Month: April 2014

Your Sacred Songs

Your playlist says a lot about you. Each song can represent a memory, emotion or a statement of your personality. Like spaces or events, certain songs carry significance in our lives.

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Martin Luther said, “Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.”

When we begin to reflect on the meaningful songs in our lives, I think we can notice how God gives us songs within seasons. Music can connect with our souls in a way words cannot. It seems God created us with an inborn response to this art.

Here are three sacred songs in my life:

1. “Your Love is Strong” by Jon Foreman

I can still remember the first time I heard this song. Driving through Pennsylvania with mind full of worry, I played the CD in my car. This song is based on the Sermon on the Mount. When I hear the lyrics, I am reminded of what it really means to follow Christ.

2. “Trust” by Pompton Lakes

Jeff Martin, the writer of the song, played it at my wedding. The past two years have been filled with transitions. This song captures God’s grace in the amidst of our doubts. Like a modern Psalm, the words speak for us. Learning to trust moves us past what we can see to see the character of Christ.

3. “Your Hand in Mine” by Explosions in the Sky

The next time you watch Friday Night Lights, the show or movie, you can hear this song. I love how the song crescendos. For me, this song represents the trials and triumphs of life. Along the way, we find out we were really never alone.

So what about you? What songs do you consider sacred?

Photo credit to Jessie Schnall, you can see more of her work at Portraits by Jessie.

 

The Offer on the Table

Board games blur the line of strategy and ruthlessness. I immediately doubt someone who says, “Peter, I have a deal for you…” Their seemingly best intentions have been overshadowed by their perceived competitiveness. Yet, something spectacular happens when you strike a win-win deal.

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Not just in board games. We love watching our favorite teams making great trades for players. Some of us enjoy the thrill of negotiating in a car lot or rummage sale. A rush comes over us when the offer on the table matches an expected benefit. Who doesn’t love a great deal?

Mark 10:17-31 records an offer from Jesus to a rich young ruler. He asks the ultimate question,  “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (vs. 17). Wrapped within this question is the pursuit of happiness, becoming, and reached potential. Just like us, He looked for something more. Call it resolving the linger question. The need to see Jesus derived from a hope for meaning in life. 

I missed a detail until I recently studied a few scholar’s perspective on this passage. Jesus responds to him with a series of commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother (vs. 19). What did Jesus leave out? No mention of coveting. 

Imagine yourself in the midst of this conversation. Our deepest question of meaning directed to Jesus, met with a list lacking our greatest roadblock to Him. 

N.T. Wright in After You Believe discusses how some see Christianity answering the question, “How must I behave?” Leaving the question “How can I become truly happy, the person I was meant be?” to people outside of Christianity. It can seem happiness comes outside the rules and guidelines. Wright suggests Jesus answers both questions the same; Follow me.

Jesus places an offer on the table, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor. And follow me…” 

Often, we place the emphasis on the first part of Jesus’ command. This man must completely give up all of his riches. Part of that has to do with us. What would the Savior ask us to leave behind? He might call us to give up a dream, title, position, wealth, power or pleasing other people. The ethics of the Kingdom of God look far different than what this world has to offer.

Yet, what we miss the second part. Jesus offers this man the opportunity to follow Him. In exchange of being owned by wealth, He has the opportunity to walk with the Good Teacher and gain eternal life.

What about us? One of the greatest evidences of God’s grace comes when He places an offer on the table. Exchange everything holding you back from following Him. In turn, find your deepest joy and meaning in Him, ultimately becoming the person He has made us to be.

C.S. Lewis put this way in the Weight of Glory:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased

Jesus’ offer on the table moves us from holding on to things we think matter to find those things which eternally matter.

Photo credit to Jessie Schnall, you can see more of her work at Portraits by Jessie.

A Prayer for a Restless Heart

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We can quote the words of Augustine,
“Our hearts are restless until they find rest in Him.”
In spite of knowing this, we find ourselves pacing and wandering.
The command “Be Still” sounds like a fantasy.
Silence only amplifies our addiction for activity.
Because if we are not doing something, then are we really accomplishing anything?

Here we come to You with weary hearts.
Minds filled with plans, expectations, insecurities, and dreams.
Souls desperately desiring your invitation for an easy yoke and light burden.
We run from our past while discontent with the present, only to anxiously await the future.
The recentness of Easter reminds us of Your victory in the resurrection.
Yet, we simply look for a glimmer of hope for tomorrow.

None of this catches You by surprise.
You walked through the wilderness.
Lost in all the lies we believe is the message of Your grace being enough.
We long for acceptance that can only be found in You.
So reorient our hearts, minds, and souls.
Give us the patience to wait for You and not add to the noise.
May we live the words of Augustine.
And find our restless hearts finding rest in You.

Photo credit to Jessie Schnall, you can see more of her work at Portraits by Jessie.

Holy Saturday

This day rests in between. The tragedy of Good Friday behind us and the triumph of Easter still to come.  We have the luxury of knowing the end of the story. Can you imagine the disciples on this day? I bet they paced back and forth replaying their regret. Disappointment resulted from not standing with Jesus and all the hope of a kingdom now laid dead in a tomb.

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Like the disciples, we wait. Hoping a Savior will emerge in the mundane and ordinary. Retracing our steps of “should have’s.” Waiting welcomes us back to the precarious in between. The pain remains fresh from the past while we still hope for Christ to triumph. Sometimes He seems silent and other times distant. Physically, emotionally, or spiritually, we pace back and forth.

I recently come across the words of Pope Benedict XVI. He reflected on being born on April 16, 1927, Holy Saturday. And he says this:

To be sure, it was not Easter Sunday but Holy Saturday, but, the more I reflect on it, the more this seems to be fitting for the nature of our human life: we are still awaiting Easter; we are not yet standing in the full light but walking toward it full of trust.

Easter is coming, but to some degree we live in the midst of Holy Saturday. The waiting seasons of life teach us to trust. Mangled in our lives the feelings of doubt, disappointment, and pain bring us to Jesus Christ. Not merely that the story will end well, but He is who He says He is. Faith directed towards a Savior learning to wait and to walk towards the light.

Good Friday and Holy Saturday prepare us for Easter. Not just out of the tradition, but because this season echoes life on this side of eternity. Embrace today, because we are learning to trust the Savior even when hope seems far from us.

Photo credit to Jessie Schnall, you can see more of her work at Portraits by Jessie.

 

Good Friday

Have you ever rushed to the happy ending? Skip a few of the dark chapters or fast forward through the bleak scenes. The story of Good Friday can become like this during Holy Week. Just get us to Sunday and the resurrection.

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Christ’s death on the cross speaks to us. We want to know that Christ is with us, our Immanuel. Maybe this means He supernaturally brings light into our darkness. This Savior calmed the storm with just a word and healed blindness with dirt. Even with the ability of instantaneous power, He remained on the cross.

The words of Psalms capture a glimpse of Good Friday, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me…” The cross communicates “God with us” by revealing a Savior who walked through the valley of the shadow of death. He identifies with us in our pain and agony. 

This morning I read Psalm 63. Athanasius once said, “Most scriptures speak to us; the Psalms speak for us.” David writes this Psalm in the midst of the wilderness. We connect with this Psalm because we too have felt weary, thirsty and hungry. It can seem our enemies have overtaken us. Vs. 8 becomes a message we preach to ourselves, “My soul clings to you, your right hand upholds me.” A psalm speaking for us, but also speaking of the experience of Christ on the cross.

Good Friday depicts…
A Savior weary from carrying a cross.
A Savior who heard the jeers of His enemies.
A Savior thirsting receiving bitter vinegar.
A Savior in the midst of the most significant wilderness.

The cross embodies redemption and salvation for us and the resurrection makes Good Friday, good. Yet, for those of us who experience seasons like Good Friday – we find grace in Jesus Christ who identifies with us more than we could ever imagine.

May we reflect on Good Friday without rushing to the happy ending. Jesus Christ brings hope in the resurrection also walks with us in our wilderness.

Photo credit to Jessie Schnall, you can see more of her work at Portraits by Jessie.

 

Pauses

Pauses can communicate more than words. They act as verbal punctuations asking the listener to stop for a moment. I used to want to fill these spaces with words, but something happens when you let them remain silent.

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These moments become invitations to share further. Instead of jumping to advice or another topic, the speaker can gather their words from their thoughts. Waiting in the pauses says, “I desire for you to feel heard and I’m not leaving this moment until you are ready…”

We struggle with pauses. Think of how many times you have heard the phrase, “Awkward silence.” The impatience and impetuousness of our culture has filtered to our personal lives. Filling the space replaces waiting.

Scripture reminds us of pauses. The Psalms stop us with every use of the word Selah. Isaiah implores his readers “Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength…” Holy Week invites us see the pauses of Jesus’ life. Gospel writers record Jesus stepping away to pray. Perhaps, the longest pause occurs from Good Friday to the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. We find ourselves with the disciples caught between faith and doubt.

The pauses recorded in Scripture speak to our lives. We live in the gaps of silence and waiting. Restlessness overtakes us, so we venture to the noise. What if God invited us to pause? What if it was His way of allowing us to gather our thoughts? What if it was ultimately for us to experience His presence? 

Embracing the pauses of life welcomes us to deeply hear others, ourselves and Immanuel, God with us.

What have you learned in the pauses of life?

Photo credit to Jessie Schnall, you can see more of her work at Portraits by Jessie.

Repetition, Mundane and Jonathan Merritt

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Last week, Jonathan Merritt’s Jesus is Better Than You Imagined  was released. This book challenges a conventional view of Jesus Christ. Merritt shares about his spiritual journeys including seasons of waiting, grace and in the desert. Books like these remind us of our own journeys and how we never walk alone. After reading this last week, I would highly recommend it for you.

Jonathan provides a fantastic perspective for us as we begin this new week in the chapter “Cereal Snowflakes: Encountering Jesus in Mystery.” He describes how we see our daily gift of manna:

In the repetition of the gift, I learn that God often comes in the mundane the rote. God is made known in the average and everyday. The sunrise that meets me in the morning  and the friendly wave of the mailwoman. The greeting from the receptionist as I shuffle to a meeting and the hug from the retiree who waits for me at the church door each Sunday after service. Jesus shows up in the mystery of crisis and the rhythm of the ordinary. (pg. 54)

Photo credit to Jessie Schnall, you can see more of her work at Portraits by Jessie.

Nothing Left

Two things cause an inordinate amount of anxiety for me: running out of food at a social gathering and a cell phone with no battery life.  No food equates to empty plates when guests arrive. No power left in a cell phone means the lack of ability to call or even get directions. To have nothing left usually amounts to having nothing to offer.

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Yet, to have nothing left allows for the opportunity to receive. You can’t fill a pitcher with liquid in it. A bookshelf with space invites the addition of new books. Trees lose their leaves in the fall so that they can grow again in the spring.

Paul says in II Corinthians 12:10, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” I want to believe I grasp the theological implications of this famous verse. By understanding the context of Paul’s life, I can look at how God caused a thorn in his side to experience grace.

Honestly though, weakness delves into all of my hidden insecurities and fears. We want to believe we have enough. Our grit and white knuckling can get us through anything. Then we find out we have nothing left…

We have exercised plan “A” all the way to “Z” with no success.

The last tear has dried from our cries.

Anger exhausts our emotional capacities empty.  

A gruesome pace finally depletes our energy to remain in the journey.

The frailty from our humanity has worn us down.

Maybe these circumstances and other instances point us in the direction of understanding the words of St. Paul. Weakness bring us to the place of realizing we have nothing left. All resources exhausted. Every ounce of energy gone.

Having nothing left makes us acutely aware of our need for Christ’s grace. When we have come face to face with our human weakness, then we can begin to draw upon the sufficient strength of God. He invites us to connect with Him. Let us pray and draw near, because weakness is an invitation to His strength.

You might have nothing left to give today, but this is the moment where we can begin to experience Christ’s strength through His grace.

Photo credit to Jessie Schnall, you can see more of her work at Portraits by Jessie.

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