the end.”

So goes the response of the irrepressibly optimistic Sonny, the aspiring hotelier, to his dissatisfied guests in last year’s surprise hit movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  Though I assume it was entirely unintended, Sonny’s expression of confidence in the future reflects a sentiment that is very much at the heart of Christian hope and faith.

I don’t have to convince you that “it’s not all right” in this world.  Beyond the global concerns of numerous wars and regions of famine throughout the world, and national worries about violence, crime, and a struggling economy, our personal lives can sometimes be a total mess.  God does not provide Christians with exemption cards or pass chips that shield us from chronic illnesses, unemployment, broken relationships, betrayal, or mistreatment by others.  “In the world you will have tribulation,” (John 16:33).  You nailed that one, Lord!  This isn’t a “chance of rain – 40%” kind of prediction; it’s a given; Jesus practically promised that things are going to be tough.

We hurt.  We have disappointments, both in ourselves and in others.  We get discouraged.  We get tired.  Just when we start catching some wind in our sails, something or someone comes along and knocks the legs out from under us, resulting in a solid, mixed metaphoric kick in the gut.

But, we’re not there yet!

Scripture reminds us that “everything will be all right in the end.”  Granted, there are some days when those words come across like a toothless, impotent platitude that utterly fails to sooth the soul or dull the pain.  But, deep down I believe and know that one day, God is going to call a halt to all of this temporal nonsense, and suffering is going to be victoriously swallowed up by glory.

After His heads-up about life’s hardships, Jesus went on to supply the antidote for our anxieties.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” (Romans 8:18).

“So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (II Corinthians 4:16-17).

I’ve got a room booked at the Best Eternal Celestial Hotel (John 14:1-3).  I can endure a few more bumps in the road along the journey, and I will patiently persevere while I’m waiting for check-in time to arrive!

I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror yesterday and was struck by my ashen complexion.  It may have been the brightly lit room, the color of my sweater, the graying of my hair,  my recent lack of sleep, or a conspiracy involving all of these factors.  Most likely, however, my paleness was due to the fact that we are only a few weeks removed from the winter solstice and several months away from the onset of summer.  This typical, seasonal washing out of my skin has removed all traces of last summer’s tan.  It is not unusual each winter for at least a few people to inquire about my health.  “Are you okay?  You don’t look like you feel very well.”  “Oh, it’s nothing serious,” I reply, “just January!”

My reflection in the mirror evoked the title of Procol Harum’s classic hit, “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”  I could hear the haunting Hammond organ melody of the song, along with Gary Brooker’s soulful vocals, playing in my head.  As I hummed along, I thought, “I really need some sun.”  It will still be quite some time though before I’m doing weekly lawn work, jogging in the afternoon heat, and enjoying a periodic round of golf.  This is just going to be my color for a while.

It is extremely evident when someone has been in the sun.  Even in these days of heightened awareness about the dangers of overexposure to the “greater light’s” rays and the increased use of protective sunscreen, it is still quite common to hear someone say, “Wow!  You’ve really gotten some sun.”

Regular exposure to “the Son” should have a similar effect on our spirit and produce observable evidence of our proximity to the Savior.  He is indeed the true Light of the world who gives light to everyone (John 1:1-9).

“I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life,” (John 8:12).

“…but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of Light, for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth,” (Ephesians 5:8-9).

The effect of exposure to His Divine Light should cause people to “recognize that we have been with Jesus,” (Acts 4:13).

I indicated in my last post that I want to focus on gaining spiritual weight.  In the same way, I need to work on my “spiritual tan” by “walking in the Light,” (I John 1:7).

Yesterday’s trip down a musical memory lane led me to several online performances of “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” including this impressive instrumental version below by an incredibly talented young guitarist from South Korea, Sungha Jung.  If you enjoy Jung’s artistry, you can visit his official website.

How much should I weigh as a Christian?

In recent months, I have become a bit obsessive about stepping onto the bathroom scales every morning before I shower.  It is a daily, self-imposed accountability routine that confirms either the success or failure of my efforts to control my weight.

In my late 30s and throughout most of my 40s, I carried more weight than I should have.  The frequency and intensity of my exercise regimen waned significantly during those years due to nagging knee problems, and far too often I found myself eating because of nervousness or stress.  However, in the last couple of years I have managed to reverse this trend and begin dropping some pounds.  While I still have quite a way to go to reach my target weight, I feel that it is at least within sight, and I am much more thoughtful (intentional!) about menu selections and portion sizes.

A couple of months ago, I took a personal challenge to try to weigh the same or less on January 1 as I did in mid-November, seeking to safely navigate the culinary minefield that surrounds Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the multitude of festive, calorie-laden gatherings in between those holidays.  I was very fastidious at first, but succumbed to “the nibbles” during a few days off at home at the end of December, resulting in a New Year’s weigh-in that was a pound and a half heavier.  In the two weeks that have followed, I have let my guard down even further, reverting to a “grazing pattern” during the evening hours in which I make counter-productive raids on the pantry and refrigerator.  “Be sure your sin will find you out”; in my case, to the tune of another two or three pounds.

On mornings that follow a snacking binge, I struggle with whether or not to get on the scale.  If I do, I know that undeniable evidence of my lack of discipline will be glaring upward toward my face in angry, red digital numbers.  It is really strange that, despite my knowledge that this is just an inanimate electronic device, I feel the urge to “hide” my actions from it, dreading its judgment, condescension, and mockery.  I don’t want to be reminded that indulgence has triumphed over self-control.  In reality, the scale is an extremely consistent, reliable, and objective means of assessing how well I am progressing toward my goal.

But, enough about my physical weight.  How much should I weigh as a Christian?

“We need to stop counting Christians and start weighing them!”

I jotted down that quote a few months ago, and for the life of me I cannot remember where I came across it.  I am very conscientious about crediting sources, and it seriously bugs me that I can’t properly acknowledge the wisdom and insight of the author who issued this timely call to focus less on numerical church growth and more on spiritual maturity and substantive discipleship.  When I confirm the source of the quotation, I will edit this post accordingly.

Faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.  “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure…” (I Peter 2:5-9).  Increasing measure!  What if these Christian graces had some sort of quantifiable mass?  Ideally, I would be gaining spiritual weight and expanding my girth of grace and godliness!

Diet and exercise?  These are essential as well, but they work inversely to their physical counterparts, ensuring that one can pack on those needed spiritual pounds.  “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained (exercised) to discern good and evil,” (Hebrews 5:13-14).

How do I assess how I’m doing?  The mirror test can be helpful, looking intently and regularly into Christ’s law of liberty (James 1:23-25).  Honestly gazing into the mirror of the Word, just like looking at the verdict of the bathroom scale, can be a humbling and convicting indicator of whether spiritual disciplines or worldly indulgences have had the upper hand in my life.  When weighing on the scales of maturity and discernment, I don’t want to discover a Belshazzar-esque deficiency (Daniel 5:27) that keeps me classified as a spiritual flyweight or featherweight.

Am I as serious and obsessive about gaining spiritual weight as I am with losing physical weight?

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…,” (Matthew 5:6).

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.  My soul thirsts for God…,” (Psalm 42:1-2).

Stay thirsty, my friends!

I have a natural aversion to buzzwords.  While they are employed with great frequency throughout our society, it is Christian culture in particular that seems to be the most fertile buzzword breeding ground on the planet.  If you want to be taken seriously as a cutting-edge disciple or hailed as a spiritual sage, it is imperative that you pepper your parlance with a proficient mastery of the latest, hippest, coded vocabulary.

Are you being missional?  Relational?  Attractional?  Incarnational?  Authentic?  Relevant?  Transparent?  Do you have the confidence and comfort level to abandon the use of definite and indefinite articles when speaking about categorical concepts such as “story” and “community?”

“Buzz-Saw Louie” was the name of the highly prized and advertised toy in the cleverly written (weren’t they all?) VeggieTales episode, “The Toy That Saved Christmas.”  “Buzzword Louie” (or “Louise”) is the epithet that invariably pops into my head when I encounter a speaker or writer who seems intent on setting a new world record for the highest buzzword to word count ratio.  I have to consciously work against the gravitational pull of judgmentally attributing their choice of words to either shallowness or pretentiousness.  I know that sounds really harsh and surly, but I’m just trying to be “transparent” here!  In truth, I have to be extremely “intentional” about it.  Segue…!!!

Despite being up-to-date on all of my buzzword vaccinations, “intentional” is a term that has somehow managed to breach my defenses, infiltrate my system, and take root in my thinking.  Initially, the word and its cognates were met with my typical “first responder” attitude of smart-alecky cynicism.  “Are you living intentionally, Tim?”  Yeah, pretty much!  I “meant to do” just about everything I did today!

Maybe it’s maturity (I hope so) or the Holy Spirit (I hope so), but I have begun to give “intentionality” a chance.  I have moved beyond my first blush, dismissive (arrogant, perhaps?) reactionism, and have come to the realization that I could genuinely benefit spiritually, emotionally, and physically by living more intentionally.

I have come to realize that much of my life has been spent merely reacting to things that were going on around me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think I have done a fairly decent job of it, but shouldn’t there be more to life than just “responding well” to what is being dictated by others or thrown at me by forces and circumstances beyond my control?  Is that really life or just existence?

I don’t want to live my life incidentally or accidentally.  I don’t want to just “take it as it comes” and follow the path of least resistance.  I want to live my life “on purpose”  and “with purpose” when it comes to deepening my relationship with Jesus and strengthening relationships with my wife, my children, my friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, etc.  I want to be “deliberate” in my prayer life, study, evangelism, and service to others.  I realize more than ever that none of these things are ever going to “just happen.”

So, sign me up for being more intentional in 2013.  I may even go “all in” and start playing buzzword bingo, but only in a way that is truly authentic and relevant.

the passage 2

As I stepped out into the still, cold December air the other evening, I looked up into the cloudless night sky and was treated to a sight that I haven’t seen in a long time: a ring around a brilliant full moon.  Yes, I understand that, astronomically speaking, there really wasn’t a ring around the moon.  What I saw was just an optical, atmospheric phenomenon caused by high altitude ice crystals refracting the moonlight.  Yes, yes, I know that “moonlight” is technically sunlight being reflected toward Earth by the lunar surface.  Thank you, Sheldon Cooper!  Just let me call it a ring around the moon, okay!

Upon seeing this halo of light in the sky, I instantly began to recall (and soon thereafter began to sing) the opening lyrics of an old Dan Fogelberg song, “In the Passage,” which begins, “There’s a ring around the moon tonight, and a chill in the air.”  I muddled and mumbled my way through the lines that followed until I got to the chorus: “And in the passage from the cradle to the grave, we are born, madly dancing.  Rushing headlong through the crashing of the days, we run on and on without a backwards glance.”  It has been years since I have heard that song, which appeared on Fogelberg’s epic 1981 album, The Innocent Age.  I’ll comment at a later time on music’s incredible ability to permanently etch itself into our hearts, minds, and memories.

“The passage from the cradle to the grave…”

Maybe it was because the end of another year was fast approaching, or perhaps because I reached the half-century mark a couple of months ago, but for whatever reasons I found myself ruminating for quite a while on this “cradle to the grave” imagery.  I’m farther along in that passage than I have ever been before.  Given the “seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years” of Psalm 90:10, I’m most likely well beyond the 50-yard line in my march toward the end zone.

The run-up to the New Year always brings a host of retrospectives that recount the deaths of notable individuals during the year.  This year, in particular, it struck me that an entire generation or two of people with whom I have been familiar since childhood were passing away:  Neil Armstrong, Dick Clark, Earl Scruggs, Davy Jones, Larry Hagman, Robin Gibb, Andy Griffith, Ernest Borgnine, George Lindsey, Doc Watson, Levon Helm, Jack Klugman, and many others.  Each of these was memorable to me for different reasons.  I began to ponder how my grandmother, Louetta Pyles, must have felt at the age of 101 when all of her contemporaries and those with whom she grew up were gone.

The takeaway for me from all of these considerations was a reminder of just how precious our time on this planet is.  Each day is a gift from God (James 4:14-15).  Moments are far too valuable to be wasted on regrets, bitterness, jealousy, grudges, pettiness, and trivialities.  It was a wake-up call to “number my days” (Psalm 90:12) and “make the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:16).

Live, love, learn, serve, give, teach, pray, support, encourage, grow, correct, confess, forgive, embrace, laugh, weep, wait, etc.  These are the things that I want to dominate my days until I cross the goal line or until the Lord returns.  I just want to be ready whenever He decides to blow the whistle (or trumpet) and signal the end of the game.

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January 2013