So Long, 2014

2015 new years illustration with christmas ballsOh, I remember the days when I would stay up well past midnight on New Year’s Eve. Maybe I’d watch the ball drop in Times Square (on TV, never in person), but it was mostly about spending time with friends and family. It’s amazing how things change though when you’ve had a family of your own.

I honestly don’t remember the last time that I even saw midnight on New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day is generally a day full of traveling for our family, so staying up late isn’t the most ideal situation going into a big travel day.

As I was thinking and reflecting on 2014, I was reminded of that song that Boyz II Men popularized, “It’s So Hard to Say Good bye to Yesterday.” I started wondering if that was really true, whether it was that hard to say good bye to days gone by. My conclusion really yielded mixed results.

As a friend likes to say, there is only one today, we won’t have the chance to relive it, so we had better make the most of it. That point seems to become more realistic as I grow older. When you see friends, loved ones, and even complete strangers facing the end of their lives, it has a way of bringing things into perspective.

I’ve never been a big one for New Year’s resolutions. Maybe it’s that I consider myself too realistic to think that we’ll all be as thoroughly engaged in those resolutions on June 1st as we are on January 1st. Maybe I like to try to work on self-betterment all year long. Regardless of the reason, I’ve just not been a big fan of them.

If I’m completely honest with myself, I’ve made mistakes over the course of 2014. I probably spent time on things that weren’t incredibly important, spent money on things that were even less important, said things which could have been left unsaid, and neglected to say things that should have been a priority. The thing is, I don’t think it took me getting to New Year’s Eve to come to those conclusions. In fact, I came to those conclusions the moment that I became aware of them.

So, as I look towards 2015 and all that it will hold for me, I just want to remember the things that are important. I want to be moving in a forward direction, the spiritual process that theologians call “sanctification.” I want to continue to echo John the Baptist’s words, “less of me, more of Christ.”

That being said, here’s a list of things that I want to do better in 2015:

Love better, judge less.

Give more, take less.

Compare myself less to others and more to Jesus.

Let my wishlists be populated more with things for others than things for myself.

Make time for a game, a hug, a sunset, a rainbow, or a sunrise.

Abandon the complex to find beauty in the simple.

Say “I love you” more with the things that I do than simply with my words.

Sure, there are probably about a thousand things that I could put on here, but this is the start of what I want to do.

Here’s to 2014, to all that we’ve learned, all that we’ve lost, and all the ways that we lived in it.

Here’s to 2015, to all that we will learn, to limiting our losses, and living life with limited regrets.

Happy New Year!

The Eve of the Eve

It’s the Eve of Christmas Eve and I can feel the excitement starting to bubble up within me. There is anticipation of waking up on Christmas morning to see what’s under the tree. There is an excitement in me to take part in a Christmas Eve worship experience with my church. There is excitement in me to see how my kids drink in all that they will experience over the next few days.

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved Christmas. I would hardly sleep on Christmas Eve as my excitement was palpable and uncontainable. I would wake up while everyone else was sleeping and start organizing the presents into piles, making sure that everything was in order for when everyone was awake. I love the smells of Christmas, the sounds of Christmas, the memories of Christmas, and all that Christmas means to me and to you.

Every year that goes by, it gets a little harder to get into the mood. Life has a tendency of getting in the way. Whether it’s my own health issues or someone in the family’s health issues, whether it’s a tragic loss in my community or a loss within my family or church, somehow the challenges that we face in life can creep into our celebration and do everything they can to steal our joy.

I need constant reminders of what Christmas really means, and I’m a pastor. I can read the birth account in Luke, I can sing the songs, I can plan out the services, but I still need to constantly keep before me the fact that my celebrations are somewhat backwards. Why do I get gifts when it’s Jesus’ birthday? Why am I not focusing more on the fact that I received a gift for which I should be eternally grateful?

Today, there will be no running around doing last minute shopping. I’m hoping I won’t have to go to many stores at all. I’ve tried even to avoid some of the roads around the mall in fear of being impacted by those whose heads are mulling over their own “To Do” lists. I’ve taken care of most everything on my “To Do” lists, so I hope to just get ready.

While I certainly feel a sense of loss without my parents here, the holidays have a way of reminding me of all of the great times that we shared together. I can’t help but smile as I think about my mom playing her Christmas records on the record player while she was cooking or baking in the kitchen. I can’t help but think about my father’s booming voice as we sang Angels We Have Heard on High or O Little Town of Bethlehem or some other Christmas hymn. I remember all of the Christmas traditions that we had in our family and I want to do my best to make sure that my kids have traditions that they can carry on as well.

True, no one really celebrates the eve of Christmas Eve, but I can be the first. If it means that I remember a little bit better what I’m celebrating, then I’ll do whatever it takes!

Lessons

Yesterday was a very long day for me. I preached at our morning worship gathering, had a rehearsal for Christmas Eve right after that, and then I hopped in my car and drove up to Baltimore for a memorial service for my great aunt. Since my wife and I didn’t think the kids would handle the 5 hours in the car very well, I took the trip solo.

Driving up 95, I had a lot of time for reflection. Over these last few years, I think I’ve had plenty of time for reflection. To be honest, I was kind of feeling numb. I’m growing weary of attending funerals and memorial services for people I care about. Not sure what the magic number is that you hit, but I think I’ve finally crossed the threshold.

I reflected on my aunt and the times spent with her. For most of the time that I remember, she and my uncle lived in Carlisle, Massachusetts, but there was a time when they lived in Blandford, MA in the western part of the state. I remembered going up to stay with them a few times after I got out of college to go skiing. Whether it was just me or whether I brought a bunch of friends, my aunt and uncle opened their home willingly, cooking us breakfast, providing us with a place to sleep, and just showing us all around hospitality.

I walked into the community center where the service was being held, I found myself acting very introverted. I knew no one in this unfamiliar place. I looked around and tried to take in all that I saw. Eventually, I was saved because my uncle and cousin showed up. At the same time, my aunt and uncle from Williamsburg showed up who have been such an incredible support to me and my brother over the last few years.

As I listened to my cousin, his wife, and my uncle share about my aunt, I was struck by their stories. I watched the slideshow of pictures of my aunt and realized that, while I didn’t know her as well as they did, I did know her fairly well. The pictures that they painted with their words were of a gracious, humble, sweet, loving, gentle, and hospitable woman. It had been a long time since I had spent time with her and my uncle. Over the last few years, dementia had overtaken her and it was painful to hear my cousin talk about what had become of her. Yet all the time, my uncle had stood by her side, upholding his marriage vows, and loving her with a Christ-like love. What a testimony.

As I sat there, a thought popped into my head. For those of us with families whom we love, it seems that God gives us family to give us a taste of heaven. My mind was filled with memories of gatherings when we enjoyed one another’s company and I couldn’t help but wonder about the glorious reunion of all of those we have loved when we are finally gathered together without pain, tears, or death.

I did the obligatory mingling at the reception after the service, but my head was somewhere else. When I finally left, I drove home feeling numb. I was glad to have shed some tears at the service. It had been such a long time since I had cried that I was beginning to wonder whether or not I was even capable any longer. To be honest, I think losing Mom took most of the tears out of me and I haven’t had a whole lot of them since.

Ultimately, I think the place I finally landed was a place of gratitude. I found myself grateful for the family that God has blessed me with. I found myself grateful for the family that I married into as well. Family has always been important to me, but I still need reminders, especially on those occasions when you face challenges. I have a friend who says that friends are the family that you can choose, and I completely agree, but it’s really nice when you have family that you would have chosen to have as friends as well.

When it all came down, I smiled to myself as I thought about my aunt and Mom and Dad hanging out together. As my cousin reminded us during the service, hope that is seen is no hope at all, as the Apostle Paul said. I appreciated his candidness as he echoed Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 about faith, hope, and love. He said he didn’t have a great faith (which was admirable for me coming from another pastor) and that he didn’t love very well either, but he could hope very well. It’s into hopeless situations that hope comes. A reminder of this Advent season and a reminder, even more so, of the coming arrival of Jesus again some day.

Until that day, I like my cousin will hope too!

Wake Up

Sometimes when you’re sleeping, it takes a lot to wake you up. Sometimes it doesn’t take much at all. How about when you are sleepwalking through life? Maybe not even sleepwalking, maybe it’s just a matter of going through the motions and not really considering what you’re doing, not asking the hard questions to make sure that you’re moving in the right direction, not paying attention to warning signs that might be going off.

I drove a Toyota and if I don’t or the passenger doesn’t buckle the seatbelt, a very annoying beeping begins. Since I mostly abide by seatbelt laws, it doesn’t happen very often. But occasionally, if I am in a hurry, I don’t buckle and it doesn’t take much time before that beeping commences. Sometimes I will suffer through it Sometimes I will buckle up. Other times I will simply turn up the music louder to drown out the annoying beeping that’s began grating on my nerves the moment it began.

If we take a look around, there are warning signs all over in life, they tell us to pay attention, to stop, to check things out. Sometimes we choose to pay attention and heed the warnings, other times, we choose to ignore them. Just because we choose to ignore the warning signs doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Just because we choose to ignore the warning signs doesn’t mean the problem goes away. In fact, it usually gets worse.

I’ve been operating at an unsustainable pace for the last four years. I knew it. Others knew it. There were warning signs going off. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer. When we found out we were having a third child. When I was finishing seminary. When my mom died. When my dad got sicker. When my church went through a major transition. When I changed denominations. There were warning signs going off. I knew that they were there, but I think I just turned the music up to drown out the annoying beeping that I was hearing in my ears.

I finally got around to scheduling a physical. They didn’t like an abnormal EKG which sent me to the cardiologist where another abnormal EKG was found. A stress test was run which led to the scheduling of a heart catheterization, all the while my anxiety and stress levels rising and rising, the warning signs raging in the background. Finally, after 41 years, I finally spent the night in the hospital. Tests were run. Results were found. Medicines were given. Changes needed to be made.

Warning signs will make themselves known, whether we heed them early or not. If we decide not to heed them, they will just get louder and louder and usually take the shape and form of something far more serious. We can ignore them for so long before they force us to pay attention. If we ignore them, we can only hope that by the time they force themselves to be heard that the damage is no irreparable.

It’s nice to be loved. I have enough friends around me who hear this news and embrace me, not in a “it’s going to be all right, I’m praying for you” kind of way but in a “get off your @$$ and get moving and get healthy with me” kind of way. Friends are offering to start exercising with me, walking, running, whatever it takes. It’s nice to be loved.

I’ve learned a lot over the past few years. A lot of what I have learned has to do with advocacy, for myself and for others. Generally speaking, you’re going to have to advocate for yourself and the ones that you love, you’re not going to get a whole lot of help and support from certain places. That’s why warning signs are so important, you might be the only one who hears them for yourself. Even if other people do see them or hear them in you, they’re not always likely to address them. When it comes down to it, we can all get pretty selfish and when we’re getting what we want, we might not address warning signs in other people because it will impact what we have to do and whether we get what we want.

So, I’m heeding the warning signs and it didn’t even take me until January 1st to adopt some kind of a resolution. I’m sure that I’ll be blogging on my progress, after all, this is where I go for my confessions!

Ferguson, Race Relations, and Advent

For Christ followers, Advent is all about expectation and waiting. From the time of the last Old Testament prophet until the birth of Jesus, there was a period of 400 years. 400 years of silence. 400 years of waiting, watching, and wondering. Waiting for a sign. Watching for a savior. Wondering if God was even there anymore.

Now, it’s been more than 2000 years since Jesus walked this earth. While we celebrate Christ’s first Advent, we anticipate his return as well during this time. We are reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 8 that all of creation is groaning as in childbirth, waiting for redemption and restoration. The problem with the 2000 year lapse is that we kind of fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. We stop anticipating Christ’s return. We stop thinking about the fact that things are still in need of restoration. We stop thinking about everything that is still broken and in need of fixing.

We stop remembering until something bad happens to remind us. We stop remembering until we are face to face with some of the brokenness that is prevalent in our world. When we are forced to face the bad and the broken, we have no choice but to begin to ask ourselves the question, “where is God?”

Recently, a friend shared a sermon that was preached at her home church. One of her pastors had just returned from a trip to Ferguson, Missouri. As she preached during Advent, she couldn’t help but relate the unsettled state of things there and how it related to the anticipation of Advent.

Regardless of what your particular political viewpoint or what your opinion is of the verdict that was handed down in Ferguson, it would be hard to deny that there is something wrong and in need of being fixed. There is an anticipation there, and according to this pastor, it’s palpable, you can almost feel it. If you can’t feel it, you can at least see it in the faces of those who are protesting, whether peacefully or otherwise.

Those who are protesting peacefully are seeking a redemption and restoration of sorts. They want peace. They want safety. They want some ounce of normality in their lives, especially if they are non-white and living in places like Ferguson. They wait for it, they groan for it, they crane their necks around every corner to see if they might get a glimpse of it. But when they don’t see it, they don’t stop looking for it. They keep pushing forward, anticipating, coming together, trying hard to find a pathway to restoration.

During this Advent season, I am reminded of how far we have come, but even more how far we have yet to go. While we might be far from the 1950’s and 1960’s when racial tension was more palpable across the country than it is today, there are still those places where it feels just as palpable. There are still issues that are unresolved, issues that continue to rear their ugly heads, issues that refuse to go away because they involve people who live and breathe and who care.

If ever there was a time for the Church to find ways to celebrate Advent and seek restoration, it’s now. What can we do to learn more about what our brothers and sisters are experiencing every day? What can we do to enter into dialogue with people, crossing political and racial lines for the sake of reconciliation?

I continue to listen to my African American friends who point me to resources to try to help me understand the issues that they face a little bit more every day. I am grateful for them, grateful that God brought them into my life. I want to do my best to keep this issue in front of me, but that’s hard to do. I admit that I am not in the thick of it and that’s it easy to forget it when you don’t see it every day.

For now, I can let Advent and the anticipation and expectation that I experience during this time be used as a reminder that there are issues for which we still wait, watch, and wonder. I can remember that, although I might not feel it as strongly, there are some who are longing for restoration in their lives, they are waiting for a savior to come, they are waiting and groaning, and hoping that around the corner, there will be something better waiting. I don’t want them to wait alone.

 

Look and Live – A Book Review

look and live papaWe all worship something, we all give glory to something. It’s just a matter of what that “something” is and whether or not it can really bear the weight of the worship and glory that we give to it. Author, speaker, and musician Matt Papa says that the triune God, “is the only thing large enough and interesting enough to bear the weight of glory, and ultimately worship. Anything else will break your heart.” He then proceeds to unpack that within his book, “Look and Live.”

Papa suggests that we are all giving glory to something but if it isn’t the one, true God, then we are committing the equivalent of Esau, selling off our birthright for a bowl of beans. We are sacrificing the real thing for a cheap imitation. In order to fully understand what it means to glorify God, to worship him, we need to actually gaze upon his glory. When we gaze upon his glory and set our eyes on who he is, then we begin to understand how to glorify him. As one is amazed at an artist by looking upon their artistry, so we can look upon the artistry of God to begin to see his glory.

There are two types of glory, Papa writes, glory within and glory given. Glory given results when one experiences the glory within. Glory within is the internal excellence that we see in things, but it is only God who can give us the full picture of glory, That is why, Papa says, that everyone who encounters the glory of God within the Bible nearly falls dead. We cannot encounter the glory of God and remain unchanged.

As G.K. Chesteron wrote, “When we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing. We worship anything.” “Look and Live” explores what we as humans so often do, glorifying things that simply point to the glory of God, things that cannot bear the weight of that glory without crumbling. We create idols in our lives that outweigh and replace God in order to find happiness, but those things all fall short of providing the promised result. They all fail us.

Even in our encounter of God’s glory, we fail to understand our approach to it. Rather than saying that we must behave in order to encounter it, we must actually behold it in order to fully experience it and be changed. We cannot enter into the spiritual process of sanctification and experience the transformation of becoming more and more like Christ unless we behold the glory of God. That is the only thing that can bring us lasting change.

Throughout the books, Papa aims straight at many of the things that plague us as Christians, our sin and idolatry. He makes his case for looking upon Jesus to fully experience the glory of God, showing uncanny insights and wisdom beyond his years. He pulls no punches in addressing the sin and idolatry issue that many of us have come to embrace in exchange for the glory of God, sin and idolatry that often emerge our of good things that end up being ends in and of themselves rather than means for looking upon the glory of God.

When we truly experience and look upon the glory of God, not only are we changed, but we also want to share that glory with everyone we meet. So, as Papa shares, “if you aren’t sharing God, then you aren’t enjoying God.”

At the outset, “Look and Live” didn’t seem like a very different book from so much else that is in the “Christian” market. As I dove into it, I felt like, while everything Papa was saying was true, it sounded so familiar that it seemed, in a way, dull and repetitive. I had to push on through the beginning to really see the insights that Papa had to offer. Could he have arrived there sooner in the book, probably, but that’s not always the writer’s fault. It could be blamed on editing.

Although it took me a little effort to push through what I felt like was a slow beginning to “Look and Live,” once I moved past it, the effort was worth it. “Look and Live” is a worthwhile reminder of the good things that can easily entangle us from experiencing the greatness and glory of God. While there were many things that I’ve read in various other places, Papa’s ability to cut to the heart of the issue and simplify it, making it a matter of our need for looking upon Jesus, helps both those who are familiar with the ideas and concepts about which he is writing as well as those who are encountering them for the first time.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Savoring and Soaking

2014-12-04 18.52.57When people say, “Christmastime” it conjures all kinds of images in people’s minds. Candy canes. Stockings. Santa Claus. Black Friday. Trees. Presents. Fires. Family. The list could go on and on. But when I think of Christmas, I can’t help but think “Andrew Peterson.”

Some of you are scratching your heads and wondering, “Who’s is Andrew Peterson?” When I first heard his name and listened to his music, I was not impressed. That’s not so unusual for me, it takes me a while to latch onto things that are unfamiliar. A friend told me about Dave Matthews a few years before he hit the big time and I just didn’t get it. Same thing with Jars of Clay. Now I’m a big fan of both of them. Back to Andrew Peterson, though.

I’m always trying to find new and different Christmas music. While many people are fine with the usual Christmas music fare of Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, or Dean Martin, I’m always trying to reimagine the Christmas season in the musical realm. I mean, how many ways can you hear some of these songs done, redone, and then done again? Just a search in my music library and I find that I have 26 different version of “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Seriously?

A few years back, a friend and I were driving in his car and he put a CD on while we talked and it was enough to distract me from my conversation with him. I kept getting drawn to the music. He sang along as well, completely out of tune and off key, but I started paying attention to the words. Curious as I was, the natural question for me to ask him was, “Who is this?” When he told me that it was Andrew Peterson, I was both surprised and intrigued. Yes, I had heard the name before but I didn’t remember hearing him like this.

As I began to pepper my friend with questions, he told me what he knew about the album, “Behold the Lamb of God.” It was a song cycle, which always excites me as a musician and hack songwriter. Weaving and forming a group of songs together with a common theme is not an easy thing to do and be successful, it’s a challenge. Artists have done it (or attempted to do it) for years, artists all across the map. But a song cycle about the Gospel message, that was even more intriguing to me.

I purchased the album and began listening to it……and I just couldn’t get enough. This was all before I went to seminary as well. Now that I have seminary under my belt and now that I’ve grown even more in my faith over the past few years, the story and its power as well as the way that Peterson tells that story are powerful. With wit, wisdom, eloquence, and craftiness Peterson tells the story of the Messiah starting way back with Moses. While all of the songs are good standalone songs, when you put them together, the sum of the parts is equal to something magnificent on many levels.

Once I was hooked, I shared the music with everyone that I knew. As I followed Peterson more and more, I found out that he toured the country performing “Behold the Lamb of God” with his friends during the month of December ending up with a few shows before Christmas at the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. I immediately began to search where this tour would be going to see if there was any chance that I might be able to catch it.

Sure enough, on Friday, December 3, 2010, Peterson was scheduled to be in Richmond, Virginia. I found out when the tickets were going on sale and told everyone that I knew and bought a bundle for myself. My parents had just moved to Williamsburg a few weeks prior to the concert and I thought that they might enjoy the concert as well. They didn’t seem to keen on the idea, so I enlisted them as babysitters. Turns out that it would be the last Christmas that I would have with my mom.

For 4 of the last 5 Decembers, Andrew Peterson has been coming back to Richmond. I’ve been there every time. In fact, it almost seems like the perfect way for me to usher in the Christmas season. I look forward to it every year and look forward to the day that I can go to Nashville to experience it in an historic venue like the Ryman.

Last night was the night to share in this experience once again, and it did not disappoint. I felt just like a kid on Christmas Eve, even more so when I found out that Thad Cockrell was on the tour as well as Caleb Chapman (trying to make it on his own outside of the shadow of his dad, Steven Curtis Chapman).

Peterson has the same format on the tour every year. Since there are other artists traveling with him, he shares the stage with them for the first half of the concert, going through the cycle of them twice to allow for everyone to get a feel for who these artists are individually. As the musicians played, I continued to anticipate the second half of the concert where Peterson and friends play the entire song cycle of “Behold the Lamb of God” from beginning to end with no stops (except for applause).

For the hundreds, if not thousands, of times that I have listened to the song cycle, I always find myself sitting enthralled as I find myself in these repeat listenings. In fact, as each song waves into the next one, I find myself feeling a bit of regret and sadness over the fact that the songs will end as will the concert. But there are moments to simply savor and soak in all that surrounds me in the aural realm. There are moments that I simply want to pause and hibernate in for the winter, such sonic goodness that I want to capture and bottle up.2014-12-04 21.32.07

But alas, the night does end and the feeling passes, but what is left behind is the impetus for me of what will become the Advent season. It spurs me into the season in a way that no Black Friday sale or Bass Pro Shop Santa Claus ever could. It sets the trajectory of the season in the right direction, not assuring perfection, but helping me come pretty darn close to it.

Peterson doesn’t have any hits, as he even jokes about in his own self-deprecating way, at least not in the formal sense, but to me, this whole album is a hit. It’s a hidden treasure that’s just waiting to be found out, dug up, discovered. I’m glad to have discovered it and look forward to kicking off my Christmas season each year with it. I guess I’ll savor that for as long as I possibly can!

Waiting and Watching

Waiting-while-siting-on-roadThis past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent. That might not really mean much to some of you, so let me explain…….no, no, it’s too much, let me sum up.

Advent means “arrival” and the season is all about preparation and waiting for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. We enter into a season where we can focus our hearts on what we are truly celebrating.

In today’s culture, it’s harder and harder to find that space to do this. Everything bleeds into our lives and begins to take over, much in the way that Black Friday has bled into Thanksgiving Thursday. Everything is vying for our time and attention, screaming to us that whatever it is is the most important thing and demands us to focus only on it.

I always remember Jesus’ words about the need to become like a child in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We can overcomplicate our lives and shift our focus to unimportant things, but it’s always a good reminder during this season for me to watch my children. What makes them excited? What do they talk about? What kind of imagination and wonder are they experiencing as they sometimes experience for the first time the things that I have taken for granted?

Hope. Joy. Love. Peace. These are the staples of the season. Happiness is purposefully missing there, and it’s the very thing that drives so many of us. We just want to be happy, to be content and have everything that we want. But hope, joy, love, and peace don’t come to us through our own conjuring. We don’t work harder and find that those things magically appear in our lives like a reward at the end of a video game level. In finding them, we need to lose ourselves.

I work on getting prepared for Advent way before Thanksgiving weekend. I know myself and the need to slow down, to take inventory, to assess where I am and where I’m going. If I don’t intentionally slow down and even stop, December 25th will be behind me and I will be shaking my head in astonishment that I missed the moment.

So, I come upon another year, another opportunity, to wait and watch, to capture the wonder of what I am celebrating this year. So much has changed over the past few years, but these things should not be the ones where I find my hope, my joy, or my peace. Love, yes, but the other three are not things which can be provided for me by stuff, possessions, or even people.

Already a few days in and I can feel myself grabbing for the paper bag to breathe into as I begin to hyperventilate over all the things that need to get done. I need to slow down, make my list, check it twice if I must, and then move along at a pace that is less than harried, less than focused.

I’m waiting and watching, looking for hope, joy, and peace. Where do I find it? I find it not so much in the manger but in the One who I find in that manger, God incarnate, come to enter into life with us.

Finding Your Rhythm

2014-12-01 13.49.58I’m a musician. Sometimes I play by myself. Sometimes I play with other people.

When you play music by yourself, you only have to keep in rhythm with yourself. When you play music with other people, not only do you need to keep in rhythm with everyone else, but each person who is playing needs to find the rhythm and keep time together. Sometimes that’s an easy task while other times it’s downright frustrating, maybe even excruciatingly painful.

I’ve experienced both of those situations in the past. I’ve experienced playing with people with whom you fall into rhythm easily, almost effortlessly and seamlessly. I’ve also experienced playing with people with whom it seems that the rhythm is elusive, impossible to find. Those situations are difficult and frustrating.

I’ve taken a few days to step away for the sake of planning and looking at the upcoming year in my own ministry. I’ve been blessed to have had access to a house in the Outer Banks, just a 3 minute walk from the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. While I was there, I took advantage of the time and sat on the beach.

The beach has always been a special place to me. I grew up along the coast of Connecticut on Long Island Sound. The beach was always a big part of my summers. I can easily conjure up mental images of my mom sitting in her beach chair at one of the two beaches in my hometown. Those days felt endless, in the best way possible. During those days, it seems there was an unbreakable link developed between me and the water. I always find myself going back to the water, the Sound, or the ocean to center myself again.

As I walked towards the beach the other day, I began to hear the waves gently falling on the shoreline even before I could see them. The gentle lapping of the waves reminded me of the beat of a drum with whom I am trying to get into rhythm. This rhythm continues whether I am here or not and in many ways, it was a reminder to me of God’s rhythm.

Oftentimes, I find myself “playing music” alone. I find what I think is a good rhythm and stick with it. Then I come back to the Master Musician and find that the rhythm that I have had all along is not as good as I thought it was. In fact, my rhythm is out of time, it’s misaligned, it’s frustratingly off from the rhythm of the Master Musician.

As I listened to the waves and watched them come upon the shore, as the water crawled up and then retracted itself from the shoreline, I was reminded who was the chief timekeeper here. Despite popular belief, it’s not me. As much as I might try to make my rhythm the rhythm of the day, that fight only results in frustration, it results in bad rhythm and messy music.

How often do I find myself out of sync and tempo with the Master Musician. I get ahead or fall behind, mostly getting ahead. I rush, I push the rhythm, trying desperately to make the other musicians keep up. Who are those other musicians? My friends. My family. My co-workers. My teammates. My God.

The rhythm of the sea and its waves is a reminder to me of the need to keep time with the Master Musician. It’s a metronome of sorts, directing me towards what is perfect, especially when I think that I’ve achieved that perfect rhythm on my own.

When faced with my own arrhythmia against the rhythm of the Master Musician, I have a choice. I can either keep fighting that rhythm, which results in frustration and bad music. Or I can get in step to that rhythm, follow it, take the lead of the rhythm which is perfect.

Will I follow that rhythm? Will I keep in good time?2014-12-01 14.25.09

No matter what, I will find myself falling out of step with the rhythm of the One whose rhythm is perfect. When I find myself in those times, I need to find my back into rhythm again, I need to say, “I will follow.”

May the times between my rhythm synchronization be short. May I find myself constantly coming back to the perfect rhythm to find my rhythm in the One whose rhythm is perfect. May I not fight it but just follow it in order that we can make beautiful music together.

 

A Clear Head

2014-12-01 08.09.02Sometimes you just need to step away and clear your head. Sometimes you need to do your best to remove all distractions and find a place where you can think and simply be.

It’s not always easy to do; it’s an intentional slowing down, almost like pressing the “Pause” button on life. It’s easier said than done unless there is some real intentionality behind it. It’s too easy to let other things push it out. This is more important, that needs to get done, we can always find excuses as to why not to do it.

I am stepping away for the purpose of planning out 2015 but also for the purpose of recharging. I might call it Sabbath even though there is still work. Some work is fun and when it’s fun, it doesn’t always seem like work.

To breathe in the fresh air, to gaze into the blue sky, to feel the warm sunlight on my face, that is life giving and life restoring.

When was the last time that you got away? When was the last time that you slowed down or even stopped? When was the last time that you pressed the “Pause” button on life to catch your breath.

It’s something that I need to do far more often than I have been doing. Here’s to hoping for more opportunities and occasions!