Saturday, December 28, 2013

Does God Speak to Us?

   I have spoken many times about how I've felt God speaking to me on this matter or that. When doing so, I've tried to be very careful about what I've explained to others about a moment of time when God has spoken to me. There have also been many times when He hasn't necessarily spoken to me, but based upon my very limited knowledge, I've expressed my opinions about what I believe He might say about a certain situation.

   It's very important to know the difference between the two, and to be consistent in describing each for what they are without confusing them.

   I've had people look at me in very peculiar ways when I've said that God has spoken to me. Some have even thought I may have completely lost my mind. Many people believe that those of us who claim to have been spoken to by God are one step away from the loony bin. They listen to what we're saying, thinking all along about how we might look in a padded cell, wearing a straight jacket.

   Keep in mind that when I say that God has spoken to me, I'm not talking about hearing voices in my head. I'm talking about situations where I've prayed earnestly, asking God for His guidance, and within a relatively short period of time, I'll hear something that answers my questions immediately upon hearing it. Sure, I could chalk this up as being mere coincidence, but when it happens repeatedly, speaking to me very clearly and specifically, there comes a point where coincidence is no longer a reasonable option.

   I've had people dismiss these things, stating that they've reached out to God, asking for Him to reveal Himself to them, and they've received no answer whatsoever. I'm sure that in their own hearts, they truly believe this to be true. But sometimes I wonder if there's more to this than meets the eye.

   First and foremost, we have to understand that when God speaks to us, He will almost always do so through one of two ways. He will do so through reading His word, and/or through what is said to us by other people who know Him. But what if we immediately reject His word, or reject the words of His people? How then is He supposed to speak to us?

   Imagine that a young boy was watching his father prepare to paint their living room. The son wants to learn how to paint, so he asks his father to show him how it's done.

   The father, absolutely eager to teach his son a new skill, agrees and pulls him near. He grabs a roller pan and pours the paint into it. The son, confused by this, asks why he's doing that. The father replies by saying that in order to get the paint on the wall, you have to first put it on the roller, which he then holds up to show him. The son stares at this odd contraption, completely confused by it's appearance.

   "That's not how I would do it." The son replies. "That makes no sense at all."

   The father, in his patience, doesn't argue. He doesn't ask his son how he would do it. He simply repeats the fact that this is how it's done. He then grabs a paint brush, dips it in the paint, and spreads some paint on the wall. This action appears even more ridiculous to the son.

   "Why in the world would you do it like that?!?" The son protests. "That's just plain stupid."

   The father doesn't become aggravated or impatient. He simply continues to show the son the right way, regardless of his son's opinions of how it should be done. He continues to show his son how it's done, step by step, until the entire room is finished. The son doesn't accept any of it, and immediately dismisses his father's instructions. He questions his father's knowledge and intelligence, and in the end, he has learned nothing and assumes that his questions need to be answered elsewhere.

   I truly believe that this scenario plays out in the lives of many people who claim to have reached out to God for guidance, and have received no answer whatsoever. Why do I believe this? Because of the following verses:

    "Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.  All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." John 6:35-37

    “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." Matthew 7:7-8

   If you are someone who has sincerely prayed, asking God to reveal Himself to you, and you feel as though you've received no response whatsoever, I would ask that you do one simple thing. Think back upon what you've seen, heard, or read since then, and then think about what your immediate response was after hearing those things.

   Did you, like this son, immediately dismiss everything you heard as being nonsense? Did you immediately question it's validity? Did you contemplate what you had heard, comparing it to what you've always believed to be true, and then reject it because it didn't fit into what you expected to hear?

   If so, then I would highly recommend trying it again, but this time listen intently to what you hear immediately following your prayer. Give it a few days, and see what you are told by those who claim to hear God's voice in their lives. See if you don't hear the same answers repeated by various people, often times without ever asking them to give you their thoughts on the matter.

   If you've never done this, why not do it right now? What's stopping you? Is it fear of the unknown? Is it the fear that God will suddenly try to turn you into someone you don't believe you could ever be?

   What it comes down to is this: God does not lie. When He says that He will never turn away those who honestly seek Him, He means it. I've seen Him respond to my prayers countless times, in countless ways. I know this to be true. I also know that I've never regretted calling out to Him, and I have nothing to lose, and nothing to fear in doing so. In fact, I instead have everything to gain.


Friday, December 20, 2013

What does it mean to be at peace with God?

    A Navy sailor is working in the engine room of his ship. From his vantage point, far down in the belly of this beast, he can see no daylight whatsoever. Floating through the compartment is the smell of oil, diesel fuel, and sea water. The is nothing that even resembles fresh air. The heat is almost unbearable as the enormous engines power the ship through the open seas. The sound is deafening as it echoes off of the steel walls surrounding him.
   The sailor has a very specific and detailed set of instructions. He is to keep an eye on the machinery around him, periodically checking pressure gauges, opening or closing various valves at specific times during his rotation, keeping his eyes and ears open for anything that looks or sounds out of the ordinary. He doesn't do anyone else's job, nor is anyone else expected to do his.

   It is a time of war, and they are heading into hostile territory to confront the enemy. Many lives are at risk, and the slightest mistake or oversight could potentially take the lives of innocent people.

   Far above him, from a vantage point on the top of the ship, the captain stands at the helm. He is being constantly informed of where the ship is, where it's heading, what their objective is, where other friendly ships are, and even where the enemy is located. The sailor down below has none of this knowledge, and even if he did, it would be useless to him. He simply understands that when the captain gives him an order, he is to obey immediately. If he doesn't, the results could be disastrous.

   What if this sailor didn't believe there was any captain, and that he was simply doing his own thing? What if he acknowledged that the captain was indeed the captain, but didn't believe that had any interest in what he was doing way down in the belly of the ship? What if he thought that maybe there was a captain, but had never seen any evidence of him, so he went about his business, ignoring the orders that were passed down to him by others who had claimed to have spoken to him? Worst of all, what if he insisted that there was no captain, and therefore insisted that everyone should be free to do whatever they pleased without any interference from those who believed this imaginary captain existed?

   What if every single member of the crew took one of the approaches listed above? The result would be absolute chaos, would it not? If this were the case, how long would it take before the enemy zeroed in on the ship and completely destroyed it?

   As we look at the people around us - in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, and everywhere else where others might be - these are the points of view we will hear in relation to how they view God. They will say things like; "I don't believe there is a God," or "Yeah, I believe in God, but I don't think He really cares about me or what I'm doing down here on earth," or "Maybe there is a God, but I've never seen any evidence of Him." Worst of all, there are those who boldly proclaim from the hilltops that there is no God, and therefore we should all be free to do whatever we please without any interference from those who do believe in Him.

   As the vast majority of people in this country - and in other countries as well - take these various opinions of who God is and go about their daily business, it's as if the entire world is nothing more than an enormous naval vessel spinning out of control. Sure, we all mean well. We want to do good. We don't like to see others hurt, oppressed, or in pain. We call out to God on occasion, not necessarily expecting any real answers. Meanwhile, there is an enemy nearby who's entire focus is upon destroying us.

   The bottom line is this: This world of ours will never know true peace........ until the entire world is at peace with God. He is the Creator, Designer, and Sustainer of all that is, all that has ever been, and all that will ever be.

   So, what does it mean to be "at peace with God?"

   The peculiar thing about having peace between two parties is that before there can be peace, both parties must first acknowledge the existence of the other.

   Once this occurs, the two parties must be in agreement as to how they should behave. They must agree on a moral code of conduct. If we're talking about two human beings being at peace with one another, coming to this agreement isn't all that complicated. But how can a human being, with all of their flaws and failures, find themselves at peace with the Creator of all things, who is perfect and holy? How can we live up to the perfect moral standards of a God who is absolutely perfect?

   That is where the good news of the gospel becomes such very good news. God reaches down to every last one of us, and says; "I know you.......I have always known you....I knew you before the earth was formed........I know every last one of your flaws and failures.......I know about every time you've been hurt, discouraged, oppressed, beaten down, insulted........I've seen every tear that has ever fallen from your eyes........And I love you more than anyone has ever loved you before. I love you more than anyone ever will love you in the future. Come to me, and I will heal you. I will give you hope and a future you never imagined possible."

   He is like the captain of a ship who loves every single crew member enough to lay down His life for every single one of them.

   But He doesn't say "Acknowledge that I exist, then go about your business." He says:

 Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;   - Isaiah 1:18-19 

   He says:

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."  - 2 Chronicles 7:14

   So, how do we come to Him?

   "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
   “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" - Matthew 7:7-11

   If you have never done so, bow your head right now and pray. Tell God that you want to come to Him. Acknowledge Him as the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Thank the Lord Jesus Christ for dying for your sins, and tell Him that from this day forward, you want to put all of your trust in Him, and you want Him to guide and direct you wherever He may lead.

   Just as would be true of the sailor in the belly of the ship, refusing to believe there is a captain.......or an enemy for that matter.......will not result in neither of them being there. It will only result in refusing the help of one while waiting to be destroyed by the other.  

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. - John 3:16-17


Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is........

  We've all heard that infamous quote from Winston Churchill. "The only thing we have to fear itself." 

   From what I've experienced in my own life, fear can be one of the most confusing emotions one can experience. If the fear I'm experiencing is legitimate, it can save my life. On the other hand, if my fears are irrational and continual, they can stop my life from being all that God wants it to be. If they are profound and consistent enough, they can even shorten my life.

   We've all experienced both types of fear. We can all look back over the course of our lives and remember times when we've been afraid of something or someone. Hindsight being 20/20, we can now see very clearly which type of fear we were experiencing at the time. We can remember avoiding certain situations due to fear, and since we now know the outcome of that situation, it's easy to determine whether those fears were reasonable or unreasonable.

   As we look back upon those moments in our lives, it's almost certain that we're either regretful or thankful for the fears we were experiencing at the time. Maybe we were afraid to stand up for what we believed in or to speak up in defense of someone we cared about, and maybe we will spend the rest of our lives regretting those decisions. On the other hand, maybe we were afraid of a situation that would've ended horribly for us, and we're thankful that our fears stopped us dead in our tracks.

   What's fascinating about fear is that, while we're experiencing it, our bodies don't know if those fears are rational or irrational, and in response, our bodies act to defend us from whatever it is that's causing these fears within us. Our adrenaline kicks in, our pupils dilate to allow more light in, our heart rate increases, and our breathing becomes deeper. This is a response that is wired into our bodies to help us to either fight off, or flee from, whatever it is that is causing us danger.

   If these reactions occur only when our fears are legitimate, they can literally save our lives. But if, for whatever the reasons, we find ourselves continually living in fear, they can lead to countless physical, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual complications.

   As we read through our bibles, we can find countless examples of people who - even though we remember them as being people of incredible faith - they occasionally experienced incredible amounts of fear.

   If we read their stories carefully enough, we will also find them turning to God with these fears, expressing then to Him, acknowledging them, and many times asking God to remove the source of their fears.

   What I find fascinating is this: Whenever God had given them specific instructions to do or say anything, and when those instructions caused these people to fear the ramifications of saying or doing these things, God would quite often follow these instructions with the words "Fear not.........."

   As we look back upon these people of great faith, wouldn't their stories be far different if they had allowed their fears to stop them from doing what God had asked of them? What if Moses had said "Hey.......Lord......This whole let my people go thing.......Eh......I'm thinking that isn't gonna work for me. Thanks for asking.......I'm really flattered......but I'm just gonna stay here and tend to these flocks.? Or what if King David would've said "Lord, Goliath is a really big dude.......I think I'll just hide behind this rock and let one of the bigger guys handle this?"

   Of course, knowing what happened to Jonah when God asked him to preach to the people of Nineveh, it's quite possible that all of these people would've eventually been brought to do what God had asked of them anyway.

   So, what about the fears you find yourself experiencing? How do you know if your fears are rational or irrational? How do you know if your fears are saving your life or slowly destroying it?

   One of the most effective ways I've heard on how to identify your fears and deal with them is by keeping what is called a "Fear Journal." The premise is very simple. Beginning today, write down whatever it is that is causing you to be fearful, no matter how insignificant those fears may be. Leave some space after each entry. Determine for yourself how much time you would like to pass before reviewing what you had written. You can take a month, 3 months, a year, whatever. The choice is yours. At the end of that time period, read through your entries, then write something about how those situations worked out for you.

   It can look something like this: "November 23 - I was boarding a flight to New York, and I was terrified that the plane would crash." It might then be followed up with "November 23 - My flight landed safely in New York......and while I was there, I had this incredible experience."

   If fear is an issue that is causing you a great deal of stress, how powerful of a tool would this be for helping you to deal with those fears? What if you also included in these entries what you know beyond a doubt that God was telling you to do or say at that time, including the fears you felt about obeying, and the resulting emotions you now feel about your obedience or disobedience? How powerfully do you suppose this would impact your life?

   You might see this as being a great deal of work and not worth the effort. Maybe it sounds to complicated or time consuming. But it can be done in just a few minutes per day, and it can completely change your life from being one filled with fear and anxiety to one of faith, assurance, and confidence. Even if you don't believe you're someone who struggles with illegitimate fear, you may be surprised to find out how much fear stops you from being all that God has called you to be.

   The bottom line is this: We have all been called to live in faith. We have all been called to trust God completely and entirely. We have all had moments when we've done so, against all odds, and have seen God accomplish miraculous things through us. We have all experienced moments when our faith was lacking, and we've all experienced the regrets of that lack of faith. Fear is the direct opposite of faith, and it's effects can be absolutely devastating. Why not make the effort? Why not take the time to learn about how we hold ourselves back from living lives of incredible faith, and experiencing the richness and rewards of that kind of a life?



Saturday, November 9, 2013

Collateral Damage

   Within any reasonable debate, there are two opposing sides attempting to make their case. Unfortunately, the longer these debates rage on, the more hyperbole can be heard within the arguments. Extremists on either side of the issue will become frustrated with the other side's unwillingness to see things their way, and will begin to cloud the root issue with bold claims that aren't necessarily the truth. They will also resort to citing extreme cases as evidence as to why their way of looking at the issue is the only reasonable answer.

   Those of us who would prefer to remain reasonable, seeing the value within both sides of the argument, tend to get so lost in the constant bombardment of alleged "facts" we will eventually walk away from the issue because we've simply grown weary of the entire argument.

   The abortion issue, in my opinion, has become one of those debates.

   Before you assume that you already know where this is going, consider this: The information I'm about to share with you contains actual facts and figures compiled by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, or (AGI), which is Planned Parenthood's special research affiliate. Do you find it interesting that I, being a Christian Conservative, would use information compiled by an affiliate of Planned Parenthood? Wouldn't any case you might assume I'd be making look far more compelling if I used the numbers compiled by a Christian Conservative organization? Of course it would. But I'm not interested in bolstering my argument with facts and figures compiled only by those who already agree with my point of view.

   Nobody, on either side of the argument, will disagree with the fact that an abortion is a very serious, very horrible procedure. Nobody would ever wish that any of their loved ones would have to experience one. Keeping away from the extremes on either side of the argument, it is my belief that before we can come to any form of agreement on whether or not it should be legal, we'd have to first come to some sort of agreement as to what it is, who is doing it, and why it's being done. It is only within that context that we can come to reasonable answers as to how we allow it to occur. It is also the only way we can clearly examine the arguments being proposed as to why it should be legal in all cases, or limited in some form.

   From the most recent studies performed by AGI, here are the numbers pertaining only to the U.S.

   - There were 1.2 million abortions performed in the U.S. in 2008.
   - 22% of ALL pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) in the U.S. end in abortion.
   - Women in their 20's account for 57% of all abortions.
   - 1% of the abortions performed involved cases of rape or incest.

   With regard to when these abortions are performed:

   - Less than 9 weeks - 61.8%
   - 9 - 10 weeks - 17.1%
   - 11-12 weeks - 9.1%
   - 13-15 weeks - 6.6%
   - 16-20 weeks - 3.8%
   - 21 or more weeks - 1.5%

   What are the reasons being given as to why these abortions are being performed? Multiple answers were given by those who were asked. Of those who answered;

   - 75% Cite concern or responsibilities to other individuals
   - 75% Say they cannot afford a child
   - 75% Say having a child would interfere with work, school, or the ability to care for dependents.
   - 50% Say they do not want to be a single parent, or are having problems with their husband or partner.

   In other words, the vast majority of the reasons being given are strictly matters of "convenience."

   For those of you who already have children, please allow me to ask the following questions. When that child was born, did it:

   - Interfere with the responsibilities you had to other individuals?
   - Put a strain on your finances?
   - Interfere with work, school, or your ability to care for other dependents?
   - Cause problems between you and your husband/boyfriend?

   The follow-up question is even more important.

   When you look at that child now, given all of the hardships you faced in raising them, have you ever regretted giving birth to him or her?

   Here's the bottom line, folks: Having a child is hard. There's no way around it. Doing so will put some degree of strain upon every area of your life. But no other species on the planet eliminates their unborn offspring due to the difficulties they will experience in caring for them. No other species on the planet eliminates their unborn offspring because the timing isn't right.

   In the case of rape or incest, those answers are very different and they should be handled very differently. While some women in those situations choose to keep those children, I don't believe that any reasonable person would feel justified in demanding that they do so. But remember, we're only talking about 1% of the abortions being performed in this country falling into that category. Health risks to the mother are another thing that should be accounted for. If a woman's own life would be put in danger due to carrying the child, then she should have the right to decide whether or not she wants to take that risk.

   But if we've really come to a place as a nation where we believe it's morally acceptable to kill well over a million unborn children every year, almost entirely due to our not wanting to experience inconvenience in our lives, then we are far more depraved than I would've ever imagined.



Thursday, October 17, 2013

What is the church?

   Have you ever watched video of somebody hang gliding? It's fascinating, isn't it? They strap themselves to this enormous, winged contraption, run toward a cliff as fast as they can, then fearlessly leap over the edge. After a few seconds of free-falling, the wind eventually catches the fabric covering the wings, and they can begin to maneuver their way across the countryside with very little effort of their own.

   While I doubt that I'd ever have enough courage to attempt such a thing, I can still feel myself being swept away as I've watched others do so. The sense of freedom must be absolutely incredible. The views, astonishing. I know beyond a doubt it would be an absolutely breathtaking experience.

   One thing that becomes evident as you watch them do this is the way they use the wind to take them wherever they want to go. They don't fight against it, because doing so would be futile. They simply ride it out, and allow it to take them.

   What if, before jumping over the edge of the cliff, the hang glider decided that he or she wanted to bring a few creature comforts along with them? What if they decided to bring a cold drink to enjoy along the way? What if they tucked some food away in case they became hungry? Maybe they'd also want to bring their smart phone so they could take pictures, listen to music, and post about their experience via Facebook? Or maybe they'd bring their laptop along for the ride. Obviously, the more they brought along with them, the more their weight would increase, making them less able to maneuver, the more distracted they'd be from simply enjoying the beauty of their surroundings, and the more likely they'd be to end up crashing to the ground in a heap.

   So, how does any of this even relate to the question: "What is the church?"

   It all has to do with the mental images that come to your mind when you hear the word "church."

   During the days of the early church, this "church" was not a building. It was a gathering of believers for the sole purposes of teaching, encouraging, and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. They met wherever they could, from homes to street corners, from markets to hill sides.

   While doing so, they prayed, asking for guidance from the Spirit of God as to what they should say, where they should go, what they should do, and who they should speak with. They continually and consistently sought wisdom and guidance from God Himself, being completely open to wherever He might lead them, whenever He might lead them there. Once they had arrived at a specific location, knowing beyond a doubt that God had led them there, they prayed some more, asking God to speak to others through them. But here's the fascinating thing to me: They never allowed themselves to become too comfortable in any location. Once it was apparent their work was done there, they prayed for God's guidance and moved on. They lived their lives with one simple understanding. As Jesus Himself said to Nicodemus;

Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  - John 3:6-8

   The church in America - from my own personal experiences - has become something very different. We've become very comfortable in our beautiful buildings, with our stunning video images, our state of the art sound systems, our slick presentations, our comfortable seating, and the list goes on and on.

   We invite everyone and anyone to enter these buildings..........buildings we've paid an enormous amount of money to buy and maintain..........We play some music for them, we teach them a lesson about who we know God to be, and we send them away until they can return the following Sunday and watch us repeat this performance.

   If we're not paying attention to our true purpose as believers, we can do this week after week, month after month, and year after year without once feeling a true and significant movement of the Spirit of God within those walls.

   We can, and in many cases have, become like a hang glider jumping off of a cliff with a Lay-Z-Boy recliner strapped to our backs. We jump off of various cliffs, expecting the wind - or the Spirit of God - to fill up our wings and allow us to soar to incredible heights, without even realizing that the things we've insisted upon taking along with us for the ride are making it impossible for the wind to make any sort of real and lasting impact upon the world through our self-ordained ministries.

   So how do we fix this? The answer is simple. We start being the church again. We start by praying, asking the Spirit to speak to our hearts, to guide us to where He wants us to go, to give us the words to speak, and to immediately act upon His leading. We let go of the American church mentality of needing bigger buildings, flashier presentations, and thereby release ourselves from the unnecessary burdens that holds us back from the experiencing the true freedom of jumping off of that cliff, feeling the Spirit fill our wings, and allowing Him to lift us to heights we never dreamed possible.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Control is not Love

   I can remember it as if it happened yesterday. I was a young musician, returning to the Chicago area after spending a few years in San Diego, California. I had an incredible passion for music for as long as I could remember being alive. Some of my earliest memories as a young boy involved waking up very early in the morning, turning on a radio my family kept on a kitchen counter, and listening to music at low volume while the rest of my family slept. As I grew older, music continued to be something I was incredibly passionate about. I wouldn't simply listen to it, I would literally study it. I always seemed to have this deep awareness and understanding of the various instruments, how they worked together, and how they complimented one another. It was an awareness that most people I knew didn't share, and the only way I can describe it would be to say that it was simply wired into my DNA.

   I was 21 years old when I returned to Chicago, and I had a dream for my future that very few people understood. By that time in my life, I had spent countless hours playing my guitar and writing my own music. It was my absolute passion, and one which I believed I was beginning to excel in. Upon returning to my family, I expressed my desire to go back to school in an effort to pursue a lifelong dream - to study music and become a professional musician. I had decided to enroll at Berklee College of Music, which at the time was the premier music school in the country.

   The response I received from my family was far from supportive. I was mocked and ridiculed. I was told that I was nothing more than a dreamer. I was told that what I needed to do was to go out and get a "real" job, and forget about those crazy dreams of mine.

   I heeded the advice of my family, firmly believing they only wanted what was best for me and for my future. I began to believe their words - that I was just being some sort of a dreamer, trapped in a fantasy world. After all, real life didn't work that way. People took jobs, made a living, and put food on their table. That's just the way things were to be done. The dreamers of the world were destined to end up poor, disillusioned, and defeated.

   I eventually took a job that paid fairly well, would supply me with my needs, and would be stable and consistent. I stayed at that job for 27 years.

   While I'm grateful to have been given the stability this job gave me, I never once felt as though I belonged there. I never felt truly fulfilled by it. It was, after all, just a job, and it never became anything more. Meanwhile, the questions have always lingered in the back of my mind. What if I had pursued my dreams? What if I had poured my entire life into something I was truly passionate about? Where would I find myself now had I done so? While I fully understand that we can never go back, those questions will always remain in the back of my mind. Is it possible that I would've failed? Absolutely. But what leaves a more bitter taste in one's mouth? Striving to live out one's dreams and failing, or never giving those dreams an opportunity to be realized?

   When I think back upon who I have always been, and what I've always felt passionate about, I remember Psalm 139:13-14

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

   If these words are true - and I believe they are - what does that say about this passion for music which has always been hard-wired into who I am as a person? It says that it's there for a reason. It isn't an accident. God intended for it to be there. That's not just true for me, it is true for every human being on this planet.

   Throughout the course of my life, I've heard countless stories of people who have had dreams for where they'd like to see their lives go, but who have at some point become involved in relationships with others who didn't share those dreams, and in an effort to keep the peace within those relationships, they let go of the very things they'd always been passionate about.

   More often than not, the people they find themselves committed to don't see the value of those dreams because they fear they will lose the other person if those dreams are pursued. They have a vision in their mind as to who this other person should be for them, as opposed to seeing them as the person they were created to be.

   But what is genuine love? Genuine love says "I love who you are as a person........I love that you are passionate about these things........I believe you've always had this passion to do these things because - just as I am - you are "......fearfully and wonderfully made...."

   If we truly love someone, we will never insist that they do away with the things they are passionate about. We will instead support, encourage, and inspire them to be who they were created to be by God Himself, and we will be filled with joy as we watch them excel in the areas the were created to excel.

 "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

   I don't see anything in those verses saying "Love is forcing others to live their lives in a way that we would live ours......insisting they give up on their dreams to make us feel more comfortable." If we insist that they be who we want them to be and let go of their dreams..........we aren't loving them........We are controlling them.



Thursday, September 12, 2013

Has America given up on God?

  No matter what age we are, what part of the world we live in, what the color of our skin is, what our gender is, what the economic state of our families are, we all have one thing in common. We can all look back upon our lives and immediately feel the impact our fathers had upon our lives.

   Even if you never knew your father, he still made an impact upon your life by his absence.

   Fathers are never perfect. After all, they're human beings just like the rest of us. They make mistakes. They make bad decisions. They've hurt people - intentionally and unintentionally.

   For the majority of us, we'd be content.......even pleased.....if we could look back upon our lives and see that - even within their imperfection - our fathers truly loved us, guided us, inspired us, protected us, and provided for us. We'd be pleased to know that they simply did their best for us.

  Let's imagine for a moment that we grew up in a perfect home, with the perfect father. Let's assume that he never made a bad decision. Let's assume that he was always perfectly wise, kind, loving, protective, and generous. Let's assume he had wisdom that had no equal, that he remembered everything we'd ever said and done, every thought we'd ever had, and he knew in advance everything we would say or do in the future........where we would live......what we would do for a living......who we would meet.......who we would love.......where we would excel........where we would be strong......where we would be weak........where we would succeed, and where we would fail. He'd know what we were passionate about.........and where we were indifferent.

   What if we took that one step further and imagined that he would sit down next to us whenever we asked him to, and if we sought his guidance on any issue we could possibly imagine, he would respond with the perfect answer and the perfect guidance every single time.

   What if............with all of this available to us..........we chose to ignore him entirely? What if we took it one step further, even as far as insisting that nobody speak his name in public places? What if we hid our own children from him? What if we were so very opposed to the mere possibility of his existence, we spent the majority of our lives trying to explain away the stories we might hear others tell of him? What if we dismissed those who acknowledged him as being uneducated, foolish, weak, unreasonable, and incapable of having a rational thought?

   What do you suppose his response would be?

   This, my friends, is what America - through our courts, our government, our schools, our media, and many other American institutions - has done to our heavenly Father. The very same Father we used to turn to as a nation. The very same Father who grew us into the most powerful nation in world history.

   And what have we seen as a result? We've become a nation that is completely divided against itself. We're raising generation after generation of disrespectful. angry, hostile, disillusioned children with no respect for authority, discipline, and no desire to hear of any God who might demand their respect. For many years now, we've been forced to elect political leaders who are completely incapable of leading. We were once seen as a shining city on a hill by the entire world...........We are now viewed by the world as confused, dangerous, and a drunken, stumbling behemoth, staggering through the streets of the world, threatening anyone who would disagree with us.

   So, where do we go from here? Do we give up?

   As for me, the answer is no. Why? Because I still believe the truth behind the following verse:

   "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." - 2 Chronicles 7:14

   Even as we've seen God being repeatedly shoved out of our society, there are still many of us who still believe that God is still God whether we choose to acknowledge Him or not. We still believe that He hears us. We still believe that He moves in ways far more powerful than we could possibly imagine.

   Mock us if you must...........but before doing so, take a good look at where this country is heading. Do you like what you see? Before dismissing the thought that there is a God who can be called upon, consider your other options. Without some sort of divine intervention, what are your answers to where you see our country going?

    I will continue to pray for this country, for it's leaders, and for it's people.........even for those who proudly boast that there is no God...........even for those who insult or condemn me for believing there is.......and yes, even for those who insist that my God has no place in their schools, their government, or their lives.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Are Christians Hypocrites?

   For as long as I can remember,  I've absolutely loved the game of American Football. It's by far my favorite sport. In fact, I love the game so much, I've been known to watch three entire games on Sundays, and then another on Monday night. I simply can't get enough.

   The athletes who play in the NFL are an extremely rare breed. Not only are they exceptionally gifted athletes, they have also spent countless hours, days, weeks, months and years training to play the game. Their continual commitment and dedication to the game is rarely questioned. After all, nobody can reach that level of performance without it.

   Without boring you with the many complexities involved in each play, I have to say that as we watch at we see the quarterback take the ball, hand it to the running back, and then see a cloud of dust that doesn't appear to have accomplished much, we're usually completely unaware of what we've just seen.

   For this play to work, the center has to shove the ball into the quarterback's hands, then spring up to block the 290lb beast in front of him. The two men on his left and right have to block the men in front of them. The wide receivers have to make their defenders believe they're running downfield, then block those men once they bite. The quarterback has to spin, hand the ball to the running back very quickly, then run off in another direction as a decoy. The running back has to put the ball under his arm safely, then navigate his way through the mayhem of at least 9 extremely large men who are fighting each other for leverage directly in front of him. If he makes it through that mess, there are three more men.........linebackers from the other team.......all of whom are exceptionally fast, strong, and who are looking to hit him so hard his helmet pops off.

   Every play you see is choreographed by both the offensive and defensive coaches - men who have spent their entire lives learning the game of football, and who have designed each and every play in a way they believe will best confuse and beat the players on the other side of the ball.

   When it works flawlessly, the running back takes the ball, a hole opens up in the line, he breaks through, all of the other defensive players are either being blocked or are outrun by the running back, and the end result is a touchdown.

   Does the running back score a touchdown on every play?.........No.

   Does he gain huge chunks of yardage on every play?..........No.

   Is he sometimes stopped for no gain?..........Yes.

   Is he sometimes tackled for a loss?...........Yes.

   Are there times when he has the ball knocked out of his hands, and it's recovered by the other team?.........Yes.

   If you're watching a game, and see that he doesn't either gain huge chunks of yardage or score a touchdown on every play, do you question whether or not he's a football player? If he fails to gain a yard, do you then doubt his ability to play? If he fumbles the ball, do you call him a hypocrite? Would you say things like "He pretends to be a running back, but clearly he's not......because anyone who claims to be a running back should know that the first thing you do is hold onto the ball?"

   Of course you don't. Why? Because you understand that the game is very complex, and within every play, there are many factors involved, most of which are completely out of his control.

   What's more complicated - life, or the game of football?

   I think we'd all agree that life is far more complicated than any game.

   Why then do people assume that a Christian is a hypocrite when he fails?

   Why do we sometimes expect others to act flawlessly when we know that we ourselves fail so very often?

   We've all seen it countless times.........A Christian man or woman can go an entire year, saying and doing all of the right things..........But they're being watched with an incredible amount of scrutiny by those around them.........and if they fail.......even if just for a moment........You'll hear the "AHA!!!" coming from others who - while they don't hold themselves to the same standards - will immediately pounce on them. They'll say "See?!?.......I knew it!!......What a phony!!!......What a hypocrite!!!"

   When I was a teenager, I was attending a church in Chicago. I really wanted to believe what I was being taught there. I began to buy into it. Then, at some point, I began to notice that the people who attended this church acted very differently outside of the church. That led me to believe that they were all hypocrites, and I turned my back on the church because of it.

   But here's what nobody explained to me: Just like me, these people were all human........and they would all fail at times. Those failures didn't make them hypocrites any more than a fumble would make a running back a hypocrite.

   As for me, my focus should never have been on how many times these people failed to live up to some perfect standard I was holding them to. A standard, by the way, which was far higher than God Himself was holding them to. My focus should've been on how well I was living up to that standard.

   You see, God knows we're human. He knows we'll all fail.........repeatedly and continually. He never has, nor will He ever, expect absolute perfection from us. All He asks is that we trust Him, believe Him, love Him, and follow Him to the best of OUR ability. How well anyone else does this shouldn't impact how well we do it in any way. Just as our faith......and our a personal one between God and us, so is the faith and walk of those around us.

   If we look around at the people in our churches and we see where others have failed, it's not our job to label them as hypocrites.........It's our job to humble ourselves before a loving God.......knowing that we too have failed on countless occasions........and pray for guidance so that we might fail less often.

Monday, August 26, 2013

As they hated me, they will also hate you....

   Social networking is an peculiar animal, is it not?

   It can be a wonderful thing in that it allows us to speak our mind at a moment's notice about whatever we might be thinking about at the time. It also allows us to read whatever others may be thinking in real-time. Updates come streaming across our newsfeeds on a constant and continual basis, immediately making us aware of what any number of our "friends" might be thinking at that moment.

   It can also be a horrible thing in that many people post some very angry, hostile comments without taking the time to think through how what they're saying might impact others. Add to that the complexities of trying to decipher the mood, emotion and intent of the authors of these posts through nothing more than the written word, and misunderstandings can run rampant.

   I'm fairly active on Facebook, which has given me the opportunity to voice my opinions on a number of issues, as well as being able to read what many others have to say about the same issues. There have been many misunderstandings between myself and others while doing so. People have assumed the worst of me at times, as I have done the same of them.

   In all of this, the most troubling thing I've seen is the incredible polarization that's occurring across our country. Many people seem far less interested in truly hearing what others have to say than they are in constantly carpet-bombing the masses with their opinions on what is wrong with everyone who doesn't believe what they do.

   As a Christian man who believes very much in the teachings of the bible and who tries to the best of his ability to live his life in accordance with those teachings, I've been very much alarmed at the amount of anger and hostility I've seen directed at those who share my beliefs. I've been equally alarmed at those who share my beliefs, and then use those beliefs as a platform from which they attack, insult, and degrade those who don't share them.

   I've seen a very rapid growth in the number of people who - once they learn that someone believes in the teachings of the bible - immediately disregard anything that person may have to say from that point forward on any issue. I've also seen large numbers of Christians who - once they learn that someone rejects their beliefs - immediately conclude that this person's beliefs hold no value.

   As I was growing up, people who stood firm in their religious convictions were actually looked up to. They were respected and admired for their convictions........But these are very different times, aren't they? How did this happen? While the answer to this question is complex, there are also some obvious explanations.

   We live in a world where people have witnessed countless examples of people who have claimed to be Christians doing some very horrible things to those who don't believe as they well as to people who do. They've seen phony televangelists who take advantage of the poor and hurting, promising them God's favor if they send money. They've seen countless examples of high-profile Christian leaders being caught in lies, sexual affairs, and even horrific acts of molestation. Who can blame those outside of the church for being disgusted by what they have seen when these examples of absolute degradation within the church have been relentlessly reported upon world-wide?

   In contrast, they will rarely see examples of the countless numbers of Christians who don't do these things..........People who give their entire lives to the betterment of others.........People who feed the hungry and clothe the poor..........People who visit prisons, nursing homes, and orphanages, wanting nothing more than to be there for those in need. People who work with the abused, the rejected, and the neglected.

   For every one person who's story is displayed on the news after being caught doing horrific things in the name of Christianity, there are hundreds of thousands of Christians whose entire lives are dedicated to doing what's right............... But these stories will never be seen on "60 Minutes."........Why?............because it isn't sensational news. 

   We are currently living in the midst of what can only be describes as a "Post-Christian" America. The trend in this country is moving rapidly away from the Judeo-Christian beliefs we grew up with, and without some sort of divine intervention, this trend is certain to continue.

   We, as Christians, are being increasingly mocked, insulted, and rejected due to our religious beliefs. It's becoming more and more perilous for us to speak openly about these beliefs. Religious institutions are being sued in our courts for standing up for their beliefs. Political careers are being ended. We can't speak of our faith or our God in our public schools. Christian valedictorians all over this country are being told that they cannot offer up a prayer or even speak of their faith during commencement speeches, even if their faith has played an enormous role in their determination to work so very hard to reach that level of accomplishment.

    Sadly, it's much worse in other parts of the world. All over the middle east, Christians are being beaten, tortured, imprisoned, and even brutally murdered due to their religious beliefs at an alarming rate.

   So, how do we react to all of this? How do we carry ourselves within a world that's becoming increasingly hostile toward those of us who hold these beliefs? Do we protest? Do we try to influence our government to return to a place where our beliefs are respected and our rights to express those beliefs are protected? I'm sorry, but in my humble opinion, that ship has long ago sailed.

   The early Christian church faced horrific persecution, not only from the government that ruled over them, but also from the church leaders who conspired to have Jesus crucified. There are countless examples of men and women who were arrested, beaten, and brutally murdered due to their beliefs in Jesus Christ.

   Oddly enough, in the midst of this relentless persecution, none of the early church leaders insisted that the government protect them. None of them demanded that their rights of free speech should be upheld. None of them protested against the Roman government, insisting that they pass laws forcing everyone to live by their standards. As they wrote letters to other believers, they never told them to insist that those outside of the church live by their beliefs. Their entire focus was upon encouraging these early believers to stand firm in their own faith.........within themselves........within a personal, internal relationship with their God..........A faith that was to be followed from the inside out, and one which - when lived out from that perspective - would draw in those who saw that their lives had truly been spite of the spite of being rejected, and in spite of being hunted down, arrested, and killed due to those beliefs.

   In Philippians 2, Paul offered the following:

   "Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 
 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."..........

   And further.......

   ..................."Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing,  so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life."

   You see, our calling is not to force others to live and believe as we do.........Our calling is not to force our government to pass laws that agree with our faith...........Our calling is to simply live out our faith in a way that is worthy of the calling we've already received, and in doing so, to become a shining light in the midst of an increasingly hostile world........

   As a very dear friend once said to me; "Our very lives should be our Facebook wall, upon which those who don't share our beliefs can gaze...........and truly see God."


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hearing Through the Grapevine

   A young man stands at the place where his journey is to begin and gazes upon the path before him. As he looks ahead, he can see a wide variety of landscapes unfolding in the distance. He can't see too far down the path with any real clarity, but he can see enough to know that there will be challenging times ahead if he is to continue moving forward.

   As he begins his journey, he's struck by how the path seems to change a bit with every bend, and how some obstacles which looked daunting in the distance become easier to navigate than he initially expected. On the other hand, some areas that appeared to be smooth and easy to navigate become far more dangerous when viewed closely.

   At times he finds himself climbing rock walls, with barely enough space between the rocks to gain a foothold. He can feel his muscles aching, his breathing becoming far more labored, and he wonders at times if he'll reach the top. He sometimes looks down as he's climbing and allows his fear of falling from such heights to cause him to stop climbing and simply hold on as he regains his composure.

   Other times he finds himself walking calmly through smooth, soft valleys without a care in the world. His pace picks up, he feels calm and confident, and he's able to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

   On either side of this path, he notices large, thick grapevines growing along the entire distance. When he stops walking and remains completely silent, he can hear whispers coming from behind them.

   His curiosity gets the better of him, and he moves closer to the grapevine on the right, putting his ear to it to see if he can make out what these whispering voices are saying. As he does so, he can hear voices encouraging him - saying things like "Keep moving forward.......We're with you.......There's nothing on this path ahead you cannot overcome........Do not fear.......We will lead you, guide you, and direct your steps.........With every new bend, you will see beautiful things........Things you never even knew existed.........If you grow weary, listen to our voices........We will strengthen you.......And when you reach the end of this journey, you will be in paradise."

   Puzzled by this, he moves over to the grapevines on the left side of the path and puts his ear near to them. As he quiets himself to listen intently, he hears these voices speaking to him in a very different manner. "Give up." they say........."Who do you think you are?........You'll never be able to make it through the next bend.......You don't have the strength........You don't even know if you're heading in the right direction.......Why are you even trying to move forward?.........What good will it do to make it to the next bend?.......What will you find there?.......You may be eaten alive, or fall from the rocks to feel your body crushed upon the jagged terrain below.........Stop here and make a home for yourself........There is nothing good beyond this point."

   He returns to the middle of the path and continues to move forward. As he does so, he comes across others who are also on this path. Some continue to move forward, offering words of encouragement to those behind them, warning them of dangers ahead they cannot yet see.

   Others are sitting on the side of the path, mocking him for being foolish enough to believe there is anything worth finding at the end.

   This path is our journey through life

   We struggle to move forward at times, wondering if there's any point to any of it. We come to places where we feel as though everything is going smoothly. We are energized by the beautiful things we see, and other times sometimes we become discouraged by the rock walls and pitfalls. We sometimes doubt that we have the strength to take one more step.

   Throughout this journey, we have two distinct voices that continually speak to us.

   On the one hand, we have God, who is always there for us if we seek His voice - always eager to guide us, direct us, encourage us, and give us His strength. In addition to this, we also have His people..........People just like us who have already made it through some of the pitfalls we've yet to face, and who are more than willing to help us through the hard, rocky places.

   On the other hand, we have the enemy, who wants nothing more than to destroy us, discourage us, lie to us about who we are and what we can or cannot accomplish. He also has his people........People who - without even knowing they are doing so - will influence us to give up on our belief that paradise awaits us if we keep moving forward.

   So these questions remain: Who will we listen to? Which grapevine will we hold our ear to? Who will we choose to believe?

   Our answers to those questions are not permanent..........They are not decisions that are made one time, then forgotten. These decisions need to be made on a daily, if not an hourly basis, and the manner in which we answer these questions at that very moment will determine how far we move forward within that hour or that day.

   Which voices are you hearing at this very moment?



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Where American Christians Fail

   A few days ago, I spoke with a very dear friend of mine who is in the midst of quite an incredible journey. She packed some belongings a few weeks ago, loaded them into her pickup truck, and headed west from the Chicago area all the way to the west coast of California.

   While she has seen many beautiful things on this journey, the purpose of this trip was not for pleasure or mere sight-seeing.

   While she is taking care of some very important business on the way, this is not a business trip.

   She didn't have a finely tuned itinerary in place before she left.........She had more of a general list of places she would camp out for the night.......or two......or three, before leaving for her next slightly vague destination.

   Her master plan?........To simply follow wherever she felt that God was leading her, and in doing so, to visit the lowest of the low wherever she might find them, showing them love, compassion, acceptance, empathy, an ear to listen, and a heart to share.

   Along with her, she brought a bag of smooth, flat rocks. Upon these rocks, she had inscribed various words such as "Faith,"........."Hope,"..........."Peace,"........."Love,"............ Sometimes there'd be entire bible verses written on them, featuring words of encouragement or examples of God's love for all who might look to Him in their time of need.

   Throughout this journey of hers, she has sat and talked with countless people.........Complete and total strangers...........The homeless.........The addicted........The hungry.......The forgotten.......Those who have been completely rejected by society as a whole.

   After engaging these people in genuine, heartfelt conversation..........After showing them that she truly did care..........She'd reach into her little bag of rocks and pick one to leave with them.......One that had written upon it a word or verse that pertained to what they had said to her.......One they could reach into their pocket for and pull out.........whenever they felt the remind them of this beautiful, kind woman who God had somehow sent to them to speak the words they desperately needed to hear on that day.

   She wasn't invited to sit down next to them..........she simply did.

   She didn't wait for a team of board members to plan her itinerary..........she simply left.

   She didn't put the comfort of being in her own home, being safe, dry, and warm ahead of her desire to go where she believed she was called...........she simply followed.

   You see, my friend Katie is a rare breed. She is one of the few people I've met over the course of my life who lives life intentionally - with a purpose - firmly believing that every day is a new opportunity to make a difference in the world around her, and who actively watches for the opportunities God places in front of her on a daily basis.........Many times on an hourly basis.

   She is one of those rare individuals who, just by being who she's called to be,  makes me wish quite often that I was as committed to the cause as she is.

   We, as American Christians, more often than not become so very comfortable in our beautiful homes, driving our beautiful cars, and living our fairly private lives with our healthy, well fed families, that we forget there's an entire world of people out there who are hurting desperately, and who would just love for someone to sit down next to them, talk to them, and let them know that somebody cares.

   Don't get me wrong.........we feel bad when we see others who are hurting. We want things to work out well for them. We want them to heal, to recover, to become whole again.........But do we care enough to go 5 minutes out of our way to help?

   From the outside, this is how many people outside of the church view Christians:

   We're very quick to condemn their lifestyles.........We're very quick to tell them what they're doing wrong.........Often times - and to our own shame - we're very quick to feel that we're living lives that are blessed by God because, well, we're just good people............while looking down upon those who don't appear to be blessed in the same ways, and silently wondering what they did wrong to bring that upon themselves.

   When I look at what true faith, true belief, and true religion should look like, James 1:27 comes to mind........

   "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

   In those days, orphans and widows were among the poorest of the poor. They were the homeless, the hungry, and the forgotten ones.

   I know that my friend Katie would probably shy away from the idea of me writing a blog which compares her life and actions to the rest of the church, and finding us lacking while praising her for her efforts. She would say that God, not her, deserves all of the credit, honor, and glory for whatever small task she may accomplish while here on earth...........But in doing so, she would be simply proving my point once again.

   If we, as the church, spent as much time as we could find being there for others who are hurting..........If we simply sat down next to someone and listened.........not merely reciting memorized bible verses..............not giving them generic answers for genuine, heartfelt questions which arise from horribly complex, painful circumstances..........not condemning them in our hearts before even knowing their story.........If we looked for opportunities on a daily basis to be who God has called us to be in the lives of people who have been rejected by society..........How much more interested would people outside of the church be in what we might have to say about our faith? How much more weight would they place upon our words? How much more willing would they be to step inside of our churches?   

   You see, what we've done wrong is that we've allowed ourselves to become far too comfortable within our clean, predictable, relatively affluent little worlds to be of any good when it comes to being light, salt, and life in the midst of a cold, dark, bitter world.

   Before we can be anything to the world around us.........We must first be there for the world around us.


   If you'd like to learn more about Katie, I'm sure she'd love it if you stopped by her website and said hi. She can be found at

Monday, August 19, 2013

Imperfectly Perfect

   Standing backstage, just before the curtain came up for what would be an experience that could be best described as surreal, a musician paced back and forth, his mind racing through the multitude of significant milestones that had led to this very moment. He found it very difficult to express in words how much this meant to him on a personal, emotional, and psychological level.

   Throughout the entirety of his youth, he never felt as though he measured up. He always felt lost, confused, and somehow less valuable than everyone around him. He never felt as though he had ever been one of the cool kids. He was just a guy trying to figure out where he fit in. More often than not, he felt as though he didn't fit in anywhere.

   The people who were closest to him had often criticized who he was, how he looked, what he said, how he thought, felt, and performed. He was quite often told that he wasn't smart enough, good enough, talented enough, attractive enough.

   As he grew older in years, the criticism he'd faced so often made it's way into the deepest parts of who he believed he was. It wasn't something that was in the forefront of his mind. It was more of a nagging doubt in his own self-worth that always left him second-guessing his value in the eyes of others.

   But here he was............

    The venue was on the stage of his high school auditorium. He hadn't been back to this place - where he once roamed the halls feeling completely out of place and out of sorts - for nearly 30 years.

   But here he was............

    His band had been invited to play on this stage - in front of what could be over 1,000 people - for a benefit concert to help pay for musical equipment for the students who now attended. Most of the current students lived at or below the poverty level. None of them knew him personally. All they knew was that he was there to help raise money for their dreamers, their artists, their musicians, all of whom had dreams of their own, but had no ability to purchase the gear necessary for them to pursue their dreams.

   In some ironic twist of fate, he had returned to the stage where he had once felt completely rejected, isolated, and ignored - now feeling as some sort of a conquering hero, there to make a difference in the lives of those he didn't know, and who he probably never would.

   The curtain began to raise.......

   He threw an encouraging smile back at the rest of his band mates, mouthed the words "Let's boogie," and ran out onto the stage as the adrenaline pumped it's way through every inch of his body.

   He gave it everything he had.............and yet.........when all was said and done.........he left the stage disappointed in his performance. There was a missed note here..........another one there.......

   People approached him after the show, complimenting him on what they thought was a stellar performance, as well as an incredible accomplishment. They praised him for the good work he had done, and for the amazing gifts this would bring to this very poor community. But as hard as he tried to accept that, as he looked back upon that performance in the years that followed, he would quickly shrug it off and say "I wish I would've played better."

   Why was it that he couldn't see the beauty in what had just taken place? Why was it that - instead of allowing himself to live in the moment, enjoying it for all it was worth and for all that it had meant to so many others - he looked back upon the events of that night as a failure?

   It was because everything about that neighborhood........that school......that history.......reminded him of everything he had been told about who he was many years ago..........That anything short of perfection was failure.

   The man in this story was me, and it was something I experienced about 6 years ago.

   So, what makes it different for me now? Why did I take the time to write this story?

   Because I've recently learned something very important about myself, and it's something I'm certain that many of you have experienced and deal with on a daily basis..........The illusion of perfection.

   I was raised to expect perfection of myself, and if I don't speak the perfect words, act in the perfect manner, or perform in ways that are absolutely perfect given the circumstances, I find it impossible to see the value in what I've said, how I've acted, or in how I've performed. I simply see that moment in time as a failure on my part.

   What I've been forced to come to terms with recently is - not only are none of us perfect, but we rarely perform perfectly under any circumstances. There will always be something we could've done better, said more profoundly, or acted upon more appropriately. If we allow ourselves - as I have many times - to see our words or actions as failures because they weren't flawless, we will never allow ourselves to truly enjoy life as it was intended to be lived.

   The desire to strive for perfection is a gift from God Himself..........The belief that anything short of perfection is a failure is a lie, straight from hell.

   We are all imperfect people, living in an imperfect world. There's nothing wrong with striving for perfection, as long as we can - at the same time - live life to the fullest, knowing that we did our very best given the circumstances.

   We were all created by God Himself to use our various gifts and abilities in ways that help, encourage, bless, instruct, and lift up others. If we look back upon our efforts to use these gifts in those ways, and we see nothing more than a long list of failures on our part, we call God a fool for putting us in the position to use those gifts, at that very moment, in front of those very people, to be used by Him in ways that are extremely significant.

   After all, if we truly believe that we weren't the best person to perform in that place, at that time, for those people, then the only conclusion we can draw is that somehow God must've been confused for sending us into that place.

   Believe in who you are - which is who God created you to be...........Perfectly imperfect...........and live in that moment. If we can all live by that belief..........we will look back a few years from know that we did our very best.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Perfect Harmony

   I've been a musician since I was a young boy. Due to my intense love of music, I suppose it makes perfect sense that I would become one.

   The emotional impact music has on all of us has always intrigued me. We've all found ourselves moved by music at various points in our lives. We can be anywhere when it happens. At work, in our car, walking through a park, or even in the middle of a conversation. It really doesn't matter what the circumstances are or what our surroundings may be. We hear the first few notes of a familiar song, and distant memories we haven't thought of in years come flooding back instantly. In fact, if we close our eyes and allow our thoughts to drift, we will sometimes feel as though we are re-living a distinct, meaningful moment from our past.

   Sometimes we'll hear a song for the very first time and we'll find ourselves being swept away with emotion. The type of emotions we feel can range from despair, to love, to joy, or even anger. The amazing part of this is we don't even have to hear any words within the song to feel these emotions. The music itself creates that within us.

   But how does this happen?

   When broken down to a scientific level, music is nothing more than vibrations within various frequencies that somehow combine in predetermined harmonies with each other. As these vibrations reach our ears, they immediately impact our emotions. How is that even possible? How can anyone possibly explain this in a meaningful way? We can't. We simply know it's true, and we accept it for what it is. We hear the various vibrations resonate in perfect harmony, and we react emotionally. We don't try to understand it. We simply enjoy it.

   But what happens when there is no harmony? What is our immediate response when a musician hits a bad note, or when a vocalist falls flat?.......We cringe. We lose interest in the music. We change the channel.

   Before any group of musicians plays a song, the instruments must be tuned. The strings on each instrument must be in tune with each other, and each instrument as a whole must also be in tune with all of the other instruments being played. If not, there's nothing but chaos, disharmony, and noise. If the instruments are not in tune with each other, it doesn't matter how skillfully the musicians play. The end result will be horribly distracting, and difficult for anyone to listen to. The laws of harmony, whether we understand them or not, always apply. They have always existed, and they always will.

   Within all of this, there are lessons we can take from music when looking at our faith, and how our faith may or may not impact the world around us. As is the case with music, there are specific laws that govern the amount of harmony we feel between ourselves and God. These laws also apply to the sense of harmony we may feel between each other.

   When I speak of these laws, I'm not talking about some long list of rules that need to be obeyed. I'm not speaking of a bunch of legalistic requirements or regulations. I'm not speaking of some 12-step program that will ensure our success. I'm speaking about harmony.

   Just as every instrument needs to be in tune in order for a song to be as beautiful as it was originally intended, our hearts and minds need to be "in tune" with God for our lives to create a song as beautiful as God intended our particular "song of life" to be. The more "in tune" we are with God, the more deeply others will be moved by what they see in us, what they hear from us, etc..

   So how do we do this? How do we "tune up?" That's the easy part. We take time to pray, to read scripture, and to ask God to speak to our hearts, aligning our hearts and minds with Him in perfect harmony. If we ask this of Him, and seek this alignment in faith, He will respond. And if we can just stay there.......silently........allowing Him to tune us........just as it happens to us with music, the harmonies we hear deep within us during that time can move us so very deeply it's as if our very souls are singing out............without even one word being spoken.

   Is this a one-time deal? Can we do it once, then walk away expecting to be "in tune" for life? Of course not. Just as musicians need to tune up repeatedly and continually, we need to do the same. Will we find ourselves hitting bad notes at times? Absolutely. But just as is true when playing with other musicians - it's not whether you'll hit an occasional bad note that matters - it's how you recover when you do.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Best Sex Ever

   I'm about to step into an area that many people in the Christian community will avoid discussing at all costs. That's a real shame, because it's an absolutely crucial topic when it comes to our overall happiness in life. I am in no way a prude when it comes to these things, and I will be very open, honest, and blunt when discussing them. If you're honest with yourself, you will find a great deal of truth to what I'm about to say.

   I'm fairly convinced that upon reading the title of this post, your curiosity was piqued. I mean, let's be honest here........Very few people on this planet don't enjoy sex, and most of us would agree that no matter how good that side of our relationships are, we'd eagerly listen to anyone who might be able to offer suggestions on how we can make it better.

   Before we get rolling here, I need to ask all of you a simple question. Can you think back to a sexual experience at some point in your life that you regret having? Unless you remained celibate until marriage, or you're still waiting for that perfect mate to go there with, you answered "yes." If you're like most of the people who grew up in the 60's, 70's, 80's, or 90's, I'm positive that you will not only have answered "yes," but you also immediately cringed upon reading it. The memories you have of that situation are just as alive as they were within days of realizing you had made a mistake in that regard.

   There are many reasons why people regret having gone there with someone in their past. Countless reasons. And they're all different for each of us. But the regrets remain, and sometimes the memories are extremely painful.

   I was a teenager in the 70's, and this is what we were taught by society around us: "If it feels good, do it." This mindset began in the 60's, and for all intents and purposes, it has not only continued to this day, but it has also expanded to include pretty much any sexual experience one can imagine.

   On the other side of the coin, what was the best experience you've ever had sexually? Funny, but you remembered that one immediately too, didn't you?

   What was the major difference between these two experiences?

   I'm going to go out on a limb here and make an assumption. The major difference between the two was this: The level of mutual love you felt between yourself and the other person, the level of importance you were given in the life of that person, and the level of openness that was allowed between each other during that experience. Am I wrong? I think not. During the positive sexual experienced, you felt special. You felt loved. You felt a sense of closeness far beyond the experience itself. During the bad experience, or shortly thereafter, you felt ordinary, unnecessary, or possibly even used.

   How would this make you feel?: You find someone whom you're very attracted to. In time, your love grows more and more for each other. You learn everything there is to know about who they are as a person, and you love all of it. You see how they carry themselves in countless situations, and find yourself being more impressed with who they are as a person every time you're around them. Finally, the moment comes when you are able to come together with them sexually, and just before going there, they look you in the eyes and say "I've waited all of my life for you........and I've waited all of my life for this very moment."

   And what if..........what if.........just before going there........the two of you can openly pray to the Creator of all things, thanking Him for this beautiful gift you are about to experience, and asking Him to bless both of you in it?

   Did you just get chills? Does that sound impossibly beautiful to you?

   This, my friends, is what the bible teaches about how we are to approach sex. It is a gift from God Himself, and it was made to be beautiful, to be intimate, and to be blessed by God Himself within the boundaries of marriage.

   God does not tell us to avoid having sex until marriage because He doesn't want us to have any fun. He wants us to wait because if we do, it will be the most beautiful experience we can possibly imagine. And if we don't wait.........we will have regrets.

   So, how does that help us now - those of us who haven't waited? The answer is simple. We can start waiting now. Maybe we won't be able to tell that special someone that we've waited all of our lives for them. But we can tell them that we waited for however long it takes between now and then.

   So, what about those of you who are already married? How can it be better for you? Pray about it. Ask God to bless that side of your relationship. Openly express to each other the love that you feel for each other while going there. If you're not doing that now, why not?

   The relationship between a husband and wife is a very special, beautiful gift. Why would we ever settle for anything less than that, and why would we teach our children to settle for less by assuming that they can't wait........or worse yet, by telling them that they shouldn't have to?

   Don't believe this is possible? Ask couples who have waited. There are plenty of them out there. If you do, there's one word you won't hear them mention. That word is regret.