Asaph, The Worship Leader

Asaph has long been one of my favorite characters in the Bible. In case you’re not familiar, Asaph is one of three music leaders that David commissioned to lead worship at the Tabernacle before the Temple was built. David would often send psalms to these leaders, and they would sing them – or lead others in singing them. This was a pretty serious job, and these music leaders had a pretty incredible responsibility. They led worship at the site that the Lord had chosen to dwell!  Continue reading

Mother’s Day

I’ve got a great family. I really do. In fact, just the other day I found myself telling a customer at work how blessed I feel to have such great parents and brothers. And, while my whole family is pretty awesome, I feel like my mom deserves some special attention. After all, it is Mother’s Day weekend.  Continue reading

Individuality vs. Community

What a brilliant Creator we must have! Even apart from the intricacies that determine the workings of our universe, or the complexities of our own solar system, or even the delicate placement of this rock we call Earth that allows for the existence of life, even if we just look at the lives of us homo sapiens, I can’t help but think that we have a brilliant Creator.

I say this because lately I’ve become almost hyper-aware of the similarities we share as part of this human condition. Incredibly, about 99.9% of any one person’s DNA is identical to any other person’s. But that’s not really what’s got my attention. What truly amazes me are the experiences that we all share.  Continue reading

No Promise of Tomorrow?

Yeah, yeah… You’ve heard it before. In fact, it’s almost become cliche’. “We don’t have the promise of tomorrow” or “You never know which breath will be your last” or any of a number of other phrases intended to inspire us to live life like it ought to be lived.

Truth be told though, they don’t. At least not for me anyway. It’s too easy for the weight of those words to sink past relevance and slip right on into vagueness. I mean, really? No promise of tomorrow?

This whole thought tangent started as I listened to the well-meaning lyrics of a song on the radio. The artist claims that if they had one last breath, they’d give it to Christ. Or if they only had one more song, they’d sing it for Him. One more prayer, they’d pray it… You get the picture.

The fact is, I would too. And it’d be easy. If I knew I only had one breath left, of course I’d use if to confess Christ and ask to spend eternity with Him. Wouldn’t you? I mean, why not? What’s to lose? It’s your last breath anyway.

The same thing goes for any other cause or movement or ideal that we believe in. Of course we’d pledge our “last breath” if we knew when that was. “If this were my last day on earth, I’d spend it being nice to everyone.” Or, “If this were my last day, I’d spend it telling everyone how much I love them”… Or feeding the hungry, or helping the helpless, or clothing the naked, or encouraging the down-and-out, or speaking hope into broken life. EASY! Your last day is a one-time gig.

I think the real issue isn’t the last breath, it’s all the times we breathe between now and then. Because even though we don’t have any promise of tomorrow, we sure as heck act like we do. Or at least I do.

I go through most days focused on what’s going on “tomorrow”. Through every stage of my life, I — at least to some degree — spend it anticipating the greener grass that is the next stage.

I could argue that there is a positive element to this way of living. That anticipation and dreams and goals are what drive us to become better, more successful people; and I’d be right. But not if those things inhibit our ability to live life right where we’re at.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, let’s stop this insane thinking that we can get by calling ourselves advocates of whatever cause we choose just by pledging our “last breaths”. Let’s live life – each breath, each day – speaking what we know to be truth. In my case that truth (at its core) is two-fold.

First, in as simple of terms as I can manage, I believe that the Creator of this universe knows me by name, and that he loves me and you with reckless abandon. So much so that he sacrificed his own life so that we could spend eternity with him rather than pay the consequences of our shortcomings. Pretty big deal.

Second, I believe that life is meant to be lived with other people. That the Creator intended this part of our journey to be spent together. I realize, like everyone that experiences this human condition, that life sucks sometimes. That things happen that we don’t understand, and that things don’t always turn out the way we’d intended. But I believe that these times are easier when we find ourselves surrounded with other people that understand this and that can offer support and encouragement.

So this is me attempting to spend a breath between the one I took as I started writing and the last one I’ll ever take speaking truth. My challenge to you will come as a question: How will you spend the moments between this one and your last?

Where’s Waldo? (January, 2011)

Over the last few weeks I’ve become increasingly frustrated. Frustrated mainly by the fact that I just completed my Bachelor’s degree, and I still don’t know what I want to do. I have, however, become quite aware of what I don’t want to do. But let me back up a bit.

When I moved to Indianapolis about two years ago I got into banking because that’s what was available. I started out part-time as a Financial Services Rep, at a location inside of a Walmart store on the south side of town. This morning, as I ran a teller line at a traditional branch on the north side of town, I realized how much has changed… and how much more I’d like for it to change. I’m now at my third branch, working as a full-time Personal Banker, and spending a lot of time as the unofficial admin for our regional manager. Honestly, I really enjoy the admin part. It’s supposed to become a full-time admin gig soon. It can’t happen fast enough.

You know that feeling, right? I mean, I know I’m not the only individual that gets burnt out doing the same old same old waiting for a change of pace. I’m reminded of Hunter and Lauren (my favorite kiddos on the planet) with their “Where’s Waldo” books. And I feel like Waldo. Lost in a sea of faces and colors and confusion. Just wishing life wasn’t so chaotic.

It’s times like these that I get a lot of strength from one of Asaph’s psalms. (According to some Bible Encyclopedia online, Asaph is one of David’s choir leaders.) Opening line of Psalm 77 (from the Message): “I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might, I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens.” An absolutely profound passage in my opinion. Asaph goes on to explain this terrible predicament in which he’s found himself. He describes his days and nights blending together, strumming on his guitar wondering how to get his life together. I love how he admits that he’s not even quite sure what’s bothering him… he’s just messed up. Kinda makes me feel good to know I’m not the only one.

So, Asaph describes his situation. But then he does something incredible. He starts to remember all the cool things God had done for his people in the past. He relays this beautiful, poetic version of God splitting the Red Sea for the Hebrews:

Ocean saw you in action, God,
saw you and trembled with fear;
Deep Ocean was scared to death.
Clouds belched buckets of rain,
Sky exploded with thunder,
your arrows flashing this way and that.
From Whirlwind came your thundering voice,
Lightning exposed the world,
Earth reeled and rocked.
You strode right through Ocean,
walked straight through roaring Ocean,
but nobody saw you come or go.
Hidden in the hands of Moses and Aaron,
You led your people like a flock of sheep.

He goes on to tell some other epic stories of God’s intervention. He starts to get the fact that no matter where he’s at, there’s a God that gets it, and is able to help. In reality, he realizes that God is pretty much the best ever at “Where’s Waldo?” Because even when he was going through hell, God knew exactly where he was at.

That’s where I’m at right now. Feeling like life’s not moving fast enough. Like I’m lost in a sea of chaos. But I have plenty of my own “Red Sea” sagas to reflect on. Plenty of times where He’s worked things out for me and/or my family. Too many times, in fact, to believe for a minute that He doesn’t know where I’m at.

So, what are your stories? What’s He done for you when nobody else could make a difference? Think about next time you feel like Waldo.

When God Changes His Mind

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about mercy lately…. Possibly because it seems that I require more than most people! Whatever the reason, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts.

Since the beginning, God has shown mercy to the people he created. The Bible is tearing at the seams with stories that demonstrate this fact. I want to just talk about the first two for now.
The first time that I see this mercy in action is in the Garden of Eden. After God assembles Adam and Eve out of dust and bone respectively, He lays down some ground rules… well, only one actually. I paraphrase: “Don’t eat from that tree. You know, that one in the middle of the Garden. Eat from it, and you’re gonna die. Period.” (Gen 2:16-17)
So, what do Adam and Eve do? You guessed it! Long story short, they eat from the ONE TREE  that God instructed them not to eat from. Incredibly though, they don’t die. In fact, they don’t die for a long long time. Sure, when God comes to the Garden and “finds” them dressed in leaves, He’s upset, and they have to pay some hefty consequences, but God showed some incredible mercy by allowing them to live.
Sticking with Adam and company, let’s take a look at the second real act of mercy that I love in Genesis. Fast forward a number of years and Adam and Eve have two boys: Cain and Abel. Cain’s the oldest son and grows up helping his parents with the farming aspect of their new outside-of-the-Garden life. Hard work, paying the price of your parents’ sins. (Think about it.) Abel, the younger of the two, grows up tending to the livestock.
Now that the stage is set, let’s get on with the story. There comes a day when Cain and Abel make sacrifices to God. (It’s important to remember here that we don’t have any record of rules or regulations being put in place regarding sacrifices like we do later when God spells it out for Moses and Co.) So, what do they do? They each bring the best of what they’ve got – the first fruits of their (very hard) labor. Cain brings his best grain, and Abel brings the best from his stable. For some reason, God respects Abel’s offering, and pretty much disses Cain’s. (Gen 4:3-5) Cool side note: Some scholars interpret the “respect” shown here to mean that God gave a visual sign of His approval like He does later by consuming the Israelites’ sacrifices by fire.
Well, Cain looses his cool. I can imagine him saying, “Seriously, God? I work just as hard as Abel! And I brought you the best that I’ve got! What about this offering isn’t good enough?! Heck, it’s not even my fault that I have to work out here in this awful heat! Abel gets a fireworks display for his stupid lamb, and I get absolutely nothing?!” God simply replies (again, a paraphrase), “Look, if you do good, you’ll be accepted. Don’t do good, you won’t. Pretty simple concept. But, you better get it together, or sin is gonna get the best of you.” (Gen 4:6-7)
At this point, Cain is still in the clear. All he has to do is learn from his mistake, and do better next time. But, despite this explicit warning from the Creator, Cain keeps coppin’ an attitude. Rather than accepting the fact that what God wants from us sometimes doesn’t exactly make sense to us – He’s God, we’re not – and that sometimes we have to suck it up, and realize that we’re not necessarily always right. Cain gets so mad, and so jealous, that he actually kills his own brother. Walks up to him in a field. And kills him. (I always imagine him using a sickle or something from out of his garden).
Ok, now let’s forward to Cain and God’s conversation after the murder. (I’m sure you already know, but again, I’m paraphrasing)
God says, “Hey, uh, Cain. Where’s your brother?”
“Beats me, God. Didn’t know it was my turn to watch him…”
“Cain, you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into. You’re in really big trouble.”
I know I’m approaching this a bit lightheartedly, but God was really serious when He was laying out Cain’s punishment. He pretty much told Cain that he was doomed. Nothing that he touched would prosper – in fact, the opposite! The ground that Cain relied on for his livelihood would now be tainted by his brother’s blood, and would never yield good crops for him again. Also, Cain would be banished from his homestead and be sentenced to life as a homeless wanderer.
Here’s the crazy part to me: Even after the horrible, shameful thing he’d done, Cain still has the audacity to ask God for mercy! He yells, “NO!! Please, God, no! I can’t take that punishment! It’s too much… way too much! The first person that finds me is gonna kill me! Please have mercy!” And you know what? God does. God changes his mind, and extends mercy to Cain. He places a mark on Cain so that people don’t kill him. (Gen 4:13-15)
What an inspiring story, right?! Maybe it just touches me because I remind myself so much of Cain. So many times I think I can reason myself right. I think that I can force logic to redeem me. In my head, I’ve got the “right” answer, and I think I know what God wants out of my life.
So many times, though, I’m dead wrong… and that ticks me off! “Why, God?! I’m working just as hard as everyone else to give you what I do best!” But God seems to say, “Eric, I didn’t ask for what you do best. Right now, I just asked you to be faithful in the choir.” (I could use any number of examples, but this one is especially difficult for me.) Or He says, “Eric, you aren’t feeling peace, you’re not earning my respect, because you’re not doing what I wanted. Do good, and you’ll be accepted. Don’t, and you won’t. Simple concept.”
No, I haven’t gotten jealous enough to physically kill someone. But I’ve had a bad attitude. What’s the difference? Sin is sin. Period. I’m just as guilty as Cain. And for Adam, Eve, Cain, and everybody else, the wages of sin is death. But for some reason, God changed his mind for me. Later down the road from Cain and Abel, Christ came to Earth. He took on the sins of mankind, and took the punishment for us. He died so that I wouldn’t have to.
I still mess up. But when I do, I know that I can ask for mercy, and He’ll give it to me.
I have a sneaky suspicion that He’ll do it for you too, if you ask.