Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Mercy Is A Song

Music is the most important thing in my life.

Not buses. Not baseball. Not planes. Music.

Therefore, it is no surprise that God speaks to me more through music than pretty much anything else in my life (even right up there with His Word, assuming I'm taking the proper care to read it). Every day, there is a different song playing in my mind over and over. My mind is picking it apart, analyzing the orchestration, deciphering the production layers, and finding the tasty bits of lyrics that are like nothing I've ever heard before.

My process of music study is very complicated. I could write a rule book on it, and I probably will someday, just because it is so interesting. Certain limits of weeks for how long an album is active, what it actually means for an album to be 'active' or an artist to be 'approved,' what is required to move on to another album. And I have kept various iterations of this structure going for almost 14 years now.

Do I do this because I like making rules for myself? It is true that I like there to be some semblance of structure when I do anything or everything just become chaos. But I do this because I want to get the most out of the music that I can. I want to be blessed by the music as much as I can.

And that is why I am extremely picky about what music I listen to. I am pretty flexible when it comes to style or genre, but I care most that the music blesses me when I listen to it, instead of tearing me down. I want the music to allow God to speak to me.

So, obviously, I primarily listen to 'Christian music,' that catch-all sometimes-derisive label for music that talks about Jesus. I see it as 'decent music,' or the kind of music that angels are probably singing. There are different levels of spiritual depth in the lyrics, and there are different levels of musical depth as well. But if it blesses God and blesses me in the listening, then I am satisfied.

Too many Christians don't listen to Christian music because it doesn't appease them. So, they listen to the music of the world. Yes, there is plenty of decent music in the world, but it is vastly outnumbered by music that is littered with darkness. That is why I am so leery when I hear something new from the secular world: who is the artist, what do the words say, what are hidden meanings, etc. And more importantly, would the angels be listening to it?

The music I study is so vital to my life. I let it permeate my being. When people are out there opening their souls to all kinds of darkness, I open my soul to God through music and let Him sing to my spirit. I let Him encourage me, direct me, convict me, and reveal the deepest meanings of what I am living. The more I am in tune with God, the more the music revitalizes me; the less I am in tune with God, the music seems to just fade into the normalcy of the day.

And this is why I am writing this. I want to encourage you by the music I listen to. And what a better way to do this than to teach directly from the very song I am hearing?

"Mercy Is A Song" is the title of this blog post, not just because it is a cool name, but because it is the title of a song by Matthew West off of one of the more recent albums I've studied, All In. It is a song about how God's mercy sings to our hearts like a song. This is what I feel daily, as I try my best to stay in sync with God's words to me, first through the Bible, and second through song. I am a product of what I put into my soul through the music I hear.

What I will begin doing regularly is writing short devotionals here based on what God has told me from these songs, starting with song one and working my way through all the songs on the specific album. I won't plagiarize or quote entire songs lyrics (I will include links to listen to the songs on YouTube or buy them on iTunes or Amazon), and few of the devotionals will be reading back to you what you can already hear in the songs. This will be a companion to what the artist is trying to say.

I want to encourage you through the wisdom of God, and I also want to show you quality Christian music so that you can see why you should include it in your life. The more you listen to it, the more you will see why it should be your primary source of musical entertainment. The songs of the world will clearly pale in comparison to what the music that makes God pleased has to offer.

And we must remember that these songs were written by humans who are themselves imperfect and are living under God's grace. There are many, MANY amazing people in the industry, but there are also some who have lived or may be living lives that don't please God but are still making music that does please Him. God can use sinners to do amazing things. I know this because He uses me.

So I invite you to open your ears and open your soul to the songs of the Lord, as He desires to speak truth and encouragement into your life. I hope you see the power of what God continues to do through song.

"Mercy Is A Song" by Matthew West - YouTube, iTunes or Amazon

(Note: I do not receive any monetary revenue from this blog. I use no ads or sell no products. I do this because I want to write about the things I want to write about without having to worry about copyright restrictions. I myself am a copyright holder, and I therefore understand how important it is that the artists and songwriters receive their due credit and payment for their hard work. I hope that the people who read this blog will be encouraged to not only enjoy the songs but actually buy them from legitimate sources. If anyone has any questions or concerns, please post in the comments.)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Hello World

This world is a conundrum.

Consider how the world works. You have seven billion people moving about, thinking their own thoughts and seeing the world from their own perspectives.

A percentage of those people subscribe to a particular way of managing their thoughts and perceptions. These ways, called 'religions', give people a kind of template that they can apply to their worldview so that it makes more sense. Usually, this includes some notion of a deity who defines a certain level of morality, a lens that people can use to interpret what they see and assign it a certain quality.

But more and more, people aren't subscribing to these 'limiting' positions and instead are taking a relativistic approach. And since the previously mentioned group of people follow their religion to a varying degree of intensity, their perspectives become more relativistic as well.

Relativism is the 'in' way to think these days. Everything you see and experience is not measured on a predetermined scale but is instead applied to the personal ethic. This ethic is unique to the individual, developed over time by a person's previous experience and knowledge. And since each person's ethic is unique from everyone else, my perspective on things will probably look very different than yours.

Yet somehow, there is what is considered a universal set of ethics. Don't murder, don't steal, don't rape, etc. Many people believe this to have been caused by the various ancient religions that all based their ethic off of some kind of even more ancient code, or it might have risen over time as people found out that getting along would provide better personal security. And therefore, we have this universal standard that no one seems to want to question.

But if everyone's personal ethic is unique and different, then why should I follow these universal laws? Why would it be considered virtuous for me to be kind, compassionate, or gentle?

Let's take a relatively mild example. Say my neighbor has a sheep that is very white and fluffy. It would look really good in my garden next to my bus stop (yes, I hope to eventually have a bus stop in my garden that I hope to also eventually have).

I ask my neighbor, "May I please have your sheep." He says, "No, you may not." I am now sad because I have no sheep. So I instead go online to Sheeps.com and have a sheep delivered to my doorstep.

This is how most people in the world would deal with this type of situation, especially in consumer-centric America where pretty much anything is available online (including sheep, though not at the made-up URL I just mentioned; don't surf there, I honestly have no idea what you may find).

But why do I subscribe to this concept that what is my neighbor's is his property and not available for acquisition? Let's say I don't subscribe to this concept; what would I do? I would probably waltz right over to my neighbors pen, put the sheep on a leash and walk Serta right over to my yard. I now declare this sheep mine.

But since it is pretty obvious to my neighbor that his sheep is missing and I suddenly have a sheep that looks a lot like his old one, he files a police report. Now Serta is back in his pen and I am in the pen.

"Why did you take the sheep?" asks the judge.

"Because I like him and I wanted him. He is so fluffy and looks like a cloud," I reply.

"But the law says that it is wrong to take your neighbor's things without his permission."

I ponder these things: the rule of law, the relative nature of everything in reality, a new wool sweater, and I reply, "But sir, I don't agree. I believe that if I want something, I can take it."

The judge doesn't agree and I end up with a fine, a restraining order, and two months of community service.

So, somehow, even though my relativistic worldview is unique and valuable, still I was trumped by some law system that I didn't vote for. And I still have no sheep.

Yes, I understand, this is a ridiculous story. But it's not that far-fetched. Our society decries racism, genocide, pedophilia, animal cruelty, and so many other issues that "we all agree are wrong." Do we all agree? Obviously not, because people still do them. And usually, hopefully, they end up paying the penalty.

Still, it comes down to the fact that someone sometime said that these things should be wrong. We don't all come to this conclusion by ourselves. Even in the past when slavery was common, women were subordinate, and people conquered others for the sake of national pride, we still had this inkling in our souls that these things were wrong. I'm sure people stood up, and I'm sure they got whipped for it because it wasn't in the common interest to change their ways.

Nevertheless, injustice was seen as just that: unjust.

Ladies and gentlemen, whether we like it or not, in all of our souls there is a common morality that didn't come because it was taught to us by our parents or our culture. It was placed there when we were crafted by the hands of our Creator. Instead of fighting it, diluting it or writing it off as archaic, we need to dig deep to solve the reason for this common ethic, this general sense of right and wrong that goes way beyond the means of survival.

But this world is still confused. It thinks that we can have relativity without standards. But all we are left with is anarchy, and the standards we resolve to are the standards we originally started from.

The Bible exists as a lens so that we can see the world from the proper perspective. We may not like everything it says, but it nevertheless determines morality, not us. Denying this only serves to bring more confusion, when all along we could have had the right perspective.

I pray that you will see that we all have inside of us the desire for justice and truth. Instead of running from it, humble yourself and submit to the truth of God. I guarantee that you will see that it was what you knew was right all along.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Relive Your Day

Do you remember what you did every day last year?

I don't, or at least I didn't think I did.

My memory is sub-par to say the least. I can remember the name of every bus stop in the TriMet system, but it takes a whole lot of work to even remember what I ate yesterday.

I keep a journal, in a matter of speaking. Because my hands get cramped when I write with a pen, I instead use this nifty app called "Captain's Log" which allows me to record an audio log entry and automatically sends it to a folder in my Google Drive. It's about as easy as it gets if I want to remember what I did every day.

This became important when I realized that I wanted to determine exactly when I have finished every Star Trek novel I have read. So far, I have read 42 books since June 2015. Determining when I have read them will help me know the statistics of what my best reading months have been and what I could expect if I decided to be more committed to realistic reading goals.

So, I printed a list of the books I read and went to work. Often, I could attach a memory, such as a day trip to Mt. St. Helens or a vacation to Atlanta, with each book, helping me to have a basic time structure to work with. Instagram posts of which book I read helped quite a bit as well, as one would expect.

But this didn't provide enough detail to find when I read every book. So, I accessed my Google Timeline, which keeps track of everywhere my phone goes for every day. Kinda spooky, but also very helpful.

So I looked at every day for like a year and a half, trying to find when I went to my Butler Starbucks that I spend most reading time at, or when I went to other locations to read. I then cross-referenced my trips with the audio log entries I recorded and was able to get each book down to an accuracy of about one or two weeks. Good enough for what I needed.

What amazed me, however, was how much of the year I actually remembered. Many days, I went from home to work then back home again. Sundays and Wednesdays I went to church. But at least two or three days a week there was somewhere I went that was unique, and I would say to myself, "I remember that!"

This really surprised me. I realized how much I really did in a year that seemed relatively uneventful. I was reminded of my successes as well as my failures. I took joy in that days when I did awesome and inspiring things, and felt shame for the days when I recall I was less than perfect.

I was reminded that every day matters. Everything we do is retained in our minds, whether we can recall it or not. And God sees everything we do.

Even when it seems that we are doing very little interesting in life, there is always the opportunity for each day to bring blessing and encouragement to us and the people around us. Every day, God's mercies are new and His plans are enduring. When we feel we are stuck in a rut, every day is a opportunity to get out of that rut and seek after the things that God has for us.

So I was able to determine how much Star Trek reading I accomplished over that 20 month period. But I was also able to see how much happened of even more value, and that is something that makes me even happier.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Okay To Act Like It

Those of you who know me well will probably have no issue with this question: What is my favorite hobby/interest ever?

Obvious, right?

It's music!

Most people around me would say TriMet (Portland's bus system). Yes, that is my most quirky interest that I have spent more time on than any other. But when it all comes down to it, music has always been my first love. Listening to it, playing it, singing it, studying it. I love music.

The thing I love most about music is how it speaks to me. This is why I love Christian music; the message in the music matters so much to me, so I want to be hearing the best message. The interplay between the lyrics and music creates something in me that nothing else can.

It is clear to me that God created music, because it is so special and amazing. And it never fails that the song I happen to be hearing has something in it that I needed to hear right then and there. God speaks through music every day.

One thing I have always wanted to do with this blog is write devotionals based on the songs I am listening to at the time. This is one reason why I don't have ads on my blog page, so that I have no monetary gain from this and can therefore reference copyrighted material, giving full attribution to the author.

Lyrics are poetry. They are crafted not just to mean something powerful but also so that they are aesthetically pleasing.

It has been a rough week for me. I, the typical human being, have made some mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, but I expect good things from myself. So when I don't meet those expectations, I feel pretty low.

But I am reminded of a song that I have been listening to on the radio, the new single from Hawk Nelson called "Live Like You're Loved." The first line of the chorus says this:

          "So live like you're loved. It's okay to act like you've been set free."

This is really encouraging. Except that, after making mistakes, I don't feel like I'm free. How can I act like it if I don't feel like I am?

What I love about this lyric is how blunt and unpoetic it is. In an industry that is based on alliteration and the right blend, here's this lyric that just jumps off the page awkwardly. It's in your face. It sounds more like a guy scolding his friend than a poem.

But I'm pretty sure they intended it that way.

Here's the truth you and I need to remember. God's grace has set us free. The blood of Jesus on the cross was more than enough to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and his resurrection is the ultimate victory over death. The gift of God is grace. It is a gift; I don't have to earn it. Nothing I can do will make me more or less worthy for salvation. It is a gift.

In John 8:36 (NIV), Jesus Himself says, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." We are free, now and forever.

Sometimes we need a good Gibbs slap to remind us that, even though we may stumble, we are free of the chains we were once in, and free of the eternal judgment for the mistakes we make.

Therefore, it's okay to act like we're free, even if we don't feel like it. Even if we don't feel worthy of it. It's not about whether we deserve it, it is what we are. We are free.

So act like it! Don't let sin convince you that you are not good enough for freedom. Walk in confidence, knowing that God loves you and sent His Son to die for you. You are free today, and that will never change.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Answer Man

Can you think of that one person in your life who seems to know the answer for everything? That one person you can go to (before Wikipedia) who will probably have the answer to your question, whatever it is?

For me, thats my dad. He seems to know something about everything, especially when it is related to engineering or science. He always finds ways to educate himself about these things, and I can trust that he will have the answer, and that it's probably the correct one as well, or close to it.

Think of the movie Elf. What did the publishing company do when they ran out of ideas? They brought in Miles Finch. He was reputed as someone who would certainly have the answer they needed.

Well, in my last post, I wrote about being one of those people who seems to have some sort of answer for everything theological. I know I don't have every answer, but at least I have enough knowledge to be able to offer something of value.

I also have almost a quarter century of experience on this earth. It's not a ton, I know, but I've surely been around the block enough times to have a handle on a lot of things. When life throws me problems, my theological knowledge and my life experience usually proves sufficient for me to know what to do, or at least know what the next step is that I should take.

But what baffles me to no end is that even though I have the answers, I am terrible at using them! Either I fail miserably at my attempt, or I just go the other way completely. There are issues that I have been dealing with for years, and to this day I haven't even started to even address them, even knowing what I should do.

This proves to me two things. First, God gave me a brain that works so I can come up with answers to my questions. Second, I am a fallen human and cannot succeed in my own capability.

I am thankful beyond words that God accepts me as I am, and that I don't have to know all the answers or get everything right all the time. I am also thankful that I can rely on God to have the absolutely correct answers and the faithfulness to never fail me even if I fail Him. And the Holy Spirit can also work with me to help me understand and be able to do what I should to in any given situation.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight."

No matter if I have the answers or not, or if I do what I should in response or not, I can rely on God to help me get where I need to go. That is such a great relief.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Know-It-Alls

Small group discussions are always a bit uncomfortable for me. No, it's not that I don't like sharing or hearing what other people have to say. I love being a part of deep conversations about God, and I love hearing other peoples' different perspectives or new insight about spiritual things.

The issue is that, when I was young, my very knowledgeable Christian mother taught me almost everything she knew about the depths of the Bible and theology. I was homeschooled by the same mother during junior high and high school, and have continually engaged in intense discussions about the details of scripture. In other words, I know a lot.

And I am not the only one. In the larger group discussions I have recently participated in, there is usually at least one other person who is sitting there with hand raised and the facial expression like they are going to explode, because they know the answer and aren't being called on since they answered the last three questions.

No one will come out and say anything to make fun of the small group theologian. But I still find myself feeling awkward and slightly embarrassed when I have the answer to almost every question, and even more so when my answer sounds so scholarly and confusing that the other people at the table look like I was telling them about quantum physics.

This shouldn't be. It seems like I should be ever confident and never uncomfortable about having a relatively deep understanding of Scripture.

The problem is that I don't want to be seen as a know-it-all.

For all my life, I have been tagged as the "smart one." "Oh, he knows so much!" people will exclaim. "He's so smart!"

Well, what they didn't see was how dense I really am when I come to using that knowledge. What I have in the ability to retain knowledge I lack in the ability to understand verbal instructions or use intuition to solve problems on the fly. I can go from being the sharpest tack to the dullest in a heartbeat.

What I found was that people stopped at my smarts and wouldn't look past them to see the reality of who I am. I am a person like everyone else, with my successes and failings, my skills and the areas in which I lack.

People don't tend to like know-it-alls. They can be intimidated by them, or they just find them annoying or condescending.

I don't want to be seen as a know-it-all. I want people to see me as a normal person as I really am.

Except in the areas of the Bible.

I am perfectly okay with having extensive knowledge about God's Word. I teach everybody all the time that we were meant to know God's Word better than any other knowledge we may possess. I use the opportunities when I have the answers to teach the others around me the truths of God and the testimonies of what He has done.

I may feel uncomfortable at times. But I am never ashamed.

Consider the selected words of the psalmist in Psalm 119 (NIV):

97 Oh, how I love your law!
    I meditate on it all day long.
98 Your commands are always with me
    and make me wiser than my enemies.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
    for I meditate on your statutes.
100 I have more understanding than the elders,
    for I obey your precepts.

103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 I gain understanding from your precepts;
    therefore I hate every wrong path.
105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.

There is nothing sweeter than the knowledge of God. Remember, God's Word isn't just a text; knowing God's word is one in the same with knowing God Himself. We should never tire of wanting to know more about God!

So, fellow "know-it-alls," speak confidently! Be bold with the words you speak, because you may speaking the words of life to a needing soul.

And to those who are just learning, keep pursuing God! You will never regret knowing God more. And you will also never run out of things to learn either. God is greater than our minds can ever fathom.

What a privilege it is to be able to know my Maker and Savior.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Wordiness

Some people like to talk. I am one of those people.

If you have conversed with me, you may have found that I tend to dominate the conversation. I have to fight myself to let other people talk. It's not because I'm narcissistic, it's just because I have a lot to say!

Well, actually I am relatively me-centered, especially in conversation. If I like the topic, I dominate it. If I don't, I can be quite apathetic.

The better word is 'pathetic,' but I would rather keep my dignity somewhat intact.

Anyway, since I was the person in college who scoffed at 'minimum word counts' for papers, my blog posts have tended to look my like the Affordable Care Act text than a devotional. I always have a lot to say, and I think deeply on things, which produces even more to say. Therefore, I always feel like I have to pack at least three sermons' work in one post.

But on the other side of things, I have a short attention span. If anything is too long, I would rather spend my time elsewhere. I get bored easily; if it doesn't get to the point quickly enough, then it's like an absolute struggle to actually get through it. It becomes more of a chore than a joy.

Then something revolutionary happened. I started a devotional plan on the YouVersion Bible app.

These are short, to-the-point snippets of gospel truth that can help supplement one's own Bible reading. And they usually come in a bucket of three to ten days' worth of devotions. Suddenly, I realized that this is what I really need to write.

You see, wordy doesn't always mean better. Sometimes, simplicity and brevity is what matters. It helps emphasize the main point in a way that it actually impacts the reader's life.

The Bible itself is actually made up of smaller segments grouped into one large book. Jesus told parables, short but powerful stories. Paul wrote letters composed of smaller topical segments that went together to form the whole. In the Book of Proverbs, each verse stands alone. And the list goes on. God understands how the human mind works.

So I will take up the challenge of decreasing my wordiness. Yes, I like using flowery language. But please allow me the opportunity to share the random knowledge of God's Word with you in simple, easy to digest posts. It's like the $15 bag of M&M's I bought: it isn't hard to eat it when you have small portions every day.