Monthly Archives: August 2012

Reading Update: Time to Confess

Bus trips do offer many advantages. One of my current favorites is long, uninterrupted time to catch up on my reading. Another trip this weekend allowed me to finally finish 19 Gifts of the Spirit by Leslie B. Flynn and then devote my whole reader’s attention on Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels. While I didn’t ride the bus quite far enough to wrap up the book, I did get a good start and plenty to think about.

Too Busy Not to Pray, included on the suggested summer reading list, seems to cover every question you could have on prayer, as well as every excuse you have to not pray more often. Over 20 years after its first publication, this book is still popular among Christians and relevant to today. I felt challenged as I read it to devote more of my time and focus to thoughtful prayer.

The stories Hybels shares are inspiring to the point of making me want to stop mid-chapter and fall on my knees. These are not only encouraging anecdotes on the blessings God bestows to people who diligently pray with faith. One section caught my attention in particular, and it had nothing to do with making requests of God. In chapter six, Hybels provides a basic pattern to help develop good praying habits. He says following the pattern as you pray is like using a fitness routine that balances your all-around strength and endurance. A good fitness routine will work out your core and leg muscles along with building up impressive biceps. Instead of only lifting weights, you also add various types of cardio to the mix.

In the same way, Hybels argues that beneficial and effective praying means more than presenting God with your wish list. To practice more balanced praying, he uses the ACTS pattern: adoration of God’s nature and character, confession of personal sins, thanksgiving for God’s blessings and answered prayers, and finally, supplication for help and intervention from God. Visit this blog post I found for more details on how Hybels explains the ACTS pattern.

What caught my attention, though, was what Hybels had to say about confession. Personally, I rarely hear Christians talk about confessing their sins or weaknesses. They usually tend to ignore them altogether, or at least won’t talk about their personal faults to other Christians. I think we Christians have too much difficulty admitting to other Christians (or even non-Christians) that we are still sinners. We think everyone else in our church is doing just great striving for holiness and would never slip up, let alone foster certain darling sins. Well, it’s about time we all admit we suck at obeying God. Please excuse the colloquial speech.

I’ll start the confessions and say I have trouble spotting my own faults. I don’t think this is unusual among people, but when I try to evaluate my sins, my mind goes blank. Don’t think I would ever call myself perfect, though. I know that I am a sinner and that God’s grace and Christ’s price gives me my only hope to live with God for eternity. As a young child, I used to ask God to forgive me for the sins I didn’t know about because I was terrified of forgetting to confess something I had done wrong. Now that I’m older, I’m still ignorant of the specifics on my rap sheet. My self-image is distorted and warped, like an imperfect mirror that fails to show an accurate reflection (1 Cor. 13:12).

Every once in a while, God gives me a nudge in the ribs so I will look away from the bad reflection. He often uses my close family members, the people who know me best and are not afraid to say where I come up short. Recently, one of these wake up calls told me that ignorance of my sins gave me a sense of humility and holiness, which really just masked the pride lurking underneath. Sometimes I struggle to stifle the pride, other times, I leave it be and neglect to name it for what it is.

So how do we fight pride? My strategy: confession. We ask the Holy Spirit to give us a better image of how we really are. We listen to those closest to us about the faults they see. We refuse to live ignorant of our faults, and then we admit the true nature of our mistakes and weaknesses. We say, “I am not a good person.” Compared to Jesus, such a person does not exist. We all come short. We all are sinners. Only then will we have the humility to see our true human state.

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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Books


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Movie Adaptations and the Real-Life Stories

Blue Like Jazz: The Movie

Last week, I watched for the first time “Blue Like Jazz: The Movie.” I only saw the trailer last spring, so I was surprised to find it already available in the grocery store Redbox vendor. If you have not heard, besides Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller wrote Blue Like Jazz, the best-selling book of “nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality.”

I read this book for the first time after getting it for free at a college orientation fair. While the book pulls together several personal essays about Christian life and knowing God, the movie focuses on a particular section of the book concerning Miller’s experiences at intensely liberal, strictly nonreligious, Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

Watch the trailer here:

If you have read the book, you may notice that the main connection between the book and the movie is the title. The movie follows a new, fictionalized plot based off of Miller’s real-life story. This means readers of the book may get confused at certain points and say, “Wait a minute. Back up there. That’s not how it goes.” At other points, readers may also flat-out declare, “That never happened!” And they will be right. Consider it a “re-interpretation” of the book more appealing for a movie audience. And it is very appealing. If you have read the book and don’t mind fictional spin-off, the movie is hilarious while dramatic, entertaining while thought-provoking.

If you have not read the book, you may wonder what the astronaut has to do with anything or why a rabbit is frequently seen chasing after a female carrot. The symbolism of either Don the astronaut or Don the rabbit may pass over your head. Readers could recognize these, however, as creative additions from the comic strips in Blue Like Jazz that Miller uses to illustrate his stories.

So while the movie did have its start in Blue Like Jazz, don’t skip your reading if you have a book review due for class. Both are thoughtful works of art that should be enjoyed separately, on their own terms.

On another note, my enjoyment of Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What has led me to consider writing my own book that takes after the personal essay style Miller employs so beautifully. I took a Creative Nonfiction Writing class last spring and received much encouragement to continue using that writing style, which somewhat resembles the posts of this blog. We will see where God takes this idea, and in the meantime, I will continue sharing my thoughts here. If anything does come of it, I only hope no one wants to dramatize my life story into a screenplay.

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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Books


You’re Waiting for a Bus


WAITING FOR THE BUS (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had my directions written on a folded scrap of lined paper. Four rows of departure times, stop locations and route numbers scribbled in pen. I couldn’t help but check the directions again, as if I had already forgotten which bus I needed next. The transfer center was mostly quiet compared to my first two stops. Not as many people walked by here, and only two men waited with me at transfer zone H. Even the buses seemed like soft-spoken metal dinosaurs, as I hardly noticed their gentle rumblings.

I had made it through half of the directions without trouble, with two buses down on a three-hour trip to see friends. I read The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis along the way, a fictional book about a bus ride from Hell to Heaven. My trip could not be compared to leaving Hell to see Heaven, but I still enjoyed the idea of reading about a bus while riding buses. I finished the small book by the time I returned home, and it is recommendation worthy whether you travel by public transit or not.

My second bus arrived about 20 minutes before my next scheduled departure. As I waited to cross the street from zone J to zone H, I idly noticed the bus P2 S 19th/Bridgeport – Lakewood via TCC passing by. When I came to the zone H sign, I pulled out my directions to compare with the route numbers. I stared at the sign long enough for a man nearby to ask which one I wanted. None of the routes on the sign seemed to match my scribbled directions. I needed P2 S 19th/Bridgeport – Lakewood via TCC, the same bus I saw leave 20 minutes before the time I had written.

Doubt did not need any greater invitation. Maybe my directions were wrong. I was supposed to be two buses and an hour away from my friends in another city, and now I wondered if I would have to ask those friends to pick me up in the transfer center. I would be stranded until they could find me.

A bus stopped and opened its doors. The driver stared at me as I checked my directions again and told him the bus wasn’t my route. I decided to wait on a bench and listen to my mp3, remembering my sister’s warning earlier that morning to not talk to strangers. If someone comes up to you on the street, just ignore them, she said. I thought that seemed rather unkind to other people and a way to miss opportunities to serve God. But then, as I willed for my bus to arrive, I suddenly felt afraid of someone stopping to talk to me. Alone in an unfamiliar city, I felt vulnerable. A man walked by and told me to smile. I pulled some sort of grimace, and he continued walking, saying, “There you go. There you go.”

I checked the time. My bus was still not due for another five minutes. I wondered about the possibility that the routes or times had changed without being updated on the online trip planner I had used. Maybe the directions would have been right a few months ago but were useless after some transit rescheduling. Despite the nagging doubts, I resolved to wait until my departure time. If the bus didn’t arrive, what would I have lost in waiting? I would call my friends and make a new plan.

On the exact minute in my directions, P2 S 19th/Bridgeport – Lakewood via TCC coasted into zone H. I jumped up from my seat and rushed to the bus, anxious to not be left while also relieved my directions had been right. As I boarded, I realized my doubts had come from unfounded fear. I never needed to worry.

Metaphors jump out at me from everyday moments, and this one was no different. Just as I doubted whether I had the right directions and if I could get where I wanted to go, I also needlessly doubt God’s directions for my life. I often wonder if I heard him correctly or if I will like where he takes me. Many Christians I know have the same fears. They ask about God’s will and how they can be sure. They doubt the bus they need is coming.

But God will not leave us stranded. We only need to trust his wisdom and guidance, and he will drive us to the destination that is better than any place we would have chosen on our own. Why should we worry? He has given us our directions.

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Posted by on August 10, 2012 in Other thoughts


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