That was THEN-This is NOW

“Binge-watching.”  It’s just one of what seems to be an endless number of things that are “trending” right now!  My wife and I have sort of been caught up in this phenomenon.  We will find a show that has like nine seasons and sit and watch episode after episode.  

One program that I personally was captivated by in recent months was a documentary series about the 1960s.  This was the era that I grew up in so I was naturally drawn to watching this series.  And yes, having grown up in the 60s you can probably guess my approximate age and YES we did have television back then!

This particular documentary was narrated by a famous movie personality and featured many interviews from politicians, musicians, reporters and writers of that era.  As you might imagine the series covered major events from the space race to the Beatles.  The country was preoccupied then by the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Protests.  Also the Sixties were stained by  the assassinations of US President John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King.  Perhaps no one really knows how close we came to a nuclear war during The Cuban Missile Crisis. But that decade finally ended on a good note when the first man is landed on the moon with bragging rights going to the American space program!

Being a musician I was most fascinated by the coverage of how music in the 60s evolved and in many ways help shape the trends, style and technology of music for future generations.  Sometimes I really miss listening to those old “45s” on my record player!

So before I go completely nostalgic on you, let me get to some point here!  As I “binge-watched” those 10 episodes of this documentary I was reminded of a few things.  First, when we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit that who we are now was greatly influenced by the culture we grew up in.  I spent those childhood years on a farm in VERY rural southern Ohio.  I have to say I am one of the lucky people who had parents of Godly character who instilled in me the value of Godly living, church and work ethic.  This brings me to a second point.  I strongly believe who we are today has its roots in the influence of the PEOPLE who were in our lives when we were younger.  As I said, I was blessed to be in Christian home where there was not a lot of money but plenty of love.  I realize that not everyone has had a happy childhood.  In fact, in my line of work (ministry) I have known plenty of folks who have shared their stories with me about how they were deprived of proper parenting and subsequent moral compass when they were growing up.  Some were abused-verbally, physically or even  sexually.  But many have overcome the emotional scars of the past.  It is true that life has dealt the unfair hand to many people.  Life just isn’t fair.  That was then.  This is now.  But for millions life still is not fair.

Looking back over my life so far I can see how blessed I’ve been.  That’s not to say that life has been easy.  When someone asks me how I’m doing I am prone to quip “if I get any closer to easy street, I’ll have to change my zip code!”  But that’s not really true!  My life has had its share of pain, grief and difficulty.  And some of it was due to my own stupidity because of choices I made.  Isn’t that true of all of us?  But we cannot, should not and better not live IN THE PAST!  Some of us would not want to anyway!  That was then,  This is now.  And we are still busy writing the story-the legacy- of our life.  For this guy, what has made all the difference is a relationship with God in Jesus Christ and an effort to live a life that reflects that faith.  Like Noah of old, I have “found Grace in the eyes of the Lord!”  Is it an easy life?  Well, no.  Sometimes it’s VERY hard to stay calm and just trust the Lord!  Jesus never, ever told us that living as a Christian would be easy.  But He promised us that it would BE WORTH IT!  And friend, for me that’s the truth-you better believe it!  And someday, when by God’s infinite Grace I make it all the way to the land of Promise, I can stand with my Mom and Dad and countless other Christ followers who are already there and say “this is now” because there will really be no need to say “that was then!”

Until next time,

The Methmusician

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Our Common Truth

Well, we have just entered the liturgical season of LENT.  According to http://www.UMC.org Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.

Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.”

In the UMC tradition we celebrate what’s called the “imposition” of ashes on Ash Wednesday.  One of the phrases used in the liturgy is spoken by the minister as he or she forms the image of the cross on the forehead or hand of the worshippers: “From dust you came, to dust you shall return.  Repent and believe the Gospel.”  There it is.  This is the one great truth that every single one of us have in common.  Scripture says that God formed man from the dust of the earth and, sobering as it may be, we will all someday return to dust.  We cannot escape our death.  But between our birth and our death we have a choice.  We choose to serve God or not serve God.  Oh how America needs to “repent and believe the Gospel!”  We are living in that time which was prophesied by Isaiah when the prophet warned “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.  Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks,  who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.
Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames,
so their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty.”   (Isaiah 5)

Things are pretty messed up in our world.  And make no mistake, God will judge us harshly for our “tolerance.” We are not going to sin and simply get by with it!  God is a jealous God but God is also a loving forgiving God!  I pray that we come to our senses and realize the time we have here on earth is really pretty short and we need to “repent and believe the Gospel” before it’s too late.  Maybe Lent is a good time to do that!

 

Choose Your Words

For many years now my wife has worked in early childhood as a teacher (and director) of preschools.  She is a gifted teacher and is always coming home with interesting stories about her preschool students.  And, as you might imagine, there are certain things that she and the other teachers have to constantly say to these little people.  “Don’t eat that!”  “Are you listening?”  “Wash your hands!”

Another pretty popular phrase in preschool is “USE YOUR WORDS!”  Now she has some students who are developmentally behind or lack social or gross motor skills so for them, it is not uncommon for them to have to learn how to slow down and make complete sentences.  So to gently coach a student to “use your words” is a good thing.

What about us as adults?  We need to not just “use our words” but CHOOSE OUR WORDS!  In the Bible book of Proverbs 32:34 it says   “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”   Whoever coined the phrase “sticks and stones my break my bones but words can never hurt me” lied through their teeth!  Words can and DO hurt people!  Words are powerful, especially words spoken in anger, indifference or spite.  The writer of the book of James says it this way: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. …”  Just reading THESE words invokes a sense of truth and conviction (or at least it should). If we’re honest, there’s not a single one of us who doesn’t need to learn how to control our tongue!

I strongly believe that what comes out of our mouth is a reflection of what’s really in our hearts!  Jesus said “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks!”  I think we need to be careful about what we say and how we say to others.  To be sure there are some persons out there who don’t give a rat’s behind about how they offend others with their speech and attitudes.  But the rest of us have a conscience and we can CHOOSE to use words that build each other up not tear each other down.

Until next time…

The Methmusician

A Small bit of irony

It’s the “holidays” already!  Thanksgiving is just a few days away and in about 23 days I will once again engage in what has become a very long tradition of trying to do my “Christmas shopping” just a few days from Christmas!

My wife and I were in a large, popular retail store the other day and I just couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by all the STUFF that was in that place.  Mostly clothing but lots of it!  I sort of perused the massive scene of merchandise before me and I couldn’t help but think how ironic it is that so many merchants (not all but a lot!) are very careful about posting ads and seasonal greetings that might accidentally smack of Christianity.  It is 2015 after all and everyone is offended by everything.  I believe the idea of GIVING started with God.  I believe He created everything to start with which means He GAVE us our lives!  In the beginning God gave His creation everything needed for survival and preservation of the species.  Of course we (i.e. humans) messed everything when we disobeyed God’s laws.  And in the New Testament it says that God loves people so much that He GAVE His only begotten son, Jesus to die for sin on the cross.  So here’s where the irony is for me: We are consumers and as such we spend billions of dollars on STUFF to GIVE away during Christmas time.  It’s kind of like we don’t think twice about getting all this stuff to GIVE to others at Christmas (after all it is more blessed to GIVE than to receive!  BTW that’s in the Bible) but often times we don’t think at all about what GOD has given us.  We take it for granted.  Honestly!  So while you’re out doing your “Black Friday” and consequent holiday pushing and shoving-I MEAN SHOPPING- take a few minutes to offer GOD thanks for that bean burrito you’re eating at the food court!

Oh, and MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Until Next time,

The Methmusician

“You Can’t Handle the Truth”

Some of you are old enough to remember the classic courtroom dialogue from the movie “A Few Good Men” (1992) where the character portrayed by Tom Cruise is railing on the guy on the witness stand (portrayed by Jack Nicholson).  Cruise’s character yells “I want the TRUTH!”  To which Nicholson’s character says “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”   BOOM!  There it is.

A more “true” statement has seldom been said because we live in a culture where people just don’t want to come to terms with the TRUTH.  The truth is, many of us wouldn’t know the TRUTH if it tap danced on our face!

And the truth is people have always hated other people who SPEAK the TRUTH!  People have ALWAYS hated prophets!  And the truth is that we are all defective people-every single one of us!  The Good Book tells us that but let’s be honest-even if there was no Good Book we would still be defective people.  It’s our nature I think.

I fear that very soon our cultural epitaph will read something like this:  “HERE LIES THE STINKING REMAINS AND RUBBLE OF A ONCE GREAT SOCIETY THAT ENDED UP THIS WAY BECAUSE THEY WERE OFFERED TRUTH BUT CHOSE NOT TO ACCEPT IT.”  Oh the TRUTH was there.  It has always been available to us.  But we looked at it and said “That CAN’T be the truth because we didn’t invent it!  WE did not endorse it.  WE did not legitimize it.  WE did not legislate it.  WE did not embrace it!  So it CAN’T be the truth.  Real TRUTH might cause us to have to change the way we think or act or live.  And we don’t want that to happen!  

And so our culture, like other cultures before us, has decided to synthesize and demoralize and attempt to destroy TRUTH to the extent that we have lost our collective mind and place ourselves in a moral and spiritual downward spiral that seems inevitable and irreversible.  We have CRUCIFIED the TRUTH and we have said “we’re done with it!”

But I’ve got news for you.  The TRUTH is alive!  There is still hope.  There is still time.  The good news is I know a guy who said “I AM THE TRUTH, THE LIFE AND THE WAY!”  (Yeah that’s right- I turned this rant into a sermon!  Get over it!).  And truthfully, I’m absolutely convinced that the ONLY HOPE for this or any culture is to come back to THIS TRUTH.  To repent of our stupidity and rebellion against the God who created us and beg for forgiveness.  If we only would, we can learn from our past mistakes without REPEATING THEM!  The real truth is that attitudinal change does not really come about by external influences like changing political parties or wearing the right clothes or chanting boogie woogie until the cows come home!  (Oh, wow!  That should totally be a song lyric!)  REAL CHANGE IS INTERNAL.  What can change the human heart?  I am again convinced that the ONLY thing that can change your heart and mine is UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.  And the ONLY place that UNCONDITIONAL love comes from is the heart of a loving, forgiving but jealous God!  How do I know this?  Simple.  Experience.  Bottom line- JESUS IS OUR ONLY HOPE FOR PERSONAL AND CULTURAL CHANGE.   That’s the truth, friends.  Can you handle it?

Until next time,

The Methmusician

What Did He Mean by That?

In Mark chapter 10 we find the story of a rich man who rushes up to Jesus and says “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Now just a little while before this Jesus had sort of rebuked his Disciples when they were trying to turn away the little children from Him.  Remember Jesus’ statement to them?  He became “indignant and said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”   Jesus be like “what’s wrong with you people?Don’t you know how much I love kids?”

But now there seems to be a change in attitude in Jesus.  He almost seems to be a little patronizing when he says to the rich man “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God!”  Then he proceeds to tell the rich man to keep the commandments to which the man replied “I’m in pretty good shape then because I’ve kept those from the time I was young!”  Then Jesus drops the bomb on him.  “Sell what you have and give it to the poor and THEN come and follow me.”  The Book says the rich man went away sorrowful because he did not think he could make that kind of commitment to Jesus.  But let’s go back to that curious statement that Jesus made-“why do you call me good?”  It may seem that Jesus was being patronizing, flippant or even condescending.  But I don’t really think that’s what Jesus meant by that.  I think what He was saying was this: “Look, I know that you know all about the Holy Scriptures and you know all about the Law and the Feast Days etc.  But when you talk to me YOU ARE TALKING TO GOD!”  This was Jesus’ way of saying that He really is who He says He is!  

This continues to be a great mystery even for believers.  How is it that Jesus was just as much human as you and I but still FULLY GOD?  He IS GOD WITH US.  So I don’t think Jesus was being anything but honest with this rich man.  And when the Lord spells out the requirements necessary for following Him I believe He was reminding all Christ-followers that it COSTS something to follow Him.  That we must be willing to GIVE SOMETHING up to be a Christ-follower.  He may not be asking you to give wealth or fame but He does expect us to sacrifice our sinful nature and habits!  Of course if He does ask more of you, you should be willing to give up more!  

The other important truth that Jesus was inferring here is this: being “rich” does not mean getting stuff.  Being “rich” means giving it away and that includes the gift of giving yourself in service to others!  And remember that Jesus never ever said it would be easy.  But He did say it would be WORTH IT!  And, brothers and sisters-it is!

Until Next Time

The Methmusician

All that Music (in my head)

So recently I got up early one morning to get ready to go to the church and before I got out the door some song that I learned probably 40 years ago just sort of “popped” into my head!  Has this ever happened to you?  And of course I was singing it for hours.  Funny how a tune gets in your head and stays there!  But I got to thinking (a real stretch for me!) how amazing it is that God has given us the ability to keep so much music in our brains! 

I became a musician at an early age and I learned to appreciate all kinds of music.  My parents absolutely loved southern Gospel so I “cut my teeth” on that style of music.  But I enjoy just about any genre of music out there.  When I stop to think about the sheer volume of music that I’ve learned over these many decades I’m blown away that all of it is stored in a mass that only weighs about 3 pounds!  And most of the time, if I need to recall a tune I can.  What’s more amazing is when I hear a song I learned in my childhood so many years ago I can remember the words!  Unbelievable! 

In Psalm 139:14 the Bible says “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.” (King James Bible) I will praise thee;”  One of the great joys in my job as a music minister is to lead our pre-school kids in “Chapel” time each week.  And one of the songs we sing sometimes is called “Little Cabin in the Woods.”  Now this song probably does not have much spiritual application but it is GREAT for teaching kids to sing phrases from memory.  In fact at the end of the song we only do the motions (in rhythm of course)  and I always ask the kids to see if they can hear the music in their heads and they always do.  I always tell them “it’s like God put an mp3 player up here in our brain!”  Yeah, we really are “fearfully and wonderfully made” cause God don’t make junk!  Now where did I put those headphones?

Until next time,

The Methmusician