A Pause From Poetry

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Divida et Impera, The Time Is Now

Been reading several news outlets to try and piece together all sides of the NFL, NBA Vs Trump and the American’s who support the NFL, the NBA, or any professional sports franchise, and those on “Trump’s sid”e who support him and his view. Perhaps the issue is much deeper than we can see. Perhaps the issue has been festering for a much longer time than what has occured over this past weekend.

This didn’t start with Trump, it didn’t start with the NFL or NBA, and it certainly didn’t start with professional sports or politics in general. No, this started in the hearts of men and it is WAY upstream of the current situation, the current news headlines and the current rhetoric.

It is being propagated and propelled in our public school systems nationwide, and most of us are completely unaware of what is taking place.

In separate articles, as recent as January of this year, both the New York Post and The Federalist, have articles pointing to the Common Core Curriculum (an Obama-era contribution) as having greatly negated the teaching of traditional Civics lessons and pretty much annihilating the teaching of American History as most of us once knew it.

In fact, one publication stated that, “Colleges such as Stanford decline to require Western Civilization classes or high schools propose changing their curriculum so that history is taught only from 1877 onward (this happened in North Carolina), it’s merely a blip in our news cycle.”

In New York, it is reported that students learn about George Washington only from watching excerpts from the musical Hamilton. Not exactly a textbook education is it?

So what’s the takeaway from these small snapshots of the American public school system curriculum and our society in general? For this writer, it’s the seemingly evident phenomenon of the erosion of any kind of commonality we have in this nation as American citizens, as its inhabitants, and as those those of us who are supposed to be “ONE nation under God, indivisible”.

The way I see it, it goes back to Julius Caesar and even prior to his plan to, “Divide and rule –– “Divida et Impera”, he subsequently divided Rome, and we all know how that turned out. In fact, the Assyrians in biblical times divided Babylon and thereby conquered them. Then the twelve tribes of Israel were divided and conquered, which is lamented throughout the Old Testament.

If America can be divided, it can be conquered. Given the events of the past several years, even decades, it seems we are well on our way to Divida et Impera.

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.

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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?

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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

Chariots Of Fire and the New Year

During a recent quarantine due to the flu, I decided to watch the 1980 movie,  Chariots Of Fire.  For those of you who have seen it, you know the plot line well.  For those of you who have never watched it, you should.  It won many Academy Awards as a “Cinderella” film, including motion picture of the year, and has remained a classic to this day.  It is WELL worth viewing.

I started thinking about how the message of this movie, if implemented, could affect my life in the coming year.

Here are some quotes and how I will attempt to apply them for the New Year:

 Eric Liddell says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

God intends for us to use the gifts and abilities He has given us for His glory.  At the same time, He is honored when we do and it delights Him when we find our joy in doing what He created us to do.

  • I will strive, in the coming year, to only do the things that I know God created me to do.  Any other expenditure of energy is wasted.

Harold Abrahams confesses,  “I’m forever in pursuit and I don’t even know what I am chasing.”

How many of us, me, spend too much time pursuing what doesn’t matter.  A pastor friend of mine once said, “You are in the process of becoming forever what you are right now.” I don’t want to spin my time in frivolous pursuits.

  • I will know what I’m pursuing and why, anything else is in vain.

The Rev. J. D. Liddle, “You can praise God by peeling a spud if you peel it to perfection. Don’t compromise. Compromise is a language of the devil. Run in God’s name and let the world stand back and in wonder.”

Colossians 3:23, a favorite of mine speaks to this.  “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,”

So does Psalm 37:5, “Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass.”

Bring what to pass? Verse 6 tells us, and I believe that’s what Rev. Liddle is speaking of,  “He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your justice as the noonday.”

When we honor God in all that we do, and we do what we do with excellence and commitment, people will see.  But they won’t see us lifted up, they will see God lifted up.

  • I will not look to man but to God, even when doing the simplest and most mundane of tasks.

Eric Liddell, “You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul.  And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.”

Our motivation should not come from external pressures or deadlines or influences.  If it does, it will be fleeting.  We must concentrate, we must think, we must ask for wisdom and then pursue.  Like Paul says,  “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.” (I Corinthians 9:24-25aESV)

But why do we run?  He answers that question in the following verses,  “They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (I Corinthians 9:25b-37 ESV)

That’s it!  Exercising control in ALL things!  Boy, do I need to learn to do that.

  • I will commit myself to pursuing Christ and discipline myself, mind, body and soul to that end.  That will be why I run and how I run this race of life,  “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas

For me, Christmas has become a fight in recent years.  It’s not so much a wrestling with why we celebrate Christmas, but more of a struggle with how we celebrate.

As a musician, the Christmas season starts early and runs right up until the day itself.  It is busy, to say the least.  But during the hectic schedule a dull, unexplainable feeling of melancholy, mixed with despondency, settles over me.  I have a hard time shaking it and it usually runs right up until the New Year.

I’m beginning to piece together some of the reasons why I believe this happens.  After conversations with a friend of mine, and listening to others who seem to have this same struggle, I can now at least begin to formulate my theory as to why this affects me the way it does.

1.  A lot of has to do with the way Christmas is celebrated.  There is a strange mix of the spiritual and the commercial that seems to plague our culture.  Sure, Christians celebrate Christmas primarily marking the birth of Jesus.  But then those same well-intended pilgrims turn right around and dive deeply into the secularism and commercialism that surrounds us.

2.  It seems that our methods of celebrating the season, especially in the church, have become rote and ritual.  There are always the obligatory Christmas musicals, cantatas and Broadway-style productions.  We have carol and candlelight services, eat food and perhaps, launch a few ministry-based functions to help those less fortunate.  Then we go about our “business as usual” the rest of the season.  There seems to be a disconnect.

Are we entertaining or enlightening?

3.  We sing the same familiar songs yet we never really ponder why we sing them.  Tradition?  Repetition?  And why do they all seem to focus on the central theme of the birth and not move past that event in their scope?  Isn’t there a depth to Christ’s coming that we totally miss in that regard?

4.  We surround ourselves with friends and family.  We buy gifts for friends and family.  But do we ever look around us at those who are desperate for love and in need at this time of year?  Christmas only heightens the sense of “being without” for those who are lonely or cast aside.  What can we do to shift the focus from presents to people?  And I’m not just talking about tossing in a few dollars for a needy child, that’s all well and good.  But what do we do as individuals to minister to those we pass on the street or meet in the mall?

5.  Can we, as believers, with moral integrity and intellectual honesty, continue to mix Santa and Jesus?  What kind of message does that send to our children?  What are we teaching them to observe?  If Mary and Joseph did without that first Christmas, why do we feel like we must indulge?  Isn’t part of the Christmas message rooted in the lack of provision for them as they lodged for the night?  The fact that Christ was born more as a pauper than a Prince?

I believe Matthew 6:19-24 speaks to part of this struggle with Christmas and how we should respond to it as believers.

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rustdestroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

I realize I’m probably in the minority with the way I feel.  And I am certainly guilty of everything I’ve mentioned above when it comes to celebrating Christmas.  But one thing I am determined to do is to fight, fight to turn Christmas into a celebration of not only the birth of Jesus, but more so, a celebration of the way He demonstrated for us to live our lives,

My Election Prediction…

I’ve been reading a TON of posts, a TON of opinion articles, from both sides, and have been WAY overexposed to media coverage of this election!  Since it’s Election Day in the United States of America, I thought I would weigh in with my prediction for this election.

After giving it considerable thought, and yes, even prayer, here is my prediction – I don’t know.

That’s not a bad thing because it takes it out of my hands and places the election results in the hands of the Ultimate Election Official!

In his book, Spectacular Sins, John Piper talks about, “The hand of God and the plan of God” as it relates to God’s purposes throughout history.  He goes on to say, “The hand of God ordinarily stands for God’s exerted power—not power in the abstract, but earthly, effective exertions of power. The point of combining it with “plan” is to say that it is not just a theoretical plan; it is a plan that will be executed by God’s own hand.”

Among other things, he uses the crucifixion of Christ, which he calls the most spectacular sin, to illustrate how God’s sovereign hand executes His perfect purpose and plan, no matter how perplexing the method seems to be.  (You really should read this book to get the full effect.  I cannot do it justice by pulling out a few simple quotes.)

As it relates to this election, or any election for that matter, I have a prediction that I know is true, God’s eternal purposes and plans WILL be accomplished.  And this might mean that YOUR candidate(s) won’t be elected for office!

We pray that our nation will return to the Lord, but could it be possible He will choose to do that with a candidate whose heart is far from Him?  Or, a candidate that will bring more evil to our land rather than good?  Or maybe someone that you totally disagree with on principle and policy.

Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”

The Lord God Almighty is sovereign over kings, and sovereign over the nations of the world.

Psalm 22:27-28  “All the ends of the world Shall remember and turn to the Lord, And all the families of the nations Shall worship before You.  For the kingdom is the Lord’s, And He rules over the nations.”

Psalm 47:8  “God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne.”

These passages tell me that no matter who is sitting in the White House or the Court House, they are all subject to His governing authority.  While those that are in office do exert power over the people and the land, God exerts complete power and control over their governing abilities and decisions.

On second thought, I think I do know the outcome of the elections during this election cycle.  No matter who wins, no matter who loses, God is complete and sovereign control!

Perhaps tomorrow’s headlines should read, “God Wins!”  “God Wins!”

The Creative Gift of Creating

I’ve been thinking today, as I work on a new project, about how we, as creative-types, are so wonderfully blessed to be able to create art from nothing.  Nothing, in the sense that we start with a blank canvas (e.g. a piece of manuscript paper, blank Finale template, empty DAW session, etc.) and then output a totally original piece of art.  Perhaps, an expression of who we are, but I think better stated, an expression of who God is.

Give me a little bit to explain my thought process.

Genesis 1:1-2 says,  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (ESV)

Let’s break this down and see how it applies to my point.

In the beginning.  All art has a beginning.  Whether it’s a thought or a concept, a germ of inspiration, or whatever, it all has to start at the beginning.  Like the song says, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”

God created.  How cool is it that the the fourth and fifth words of Scripture say “God created!”  Right from the start we see that God is a creative God, and we, as creative artists, get to plug into that every day!  Wow!

The earth was without form and void.  Did you know that the second part of the definition of form in the dictionary is:

form.
• arrangement and style in literary or musical composition

That’s exactly what we do when we create, we have to come up with a form for our work.  It’s not limited just to music, all art has a form, guidelines, structure.  Sure, you can expand and create within those guidelines but when you take it all apart, there is form.

Void.  The dictionary defines void as “completely empty.”  Again, blank paper, a lump of clay, an unshaped piece of stone, a blank canvas, empty Finale-template…you get the idea.  We start with nothing when we set out to create.  It can be kind of scary, but isn’t it awesome to know God started out the same way when He created everything we know now?

Darkness was over the face of the deep.  This word picture in my mind is an immense view of nothingness, and while we might not start out with utter darkness, many times those of us who create have the same feeling of not being able to see.  It can be overwhelming and yes, we often times feel like we’re drowning in the deep pit of creativity!  That’s why I’m thankful for the next part!

The Spirit of God was hovering.  Okay, another BIG wow!  As we begin to work God is with us every step of the way as we create!  His Spirit covers us, or hovers over us!  So, bring on the deep, bring on the darkness, bring on the void and lack of form. As creative beings, we have the Ultimate Creator’s Spirit with us as we do what we were created to do! We were created to create by the Creator!

We should never take for granted this gift of creating we’ve been given since the beginning of the earth. This thought should catapult is into realms of creativity we’ve never even dreamed of!  For me, this thought has most definitely inspired me, even in the midst of this project!

Something Old, Something New

The worship style debate, or as it is called by some, the worship wars, still rages on even in the 21 century.  It is just another one of those ugly marks on the church.  It does nothing but divide, alienate and isolate.  It pits church staff against church staff, church members against church members and church members against church staff.  It has led to the firing of staff, the exiting of members and even the dividing of a church congregation.  Sounds amazingly hard to believe, and I can’t think of any other topic in the church that has more opinions thrown at it than perhaps what color the carpet in the new sanctuary should be!

While I personally have a hard time getting my head around the whole worship style debate, I have been trying to come up with a nugget of thought, a kernel of an idea or some kind of philosophical statement I could rally around that would help me make sense of it all.  I needed something that if asked, I could float out there as my kind of “talking point” concerning this whole issue.

After a recent in-depth conversation with a dear friend of mine, I think I have at least started on the path of coming up with something that helps me.  It’s probably not anything earth-shattering but for me, it at least helps me bring some peace and possibly offer a solution, if that’s possible, to those still struggling with their own thoughts.  So, here it goes:

If you toss out contemporary music and hold fast to hymns, you’re forgetting future generations.

If you toss out hymns and only cling to contemporary choruses, you’re missing the wisdom of previous generations.

Bottom line, it’s really NOT about style AT ALL, it’s about THE MESSAGE and the heart of the worshipper.

So, let’s bring in something old, because it has the merit of being tested through the ages and is often replete with wisdom and wonder!

And let’s add something new, because there is a generation out there that needs to be shaped for the future, and if you want to reach them, speak their language!

Take a Deep Breath

It has been quite a while since I’ve given a health update, so here it goes.

On Monday, April 16 I traveled to Duke for a Clinic visit, which included a chest X-ray, labs, Pulmonary Function Tests and a visit with the doctor.  I am grateful to announce that all is well after almost 4 years!

My pulmonary function was up 8%, which up is always a great thing!  Labs were normal, at least something about me is right now! And the X-ray was clear!

We continue to be grateful for the way the Lord has taken care of us through all of this journey and yes, it continues to be a journey with challenges both big and small.  But I’ve been reminded in the last several weeks of this passage which pretty well sums up all God can do!

20  “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

I realize this verse is not just speaking of physical things but of the supernatural and spiritual as well, but what a promise to know that God’s power is continually at work within those who believe in Him and call on His name!  And the great news too is that it goes on generation after generation in fact, forever!  And forever is a pretty long time!

So yes, I do take a deep breath, and breathe a silent prayer of gratitude for all He has done in my life!  And boy am I thankful I can!