Category Archives: Worship

Heed the Whispers

I was bored in line at the Post Office and decided to play with my FridgePoems app.


The frustration actually came after the poem. While I was waiting for my teen and my middle schooler, I got bad news from work that spun me up about how people make decisions at the last minute. 

The poem’s a little (ok, a lot) emo, acting like the writer is facing the end of the world. But in the middle of the chaos and storms of life, there’s a still, small Voice calling us to a place of serenity. We all have these things that set us off… and I firmly and fully believe it’s up to us how we react to them.

I did in fact heed the whispers, make some time, and sit and worship at the piano. I just didn’t realize I was writing this for me when I put the words together.

(Plus I made tacos for dinner. Tacos fix pretty much everything.)

The Same Love

We played this song for our worship set at church a few weeks back. I liked it well enough when I first heard it–sounded kind of like U2 (and the chord progression blends right into With or Without You).

But the words emphasize the universal aspects of the Christian faith, the stuff that reinforces what’s common to all of us. It speaks to the widespread nature of God’s love, the human condition common to us all, and the far-reaching call, with a central focus on the cross of Christ.

As I back off a bunch of political debates and frustrating arguments with fellow believers and non-Christians alike, I’m reminded of what’s important to me.

In this place at the foot of the cross, the same Love calls out to all of us, wherever we are.

The same love that calls to the poor and says, “I will be your treasure” is the one that calls to the rich, points to the poor, and says, “Treasure what I treasure.”

The same love that calls to the weak and says, “I will be your strength” calls out to the strong, points to the weak, and says, “Be my hands to lift their burden; be my arms to defend them.”

The same love that calls to the outcast and marginalized and says, “You are welcome here forever and always” is the love that says to the popular and the in-crowd, “Treat them how you’d like to be treated. Go out into the furthest reaches and love them as I have loved you.”

The same love that died for all lives and declared that all lives matter must point our attention to injustice and oppression in the world wherever it is found, calling out that those particular lives in danger matter right now.

The same love that paid the price for all sin and paved a way for all sinners is the one calling us to drop our pretenses and hypocritical standards, fling wide the gates, and let whosoever will come.

Because most often, out there among them is where you will find Him.

Under Illusion

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.

On the Record

My writing word count spreadsheet mocks me. So many zero entries in the last week! I just finished a 6-week Mandarin Chinese refresher course, which might explain some of the lack of effort–except there was hardly any homework to occupy my off-duty time.

No problem, I told myself. I’ll do amazing writing things over the 4-day weekend for Memorial Day. 

Yeah, not so much.

Problem-but-not-really 1) Overwatch is amazing and I want to play it just about every waking moment even though it’s basically run into battle, use whichever character’s amazing powers, then die and do it again. 

Seriously, it’s fun. Evil fun. Like “lock up the PlayStation 4 so I will maybe write a word in the near future” fun.

Problem-but-not-really 2) I did some other creative things instead. A couple weeks ago, I picked up the handy talnts app (which I keep reading as ‘taints’ and I really don’t like that mental image but there you have it). It’s basically LinkedIn for creative people. The app has an option to share YouTube videos of which I had none. But a family friend asked me to record a worship song for her, and I marked “pianist” as one of my talents in the app… kill two birds with one stone? Sure why not!

Indescribable
While my Christian friends might appreciate the rendition of Indescribable, I have a lot of other friends who won’t care. But I know there’s a special fondness in the heart of many gamers for the music of Final Fantasy VI, particularly the Opera Song. So here’s that one too.

Final Fantasy VI Opera Song
All in all, my word count is shameful to behold over the last week, but it was a nice break. I’d already written more words in May than in any previous month this year, so I don’t feel too bad. 

Saturday Night's Alright

I’m so excited. 

Our base chapel started a Saturday evening service, which works well for lazy old feeble folks like me that want that slow Sunday morning. 

And they have a choir director who has been filling in playing keys but doesn’t particularly want to do that.

They also have this poor, unattended grand piano.

And I have a wife who plays violin…

So last week, I stepped up to say “You know who’s got two thumbs and plays some good piano? This guy.”

It’s a small, intimate service, but it’s contemporary and the music is pretty much everything I enjoy.

I know I shouldn’t pick a church based on what I like / what suits me. But I’m not going to complain at the chance to serve and contribute something missing to this small part of the Body of Christ.

Off for now, it’s time to jam!

Shadow-Boxing

A friend posted a cartoon that caught my eye. The character looked over a list of resolutions and expressed frustration, knowing this year’s efforts – like so many others – were doomed to failure. Then he changed the list to negative versions. “Get fat. Become weak. Watch more TV.” That kind of thing.

The last scene has his son looking at the list, while he lifts weights and sweats in exertion. His son says, “You’re off to a horrible start on these, Dad.” And he replies, “I know.”

I like that. 

I thought about 2015 and what I accomplished:

  • published three books available on Amazon and CreateSpace
  • regained an additional aircrew qualification in the military
  • Deployed to the Middle East for three months 
  • flew 89 sorties in the fiscal year (October – October) — roughly 1 every 4 days
  • beat out the rest of my coworkers on flights (one friend made it to 85… the next highest had 20 less than us)
  • started a family devotion time with my wife and kids
  • knocked out 5 separate debts
  • crawled out of the unfit mess I’d gotten myself into
  • started a walk-to-run program after not running for about five years
  • reached my lowest weight in about 10 years
  • used my talents in professional settings – performing vocals for the Japanese and American anthems for a co-worker’s retirement and playing Christmas tunes for social hour at our squadron holiday party
  • Played and sang for the chapel while deployed

All that said, I know “the rest of the story.”

  • I struggled for years to put those books together and can’t shake the feeling they could’ve been better
  • I’ve dropped several balls at work that now need to be addressed
  • I’ve let my relationships with my wife and kids grow stale or routine
  • I’ve done the same with my faith
  • I continue to make terrible spending decisions based on convenience, impatience, and selfishness
  • We’ve added or increased a couple debts while eliminating others
  • I crawled back into the unfit mess by ignoring fitness while focusing on other things
  • I’ve gained back most of the weight I lost
  • I’m still not doing anything on a regular basis with the talents I possess.

So this year, I’m not making empty promises to myself about what I will or won’t do. Like the comic, my list is full of anti-resolutions–the bad answers to questions I ask myself whenever I consider what 2016 holds. 

And I took a cue from a friend who recently posted a verse she chose for the year. My selection speaks to my frustration and my desire for better answers.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭9:24-27‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/1co.9.24-27.esv

I look forward to what this year holds… not because I expect some “new me” to appear. I just want to find the one I know already exists deep down.

Contributor if not Author

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.

IMG_1770
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.

Here’s the link to the book on Amazon: God Still Leads and Guides

Bridging the Gap

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.

IMG_1350.JPG

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.

Eye to Eye

I’m sure if you’ve seen Disney’s Frozen, you’ll remember this exchange:

Anna: We complete each others’–
Hans: Sandwiches!
Anna: I was just gonna say that!

What? Really?

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.

Sometimes By Step

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!”