Thursday, February 18, 2016

Jailbreak (Chapel-A-Day: Day 8)

It has been an interesting first week of Lent. Those of you who read my blog and Facebook posts know that my Lenten sacrifice is the one thing I realistically cannot afford to give up... time. So.. .realistically... it was the one thing I knew I had to give up, and give back to God.

Every single day, I've been tempted to "break the fast" and keep for myself that one hour a day I've promised to give to God. Every single day, I've held firm. Every single day, it's been proven to be the best hour of the day.

Wednesday, my hour a day was spent in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church, Pensacola. The weekly Lenten sermon was delivered by Dr. Geoffrey Lentz. The sermon had an interesting title: "Folsom Prison Good News." He even sang a stanza from the Johnny Cash song, "Folsom Prison Blues." (And. He. Rocked. It.)

The sermon was deep, moving, and poked around in my heart. I have a feeling it poked around in every heart in the crowded sanctuary.

The sermon setting was the cross... and the two prisoners who flanked Christ on Golgotha. When Dr. Lentz asked the questions, "What is the prison that is holding you captive?" and "What are the the locked doors in your life?" the sanctuary air went still. He let the questions hang. 

Just long enough for each person to mentally go to that locked room.

Then, he spoke of the one who holds the key. The only One who holds the key.The only key to unlocking whatever door it is that is keeping His best from coming into your life.

I thought about the locked doors that have come and gone in my life. The habits, relationships, and attitudes that kept me distanced from God. I bet you have spent some time in rooms like that. Sometimes you really do feel like a prisoner... trapped in a lifestyle, relationship, situation, or mindset from which you cannot break free.

Dr. Lentz reminded us that there is a "jailbreak" available to us. We only need to look up, reach out, and accept His key.The key that opens the door, and leads us to a better way. The key that leads to freedom.

Once again... this hour was one that I was tempted to keep for myself. Once again.. I gave it back to God. 

And it was the best hour of the day.


Friday, February 12, 2016

A Wonderful Bird is the Pelican (Chapel A Day: Day 3)

"A wonderful bird is the pelican. His beak can hold more than his belly can!" 

Today's Chapel-A-Day location wasn't in a chapel at all, and frankly, it wasn't especially spiritual. The hour a day of time that I am "giving up" for Lent was spent in a place where I feel the closest to God... on the shore of my beloved Gulf of Mexico. And I was joined by some of my most favorite creatures on the planet... brown pelicans.

There are two brown pelicans that I love the most. Since I moved to the beach in the fall of 2013, they have flown by my place at almost the same time every day. Rain or shine. Winter or summer. They are as reliable as the sunset. I've named them Romeo and Juliet. I like to think that they know me. Because, I promise you.. they dip their wings at me as they swoop by! No. Lie.

Tomorrow, I am to deliver a message on LOVE. Tomorrow is the day before the "love holiday," Valentine's Day. 

I pondered my sweet Romeo and Juliet couple as I sat by the water's edge today. I decided they are a good example of what love needs to be in our lives.

First, brown pelicans are loyal. They mate for life and they don't decide on that mate lightly. They have a pretty cool dating life before "settling down," comparing bird calls, negotiating dance rituals, and sharing food before "tying the knot" so to speak.

They put equal effort into the relationship. Both help create the home (nest) and when the babies come, both parents bring home the food and feed the babies.  Romeo and Juliet demonstrate the value of togetherness and commitment. Am I reaching? Maybe. Maybe not.

Whatever your love relationship.. romantic, family, friend, community... there are lessons to be learned from the wonderful pelican. Lessons about fidelity, responsibility, unity, and continuity. God created us for relationship. Primarily for relationship with Him, then for relationship with others. 

So... how's your "love life?"

While romantic love gets the most press... it's the love in our heart for friends, family, community, the world, and our God that makes the most impact. What is in our heart determines how we relate to others. It determines in large degree how happy we are.. and how happy we make those around us. 

As I watched my friends Romeo and Juliet glide by today, I took heart. And like the pelican's "beak vs belly" characteristic, I asked God to give me more love in my heart than my heart can hold... so that the love can spill over and out, and bring joy to the family, friends, and community that He puts in my flight-pattern every day.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Keeping Score? Not Any More! (Chapel A Day: Day 2)

What was the score of the last Super Bowl? The last World Series? The last test you took in high school? Or college?

I thought about that today, as I sat in the tiny hospital chapel on this second day of Lent. This year, like the year before that, and the year before that... I am trying to discipline myself to give up one hour of my time a day to spend doing nothing but focusing on God, and whatever it is that He wants me to do in this world.

For the first 30 minutes that I sat in the chapel, I: 1) focused on the cross, 2) knelt at the kneeling bench, 3) read scripture, 4) prayed, 5) dozed off. (Look.. it's Lent. I ain't gonna break one of the Big 10.) 

Then, my eyes fell on the devotional booklet, "Our Daily Bread." I decided to open it and read today's entry. It was about keeping score. 

Keeping score can be a good thing, if you are trying to become better at whatever task, or test, led to you being scored in the first place. But, it can also be a dangerous thing. Keeping score of the wrongs people have done to you (perceived or real,) your own faults, the faults of others, the times people have let you down...the times you've let yourself down... the times God has let you down... can be, well... a real downer.

So, in today's Chapel A Day, I prayed that God will help me stop being a scorekeeper. At least for the next 39 days. Instead of racking up points against the opposing team, I'll try to keep the scoreboard clear. It might be pretty freeing to--- 

Let. It. Go.

 Maybe you need to clear the scoreboard, too. Because, really... like the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the last tests we took in high school and college.. maybe, just maybe... the score isn't the most important thing. Maybe.. just maybe.. it's the way the game... and our life... is played.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Give it Up, Give it Back (Chapel A Day: Day 1)

What, if anything, does the season of Lent mean to you? For millions of Christians, the next six weeks leading up to Easter will be a time of repentance, reflection, and renewal. Many of these Christians will choose to "give up" something during Lent. 

A few years ago, as I began to grow in my United Methodist faith, I adopted the spiritual discipline of "giving up" something for Lent. I did not want to give up chocolate or soft drinks, etc. If I was going to give up something, I wanted the "loss" to become a "gain" by stretching and deepening my faith. Whatever empty spot was left by what I gave up, I wanted to be filled up with something positive, healing, and helpful to me and to others. 

I decided to give up the one thing that was most precious to me. My time. For 40 days, I gave up one hour a day to God. I found a chapel, or church, or cathedral, or outdoor sanctuary and for one hour I did nothing but pray, read, study... and listen. It was life changing. The next year, I began writing about it. (See previous "Chapel A Day" entries starting here.) Every year since, I've continued the practice of giving up time. 

But, this year, things are different. I'm running a business, going to school full time, writing, and speaking. Of all the things I can least afford to give up this year, it is TIME.

So, TIME is obviously, the one thing I must give up... and give back... to God.

For the next 40 days, I will do as I have done for the past several years. For one hour a day, I will seek out a place of worship and I will try my best to tune out the world and tune into the one around whom my world revolves.
Photo Credit: First United Methodist Church Pensacola, FL

Tonight, I will give up my first hour of time, and give it back... to God. It will happen in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in Pensacola, FL. At the conclusion of the service, I will walk to the front of the church, where the minister will place ashes in the sign of a cross on my forehead. The ashes represent our mortality and repentance. 

I will cry. I always do. 

I will feel God's presence. I always do. 

I will ask God to help me live a better life during, and most especially after, Lent. I always do.

I will ask God to turn my "loss" into a "gain." I always do.

I will ask God to take this empty space of time that is typically filled with work and stress and whatever else... and fill it up with something positive, healing, and helpful. I always do.

And, He always does.

What does Lent mean to you? It can be a time of repentance, reflection, and renewal. 

It could also become... the time of your life.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

What's In Your Heart?

Photo credit: Jeff King/JKingSr Photography
One week from today is Valentine's Day. You know-  hearts, flowers, chocolate. On this day, lovers will love, couples will couple, and Hallmark will... 


Valentine's Day. It's the day when we are encouraged to let the one we love with all our heart... know that we love them... with all of our heart.

In parts of Europe, a popular Valentine's Day gift is a key. As in the key that unlocks the heart. That got me to thinking.

If my heart were to be unlocked... what would be found inside?

I like to think that my heart is full of love, peace and joy. And mostly, I think it is. But there's this one little part, a hide-away closet so to speak, where I hide things. Those "things" may change depending on the day and the circumstances. But they remain things that I keep locked away so others can't see them. Things like impatience, jealousy, anxiety, fear, distrust and pride. 

So, today, one week from Valentine's Day, I'm pulling out my "key." The one that opens the door to the hide-away closet in my heart. I am going to let those hidden things out... not for the purpose of letting them run amok in me, but for the purpose of looking them in their beady little eyes, and telling them that there is no room in my heart for them anymore. I need the space for a little more love, a little more joy, and a little more peace. I want the space to be filled up with my love for the people who are important in my life, and with the love those people give back to me. 

So... what's in YOUR heart? Any hide-away closets that need cleaning out? The "love month" is a good time to do it. It'll do you good. I promise.

With all of my heart.