Devotional Writing Feed

Back to Work With Joy

3137094488_5559d6216f_b There are many great things about being in education and teaching kids, but one of the best things about being a schoolteacher is Christmas break.  A good two weeks off from school, with the festive day of Christmas nestled in the center of the vacation, makes for a truly, “wonderful time of the year.” 

One of the saddest times of the school year, for students and teachers, is when Christmas break is over.  The new toys are shelved, the decorations come down, and the reality of normal life is realized, even as the final strains of “Auld Lang Syne,” hang in the air.

It is sad—almost depressing—to see another Christmas come and go.  Christmas is not only a time for family, presents, vacations, and fun, but it is also a time to reflect on God and His great love for every person who has ever lived.  Christmas is a time to celebrate the arrival of the Savior of the world—God come to earth.  Christmas is a time of hope, joy, peace and amazing love. 

I wish Christmas (and Christmas break) would never end.  I wish that I could just stay in the place of wonder that accompanies the season and the message of Christmas.  Is that how the shepherds felt at the time of Jesus’ birth?  From the little that is known about them, it appears they had it rough.  They were living in a time of harsh governmental rule and their jobs as shepherds were at the bottom of both the social and economic ladders.  They were stuck in dead-end jobs, living seemingly hopeless lives and they ended up being some of the first ones to see the Savior.

In Luke 2, the angels announced the birth of the Savior to an unlikely band of sheepherders and in response the shepherds dropped all they were doing and hurried to town to see the baby.  The shepherds left their flocks—the sheep that were to be used as temple sacrifices—and went to a manger to behold the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  It is hard to imagine the joy and hope that the shepherds must have felt as they knelt before the one proclaimed by the angels as the Savior and Messiah.  I am sure that they never wanted to leave that place and they never wanted that moment to end.

But it did.

“The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.”  Luke 2:20 (NLT)

The shepherds didn’t stay in the company of Mary, Joseph and the infant King.  They left.  They “went back to their flocks.” They went back to the same bleating sheep and to the same challenges, hungers, frustrations, fears, struggles and circumstances that are common to all humankind.  The Christmas decorations came down and they returned to the real world of work and life.  They returned, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”

Nothing in the lives of the shepherds had changed…but they were changed.

It wasn’t until thirty years later that Jesus started his ministry and began to show faint signs of Messiahship.  Even then, he didn’t measure up to what anyone had in mind for a Messiah.  Ultimately, the one that the angels proclaimed as Savior and King was crucified on a cruel Roman cross.

The shepherds went back to work, “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.”

What have you seen and heard?

On this side of the Christmas story we all have a wonderful perspective of the One that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on that night so long ago.  We know of Jesus’ life.  His miracles.  His love.  We know of the cross…and the empty tomb.

Christmas 2008 is over and we all have gone back to:

  • A raging global economic crisis
  • A job (if we are lucky) that is rigorous and demanding
  • Hectic schedules
  • Stacks of homework
  • Life…

The festive decorations have come down, but the celebration of Christmas doesn’t have to end.  Move into the New Year with hope and joy.  Though we still “see through a glass darkly”—we all have a clearer vision of Jesus than the shepherds did some 2,000 years ago and they returned to work…

“glorifying and praising God.”


Formed and Molded

Teachers

By Clark Mollenhoff

 

You are the molders of their dreams.

The gods who build or crush their

young beliefs of right or wrong.

 

You are the spark that sets aflame the

poet’s hand or lights the flame

in some great singer’s song.

 

You are the gods of the young—the very young.

You are the guardian of a million dreams.

Your every smile or frown can heal or pierce a heart.

 

Yours are one hundreds lives—one thousand lives.

Yours is the pride of loving them, the sorrow too.

 

Your patient work, your touch, make you the god of hope

That fills their souls with dreams,

and make those dreams come true.

 

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I love this poem.  I first heard this poem twenty years ago and its message continues to have a profound affect upon my life adventure of teaching students, working with adults, pastoring the church, interacting with others and even in the raising of my own two daughters.  The older I get, the more I am convinced that the message of this poem is not just reserved for teachers and children.  All of us are a work in progress.  Each of us are moldable and being formed by our interactions with one another and with God.

 

Peppers We are so powerful.  What a difference a patient, loving touch can make in the life of another.  The value of a smile and a word of encouragement is immeasurable.  What a privilege it is to fan into flame the embers of faith that God has sparked into existence through the cross, His Spirit and love.

 

Chances are, you and I have made a lasting impression on those formative souls that have brushed up against us today.  All of us are a work in progress.  We are either becoming more gracious or more grouchy—more caring or more critical.  It is all too likely that we have made our mark on someone today.  Did we create or crush?  Did we inflict harm or inspire hope?

 

Is it possible that the God of the Universe has in some mysterious way made us the gods of the young…and the old?  I think so.

 

Prayer:

Our Father, you are the potter and we are the clay.  It is a dream come true for us to have your formative hands of love and mercy in our lives.  Lord, please help us to take that precious gift of grace and go into the world as molders of dreams in the lives of others.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.


Korean Jigae Crucifix

DSCF5314Last Tuesday, I got the privilege to share a message in the TCIS High School chapel service.  My message was to cover the third part of a three message series on Jesus.  My assignment was to talk about the cross of Jesus Christ.  As I was preparing for my message, a friend of mine, David Suhs, shared with me a story about a carving that he had in his office.  The carving was of a DSCF5368Korean Jigae (Jee-gay) Crucifix.  I found the carving and the story behind it so fascinating that I did a bit of research and used the carving and its inherent message as the focus of my chapel talk.

DSCF5381Primary to the symbolic message of the Korean Jigae Crucifix is an understanding of the concept and purpose of the Korean Jigae.  A jigae is a carrying tool used by a Korean laborer.  It is an “A-frame” rack that is designed out of wood and DSCF5377ropes and it is worn on a person’s back like a backpack.  At times it is fitted with a large fanned-out basket that is used to carry very heavy and bulky loads such as bricks, firewood, bags of seed and at times even an elderly or crippled person.  One of the Korean staff members here at the school had an old jigae that had been passed on through the generations in his family and he brought it to school for me to display during my chapel talk.  The picture shows David Suhs wearing the jigae rack.

JigaeIn the jigae crucifix wood carving, the artist, Lee, Young Jong, takes concepts from within the Korean culture and uses them to interpret the message and idea of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Primary to the carving and its symbolic message, the artist depicts Jesus Christ being crucified on an over-sized jigae.  This element of the wood carving illustrates the idea that Jesus on the cross took all of the sins and “burdens” of the world upon His back—upon Himself.  The very presence of the jigae also communicates the idea that Jesus represents and reaches out to even the most common person.  The jigae is equated with the poor, working class of Korean society.DSCF5315

The clothing of the Jesus figure on the jigae crucifix seemingly holds multiple layers of meaning.  It is unclear whether the clothing on the figure is representative of the traditional Korean Hanbok or if it is representative of the Korean social class of the Yangban.  Perhaps, it is representative of both.  The Hanbok is the traditional Korean dress composed of formal and semi-formal wear that is worn during traditional festivals and celebrations.  The presence of the Hanbok is representative of all Korean people. 

It is possible that the clothing on the Jesus figure is representative of that of the Yangban, who were the well educated, scholarly class of Korean society.  They served as officials, educators and teachers within the Korean community.  In the Korean Emporer Hatscriptures, Jesus was known and referred to as a teacher or rabbi.  Within this context, the idea that the Jesus figure is dressed in the tradition of a Yangban is plausible.

On the head of the Jesus figure on the jigae crucifix the artist has placed a very powerful and noteworthy symbol of Korean Culture.  The Jesus figure is wearing the crown of the traditional Korean emperor upon his head.  Within this image, the artist, Lee, Young Jong, is stating that the one that is hanging upon the jigae cross is the emperor of emperors—the ultimate representative of Korean rule and royalty.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who hung on the cross and took the sins of the world upon himself, is the King of Kings and Emperor of Emperors.

DSCF5314I love the symbolic message of the jigae crucifix.  In fact, I purchased a jigae crucifix wood carving and have it sitting on a shelf in my office in South Korea.  Along with the jigae crucifix, I have a small wooden cross displayed in my office.  For me, the small wooden cross completes the wonderful story of the jigae crucifix.  The small wooden cross in my office stands empty—the Jesus figure is gone.  Not only did the emperor of emperors die upon the cross and take the sins of every man and woman upon himself, but he also rose again from the grave on the third day.  As the angel said, “He is not here, He is risen!”Cross

The emperor of emperors lives again, offering all who would believe in him the promise of eternal life.  In the jigae cross, I see life for all cultures in the midst of death.  In the empty wooden cross I see hope for all people in the midst of hopelessness.  As I gaze upon both crosses, I see the love of God for me and for the entire world.


Servant Leadership

Dscf3236cropped Throughout the year here at our school in Daejeon, South Korea our high school student council has been involved in enacting RAKs (Random Acts of Kindness) upon our student body as a means of servant leadership and to model and encourage a sense of care and community within and amongst the student body.

Some of the RAKs over the year have included things like handing out ice cream treats at lunch time, free hugs, and the offering of after school tutoring sessions.  This month the student council decided that the RAK would be foot washing.Dscf3235 

Yes, you read it correctly—foot washing.

Our high school is a Christian School however, it is important to remember that at least half of our students are not Christian believers.  The student council chose foot washing as the April RAK activity.

Today was the day of the foot washing activity.  During the long morning break the student council leaders set up a foot washing station in the school multi-purpose room.  As I walked down the stairs and through the hallway to observe the activity I came upon student council leaders transporting basins of warm water from the restrooms to the multi-purpose room. 

Dscf3237They were filling the basins with water to wash the feet of their peers.

As I entered the multi-purpose room the lights were off and the room was dark except for the illumined glow of candles throughout the room.  By candlelight I could see students kneeling before their peers, washing their feet in basins of water.  There was a quiet peacefulness in the room.  Some of the students were talking softly with one another as the one washed the other’s feet and some were silent.

I was speechless.Dscf3238

Over the years, I have observed and taken part in many foot washing activities in worship services and at church camps, but never have I seen or experienced a foot washing like I did today.  In the middle of a very normal and busy school day, our student leaders knelt and humbly washed the feet of their peers.  It was beautiful.

From John 13 (NIV)

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"

Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."

"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."

Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."

"Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!"

Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”


God's Glory in a Backyard BBQ

Dscf1666 Here is great picture of two of my friends—Mike on the left and Thomas on the right.  This picture was taken on the patio/deck of Thomas’s house in the countryside of South Korea.  Our families had a get together in early December.  We enjoyed the beautiful view, some great food and most of all a great time of fellowship with one another.

This picture looks like any other Saturday backyard BBQ picture and to you that is probably all it is.  However, to me this picture holds layers of meaning. 

First, the setting of this picture is in the countryside of South Korea.  That is significant to this Idaho boy.  It was so refreshing to get out of the “city” for awhile and to enjoy the hills, mountains, foliage and open air of South Korea.  It was a bit strange for me to experience Korea in this way.  In my mind, Korea is a place of crowded streets, tall apartment buildings and never ending pavement.  At times I had to remind myself that I was not visiting a friend’s house in Idaho.

Secondly, it was a real treat to spend some time with these two guys.  Mike is a “Kiwi” from New Zealand and Thomas is a native Korean who has spent a significant amount of time living in the United States.  Our three perspectives and life experiences are completely different and this made for an excellent time of conversation.  The questions and discussion amongst us were dynamic and refreshing.  From our time together I learned so much about the world and people and God.

Yes, I learned about God.  Actually, I walked away from that afternoon BBQ feeling as if I had just been on holy ground.  The richness and diversity of God’s creation as revealed in humankind, history, culture and geographic location is amazing.  This combined with the essence of relationship and friendship left me with a sense of awe that continues to this day.  The very weight of this experience is something that I equate with the “Glory of God.” 

The Glory of God—is not only realized in scenic vistas, telescopic gazings into the galaxies, and elaborate cathedrals but it is also evident in hospital delivery rooms, evening walks with a loved one and even in……Saturday afternoon backyard BBQs.

Psalm 8

1 O LORD, our Lord,
       how majestic is your name in all the earth!
       You have set your glory
       above the heavens.

2 From the lips of children and infants
       you have ordained praise
       because of your enemies,
       to silence the foe and the avenger.

3 When I consider your heavens,
       the work of your fingers,
       the moon and the stars,
       which you have set in place,

4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
       the son of man that you care for him?

5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
       and crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
       you put everything under his feet:

7 all flocks and herds,
       and the beasts of the field,

8 the birds of the air,
       and the fish of the sea,
       all that swim the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord,
       how majestic is your name in all the earth!


Devotional Reading

I sit down alone,
Only God is here;
In his presence I open,
I read his books;
And what I thus learn,
I teach.
--John Wesley

Every morning I like to start off the day with some devotional reading.  The idea is to focus the eyes of my heart and mind upon God as I move into the new day.  For the past few years I have been using a few books during my morning “quiet time”.  The most important book on the shelf is the Bible.  All of my devotional reading in the morning is in light of the Word of God.

My_utmost_2 Over the last five years I have been reading and re-reading the morning devotional, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.  God has greatly used the thoughts and words of this man, from the early 1900’s, to affect and form my life as a follower of Christ.Run_todays_race   

Another book from Chambers that I have been reading is Run Today’s Race.  This little book is a compilation of daily quotes from Chambers that he would post on the door of the mess hall/chapel when he was ministering to the British troops in Egypt during World War I.  Chambers' words are obviously derived from a life of prayer and abandoned commitment to Jesus Christ.  They always pierce my heart deeply and oftentimes painfully as in response I am compelled to submit my life to the forming hand of God.

Listening For the past two years I have been reading Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner by Frederick Buechner.  This book is a compilation of 366 excerpts from Buechner’s writings that serve as diverse and thoughtful meditations on faith in God and living the Christian life.  I have been challenged to look at life and experiences in a different way through Buechner’s writings.Diary

Last year I also started going through The Diary of an Old Soul by George MacDonald.  This is a book of devotional poetry that has served as a thoughtful challenge day after day.  At times I struggled to understand the poetic thoughts of MacDonald but I think that is part of the literary dynamic of poetry.

Each of these devotional books has served to compliment one another as I have read them morning after morning.  The diversity in their messages combined with the Word of God have shown me that God’s guiding Spirit is realized in the diverse perspectives of followers from around the world and from different eras.

A_guide_to_prayer_3 This year of 2008, I am going to lay these books aside (except for Run Today's Race) and embark on a new book for my morning devotional reading.  I am going to work through the book, A Guide to Prayer by Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck.  This a devotional book from Upper Room Publishing that includes the Lectionary Readings for each week of the year and focuses upon daily prayer and meditation.  The devotional format follows the daily office of:  Invocation, a daily reading of a Psalm, a daily Scripture reading, a reading for reflection, a recitation of a written prayer, questions for reflection and a reflection upon the lyrics of a hymn. 

I am looking forward to delving into this new devotional book as it is my desire to draw closer to God through this daily spiritual discipline.  I will keep you posted on how it goes.

Question:  What do you have planned for devotional reading for 2008? 


Truly Thankful

Last night I led a Thanksgiving worship service. It was an incredible time of gathering in the name of Jesus Christ and offering up praise and thanksgiving to God through songs, prayer, scripture reading and testimony.Dscf1316

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Even though I “led” the service I had nothing to do with its quality. God’s Holy Spirit orchestrated the evening.  The songs carried themselves with all of their meaning and tradition. The prayers sprang forth from the humble hearts of those who uttered them. The scripture reading pierced deeply into the fallow hearts of the listeners and the real essence of the gathering was realized in the power of the testimony.  Six people stood before the crowd of worshipers and shared from hearts of gratitude their experience of God’s hand in their lives.  In Revelation 12 it states that the power that defeats the evil one in this world is realized in, “…the blood of the Lamb” and in, “…the word of the testimony.” Need I say more?

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At one point in the evening celebration my experience changed from a time of thanksgiving and worship to a time of contrition of heart and a deepening of my relationship with God.  Days earlier I had asked a student named Joy (name changed to ensure anonymity) to share her testimony during the upcoming gathering. As Joy stood before the group of 300+ people she shared from her heart a glimpse of her personal struggles and of her trust in and thankfulness to God.Dscf1322

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Joy is what is called an “OCK” in our school. An “OCK” stands for “Out of Country Kid.” This means that Joy’s parents do not live in South Korea. Most of our OCK students are children of missionaries that live and serve in other places all around the world.  All of our OCK students live in the school dormitory program and are given scholarships by the school for their high school education.

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Joy's parents are underground missionaries for Jesus Christ in the country of China.  They make very little money and they serve the Lord in very humble circumstances and at times in very dangerous conditions.  Joy shared that it was very difficult being a “missionary kid.”

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Through tears Joy told of her anger at times towards God and towards her parents.  She didn’t like living most of her growing up years away from her family. She shared of the resentment she felt at times toward her father and mother because of the time and attention that they gave to so many others and yet they didn’t take time to be with her.  Joy shared of the frustration of having no money to buy the clothes and the nice things that others around her had.

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Joy is a high school senior and is now looking ahead to college.  Joy wants to go to a reputable school and receive a good education so that she might serve God with her life. She is frustrated that before she can even consider applying to attend a university she must first look at the cost of the school and at the scholarships they offer.  She is worried about her future.

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In the midst of her concerns Joy shared that she has so much to be thankful for. Joy is thankful to TCIS for providing for her a high school education when there wasn’t one available in her hometown in China. Joy is thankful for her dorm parents and teachers who have cared for her and encouraged her through the years. Joy shared that she is thankful for her parents and for their lives as missionaries for Jesus. She is proud of them.  Finally, Joy shared that she is thankful to God for caring for her and always being with her. She said that she has come to the conclusion that if God has taken care of her and provided for her up to this point in her life then she is confident that He can take care of university too.

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At the close of her testimony Joy shared this verse with the gathering:

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Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”--James 1:2-4

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And then she shared, “I am thankful for God and that I am growing in my relationship with Him.”

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Happy Thanksgiving.


Like a Child

Dscf1180_cinderella_2 The room was full of children of all ages.  They were all decked out in costumes, buzzing from the excitement of a night filled with trick-or-treating (and sugar) and now they were all gathered for a big party to culminate the evening.

Just as the festivities were getting started, in walked a little kindergarten aged girl (a princess) with her parents.  As she entered the room filled with children, costumes and excitement, her eyes fixed upon a large pumpkin that was sitting on the coffee table in the living room.  "Look at that pumpkin!" she exclaimed.  She bypassed all of her friends, the treats, the noise and the fun, and she ran to admire the pumpkin.  She lingered there for awhile.  I was taken back by the simplicity and the beauty of the scene.

I don't know why she was so drawn to the pumpkin.  Maybe it was because she had grown up in South Korea where they don't display many pumpkins during the fall season.  Maybe it was because as she looked down into the giant pumpkin she could see Cinderella being whisked away to the royal ball.  Whatever the reason, her childlike response to the pumpkin got my attention.

I find that I get so distracted from those things that matter most.  Material possessions, the crowd and a penchant for greatness, cloud my vision from seeing and focusing upon those things that are most meaningful in life.  Oh to view life and this world through the eye's of a child.

Matthew 18:  1-4

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"  He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."


Write It Down

I am bad.....I write in my Bible.  I don't just underline in pencil or highlight in cheery colors of phosphorescent yellow, pink or blue, I actually write in my Bible (sometimes in ink, yipes).

Dscf1118 Nearly every morning I try to read some of the Bible and as a part of that reading I take a few minutes and read a chapter of Proverbs for the day.  Let me tell you what I mean by this.  There is a book in the Bible called Proverbs.  There are 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs.  Proverbs is a book of wise sayings--wisdom from God for life and daily living.  So, I read one chapter of Proverbs every day of the week--31 chapters for the 31 days in the month (I know, I know...except for September, April, June, November and February).  On the 2nd day of the month I read Proverbs 2, on the 11th day of the month I read Proverbs 11 and so on. 

So today I read Proverbs 18.  I have read Proverbs 18 before....many times before.  Today as I read Proverbs 18 I was reminded of some things that I had read before and I found some new things.  I am sure I have read them before but today they were new...and they were speaking to me.....loudly.  (Now you are saying yipes.)

In short, I believe that the Bible, the Word of God, is living and active.  As I submit myself to the Word something happens.  Somehow, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Bible actually speaks to and into my heart and life--touching on places and issues that are pertinent to the moment and to the day ahead of me.

I don't know about you but I need all the wisdom I can get, so when I hear some wisdom--I write it down so that I can remember it for later.  That is why I write in my Bible.

I want to share with you some of the things that I have written in my Bible.  Open up your Bible to Proverbs 18 and follow along.  You can read Proverbs 18 on your own, I am just going to show you what I wrote next to some of the verses in Proverbs 18.Dscf1117 

  • Proverbs 18:2 -- Listen to others
  • Proverbs 18:3 -- Don't do it!
  • Proverbs 18:4 -- Help me to be Yours
  • Proverbs 18:6 -- Watch your words
  • Proverbs 18:7 -- Watch your words
  • Proverbs 18:8 -- No rumors
  • Proverbs 18:10 -- (I have this verse circled)
  • Proverbs 18:11 -- God is our fortress
  • Proverbs 18:12 -- (I have "humility precedes honor" underlined)
  • Proverbs 18:13 -- Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.
  • Proverbs 18:15 -- Teachable
  • Proverbs 18:17 -- So true (As a vice principal I am often judge and jury)
  • Proverbs 18:20 -- Words are powerful
  • Proverbs 18:21 -- James 1:19
  • Proverbs 18:24 -- (I have "a real friend sticks closer than a brother" underlined)

This is what I heard.  Lord willing I will read Proverbs 18 again next month and I will be listening.  Between now and then I must respond in obedience to the prompting of the Lord in my life.  The Word of God has been called a "lamp unto our feet".  In other words, it is as valuable as a flashlight on a path on a moonless night.  The Word of God illuminates our path as we journey through life.

Are you reading the Word?  Are you allowing God to show you the way and give you strength and wisdom for the journey?

Take some time.  Read God's word.  Listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying and if you hear something.........write it down.


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."

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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?"

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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.”