Tag Archives: listening

The Unbridled Power of the Word

Hebrew BibleAs a pastor, I spend a lot of time each week studying the Scriptures for for the teaching and preaching I do. But I’m also a consummate student of the Bible. If somebody dropped a large wad of cash in my lap and I had my choice of PhD programs, I wouldn’t hesitate to pursue biblical studies. I love the discipline of studying the ancient languages that formed Bible’s original texts, while learning the historical, political, religious, and cultural backgrounds that shaped their composition. Drawing on all these skills along with my undergraduate background of literary analysis, it’s a thrill to unpack and explain the Bible’s meaning and its timely intersection with everyday life in the here and now.

However, there’s an inherent danger in my work. Dr. Craig Hill, my New Testament and Greek professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, pointed it out. He warned us that even in all our attempts to critique and examine the Bible, as Christians we must allow the Bible’s rightful place to examine and critique us. I understand his warning  to mean that we must develop a “second naivete” towards the Bible, free from critical and analytical thinking, that allows the Word of God to speak for itself, forming us into the image of Jesus.

This happened to me on Saturday as I was putting the finishing touches on Sunday’s message. As usual, I formed my sermon around a few passages of Scripture. In this case, one of them happened to be Ephesians 3:14-21, which reads:

…I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (NIV)

If you’ve ever read through the book of Ephesians, then you know how magnificently it reads. The author, in his attempt to describe the heavenly reality he sees, spills out his words to overflowing in long, breathtaking, ornate phrases. For him, our experience of Jesus Christ is so astounding that the words can’t flow fast enough from his mind to the page. From beginning to end, the whole book of Ephesians reads this way.

Now, I’ve just given you my brief analytical synopsis of the book of Ephesians’ style and tone. I was prepared to share something like this on Sunday morning. Yet as I was reading the above passage one more time in preparation, suddenly those thundering words showed themselves for what they really are: the unbridled, eternal, earth-shaking Word of God. No longer would this passage sit passively to be analyzed, parsed, and explained. The Word burst the bonds of my feeble thinking to resonate with a tremendous, holy power. I began to see a truth, which if heard and believed, could completely revolutionize my life and the life of my congregation.

I saw a Word which spoke of being strengthened by the Holy Spirit’s power. Then I remembered this same power raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:18-20). And not only is the power of the Holy Spirit in us, but the risen Christ dwells in us as well. This power gives us the strength to comprehend the vast, multidimensional, infinite love of God. God’s love is greater than any human knowledge to be had. I could Google anything I wanted for an eternity and come to know all things, but God’s love would far surpass any of it. Knowing this love fills us with everything that is of God. Wow! Did you hear that? The God who formed the universe fills us completely as we grasp the powerful presence of his love. This same love can accomplish anything beyond the outer limits of our wildest imaginations… Everything of this great love and power culminates in the glorification of God, for all time and in all people.

Whew… When I let go and allow myself to be raptured into the sweep of this Word, life is no longer the same. And what’s amazing still: this is just one small passage of Scripture. Could you fathom what would happen to us if we stopped to listen long enough to the rest of the Bible, to every word of it?

We would be unrecognizable!

Oh Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear. Humble us to the unbridled power of your Word that would blow through us, crush us, form us, and set us ablaze with your Holy Spirit. Make it so in my own life, God. Please do it… Amen.

7 Comments

Filed under Bible

Touched by a Piano

Over a year ago I began to fulfill a longtime goal: to learn the piano. As a lifelong musician and song writer with a proficient knowledge of music theory and performance in vocals, woodwinds, and strings, my lack of piano technique had been an increasingly painful sore spot. So over a year ago, I asked my church’s organist, Dr. Mack Statham, if he would take me as a student. After a while, he finally agreed. Since then, the journey of learning to play has been one of the most joyful and rewarding endeavors of my life. Of course, any piano student will tell you that learning piano can be just as frustrating as it is fun, but for me, that synergy of vexation and victory defines the essence of joy. While I don’t ever expect to be a concert pianist– God has me plenty busy as a pastor– I can little by little live into my dream of being able to sit down at a piano to play a piece of music.

I’m also blessed to be pastor of a church who thoroughly enjoys and celebrates God’s gift of music. They open any door for musical expression, and here, I have found a place to offer my musicianship in our worship of God. Plus, I’ve never seen a church with as many pianos as this one! Better yet, living next door to the church building grants me the luxury of going over at a moment’s whim to play my choice of one of those dozen different pianos.

But, a few nights ago, I had the time of my life playing one of the most gorgeous instruments I had ever laid my hands on. Here is how it happened…

Once a year, my church welds together our passion for music and mission work into one night and calls it “Missions and Masterworks”. Dr. Mack puts on the concert with all the proceeds benefiting mission work. I can’t think of anywhere else where Gershwin and malaria netting  for sub-Saharan Africa come together. But in our church, they do. For the last three years, Dr. Mack has been joined by his son Robert for a duo-piano concert. They rent two Steinway concert grand pianos and set them in our sanctuary, facing one another, looking almost like conjoined twins.

For the last two years, I eagerly await these concerts. From the moment the piano movers roll in the Steinways until the last chord is played, I am like a little kid in Disney World– wide-eyed, open-eared, ready to run and soak up every moment. It’s seems almost too good to be true having two gorgeous instruments like these with classically trained pianists who master their performance… all in my church!

But here is where my story really takes shape. Late Friday night, well after the concert was over and the lights were off, I walked over to the sanctuary where those Steinway pianos were still sitting. I had all the time I wanted to play them. With my etude and exercise books in hand along with Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”, I sat down in front of one of the Steinways to play… all by myself in the quiet of the night. The gentle, simple, intricately balanced, clarion sound of every key I pressed rose and resonated into the chancel area where they sat.

In a rare moment I shall not soon forget, that piano swept and held my spirit. It even seemed to carry along my mistakes with its gentle, graceful tones. It was as if that piano beckoned my hands and heart, sweetly calling, “Keep playing… Swim through my sound. Let me take the movements of your fingers, your hands, and your feet, and sing for your soul.” Novice of a player that I am, the piano seemed to help me play through passages I haven’t been able to play before.

I must have sat there in front of that piano for well over two hours. It was all I could do to leave it. But when the reality hit me of how tired I was and how early the morning would be, I knew it was time to go home. Getting up and walking away from the piano was like parting a good friend I might never see again. Yet as I walked home, those feelings of rapture diminished any feelings of grief. It was an experience, simple and yet deeply profound– one that will linger with me for quite a long time.

Being raised in a musical home by musician parents and grandparents, the appreciation and performance of music was a given. Not a day goes by that I don’t stop to deeply listen to some form of music and find myself singing or playing. My home is a musical haven now, filled with instruments, CDs, singing, and playing. Yet moments like that Friday night remind me how deeply spiritual of a thing music is. Music, I believe, was one of God’s first creations. It began the moment his first creatures raised their voices in praise or tapped their feet with any kind of rhythm or pattern. Humanity has revelled in its soul-stirring power ever since. It took a Steinway piano in a late night quiet sanctuary to remind me once again.

3 Comments

Filed under Music

An Act of Intentional Obedience

Changed PrioritiesThe older I get, the more I realize that my life is pulled along by the currents of priorities. Those priorities are either set by God, set by others, or set by whatever personal desires seize the moment. And sadly enough, most of us don’t even realize it. Our day’s events are rarely intentionally determined by a guiding list of principles. Rather, we respond to the immediate needs of others or the most recent, loudest demands. Then, to shut out all the voices and neediness around us, we crawl into our personal escapes, justifying that we need the rest or need to “get away.”

All too often, I’ve found that as busy as I get doing all the work that has been given me to do, I can still feel empty, like I haven’t accomplished anything of real worth or value. Why? It’s simple enough. I’ve allowed other people and other things and those fruitless desires within me to divert me from the work that matters most. I’ve heard people say that the things which matter the most don’t shout at us; they whisper. So, it’s all too easy to confuse the crass, bossy voices of the immediate for the calm, patient invitation of the most valuable.

So, why the philosophical foray?

For too long, Jesus has been after me to focus on two things: listening and writing. I love to listen, yes! But I wonder if I spend my time listening to the best things… For me, reading and praying are far better ways to listen than just keeping up with the latest Facebook updates or news stories. After listening comes the act of writing in a way that moves others to think, act, and move towards the God who made them.

As an act of intentional obedience to God, I’m keeping a blog. I’ve tried blogging in the past, but eventually lesser things would creep in and smother away the time it takes. So, I’ll be posting a blog at least three times a week. Hold me accountable for it! I invite you to be in conversation with me as well.

At the same time, let me ask you: what are a few essential, valuable things that have gone neglected? Will you join me in picking up and keeping only the very best??

4 Comments

Filed under Spiritual Growth and Practice