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October 2007

September 2007


"Be simply and directly and unmistakably His today."          --Oswald Chambers


Simply--no flash, no dash, no frills, no show, no crowds,....

Directly--unashamed, courageous, real, no regrets,....

Unmistakably--aroma, an ambassador, salt, light, loving,...



New Blog Look

I did a little messing around with my blog today--trying to give it a bit of a personal look.  The banner picture is one of Seoul that I took from the top floor of "Building 63," the tallest building in Seoul (It is 63 stories high).

I will change the banner picture and the color scheme every once in awhile.  I like some variety.

Update on Sasha

On March 22, 2007 I shared with you about a student named Sasha.  Please click here to read the post.

Sasha graduated from TCIS last spring.  I saw Sasha in early August of this school year and talked with him briefly.  He informed me that he had been home most of the summer with his parents in Russia and just before he left to come to South Korea (en-route to the USA to go to university), his hometown was rocked with an earthquake that exceeded 7.0 on the Richter scale.  The epicenter of the quake was in the ocean, just off the shore of his hometown city.  Because the quake was so close to land it didn't cause a tidal wave but it did do a lot of damage to the city and specifically to his parents' home and storefront business.  Sasha helped his parents begin to piece things back together following the quake and then left to plug into his first year of university in the USA.

In our brief discussion in August Sasha shared with me that he was growing in his faith in God and that he was very nervous about going to university--especially with the thought of his parents struggling to rebuild their lives back home.  I prayed with Sasha in my office--we prayed for his parents, for his upcoming adventure of university and for his journey with Jesus.  Sasha flew out for the USA on the next day.

In the city in the USA that Sasha is attending university lives an individual who taught here at TCIS and knows Sasha.  This person has been keeping tabs on Sasha and helping him out in his transition to university life.  The former TCIS teacher sent me the following email regarding Sasha:

Date: Monday, September 10 2007 11:40 PM

Subject: Sasha

Just a note to catch you up on Sasha. You wouldn't believe him, he looks and acts great, and says that he doesn't have depressive feelings now. He has found a niche at University (which is a liberal arts Bible College). In fact he carries his Bible around to the various chapels, etc. He has made a group of friends quickly, has joined the soccer team (on which he says that he sucks, but enjoys it), auditioned and was selected as bass guitarist for college choir, and has volunteered at a local church to play in the praise team for his service hours……….. He tells me that these are exactly the music classes he needed, and the private lesson guitar teacher is helping him with a unique style combining his own developed technique with classical. He is very excited about that, and his teacher is in his early 30s and is quite well known for his expertise in the region…………….. Sasha's group of close friends includes Nathan who is Filipino, Bradley who is African American from Detroit and Moses who is Laotian. They are all music majors and have nearly all of their classes together.

Wow, there you have it.  There is some good going on this world--despite what the newspaper headlines tell us.  God is good and He is working in the lives of people.

What a miracle it is to hear how God has met Sasha at the point of his need--he is learning and growing in his musical talent (and using it for God) and he is making friends from all over the world.

When I think about Sasha it warms my heart and I have to lift up praise to the Lord.  As the Apostle Paul was reflecting on his blessed friends in Philippi he wrote:

"I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." --Philippians 1

Is it any different today?  We must remember one another with warm hearts and fervent prayers.  We must find our hope, faith and confidence in God, for He is the one who began the good work in all of us by His grace.  Because of Jesus we can confidently move into each day (regardless of the headlines) knowing that He is with us and that He will always be with us!

Take heart!   "For God so loved the world".....that is you, me ....and Sasha. 


Just a note of clarification to everybody about my "It's About the Music" post. 

First of all, thanks to many of you for your very encouraging and kind words about my writing.  The "It's About the Music" post was actually a piece of devotional writing that I wrote last January 2007.  I have been fine tuning it for months and what I posted was the final draft. 

By the way, Becca did do a good job in her recital last January and she is still playing beautifully today.  Thanks to all for the  words of encouragement that you have given her. 

Mother Teresa

Last week I read an article in Time magazine about Mother Teresa titled, “Mother Teresa’s Crises of Faith” by David Van Biema.  The article comments on the public opening of Mother Teresa’s personal writings and letters and the recent release of a book that gives specific insight into her private correspondence with her confessors and church superiors.


Mother Teresa’s very personal letters and honest correspondence reveal a very remarkable and somewhat stunning facet of her life.  It appears that for nearly the last fifty years of her life, Mother Teresa felt a very stark absence of God in the depths of her heart—much like what some have called the “Dark Night of the Soul.”  Mother_teresa

This insight into the “state” of Mother Teresa’s heart during the last half of her life is shocking because it is in such vivid contrast to her outward life and appearance which was characterized by an abandoned service unto others in the name of Jesus Christ and of a deeply stated love for God.  Thus, the question follows, “How could Mother Teresa live like she lived and love like she loved and not “feel” God and “experience” a deep sense of faith in her life?”  Was her life and her religion a sham, a farce, a form of hypocrisy not only to herself but also to the world around her?


As I consider these and the many other questions that are swirling around about Mother Teresa’s inner life, I find myself thinking about my own heart and about the hearts of my friends and family.  I find myself thinking about the path of spiritual formation that we all travel and I wonder what bearing the life of our fellow pilgrim, Mother Teresa, will have upon each of our journeys.


I don’t know much about the “Dark Night of the Soul” except to say that I am convinced that it is a very real aspect of spiritual life and growth.  Even though the term “dark night” was first coined by St. John of Cross in the 16th century its presence in one form or another is evident in the lives of God followers throughout the Biblical narrative.  I was interested to find that one of my favorite twentieth century devotional writers, Oswald Chambers, struggled with the personal spiritual experience of the “dark night.”  In his journal, Chambers shares of a time in his life when he prayed to God for the infilling of the Holy Spirit in his heart and soon thereafter he felt he entered into a time of the “dark night” that lasted four years.  Regarding the situation Chambers wrote the following:


“From that day on for four years nothing but the overruling grace of God and the kindness of friends kept me out of an asylum.  God used me during those years for the conversion of souls, but I had no conscious communion with Him.  The Bible was the dullest, most uninteresting book in existence, and the sense of depravity, the vileness and bad-motivedness of my nature was terrific.”


The “dark night,” although undefined in specific nature and time frame stands out clearly as a formational stage for some travelers along the spiritual journey.


Is Mother Teresa’s “heart condition,”—her struggle with the “dark night of the soul”—a sign of weakness?  Does the fact that she wrestled with doubt, that she felt abandoned by God and that she simultaneously expressed a trust in and love for God serve as a contradiction to the genuineness of her ministry unto others and service for God?  Does it serve to diminish the depth of her faith and call into question the authenticity of her spiritual life?


I find the answer to those questions in two places:  In the eyes and the words of the dying beggar on the streets of Calcutta, India and in the eyes and words of the guy that sits across the table from me in the coffee shop.


I wonder how many times Mother Teresa heard the Hindu word “namaste” whispered in her ear as she bandaged the oozing sores of the lepers and offered comfort, care and love to those dying in the dark places of the world.  Within Hinduism the word “namaste” is a mystical, multi—meaning word that is often used to express great thankfulness and honor to another person.  “Namaste” means, “I honor the holy one who lives in you.”  The holy one living in Mother Teresa was Jesus Christ.  From the dark night of Mother Teresa’s soul the Light of the World shone forth, illuminating the dark places of Calcutta, India with compassion, peace and love.


As I sit across the table from my friend in the coffee shop and endeavor to help him along in his spiritual journey I am thankful for the insight into spiritual living that Mother Teresa’s life offers.  The “men’s spiritual growth” book that we are going through together is well meaning and offers good, practical guidance along the lines of spiritual growth however, my friend’s spiritual questions and struggles are resonating at a much deeper level than the book’s cleverly written admonishment to steer clear of the pitfalls of “wine, women and song.”  My friend’s questions and struggles remind me that our lives and our hearts are very deep and complex in nature.  We are created in the image of and by the very hand of God and God’s hand and place in our lives as it relates to our spiritual formation is realized at a much deeper level than “feelings” or perceived performance.  Faith in God is not a commodity or a club to ascribe to but rather it is something that is found in the deepest of all places—the place of the heart. I think the glimpse that we have been given into Mother Teresa’s heart is an important reminder that there is much to learn and heed about people and about the depths of their hearts as it relates to spiritual formation.


Is the revelation about Mother Teresa’s inner life really that concerning as we consider the mystery of God throughout the scriptural narrative?  In chapter 3 of the book of John Jesus speaks of the mystery of spiritual things.  He talks to Nicodemus about the Spirit and He says that it is “like the wind” that cannot be grasped, guided nor contained—blowing where it will.  Is Mother Teresa’s life of faith and extreme struggle therein any more mysterious?


Is Mother Teresa’s “dark night” all that different from John the Baptist’s questioning of Jesus from a prison cell?  In Luke 7 we find John the Baptist, (the one from the desert, the one that heard God’s voice) in a very dark place and he is looking for his own conception of light from Jesus.  He sends his friends to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”  It seems that Jesus only adds to the darkness with his response, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”


God’s ways are higher than our ways and higher than our ideas about what His presence should look like and feel like in our lives and in the world around us.  I am reminded of this as I read about Mother Teresa’s “crises of faith.”  When we look at Mother Teresa we perceive an extreme outer life of strength and yet her writings reveal an extreme internal life of weakness.  We all know now that God’s power was made perfect in her weakness.  I am encouraged by Mother Teresa’s life and her writings because I know my own heart and life and my own weaknesses.  I am encouraged by her faith that shines out through the darkness in her heart.


I close this rather disjointed ramble with a quote from Oswald Chambers:


“Be strong in the Lord,”—we much prefer to be strong for the Lord.  The only way to be strong in the Lord is to be “weak in Him.”


It appears that God’s power is still being made perfect in Mother Teresa’s weakness.

It's About the Music

Jack_black We have watched it again and again and each time we watch it we laugh like it is the first.  In our home of two teachers and four musicians the movie, “School of Rock” strikes a chord in our family that rings out in laughter time and time again.  The theme of the movie is realized in a scene where Dewey Finn, played by Jack Black, walks into his rock band practice only to be informed that he has been voted out of the band.  His antics on stage, passion in performance and “20 minute guitar solos” just don’t serve the purposes of the band as they are focused on success, stardom and most specifically the $20,000 “grand prize” of the Battle of the Bands.  Dewey’s response to being “voted out of the band” is one of incredulity.  In the trademark excess of Jack Black, complete with overarching brows, bugged out eyes and a dramatic flip of his long, black, unkempt hair, Dewey says, “You guys just don’t get it.  It’s not about the money . . . , it’s about the music.”


It was with those words that I encouraged Becca, my twelve year old daughter, just minutes before her piano recital.  Becca was anxiously facing the challenge of playing eight pages of Chopin under the bright lights, in front of a crowd, and by memory.  I could tell that nerves were getting the best of her as she began to worry about her performance—remembering the piece, playing the right notes and doing well.  I pulled her aside, put my arm around her shoulders and said, “Becca, you have put in the practice time, you have the ability and you have played the piece perfectly many times at home.  You have nothing to prove to me, your mom, or yourself.  Your piano playing is so beautiful and such a blessing to me and to so many others. You have already done the job when it comes to this music.  Remember, this recital doesn’t define you, in fact, it isn’t even about you and your performance, . . . it’s about the music.”  At this I saw a slight rise in Becca’s countenance and the glint of a smile in her beautiful blue eyes.  I continued, “You know the music, now let it flow through you.  Play it from your heart, enjoy it and let its beauty ring out and touch the audience.”


As I sat in the audience and listened to student after student play their recital pieces, tears filled my eyes.  In the midst of Beethoven, Chopin, Shubert and a rendition of “London Bridge” from the Beginners Piano Book, Level One, I found myself reflecting on the music—actually hearing the true music being played at the recital.  The music I heard was the music of our lives—the music of practicing, struggle, discipline, and commitment.  I heard the melodies of mundane living, of repetitious scales and runs, never-ending arpeggios and chords, of missed notes and forgotten stanzas.  I heard the groans of practicing sandwiched between school, lessons, chores and homework.  I heard the irresponsible playing of made up music, favorite songs and fun ditties in respite from the task at hand—the work.  I thought about the many times the moms and dads, brothers and sisters, and grandparents had heard the songs practiced—full of halting and erratic starts and stops, at slower tempos, and in disharmony interspersed with flashes of melody.  I realized that this music—the music of life and relationship, is the real music.  It is about the music, the music that is performed daily on the stage of life and it is this music that is the most beautiful to listen to and to reflect upon.1404007_img


As Becca was playing her recital piece I found myself engrossed in her countenance and performance.  Her auburn-red hair was luminous under the bright stage lights.  Her long, slender fingers gliding over the black and white keys and the fluid movements of her hands and arms served as art in itself, accentuating with dance the beautiful music floating from the grand piano before her.  As she played, I noticed my hands were tightly clasped together, perhaps in an effort to take on or hold back any tension in her that might interfere with her playing.  At every pause or slight bauble in the music I found myself cringing; not out of disappointment, but out of encouraging support, hoping that she wouldn’t allow the mistake to deter her in her journey through the song.  As I savored every note, chord, trill and run, I was silently speaking to her and praying for her deep within my heart.  “Keep going.”  “Don’t be discouraged.”  “It is wonderful.”  “Move through the bauble, let the beauty of the music before and aft encapsulate it.” “Keep going.” “Let it ring.”  “Oh, that is beautiful."


As I listened to her play, my mind filled with recital memories of short, ten measure songs and little sandaled feet dangling from the edge of a piano bench.  All of the “music of life” between those early days and the present moment crescendoed into beauty as she played the final chord of her piece.  When she lifted her hands from the piano keys my heart leapt with the smile upon her face and I heard myself silently speak from my heart, “Well done.”


When it comes to life, it is truly about the music.  It is not about the performance.  It is about the moment by moment music of our lives played out before our Father in Heaven.  In Psalm 108:1, King David says, “My heart is steadfast O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul.” (NIV)    From the deepest, most meaningful part of our lives, we are to sing out a song, and this music of life is to be offered up as a melody to God.  It is a tragedy that many people think that the music of life is realized in one final, high pressure recital.  The world says it is all about the performance and the grand prize goes to the flawless, the perfect presentation, and ultimately defines this as beauty.


In the Father’s eyes this is not the case.  In the Father’s eyes—or ears—it is about the music, the music of life, replete with its daily practice, baubles, frustrations, mistakes, struggles, disappointments and successes.  It is within the very playing out of the music of our lives that the Father finds beauty and joy.  As we play out the melody of our lives, God the Father is deeply involved and interested in every note.  Listening with intense love and care, He is ever present as we go about the practice of daily living.  He hears the missed notes, and understands the frustrated pounding of the keys as we hammer out situations and circumstances in our lives.  He silently rejoices with us as we work out challenging stanzas and struggle to memorize long, difficult pages of music.


As we play the music of our lives and look into the Father’s heart we find One that is lost in His love and adoration of us, His children.  We find a Father who sent his beloved son to a cruel Roman cross to take on all of the tension, cares and sin that might interfere with our life song.  We find a Father giving His all for us and resurrecting Jesus to life so that the music of our lives might reverberate and resound in joy off of the arching stone walls of an empty tomb.  As we look into the Father’s heart we see One who delights in and savors our every breath and movement, and we see a loving Savior who is forever interceding to the Father on our behalf with words of encouragement and prayers of help and support.  “Keep going.”  “Don’t be discouraged.”  “It is wonderful.”  “Move through the bauble, let the beauty of grace, before and aft, encapsulate it.”  “Keep going.”  “Let it ring.”  “Oh, that is beautiful.”  As we lay our heads to rest for the night we find a Father who is ever with us.  He takes the cacophonous music of our lives, plays it through the symphony of grace and then whispers in our hearts, “Well done."


At the end of Becca’s recital, the parents, students, grandmas, grandpas, brothers and sisters all stayed and celebrated with punch and cookies.  Congratulations were offered.  The room was filled with hugs, laughter, lots of oohs and aahs, reflections on the recital and enormous sighs of relief.  Becca was across the room, talking with some friends.  In one arm she held a bouquet of roses that I had given her and in the other hand she had a cup of red punch.  She was smiling.  I could tell it was a smile of relief—and satisfaction—from a job well done.  I made my way over to her side of the room. I put my arm around her waist, pulled her close and told her that she did a wonderful job.


“Thanks Dad, but I did have a few mess ups,” she said.


I responded, “Yes, but they were practically unnoticeable as you just moved through them.”  I then asked her, “What was going through your mind when you were up there playing?"


Becca said, “I just kept going, enjoying it, knowing that you and Mom were out there listening and enjoying it too.  I actually thought at one point—at one of my favorite parts in the song—it’s not about me, it’s about the music.  So I just played the music.”


With that, Becca slipped off to resume chatting with her friends.


As I stood there holding an empty punch cup I silently prayed, “Father, thank you for the music of life.  Help me to remain steadfast as I move through the difficult notes and measures of living.  Help me to embrace and enjoy my favorite parts of the song.  Father, most of all, help me to remember that it’s not about me, it’s about the music.  You are the composer of this world’s most beautiful music.  In fact, You are the music.  Thank You for being in my audience, cheering me on, filling me with Your music of hope and Your song of love.  It is only by Your grace that I can move on in beauty to the end of the piece.  Father, help me to play the music of my life for You.”