Subtitled: Read My Words

I have always loved words and the power they can have. Growing up I was one of those kids who had to take at least three books on vacation because one was never enough. I spent endless hours with Grace Livingston Hill in the mountains of Tennessee. Tore through Erich Segal’s “Love Story” on my grandfather’s back porch. Not only did I love to read words, but write them as well – in time even writing for a local newspaper.

Fast forward and “life happens” and in one wildly unexpected outcome, I lost the ability to read a book. I’ve written about this before, but I just could not finish anything! I could still write, in fact the origin of these blogs can be traced to that season, but nothing I picked up kept my attention. Nothing. This went on for far too long.

In time (and my mother’s wisdom) I found a book I finished and thus began my slow recovery process. Eventually I picked up “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes and flew through that book. I laughed, I cried, I lived that story! It was incredible.

But it was short lived. More trudgery ensued and though I would finish books (and even a short series) in time, I didn’t have the same connection.

Until I discovered “Transcending Mysteries: Who Is God, and What Does He Want from Us?” by Andrew Greer and Ginny Owens. Wow how I love this book. It’s not really my typical genre, though I am not sure what genre I would classify it as: part exposition, part biography, part devotional, part music tribute. Regardless, I have laughed, I have cried, and I have lived these stories. I even sobbed through one entire chapter and thought, what would I give to have coffee with these two human beings. I mean, to meet Andrew and Ginny (as if I could even call them by their first names!) Oh what a dream. The words they’ve written on these pages! Additionally they’re both masterful songwriters with wonderful stories in lyric form. What would it truly be like to actually know the authors?

I was pondering this on the commute to work this morning. It’s only a 19 minute drive so it wasn’t a long ponderance, but alas, I was talking aloud to the air in my Pontiac G3 and this was my conversation:

“God, I am at loss. How can I connect so deeply with the characters and stories I read in books but have such a difficult time deeply connecting with You? I want to know and connect with the authors of these words I have known and read and loved through the years far more than I want to know and connect with you. How does this happen? What do I do?”

And had it been raining this morning, lightning would have struck in the silence that followed because as clear as I know without an audible sound I heard, “Read My words, I’m an Author too.”

These seven words came about halfway into my drive but instead of spending the remaining minutes in praise for words I knew to be straight from God alone, I started listing the excuses. “But God, you know I do. I read my Bible a few minutes every morning. I have my parallel Bible app open every Sunday so I can pour over the word variations between ESV and AMPC. I have read Your book cover to cover and even taken college level exams on it!”

By the time I had reminded God of all the things He had clearly forgotten, I was at work but as I sat at my desk I couldn’t shake the phrase, “Read My words.” As I went about my day I couldn’t get past the notion that God is the greatest author of all time and I can know Him, I can connect with Him, and yet more often than not, I choose not to.

Mercifully it was a quiet drive home, but as I sat down to dinner tonight with my laptop to type out these words I was once more reminded to “Read My words.” This 784 word story comes down to this challenge: Are you reading His words? Not in a superficial, checked-that-box-off-the-list, way but in a deep desire to fall in love with the stories and people in the book? In a way that you fall in love with the Author and desire to spend time with Him, to simply be in His presence? Are you reading His words in a way that makes you laugh, and cry, and live?

In truth, I haven’t been. But I sure want to.

 

 

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Subtitled: This Is My Father’s World

Growing up in a very musical family we always had a four part brass band wherever we went. My Dad and younger brother played 1st and 2nd on their cornets, I carried 3rd on baritone, and my Mom rounded out 4th on tuba. Of the group, I was by far the least proficient (I had other musical aspirations.) So when I got to choose a piece to play it was always #186, Terra Beata because it was one of the easier 3rd part pieces.

Thus “This Is My Father’s World” became my most favourite hymn.

I’ve been thinking about hymns a lot lately. Going back to the old songbooks that I beloved in my growing up years. So naturally this week, I turned to #42 and re-read the words that I know so well.

“This is my Father’s world and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father’s world, I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas: His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world: The birds their carols raise, the morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise. This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair; in the rustling grass I hear Him pass, He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world: O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet. This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.”

On the one hand we really love and hold fast to the truth that this is the Father’s world – that all done is under His watchful eye. On the flip side though, we really hate to relinquish the control of “our world” to anyone, even God. We like having dominion over our own perceived kingdoms. We strive for self-autonomy. I want what I want as I want when I want. Of course we want “my Father’s world” but only so long as it fits within our own ways and plans.

But in trying to change His world into our own, we place ourselves in grave danger of losing sight of Him who is true Creator, true Ruler. The more we try and influence our surrounds, the less we notice the beauty of nature. The more we work to gain control of our lives, the less rest we find. The more we pridefully proclaim our accomplishments, the less we hear His humble voice singing through creation.

I am writing to myself here as well as anyone who might stumble across these words. It’s time to put head knowledge into heart belief. It’s time to stop merely singing about the Father’s world but relinquishing perceived control over it. When we stop trying to manipulate people and situations and life itself to our way but speak as Christ did, “nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” we will indeed find that earth and heaven are one.

 

Subtitled: Checking In

During this morning’s sermon, the preacher briefly touched on the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. These are two names known the world over! Anthony for his adventurous culinary appetite and Kate Spade for her fashion empire. As I drove home from service I couldn’t help but think, was there no one who checked in on these two? I realize the world over didn’t have the ability to text and say “Hey, was thinking about you, just checking in” but surely someone in their sphere was thinking about them in the days and weeks leading up to their death. Why didn’t they check in? Or did people check in but they just felt hopelessly alone in the midst of a crowd?

As is often the case when I get to pondering, this segued into another stream of thought. Growing up my Mom was (and is) the epitome of what you call a “Prayer Warrior.” She prays for anybody on any subject at any time. If she wakes up at 3AM, I can almost guarantee that she’s in prayer. With this model, I couldn’t help but grow to love prayer as well, so most of my adult years when a name or situation came to mind I’d first, pray and then second, type out a quick text or social media based message to the person. I added this second step because personally, when I found myself in deep dark valley seasons, it was those quick notes of thought that kept me moving forward.

Even today, as I was standing during singing in worship, a name came to mind that I couldn’t find a rhyme or reason for. They weren’t even in the room, so there was no firm context where this person should be on my mind and yet, there they were. So I prayed – not long, not even really with concrete words because I don’t really know their story at present, but I prayed and then sent a quick note that simply read “Prayed for you today. Wherever you find yourself today, may you worship well.”

If you follow my blogs, you know my passion for music. A few years ago there was a song that struck a chord with me (no pun intended). In an ironic twist the title “Lead Us Back” had the opposite effect on me. One quick line says, “Prayed for those we’d like to know / Favour sings a siren tune” and boy was I bowled over by this line. Wow. Even know I remember falling to my seat in reflection of my prayer life. But not in a good way. You see, in fearing any possible ulterior motivations, I subsequently stopped praying all together. You know what happened? I quickly found I missed communion with God, and further, I missed connecting with people. I longed to hear people’s stories, understand their hearts! Not in a gossipy “in-the-know” sort of way, but in a way that allowed me to walk alongside them in their struggles, support them in their weaknesses, celebrate with them in their joys.

So I quickly abandoned the fear of “what’s my motivation” in favour of listening to the Holy Spirit. You see, I firmly believe that God uses His Spirit to open our hearts and prick our minds. When we attune to that prompting, He can use us in ways we never dreamed. That quick text, that phone call, that hand-written card, can change a life. Further I believe it has the power to save a life be it physically or spiritually! Maybe God is using me, using you, in that moment to remind someone else that He is there. Remind them that life is not only worth living, it’s worth living well because someone loved us enough to build this amazing creation for us.

I’ve sent countless messages through the years. I know some have been mightily appreciative of that moment where I not only thought about and/or prayed for them but took a minute to acknowledge them but there are also many times where I don’t know what the reader thought (or even if they got my message!) But even now I am reminded that “checking in” isn’t about me, at its deepest level it’s not even about the other person, but for Christians it is about listening for the Holy Spirit and being obedient: even when it doesn’t make sense, even when we don’t know the outcomes.

We might not know on this side of Heaven what our prayers and “check ins” might mean – but I truly believe that in the hindsight of eternity, we’ll be amazed at, not what we did but, what He did through us!

 

Subtitled: Transformative Worship

Music has power. There is just something about melody, harmony, and rhythm* that speaks to humans on a level that crosses all boundaries. I think this is why it plays such a central part in many of our Sunday morning worship services. Music says what often times we can’t. Lyrics reflect the hearts of thousands more than just those who penned the words. One song I’ve come to love is Hillsong’s “What a Beautiful Name” because personally I connect to it on all musical levels. Especially meaningful is the bridge, “Death could not hold You, the veil tore before You / You silenced the boast of sin and grave / The heavens are roaring, the praise of Your glory / For You are raised to life again / You have no rival, You have no equal / Now and forever God You reign / Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory / Yours is the Name, above all names.”

I mean, seriously! You want the Gospel in 100 words or less, there you have it! It’s truly an inspired song, but hold on, do we actually believe it? I’m about to ask some very pointed questions that I can assure you have pricked my own heart. Does He really have no rival in our lives or have we put something or someone on equal or even higher level than Him? Do we really seek His Kingdom or just try and squish His into ours and hope He’ll bless it? Do we reflect glory back to Him or bask in it ourselves? Is His name really above all? Even our own?

When I pause and examine the state of my heart in a worshipful context I often create a mental picture of a very tall white pedestal. The kind that you place great treasures upon to be awed at and admired. I hesitate to say it but so often that awe and admiration borders on, or even crosses into, pure idolatry. Now if He alone sits atop the pedestal of my heart, then all is right with the world.

But in transparency, that has never been the case. Even when He is on there, I’m usually forcing Him to share the space. You see I, like the rest of humanity, have a hard time keeping it “all about Him.” I’ve written about it before but our lives are so very “me-centric.” In essence saying, God I know you have a great and glorious plan for restoration and redemption BUT here’s the plan that suits me a little better. God I know You are great and glorious Creator of all that exists, but I did _(fill in the blank)_ and it would be nice if I could get the credit.

We sing about the Gospel He purchase, we celebrate His supremacy, we long for His rule and reign… but only as long as it doesn’t interfere with our day-to-day existence. I started this blog saying music has power – but only if we let it. If music and lyrics don’t draw up closer to God, draw us deeper into spiritual transformation, then it is worthless. When our worship is nothing more than black formations on a white page, it is pointless. Music, whether in the corporate or personal worship setting, must change us at the inner most hidden parts of our soul.

So as you read this I pray there are two takeaways. First, who or what is on the pedestal of your life? Is there a rival that God is sharing the space with? Is He even up there at all? Secondly, when you find yourself immersed in worship, are you allowing yourself to be transformed? Are you letting His Spirit speak in and though the lyrics, through the harmonic chords, through the life beat itself?

I can’t answer this for you, no one can. In truth, I am having a hard time answering it for myself, but I pray that in these musings of mine, He speaks to you and compels you closer to Him.

 

*If you get the pun on “melody, harmony, and rhythm” then you too were a Christian during my growing up years!

Subtitled: What If… or Why Not

Three years ago I wrote these words: What if we celebrated people all the time as we do when they’re leaving? What if we honoured people all the time as we do when they’re retiring? What if we showed compassion to people all the time as we do when they’re sick? What if we loved people all the time as we do when they’re no longer with us? What if?

As I re-read those words today I realized that they were just ponderings of a moment because they never changed my attitude or outcomes. The questions “weren’t really about me” so in truth, I didn’t care.

We live in a world this is all about now – we don’t have patience for anything! We’re about instant access, instant food, instant opportunities, instant relationships. We don’t want to delay anything… unless “it’s not the right time.” I go back to my earlier ponderings. We’re about now, but we wait to celebrate. We’re about now, but we wait to show honour. We’re about now, but we hold back compassion. We’re about now, but we fail to love.

The more I pondered this notion, the more I realize that we’re about now but only when it’s me-centric. I want… I need…. We want things now, so long as they benefit us and/or we don’t really need to work too hard.

In writing this, I stumbled upon the very familiar scriptures of Jesus feeding the five thousand out of the book of Mark (6:30-44). What struck me was that the disciples didn’t want to work to feed the people. They told Jesus to make the crowds leave and so they could find food themselves. Now they give the excuse that they (the disciples) can’t feed everyone because they don’t have the food supplies nor money to purchase such quantities, but I can’t help but think if there was just the tiniest bit of “me-centricity” going on. Why should I work for someone else’s gain?

And it was this very sentence that literally took my breath away. Why should I work for someone else’s gain? Oh how this humbled me! In light of Jesus Himself, why shouldn’t I work for someone else’s gain? Everything I have – all the instant (and non-instant) things of the life that I get the privilege of enjoying, none of it is about me. Not. One. Tiny. Bit. God created it, not Karen. God gifted everything, Karen couldn’t demand it. God blessed, Karen couldn’t attain it. This is Easter season, but even if you ignored the greatest act of selflessness in history (death/resurrection) and go back to the very first chapter of the first book, “In the beginning God.”

That’s it. That’s the answer. We should celebrate, honour, show compassion, and love because in the beginning God. Not in the beginning Karen, not in the beginning Luke, not in the beginning ________ – but in the beginning God.

When we stop just pondering life and start remembering whose life it really is, I suspect our day to day lives might change. All those moments of “what if” become “why not.” Why not put others before myself? Why not live and love as God would?

As you go about this week, don’t ask “what if” because that’s a hypothetical sentence. Ask “why not” and turn your me-centric eyes outward.

 

Subtitled: Thy Will vs My Will

Recently I’ve found myself in a season of frustration. I had been sick for weeks with a cold I couldn’t shake. And when you’re sick and it’s the middle of January, early February and it’s cold and dark but not Christmas (no Narnia pun implied)… this doesn’t build a great foundation for happiness and joy. So over the course of weeks I allowed lots and lots of little (and big) things to compound until I found myself truly frustrated and overwhelmed with life.

A trick I have learned recently is when you find yourself in such a place, ask yourself: What am I believing about myself? What am I believing about God? So one night I asked myself these very two questions and was a bit shocked at my honest answer.

If I am a child of God (which I am), then God should make my life easy and carefree (that’s Biblical, right?)

In essence my practical theology was that because I was a Christian, God owed me a life of ease and comfort. Not only is this categorically not true, it’s mighty dangerous. And yet, that is where I found myself. So as I pondered this over the course of a few days I came to this shattering realization.

Christ died. And “it was good.”

This shattered my if/then metaphor. God’s perfect Will, His perfect plan involved Christ suffering and dying innocently on a cross. “Thy Will” involved such agony that as Christ prayed “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44 ESV) Christ didn’t want the road before Him! Christ’s plan clearly didn’t involve the horrors to come. If I can put it into today’s vernacular it would be, “Seriously God?! Is this really what You want me to do? Like, for real?” (Okay, maybe less “today’s vernacular” and more valley girl imitation but you get the point.)

Anyhow, the momentous answer of this season in life that I came to is that as children of God (even Christ Himself), we are absolutely not guaranteed that life will be easy and carefree. Quite the opposite! Sometimes God’s plan involves hardship, it involves anxiety and responsibilities. John puts it this way, “…In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (16:33b ESV) This isn’t, hey just a heads up you might have a bump here and there – this is you will (no might) have tribulation (distress/suffering). Don’t believe me? See Exhibit A in Luke 23. Perfect Jesus, dead.

If we are truly of God, life Christ we have to say, I don’t like it. I don’t want it. But “nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42b ESV).

It’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay to ask God to change His mind, but it is not okay to reject His plan. You think His way is hard, try your own for a while! Or worse: God, I think I am going to try My Will for a while, but since I am Your child, I’ll allow You to bless it. (or) God, I see Your Will and all, but You (Almighty, All-Knowing Creator) must have missed something because I (who am actually living this day-to-day experience and clearly know more than You) need _________ and You’ve not given it to me.

Thinking back, I was driving in my car on my way to work when I was struck by all these thoughts – and so utterly, utterly humbled by them. Who do I really think I am?! I found myself crying physically but also crying out to Him just that I was sorry, so sorry. In theory I believed Him to be God but in fact I had made myself god. In repentance I asked instead of desiring ease and comfort I prayed to desire Him more, and embrace whatever He had in store.

That realization was about a week ago. Since then I have been striving to “do better” and live without letting frustration get to me, and be satisfied with this moment knowing that sometimes His way involves things we’d rather not experience. Some days I have better success than others. But then this morning happened and once again, I cried because it was as if God was reminding me of this lesson. You see, I am currently reading through “New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional” by Paul David Tripp. And though I don’t normally blog extensively from others, I believe you’ll understand why. This is what I read…

“You are tempted to think that because you’re God’s child, your life should be easier, more predictable, and definitely more comfortable. But that’s not what the Bible teaches. Instead, it reveals that struggles are part of God’s plan for you. This means that if you’re God’s child, you must never allow yourself to think that the hard things you are now going through are failures of God’s character, promises, power, or plan. You must not allow yourself to think that God has turned his back on you. You must not let yourself begin to buy into the possibility that God is not as trustworthy as you thought him to be. You must not let yourself do any of these things, because when you begin to doubt God’s goodness, you quit going to him for help. You see, you don’t run for help to those characters you have come to doubt.

God has chosen to let you live in this fallen world because he plans to employ the difficulties of it to continue and complete his work in you. This means that those moments of difficulty are not an interruption of his plan or the failure of his plan, but rather an important part of his plan. I think there are times for many of us when we cry out for God’s grace and we get it—but not the grace that we’re looking for. We want the grace of relief or release. We get those in little pieces, but largely they are yet to come. What we all really need right now is the grace of transformation. God’s grace is not always pleasant. It often comes in the form of something we never would have chosen to go through if we were controlling the joystick.”

Wow. Even now, twelve hours later, I am struck by this anew. Most of the time when I blog I wrap up the last paragraphs in a happy little summary bow with a bit of a challenge, but this blog I leave in the raw, unwrapped mess that it is. Because quite frankly, that is where I am right now. Each day, each hour praying, “God, as Your child, I really wish life could be different sometimes for me and those around me. But not my will but Yours be done. Amen.”

Subtitled: Joy Coloured Glasses

There’s an expression that talks about “rose coloured glasses,” viewing the world with optimism. Recently I was talking to someone and they asked how I could always be so joyful – as if I wore “joy coloured glasses.” Yes, my personality does tend toward the positive and bubbly but this year, well, let’s just say, it’s been a year.

If an outsider were to take a look into the Chamberlain bubble of 2017, there are lots of words that they could use to describe it: The year of death, fear, cancer, heartache, anger, etc. There are so many words with negative connotations that could rightly be used.

To understand 2017 we need to dip back a bit into the year before. In late June 2016, my parent’s pastors and my long-time mentors moved away to a new assignment. Mere days later the leadership changed at my own church and this one/two punch knocked my world off kilter. I questioned God and myself in ways I never had before. My spiritual life was on very shaky ground for a long, long time.

In November my sister-in-law, who was 8 months pregnant, was in a car accident. The following few weeks were anxious as we awaited whether there would be any long term harm to my niece.

Also that month, my maternal grandfather took very ill at the age of 91. Though he would recover, death would come a few short months later. As my parents spent time in Connecticut preparing for Grandpa’s funeral my Mom began to feel “not herself” and went to the doctor when she returned to Ohio.

The diagnosis came back: she had cancer. As we anxiously awaited surgery and all that was to come thereafter, she severely injured her hip which left her unable to walk for a time. After the cancer surgery there was setback after setback which left her in the hospital as much as she was out! During this incredibly trying few months there were times I truly feared I would lose My Mommy, my best friend.

If you’re still reading this, you’re probably wondering where I am going next! So let me put my joy coloured glasses on and rewrite the above.

During the summer of 2016 when I was questioning all things spiritual, my very wise mother pointedly asked me this question: Do you go to church for church or for a specific pastor? In that moment I truthfully answered that I didn’t know. But over 2017, I have come to find out that I love my church! Apex is an incredible community that I just love and that loves me. When I have occasion to visit my parent’s church, I find that even if the pastors are new the spirit is the same. Being with God’s people gives me such joy!

My sister-in-law’s car accident brought no harm to her unborn baby. My beautiful niece was born healthy on December 15th and she just celebrated her first birthday surrounded by the family that just adores her. Her smile, her giggle, and those of her wonderful sister (age 4) bring such great joy to anyone privileged to meet them!

While it was hard to find joy in my grandfather’s death, I have peace in knowing he had a long and happy life. He is now reunited with those who loved him but left this world earlier than he. The pain and frustrations of the body that had betrayed him at the end is gone. And my Mom was healthy enough to go to Connecticut to say her final good-byes. This brings its own sort of joy.

Which brings me to the greatest joy of 2017. I got to spend Christmas with My Mommy! She still isn’t 100% and we will always have to “be careful with Grammy” but she is here. She can walk, and hasn’t been in the hospital since October and we’re hoping this is a very good sign. Even all those months she was bed-ridden, it was wonderful just to curl up next to her and be. Spending this time with My Mommy has been the greatest joy I can express.

You see in all the dark moments, there was always a silver lining. A moment for rejoicing. In a strange turn of events, I have found myself unable to finish reading a book. The avid reader that I once was is gone and I can’t seem to get her back. But through this struggle, in 2017, I rediscovered music again! In fact, one of the most vivid memories I have of this year took place on June 3. I travelled to Wilmore, Kentucky to attend a taping at Asbury University of “My Boys” Veritas. While they sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” I sat in the seat and sobbed because minutes before I had found out my Mom being admitted to the hospital. The wild irony was that at the moment in time she couldn’t walk, but she wasn’t alone. We are never alone because He journeys with us.

Also with Veritas, I was part of the release team for their newest album, Hope Survives. Through this and many other unexpected experiences over the year, I have made so many new friends (and even “frands,” you know who you are.) As an extroverted introvert, it’s hard for me to branch out sometimes and yet, God has brought some truly wonderful new people into my life.

I have a church community that knows my faults and weaknesses and loves me still. They surround me with love and friendship and service but most especially prayer.

Bemoaning your lot and frowning at everything and everyone is certainly one way to walk through life. But might I suggest another? Put on joy coloured glasses. With them, you’ll see that joy really is all around you. I am not just talking about the theoretical here either! Especially in the holiday season, it could be the physical word “joy” or “rejoice.” The reminders of light and hope and yes, joy are all around- you just have to step back a moment to look for them.

For when you start seeing the silver lining in the storm clouds, things will change I promise. It might not be the situation itself but you yourself will be different because of it. Even though the job you have might not be the job you want, you’ll see the blessing of an income. The relationship (or lack thereof) you have might not be perfect, but maybe this is the God-given opportunity to grow and mature.

The life you are living might not be at all what you envisioned, but if you’re reading this – you’re still alive and that thought alone should leave you with unspeakable joy.

Joy