David C. Hughes, Writer

“Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others” –Colossians 3:23 NABRE

Archive for the tag “Christ”

Not for Men

“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  

                                                      –Colossians 3:17

 

Growing up Catholic, I had the opportunity to serve as an altar boy. My brothers and I started soon after we received our First Communion, and I served from third grade until well after high school. If the priest emerged from the sacristy with one or both of the altar boys absent, there was an obligation (and expectation) to leave the comfort of the pew, hurry to the back of the sanctuary, throw on a cassock and surplice, and join him as he opened the mass. I would have rather remained with the congregation, a mere observer and not a direct participant, but when duty called, I always answered.

Being on regular rotation meant I had to be available to serve as either the cross-bearer (and bell-ringer) or the book-bearer, not only on Sundays but during the week as well. When school was in session, mass took place at 7:00 in the evening, and during summer vacation, church started at 8:00 in the morning. Nine times out of ten we had to find our way to church on our own, traversing the one-and-a-half miles from home and back either on foot or on our bicycles. Many times one of my brothers and I hoofed it through snow, ice, and rain to make it on time to silently and respectfully (i.e., no giggling or horsing around) don our sacred vestments and queue up in front of the priest.

For the most part I didn’t mind serving. I fulfilled my duties when I was on the schedule, and I substituted when other boys didn’t fulfill theirs. For the ten or eleven years I served, however, one thing made always made me feel uncomfortable: emerging from the sacristy when the church was completely empty, accompanied only by the echoes of our swishing vestments or the squeaking of the priest’s black shoes. This seemed to happen more often in the evenings during the school year than in the mornings while on summer break.

I don’t know why it bothered me so much, but in the back of my mind I always hoped the priest would cancel mass so I could get back home and play Space Invaders or Breakout. He never did. And it seemed someone always showed up at the last minute to fill a seat or two. I don’t remember what prompted the priest one day to provide an answer to my question of why he officiated mass even when no one was in attendance, but I do remember the answer: “God is here.” And that was enough.

For years—decades—I did things only to serve myself, to bring attention to myself. I remember buying a knock-off Rolex watch soon after I graduated from college and had a real, paying job. I wore that watch to my grandmother’s funeral, not missing the chance to show it off to my family and later confessing it wasn’t a real Rolex but a cheap Chinese-made copy. For years—decades—I did things only to serve myself, even to the point of convincing myself that the foolish ways I sometimes handled money aligned with my own will for me to write for a living rather than carry out the duties supernaturally assigned to me by the Father. For years—decades—I did things only to serve myself, never really bothering to ask God what He had in mind for me, always assuming the burning desires of my heart and not my present reality were what God meant for me. As a consequence I lead a life of James 1:8 double-mindedness that cost me not only financially, but also relationally, emotionally, and spiritually. Lucky for me God was ready to pluck me out of the pit of failure when my way didn’t work. Again.

Thus the reason it’s been a year since I’ve written a blog post. My way didn’t work. My expectations completely misaligned with God’s desire for my life, a desire way bigger than me. But the Father, in His infinite kindness, let me barrel down the highway of selfishness, and the Father, in His infinite mercy, led me back to Himself with a soft whisper and a harsh lesson, yet another teacher gathered with all the other teachers He’s sent.

“Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,” the prophet Isaiah wrote, “your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, ‘Away with you!’” (Isaiah 30:20-22, NIV®).

I tearfully, humbly, confessed to my wife, Mary, that I’d failed in this writing endeavor, and I apologized for putting us into a stressful financial situation. “You didn’t fail,” she insisted over and over. “Look what we got instead!” A paid-for fixer-upper as the chasm between income and outgo opened its jaws wide in an attempt to swallow us up monetarily. Freedom from a mortgage. Lower bills. Our own little piece of the country, our own little corner of the lake. Flexibility in work schedule, more family time. But most importantly, a lesson in perspective and alignment of expectations. What failed is doing it my way instead of God’s way. What failed is putting myself first rather than God first. What failed is the enemy’s attempts for me to serve the idol of self-sufficiency and not the God of all Providence. A realization that, as a man of God, my work is not for me or for other men, but for the Creator of man Himself. My teachers are no longer hidden, and what lessons they have taught!

So, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others” (Colossians 3:23 NABRE), I am now seeking to live my life for the Lord moment-by-glorious moment. As a planner and a worrier, this is sometimes hard. As a people-pleaser cut from the Proverbs 29:25 cloth, this is sometimes painful. As a self-focused introvert, this is sometimes excruciating. And so I write this blog with no more expectations that you will find it and read it; I do it to serve the Lord as He gives me the words to share for His glory. I do it because I’ve been called to be a light to His people and a witness to His glory, enjoying my Daddy. If you benefit from it, then praise be to God, but I’m now doing it to praise God. Period. As the priest answered my question as to why he officiated mass even when no one was in attendance, his simple answer is one of those teachers Isaiah spoke of: “God is here.”

Isn’t that enough?

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by David C Hughes

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The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 14: Joy in Everyday Miracles (1 of 2)

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my

     heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and rejoice in you;

     I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.

–Psalm 9:1-2 (NIV)

 

 

After finishing a six-hour-long editing session one afternoon, the writing urge pawed at me, turned circles at my feet, and whined.  “Okay, okay,” I sighed.  I scratched its ears and it cocked its head, looked at me, and wagged its tail tentatively.  It had been days since I’d written anything other than criticism of someone else’s writing; it was time to play catch with my muse.  But I had a problem: while I’d spent the past few days editing and catching up on housework, fear had slipped in and was now perched on my monitor overlooking my keyboard.  It sneered at me.

I’ve been at this writing game off and on for over thirty years, and I’m here to tell you that even after so many stories, articles, chapters, poems, and books, the fear of failure still dwells in the dark recesses of my brain.  Luckily, God’s Spirit is alive and well and living in my heart!  Over the past several years I’ve learned how to wield the power of Truth against it, but even though this fear is emaciated, weak, and a crust of its former self, it can still bite.   So that afternoon, as I cast off the editor’s hat and slipped on the writer’s beanie (you know, the one with the little propeller on top), I struggled with doubts, a writer’s worst enemy.

I knew what I wanted to write.  I even had an outline tucked away in my head, but as my fingers touched the keyboard in creative rather than editorial mode, a feeling of dread, heaviness, and foreboding swept over me.  The fear of failure remained perched over my keyboard, and its ugly sneer deepened into a snarl of impending triumph.  Saliva dripped onto my number pad.  But I took a deep breath and typed nonetheless.  What came out seemed forced, contrived, amateurish.

I knew I could do far better, but as I tried to gain creative momentum, fear settled back on its haunches, stuck a toothpick in its lips, and guffawed.  Yes, it guffawed!  But I kept pushing until . . . something shifted.  Words began to line up in an orderly fashion, giving shape and form and grace to the thoughts, stirring them to action.  Ideas gelled, paragraphs rose up, points declared themselves.  But the fear of failure remained firmly seated on top of my monitor.  Granted, the sneer had reversed into a frown on its misshapen face, but it hadn’t budged.  It leered, staring at my fingers and the words forming on the screen.

Then the most wonderful thing happened.  The piece I worked on was called “A Change in Perspective,” and the intention of the essay was to convey how changing the way we look at a situation can shift not only the outcome of the situation, but also the moment-by-moment experience of that situation.  We all have the ability to reframe our experiences, no matter what they are.  As such, life is a matter of perspective; we always have a choice about whether or not to believe the thoughts flying through our heads, and how we subsequently act on those thoughts.  “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ,” the Apostle Paul advised in 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV).

I had wanted to include in the essay the Scripture from Isaiah that says something like, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways,” but didn’t know the citation off the top of my head.  While writing the piece, I’d included Jesus’ teaching about prayer: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 NIV) and had to look up that reference as well.  I jumped onto the internet and brought up BibleGateway’s web page, and there, in the Verse of the Day box, was the following Scripture:

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,     neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth,     so are my ways higher than your ways     and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

–Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

 

I laughed.  And laughed.  And cried and laughed some more.  “Thank you, Daddy,” I sobbed.  “Thank You, thank You, thank You.”  I’d just received another kiss on the cheek from a God Who cares about me more than I’ll ever know, and Who loves to encourage His children with little, strategically-placed miracles just like that.  Defeated yet again, the fear of failure slid off my monitor and slinked away to its dark cave to lick its wounds, and for the rest of the day I happily played catch with my muse.  I finished the essay the next morning covered in joy, peace, and a sense of triumph.  I posted it on my blog page three days later.

Throughout the Bible, God makes it clear that as we press into Him, study His precepts, and obey His commands, He will increasingly open our eyes and our ears to the mysteries of the Kingdom.  On this earth, there’s more than meets the eye; God’s Kingdom is literally at hand.  In the Second Book of Kings, chapter 6, the king of Aram, enraged because the king of Israel always knew where he’d set up camp, determined to expose the mole within his ranks. “’Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?’” the king of Aram demanded of his officers.

“’None of us, my lord the king,’ said one of his officers, ‘but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom’” (2 Kings 6:11b-12 NIV).  The king of Aram set out to capture Elisha, and as the Arameans surrounded the city of Dothan, where the prophet resided, Elisha’s servant panicked:

 

“Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

–2 Kings 6:15b-17 (NIV)

 

Elisha asked God to open his servant’s spiritual eyes and give him a glimpse into the reality that surrounds us.  The Bible doesn’t explicitly indicate the servant’s reaction to what he saw, but I’m sure it was the same reaction we have when God kisses us on the cheek with one of His countless everyday miracles: joy, relief, encouragement, and confidence.  I bet that guy wore an ear-to-ear smile for days and weeks after his encounter with the heavenlies.  Maybe he wore it for the rest of his life!

 

(continued)

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

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