Sunday’s Musings

Sunday’s Muse 2/24

Lazarus is dead — so are we without Jesus

“The Master . . . calleth for thee” — He still does

“I am . . . Life” — He still is

Jesus wept; they say, “He loved him” — His love is still immense and free

(You) Come forth! — Walk into newness of life. Reawaken into His Grand Purpose for your life. Live in His presence

Musings from John 11: 1-46

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Since Love is Lord of Heaven and Earth

Yesterday, on my commute homeward, I again realized music’s power to touch the soul.

The past week was a rough one. Interspersed with early morning and closing-at-midnight-work shifts, was an exam plus a head cold which I struggled to cure. Lingering over all this was a malaise birthed from a severe case of senioritis(that intense longing to finish the last year of school) and combined with a sudden, strong tripartite realization of how much of a non-traditional student I really am. It was affecting my psyche, even after working the Saturday morning Bluffton farmers market which usually is a mood-booster. Really, I had all the ingredients to throw a pity party for myself.

As I drove east through Ohio’s golden plains, one of the songs that Camerata Singers is singing this year started playing through my mind. It’s the Quaker text for “My Life Flows On” but rearranged by Z. Randall Stroope. I was drawn to the piece from the very first time we rehearsed the piece, yet yesterday was the first time it spoke to my soul’s needs. The song climaxes with the line, “while love is lord of heaven and earth . . .” Stroope did an excellent job of creating both suspense and a moving line that resolves in a peaceful close to the question posed by the text with “. . . how can I keep from singing?”.

As that line ran through my head, I thought of my week, the tiredness, the mental straining, the internal questioning of life and this pursuit of education. Contrasting my personal efforts of living life to the immutability of God’s position as Supreme Love and the ruler of both Heaven and Earth, I was humbled. The God I serve, the One to whom I owe my existence, is Love. He delights in being love. He is waiting for me to recognize that He loves me. And on the heels of mentally reviewing Stroope’s version of “My Life Flows On”, He spoke deeply into the core of my being. It was a simple line: Eric, I love you. You are Mine. Allowing that enter my heart, last week’s exhaustion and worries melted like a pat of butter on a stack of flapjacks. Immediately, I asked myself questions. If indeed, Love is Lord of both Heaven and Earth, why worry? Why do it on my own? Why not surrender and allow Him to lead? Why not sing? Because no matter what happens, He is still Lord.

Enjoy this YouTube recording of the piece. May it bless others as well.

 

Ignite the discussion,

EJ

 

Categories: About life, Sunday's Musings | 1 Comment

What’s Your Response?

Today, let’s do a thought experiment (this phrase is one of my rabbi’s favorite phrases).  Can you do it?  Maybe you don’t know what a thought experiment is?  Another way of saying it is, use your imagination!

 

Imagine you were in a foreign land.  No, you are not a visitor.  You are a citizen.  A national currency doesn’t exist.  Instead wealth is measured two ways: by the size of your family and by how many animals you own.  By both of these definitions, you are fabulously wealthy.  In fact, you are probably the richest person in your country.  Where did all this wealth come from?  Maybe you inherited some from your father?  I don’t know, but I suspect the bulk of it came from your own thriftiness and attention to detail.  Your wife runs a well-ordered household, which frees you to look after your own business.  And what a business!  You excel in agriculture and animal husbandry.  Your herds number into the thousands.  To look after all these animals, you employ a veritable army of servants who are knowledgeable about their job and operate with incredible efficiency.

 

All this wealth does not mean that you abandoned family or religion in order to accumulate it.  Your children are happy and well looked after.  They do not sponge off your wealth and good will.  Rather, they have established their own identity apart from your house. Birthdays cause celebrations and your sons look after their sisters with grace and an admirable chivalry.  You also are active in your faith community and have a deep spiritual connection with your God.  In short, life is good.  No reason exists to complain about the unfairness of life.  Somehow, you have unlocked the secret to having a successful life, while acknowledging the gracious hand of God on your life.

 

BUT . . .

 

The story turns.  It’s your oldest son’s birthday and like always, he is hosting his own party.  All of his siblings gather there for an all day party.  Otherwise, it’s a normal day of work.  Yet by nightfall, you receive word that a storm has flattened your son’s house, killing all inside.  None have survived.  All your wealth now has no heirs but wait!  You have no wealth.  All of your herds and animals have either been destroyed or stolen by roving bands of thieves and marauders.  Remember that entire army of servants?  All are dead, except for a few.  Every single, cultural signifier of wealth and greatness that you once had is gone.  Zip, zilch, nada.  In less than 24 hours, you have gone from being among the greatest men in your country to one of the poorest.  Now to complete this thought experiment . . . having gone through all that, what is your response?

 

By now you’ve probably caught on that I’ve asked you to imagine yourself as the Biblical Job.  But that is alright.  The life of Job teaches us many things but here is one small lesson I caught from a recent devotional given in my church.  Job’s response to the loss of his wealth and family is stunning.  Bear in mind, he lost everything.  In modern parlance, he didn’t have two nickels to rub together.  His response, in effect, was this: “I came with nothing and I’ll take nothing with me.  God can give and take as it pleases Him.  Praise his name!

 

I really doubt that anyone of us will lose, like Job, all of our possessions and family in one day.  Indeed the chances of complete loss is very nil.  But what is a given is the loss of something we hold dear.  It doesn’t matter the why or how we lose something dear.  In the case of Job it was Satan attacking his household.  Other ways of loss might be God refining us, God redirecting our lives, or natural circumstances.  However we want to look at it, we choose our response.  In our response, we choose to focus on ourselves and what we have created OR we can choose to glorify God with the response we give.  While we often would like to think our response to the BIG things would be God-honoring, our response to daily happenings is equally important.  We need to recognize our responses to the smaller things ultimately makes the difference.  To use another thought experiment.  If I were a parent whose daughter had been killed in the Nickel Mines schoolhouse shooting, I will be less likely to extend forgiveness if I don’t practice forgiving others or overlooking their selfish actions on a daily basis.  But, if I DO forgive and look past someone else’s selfishness, I build my “God-honoring response muscle” and that makes the choice to forgive my daughter’s murderer so much easier.

 

To build to those “mega life moments” like what Job or the Nickel Mines community faced is as simple as a choice that is made in the moment and as difficult as living a lifetime of choices that lead you to those moments.  So tomorrow, when a commuter cuts you off in traffic or your coworker is unpleasant to you, what’s your choice?  If Job can respond the way he did in the aftermath of such over whelming loss, can we not have a similar response when we forget our phone charger at home, or we’ve gone into overdraft in our bank account or any number of smaller things we might face in a normal day?

 

What choice are you trying to build toward?  A selfish response or one which exquisitely reveals the Father, though it is shrouded in mystery and pain?

 

Ignite the discussion,

EJ

Categories: About life, Music, Sunday's Musings | 2 Comments

Sundays Musings 6/9: The Challenge of a Servant’s Mentality

Being a servant is the antithesis to the human ego. It is the hardest attitude we can develop. To unselfishly help and serve others is difficult. To want their good and see them succeed is the most difficult seed to plant in the garden of human character. The weeds of selfishness, pride, and egoism often choke out any honest attempts at cultivating an attitude of service and humility.

My premise for saying a servant is the hardest mentality to achieve is twofold. First, both Christians and non-Christians struggle with pride and the big “I”. In the realms of the secular and the sacred, evidence exists, testifying to the presence of selfishness. In the sphere of the secular, divorce is common, violence is on the rise, and the ties of addictions are prevalent. Undergirding all these are statements like: “I have been hurt and that justifies my action.” “I’m unhappy with where I am in life; I deserve more.” “My rights have been violated. These statements come from a selfish mindset and were a servant’s attitude more common, divorce, violence, and drug use would fall.

In church, the big “I” shows itself in church divisions, a colder shoulders given to spiritual brothers that we don’t agree with, and inefficient meetings due to someone’s ego. It is to be lamented that these types of behavior are to be found in the church. A group of people that numbers into the hundreds of millions, the potential is huge yet often curtailed by selfishness and personal agendas. For a group of people who follows someone who was THE supreme servant and who call them by His name, the inability to yield one’s position for another’s benefit is, quite frankly, inexcusable.

I have already alluded to the second reason that being a servant is so hard. Within every human is a desire to look out for himself or herself. We enjoy recognition and seeing our ideas succeed. This leads to trouble when we see others receive recognition and their ideas winning out over our own UNLESS we can adopt the attitude of a servant.

John the Baptist was someone who displayed a true servant’s attitude. His famous words, He must increase but I must decrease came at a time when his own ministry was decreasing. Yet he didn’t panic; he didn’t try to cling to the passing cloak of popularity. He let popularity pass because he knew his mission and purpose. He was to point to Christ and when Christ did come, his mission was over. He had done his job and he was okay with letting popularity pass him over.

Christians can develop the attitude of being a servant. We do not live for ourselves. We live for His glory and, like John the Baptist, our lives are to point to Him. When we promote ourselves and do not allow the Holy Spirit to direct us, our “I”(ego) is present and we can not serve effectively. Humbly serving others does not come easy. We do not wake up some morning with the ability to serve. Rather, it needs to be cultivated. Like any other skill, sweat and effort are involved. It takes time to achieve it and many things work against the attainment of this ability to be a servant. We live in a culture that glorifies the individual. Our human spirit wants to be recognized. Satan also uses our natural strengths and weaknesses to discourage us from an attitude of service.

In short, I think we all know what it takes to serve. We shrink from it because it appears to be so hard to attain. Down with these excuses! Forward to a more Christocentric life!!!

EJ

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Sundays Musings 5/12

It was Mothers Day yesterday and the last day to cram for tests. Maybe that explains a few things, like why I did not call my mom and why I did not post yesterday. I will rectify the latter right now.

This video has been making its rounds online. It’s cute and funny and sorta drives the point home. As children, we can sense the love of our mother but how can we express it? A mere thanks is not enough or it doesn’t feel like it enough. Sending a card feels . . . weak, no matter how artistic the poetry is on the inside. At times, I can glimpse just a wee bit how thanking a mother for a being mother might be when others thank me for a service rendered to them; a service that I enjoyed doing and would perform again even if they wouldn’t thank me for it.

 

 

As to the former, it’s hard to call a mom for Mother’s Day when you are more worried about a rebellious stomach. Last night, I ate something that did not agree with me. It has been years since I have felt as bad as I did last night. This morning, it’s gone and I’m okay.

A peaceful week to all,

EJ

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Sunday’s Musings 4/28

Recapping a few events from this past week. . .

Monday night, I called my younger brother. We chatted for about 40 minutes and he mentioned some intriguing news.

Saturday, around noon, a car drove up our driveway and a young lady got out.

On Saturday, I busied myself with work and missed a call from Mike, a good friend of mine. Knowing what he wanted to talk about, I returned his call. I was wrong. In the course of our conversation, he dropped his news.

Exactly what do these have in common? Love and its flourishing in this season of spring.

My younger brother mentioned the start of a relationship between two young people that are both mutual acquaintances of ours. I’m glad for them. May they find God’s will.

My brother’s girlfriend came to visit my brother for the weekend. It has been over a year since they began their relationship and in my mind, it’s only a matter of time till they quit dating and plan for their wedding. My opinion of course. I wish them no ill will; only the best. I’m glad for them.

I had known that Mike wanted to visit me here at Faith Builders. He had been on a visit to central PA to see his girlfriend and his path takes him past here on Interstate 80. I thought he wanted to make final plans and coordinate his visit around my classes. Well, his news wasn’t a bombshell and definitely not what I thought he was calling about. My congratulations to him, he successfully conned a girl into agreeing into a lifelong commitment.Smile Dropping the facetiousness, I’m truly happy for him. He has battled some health issues the past few years but those are now past him. My mind went back to last year and to the days of early summer. We had taken a few trips to Indiana together and our conversations revolved around this mysterious force called love. His naive musings gave rise to questions and ponderings that diverted attention away from myself. I’ll admit that, at times, I artfully twisted the conversation to bring the focus back around to him. He, in his state of bliss, was happily unaware of how I tried to keep the focus on him. Having seen him at the beginning of his relationship, I hope to be there at the final realization of it.

And who am I to write further on this matter? Poets have waxed eloquent on this subject. Romantics swoon underneath the spell of the sweet influence of this invisible  force. Ballads have been sung on starry summer nights by bards under the spell of a lady fair. I haven’t studied love in depth nor have I what could be considered success. Yet the current season is spring. With the awakening of the earth comes the flowering of passions and love emerges. May it flourish!

EJ

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Sundays Musings 4/21: On Opinion, Relativism and Other Bits

The other night I had a front row seat of what amounted to a display of biases. It was late in the evening and I was tired; ergo, I did not contribute to the discussion. I’m not sure how beneficial my participation would have been, given my tiredness and the fact that my biases did not align with those in the conversation. Though I was tired, I still found myself amused at the whole display of what amounted to personal opinion and nothing that could be proven to be technically superior. In fact, one particular bias could be proven to be inferior but I digress. The evening proceeded along these lines. One of the speakers had recently purchased a device and someone had asked him how he liked it. Wrong question. The one asked, Person A, gushed freely. Part of his move involved a transition to new software. It wasn’t just Person A. Persons B and C were equal sympathizers in the discussion. I, if I would have spoken, would have been the lone dissenting voice, so I remained silent. But I literally was getting sick to my stomach over the whole thing. It is only a piece of metal and glass. There was no real objectivity raised or fair comparisons made.  Somehow, to me this knowledge added a sense of blind fan rabidity in the effusive praise of the object.

The conversation moved on to the subject of grad gifts. While this was equally fascinating to observe from my spot on the sidelines, the entire conversation was a spouting of personal views. While these views varied, a few actually had sound reasons attached to them. But this was only intermission; round 2 was coming.

It proved to be a doozy. Somehow the conversation turned to a piece of machinery and how that piece originated. One of the participants, whose family has a business interest in these devices, raised a protest against what the others said. But, though it interested him, his argument was weak. He hadn’t studied it sufficiently to argue effectively. He had a passionate response but his lack of knowledge compromised his argument. After watching with interest, I left for my bunk. It was past midnight; maybe that explains part the reason why the conversations went the way they did.

Yet the whole thing had proven to be an educating experience. Foremost in my mind was this question Why do we cling to an opinion without fairly portraying the opposing view? Or hold on to it when faced with contrary evidence?

I like to think I’m fairly unbiased. I’d also like to think that when presented with new information, I’m open to changing my mind. Yet I know the human tendency to see any new information as being an personal attack. That is how we tend to see these things. We also tend to view accepting new knowledge as exposing our own deficiency and lack of knowledge. Either way we don’t like the feelings we get from having to change our opinions so we resist. Though the entire exchange was entertaining and informative, it reveals how easy conflicts can potentially arise.

Of course, all of the above is just my opinion of something I recently observed. Now about me and my opinion about opinions. Something disturbing that I find in myself in relation to this subject of opinions is I find I am a little relativistic. What this does for myself is it causes me not to stand as firm as I should on matters that are more than just opinion. It’s fine for the other person to believe what they do as long as I can keep my opinion. That last sentence is relativism in a nutshell. In a way, it is intellectual protection yet I don’t like it. On certain matters a grounded defense is needed. On opinions such as I witnessed what someone once said comes to mind. “People all have two opinions and sometimes they stink. So live with it.” I put that last sentence on ‘cuz what are you going to do? Present your opinion sans an argument?

Great men still abound. Almost invariably, every time secular society finds them, they write about them. Here is a link about such a person. This is something I can appreciate. A man teaching young men how to be men and being involved in their lives. May his kind continue!

Oh, and before I run off to class, I’m posting this as well. Pray for the remaining Boston bomber suspect. He needs it. Care to dispute? Click here and read prior to arguing that he doesn’t deserve prayer. Now, I’m off to class.

EJ

Categories: Just me, Sunday's Musings | 2 Comments

Sunday’s Musings 3/3

This post should have been written yesterday. However, a day late isn’t that big of a deal. The line I’m pondering today is “contented survival in God’s will.” Does that make sense to readers in this cyber world? Should we desire happiness or a contented survival in God’s will?

Like always, there is an argument behind my questions and here it is. Bear with me on another question, when we look for a sign, how literal should we look? How deep should we press to find a sign? Should we ask for the requested sign or should we allow God to speak and attempt to recognize it when it happens? Understand that by the word sign, I’m referring to whenever God speaks to us and in whatever form that comes. A fiery sunset can be a sign. A friend can speak a sign to us. I hope I’m making sense.

Christians like signs. When they come to a place they are not sure of, they ask God for a sign to show or confirm what they ought to do. But Christians are also guilty of multiple fleeces. Pardon this liberal take on Scripture but the complexity of signs asked for from God is akin to Gideon stacking four fleeces on top of each other and praying that the middle two be completely dry while the top and bottom fleece are wet through and through. The point arrives when we need to leave the sign-asking behind and simply live life. But signs are nice, comfortable, and reassuring so we keep going back to them.

So in asking God to show us something to confirm or reveal a measure of His will, how deep should we press to find that requested sign? If we ask specifically, should we go around looking and trying to cause that sign to happen? My answer is no. Who are we to demand an answer, any answer, of God? We do not have that authority. God in His good pleasure reveals things to us. When He does we ought to be thankful.

Last night, a friend said something that caught me completely off guard. She asked it in the form of a question. Our conversation up to that point had nothing to do with the subject she asked me about. The entire dialogue about her question lasted no longer than 2 minute and I passed it off fairly quickly. Later, sitting in my dorm room, chills swept over me. A prayer that I had made on Saturday came back to my memory, a prayer that God would somehow show or confirm a decision I was trying to decide. The situation crystallized a little bit but still remains a little unclear.

In wrestling over this, I realized something. What I was trying to decide was of great interest to me. I wanted it and upon getting it, I’m sure to be happy. But should I not, I want to be in a state of contented survival in God’s will. The two still bounce back and forth in my brain. Happiness…contented survival…happiness. I don’t know about you but I trust God. I’m opting for the contented survival. It may get rough; there may be pain involved but I know I’ll survive.

So what’s your choice?

EJ

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Sundays Musings 2/17: Life as an Accident

No, this post is not arguing in favor for evolution. The inspiration for this post does not come from any church meditations from today. Rather, I could say that the source of today’s write comes from between my two shoulder blades. The ache and knotted muscles are a still-present reminder of the accident that happened Friday a week ago. Some of my readers will be familiar with the details but for those curious readers who have not heard, I will relate in brief.

One of the students from Faith Builders had invited the guys to his place in Canada for a pre-semester party. The plan was to go to Ottawa and tour the city. In anticipation, 5 of us traveled to Kitchener on Thursday. Friday morning came early and we were on the move. Also on the move was a massive snowstorm. It wasn’t too bad or so we thought and we never gave a thought to the idea of turning around and giving up on the trip. The roads kept getting worse the further we went. Seven hours after we had left, we were a hour or so away from Ottawa near the town of Brockville. Coming up on an accident scene, we were slowing down when a semi slid past us, pushing a pickup truck. We could have reached out and touched him. Relieved it hadn’t hit us, the driver accelerated to move out around the accident. I was sitting in the back seat and the thought went through my mind that this could have touched off a chain reaction. Glancing back, I saw another semi jackknifing straight towards us. I threw myself down and before I had time to yell a warning, the semi had hit us, pushing us forward and into the median. The back window shattered as did the window on the passengers side of the van. Like all accidents, it happened in a moment.

Fortunately, no one was severely hurt. We all walked away. But it got me to thinking. In the past seven years, this vehicle was the 4th one I’ve been riding in that was totaled due to an accident and that I’ve walked away from. One big difference was that in this one I was sitting in the back seat. In the previous three, I was sitting in the front. Maybe that is why, after this accident, the feeling of “having escaped” or “being spared for a future purpose” wasn’t as strong as it was in the previous accidents. Whatever. The fact remains that I’m alive today to write this. For that, I’m deeply grateful. So, walk with me and I’ll take you back over my last three accidents.

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The back where most of the damage was done. I still can’t believe that I and Matt, the other guy in the backseat, didn’t receive a single glass related injury, not even a scratch.

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Really, in comparison to the next two, this looks mild.

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This accident happened in Paraguay. The brief tale behind this carnage is that I lost brakes and came upon an intersection. The light was red and I rear ended a dump truck. I was by myself and in the moments prior to the impact, I distinctly remember thinking that I could favor the passenger side. So I did. If someone would have been with me, I cringe to think at how this accident could have turned out. Definitely much worse.

In my mind, the bus ride home from this accident was one of the longest I’ve spent in my entire life. I was by myself but in times like these, you need a second person. Someone to talk to, someone to cry with, someone to vent your frustrations to, just someone to be there. Their presence alone makes the situation better and I had no one. It was on that bus ride that I again felt the assurance that my time wasn’t done and that my life still has purpose.

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It’s a pity this accident happened. This was one of the better trucks I have driven.

This next one happened about 5 years ago, minus one month. A friend of mine and I were returning from Arkansas, having attended a Bible school. I was in the passenger seat and was sleeping. He dozed off as well, went left of center, and hit that Sebring convertible that is in the ditch to the right in the first picture. Here again there was Divine protection. If we would have hit a pickup, chances are great that one of us wouldn’t be alive today. Our car was a Sebring sedan and the car absorbed most of the shock.

My first memory of this accident was the impact and seeing the airbag in my face. But later in the hospital, I wrestled with feeling rejected. I should have been grateful to have been alive. Instead, I was asking God why He hadn’t finished the job and took me home in that accident. The feeling of having been thrown onto Heaven’s doorstep and finding the door locked was very real. I have never longed to go Home like I have during those hours by myself in that Ft. Wayne hospital. But, tonight, I sit here at my study desk, typing out this post and not feeling a single pain from this accident. Of all the ones I was involved in, I would say that this was the worst. Below are some pictures.

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I was sitting in this passenger seat. Looking at this picture, I still wonder how I could have “escaped?”

What has come through in all of these accidents? It’s not trite to say that God isn’t done with my life. It’s not a pat answer to say that it wasn’t my time to go. Those are true. But at times I lose that sense. I focus on other things and on people. The last accident in Ottawa got my attention. I’m here and I’m His. Saying that, I mean that there are battles to fight, people to reach out to, love to spread, and the Gospel to be preached to those who haven’t heard it. The question is, is that our focus? God uses accidents as wake up calls but trust me, those are expensive.

EJ

Categories: About life, Sunday's Musings | 4 Comments

Sundays Musings 2/4: Idol Worship

I know some people will disagree with this post and in my defense, I’m not saying this is exactly how things are; I’m saying caution needs to be exercised in this arena.

Today(I’m writing this Sunday night) was Super Bowl Sunday. The Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers 34-31. In watching the post-game celebration, some things caught my attention that again confirmed how much sports are idolized in our nation.

The first thing was the elevated podium where the initial postgame press conference was held. Above the people, this is where the leading luminaries(owners, coach, MVP, et al) mingled in full view of the people.

Money. The amount of money spent on the teams is staggering. Add in the costs of other expenses outside of that (tickets, in-game advertising, etcetera), it simply is mind blowing.

Procession and presentation of the Vince Lombardi trophy. Very formal and exact with Pro Football Hall of Famer Richard Dent presiding as the presenter. I couldn’t keep the thoughts from swirling through my head. Thoughts of how much this looked like a religious procession with some things rearranged and called different names.

The hero worship of the players as the trophy came down the line. As the trophy emerged from the depths of the stadium, the Ravens players formed two columns and as the trophy passed, reached out to touch it as it passed them. The fervor was apparent simply by looking into their eyes.

The passion of the fans. It’s great to see so many people being passionate about something. In this age of drift and aimlessness, to see people being involved in anything is heartening. It means that the ability to be passionate is still there. Yet, overtones of the Roman circuses faintly ring in my ears.

I could go on and draw some very real modern life metaphors but I shan’t. And I go on the record to say that I’m not against sports nor against watching games. I am against is replacing my passion for Christ with a passion for sports. That is sin. I’m writing only as a reminder that there is something more real to live for. Something that last longer than just here and now in the moment. I love the fact that Ray Lewis is going out as a champ. That was one of the main storylines in this Super Bowl. But come Monday morning, I need something more solid to set my hopes on, something more concrete to live my life for.

Now, let the flaming begin.
EJ

Categories: About life, Just me, Sunday's Musings | 3 Comments

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