Category Archives: Inspirational

Blue Notes

photo by Greg Betza on flickr

photo by Greg Betza on flickr (CC)

“What you do doesn’t matter,” said that subtle, yet unnoticeably evil voice in my head one tragic Sunday morning last year. Most of the time, in my personal opinion, we give Satan far too much credit for many of the evils in our life that we are more than capable of creating ourselves (unfortunately, I know this all too well from experience). However, this morning was different, but I can only see that in hindsight now. At the time I didn’t know where it came from, but it was clear as a bell and I bought it–hook, line and sinker. Much of the back story of this day you can find in my post here (“When I Lost My Faith”).  You see, the day before this, a very dear friend (of the romantic kind) took her own life unexpectedly (having had a rare but recent relapse with the effects of PTSD). Not only was she a romantic interest, but she was a bright hope in what had been an otherwise very trying year for me. She was one of the kindest and most selfless people I have ever known. She loved Jesus and she loved her daughter at a depth that I have rarely seen. She was the poster child for inspiring. But she was gone. Even still, her sweet, precious teenage daughter was left without her mom. Needless to say, I was crushed to the core and so was my faith. Even still, the following day was Sunday, and the voice I heard came to me just as I was rolling into the parking lot to help facilitate the worship of hundreds of people that morning.

All I could think about in that moment was “You’re right. Some people will like what is presented today and some people won’t. They’ll all keep their scorecard in our upscale Atlanta suburb and pat themselves on the back for having done their religious duty, go home to their perfect suburban lives, and all the while my heart is shattered and a precious teenage daughter woke up this morning without her mom.” Of course that wasn’t true either, as some of the most devout believers I have ever known would be in that congregation that morning and most wouldn’t think that way, but some did and Satan always has a way of making ten sound like a thousand. Even in our upscale Atlanta suburb, wealth was no refuge to brokenness. Brokenness can exist in any socioeconomic environment and there were plenty of people hungry to see Jesus that day as well. But I bought it (the lie) that day like I never have before. That one lie started a downhill spiral for me that looked more like a negative “G” roller coaster than any hill I’ve ever seen. It stole my hope, my purpose and unfortunately, even my identity. I shouted questions at God louder and faster than any AK-47 ever could. You see, “sovereignty” sounds great in theory until it touches you or someone you love. “God has a plan…” yada, yada. Really? I wanted no part of that plan.

Fast Forward: God placed some of the best people in my life in the days and months following to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus to this hurting heart. Don’t get me wrong…it took a while and many repeated attempts (along with some really poor decisions), but slowly God opened my heart to seeing Him once again, but this time with new eyes, and better yet–a new heart. Please don’t misunderstand me. I still struggle with what happened that day. I may never completely understand the “why”. I’m still not convinced that it was “God’s plan” either. I believe a battle was lost that day, but I do know Who ultimately wins the war. I am more convinced of that than ever.

In the days following I found myself several times on “the other side” of the platform as just a regular, wounded child of God struggling for faith in a place where I needed to hear from Him like never before—and ironically, the lie that I believed that ultimately led to my downfall–it was its antithesis that ultimately led to my return. I was moved in worship in the most unexpected places. I discovered that brokenness doesn’t care about the style of music or what the worship team was wearing that day or even how cool the lights looked, but it does care about transparency, truth and grace.

There may have been people “keeping score” on those days too, but I was too broken to notice or care. Because some folks decided instead of “doing church” for the power brokers, and instead, being the church for the broken, my life was once again transformed. All I needed was Jesus, and in many cases, Jesus is exactly what I found. I didn’t need the latest from the “worship wars” or the “culture war”–I just needed Jesus.

In music there’s a term for sharps and flats that are not found naturally in the key of the music–they’re called “accidentals”.  In Jazz, sometimes these are referred to as “blue notes”. It’s what gives a lot of jazz and blues its characteristic sound. A great band leader knows how to use these “accidentals” to create and respond with something more rich and moving than the notes normally found within the key. In American history however, these “blue notes” often stemmed from pain and oppression. While none of us would wish for pain or oppression for anyone (especially ourselves or a loved one), take a moment and think about the beauty and colors that have come from these “accidentals”. What if God can take the blue notes of our lives and in return gives us something more colorful and deep from which to draw? Blue notes in the hands of amateurs can sound out of tune and off color, but in the hands of a Master, they can add a richness and depth to the music that wouldn’t have been there without them. Holding on to blue notes by themselves does nothing—they’re just notes with no context, but if looked at through the song of faith in the hands of the Master, they can have purpose and meaning that you otherwise would never see.

So, worship leader (or ministry leader), what you do does matter and it often is messy, but you are the ones who help people give their blue notes to the Master so He can create something better with them. Only, please do it with excellence and grace as if people’s lives depend on it–because they actually do. But you don’t bear that burden alone. Just show them Jesus and walk with them on the journey, no matter how messy—God will still make the music.

What “blue notes” is God making music with in your life? Share your story in the comments. Someone needs to hear it.

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If you or a loved one are battling with the thought of suicide, please seek immediate help. No matter how desperate you may feel, this is not the end of the road and God will use your story for your good and His glory. Hang on and please seek help. You can find help from a friend, a pastor or from one of the resources below.

*Resources for PTSD and suicide prevention:

1 (800) 273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Hotline

National Institute of Mental Health

The Samaritan Institute

Association of Certified Biblical Counselors

 

 

You Can’t Get It, But You Can Have It

giftToday I got an unexpected phone call from an old friend. We talked a lot about faith and in the course of that conversation, I verbalized some things that I’ve been beginning to realize new and fresh in recent days. In a recent post (“When I Lost My Faith”) I talked about the journey I’ve been on the last year or so, the events that led to a crisis of belief for me and my intellectual and willful journey back. Though I made many realizations and began to accept some hard truths, I still wasn’t “there”. Don’t get me wrong, we never fully “arrive” when it comes to our faith, but what I’ve known and experienced in the past has been an ongoing inward desire even though I wasn’t always perfect in the way I lived that out. I wanted that again, but knew I didn’t have it.  I read a lot about it. I know that true faith is a gift from God, but if it’s a gift, what do you do to get it?

You Can’t Get It

A lot of our experience in life can be a simple numbers game. That’s true in sales. If you hustle and make enough contacts and follow the right processes long enough, eventually you can make things happen. Ask enough girls on a date and eventually one will say “yes” (“So you’re saying there’s a chance!”–thank you Jim Carey). Anyone can do that. That’s the American dream, right? But what if the thing you want can’t be “hustled” for? That can be a frustrating place to be, can’t it? That’s where I was. Here’s what I realized–Most of the time I didn’t have it, I didn’t really want it. I was done. I was angry. I was hurt, wounded and frustrated. My story wasn’t being written the way I thought it should be, so I took the pen back. Yeah, that worked like a champ.

The more empty I became, the more I realized what I used to take for granted. I knew there was more. I had experienced it many times before, but I tend to have a really short memory. Most of us do, if we’re honest. What I had experienced before was also in the context of a fairly untested “bubble”. I had it good but I was very out of touch, yet we get very angry if anyone tries to mess with that “bubble” (look at how many people of faith act in the political arena when their views are threatened as an example…or just try to change the music in your church even slightly and watch how “Christ-like” people respond). I say that in jest, to a certain extent, but unfortunately it’s all too true. None of us like change, really–unless it’s our kind of change, whatever that is. So, bottom line–my bubble burst and I didn’t like it.

But, You Can Have It

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:8).

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…” (Colossians 2:6)

“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!” (Matt 7:11).

Somewhere along my journey back, I prayed a very raw, but honest prayer that sounded something like this:

God, I know you’re there because I’ve known You before, but it’s not because I feel You now. If the truth be known, I haven’t felt You in months, but if You’re there, I guess You already know that. I want to believe You but just don’t feel like I can anymore. BUT, if what the Bible says is true, then faith doesn’t really come from me, it comes from You. I sure don’t deserve it, but I guess that’s what grace is all about. So here’s the deal…if you could find a way to give me faith once again, as best as I can tell, I believe I would gladly receive it.

The conclusion of that prayer wasn’t fireworks and flashes of light and it certainly didn’t come immediately, but I had a quiet assurance in my heart that if I really wanted it, He would give it to me again….and He did. One day I woke up and sensed His presence once again, perhaps like never before. Many inward concerns and worries, seemed to fade in the light of that Presence. I’ve already blown it, but that faith is still there–so is His grace.

So, you can blame God for the injustices you see in the world and the seeming injustices of your own life and you know what? He’ll even let you for a while. I’ve spoken to God with more raw disrespect than I’ve ever spoken to anyone in my life. I don’t say that as the magic formula for a thriving prayer life, but in His grace God knew that allowing me to get that out, was enough to let Him in. After all, I wasn’t screaming at the wall, my car, myself, or some other deity–I was screaming at God, which proved one thing–I knew He was still there. Eventually, by experience, I came to know the truth of this: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

So if you find yourself without faith today, ask yourself this question: “How much do I really want it?”

You may be surprised by the answer.

 

 

What I’m Learning About Sharing My Story

109452829_e4288fa899_oYesterday, I posted about my journey through this last year. I told the story that had led to a crisis of faith for me and my journey back (I have by no means “arrived”). The response toward it was overwhelming. I’ve been thinking about if, how, or when I would share my story for a while, but the timing never seemed right and I wasn’t convinced it was anything anyone wanted to hear it. For a long time for me, when I would write, I would mostly share what I thought people wanted to hear and that often would lead to the typical “Sunday School” answers you would expect from a ministry leader. Yesterday, I said to h*^% with it and shared my heart. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot right about “Sunday School” answers and if I would have paid better attention in Sunday School (or actually acted upon what I already knew), maybe my story would look different. The problem with “Sunday School” answers is not so much with the answers themselves but in their timing and how they are delivered from other “class mates”. If there is any bitterness I may still harbor about this last year, it’s probably in that. For example, when a 15 year old girl is mourning over her mother’s tragic and untimely death, it’s not the time to tell her that “heaven has received another angel” (which really shouldn’t be a Sunday School answer either, but I digress). Or when you’ve lost everything and have nothing, it’s not the time to hear “Oh, you’ll bounce back” when you don’t even know how you’re going to pay for your next meal. I’ve received lots of “advice” over the past several months, but the best “advice” I received was from a former pastor’s wife who really offered no advice at all, but simply shared her own story. She said,

I can’t imagine what you are going through because my pain is very different from yours, but I do understand pain (and she does). All I can tell you is that there will come a day when you are tired of being hurt and you will pick yourself up and move on. I can’t tell you when that will be or what your process will be for getting there, but if you’ll hold on, that time will come.

I listened to her because I knew enough about her story to know she was speaking from experience and if she could do it, maybe I could too. So I just want to share a few brief thoughts about what I’m learning about having shared my own story and hopefully, it will encourage you to share yours, no matter how ugly you might think it is.

People are more gracious than you might think.

That’s probably the biggest fear I had about sharing my story–“what will people think?”.  That fear alone has probably hindered more love, innovation and progress than any other fear on the planet. Will Smith (that great theologian and rap recording artist) has said “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me danger is very real but fear is a choice.”  He also said “We spend money that we do not have, on things we do not need, to impress people who do not care.” For most church people, our currency is not money but pride, but it works the same way. Sure, even yesterday I had a few “unfriend” me on Facebook or change my status, but that pales in comparison to the overwhelming amount of people who actually resonated with my story. Your story is different, but needs to be told just the same. Don’t worry about what people think and just be yourself, because everyone else is already taken. Which leads me to my next thought:

No one else can tell your story for you.

Your story is unique. So are you. No one else can tell your story for you, especially if you’ve never shared it. One day you might be quoted in books or blogs, or maybe you’ll just help your child see you’re human after all and help them through a difficult time. Either way, your story is worth sharing and someone, somewhere needs to hear it. Can you imagine where we would be if we never knew the whole story of Peter or David from the Bible? (That may be a bit unfair, because most of the “bad” stuff was written by someone else, but that’s what you get for having it recorded FOREVER in the Bible). Why do their stories inspire us so? Because more of us identify with them than we often care to admit. Failure is part of life. We all have failed or will fail (most of us in big ways at some point). Don’t rob your world of a story that could make sure someone else’s continues (suicide and complacency are all too common in our culture–both are nearly as tragic). I’ve been too close to both myself, and it’s the stories I’ve heard from those not afraid to share it that have literally kept me alive.

Telling your story helps reinforce your own values.

By telling my story out loud (and on the intrawebs), I help to solidify those things that I truly hold dear. As much as I wanted to run both from my story and my values, my values kept coming to the surface. Not the exterior ones that can shape and change with time, but the ones you know deep down inside are really you. The non-negotiables. For me, as much as I wanted to give up on God and run and see “how the other half lives”, I couldn’t–well, not for long. The whole time I was running, I knew I wasn’t being true to myself and who God created me to be. BUT, I also found that for too long, I had confused my values with those things that I thought others also wanted to see. Tragedy and trauma have a way of stripping you down to nothing but who you really are. Regardless of how successful or tragic your life has been, you are not your job, your title, your knowledge, your bank account, or even your relationships (or the lack of any of those things). You are you. Nothing more, nothing less. And believe it or not, it’s actually you that people want to know. Regardless of your position in life (or lack thereof), that’s what people really want and need. They really don’t care about your image–really. But you’ll have to find that out for yourself.

Your story can be more helpful than you realize.

I had no idea what kind of response I would get from telling my story (and for the first time in my life, I really didn’t care). You see, at the time, it was more of a selfish endeavor. I shared it more for me than for anyone else–or so I thought. While I have a very small platform, relatively speaking, the response that I have received has been more encouraging than I could have ever dreamed. I mean, who is really going to find inspiration from a self-avowed hypocrite who has turned his back on all he claimed to believe and still is not completely sure of where he is now? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. I guess we all identify with failure, though, but we don’t really like to think about it (and definitely not write about it!). All I can hope is that in sharing my story, I have encouraged others to share their story too. Go ahead and put it out there. Whether it’s a casual conversation with a friend or a spouse, or published for the world to see, somebody, somewhere needs to hear it, and even if not–you need to tell it. Telling my story has probably been more helpful for me than for anyone else. Go ahead–the people you’re trying to impress by keeping it to yourself don’t really care anyway, but if you tell it, you may be surprised by the audience.

What scares you most about your own story? What do you think it would take for you to share it?

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” – Rudyard Kipling

When I Lost My Faith

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“Without faith it is impossible to please Him (God)…”. You may have heard this before. I’ve recently been soberly contemplating this verse as it seems my faith has largely vanished. Being brought face to face with the ugliness of this life and seeing the general condition of the world around us, I’ve found myself where many others have been: “How can a good God allow these things?”.

For some perspective, I’ve spent the last 16 years as a worship leader in local churches (the last several of which at what many would refer to as “mega” churches). But this past year I’ve seen the disintegration of my family as I have known it through a divorce. I experienced the loss of my father and caring for a mother whose health is deteriorating. I have mourned the untimely and tragic death of a new found love and witnessed the tidal wave of sorrow and confusion for those left behind. I have seen the resulting poor decisions, loss of career, finances and the broken hearts that I have hurt while trying to pick up the pieces. I don’t say this to garner pity or justify any of my poor decisions but to give some perspective of where this comes from. This is not the story I wanted to write.

My faith has been shaken to the core. I have honestly and intently looked elsewhere for meaning, fulfillment and some sense of purpose in the wake of it all. I have perused, pursued and participated in (too) many “alternatives” and have come up just as empty as I went in. Nothing brought relief and nothing seemed to satisfy. Have you ever stood before a congregation leading them in songs that you aren’t sure you even believed yourself? I have. Have you posted inspirational scriptures to social media hoping to find the faith to one day believe them? I have. Have you ever led “worship” while living completely opposed to the values that you claim to share? I have. Have you ever used others that you claimed to love in an attempt to drown out your own pain? Yep, that too. What I have found, though, is my story is not all that rare. Through my trials and poor decisions, I have found far more people that identify with the story I never intended to write. If there ever was an ivory tower, it has been torn down to its foundation. For too long, all I could see was the rubble, but now I’m beginning to see how those pieces could be used to build something of even greater significance (who actually lives in an ivory tower, anyway?), and someplace I hope to one day call “home”–a place that’s honest, and yes, at times uncomfortable, but always real and relevant to me, my family and to anyone who cares to share in the journey.

So why do I write today? Obviously, my audience (both of you), may have changed. I used to write mostly about issues in the “church world” from the perspective of a pastor engulfed in worship and the arts. While those are still of high interest to me, I doubt my current job in sales gives me much credibility in the “arts” world and my past year has pretty much determined that the word “pastor” not be used as a title in my name at least for some time. So, with that in mind, I write here today as simply someone learning how to be a child of God–a beloved child of God. It’s not easy. It feels like it should be. But it’s not. I don’t write as someone who has the answers and I don’t write from a place of healing and victory (yet). I do write from a changing perspective that though I may not have the answers, there are questions still worth pursuing.  It’s these questions that I hope to ask and share with you as I journey on this path of being “beloved” of God and rediscover with my heart some really important things I’ve known in my head for a long time.  Some will think less of me (yes, I am a hypocrite and a pretty big one at that), but maybe some may find my story redemptive enough to join me on the journey. I still have doubts. Many. BUT I am also finding that if you’ve never doubted, I doubt that you’ve ever truly believed.

So, what has brought me to this place?

I cannot ignore the rational evidence of God.

When I had no faith, I was forced to look at alternatives. I also realized that all self-conscious creatures have to exercise “faith” in something. If there was truly no God, then where did everything come from? I am familiar with many of the alternatives, but honestly, I don’t have enough faith to believe in those either. I’ve always known this intellectually, but now I know this from experience. You see, either way, daily life is a matter of faith or willing ignorance. I’ve never been a fan of willing ignorance (it’s just the way I’m wired), though I’ve participated in it plenty. So, that left me with either putting my “faith” in some form of chance or in an intelligent designer. Personally, I have to choose design. I cannot “prove” God but I also cannot deny the evidence.

I cannot ignore my past experiences with God

If we’re honest, many of us church folks have had “questionable” religious experiences–you know that time the hair on your arms stood up during the key change of your favorite worship song that “spoke” to you during that horrible time in your life only to find out it happened again at the Journey concert with your girlfriend while listening to the intro of “Faithfully” (which is also, no doubt, goosebump worthy–thank you Jonathan Cain). BUT, also if I’m honest, I cannot deny several times that were undeniably “God moments”.  It was those moments (mostly during quiet prayer or passionate private worship) that kept coming back to me. Sure, some may explain them away as internally constructed “promptings” of my own creation, but my experience tells me different. Again, I cannot prove them to you, but I also can’t deny them.

I cannot ignore what I know about the Bible

The Bible is an incredibly complex collection of “books” written by over 40 authors over more than 1,500 years amid varying cultural contexts. Most reasonable people (based on many years of archaeological research) won’t deny that. It’s what you believe following these facts that dictates how you respond. I will also be the first to tell you that anyone who tells you they have ALL the answers to the difficult parts of the Bible–you need to be the first to run like the wind. No one does, no matter what they say. There are difficult parts of the Bible–there is no doubt about that. Some appear at a surface glance as a result of differing cultural and religious contexts (should we really stone disobedient children? should women really be silent in church?), and some from seeing what seems to be competing ideas about who God is (like God’s judgment vs. His love, or how can a loving God allow such evil in the world, or what is the Trinity, really?). There are many who have written much about these difficult topics with varying levels of success, but if most of us are honest, we probably identify more with Mark Twain who said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.” What I have found about the Bible can probably be summed up in the answers to 2 questions–and herein lies the difficulty:

1) Am I really as bad as the Bible says that I am? Yes.

2) Am I really as loved by God as the Bible says that I am? Yes.

Religion (based on my performance) can’t fix that.

I can’t ignore what I know about Jesus

In John chapter 5 in the New Testament, Jesus sees a crippled man and asks a question we all need to answer: “Do you want to be made well?”  If you are a human being and have lived any length of time on this earth and believe that you have absolutely no need of being made well, you can feel free to move along and stop reading now. I can’t help you. You don’t need it. BUT, if we’re truly honest, we know we’re all broken to some degree or another. Most of us deep down inside know we need to be fixed and we all want to be loved unconditionally. But I’ve discovered religion can’t fix me. Turning a new leaf can’t fix me. Living by a set of “theories” about love or anything else can’t fix me either (regardless of what a well-meaning, charming, yet ridiculously moralistic “Christian” movie may say–sorry “Old Fashioned”). But being transformed by a living relationship with God made possible by Jesus can. I need to be reminded of this.

If you want to know what God is like–look at Jesus (John 14:9 – “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…). Study the gospels, look at the life of Jesus and see the passion (and the failures) of His followers and His beloved in the days following his resurrection. We are not all that different. I resonate with C. S. Lewis (once an agnostic) who said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”²  It’s the only “filter” that really works for me. Are you free to reject Christ’s claims and go wherever you want? Sure you are. I have. But I had to stumble over a Savior with out-stretched hands on a cross to get there and you will too.  At the end of the day, the Bible isn’t about rules, but about revealing a relationship with God. In nearly every belief system and civilization in history, citizens died to make someone king, but in Christianity, a King died so we could be citizens. I’m finding a love like that to be more and more undeniable even despite my many doubts.

I can’t ignore the power of genuine community

When my faith has been at it’s lowest points, it seems that often at just the “right” times, God sends the “right” people into my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still struggling with those times where I felt completely isolated and alone and those times still come. Bot too often to deny, my faith has been strengthened by someone or a group of “someones” who were there for me. It takes some brutal honesty to get the greatest benefit (at great vulnerability and risk–they might really judge you despite what they tell you), but when you’ve hit rock bottom, what do you have to lose?  Over 15 years of “making church people happy” (the unwritten job description most pastors have of their worship and music leaders but will deny to their grave) can wear on you. BUT with all that said, while many churches don’t “get it”, many Christians do and churches everywhere are full of people who do actually “get it”. You just have to work a little to find them sometimes, but they’re there. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (look it up if you’re under 30). If you’ve been burned by a church before, I challenge you to give it another shot. Just quit looking for the perfect church, because they’re filled with people like me. But if you find the right one, they just might point you to Jesus.

Have you ever been in a place where you doubted your faith? What brought you to that place? How did you get back or have you?  I’d love to hear your story and I think others would too. 

“The story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us.” – Donald Miller from Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy.

 

 

Praise the Name of the Lord

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Blessings


With Thanksgiving approaching, you may find yourself in a place where you are wondering what in the world you’re going to be thankful for this year. For you, this year may look very different from last year–it certainly does for me. Maybe you find yourself on the mountaintop or maybe you are wondering what in the world you’re going to do next. Maybe you’ve lost a marriage, a family member, a love,  your job, your sanity or maybe all of the above.Thanksgiving Crossroads

You may have more to be thankful for than you know but it may look very different than you think. Don’t stop. Keep looking. I’m looking too.

 

It is Well with My Soul

It-is-Well

Many know the story of the beloved gospel song “It is Well with My Soul”, and have found comfort both in its message and the story behind the song. Horatio Spafford, a friend of the famed evangelist D. L. Moody and prominent attorney in Chicago in the 1860’s, penned the words of this song. In 1870, a series of family tragedies began with the death of he and his wife Anna’s only son at the age of four. About a year later, Spafford’s extensive real estate investments were destroyed in the Great Fire of Chicago.

Two years later in 1873, the Spafford family decided to holiday in England hoping to catch up with D. L. Moody who was preaching a series of meetings there. Delayed on business, Spafford sent his family ahead of him and while crossing the Atlantic their ship sank from colliding with another and 226 people lost their lives including Spafford’s four daughters. Anna, his wife was spared in the tragedy and sent a telegram back that said “Saved alone.” Spafford set sail for England and approaching near the location where his daughter’s lost their lives, he was inspired to write the lyrics of this well beloved song.

It is Well with My Soul
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Refrain:
It is well (it is well)
with my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord haste the day, when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Each verse seems to track a very normative response to tragedy as often experienced through the eyes of faith. There is no question of the reference to his great family loss in verse one and then there is the reference to what is often perceived as spiritual warfare as we continue to reel from the effects of life’s tragedies. Much like a predator who can sniff out weakness, Satan often comes in to finish the job, whether he can be credited with starting it or not. Then, Spafford, much like many of us, comes to realize though “life” may have taken turns and experienced loss none would anticipate or desire, we realize how we too, are sinners saved by grace and even in great loss, we realize we have for more than we could ever deserve in this life or the next–mainly our freedom and forgiveness from sin! Then, in that we realize that as difficult as life may be, we have hope and assurance that it will not always be this way. One day, ALL will be restored and we will see our Savior face to face and in complete fulfillment, all will be well with our souls.

Enjoy this rendition from Jeremi Richardson (of Avalon) and the great folks at Northland Church in Orlando, Florida.

 

What songs have helped you express your faith walk and why? You can leave your comments below. (Click “Read More” to open the comments box).

Overflow

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May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. –Rom 15:13

Hope. It’s such a great word, isn’t it? It tells us that though all is not right in the world, things are not always now as they one day will be. You don’t have to look far, though, to notice that hope is something that’s desperately missing in the world we live in. Christ followers aren’t exempt from the hurts of this life either, but we do have a hope that only God can give and a future that only faith can see. It ’s these “intangible” truths that provide the fuel for us to keep going when the going is hard, to keep trusting when the circumstances seem to tell us otherwise, and to keep loving, because in the end, that’s all that matters and love, ultimately, is all that will last (1 Corinthians 13). Since these “intangibles” are the only things that truly last, whether in this life or the next, maybe they’re more tangible than we often think.

The beauty and gift of pain in this life is that it reminds us that this is not all there is. C. S. Lewis said that one of the plights of humanity is that we are far too easily pleased. He says we’re like the child content with making mud pies in the slums because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  When life is “good” we tend to settle. When life is painful, we tend to hope and long for what is better. Paul gives us this encouragement so that the miracle of hope would overflow and be visible to those around us. Hope implies something better is coming. The good news is that we don’t always have to wait for heaven to experience the “betterness” of God. He longs to give us so much of Himself even now. A favorite passage that is often quoted in reference to heaven actually speaks of the life that we can even now begin to experience through the Spirit of God. “However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’– the things God has prepared for those who love him– these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” [1Co 2:9-10]  What could possibly be more “deep” in this life than a peace that passes all understanding (can’t be explained–only experienced), and a hope that is secure? (Heb 6:19)

So let’s join together with expectation of an outpouring of His Spirit that we may all experience the Kingdom that is “now but not yet” in all of the fullness available to us today. We hope, we long, we yearn for that overflow.

Keep Showing Up

Lay it Down Before the Lord

Sometimes showing up for worship opens old wounds. Sometimes they have to be opened in order to be healed. Hannah’s story in the Bible indicates that she may have understood this even though no one around her did (1 Sam 1:1-28). She so longed for a child. She had no one that understood the battle that was going on inside her, but she kept showing up for worship. She even had to “worship” with those who misunderstood and taunted her. One time the pain became so great that she wept and prayed before the Lord so intensely that Eli the priest mistook her for being drunk! Not only was she misunderstood in her life and desires, but even in her worship—and by those who should have understood her the most!

There are times in life when the only one who understands you is God Himself. It is those times where we need Him most, even when we can’t feel him or see Him at work. Sometimes it is in those times that He can seem the most distant as well. Hannah knew one thing–though she struggled with faith and conflict at home–the only place for this burden was to place it before the Lord and leave it there.

Sometimes when life kicks your guts out and every motive and move you make are misunderstood (even your own worship), we can learn from Hannah in that we just keep showing up. God is waiting even when we can’t always feel Him or perceive what He’s doing (or NOT doing). He’s still there. Just keep showing up. You’ll eventually find Him because He’s never once lost you.

Allow this song (Never Once) from Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons album encourage your heart today.

Orphans of God

Holy_spiritIn John chapter 13, Jesus had just finished unloading some heavy news to His disciples–His betrayal, Peter’s denial, and in chapter 12, He even tells of His own impending death! This would be heavy news, regardless of the recent surrounding circumstances, however, putting ourselves in the timeline of the disciples, this news also comes on the heals of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem! It only seemed like moments earlier that Jesus was about to take, what many thought should be His rightful place as King and overthrow the oppressive Roman government. We can see from the testimony of Scripture and the events that followed that this was difficult news to process, as nearly anyone could imagine.

Yet, on the heels of all of this, Jesus offers some incredible words to His followers in John 14. In verse 18, Jesus offers them this–”I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”  We can be certain that they did not fully grasp the significance of what all of that meant, but I have a feeling that they could hear and see Jesus’ heart as he says, “Let not your hearts be troubled” as He reminds them that this world is not all that there is. BUT, in the meantime, Jesus’ promise to them and to us is that He would be WITH us through the person of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus knew that there will be times in this world where we may feel alone, abused, beat up, not-measured-up, and simply forgotten. In the fallen world that we call “home” (for now), if we are fortunate to live long enough, we will likely be well acquainted with much of the unpleasantries of this life. Yet, Jesus’ promise to us is that He would not leave us as orphans. Our heavenly Father is the very definition of all that is good and His ultimate concern for us is unwavering. We can take that to the proverbial “bank”.

So, in this fallen world, let’s rest assured that no matter what this world dishes out and regardless of the self-destructive decisions and behaviors that so often betray us, we have a God who will never leave us nor forsake us and even dances over us with joy. He does not remember our past, but sees in us the infinite joy and purpose of the child that He created us to be. As the song made popular by Avalon so eloquently states, there really are “no orphans of God.”

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