Repentance and Refreshment

I sure appreciate readers of “There’s a Blog in My Eye,” because you regularly  have enough faith to read my blog even though you haven’t a clue what the topic will be. Thank-you. Here’s a secret: a few days before Friday’s deadline, I must muster a little faith too. Many Mondays I’m blog topic clueless and have to ask myself, “What is hitting the eye, over and over again?” This past week the whammies came—about five in a row on the out-of-fashion topic of REPENTANCE. Please read on, because the flip side of repentance is REFRESHMENT. Who doesn’t like that?

The Problem

Dr. Mateen Elass, head and shoulder short of middle aged man, round face, cropped, thick hair, and green eyes, smiling with mouth closed.
Dr. Mateen Elass

I was at a spiritual retreat last Saturday with a wise theologian, Mateen Elass. He spoke on what it means to be created in God’s image. Dr. Elass had a q. and a., and I popped out the question, “Where does repentance fit into the creation and redemption story? I mean, how do I incorporate repentance in my life as well as in my community? It’s difficult, because we live in a culture where that word ‘repentance’ seems almost obsolete.”

Dr. Elass quoted Jesus’s words in Mark 9:29: “This kind does not come out without prayer and fasting.” I was teary-eyed. He was succinct and right.

Distraught man kneels in mud and asks for forgiveness from those around him.
Repentance and forgiveness in the 1986 movie The Mission.

A Child’s Story

Children's book cover shows a cartoonish white rooster leaning against a tree next to a red barn in the mountains with evergreen trees in background. Rumor Rooster by Jessica Johnson are printed on cover. Rumor wears brown cowboy boots.
Both this art and the above one of Rumor Rooster’s skeleton are use with permission from Jessica Johnson.

Following the retreat I drove to Golden, Colorado, for the Rocky Mountain Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ annual conference. Among highlights, I had dinner with writer/artist Jessica Johnson. Jessica gave me her cute children’s book: Rumor Rooster. Rumor lives up to his name, spreading lies about the barnyard kitty. Then, Rumor doesn’t feel well, and Wise Woodpecker nails the problem: “Maybe you opened your mouth just a little too much, Rumor! What hurts is not your nose, not your toes, not your bones, but your heart.”

Rumor Rooster is a great little parable about confessing wrong,  turning away from it, and making right. Although Jessica doesn’t use the word repentance, the story was a neon light for me.

Pastor Tim’s Message

Arriving home from the writer’s conference late Sunday my husband told me I missed a great message at church.

“What was Pastor Tim’s topic?” I asked.

“Repentance,” my BFF said.

Hmmmm.

Monday, I listened to Dr. Timothy McConnell’s message online.

Dr. Timothy McConnell has a friendly, open smile at camera. He has black hair parted on side, dark eyes, is caucasian. He wears a dark blue jacket and light blue open button shirt. Blurry green folliage is behind him.
Dr. Timothy McConnell

In a nutshell, he, with Apostle Peter, teaches that repentance brings refreshment. Tim advises the first step is to be truthful with Jesus. Then, leave behind what trips you up. Repentance means turning around in the other direction. Tim said:

“Jesus doesn’t need perfect; he needs penitent; he doesn’t need powerful; he needs prayerful….Peter learned Jesus doesn’t need force; he needs faith.”

Pastor Tim pointed out that Peter knew the agitated Jerusalem crowd he preached to on Pentecost could experience what he had received. Fearlessly, Peter told them:

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” (Acts 3:19, NIV).

Time for a Little Refreshment

There have been other neon signs this week about repentance, but I thought you might find value in the ones mentioned. Have you ever thought that personal repentance can lead to refreshment? I had never put those two words together, but they fit.

As Pastors Mateen and Tim advised, I will do some penitent prayer and fasting. Perhaps you will commit to doing so too–to the best of your ability. Then, together, we will experience times of refreshing, and that will be very good.

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Jessica Johnson’s website: www.jessicapublishing.com

Dr. Mateen Elass’s website:   https://mateenelass.wordpress.com/about/

Click and then scroll to the minute number 44 for Dr. Timothy McConnell’s September 18, 2016, sermon: http://www.first-pres.org/index.cfm/PageID/1123/index.html

Finally, enjoy two songs about repentance and refreshment: “Clean” from Natalie Grant at:

 https://youtu.be/ulf4PXuNV3w

And, “How Can It Be” from Lauren Daigle:

Singing to Self? Put a Worm in That Bird!

Meryl Streep’s new movie is one I thought I would not like. To my surprise, Florence Foster Jenkins is a thumbs up with great acting, intriguing true story, and authentic 1944 set design and costumes. Streep’s singing especially produces laughs.

IMG_4425

 

The movie is constructed to make viewers empathetic to delusional Florence, even as they laugh at her. What my father-in-law once said about a church soprano is true about Streep’s fascinating and funny Florence: “Somebody needs to put a worm in that bird!”

Florence Loved Her Singing

Florence (1868-1944) was a rich socialite who patronized New York City’s music world. Her money and her devoted manager  offered some protection in high society, even as the cultural elite snickered at Florence’s lavish operatic productions.

Some may say that I couldn’t sing, but no one can say that I didn’t sing. –Florence Foster Jenkins

IMG_4398
Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944)

 

One truth about Florence was the woman had passion. Music gave her a reason to live and was the idol she worshipped. Sadly, the notes she heard in her head and ears were not what came out of her mouth.

Florence’s lies to self make me wonder about my deceptions. How often do I play the fool, without even knowing it?

 

Self Delusions Are Subtle

Our culture is full of self delusions. We photo shop and Facebook, Instagram, text, and twitter (little bits of bird song, there). Even a blog is a controlled piece of information. These communication tools are not bad in themselves, but we sometimes fool ourselves into believing that these projections represent the real us. In marketing terms, they “brand” us.

Did you see The Truman Show movie? It was the story of a large TV audience watching baby Truman grow up in a constructed world of actors. All was well until adult Truman figured out his life was a lie. TV audiences and movie goers cheered for his emancipation. What a longing it illustrated for truth that sets us free.

From movie The Truman Show
From movie The Truman Show with Jim Carrey

Who Are You?

A friend went to a conference recently where a speaker kept yelling, “Who are you? Who are you?” The session was so revealing to him that he rewrote his mission statement. He indicated that if you keep asking that question, you scrape away layers of faux identity to discover who and what really matters. (One word of caution to the introverts: “You are not a peeled onion,” scraping and crying and finding nothing left in the end. That kind of self-branding is also a deception.)

Whenever I get tangled up in who I really am or want to be I go back to the golden oldie Westminster Confession and it’s answer to the question of what is our purpose for life:

 “Question: What is the chief end of man? Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

To glorify God is a heady phrase, but it’s not as abstract as one might think. Maybe, to think about enjoying God first is the key to understanding more of His glory. Singing, praying, being aware of our Creator/Savior, spending time through fun, worship, and service with others–these are just some ways to glorify God. The central question to myopic evaluations is “Where is the heart’s focus?”

Allusion, Illusion, Delusion?

The singing duo stand in front of a white brick wall with Florida Georgia Line printed on wall in black letters and "Anything Goes" looking like graffiti in blue letters.
Florida Georgia Line is singing anything goes.

While I swam this summer in the neighborhood pool one lifeguard put on country music and sometimes played “H.O.L.Y” by Grammy winner Florida Georgia Line. It’s a catchy worship song, but unfortunately it plays on self-deceit. The song is all about idolizing one human being as the answer to soul-saving worship without any mention of the author of holiness.

The two lead singers, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, once were into worship music and college ministry. Now they are projecting a lie in a beautiful package. Human love cannot be holy without connecting to holy God. They don’t do that in their song.

Katy Perry
Katy Perry in 2016

Katy Perry, who is another singer who started out in Christian music, also distorts truth for profit in her 2013 song “Unconditionally.” To love someone unconditionally must have an eternal permanence about it to be authentic. This is not what Katy can accomplish in her own powers, but she can sing a catchy tune like she believes she can.

Perhaps I nitpick. It’s just that Florence and these contemporary singers have me reexamining those sneaky self-deceptions. If life is a song then I want to sing it true, on key, and in harmony with Jesus. Self-examination and repentance are good for a singing soul. I’ll be thinking about the lesson of Florence for a long time.

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For more details about Florence Foster Jenkins go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Foster_Jenkins

If you want to join the over 62 million views of Florida Georgia Line’s H.O.L.Y song, it is here: https://youtu.be/zXDAYlhdkyg

 

The Psalms with Bono and Eugene Peterson

As we remember sacrifice for freedom this week, I thought I could do no better than offer you this 20-minute discussion between singer/activist Bono and pastor/scholar Eugene Peterson. I have known many soldiers, as well as others, who cling to the Psalms during hard times. Dr. Peterson and Bono talk about their gradual friendship and how relevant the Psalms are in our contemporary, violent world. Bono’s song “40” is based on Psalm 40. I hope this weekend you will make time to hear Dr. Peterson and Bono’s good and thoughtful conversation. Also, below is Psalm 40 in Peterson’s The Message Bible translation followed by U2 and Bono performing “40” on You Tube.

Psalm 40 (The Message)–1-3 I waited and waited and waited for God.
At last he looked; finally he listened.
He lifted me out of the ditch,
pulled me from deep mud.
He stood me up on a solid rock
to make sure I wouldn’t slip.
He taught me how to sing the latest God-song,
a praise-song to our God.
More and more people are seeing this:
they enter the mystery,
abandoning themselves to God.

4-5 Blessed are you who give yourselves over to God,
turn your backs on the world’s “sure thing,”
ignore what the world worships;
The world’s a huge stockpile
of God-wonders and God-thoughts.
Nothing and no one
comes close to you!
I start talking about you, telling what I know,
and quickly run out of words.
Neither numbers nor words
account for you.

6 Doing something for you, bringing something to you—
that’s not what you’re after.
Being religious, acting pious—
that’s not what you’re asking for.
You’ve opened my ears
so I can listen.

7-8 So I answered, “I’m coming.
I read in your letter what you wrote about me,
And I’m coming to the party
you’re throwing for me.”
That’s when God’s Word entered my life,
became part of my very being.

9-10 I’ve preached you to the whole congregation,
I’ve kept back nothing, God—you know that.
I didn’t keep the news of your ways
a secret, didn’t keep it to myself.
I told it all, how dependable you are, how thorough.
I didn’t hold back pieces of love and truth
For myself alone. I told it all,
let the congregation know the whole story.

11-12 Now God, don’t hold out on me,
don’t hold back your passion.
Your love and truth
are all that keeps me together.
When troubles ganged up on me,
a mob of sins past counting,
I was so swamped by guilt
I couldn’t see my way clear.
More guilt in my heart than hair on my head,
so heavy the guilt that my heart gave out.

13-15 Soften up, God, and intervene;
hurry and get me some help,
So those who are trying to kidnap my soul
will be embarrassed and lose face,
So anyone who gets a kick out of making me miserable
will be heckled and disgraced,
So those who pray for my ruin
will be booed and jeered without mercy.

16-17 But all who are hunting for you—
oh, let them sing and be happy.
Let those who know what you’re all about
tell the world you’re great and not quitting.
And me? I’m a mess. I’m nothing and have nothing:
make something of me.
You can do it; you’ve got what it takes—
but God, don’t put it off.