A Song for Today

Music possesses the mighty power to leave a lasting impact on our spiritual lives. Recently, I read about the background of the well-loved hymn, How Great Thou Art. Like many, this song is a special favorite because of its message and majesty.daldorch valley a

Whenever I see this picture, I feel an emotional stirring in my soul and sometimes tears come to my eyes. Certainly, it is not because of the dramatic visual impact of this photograph! After all, this is a digital scan of a Kodak slide taken almost 35 years ago by a young boy with a 25 year-old Ansco camera. The color and quality is poor, at best, even after being retouched. (Slides don’t hold up as well as you might think). Yet, the strong feelings have more to do with the occasion associated with  this slide.

I remember as a 13 year-old boy spending my summer in Scotland working on a construction project with Teen Missions International. After several weeks of separation from home and family, long hours of laying bricks and digging trenches, and cold, drizzly weather, I was feeling low physical and emotionally. I took a walk late one afternoon to explore and was talking out loud to God about what I was feeling.

About that time I discovered this wonderful vista of the River Ayr winding between the rolling hills. Having been raised in Florida (elevation 15 ft.), hills and mountains of any size seem especially majestic. Combined with the emotion of the moment and the spiritual impact of sincere prayer, I felt an overwhelming impulse to sing. The only song that seemed right was How Great Thou Art. It has always captured for me the goodness and greatness of our God and still reminds me of the wonder of those moments alone with Him.

The psalmist sang that the Lord had “put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: Many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.” (Psalm 40:3)

No one was around to see or hear me out on that hillside in 1980. But our day-to-day purpose as God’s children should be that others are seeing the evidence of His presence in our lives. They should be hearing our mouths filled with praise and thanksgiving for what He has done. It is not always accomplished by singing a hymn, although that is a wonderful privilege of our personal relationship and a vital component of our corporate worship. Rather, every word that comes out of our mouth should reflect our Savior. Even the countenance of our face can reflect Him.

What will your song be today?

He told the truth

klose and refIt made news. In fact, that one simple act drew lots of attention.

Two years ago in an Italian soccer match, the ball sailed in front of the goal and Miroslav Klose knocked it in. The problem was that instead of hitting the ball with his head, he hit it with his arm. One team celebrated while the other protested.

After a few seconds, Klose walked over and spoke into the referee’s ear. He told the truth and the goal was cancelled. Members of the opposing team patted his shoulders and congratulated him, and the story of one man’s honest act began to spread.

In contrast, Argentine player Diego Maradona is remembered for a goal that he punched in with his fist during the 1986 World Cup competition. When asked about that goal afterward, he evasively described it as “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” Almost 20 years later, he admitted on a television program that he had purposely hit the ball with his hand and knew all along that it was illegitimate.

Honesty is strikingly absent in so many realms of our society. We’ve all been hurt by someone’s trickery or deceit. People distrust politicians (and others) because of broken promises. A man’s word is no longer considered his bond. A handshake means nothing to many.

Years ago, Dr. Madison Sarratt, who for many years taught mathematics at Vanderbilt University, would admonish his class before a test with this thought:

“Today I am giving two examinations – one in trigonometry and the other in honesty. I hope you will pass them both. If you must fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trig, but there are no good people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty.”

As believers, we should be known for our integrity. Honest words. Trustworthy transactions. Honorable behavior. Consistent conduct. Through these traits we are able to fulfill our responsibilities as salt and light in the world. Commit today to demonstrate the change that God has made within you with every word and action.

Whose Way Will It Be?

A recent survey of British funeral directors revealed a significant change in the choices families made when arranging memorial services for their loved ones. Last year, 70% of funerals had replaced traditional hymns with pop music. The list of the most used tunes ranged from old standards to hits from recent years (including a dash of Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, and Adele). That’s not the most concerning aspect of this survey.

frank-sinatraThe most popular track at funerals (played at 15% of them) was My Way by Frank Sinatra. The song was originally written in French and reworked into English by Paul Anka. Even now, the tune is probably echoing in your mind. (I apologize if it stays there too long and annoys you later.) While that’s not my favorite tune by “Ol’ Blue Eyes”, it is a very well known song that speaks of triumph over adversity. There’s certainly nothing wrong with living a full life with few regrets.

What is troubling is the underlying theme of the song – especially when chosen for a memorial service. Think of it…having the final statement of your entire life summarized by an unyielding reliance upon self. Far too many act as if we answer only to ourselves. In fact, we invite trouble into our lives when we do things “our way.” The Bible describes in detail the failure of doing what is right in one’s own eyes…of failing to submit to an Almighty God.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
and did it my way! 

I’m all for strong character and firm convictions, but God’s Word reveals that the wisest move we ever make is to bow to the One who has created us. In contrast to Sinatra’s bold declaration, the psalmist asks a related question:

Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him!
or the son of man, that thou makest account of him!
Psalm 144:3

May we each learn to yield our will to God’s. Only when we act in humble obedience will we experience His greatest blessings on our lives.

A Legacy

I admired and appreciated him more than I expressed.  Unfortunately, that is often the case with relationships in this life.  And now Clair Smith has gone on to his long home and the reward of his Savior’s presence.

Today, I contemplated his life and legacy.  For full disclosure, I must state that I am not a Smith by blood.  However, he became Papaw to me when I married my wife.  My memories include golf during one of his stays in Clearwater…Thanksgiving dinner and some of the most competitive croquet I have ever played…driving with him to Morgantown to watch the Backyard Brawl at Mountaineer Field.

As a veteran of World War II, he served valiantly as a ball turret gunner on a B-17.  He crafted images with his words, writing poems of nature and history rich with emotion and experience.  The brush was also his tool, whether portrait or church baptistery scene.  When he casually broke into song, it was often a whimsical declaration of his love for a family member – perhaps an infant in his arms or Myrtle, his beloved wife of more than six decades.

He was a patriarch in every sense of the word.

And in that role he gave me his greatest gift.  It began with his genuine faith in Christ.  It continued as he lived out that faith before his family.  It bore fruit as they came to love the Lord and trust the Savior.

And 26 years ago, I met a godly, loving young woman who is a result of his legacy.

Even now I can hear my own children’s voices singing of the love of God and am reminded of those who have walked in faith so many years ago.

I have been blessed because of his life

and am grateful.

 

 

Where Rock Stars Go to Die

I don’t repost or link very often.  However, I found Ted Kruck’s article thought-provoking and believe others would appreciate it also.  Check it out here.

I am convinced that too many believers are confused about the nature of worship and many churches, musicians, and ministries are simply blurring the line even more.

 

It’s an Awfully Loud World

Sitting silently in the public library recently, I continued to hear the same voice loudly interrupt my study.  She seemed to talk to anyone who would listen.  “How’s your wife?  How’s your day?  What’s new?”

Doesn’t that lady know this is a library?  Where people like me can sit quietly and read!

She continued just as loud and more frequently:  “What are you looking for?  Can I help you find something?  Stop running in the library!”

Wait…what?  It was a librarian who was using her “outside voice.”

It was a reminder that we live in an increasingly noisy world.  As I write this in my favorite Panera, Vivaldi is playing on the intercom.  A group of retirees at the table next to me are not afraid to let everyone know their views as they solve the world’s problems.  A woman across the room is speaking on her cell phone to her friend (who has apparently experienced a significant degree of hearing loss).

In July Real Simple magazine published these observations about the abundance of noise (and the accompanying lack of silence) in our society:

  • Between 1975 and 2010 the average number of TV sets per household rose by 87% (from 1.57 sets per household to 2.93).
  • Out of approximately 111.8 million households recorded in the 2009 Housing Survey by the US Census Bureau, about 25.4 million (almost 25%) report being bothered by street noise or heavy traffic.
  • In a 2006 Pew Research Center poll, 82% of those who responded said they had encountered annoying cell phone chatter in public.  (Not surprisingly, only 8% felt that their cell phone habits were irritating to others.)
  • The article includes a quote from George Prochnik, who wrote In Search of Silence.  He asserted, “I think we’re seeing noise tied to a host of problems of the age – problems of attention, aggression, insomnia, and general stress.  Noise is now the default position as a society.  But I believe we have to make an effort to build a passionate case for silence.”

    Our world leaves us precious little time or space for contemplation.  Science declares that the human mind requires a suitable environment to consider options and solve problems.  Experience tells us that we need somewhere to unwind from the busyness of life.  However, there is also an obvious spiritual connection.  Do we have time to be still and know God?

    In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard writes of the resistance he met when first teaching about the need for solitude and silence.  The critics cried, “Too ascetic!  Overly monastic!”  Even today conservative critics warn that such practices sound too mystical.  However, the psalmist surely appreciated his quiet time with the Lord.

    When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. Psalm 63:6

    Now our “night watches” are filled with sit-coms, talk shows, or our favorite playlists streaming through earbuds.  Another example of our problem can be found in the increasing numbers who spend devotional time on a handy electronic device.  Nothing wrong with that, especially if the convenience increases frequency and faithfulness.  However, have you ever been tempted to click over to check for email or status updates in the middle of your study?   Multitasking can provide an efficient work process, but it’s abysmal for spiritual growth.

    Do we believe it requires too much effort to get away from the clamor around us?  Is it simply the nature of a society that revolves around entertainment and consumerism?  Is it a fear of being alone that draws us to noise and crowds?

    Regardless of the cause, the solution is to designate a portion of each day to meditate on the things of God.  Quietly contemplating what we read in Scripture and waiting on God before we move on to the next of today’s demands.

    Remember Jehovah’s instruction to Joshua and its accompanying promise: 

    This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Joshua 1:8

    Way back in 1988 Randy Stonehill sang:

    It’s an awfully loud world in an awfully small room,

    And it gets so much you can’t hear nothing else, and not a soul is immune,

    It’s an awfully loud world screaming louder each day,

    We’re crying, “Cut it out, shut it down, someone make it please go away.”


    The mute button is in our hands.  Perhaps it’s time we use it more frequently.

    What about you?  Do you have a special time or place where you get away and meditate on the things of God that you’d like to share?

     

    Schadenfreude and Spirituality

    Gary Shelton, a veteran sports writer, wrote an article in today’s St. Pete Times entitled “Misplaced Distaste.”  In it, he asks why so many people are rooting for Tim Tebow to fail in the NFL.  In fact, why does anyone outside Florida or Colorado even care how the 25th pick of the 2010 draft performs?  Few of the Tebow haters would recognize the name Demaryius Thomas, much less care about his recovery from an Achilles tendon injury.  (The Broncos picked him three places ahead of Tebow in the 2010 draft.)

    I do not write as a Gator fan or assume that Tebow needs my defense.  That’s what an offensive line is for.   However, when so many spew venom and hatred toward a backup quarterback in Denver, I agree that something strange is afoot.  Shelton offers no definitive answer for what motivates the hatred.  I think I can offer a reasonable suggestion.  Two, in fact.

    The first factor is schadenfreude – the concept of pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.  Our society continues to cultivate a hyper-competitive attitude in every aspect of life.  No longer is the other team a rival or opponent.  Now they must be an enemy.  Beyond even that spirit is a growing desire to see the successful fail.  It makes us feel better about our personal inadequacies or failures.  Perhaps it began during grade school recess.  That’s when you first realized that if you couldn’t make yourself look better, you could always make fun of or draw attention to someone else’s weakness to level the playing field.  So every time Tebow throws an interception the armchair quarterbacks of the world scoff, “See, he’s not so good.”

    That same statement points to a second motive for the hatred.  Mention Tim Tebow and hearers think first of his success leading the Gators’ football team. However, inseparably linked to his name are missionary efforts, a firm stand against abortion, Bible verses written on his eyeblack,  and a testimony of salvation through Christ alone.  Tebow is considered a spiritual person; specifically, the born-again Christian type.

    Nobody gives a second thought to an athlete who points heavenward after a touchdown or thanks God in a winning locker room.  After all, it cost him nothing and may mean even less.  The same applies to actors and musicians when they speak with an award trophy in their hands.  Everyone knows it is much more difficult and likely more genuine when one acknowledges God after a loss.  Yet, Tebow seems to be in a different category, where one’s faith matters on and off the field.

    I’ve never met him, so like everyone else, I must rely on what I read and watch in the media.  Shelton, like many sports writers, points out that Tebow is genuinely what society claims to expect from its true heroes; “humble, charitable, hard-working, scandal-free.”  On top of that, he is quick to credit Jesus Christ as the source for whatever may be good and right in his life.  An unbelieving world can’t wait for him to fall.

    The more genuine someone appears, the more others want it exposed as something less.  The more devout the claims, the more intense the scrutiny.  When the hidden sins of a pastor, athlete, or politician who professes salvation are exposed some celebrate.  They sit in the same armchair and pronounce, “See, he’s not so good.  I told you it was all a scam.”  For that moment, their accountability to God feels less imposing.  After all, if a professing Christian is less than genuine, perhaps Christianity itself is.  This should serve as a solemn reminder to every child of God that our testimony matters far more than we realize. Certainly, we live for the Lord, but we do so before others.

    Again, I am no rabid Gator/Bronco fan.  However, I will root for any genuine believer to have an expanded platform from which to share the Gospel, display a consistent testimony, and advance the cause of Christ.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s on the gridiron, in an office, or a classroom full of school desks.