Those that know me well, and not so well, know my Love of music.
Well, ALL (good) music!
While God blesses us with so much beauty. Sunsets and Sunrises, full of more color than any artist can capture. The soft irresistible beauty of a kittens face, the delightful aroma of a puppy’s breath. That first time your baby smiles, the memory of your mothers comforting cuddle. ALL, blessings created by God for us to celebrate and be thankful for.
While none of us can recreate this beauty with more Grandeur and Impact than our God, He has given us the ability to create Music. For me, a good song, done well, rivals the beauty and magnificence of almost anything in God’s universe. Leading me to know music as the “Prayer of the Heart”.
Uniquely, the best music seems to be a group effort. There is nothing better than listening to music that is a challenge for the players. Where soloists excel, and everyone involved is in key and in time.
That’s Hard to Believe!
Whenever my path leads me to meet someone that identifies themselves as an Atheist. Typically, they go to great lengths to convince me of their position, and lack of belief in God, or an intelligent design. The cliché “me thinks thou dost protest too loudly” always comes to mind.
To me, the word Atheist is an Oxymoron.
How do you turn your back on something that is not there?
While there are probably lots of devout Atheists out there that would vehemently disagree with me. There goes that cliché again. Simply said, in my opinion, the Atheist that repeatedly says “I don’t believe in God” always comes across as someone that believes in God; choosing instead to try and rationalize why God doesn’t exist. Mostly, it seems to me to convince themselves, not me. After all, if they truly thought God wasn’t there, why bother?
My belief is that most Atheists are hoping to protect themselves by denying God’s existence. After all, were they to admit that God does exist, but that they don’t believe in him. Wouldn’t they also then believe in God’s wrath? Are Atheists running away from God, or their inability to have faith? Faith in things unseen? Complete Faith is difficult for all people. Believers and self-appointed non-believers.
Several years ago, going through physical therapy to learn to walk again. My therapist taught me a lot about faith. She started by explaining that my recovery was not about the physical. Muscles, strength and so on. Instead, she told me it was all about faith. She went on to explain how people rely on faith in the unseen, and unknown, every day.
She asked, “when you sit in a chair without looking. How do you know it’s really there?” “When you’re driving in the fog, how do you know there’s not a car coming at you in your lane?” “you don’t.” she said with a sly grin. “You have faith.” “You have trust that the chair is there. You trust that there’s no car in your lane.” “You have trust and Faith in things unseen and unknown.”
She went on to tell me that my therapy was about building my faith and trust that my legs would hold me up. Faith and trust that my body would stay balanced when I walked. Things that were not of muscle and physical strength, but of belief. Belief in things unseen and unknown.
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:14
Have you ever encountered an ex-smoker when they are around smokers? Or, an ex-drinker around drunks? In my experience they are so passionate about the mistakes they made, they will go to great lengths to stop the smokers from smoking and stop the drinkers from drinking. Working to show them the errors of their ways. So too is my experience with Atheists. When they find their Faith in God and accept Christ. They are the most passionate Christians you’ll ever meet. You would think their doubts might make them a little timid. How can that be? How can someone with such passionate disbelief become a zealous believer in God. A God they so vehemently disavowed? Faith!
God is here for everyone who seeks Him. Like most, it’s my belief that people who call themselves Atheists know God and believe in Him deeply. For whatever reason, they have chosen to build themselves up by attempting to tear Him down. Much like people who tear down others to make themselves look good. In both cases, it doesn’t work.
So many Christians have told me that they found God when they were at the end of their rope. Including several Atheists. It seems like that’s when they turn to and find God. While everyone they know has turned away, and there seems no where to turn. That’s when God says… “Hey, what about me? I’m right here. Always have been.” It’s at that point, God reaches out His hand and says, “Grab On, let’s get out of here!”
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful,
for He cannot deny Himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13
“Olly, Olly, Oxen Free!”
One of my favorite songs by the Beatles is Rain. The oft times uber-cynical John Lennon opens the song with…
“If the rain comes, they run and hide their heads, they might as well be dead. If the rain comes. When the sun shines, they slip into the shade and sip their lemonade.”
As we experience more in our lives, don’t we tend to hide from unpleasantness? Fearing the unknown? Albeit, unpleasant and fearful from our perspective.
Would people suffering from an extended drought run from the Rain? When the sun shines in the rain soaked British Isles, do people seek shade? The sound of thunder and the flash of lightning sends us scurrying for shelter. Still, we’ll watch and listen to fireworks in awe. Perspective can become our taskmaster, clouding our vision, leading us away from those perceived, “uncomfortable” feelings and threatening situations.
Growing up in Iowa my winters were frigid and snowy, summers hot and humid. As a young boy, you would usually find me outside playing. No matter the weather.
Most of my time as an adult has been spent indoors, with complete access to climate control. After all, summer is too hot, winter too cold. People tend to define comfort levels in extremes. Summer is always too hot, winter is always too cold. Usually, in-line with everyone else. When the weatherman says stay inside. We do. Sitting comfortably in our shelters talking about the weather.
My perspective of comfort has changed radically. Those years playing in the snow and sunshine were some of my fondest memories. Comfortable in my playing and unaware of the weather. As an adult my summers seem to have been spent moving from an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned house, or to my air-conditioned office. When winter comes, hibernation has been my strategy for survival. Over the years, my distain for snow and cold led me to Arizona. Only to find everyone hibernating as well. Like a lot of Iowan’s spend their Winters inside. It is rare to see people enjoying the outdoors amid the Blistering Hot Arizona summer.
What would our pioneering forefathers think of us today? Those drafty log cabins up north had only a fireplace for warmth. Air conditioning was unheard of in the rickety Conestoga Wagons winning the west. In Arizona, they refer to the years before the population exploded in the 50’s and 60’s as BAC. “Before Air Conditioning”.
Why is it we hide? Why do we seek refuge from the things we perceive to be unpleasant or dangerous? Because We Can! Mankind is resilient, and we will go to extreme lengths to be comfortable, be safe and to “feel” good.
Growing up, my family spent every thunderstorm warning, storm or not, in a 3’ x 8′ storm shelter under our house. Sometimes our hibernation could last hours, with nothing but a static filled a.m. radio, a handful of flashlights and each other.
My Mom went through a Tornado as a young girl. That experience changed her forever. She would go to any lengths not to suffer that terror again. Including, insisting that my Dad buy a house in the city that had a concrete storm/bomb shelter. She put all her faith in that refuge of concrete under our front porch.
The storm she went through as a girl changed her perspective of what could happen. She knew the destruction, she knew the fear of being helpless. Even though she was deep underground in the family Storm Shelter on their farm. She felt the fear and saw the aftermath of the obliteration caused by the tornado. Unlike those people that ignore storm and Hurricane warnings, choosing instead to wait out the storm with little to no concern. Mom knew what could happen. After all of the fear of ensured destruction, and hours spent in refuge. Interestingly, we never experienced a damaging storm, and our old house is still standing decades later.
As Christians, we know what can happen as well. Scripture is very clear about what awaits those who live their life without God. Some even know from personal experience the ravages of a life without God. Is it any wonder we seek refuge?
Finding a perceived refuge from the world can make us feel safer while we wait on our Savior’s return. Like Mom, it seems so many take it to extremes. Putting their faith in the things of the world, not God. We hide in the refuge of our churches; not as a Holy Sanctuary, but as shelter from all the things of the world. Instead of gathering together to grow stronger, to empower us to take on the World in the name of God. We bury our heads in a building. Huddling with other believers until the storm passes. We also protect ourselves and our families by surrounding everybody with only acceptable influences. Only the right music, TV and Movies. In a sense, hiding from evil.
People often quote Galatians 6:1 to me to rationalize hiding from the world.
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” Galatians 6:1
Isn’t our mission to grow the Kingdom of God? How can we do that if we hide in our spiritual storm shelters? Surrounding ourselves with only people re-born in Christ? People that think, pray and act like us. After all, aren’t they already part of the Kingdom of God? How can we relate to anyone living apart from Christ if we don’t comprehend their world?
Sure, God tells us repeatedly in scripture to seek refuge. However, not with each other, not in a building, but in Him! Still, we exile ourselves in a self-induced, spiritual 3′ x 8′ bomb shelter. Believing it will protect us from the spiritual warfare of the world. It won’t.
Sadly, even in what appears to be a protected environment of like-minded believers isn’t completely safe. Aren’t there still temptations, greed and pride? Even in the best Church’s? We’ve all seen it. There is only One Refuge from the evils of the world. God!
Playing Hide & Seek
My experience with some Christians leads me to believe they are playing a spiritual game of Hide & Seek. Hiding from the World while seeking God. That is not what God wants us to do. Instead, aren’t we to go into the world and spread the Good News of Christ Jesus?
“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’” Mark 16:15
The old cliché “Preachin’ to the Choir” comes to mind when considering how we spend all our time with like minded Christians. Fellowship with believers is important. In fact, it is vital! That is how we “re-charge” our spirit and study the Word of God; giving us our strength, purpose and armor for the battles in the World.
Courage is when, filled with the Holy Spirit, we step from our Sanctuaries, into the world as disciples of the living God, Christ Jesus. It is then, and only when we are in the World, not of the World, that we can truly be “Fishers of Men”.
“Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.” Philippians 2:15-25
As Christians, we are the hands and feet of Christ Jesus. Our mission is to go into the world and represent Him. We are not created to hide in a Church, nor a community of like-minded believers; while seeking God. In my experience, we find God when we are servants, helping others. We rejoice and experience God’s Peace, Love and Joy when someone accepts Christ into their heart. Does it make sense to wait for them to come to Church?
“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.”
1 Corinthians 12:27
Did Jesus sit in a temple and wait for people to come to Him? If we are like Jesus, we are in the World. Not of the world. We are stoic in sharing God’s Good News, knowing that God Blesses Us not for Us, but so that we can Bless Others!
“Olly, Olly, Oxen Free!”
Come Out, Come Out. Wherever You Are!
Or, “Steppin’ In It?”
How many times do we misstep? For me, it’s often. Usually, “Stepping In It”! We’ve all done it. You’re deep in the decision process. Literally arguing with yourself over what to do. All the while, deep, down inside, you know the answer.
Why the argument?
Oft times you will find me debating in my mind what is the right path. Albeit stuck in a muddy quagmire of my thought processes. Right there, in the middle of my muddy myopic debate. That’s where you usually see me “stepping in it”! Focusing on the debate in my head, not the task at hand, it’s easy to misstep.
All the mental gymnastics and fretting, just to do the right thing. Never mind that the right thing always seems to be at odds with my wants and desires. Doing the right thing can be so much work. Besides, the right path can also lead to a difficult conversation with someone. Who wants that? Those conversations are always filled with drama and are so draining. Most times, arguing with myself is all about getting my way. Even though the right answer is clear.
Christians have come to know the voice lighting the right path, as that still quiet voice of God. We argue anyway.
What do you do with this dilemma? How would you advise a friend struggling with a tough choice? Pray? Follow your heart? Go with your gut? Look at the facts? Go with how you feel? Seek counsel? Most of the advice that comes my way is usually from someone else’s perspective. “What I would do…,” “Here’s how I handled it…”, or the inevitable, “Most people would…” Really? They’re not me. They just don’t know, nor understand. Then, someone pulls out that tattered cliché… “The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.” They further advise, “just take that first step.”
Invigorated, you feel success is just “One Step Away”! Then, reality sets in… Almost pleading with yourself you ask, “What is the First Step?”. Here we go again. The “Myopic Debate” continues…
Truth be known; and you already know this. Success IS “One Step Away.” Most times you’re too deep in the muck to see it. Sure, this is where you think “I get it. I just need to step closer to God.” Well, you’re right. You do. He will always step closer to you when you do. However, isn’t God already in the middle of the debate raging in your head? After all, who is it that keeps telling you the “right thing” to do?
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…” -James 4:8
Always work to get closer to God. While you do, learn to “step away” from yourself. Truly, success is just one “Step Away”, by taking yourself out of the debate and focusing on God’s plan for you. The decision is literally a “No Brainer”. Isn’t that another definition of Faith in God? A No Brainer?
My life has been peppered with these decisions. What should be done? What IS the Right thing? It always brings memories of a friend from New York, Tom, who would often say, “Mark, there are two things we can do in life. The Right thing and the Wrong thing. No one wants to do the wrong thing, Right?” You’ll need to add a thick New York accent to fully appreciate my memory of Tom’s profound guidance. After all, who wants to do the wrong thing? None of us. Right?
For me, it comes down to Trust. Is that voice in my head trustworthy? Have MY planning and fretting been trustworthy in the past? In my experience, letting go and trusting God. Things always work out. Maybe not in a way that was considered by me. Still, things ALWAYS work out. So much so that God has taught me that the best plan is to forgo the debate in my head and just give it to Him.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.” -Proverbs 3:5-7
Next time you find yourself in a mental quandary over the right thing to do. Focus on God and take that one “Step Away” from yourself.
He will light and guide your path in ALL things.
Someone asked me the other day why my Blog is called “A Clear Window”. Here’s the story behind the name…
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden…” Matthew 5:14
Human senses are amazing. God blesses us with so many ways to comprehend our world. We smell the roses, we taste victory and we hear the call of the wild.
Not to mention the wonders of vision our eyes reveal every second they’re open. Think of all the beautiful sunsets, landscapes and visual delights that the miracle of sight has blessed us with. Our senses not only expose the good in the World; they can also uncover the bad.
Wonderfully, our senses often combine to make our understanding more amazing. We smell the spring rain while watching an orange and red Sunset, listening to water droplets splash the ground. A complete, and perfectly pleasant memory. Joining together, our senses also broadcast hazards or chaos.
We smell smoke and feel heat before a fire, see a speeding car and hear screeching tires before a crash; we feel a ferocious wind and see ominous clouds before a storm.
There’s No 2nd Chance…
As humans; we all learn from, and depend on our senses, every day, in everything we do. It is with that in mind, that we need to be aware of the messages that we send to the world through the senses.
The multi-billion-dollar mouthwash industry is just one example of how seriously we view someone’s “sense” of us. When we first meet someone, our senses conduct an exhaustive investigation. How do they look; what are they wearing, are they fashionable? How’s their breath and body odor? Do they speak clearly; do they know what they’re saying? All, in the blink of Eye. That’s how we get…
Our First Impression!
The First Impression; while not always accurate, is near impossible to eradicate from our memory. Oft times, after years of friendship, those initial thoughts and memories persist. Albeit we usually get to know someone better over time. It’s just part of being a person. Understanding the importance of that “first impression”, humans will go to great lengths to ensure that people see what they want them to see. Not always who they really are.
Christians can fall into the same “first impression” traps. We work meticulously to present the person that we feel a Christian should be. Not necessarily who we are. We look and smell good, we quote scripture, we don’t swear, and people see us go to Church on Sunday.
In my over forty years in the corporate world my colleagues would not see me go out of my way to not preach or proselytize my Christian principles (a story for another day). While still practicing my beliefs; no drinking with the boys, no swearing, always working to help as many people as possible.
Over time, people would comment on my staunch religious beliefs. It was amazing. My co-workers actually “sensed” my faith in Jesus without a word being said.
It was during this time, while in prayer some thirty years ago; God touched my heart with the understanding that through my faith, my body was simply a vehicle for Him. God led me to tear down any walls, or distractions. Anything that would hinder someone’s ability to see Him, through me. In a sense, become “A Clear Window” to God.
In prayer, God led me to the understanding that we need to shine God’s light through the window of our soul. A window that isn’t blocked with obstructions. If our window is covered with the muck and mud that our life throws at it, His light is hidden. So too, if our window is covered in the ornate trappings of a so-called spiritual life; like thick, brightly colored stained glass, God’s light is obstructed as well. Jesus plus nothing, equals everything. It is that “Clear Window” that empowers us to do our part, and let God do the rest. It is that Clear Window to God that leaves a formidable “First Impression”. Not only of me, but of what it means to be a Christian.
Since that day, my prayers start with; “Thank You God for Making Me a Clear Window to you”. While still a “work in progress”, and still having a way to go, it is wonderful to see the impression God leaves when the window is clear, and people can see Him, and only Him through my Clear Window.
“For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6
Is Your Glass Half Full, or Half Empty?
It’s Always FULL!
Every time you let Anger and Hatred in your heart, it replaces Love. Allowing Fear and Doubt in your Heart, replaces Faith. Think of that proverbial glass of water that is either “Half Full” or “Half Empty”. Truth be known, the glass is “ALWAYS FULL”. Way back in eighth grade my science teacher taught a very simple concept, Displacement.
In a nutshell… although the glass might be only “Half Full” of water. The other half is filled with air. The more air pumped into the glass, the less water. The more water, the less air. Displacement. The water displaces air and visa-versa.
The heart is the same. It is always full. Sometimes it has more LOVE than HATE. Other times, not. The good news is that you are in control of what goes in your heart. Negative thoughts are generated in our mind, not the Heart. As Christians, we are taught to Love People; including our enemies. God never asks us to like our enemies; but He does TELL us to Love them! Perplexing?
Growing up, being told what to do was just about the worst thing for me. After all, what kid likes to be told “clean your plate”, “do your chores” or the worst, “Pick Up Your Room!”?
Is it any wonder that we would push back on something called Commandments? Especially Ten of them. For me, probably like most of my generation, when someone would mention the Ten Commandments, my first thought was always of Charlton Heston. Once I got that picture of him as Moses on that mountain out of my head and began to focus. All the “Thou’s” and “Shalt’s” would get in the way. Being a casual (lazy) reader, it was so much work, like a different language.
Then, one day, someone introduced me to Matthew 22:37-39. Answering the question “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”. Jesus responded by saying, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” For me, that summed it up in a few, simple words.
Jesus was saying… “Love God, Love People”. Not a Thee, Thou or Shalt in it! Truly words to live by.
Those four words are the essence of being a Christian. If all of us could only follow those two simple guidelines of love. Like the song says, “What a Wonderful World it would be”.
Going forward and contemplating that those simple four words, encompass all ten commandments. “Love God”, covers the first four and “Love People” the final six. Wow! What would Charlton Heston have done with that? Standing on the mountain top with a lot smaller tablet? Maybe an iPad? Certainly, it would have made for a shorter movie. Starting each commandment with Love, instead of Thou, might have caught my attention back then.
Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s was all about love. While some took it to the extreme with “Free Love”. Most believed it was all about loving one another in the biblical sense. Our culture was permeated with Love. It was in our music with songs like “All You Need is Love”. It was throughout our politics as well. Love was the original basis of the Peace crusade. Sadly, greed and vitriol eventually engulfed the movement. Love was also the core of the Civil Rights protests. Led by Reverend Martin Luther King in Love and Peace with statements like “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.”
So often I see today’s protests and think about those days…
One thing is missing. LOVE!
Here’s a video that we put together called “Love Is The Answer” featuring a wonderful version of the old Todd Rundgren song performed by Rumer. Enjoy!