Even When I’m At My Darkest

Do you ever find one of those songs? You know, the one that you just can’t stop listening to. It just seems to speak directly into your soul. It’s almost like it was written just for you to hear. Well, I have one of those. I’ve found myself listening to this song a lot – daily, in fact. The song is called Even When I’m At My Darkest by Ascend the Hill. I’ve grown to love this band and their music, and this song just might be one of my favorites. Read these lyrics.

Before I took a breath, you knew me
You called me by my name
And even when I’m at my darkest
You know me all the same

And every hair on my head you’ve numbered
And every thought within
And even when I cannot see you
I feel you closer than my skin

And in my darkest dreams, they find me
My failures haunt me in the night
A broken image of creation
Twisting, turning, hiding from the light

And then, I heard a voice so clear
Like deep, calling, deep, and I could hear
I felt your spirit drawing near
Breathing life in me, destroying every fear

My spirit woke with a hopeful plea
Each fighting breath resonating in me
You broke the chains to set me free
You gave me a song to lift my eyes and see

Lift up your head (you won’t let me go)
Lift your head, cause help has come
Lift up your heart (you won’t let me go)
Lift your heart, his will be done.
Lift up your hands (you won’t let me go)
Lift your hands and praise the One
Lift up your song (you won’t let me go)
Lift your song, o ransomed son!

Before I took a breath, you knew me
You called me by my name
And even when I’m at my darkest
You know me all the same

Think about these words. Before I took a breath, You knew me…and even when I’m at my darkest, You know me all the same. Have you ever thought about that? When you are at the darkest moments in your life – maybe facing an illness, perhaps the loss of a loved one, possibly divorce – He is with us and knows us. He feels our pain and comforts us.

I’ve been there – at my darkest. I’ve wondered who really cares…thought why is this happening…felt totally alone. I’ve been reminded of past failures. And in my darkest dreams, they find me, my failures haunt me in the night, a broken image of creation, twisting, turning, hiding from the lightBut somehow, I’ve seen the light. I’ve felt peace in the midst of chaos. And then I heard a voice so clear, like deep calling deep, and I could hear, I felt your spirit drawing near, breathing life in me, destroying every fear. 

Maybe you are at your darkest. Maybe you are facing something and just feel alone. I hope you listen to this song, read the lyrics, and feel His presence. I hope you know that, even when you’re at your darkest, He draws near and covers you. Listen…feel His love for you…even in your darkest hour.

Dorks Unite!!

It seems like every band “dork”, including this one, is bashing Jim Rome for his idiotic tweet on New Year’s Day. In case you missed it, here is what he had to say.

romeidiotLet me begin by saying that I have never been a big fan of Jim Rome, and now I really don’t care if I ever hear from him again. He later deleted this tweet and posted an apology – only after the tons of negative comments from angry “dorks” everywhere. What a moron! I’m sure Mr. Rome has no idea the amount of commitment, hard work and dedication that goes into being in a marching band. I would like to see him try it. No doubt he would fail miserably, as he has done with his half-witted Twitter post.

I was in the marching band. I have many friends who were fellow band dorks. My oldest daughter is in the marching band. Call us dorks if you will – we have thick skin and don’t take that as an insult. In fact, studies have proven that students who play musical instruments consistently score higher on tests like the ACT or SAT. They also generally have better grades than non-music students. Dorks? Who cares! Unless you have been exposed to the inner workings of the marching band world, you have no idea what you’re talking about. The hard work that goes into putting on a show is simply incredible. It ain’t for the weak!

I have more I would like to say, but I’m choosing to stop. I prefer to let the music do the talking, so to speak. So, I’ll leave you with this. I’m no Ohio State fan, but their marching band is without a doubt one of the best in the nation. I’m honored to be among dorks!

It’s Great To Be A Tennessee Vol!

taxslayer-650x342Today, the Tennessee Volunteers made their first bowl appearance since 2010, and what an appearance it was. The Vols dominated the majority of the game, defeating Iowa 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Tennessee gave up some points late, but the game was never close.

I was very excited about today’s game. For me it didn’t matter if the Vols won or lost. Oh, I’m super excited about the victory! But, I was really just so happy to see them back in a bowl game. I grew up in Knoxville watching the Vols. I graduated from UT and lived through the good years (and some not so good). Even in the off years, Tennessee was still able to produce a winning season and make bowl appearances. However, over the past 5-6 years, the program has suffered. With coaching changes and poor recruiting, the Vols were quickly becoming one of the worst teams in the SEC. So, I was very excited about Butch Jones and his recruiting classes. The bowl appearance today capped off lots of hard work, and I couldn’t be happier with the result. I’m not sure I’m ready to say the program is back to where it should be, but it is certainly headed in the right direction.

Today showed me that Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteers have a bright future. For the first time in a long time, I’m REALLY looking forward to the start of the next season. Good things are yet to come! GO VOLS!!! #VFL

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The Power of Music

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I’ve recently read several articles that have placed a negative spin on the use of music during worship services. One article claimed that using music to move us and bring us closer to God is more pagan than Christian. It goes on to say the use of music has marginalized God’s Word because faith doesn’t come from music. The article does acknowledge that Scripture is filled with examples of God’s people using music, but it claims that many churches have granted music “sacramental power” and replaced the teaching of God’s Word with song. Another article states that what is done on stage on Sunday morning is nothing more than a “rock show” and has no impact on our daily lives. It claims that this is one reason people are leaving the church.

Now, I’ll admit that there are churches who have put more emphasis on the music than on the teaching of God’s Word. I’m certain there are people leaving some churches because they don’t feel impacted. However, the articles I’ve read seem to be labeling every church the same and condemning the use of music. I just think that is wrong. Music can be a powerful part of the worship service and, in my opinion, should always be included. No, it should not take place of the teaching of the Bible – that must be first if the church is going to survive. But, there is power in music that can move the worshipper closer to God. I’ll explain.

Nearly every church I’ve attended has the same basic service outline. The service typically begins with music, has a sermon in the middle, and ends with music. The purpose of music at the start of the worship service should be to prepare the worshipper’s heart for the hearing of the Word. I know I’ve walked into the service not really ready to meet God. I’m sure we’ve all been there – we would really rather be sleeping in, maybe we were arguing with kids on the way in, the drive to church was stressful – and when we arrive and walk into the building we aren’t ready to worship. But then, the music starts. For me, everything changes when the music begins. My mind focuses on the words of the songs, and my heart is opened to the message. (The church I attend does an amazing job of selecting songs that point directly to Scripture). On most Sundays, no matter how I felt coming in, I’m ready to hear the Word after the opening worship time. That is what the music should do – prepare your heart to receive the Word.

Then, when the sermon ends, there is more music. That is a time of reflection and response. Many churches select songs for this time of worship that are responses to the message. I grew up in a small southern Baptist church that used hymnals (for those of you under the age of 30 you may have to Google hymnal to see what that looks like). We often used songs like Just As I Am or Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus during that part of the service. Old hymns like these give words of response for us.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace. 

Scripture recognizes the use of music in worship. Just look at Psalm 150.

Praise the Lord

Hallelujah!
Praise God in His sanctuary.
Praise Him in His mighty heavens.
Praise Him for His powerful acts;
praise Him for His abundant greatness.

Praise Him with trumpet blast;
praise Him with harp and lyre.
Praise Him with tambourine and dance;
praise Him with flute and strings.
Praise Him with resounding cymbals;
praise Him with clashing cymbals.

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.
Hallelujah!

Trumpet blasts, harp and lyre, flute and strings, resounding cymbals – now add guitars, piano, drums and you have modern worship services.

For me, music is an important part of my worship. Some of my most meaningful times in worship have come while playing or singing during a service. Music has power! No, it doesn’t replace the teaching of the Bible, but it has the power to move you in such a way that your heart is in tune with the Word the pastor brings. A church shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about using music in the worship service, and they certainly don’t need to get rid of the music. As for claims that Sunday morning is a “rock show” that has no impact on our daily lives, I can tell you that certainly isn’t true for me. Much of the music I hear on Sunday morning (or Wednesday night) ends up in my iTunes, and I listen to it throughout the week. The right song, at the right time, has the power to touch your heart and give you the push you need to make it through. Don’t discount the power of music, and don’t allow negative articles to influence your feelings. Listen on my friends!

Great Christian Songs You May Never Hear

There are certainly many Christian radio stations one can listen to. Visit most cities and you’re bound to find at least one. I do enjoy listening to these stations from time to time. The problem I have with them is the tend to play the same few songs over and over again. Those who know me best know I enjoy variety in my music. Even if I’m listening to a particular genre, I want to hear various styles and mix things up a bit. There are so many different styles of Christian music to enjoy. However, mainstream Christian radio tends to stay away from many of these. With that in mind, I want to share with you some of the great Christian songs out there that you may never otherwise hear.

The first is by the band Ascend the Hill. Their music is a bit different, and I love their sound. They have so many great songs, but this is one of my favorites. It is So Good to Us from their album O Ransomed Son.

 

I love these words from the song.

Instead of repaying us what we deserve, or according to our sin and the wrath that we’ve earned, He lifted it and He put it on His Son. So down came Love, the right hand of God, the man called Christ and He swallowed it up. Let all men taste and see.  

The Lord is gracious, slow to anger, rich in love, He’s good, so good to us. 

 

The next song may not appeal to everyone. It is Christian rap. I’ll admit I’ve never really been into rap. However, working with students at church I’ve been exposed to Christian rap and love it! There is a lot of truth contained in the lyrics of these songs. I could share many here, but I chose this one because of the story behind it. The artist is Tedashii, and this song is from his newest album, Below Paradise. The song is Dark Days, Darker Nights. Please take the time to visit YouTube and read the info contained below the video. In it, Tedashii reveals his dark days and darker nights after the loss of his son. Read that, then listen to the lyrics of this song with his story in mind.

Worst day of my life and it’s just gettin’ badder, askin’ Him why and lookin’ for answers. Wonderin’ if He’s goin ever come back, if He is then man can you pick up the slack, cause this place that I’m in I might never come back, feelin’ so lost I don’t know where I’m at. 

 

Changing gears now I’ll share one more. This one is a great praise song that is gaining popularity, however you still won’t hear it on mainstream Christian radio. It is called All the Poor and Powerless by All Sons & Daughters. The first time I heard this song was at DNOW, a student event I’m honored to work. The worship leader sang this song, and I fell in love with it. I think you will, too.

 

Shout it! Go on and scream it from the mountains. Go on and tell it to the masses, that He is God. 

 

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do. Stay tuned. I might be sharing some other favorites soon. God bless!

The Prayers of a Friend

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I’ve heard it said that the three most important words a person can hear are, “I love you”. I’ll agree that, if they are from the heart, those are important words. However, I think there are four words a person can hear that are more powerful and more meaningful. In fact, I personally feel very special when I hear these words – especially when they come from a trusted friend. What are those words?

I’M PRAYING FOR YOU

I’ve recently had conversations with a friend about some things she has dealt with. In the midst of this, I had some things arise in my life and I asked her to pray for me. She told me she prays for me daily. Wow! I was blown away. I actually almost cried when I read those words from her. Here she is in the middle of her own crisis, yet she is taking the time to pray for her friend. Words simply cannot describe the feelings that this stirs inside me.

I won’t sit here and tell you my prayer life is the best it could be. There are certainly times I could pray more, but I do try to pray for my friends. I know how important that is to someone. Hearing my friend say she is praying for me means the world to me, and I want others to know that feeling – the feeling of being prayed for.

To my friend who made me feel so very special (you know who you are) – THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

For all of my friends out there reading this…How can I pray for you?

And, would you pray for me?

So Much on my Mind

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The past couple of days have been a mixed bag of emotions. There is just so much on my mind right now I’m not even sure where to start. Much of this is personal, but I felt the need to write it down and share…so here we go.

This week has been very busy as I’ve been catching up from being off work for a week. In the midst of that several things have come my way that have occupied my thoughts. Yesterday morning I received a message from a good friend asking me to pray for her. This is someone I care about very much, so of course I wanted to pray for her. But, I was also concerned about her, and she has been on my mind and in my thoughts since.

Also, yesterday would have been my friend Rick’s 56th birthday. Rick was one of those guys everyone liked, and he just had a way of making your day. He was like a brother to me. Sadly, Rick passed away suddenly and unexpectedly nearly 5 years ago. I think of my friend often, and especially miss him when his birthday rolls around. Of course the question is also once again raised – Why? Why was he taken so soon? I know God has a plan for everything, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier.

Today would have been my mother’s 64th birthday. Just like my friend Rick, my mom passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. She too was taken too soon. It has been nearly 7 years since she has been gone, and I still miss her so much. She was a great lady! Again, the same question creeps into my mind – Why?

Finally, this morning a friend from church shared on Facebook that her 14-year old daughter was hospitalized with pneumonia. I work with the middle school ministry at church, and those kids are near and dear to my heart. Hearing this sweet girl was in the hospital brought worry and concern to my mind. She is doing well and is in good spirits according to her mom, so that is a relief. I’ve prayed for this girl and her family all day.

There is just so much on my mind!

I’m also dealing with some personal decisions to be made. I’m not ready to share any details publicly at this time, but let me just say these aren’t easy decisions. I would appreciate some prayers for clarity and peace.

As I type I’m reminded that when life seems out of control, God is most in control. Regardless of the circumstances – personal problems, illness, death – He is in control. It isn’t easy to let go and turn situations over to Him, but that is what we should do. That is what I’m trying to do. I’ll pray for my friends and will be there for them, but I can’t solve problems or heal anyone. Thankfully, He can!

Mission Trip 2014: Atlanta, GA

Mission Trip Team

I spent the past week in Atlanta, GA (East Atlanta, to be precise) with this amazing group of students and leaders. To be completely honest, I had some doubts about going on the trip. I wasn’t sure what we were going to be doing, and I just wasn’t sure I was using my vacation time wisely. After all, aren’t vacations supposed to be a time to get away and relax? Even with the doubts, I knew this was where God wanted me. And, it didn’t take long for me to realize I had made the right decision. My first thought for this post was to recap everything we did each day. However, the more I reflected on the week, the more I realized the details aren’t really the story. So, instead I’m going to give you a quick recap of the week, then share some personal thoughts, lessons and reflections.

I didn’t learn what we would be doing until the day we left. Even then, there was still some confusion and questions, but I knew God had a purpose for this trip. I just needed to wait and see it unfold. Upon our arrival we met with Pastor Jean Ward, the church planter and pastor of the church we would be serving – East Atlanta Church. After hearing what he had in mind for the week, I had more clarity on our mission and was ready to get started. We spent the first 2 days helping Pastor Jean film a video promoting the core values (love, peace, integrity, discipleship, community and faithfulness) of East Atlanta Church. During that time we were able to interact with people in the community, and our students stepped up in grand fashion. The last 2 days were spent working in a middle school in the community and involved much physical labor. Following the first day of working in the school, some of the team didn’t really understand why we were doing the work. It just didn’t seem much like missions work. That night during our devotion time, our middle school pastor (Nathan) shared his thoughts on this. He told the group that while we may not see the results, others do. In fact, several teachers in the school stopped him and thanked him for what we did. Our work, he explained, is helping Pastor Jean build relationships in the community. The following morning, before we began our second day of work in the school, Nathan shared Scripture from 1 Corinthians 3:6…

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth

Pastor Jean had planted by plugging into the community and partnering with our church. We were watering by coming alongside him and East Atlanta Church to do the work. In the end, God will grow what was planted and watered. What great motivation and perspective to begin the work day! Following that day of hard work, I think everyone felt better about what we had done.

For more detailed information on the work we did, please visit http://www.clearview.org/news/atlanta-mission-team-update

As I end this week of Kingdom work,  I wanted to share some personal thought, lessons and reflections. I kept a journal throughout the week, and wrote these words on the bus ride home.

It was a great week! The team accomplished what Pastor Jean wanted, and we bonded. The students all worked well together, and I feel that everyone grew closer. Relationships were developed this week. I see most of these kids week after week at church, but I really didn’t know some of them that well. After this week, that is no longer the case. I am thankful for the relationships I built with the students this week. They are great kids, and I am honored to serve them and serve with them. Since I plan to continue serving in the middle school ministry, I especially appreciate the bonds I made with the rising 8th graders. I can’t wait to see how God is going to use them. I was reminded this week of why I serve my church, specifically in the student ministry. I absolutely love those kids!!

There are 3 important lessons I learned from the week.

1. It isn’t about me, my comfort or my plans.

  • As I said at the beginning of the post, I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing by using my vacation time for this. God taught me that it isn’t about me. The purpose of the trip was Him – it always had been. Regardless of what we would be doing, the goal was to point to Him and give Him the glory.

2. You may not always see the results of Kingdom work (1 Corinthians 3:6), but God does! Keep working!

  • Although we didn’t directly see the results of what we did, God has a plan for it and will see the results. I needed to learn this lesson, because there are other areas where I can use this. Sometimes I question why I serve in certain areas at church, but the lesson learned this week puts it into perspective. I may not see the results, but He does.

3. We are developing leaders. 

  • Today’s middle and high school students are tomorrow’s leaders. We, as leaders in the student ministry, are developing the next generation of leaders. It hit me as I watched these kids work. A couple of them in particular stood out. Every time the team was given an assignment, I saw these couple of students step up and quickly get to work. They were genuinely excited about accomplishing the task set before them, and they were motivators to those around them. I saw tomorrow’s leaders developing before my eyes.

Reflecting now on the week, I can honestly say I can’t believe I had any doubts. I was blessed this week by the work that was done and by the students and leaders I served with. I’m thankful for new friendships and closer relationships. God taught me some valuable lessons and gave me some clarity on why I serve. Mission trips should be memorable, and this one certainly was for me. Thank you to each student and leader who served on this trip, and thank you to all who prayed for us. We watered what was planted, and I can’t wait to see what God will grow!

Sold Out

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “selling out” as betraying ones cause or associates especially for personal gain. Most people would probably agree with that. When we think of someone selling out, it usually isn’t a good thing. But, I’m looking at it differently. I want to sell out in a positive way. Allow me to explain.

I recently had a conversation with someone who is sold out. He is on fire for the Gospel, and is a sold out follower of Jesus Christ. What does that mean? Simply that he no longer lives for himself – everything he does is to advance the Gospel. He has flipped selling our around and redefined it. Instead of betraying a cause for personal gain, he is betraying personal gain for a cause. That is how I want to be – sold out for Jesus!

Listen to this song, then continue reading.

Break me, shake me, mold me, I’d rather die like Christ than live unholy

I love this song, and it speaks to exactly what I described above. The Bible calls us to be holy, just as Christ is holy. Of course we’ll never live up to His standard, but the goal should be to daily become more like Him. That’s what I want. I fail – daily (sometimes hourly) – but, I’m growing in His grace and mercy. Every day, I’m selling out a little more.

I’ve been a Christ follower for a long time, but I’m far from good. I’ve had conversations recently with a couple of guys about forgiveness, and that is an area of struggle for me. I know I need to overcome that area before I can be completely sold out. A discussion with someone this morning helped me look at forgiveness in a new way. There may be a post on that subject coming soon. Until then, I press on, just at the apostle Paul, toward the goal that calls me heavenward. My goal – to know Him more and make Him known…to be completely sold out for Jesus Christ!

What is a Holiday?

I had to go out yesterday evening and do some shopping for some items I needed. I wasn’t thinking about it being Good Friday, which should not have made a difference. However, I was surprised at how many people were out shopping. It looked more like Christmas than Easter. After walking through the store and feeling disgusted by what I was seeing, I left without purchasing anything. Allow me to explain.

You see, I grew up in a time when most retail stores were closed on most holidays. In fact, many stores were closed EVERY Sunday. I fully expect crowded stores near Christmas, but I wasn’t expecting what I saw yesterday. The crowds and traffic everywhere I looked were ridiculous. Plus, once inside the one store I attempted, it was unsettling to see throngs of people frantically shopping for Easter candy and toys. By the way, as a side note, when did Easter become a time for giving kids a bunch of toys they don’t need? When I was a kid we got candy (usually chocolate bunnies and jelly beans), but no toys. Sorry, I had to get that off my chest. Back to the crazed shoppers. The store I visited had 3 aisles of Easter items, and I would guess about 100 people were crammed into those aisles. I saw one woman start down an aisle, stop and say “Oh wow!”, then shake her head and walk away.

This spectacle raised a question in my mind. What is a holiday? According to dictionary.com, a holiday is:

a day fixed by law or custom on which ordinary business is suspended in commemoration of some event or in honor of some person.

Read that carefully. “Ordinary business is suspended”. Hmmm…that can’t be right. It seems to me that holiday in the United States has been re-defined. Holiday in this country now seems to be a reason for retail stores to stay open extended hours and have a sale. Americans use holidays as an excuse to go out and feed their ever-growing greedy appetite for more stuff. What ever happened to closing up shop, spending time with family and friends, and celebrating the true meaning of the holiday? Take Easter, for example. It isn’t about shopping for more junk we don’t need. Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sure, it is fun for kids to hunt for eggs and eat chocolate bunnies, but let us not fall victim to retailers during this time. Easter would exist even if we closed ALL of the retail establishments and take away the candy and eggs.

It is time for America to wake up and realize that life is about more than collecting crap we don’t need! We need to get back to celebrating the TRUE meaning of holidays and not using them as an excuse to shop.

But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.

Matthew 6:20 (HCSB)