Emptied

Attempting to write a blog after more than a year. A year that has been filled with severe health issues; from a near death stent in ICU, over 120 days in the hospital, and the daily struggle to breathe and have enough energy to move around.

I am emptied. Physically, mentally and yes, spiritually. Emptied of emotion, strength and fortitude.

I am emptied. Often times, emptied of thought, creativity, and desire.

I am in constant pain. And I constantly struggle for my next breath.

What I pray I will never be emptied of is hope. Not an earthly hope, one of a, “I hope this meeting goes well”, or “I hope I get a _________ for Christmas”, but a hope that is secured and anchored in Christ.

A heavenly hope. A hope that is anchored in God’s word, that doesn’t yield a “hope so”, but is bound to a “know so”.

Life is a struggle, and it is extremely difficult right now.

Perhaps being emptied is a good place to start.

It is when we are emptied that we can be filled.

Paul tied the two together this way.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Romans 15:13 ESV

Realities

Time is slipping away,

Time is money,

Time flies,

No time left,

not yet,

Maybe.

Love is in bloom,

Love is eternal,

Love heals,

I give love,

not always,

Selfishness.

Laughter is good medicine,

Laughter is contagious,

Laughter rings,

I laugh,

at times,

Smile.

Pain, a constant companion.

Pain is healing

Pain reminds;

I’m human

I grow

Peace.

What’s So ‘Happy’ About the New Year?

It’s 2016 and to be totally honest, I’m having difficulty with the “Happy” part of the New Year.  Sure, I have a LOT to be thankful for.  I’m into my 8th year of transplant, I have a wonderful family, God has preserved and protected us for another year and there are many other reasons to be extremely grateful.  However, the more I think about it gratitude and thankfulness are choices and being “happy” is a byproduct of making those choices, it does not generate or create them.

New Year 2016

The dictionary defines ‘happy’ in these terms:

happy |ˈhapē| adjective (happier, happiest) feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.

I don’t want to feel or show pleasure or contentment, I want to BE content and I don’t want to find pleasure in things but in pursuing God and loving people.

 (happy about) having a sense of confidence in or satisfaction with (a person, arrangement, or situation)

Yes, but the only person I want to place confidence in or have satisfaction with is Jesus.

 (happy with) satisfied with the quality or standard of.

Satisfaction vs. contentment here.  For me satisfaction is settling, contentment is choosing, no matter the circumstance.

2016 will be a year of choices.  There is SO much happening in the world today that would give us ample reason to NOT be happy.  Worry about the future, or what the next catastrophic event might be, or the ever-increasing worldwide violence, political and social issues and a host of other reasons to be unhappy with the prospect of a new year.

In 2016 I choose…

  1. Faith over worry
  2. Prayer over fear
  3. Gratitude over whining
  4. Facts over feelings
  5. Love over hate
  6. Work over idleness
  7. Understanding over distrust

In 2016 I want to…

  1. Read more, speculate less
  2. Give more, complain less
  3. Help more, hurt less
  4. Study more, assume less
  5. Ask more, judge less
  6. Walk more, sit less
  7. Discover more, gaze less

Bring it on 2016!  Yes, this year will bring challenges.  Yes, this year will bring heartache and loss.  Yes, this year will bring tragedy.  Yes, this year will feature the unexpected.  Yes, this year will bring good things. But  no matter what this year may bring, my happiness will not come from circumstances or any external event.

The ‘happy’ part of my new year will be from me choosing that which won’t depend on my happiness, but on my choices!

 

 

 

Facebook Epiphany

Today I deactivated my Facebook account.  This wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction, I put some time and prayer behind my decision and decided it was time to ‘cut the cord’ to what I realized had slowly been becoming a Facebook addiction.  For me however, it was more than an addiction, it was beginning to effect my thinking and shape my perspective.

facebook-logo

Facebook was becoming my source of identity.  I was gathering opinion and then spewing my own take on a thought or subject without a lot of thought or research.  It also gave me a platform from which I could speak my mind, and heart, with not much fear of recourse from anyone.  After all, I could ‘defriend’, or block anyone who disagreed with me or was rude, or ugly toward me.  Kind of cowardly, don’t you think?  I could hide behind my Facebook mask.  It was making me appear to be something I was not!

But the real crisis point came when I realized I was using Facebook to espouse some rather harsh views which were birthed out of my own fears.  Fears of the future, fears of the world’s upheaval, fears of the actions of certain individuals or groups, and the fear that others weren’t paying enough attention to all that is transpiring in the world today.  I guess I thought it was up to me to sound the alarm and expose the truth.

ISIS Men

You could say I was transferring my fear on everyone else through my posts and seeking out approval for the way I was thinking and responding.  I’ve come to realize this WAS NOT healthy for anyone, especially me. There was so much that had been swirling around in my mind lately, regarding the state of the world, eschatological events, terrorism and other things that were, in reality out of my control.  Yes, they were frightening and real to me,  and I took it upon myself to let everyone else know how real my fear was.  I was also expecting them to be just as alarmed, that wasn’t working either.

I desperately needed to find a better way to relieve this fear, angst, and inward turmoil.  I desperately needed to re-focus myself on what IS important.  I needed to learn to trust and keep quiet and listen.

antichrist

That’s when my mind was drawn immediately to Scripture, Philippians Chapter 4 to be exact.  Paul is writing to the church at Philippi which was experiencing persecution.  They were afraid, scared and in fear for their lives.  In an effort to encourage them to remain faithful to the faith, he offers this portion of his letter to help center them.  To help them battle unbelief and center their hearts and minds.

I needed this passage!  And what I’ve found to be so beautiful about what Paul writes is that it is a multi-stage process.  In verse 4 he exhorts them to rejoice.  Rejoice?  When fellow believers were being killed?  In verse 5 he exhorts them to be gentle.  Gentle?  When those who were persecuting their number were anything BUT gentle?

Then, in a two paragraph section (verses 6-9) he lays out how they are to accomplish all of the above.

First he tells them to not be anxious.  The words “be anxious” (Greek, merimnao), can refer to being unduly concerned about anything.  That was me!  I was concerned about things I could not control and fearful because I couldn’t.

Then he tells them to pray and through that, let the peace of God rule, or guard, their hearts and minds. (v. 7)  The term “guard” (Greek, phroureo) is a figure drawn from the arena of conflict and is frequently used to refer to the action of a military garrison stationed inside a city.  In other words, there wasn’t anything that was going to disturb their peace of mind!

Peace-of-God

And next the beautiful admonition;  “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

The impact of this admonition is probably best explained in an NIV commentary I read, which states;

He (Paul) tells the Philippians to look for the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy everywhere around them and to ponder the things in which these qualities are exemplified. Perhaps Paul knows that since the Philippians are being persecuted by the society around them, they will be tempted to reject everything outside the church as indelibly tainted with evil. If so, then this list, with its admonition to look for the virtue (arete; niv “excellent”) in the wider world, reminds the Philippians that, although society sometimes seems hostile and evil, it is still part of God’s world and contains much good that the believer can affirm.

I’ve decided to focus on things that reflect the above qualities and as the Psalmist said, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord the Maker of heaven and earth!”  (emphasis added)

The Church and Cheers

If you grew up on TV in the 80’s and early 90’s you are most likely VERY well familiar with the sitcom Cheers.  You remember the lovable and quirky characters, Sam Malone, the bar’s owner, chief bartender, former baseball player and ladies’ man, who had an on-and-off again relationship with Diane, the grad student.  Then there was Rebecca, Cheers owner/manager after a buyout by the company she worked for.

Cheers1

There many ‘wacky’, yet affable characters that filled the bar on a regular basis,  as both employees and patrons.  There was Carla, the sarcastic waitress, beer-loving accountant Norm, know-it-all postman Cliff.  Then there was small-town, and sometimes clueless, Woody Boyd,  Frasier Crane, the psychiatrist, Lillian Sternin, an incredibly cold and placid psychiatrist and Coach, who eventually dies.

Cheers was a microcosm of society.  Losers, ‘wannabes’, misfits, has-been’s and those who were in search of their true identity and place in life.  The theme song for Cheers expressed the feelings of everyone who was caught up in this fish bowl of a bar.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. 
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. 

Wouldn’t you like to get away? 

Sometimes you want to go 

Where everybody knows your name, 
and they’re always glad you came. 
You wanna be where you can see, 
our troubles are all the same 
You wanna be where everybody knows 
Your name. 

So, what can we learn from Cheers that we could apply in the church today?  What lessons could we take from the way the characters in the bar related to each other?  What might be missing in the church today that one kind readily find in a bar like Cheers?

church-05

I think some of what we could take away is found in the lyric of the Cheers theme song.

Here are what will hopefully be some thought-provoking questions that you could ask of your church, or ministry.

Is the church really a place that folks go to escape the worries of this world, the pressures of every day life, or do people see the church as a place that is full of judgmental and even hateful individuals who are not accepting of someone that thinks differently, dresses differently, or is an outcast of society?

Is the church a place where ‘everybody knows your name’, or are you just a face in the crowd?  

Is the church a place where people are ‘really glad you came’?

Is the church a place where we sit down and talk about our troubles?  Or, do we come and go and never really dive into life with each other?

It seems that there is more of life that was shared around the bar in Cheers that EVER gets shared within the wall of our churches.  Sure, have fellowships, we have programs, we have events and BIG services, but we never just pull a chair, grab a drink, and make people feel like they’re glad they came.  We don’t seem to share life the way the characters in the Cheers bar did.  They loved each other, they got involved in one another’s lives.  When one person hurt, they all hurt.  When one person was down, everybody tried whatever they could to cheer them up.  They were a family, a close-know family that were well of each others faults and shortcomings, yet loved even still.  

They cried together, they celebrated together, and did as Scripture exhorts us to do in Galatians 6:2-3, Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”  Or Romans 15:1-2 says, We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”

One thing you quickly notice about the characters in Cheers, they do share in each others lives and are genuinely concerned for the welfare of others.  Do we do that in our churches today or do just shuffle in and out of our building never

Hump Day, New Year’s Eve and Change.

calendar
Started thinking that if Hump Day is the beginning of the end of the work week, that it’s the day of the week that catapults you into the weekend, then maybe New Year’s Eve is synonymous to Hump Day in that it’s THE day of the year that catapults you into the New Year.  My analogy probably breaks down at some point, or maybe it already has, but for me, Hump Day is to the week, as New Year’s Eve is to the year; they represent days that are agents of change.
They each represent a shift, at the least a shift in perspective, perhaps a shift in thinking.  I do realize that New Year’s Eve IS the penultimate day of the year, and that Wednesday is not the penultimate day of the week, but stay with me.  This post is more about the change that each of these days represent, not where they are positionally.
To being further exploration, let’s get into some formal definitions of the word ‘change.’
Change -noun.  the act or fact of changing; fact of being changed; a transformation or modification; alteration.
Change – verb. to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc.,
of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.
I would like to focus more on the noun change, rather than the verb, although both definitions will come into play.  Found this great quote, that I will base some of my thoughts on.  Just like Hump Day, or our annual New Year’s ritual of making resolutions, we hang the things we want to change on some kind of external affect, or some external force.
But according to Socrates, true change won’t come through that kind of influence.
Socrates quote on changeInstead of looking at the ‘now’, or looking over our shoulder to the past, look ahead.  Sure, the old is gone, the new has come, and it is only human to think, “Whew, I’m glad this or that is behind me”, but we tend to base our forward progress on where we’ve come from, not where we’re heading.
A verse in Scripture says it like this, “And Jesus said unto him, “No man, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62.
There is a passage in Isaiah 50 that talks about “setting your face like flint”, while this is speaking of Christ and His determination to fulfill his purpose by dying for us, I think it also speaks to how resolute we should be in all things we feel compelled to accomplish.
Sure, change can come from external forces, such as things that come into our lives unexpectedly, or unwontedly.  Death, illness, some catastrophic event, loss of finances, divorce, loss of a job, and other things will change us, that is a given.  It’s how we react to these things that determines what kind of person we are and what kind of change these things will affect.
“Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.”  – John Green, The Fault In Our Stars.
I heard someone say once that people will not judge you by your actions but by your reactions.  So very true!  Our reaction to unwanted change, or any change for that matter, will reveal who we truly are.  Socrates quote on change
But I believe there is a true change that is also brought about by some kind of catalyst that pushes us to discover who we really are, or pushes us to explore things we’ve never explored, desires we’ve never followed, or to become the person we’ve always wanted to be.  We can easily be lulled into the complacency of who we are, or what we do and never take the dive into something new, something that deep down we’ve always desired to do, or be.
It’s often change that IS the catalyst, whatever, or whenever it invades our lives.  It’s the upheaval in our life that literally pushes into change and it too often happens when we are most unaware.  And that’s what I believe makes it SO great!  If we sat around thinking about the change, or changes, we wanted to make in our lives and never acted upon them, then we would most likely find ourselves exactly at the same spot in our thinking a year, or two later.  The catalyst for change is many times change itself!  Wonderful irony!
change quote-if you want something you've never had
So take this double-whammy of Hump Day and New Year’s coinciding and use that as the impetus for your change.  Don’t focus on it as the motivating factor, take it as a motivating factor.
Set your face like flint, keep your hand to the plow and DON’T look back!
Change!

Autumn’s Annual Abashment

fall+picFor me this time of year, autumn, fall, whichever word you choose to use, is filled with a sort of discomforting or unsettledness in my soul.  I’m not really sure why, but when I found this quote, it helped me to at least start to understand this annual event and how it affects me so deeply.

It was Stanley B. Horowitz, a prominent leader and humanitarian in the Jewish community, that said, “Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.”

As the calendar seems to tumble quickly into the autumn season, a kind of melancholy mood mixes with the elation of seeing the glorious fireworks of nature that are on display this time of year.  I’m not sure why that with the rainbow-colored sunsets, the crispness of the air, the first smell of smoke from fireplaces and the rich depth of brilliant color all around, I being feeling this way. Each autumn, I experience a convergence of the entire year that has passed and quickly realize that we’re staring winter in its ugly face.

It might possibly be the sadness that another summer has faded away.  Or, maybe it’s the thought of winter’s icy grip coming just around the corner.  Perhaps it’s that the serene images of spring have long ago left my memory, who knows.  What I do know is that autumn has become kind of reckoning of all things regarding life for me.

In autumn, you see the death of things living, but in their death there is glorious beauty.  Isn’t it that way with us mortals as well, especially when that one knows they will be with God after leaving this earth?  It is certainly a spiritual event when a person passes from life unto death.  We don’t understand it, we cry, we grieve, we ask why, but how many times have you heard loved ones, who gather around the bedside of someone who has just been ushered from this world into the next say, “They had such a peaceful expression on their face when they passed.”  I know I have, and maybe a bit of that is reflected in nature during this time of year.

Yes, a lot of things that were vibrant and alive during spring and summer are now dying.  Yes, winter will continue complete this process and freeze nature until the warmth of spring will allow it to burst forth with life once again.  So we see it in a person that is passing from life unto death when they have secured their glorious eternal future through Jesus Christ.

I’ve found that it’s this convergence of all the seasons of the year, and what they each represent, that creates this annual discomforting, or discontentment in my soul.  It is nature’s visual representation of our mortal lives passing from life to death.  It is not unlike the fact that when someone dies, you often hear them talk about their entire life passing before eyes.  So I get it more now than ever before!  We see all the seasons of the year crammed into autumn because we experience the passing of spring and summer and nature preparing itself for the winter to come!

It is often said that ‘art imitates life’, I would like to suggest that ‘nature imitates life’ on a much deeper, yet often unnoticed level.

 

 

We Play Like We Think

This is going to be a musicians post.  It actually will apply primarily to musicians who play in a church, or religious setting.  It doesn’t mean if you’re not an instrumental musician, instrumentalist if you will, or maybe just a musical person, you can’t read it.  But be forewarned, you might not ‘connect’ to it if you’ve never been in the heat of a performance playing a musical instrument.  
 The reason this applies primarily to instrumentalists and not vocalists (singers) is that, well, just read the article, I think you’ll figure it out!

musicnotes

Our worship pastor shared in a seminar recently about the importance of ‘watching our words’ during worship.  The premise was thinking through the lyrics we sing and making song choices that center on God, His characteristics, attributes and His glory.  I started thinking about this verse, Psalm 19:14, in light of hearing him speak, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer”, and how what he was pointing to, and what this verse says, might apply to instrumentalists during worship, or any setting for that   matter.

So I started talking about this last week in rehearsal and challenged our instrumentalists to think about what they think about while they are playing.  Are they meditating on the lyrics?  Are they focusing on the God as they play? Are they thinking about the next note(s)?  What is on their mind and in their heart as they play.

Personally, I find myself almost ‘day-dreaming’ at times when I play during worship.  I’m a little ADD so that doesn’t help! It’s easy for me to be singing, or playing and my mind is a thousand thoughts away from ‘the moment.”  Sure, I get it, we can almost be mechanical or rote if we’ve played a tune many  times before.  It’s also easy, as musicians, to get caught up in the chord structures (or lack of at times), or the harmonic progression, or groove, or what the guitar playing is doing.  Of course we all wonder what the guitar player is doing at times!

But you see, it’s easy to be distracted by anything and everything during worship.  This is especially true as instrumentalists.  I remember a friend of mine saying he used to have his players write the lyrics in their music to help them focus on the message.  Great idea!  Whatever it takes to get the ‘meditation of our heart’ moving in the right direction is worth the time!  During the ‘heat of the moment’ in a service it’s easy to forget Who we should be focusing on, I believe this is especially true for instrumentalists given all of the technical things that can, and often do distract us.

einstein_thinking

I know I’m challenging myself with this and also our players and hope it sinks in more and more.  Verse 14 in Psalm 19 follows beautiful descriptions of the heavens proclaiming God’s glory even though we never hear it audibly, at least not with human ears, and how they also reveal God’s glory.  The Psalmist also recognizes the absolute sovereignty and purpose of God’s Word, and His eternal and never-changing truths.  All followed up by a prayer-like response of repentance and humility.  Do these go hand in hand?  Absolutely!  When we direct our mind’s focus and our heart’s desire solely on God’s glory and worship of Him, we will desire to live according to His Word and be humbled by His great power and glory!  We will be changed!  Even while playing an instrument!

So it should be during worship.  If our focus, as we play, is on anything else but God and His greatness, what we give to Him will not be acceptable in His sight.  The challenge for us, and our players, is to keep that thought at the forefront of what we ‘present’ to Him in worship each week.  In fact, it doesn’t even have to be during a worship service!

My prayer, the Psalmist’s prayer, is that everything I say and do and think about during Sunday worship, and my daily worship, will be acceptable and pleasing in His sight.  Nobody else matters, including, most of all, myself.

You Gotta a Problem With That??

I have a problem, actually, I have lots of problems, but I learn to live with them. I pray each day that I’m not too big of a pain to live with. My normal is a new normal, my normal will never be the normal it used to be.

When asked, “How are doing?” I usually reply, “Good…considering, good overall.” Most people really don’t want to hear the WHOLE answer, it can take hours.

But I love what Ecclesiastes 7:10-14 says, and it pretty much wraps up my life. We live each day thinking the next one will be a carbon copy. Sure, our schedule might change a bit but as far as life goes, we tend to count on things remaining ‘normal’. Then, BOOM, our life explodes into tiny fragments and we’re left staring at the little pieces asking ourselves, “Why?”. Or perhaps, thinking it’s all over. How can we continue this journey?

question-mark

The wisdom of Solomon speaks to the heart of our world becoming ‘un-normal’ real fast. It speaks to our comfy little world shattering before our eyes. When that happens, you ask a LOT of questions. Is that wrong? No! And anyone who says it is, point them to the cross of Christ. Perhaps the greatest paradox in history. Jesus asked “why” so why shouldn’t we. 

And He even knew the answer!

Ecclesiastes 7, in fact the whole book, helps us know the answer as well, and IMO it is this, ‘in the middle of ALL your chaos, the debris of your life, the injustice of this world, the inequity that is around us, the moments of all we think unfair; there is One that NEVER changes and holds it ALL together.’

God has made things crooked for a purpose and a reason. You gotta problem? Did you ever think perhaps God gave it to you intentionally, just to remind you that you are NOT God.

10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
an advantage to those who see the sun.

12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.

13 Consider the work of God:
who can make straight what he has made crooked?

14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.