I had the privilege of filling in on keys for the base Chapel service last Sunday (and for the next few weeks). The gentleman choosing music picked a song I hadn’t heard before, and it has a bit of a timing shift that makes it non-standard… so I needed to practice more than usual.
This past week, my daughter married her fiancé, and this coming week, she moves back to the States with him in preparation for his enlistment in the Air Force. She’s our oldest child, so this is a huge transition for Mom and me.
The message of this song really ministered to me in the midst of the struggles of accepting drastic changes, and all the bittersweet mixture of celebration for their love and separation from someone we love.
The waves, the wind, and all the storm of emotion within me–all of these still know His name, and know to fall silent when He commands “Peace, be still.”
Through it all, because of Him, it is well with my soul.
Whatever your storm, I hope this ministers to you as it did to me.
My wife and I posted a LiveStream video of some instrumental worship songs today.
We played an old favorite of ours, Grace Like Rain (Todd Agnew). Then, we played You Are My All in All (Dennis Jernigan), which was the first church worship song I played and sang once I rededicated my life to Christ shortly after coming to Japan as a young servicemember. Wonderful, Merciful Savior (Selah) is a family favorite of my wife and my mother-in-law, and also a beautiful song that focuses on each Person of the Trinity in turn. Finally, we added in Mary Did You Know (Mark Lowry) mixed with Greensleeves a.k.a. What Child is This, as a final touch of Christmas.
On top of that, while out for a spontaneous walk today, I remembered a song I’d written years ago that captured how I felt about my spirituality of late. I started singing that softly as I meandered around the neighborhood, and realized it could flow right into Set a Fire (Will Reagan). The wifey and I put together some harmonies and a bit of a round in Set a Fire, while she figured out some violin parts to play in my song.
I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions, nor do I look at January 1st as the magic time to start a gym habit or creative pursuit. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth starting at once, not at some socially-accepted date known and ridiculed as a train wreck of ridiculous but futile effort towards failed self-improvements.
But I did end up starting a couple things near the New Year… Probably because I saw articles about them that were written to suggest or encourage “here’s a neat habit for a resolution.”
I’ve been trying out a Bullet Journal – especially useful since I work in a facility where I can’t bring personal electronics into my office. And I’ve been practicing a version of the Miracle Morning, with a more Christian bent than the vague and flexible option I first found. As part of that, I’ve spent more time in the Bible and in prayer, and it’s both a step in the right direction and toward some personal aspects and characteristics I’ve allowed to languish.
Yesterday, my wife and I caught some of the songs and sermons from Passion 2017. Today, we watched one with our kids, then tried to have a discussion about the message and how to apply it. On top of that, we took time for Communion–something we meant to do but missed at Christmas or New Year’s Eve/Day.
The music, the worship, the message, the ritual–all this we did in remembrance of Him. It felt like reconnecting to what matters in some small ways. It felt good, and right.
Even with cracked matzos on a paper plate and grape juice in tiny Dixie cups.
I Need More
Only You can meet my deepest needs
Only You fulfill my heart’s desire
I’ve pushed away by doing what I please
But now, O Lord, I welcome Your fire
I want more, more of You in my life
Nothing compares to the joy I find in You
I need more, more of You in my life
And I’ll lay it all down to be closer to You
Nothing I desire, nothing satisfies
It’s You that I require, Your love gives me life
I need more, more of You.
Your love, Lord, is sweeter than wine
A day with You much better than a lifetime all my own
The glory of Your presence so sublime
I find in You much greater joy than I have ever known
I saw this political image making the rounds on my Facebook feed this week, and it got me thinking. Or rather some of the responses did.
One pastor seemed quite incensed that “under God” wasn’t in this version. To that individual, this image shouldn’t be shared as a result… despite the image caption making clear the intent of showing the Pledge as originally written.
In fact, the original Pledge by Francis Bellamy is even more different: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I thought about the power of those two words, “under God.”
In Supreme Court decisions on the subject, the Chief Justice argued that “under God” is an acknowledgement of the religious heritage of the nation but is at this point essentially a secular declaration.
The ‘God’ referred to is generic and devoid of any religious context. You can say it’s a monotheistic God, so it’s probably tied to an Abrahamic religion. But I don’t think that’s the Court’s intent or point.
I think they recognize, like we should, that two words in a pledge do absolutely nothing to impose any religious standard of behavior or belief upon anyone. No one draws nearer to God in a spiritual experience by reciting the Pledge. It’s not a hymn or worship song, it’s not a prayer to say by rote like Our Father Who art in Heaven or Hail Mary.
Yet the Righr, ever fearing that War on Christianity, focuses attention on those two words in the pledge, as though they constitute some magic cute to social ills that concern us.
Maybe if kids say “under God” then it’ll show what a good, Christian nation we are–regardless of the immorality we approve, condone, or even actively participate in.
I don’t think it works that way. Not on a national level, where we claim some divine favored status–spiritual immunity perhaps?
I’m positive it doesn’t work this way on an individual level, where so long as I say the right words now and then, all my faults and failures get a wink and an understanding grin before being brushed aside.
After all, I’m part of the good Christian club, right? I ‘liked’ that image that 93% wouldn’t, and shared that poem about footprints in the sand. I voted for the guy who quoted the Bible in his speeches. And I totally got behind defending “under God” from those atheist social justice warriors.
To paraphrase Jesus, perhaps today He’d tell us, “On that day, many will say, ‘Lord, did we not post in Your Name? And did we not block the atheists on social media, and fight against the growth of Islam in Your favorite nation? Did we not defend the Christ in Christmas, and stand up for the massive cross monuments on public property?’
And I will say to them, ‘Depart from Me. I never knew you.'”
It’s easy for me to sit and criticize. So I’ll be honest and admit that I’m just as in danger of missing the whole point as those whose opinions I decry here. I just don’t want to be content flailing about in a cloud of religious / cultural chaff and controversy.
If I really believe what I claim, then it’s too important to get hung up quibbling and griping over minor details, caught under some illusion that I’m fighting the good fight for the faith.
I love the Internet. Practically the sum of human knowledge is available to me at any given time, delivered to my iPhone in seconds.
…Which makes the general ignorance and indifference in our culture all the more inexcusable.
Whether it’s a ridiculous conspiracy “news” post from the Right or a ridiculous slam on a mistaken interpretation of Christianity from someone on the Left, I have no stomach for it.
Here’s a gem that crossed my feed:
Off the top of my head, I think of the verses where Paul deals with predestination. “Jacob I have loved, and Esau I have hated” is an Old Testament quote Paul used to discuss people that God apparently created knowing their undesirable end. If we’re honest (and knowledgeable) about our Christian theology, this puts a little asterisk on the modern Evangelical “God loves everyone” sales pitch.
But we have to get on those homophobic Christians and make them realize what misguided sheeple they are. Plus it’s comedy gold. It doesn’t need to be true; it just needs to get laughs.
I am not saying God hates homosexuals. And I am saying we (Christians) have NO right or freedom to do so.
Or consider this one:
The latter portion of Galatians 3 is about belonging to the family of God based on faith. “You are all sons of God through Christ” is the verse that immediately precedes this. So Paul elaborates that in Christ we are all on equal footing, regardless of race, social status, or gender.
If Paul really meant this verse to do away with gender and bring in some kind of enlightened spiritual gender identity, then this same Paul would not have written in several other places about the different roles of women and men in the church.
We could discuss what those passages mean, and plenty of varied interpretations exist. But it’s clear from multiple verses that Paul did not think once you become a Christian, you no longer belong to one of the two traditional concepts of gender.
Whatever. It’s making fun of transphobic Christians and their outdated, oppressive beliefs. So who cares if it’s accurate?
Again, I’m not saying we (Christians) should hate on transgender people. In fact quite the opposite is clear. We’re not called to hate or harm, but to love and disciple others.
Instead of defending Christians hating (which I believe is indefensible based on Scripture), the point I’m trying to make is that a theology that survived and grew over the past 1900+ years isn’t likely to be properly captured or lampooned in the few words you can put on an image on social media.
And my frustration is directed at Christians too. We love to post things about how President Obama is doing this, or some atheist is doing that. But people don’t always bother to fact check before posting.
I saw a headline claiming President Obama said the Statue of Liberty is offensive to Muslims, so he wants to remove it.
My rule of thumb is, “If it sounds exactly like what your political extremists want to hear, it’s probably not true.” So I looked closer.
The so-called news site didn’t have any facts or proof. And the two-line “story” was about an impending government shutdown. The President supposedly said that if the GOP doesn’t send him a funding budget that covers Obamacare, he’ll veto it.
Which would likely lead to shutdown.
Which would mean potentially closing national monuments like Lady Liberty temporarily, until the government is funded again.
Nothing to do with Muslims, nothing to do with removing the statue. And this is on the very website making the claims in the headline.
Why would anyone trust this? Why would anyone share it?
It’s what they want to hear. Who cares if it’s wrong?
For nonChristians and Christians alike, there’s a danger in heaping up voices that tell us exactly what we want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).
Ignorance can be fixed with information. But moving past apathy depends on the individual.
And I’m not convinced enough of us care to be bothered with all that effort.
There’s a saying, “Writers write, authors publish.” I’m not sure if it’s meant to chastise those of us who claim the “author” title improperly (by whose standard?) or to encourage us to move past a never-finished manuscript and into the final scary stages of publication.
Maybe contributors to published works fall in the middle somewhere. And despite the growing acceptance of self-publishing, I can’t help but imagine there’s a diminutive attached to that method of publishing… an unsaid and insincere “well, isn’t that cute.”
Despite all that, I’m proud to announce my work has been included in a compilation of stories about God’s leading and guidance in our lives today. The book of about 40 different stories includes five of my short personal accounts for where I believe God worked in my life to give me some direction at key times. Think Chicken Soup for the Soul but amped up in overtly Christian content.
I mentioned this once on Facebook when I found out about it (around the time I deployed at the end of last year). In looking over blog posts, it seems I never actually posted about this, however.
Seventeen (and a half) years ago, I knelt in this spot under a blue sky and asked my girlfriend to marry me.
Wifey and I would take long walks away from our on-base dorms, strolling through lawns and parks, up and down the hills on Kadena. We’d often sit on a bridge, under the stars, legs dangling off the side, hand-in-hand. Or perhaps she’d snuggle up next to me, head on my shoulder as I put my arm around her to hold her close.
There used to be a bridge here.
You can see two marks where the edges once stood. I proposed on that bridge. When we married, Wifey came from the States to rejoin me on Okinawa. And sometimes we would revisit “our” bridge. I’m pretty sure we even took our oldest children to see it (not that they cared, of course. They were very young, and it was just a concrete bridge.)
In the grass across from where the bridge once stood, I laid down under a cloudy night sky, crying out to God, overwhelmed with frustration and anger at myself for various failures as a new adult and Airman. I
dealt with my dissatisfaction with mistakes I’d made, and I thought about my childhood faith.
It was there that I decided I had to really live what I claimed to believe, or forsake it all. I chose the former.
(Rationally, I understand that there’s no theological reason to look for God up in the sky, as though He lives out in space somewhere and we all live down here like some fishbowl He watches when He gets bored.
Rationally, I know that the universe goes on for billions and billions of light years with whole other galaxies comprised of nearly-countless stars spinning and swirling through a cosmos full of other stuff we can’t even yet comprehend. So my musings as I sat in the grass staring at the night sky were pretty insignificant in the scale of what we know is out there.)
Back then, Wifey and I would walk for hours. And with Okinawa being a Pacific island, we sometimes got caught in sudden cloudbursts of rain.
One time in particular, the rain became a torrent and we took refuge in the doorway of the nearest building, a couple blocks away from our dorms.
It rained for an hour or more, solid sheets pouring from the heavens. Finally we got so desperate that we prayed. “God, I know it’s silly… But could You stop the rain so we can get home? Please?”
We went back to talking. Several moments later, when our conversation paused, we realized it was silent outside our refuge. The rain stopped.
We set off for the dorms, shocked and thankful. And just as we reached our dorms, a drizzle started up again.
(Rationally I know that rain can start and stop at any time, and an island like Okinawa has unpredictable weather. There are perfectly natural explanations for how this happened.)
Years later, I had a similar experience on the way to work. In a torrential downpour, I prayed for the rain to stop even while admitting it was a purely selfish request.
It did, and I walked into my building dry when all my co-workers who arrived both before and after me were soaked. The disparity was noticeable enough that people actually asked how I got in.
(Rationally, rain is intermittent sometimes. This one experience is no reliable proof. And there have been times I’ve prayed, but still got wet.)
For years, when I drove past the bridge or jogged around the nearby track, I would see the bridge and smile. I would remember my promise to Wifey, or maybe think of my re-commitment to Christ. And I understood why various Old Testament figures were so quick to set up a monument (usually rocks piled into an altar) for special moments in their experiences with God. Spatial memory–our ability to recall a particular place or setting–is a powerful thing.
Rocks can get tipped over or scattered. Bridges can be torn down. Buildings are destroyed and rebuilt (or not).
But spatial memory locks a moment or concept in our minds to a specific place, and that doesn’t fade or break down over time.
Rationally, I know there are plenty of facts about the world around us, some of which can seem to conflict with faith as I currently understand it.
On the one side are the experiences and the intangible unprovable tenets of faith.
On the other side sit the cold logical facts and all their implications about the world and humanity’s place in it.
It often feels like quite a formidable gap divides the two.
That’s okay. There’s a special place in my heart for bridges.
I’m sure if you’ve seen Disney’s Frozen, you’ll remember this exchange:
Anna: We complete each others’–
Anna: I was just gonna say that!
Being away from home on business can be stressful, especially leaving behind Wifey with our four always-wonderful, never-exasperating, easily-managed children. (Two of whom are teenagers. God help us.)
When we were dating, Wifey and I would go for long walks and talk about everything and anything. (Aww!) Sometimes when we’d struggle for a way to express a thought, the other would spout out the word or phrase.
And Wifey would joke that we were “eye to eye.”
Wifey plays the violin, and I play piano. We’ve learned over the years of playing together to sense where the other is going. Ok, I’ll be honest, I think I just play whatever I want. But she knows how to complement it perfectly, how to tell when I’m about to shift to something different.
In our frequent practice, we stay in tune to each other. In frequent communication, we keep that “eye to eye” connection.
I’m happy to say this experience has popped up time and again over the years, even while apart. Wifey has supported me all along, and we keep having these “eye to eye” moments. And 16 years as a military spouse is no joke!
Early on, it might have been “ear to ear” as we took advantage of the once-a-week 15 minute morale call.
With reliable email, exchanges sped up exponentially, and sometimes our emails back and forth would contain the same words or ideas.
Instant Messaging and chat rooms used to be a thing ten years ago–remember that? I don’t think we ever said “Chat to chat” but the connection remained.
And now Facebook Messenger and cellphone texts still afford us those opportunities to stay in tune with one another.
But I know there have been those times where we haven’t played in a while. I go one way musically, and she goes another. Or we can’t find our parts and end up doing our own thing.
Same with communication. When we get caught up in routines, stresses, or personal interests, there are those moments of disconnect. Usually this leads to confusion and lengthy discussions where we try to figure out “What the heck is going on in your head?!”
Sometimes it leads to arguments.
There’s a spiritual parallel: how “eye to eye” am I with Christ? Am I connected frequently enough that I can follow His lead and stay in tune with Him? Is His Word fresh in my mind, answering my questions and finishing my sentences?
Or has it been a bit since we last chatted?
When it comes to time and relationships, quality is born out of quantity. I can’t come in and declare “I have two minutes for intimate conversation, starting timer NOW. Go!”
But frequent connection makes for a closer connection.
And there’s never been a better instant messenger service than prayer.
I promised to look at some Rich Mullins songs I love the most, as a Wednesday “Worship” thing.
I thought about putting these out on Sunday, because, hey, they’re worship and spiritual and churchy and all that.
But Rich Mullins was hardly churchy, and that’s kind of the point. Plus, while some of his songs spoke to me on Sundays, more often than not, his words and music were what I needed in the day-to-day of the work-week, in the midst of choices and struggles and frustrations and delights.
“Sometimes By Step” is one of those songs that I heard growing up–we’d sing the pretty Praise & Worship style chorus in church. Then I heard the whole song, and was shocked that there were all these powerful words in the verses. I felt robbed unawares, denied something powerful and true years earlier–missing out without even knowing something was missing.
This version shows Rich speaking about the profound nature of God’s tasteless love for us. I won’t do it injustice by trying to recap it. Please listen and hear him out, reflect on the love revealed in Christ’s sacrifice which is for <strong>all</strong>, not just for the so-called deserving or worthy.
In the first verse, Rich sings that “there was so much work left to do, but so much You’d already done.” And that so captures my despair at my failures, coupled with my joy at the hope of God’s grace at work in me.
The second verse hits my heart even harder. To think that a star Abraham saw was lit for me… to recognize that when I feel I don’t fit in, that might be by God’s design… and to remember even though I fall and struggle in the journey, I’m never beyond the outstretched grip of God’s grace.
That gives me a powerful reason to declare “Oh God, You are my God, and I will ever praise You!”
When does making music not involve playing actual music?
When you’re a “Radical Christian,” apparently.
A gent named Wes McAdams has a couple blogs that popped up on my Facebook feed. His site is titled “Radically Christian – 1st Century Christianity in a 21st Century World.” One post calls into question why some churches feel musical instruments are a necessary part of the worship service. The next challenges the idea that instruments have any place in today’s church at all.
It concerns me when people assume they’ve found the secret, the missing spiritual link, the one thing that every “good” or “true” Christian should be doing (or not doing) in order to show how much more Christ-like they are than everyone else.
Usually that’s the road to heresy. Because if Jesus isn’t the One Thing–if your message becomes “Jesus and (fill in the blank)” instead–then your Gospel isn’t the good news of grace anymore. It becomes all about doing something to prove your faith and earn your reward. Or it becomes yet another self-righteous way to show how much better you are than the benighted and corrupted so-called Christians in every other church.
However, since I have been a lead worshiper at times in the past, and since one of my passions is worship (to include specifically the musical part often done in church gatherings), I wanted to give Mr. McAdams’ points due consideration.
At best, he’s being silly and nit-picking, but generally harmless. At worst, he’s way off Scripture, and his condemnations foist an assumed truth based on misunderstandings upon his readers.
He makes important points about what worship has become to many churches. It can be a spectacle or performance with little or no heart. It can be focused on the congregation without giving due regard to the God we’re supposedly worshiping. It can be a misguided attempt to draw more people who otherwise might not be interested in church. And it can feel like a talent show where people get attention.
Those faults are also potentially true of everything else we do in church. But we don’t stop preaching even though I’ve heard people talk about what a powerful speaker a pastor is. We don’t stop giving to the community for fear that someone might do it to be seen doing good. We don’t stop sharing the Gospel even though some Christians talk about the converts they’ve made like an ace pilot keeps track of his kills in combat.
McAdams’ post questioning whether we need instruments in worship makes so many important points that I wish I could share it for all that’s right in his assessment of modern worship. He mentions so many causes for concern that I personally share. Modern worship runs the risk of becoming a distraction, a business model, a Play-Doh fun machine churning out tepid and indistinguishable songs onto albums to create dollars instead of devotion.
But the critique goes awry when McAdams takes a logical point (you don’t need instruments to worship) and makes it a mandatory stance (churches must not use instruments to worship). He does this even while pointing to scripture that tells us to do whatever we do for the glory of God.
In so doing, he throws the grace out with the guitars.
The second post I linked is McAdams’ case for why instruments ought to be forbidden in church. He uses the example of ordering a pizza. If he orders a pizza with Canadian bacon and pineapple, those are the toppings he expects to receive, no more, no less.
The analogy is, if God in the New Testament only mentions making music with our lips and our thankful hearts, then those are the only “toppings” God wants on His praise-pie. The New Testament makes no mention of musical instruments, only psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
And McAdams argues, that silence is a prohibitive restriction in the same way that I don’t need to say “No green peppers” if I order his pizza as described earlier.
The logic is flawed.
What would 1st century hearers possibly think when told to sing psalms and hymns? Would they possibly think of the psalms of David and others recorded in scripture? Would they see it in a way appropriate to their culture? Was music with instruments forbidden as an expression of worship for the Jewish people?
Psalm 92:1-3 “It is good to give thanks to the LORD… with the ten-stringed lute and with the harp, with resounding music upon the lyre.”
Psalm 33:2 “Give thanks the LORD with the lyre; sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.”
Psalm 81:2-3 “Raise a song, strike the timbrel, the sweet sounding lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet…” (all references NASB)
That search took all of two seconds. And there’s plenty more.
McAdams makes the case that the Old Testament doesn’t apply here, just like the pizza order I made last week may not be the toppings I want today. We’re under the New Testament, so what God orders in the New is all that matters.
But the OT informs the NT, and gives us a perspective on the understanding 1st century hearers would have. Otherwise, let’s strip it out of the Bibles, because we only need what is recorded in the NT, right?
By definition, “psalms” and “songs” could be logically assumed to involve music with instruments. The counterpoint to his pizza analogy is that—without specifically saying so—he expects his pizza toppings to arrive placed upon a crust covered with sauce and cheese, because that’s what a pizza is.
The difference between his misguided focus and my rant is this: grace.
Self-righteousness likes to tell others where they’re going wrong. But Grace is big enough to say “If you worship without instruments, praise God! If you worship with instruments, praise God! Do everything for the glory of God!”
A radical thought, I know… but one that’s big enough for us all to come together.
This is the first of five meditations I wrote for a project last year. When my iCloud account got accidentally purged, I thought I lost these. But I recently found a file, so I thought I’d share them online.
The other four will be scheduled for Monday mornings, to start the week out looking for God to lead in our lives.
GOD LEADS US AT OUR BEST
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus… (Colossians 3:17, NIV)
“But I don’t want to go to Japan.”
Near the end of language training for the Air Force, my class received orders. Mine said, “Okinawa.”
I whined long-distance to my parents in Chicago. Before the military, I didn’t live away from home for any length of time. Flying to Texas for Basic was the farthest I’d ever been from Mom and Dad. Training in California came next, but I could still drive home if I wanted.
Okinawa is the other side of the world.
There was a big test coming soon. We would have to prove we knew our language well enough to continue to our next duty station. It would be easy to miss some questions. My best friend was on his way to a different job because his grades were low. I could do that too, I thought. Fail, and stay close to home.
My parents no doubt wanted me to stay. But my father advised me, “You need to do your best. If God doesn’t want you to go to Japan, you won’t. But if He does want you there, you’d be wrong to resist.”
I graduated from language school and continued on to Japan.
Over six years on Okinawa, I met my wife, got married, had two children, and rededicated myself to Christ. Now I see God prepared His best for me. But I had to give my best to see it fulfilled.
I’m happy to say I passed the test.
Application: God may use skills we’ve developed to reveal the path we should take.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.