Have you heard that as a cheer? We hear it when something “good” happens. We hear it less often when nothing good happens, and even less often when BAD things happen.
But he is still good.
I heard good news last week. In fact, the news was “good” to a whole region of people. Western New York oft repeated the phrase, “God is good!” on Twitter, Facebook and out loud upon hearing the news that former Buffalo Bills quarterback, Jim Kelly—a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, and beloved by so many here, and around the world—was cancer-free, again! (The second time he’s had to fight cancer, and won.)
Jim has an incredible story, really. He was not such a nice guy in his playing days. But God has used one crazy, tragic event after another to transform him into a man who is so generous, so thoughtful toward others, some might hardly recognize him. He does much good for many people, and is loved (as I said) by so many.
God is good! All the time!
But when I read and heard all those things, there was a twinge of “yucky” feelings in me. (And I now admit, that really should not be there. I am to rejoice with those who rejoice. The Kelly news should be celebrated! It’s great! God is good!)
I could only think, “Would those people have said the same thing, ‘God is good, all the time!’, had God not written a full recovery into Jim’s story? They might… but probably fewer people would remember to say it.
Job did. He had absolutely everything taken from him other than his wife, and his life. All his children, his wealth, his possessions, even his health. And still he said:
“I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had,
and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord!”
We’ve heard the story. But have you lived it? Are you now? We know many people dealing with many hard things, and despite the wearisome, never-ending, painful, life-draining circumstances they are enduring, they too will staunchly declare: God is good! All the time!
They know He is. They’ve felt him, even in the darkest moments, reminding them of his deep love for them, and his true goodness, and his constant care and affection for them. Not just a Bible memory verse, but an every day—every moment—reality.
Do you know that? I ask myself, do I? Am I not prone to the same “God is Good” when things go the way I hope they would go, and less often when they do not?
Yes. I am weak. I can not always (without hesitation) say “Praise the name of the Lord!” as Job, or my friends.
But their example reminds me that even in the most unimaginable, unwanted, nearly-hopeless situations… yet we have hope. We know that he is with us. Really with us. When you see these friends, you can’t help but smile in response to their smiles! What a great example of the hope we have in Jesus, and the true joy we can know in him (not to mention a great example of the love of a husband and wife for each other, enduring together all things, no matter how difficult).
What is life throwing at you? What is too hard to handle, to bear, to stand up under.
Stop trying to stand. Rest. Trust. Hope.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
Those are words on a poster—until you need them. And we all do, or someday will.
Count it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds. They are reminders that we need him, yes, and it is usually in those times that we are reminded that (even better) He is with us.
So it is true: God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.
The trick is learning to say that when the times are less than “good”. Still he is and always will be… good.
In the year 2002, our music had become the primary focus of our days and weeks, and even years. Our young family—married less than five years, with boys aged nearly-three and almost-one—we had begun to accept invitations to share our music with people around the entire country. Weeks and months were spent on the road performing the songs I had written previously, as well as leading groups of Christians in worship music composed by others. This often led to more songs being written by me (including some more worship songs to lead more people in singing) and it eventually led us to produce another album-full of these songs in recorded form.
That summer we had spent a few weeks in the studio, after a few weeks in various practice locations, after a few years of crafting and “learning” the songs ourselves. The culmination of these weeks produced our third full-length studio album: Come As You Are. And on August 29th, at Crosswinds Wesleyan Church in Canandaigua, NY, with our friend Paul Robert Jones opening the evening by performing some of his own music, we celebrated the finished work of this album with a hundred or two of our friends. It was a great, fun, memorable night.
Through the years, the songs we recorded that summer have spread across the globe. The CDs and cassettes have made their way through postal services, and carried by hands to far away lands. They have been downloaded to computers and other digital music devices. And they have impacted hearts and minds and lives with the message from our Father: come as you are, not who you will be; it’s rough from the start, you might think you are beat. But it’s not the righteous I want, for I came to seek and save the lost. Just come to me!
The song—the whole album—was a collection of the words God spoke (even still speaks) to me. His invitation to a broken soul, well aware of his inabilities and shortcomings and failures, to a life of freedom with him. Free to be my broken self. Free to hope for better, to know he accepts me and wants to show me, lead me to the Life that I’m meant to have with him—in him.
We listened to it again tonight. Most of my kids and I. (Mom and oldest daughter were off sorting clothing for a community clothing give-away, and scoring some that would also help our family.) We listened, and sang. I told stories from the recording days. I thought through the words. I think they did the same.
The message still resounds in my heart. All of these songs. I want to know you better Lord. I want nothing less, nothing more.1 And, I don’t want this to end here; my life for you just in a song. Please change my heart, Lord, and let me words speak for you. I give my life to you.2 And, songs like The Mountain To The Sea, and My Visible, See-Through Friend, and Because… all of them, really. All reminding me of my life, found in him.
If you’ve not heard the album, you can listen to all the songs here. Or, we’re on Spotify. And iTunes. And Amazon. You’ll find us out there. I would love for you to hear the whole thing. All the better if you can find a quiet time to listen to not just my voice, and Jen’s voice… but the voice of The One who made you, loves you, and invites you:
Come as you are.
This blog is getting old. Already well into its second decade. (Well, into, at least.)
Today is the day, eleven years ago, that I first set out on this blogging adventure. You can read the post here. Many of the August Twenth-Sixths since, I have linked to that first “blog”. It was not of much consequence, but it was the beginning of much thought and heart shared, many stories told and re-told, and generally just life shared with you, Dear Reader.
You’ll note, if you are the observant sort, that the next most recent post here at GregsHead dot net is from the month of June. (At least it is still in the year Twenty-Fourteen…) The writing has been sparse, selective, and even somewhat nonexistent for quite some time. There are reasons, but the main reason of course is my own choice not to write.
Why does that happen? The reasons I mentioned above include excessive busyness, choosing to spend time on other things, feelings of an unimportance placed (by me) upon my writing on any topic, and even sometimes being so beat down by life that, “I just don’t feel like it.”
I have taken some moments to get thoughts out. Perhaps you’ll recall when I wrote about how truly Special God has made each of us to be (not as sappy as that synopsis makes it sound); or two posts [one, two] about our strength being found in our weakness; or maybe you saw the post titled Christians Being Christian, and my aversion to gatherings where those of that ilk are present in greater numbers.
(If not, today might be a nice day to click those links and catch up?)
Perhaps as the Fall begins so many things anew, I will make a concerted (joyful) effort to put fingers to keyboard and once again process the thoughts that constantly churn in my head and heart. I love to share them (and in so doing, refine and learn from them) and I love to hear back from anyone in whom they might strike a similar chord—or a discordant one.
It will resume. The words have flowed for eleven years now. I don’t imagine they will ever cease completely, so long as God breathes his life into me, and there is Internet to share these stories by.
Thanks for reading along.
It turns out, nearly every year we plan, work, plant, tend, and harvest a garden of edible treasures, there is inevitably some deeper truth mined from the soil and its produce.
We’ve just begun this summer’s work, and already our strawberries have reminded me of a truth I often forget.
See, we didn’t actually do anything for these strawberries this year. Last year, because we all love eating strawberries, we decided to buy several plants (maybe twelve) to “try it out” in our garden. The plants seemed to thrive, producing many of the small, white flowers. Anticipation grew as we expected the sweet, juicy strawberries to begin appearing in the dozens!
But they didn’t. They really didn’t. By the end of the summer, the flowers that did appear and disappear only managed to produce less than half of a dozen berries. And really, we didn’t get to eat any of them, because the bugs got to them before we did.
Disheartened by the obvious failure—but only slightly so—we thought we’d give it one more try next year, and so, we left the strawberry plants in the ground, over winter. (Though I can not recall exactly why we did this, since we removed all the other used-up plants.)
After the long, hard, very cold winter, spring once again sprung. As everything came to life again, the strawberry plants followed the same pattern of rejuvenation. The leaves broadened, the plants stood taller on their thin stems, and after a very short time, the white flowers appeared again!
This time, there were more. Many more. And we saw bees buzzing, doing their handiwork.
And then we saw berries. LOTS of berries! Some of them already much larger than anything we saw last year.
What has occurred to me several times as we watch this bountiful future harvest take shape before our eyes is this: We did not do this.
Last year we bought the plants and brought them home. We carefully planted, tended, weeded, watered, and watched. And we reaped next to nothing. (You could accurately just call it “nothing”.)
But this season, we didn’t do any of that. We did weed out a bit of the unwanted extra plants around the strawberries, but we also left quite a few in amongst them. We did not till the soil. We didn’t really take any care whatsoever of these plants in this process.
And yet they bloom, and bring forth fruit. In abundance!
Perhaps things go better when we leave them alone?
I have clearly applied this thought to parenting our children. As our oldest quickly approaches adulthood, I am constantly finding myself questioning how much (if any) I should involve myself in his decision-making. I’ve tended toward less or no involvement (though my own self struggles against that, too) and I think he is and will be the better for that.
It’s hard to not do anything.
But the strawberries from our untended plants will exceed last year’s tended produce times relative infinity.
It’s hard to not interfere. But it would appear that some things in life are better when we just let them happen.
Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day. June 6th, 1944. The Allied invasion at Normandy, France, was a key point in World War II, and certainly worth commemorating.
Below is an article I wrote a couple years ago, following our family’s own commemorating of the events of that day. It seemed a good way to honor the day this year, too.
Even if you read it when it originally posted, I do think it’s worth re-reading, and re-considering.
D-Day: When Things Mattered
June 7th, 2012
Last night we honored D-Day (June 6th) by watching an episode of Ken Burns': The War (on Netflix). It follows the lives of four guys who lived through WWII, and specifically that day in Normandy.
It invoked so many thoughts and emotions… I certainly can not describe and share them all here.
The one prevailing thought I had, however, was that there is right and wrong.
These guys—just kids—were willing to give up their lives (literally!) in order to go over and make right what someone (or a large group of someones) made wrong… for somebody else!
That can not be emphasized enough.
The aggressors (Nazi Germany) were bent on eradicating the Jews (and just non-Aryans, right?) and were expanding their territory across sovereign nation after sovereign nation until the brave, heroic, persons of principle among the nations stood up and said, “You shall not pass!”
And they truly were brave. Heroes. Righteous. Courageous.
Not that they were flawless human beings. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Some of them were maybe even “bad” guys… but they stood up for what was right. That made them heroes.
They literally gave up their lives (I contend even the guys who didn’t die on D-Day were never the same again)… and it was for other people. Not the US. Not Americans (directly). It was not to expand our territory or influence or whatever… it was just taking a stand against evil.
Some today think that war is always wrong. They think that generations are not different. In a way that is correct: people are people. But there was something in my grandparents’ generation that was different. I’m not sure if it was a product of the circumstances of their day, or if it was that they had not yet removed God and respect and decency and morality from the general fabric of society. Maybe it was both. But whatever it was, we still owe to them (the world, not just America) an incomprehensible, inestimable debt of gratitude.
We mostly argue about ridiculous things today, things that really don’t matter. (We are free to do so in part because of the courageous choices and actions of these men.) Sometimes I think we argue for the sake of arguing. Political gaming. Blagh.
Things matter. People matter. Someday I think we (our nation, and as individuals) will be faced with a similar crisis. At that point, I wonder what that generation will do? Will their descendants someday label them the “greatest generation”? Or will that moniker forever be inexorably bound to the generation whose men bravely stormed the beaches at Normandy… until they had either given up their life, or succeeded in preserving freedom for the world?
I think we will someday find out, one way or another. Somehow we always get to decide if we’re going to stand, or stand by.
On D-Day… (and in many other battles) they chose to stand.
This morning, as I passed a line of cars heading the other direction, waiting for their light to turn green, I began to notice the faces of their drivers. Most were nearly expressionless. Some seemed to have more than driving on their minds, faces betraying the distraction. Other faces were relaxed, even smiling.
As the faces I passed numbered into the dozens, I began to think about how each of the people I saw were special. No, not the platitudinal “God Loves You” kind of special. (Though that doesn’t need to be completely discounted, it’s not what struck me.)
They are special to someone, or someones else.
Each of those people are a daughter or a son; maybe a husband or a wife; related by blood or shared life-times to people who value them, perhaps even more than they value themselves?
Their faces may or may not reveal the hurt they felt when they pushed themselves out of bed this morning; the happy tiredness of a sleepless night with the new baby; the joy of the new job, or relationship, or realization of some wonder of God’s creation redeemed.
Everyone is special to someone. You are. You know people who are special to you. And every person—even the ones who are “just faces” to us—is beyond-words special to someone. Usually several someones.
I’ve had this experience (and chronicled it) before. Perhaps that means it’s really true.
You are valued.
I hope you know it. I hope you hear it. Often.
It is true.
What you can do, is make sure that you remind the people that are Special to you, that you esteem them, you love them. That’s important. And easy, all at the same time.
Recently a podcast I regularly enjoy reminded me that the Special is all that matters. “The trajectory of the world is changed one life at a time. It’s you loving the people God’s put around you today.”
The world is changed by how we love even just one person.
The people you see every day around you… the “extras”… are actually someone incredibly Special.
And so are you.
Words that have impact, weight, gravitas. Vivid pictures of great force and ability prominently display on the screen of our minds. Big, overwhelming, unstoppable, unbreakable.
We love strength. We need it. The events of our lives remind us so often that we lack control, ability… power and strength.
And so we create heros who are strong. We even create villains in our various narratives who are equally strong—or stronger—and the irresistible draw of the story is that the hero, through whatever strength, power, ability he or she might muster, is able to overcome the impossible odds and defeat… overpower the enemy.
Because that is strength.
This week, my thoughts have remained on the idea of weakness versus strength. How can it be that our weakness, our brokenness, can be our strength? Inevitably I am drawn back to the foundational Truth that God himself is our only source of strength. The only source of Strength.
The trick is, he doesn’t always display his strength in the way we first think of strength.
I wrote about Strength In Weakness earlier this week. I shared recent reminders of how our weaknesses are not our downfall, but with God, they are a greater strength. We need him, and our weaknesses focus us—again, and again—on that essential reality.
And again my thoughts betray my true, fundamentally flawed thinking. Weakness is my inability, and strength is my ability. Strength to change things. Power to move, alter, overcome.
Perhaps this is not true strength at all?
Jesus told his friends that, “in this world, kings and great men ‘lord it over’ their people… But… you… will be different… the leader should be like the servant.”
And in the previous post, we remembered how Jesus even restrained his power all the way to an unjust execution. Arguably demonstrating more strength than an overpowering, awe-inspiring display of “power”.
I once heard the term “meekness” defined as strength under control. Is this evidence of greater power; greater strength? Yielding of available power. Sheathing the sword.
Too often we want Power to overcome, destroy the Foe. But more often, Power is demonstrated by restraint. By submission. By being the Servant.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
God speaks in a whisper. He was born a baby, in a barn, in a tiny Nowhere Town. He died the death of a criminal, without resistance.
His Power and Strength are far beyond what we can fathom, far different than we can comprehend.
Holding back your tongue is power. Holding your temper. Pulling punches. Turning the other cheek. Laying down your own rights, willingly, for another’s benefit. Without being asked to. These are some examples Jesus modeled; he who has true power.
When you next ask for a demonstration of his Power… it might turn out differently than you expect.
There is no doubt that all Power and Strength and Glory and Honor belong to him, and him alone. What that looks like, he continues to slowly reveal to me. You may have a clearer picture of it than I do, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below, or contact me directly.
But I know this—he is Power, and Strength. And my greatest ideas of Power pale in comparison to all that He is.
And the best part is, one of my favorite sections of scripture—a prayer for power and strength—talks about God’s immense power… to change me from the inside! How much more subtle can you get, but Paul says it’s beyond our imagination!
I leave you with Paul’s words. Be encouraged, in His Power.
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
If you’ve spent any time around Jesus, you’ve probably noticed that he sees things backwards; upside-down. His vision of how the world operates is counter-intuitive, counter-culture, and counter- most all of our own natural bents.
Jesus took his backward thinking all the way to his own, un-protested execution.
He was silent before his accusers.1
Jesus knew that there is greater strength in restraint—even in weakness.
How can weakness be strength? Again, that’s more than paradox, that’s just… incorrect. At least, it is so according to conventional thinking. (Which we’ve already said is not Jesus’ basis for “the way things work”.)
“My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.”2
Power… is made perfect… in weakness. Words of the Father to Paul, who was begging him to remove something that “tormented” him.
But God said, No… trust me. Weakness is better.
Power is made perfect in weakness. A small flame can light a dark room. Things that we perceive as weak can be strong. But I don’t think that is the point.
In a strange sense, it does actually work. Think about it. If you’re giving everything you’ve got, all your strength and ability, that’s great—but it has its limits. Your limits. When you acquiesce to a power outside of yourself—greater than yourself—and relinquish any control you have (or think you have) … there is a strange, greater strength in that act alone.
We’re giving up control. We are allaying all fear of what might come—which we can’t control anyway—by steadfastly trusting in the goodness, strength, and deep, deep love of the Father… towards me. The strength is not my own; it’s His.
Jesus lived this. And he wants us to trust him, and his Father, and do the same.
These thoughts have been bubbling under the surface of many conversations and in things read and heard in the recent past. I think God is reminding me where Life and Strength are. And now, perhaps he’s reminding you, too.
Be strong… in your weakness.
I’m really good at a lot of things. I think I always have been. My sister-in-law once called me “golden boy”, or something like that (even before I was her sister-in-law), because everything I touched “turned to gold”.
And yet, I’m really not awesome.
I wish I was. I would have lots of uses for supreme awesomeness. I think of what a fantastic Dad I could be; always there for each of my kids with complete understanding, compassion, enthusiasm—whatever they need, exactly when they need it. I know I could be the perfect husband to my wife; empathetic, again understanding and compassionate, kind, gentle, humble, gracious, and always considering each moment from her perspective, and for her good.
If I was really awesome, I’d treat every person I spent time with each day as though they were indeed the Son or Daughter of the King—which they are. It wouldn’t matter what they looked like on the outside, or whether I was in a good mood at the moment, or even if I had time in my day to give to them. I would see them, and know them, and listen to them, and give them the honor they are due as another of His Masterpieces.
I’d also probably do some pretty amazing things along the way; whether through my music, or writing, or even through some tasty culinary creations. If I was the awesomest person ever, the world would be full of my most amazing works.
But I am definitely NOT the Most Awesome Person Ever.
(Just ask any of those people listed above.)
And I’m glad I’m not. I’m glad for the reminders that my life is only full, complete, real, meaningful… LIFE… with, and in, and through Jesus, who IS the Awesomest Person Ever. (See Colossians, Hebrews, and several other sections of the New Testament for more on that.)
I fail my wife all the time. When she needs me to show her grace, I’m often at (or past) the end of my own reserves, and instead I offer her insecurity; words and actions originating in my own lacking. I fail my kids even more (if only because there are more of them to fail) with busyness, tiredness, selfishness, all taking me from them more than I care to admit.
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (Matt 5:3)
Jesus said that.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
As I was reminded by the book I recently recommended here, Jesus is clearly, far-and-away, without-rival, The Most Awesomest Person Ever.
Remember what Paul said, when he wrestled with wanting to be better (more awesome)?
That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:5-10)
No. I am not awesome. Neither was Paul (who was likely more awesome than me… even if he might not admit to it), and neither are any of us who are not Jesus, the full embodiment of God the Father.
His grace is all I need. All we need.
We may not be awesome, but he is. And that IS awesome!