Re-Post: Hope for the Sad Heart

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Every person experiences times of sadness and hopelessness, times universally felt by the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown, men and women, grownups and children.

The beautiful truth is that there is hope for you and me.

Sad Woman

I often use the YouVersion bible app on my iPhone.  Two weeks ago they advertised that each person who began a three-week devotional plan and completed it on time would be entered in a drawing for one of five iPad minis.

I almost always read the bible in the mornings and pray, but my humanity got the best of me and I started a devotional just because I could have a remote chance of winning an iPad mini.  I chose the Lead Like Jesus plan put together by Ken Blanchard.

God had other plans, I am convinced.

Earlier this week the Scripture for the plan was 2 Corinthians 9:8 (ESV):

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

This verse blew my mind.

Just the first four words are enough for my times of doubt:

And God is able.

Paul goes on, however, to explain that all of God’s grace is available to each and every one of us who is a believer.  Grace is when you receive something you do not deserve.  Grace is what you need to get through a difficult situation or to forgive someone who has harmed you.

The rest of the verse drives home the fact that this grace is available everywhere all of the time in order for me to have “all sufficiency,” or contentment, allowing me to thrive in doing good work.

Wow.

I do not get angry; generally I am very cool headed.  A few days later, though, a minor incident had me seething.  I had to go on a long walk to cool off.

In the middle of that walk this Scripture came back to my mind and I began to ask God to do this for me, to make all of his grace abound for me in this situation at this time.  I had been trying to have peace on my own all morning and had failed miserably.

Five minutes later I was completely at peace.  God did what he said he would because he will always keep his promises and my desire was his desire.

Does God always answer the way we want him to?  No.  But 2 Corinthians 9:8 is a promise, and God cannot deny his promises.  He must fulfill them because Paul says elsewhere that in Jesus Christ every promise is “Yes.”

The next time I hit a hard situation I have a new plan:

  1. Admit to God I am unable to remedy the issue or bring about the desired result.
  2. Pray for him to fulfill his promise in 2 Corinthians 9:8.
  3. Ask for guidance on what to do next.

If you are a believer there are no impossible situations, no times or places where God cannot help and rescue you.

If you are still undecided about following God, let this verse remind you that no one and no place and no time is out of God’s reach.

Where do you need to apply 2 Corinthians 9:8 in your own life?

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Hope for the Sad Heart

Every person experiences times of sadness and hopelessness, times universally felt by the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown, men and women, grownups and children.

The beautiful truth is that there is hope for you and me.

Sad Woman

I often use the YouVersion bible app on my iPhone.  Two weeks ago they advertised that each person who began a three-week devotional plan and completed it on time would be entered in a drawing for one of five iPad minis.

I almost always read the bible in the mornings and pray, but my humanity got the best of me and I started a devotional just because I could have a remote chance of winning an iPad mini.  I chose the Lead Like Jesus plan put together by Ken Blanchard.

God had other plans, I am convinced.

Earlier this week the Scripture for the plan was 2 Corinthians 9:8 (ESV):

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

This verse blew my mind.

Just the first four words are enough for my times of doubt:

And God is able.

Paul goes on, however, to explain that all of God’s grace is available to each and every one of us who is a believer.  Grace is when you receive something you do not deserve.  Grace is what you need to get through a difficult situation or to forgive someone who has harmed you.

The rest of the verse drives home the fact that this grace is available everywhere all of the time in order for me to have “all sufficiency,” or contentment, allowing me to thrive in doing good work.

Wow.

I do not get angry; generally I am very cool headed.  A few days later, though, a minor incident had me seething.  I had to go on a long walk to cool off.

In the middle of that walk this Scripture came back to my mind and I began to ask God to do this for me, to make all of his grace abound for me in this situation at this time.  I had been trying to have peace on my own all morning and had failed miserably.

Five minutes later I was completely at peace.  God did what he said he would because he will always keep his promises and my desire was his desire.

Does God always answer the way we want him to?  No.  But 2 Corinthians 9:8 is a promise, and God cannot deny his promises.  He must fulfill them because Paul says elsewhere that in Jesus Christ every promise is “Yes.”

The next time I hit a hard situation I have a new plan:

  1. Admit to God I am unable to remedy the issue or bring about the desired result.
  2. Pray for him to fulfill his promise in 2 Corinthians 9:8.
  3. Ask for guidance on what to do next.

If you are a believer there are no impossible situations, no times or places where God cannot help and rescue you.

If you are still undecided about following God, let this verse remind you that no one and no place and no time is out of God’s reach.

Where do you need to apply 2 Corinthians 9:8 in your own life?

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

We have all heard about the theology of the Trinity in evangelical Christianity.  Whether or not you support this foundational belief is not the focus of this blog.

Did you know, though, that there is another trinity in life?  I call it the holy trinity of relationships.

Humans, by nature, were made for connection.  The statement, “No man is an island,” is foundational in many ways, one being the fact that every person needs relationship in order to thrive.

Before we talk about the trinity, the three relationships you need to have in your life, let me say this.  Without a meaningful, grace-based relationship with God these other three will be insufficient.  While interpersonal relationships are critical, a relationship with God is absolutely essential.

I am talking about this subject not because I have a psychology degree (the LAST thing I want) or because I am a counselor or because I have my life figured out.  I have discovered these relationships are necessary for me to lead a fulfilled and overcoming life.  Throughout my divorce and difficult times in life one or more of these relationships sustained and encouraged me.

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

Close Friends

Everyone needs two or three close, intimate, know-everything-about-you friends.  I am talking about friends who support you through thick and thin, who listen more than they talk, who cry and mourn with you, and who celebrate as loudly as you do when something beautiful happens.  Close friends have to be truly selfless people.  The trick is that you have to be truly selfless in order to attract those kinds of people to yourself.

Throughout my separation and divorce one friend of mine (you know who you are) met with me for lunch every Thursday and just listened.  He had been a pastor for many years and had a lot of experience encouraging people, but he simply listened and spoke only when needed.  He even picked up the tab often because he knew I was short on money.  I am eternally grateful to this man who continues to be one of my closest friends even though we are a thousand miles apart.

Mentors

A mentor is someone familiar with your walk of life and who is about 10 years older than you.  They have been down the road you are walking and can speak wisdom into areas of life you are still discovering for yourself.

Around 10 years ago God brought a mentor into my life.  This man is about 10 years older than me and has been in worship ministry for many years.  He also has a doctorate in composition and understands personal struggle.  Throughout my ministry life and throughout my separation and divorce we have talked and collaborated and encouraged each other, and he has guided me in many decisions.  I am so grateful for him.

Mentors and close friends are hard to find, but most people agree that you need them.  The next relationship, however, can be much easier to find; this relationship requires a lot of humility, however.

Counselors

Many of us could benefit greatly from some time with a godly, encouraging, but strong counselor who can speak into areas of life we do not understand.  Seeing a counselor requires you to admit you need someone, however, and you have to invest financially.

Warning: Once you decide to see a counselor, you need to be willing to open every closet and corner of yourself for your time to be truly worthwhile.  Some see a counselor but hold back certain pieces of information.  In that case you might as well take your cash and light it on fire.  The counselor will only be able to provide moderately helpful information if you withhold a part of yourself from him.

I will admit that I have been reluctant to see a counselor at times.  I can say unequivocally, though, that my relationship with my counselor is possibly the most influential relationship I have had in my life aside from my family.  He has given me encouragement and challenge, grace and firmness, truth and compassion as I have needed it, and I am eternally grateful to him.

Every one of us needs to have close friends and mentors, and most of us would benefit from having a counselor as well.  I know I have.

What relationship are you missing in your life?  What are you going to do about it?

Why You Shouldn’t Read This Blog

I get tired of headlines that say, “How a One-Legged Man Won the 100 Meter Dash and So Can You,” and other such ridiculous stories.  Usually they end up trying to sell you something.  The title should be more like “Why You Should Let Me Sell You Something You Don’t Need.”

So in the interest of truth in advertising, I decided I would tell you why you shouldn’t read this blog.

  1. Because I have it all together.  Definitely not.  I am as broken as the next guy.
  2. Because you need a quick fix.  There is no such thing as a quick fix.  As one person from copyblogger said, “Shortcuts are always the longest.”
  3. Because I am the best at what I do.  No, you can probably find quite a few people who are better at this than I am.
  4. Because your mother told you to.  Um, yeah, this is not a good reason, unless your mother is a personal friend of mine.  In that case, maybe.

On the other hand, here are some reasons why I would hope you and others would read this blog.

  1. You need encouragement.  We live in a very negative world.  The media always seems to be looking for the next shooting or scandal.  I want to be a place where you can find something positive to chew on.
  2. You want to become a better worship leader and musician.  I want you to avoid pitfalls that I have conveniently found for you.  I am also passionate about worship, worship leadership, and music, and I will give you everything I’ve got in the hopes of helping you get a step ahead.
  3. You are a new leader.  This blog is definitely for you.  I remember stepping into my first full time worship leadership job and discovering over time how green I was.  I needed some place to go to get my questions answered.  Fortunately God provided a friend or two on staff to support me.  If I don’t have the answer I will find it, because I want you to have the support I would have wanted.
  4. You need to be reminded that God is faithful.  He is.  I can promise you that, and I will continue to remind you.  I know this by experience.
  5. You need to know that good things can come out of failure.  As Seth Godin says, failure and being a failure are two different things.  God uses our failures and mistakes to help us grow.  I know.  Going through a divorce was the most difficult thing in my life, but it probably has been the best growth experience I have ever had.

So now you know.

And I hope you stick around and invite your friends to read this blog for all the right reasons.

Four Great Times NOT to Make a Decision

One of the most important skills we can learn is when and when not to make critical decisions in our lives.  By important, I do not mean what shoes to wear (ladies) or what sports game to watch (men). I am talking about decisions that have the potential to set or wreck the direction of your life.

In 2009 I went through a divorce, and the emotional rollercoaster since then has been enormous.  Soaring moments of success have been followed by abysmal depths of despair, both personally and professionally.

I went from being the leader of a large worship ministry to a part-time music director.  After having worked back up to a full time music pastor position, I needed to move out of state.

After moving I was not doing what I really loved; instead of leading worship and music I was laying stone.  Then I transitioned to a part time position playing organ and conducting choir, while continuing to do masonry part time.

In addition to masonry and my role as organist and choir conductor, now I also do copywriting, arranging, and mentoring.

In another post I will talk about how God has used every one of these life changes to radically transform and grow me emotionally and spiritually. 

That transformation, however, was accompanied by wild swings in my emotions and in my walk with God.

In the middle of this chaos I have often returned to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) guideline.

Using the acronym “HALT,” AA teaches men and women to make decisions at appropriate times and to avoid the temptation to return to alcohol.  I have found this tool enormously helpful when I have been trying to manage life in difficult times.

Here are four great times not to make a decision.

When I am Hungry.  When I am hungry I lose the ability to think creatively, problem solve, and focus.  I know that I need a lot of protein to give my mind staying power, so I keep a few relatively healthy snacks on hand like beef sticks (I said relatively), protein bars, and almonds.

Know what your body needs to function properly and keep things on hand to take care of yourself.

When I am Angry.  When I am emotionally overwhelmed, worried, angry, or experiencing anxiety, I lose my ability to clearly distinguish how I really feel about an issue.  I am learning in confrontational situations to keep my mouth shut and simply say, “I don’t know what to think right now.  Can I get back to you on that?”  That way the person knows that I heard them, but also that I need time to process what I have heard in order to give them a good and honest answer.

Learn what situations and issues set you off emotionally and decide ahead of time how you are going to respond.  When you are in the middle of an emotional situation is not the time to be thinking about how you should respond.

When I am Lonely.  Of these four situations loneliness is my biggest trigger.  God wired us to be in close loving relationship with him and with others, and when we do not have those relationships we look for something or someone else to fill the void.  That “filler” can be alcohol, drugs, porn, ice cream, self-pity, or any number of things.

Loneliness is particularly an issue for those who are single or single again, or who are in an emotionally estranged relationship.  Don’t be naïve.  Learn your preferred “filler” and decide ahead of time how you are going to deal with it. 

When I am Tired.  If I am tired mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or physically, I am not at my best.  Tired people do stupid things.  After 10 pm my mind can go to mush in the simplest discussions.

Know how much sleep you need at night and get it.  Take a 20 minute nap at lunch.  Take a walk to rest your mind.

By recognizing when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired and by responding wisely you can avoid making costly mistakes and decisions.

As a Christ follower I will also say that just following “HALT” is not enough.  I have found that I am much more peaceful and clear-headed when I begin the day by reading Scripture and speaking with God. 

When life is complex, God remains simple.  He loves me, and that is enough.

How have you avoided making mistakes and bad decisions when you have been Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?

Why I Love Good Friday

This evening, as I was warming up the choir to sing Humble Cross by Joel Raney in our Good Friday service, I explained that Good Friday is probably my favorite service of the year.

Good Friday is more like the life I know.

Christendom spends so much time celebrating victory and the promise of eternal life with Christ that we sometimes forget that we live most of our lives in the “not there yet” places.  A close friend or relative dies suddenly in the prime of life and we are left standing at the foot of the cross, looking up, and asking, “What happened?”  Our spouse comes home and says, “I want a divorce,” and we look at God and say, “What?”

Did we miss something?  Are Christians supposed to live lives full of pain and conflict and the aftermath of sin?  Shouldn’t we get a pass or something?  Did I get on the wrong bus?

In 1 Corinthians 13:12 Paul says, “We see through a glass darkly,” and in Hebrews 11:39 the writer says, “None of them received what had been promised.”  These Scriptures sound more like real life.  These Scriptures belong in a Good Friday service.

Don’t get me wrong; hope and the victory Christ brings through the resurrection are the life blood of my faith.  But hope and victory mean nothing if you do not need them.  Hope and victory are so meaningful because life can seem so hopeless and unconquerable.

On Good Friday I come to Christ with all of my brokenness, knowing that his day ended with him in the tomb.  He knows what it is like to be waiting for things to turn around.  He knows how it feels to be hurting and looking for a cure.  On Good Friday I feel a unique intimacy with his humanity, and I find peace in that closeness, that identification.

He became like me . . . and died like I will . . .  which means I will rise like he did . . . and live with him.

Now that is hope.  That is true encouragement.  I don’t have to pretend life is perfect, because it’s not, and it wasn’t for him.  I just know the end will be, and that he is right here with me until then.

How does Good Friday encourage you?

One Step to a Better Attitude

I have been reminded in the past few months of how difficult it can be to maintain a proper attitude in life.  Our own experiences and the news provide plenty of opportunities to be negative and down in the mouth.

Yesterday I was laying stone and another worker taking a few minutes’ break came up to watch.  He began to complain about how the owners had asked him to do some completely unrealistic things simply because they have too much money.

To his credit, what they asked was a bit loony.  They wanted to put air conditioning ducts in the porch outside. You know how your mom always told you to shut the door because she did not want to be air conditioning the neighborhood?  These people wanted to have that set up permanently installed in their porch outdoor kitchen.  Rightly so the company refused to do it because the cool and warm air together would create condensation leading eventually to mold and liability for the air company.

Stepping back from the crazy nature of it all, however, I have to ask, “What did it matter?”  My dad has a saying.  “Maurice, it all pays the same.”  If the owners want us to tear down what we built because they don’t like it after all and we get paid to put in the replacement, what does it matter?

The final analysis has to do with attitude.  In masonry, as in ministry, we are in a service industry, and people are going to do unusual things.

The man watching me had a negative attitude because he had to remove what he had installed and place it somewhere else.  The truth is that he was getting paid to install the same equipment twice in the same home.  isn’t that like the double bonus zone or something?

Gratitude.  We need gratitude.  Your attitude is up to you and no one else.

And so today I am going to practice my own form of gratitude, because I constantly need to adjust my attitude in the positive direction.

My divorce.  Here is my best opportunity to be negative, but I am going to be positive about it.

1.  Because of my divorce I have learned to know myself again.  Five years ago I had a much harder time expressing my emotions; now I am much more in tune with myself.

2.  Because of my divorce my relationship with God has gone to heights I never experienced before.  When you hit rock bottom you can either wallow in the seeming absence of God or cry out like never before.  God answers.

3.  Because of my divorce I can relate to people better than ever before.  The world is broken, and 50% of people inside and outside of the church are divorced, and most of the rest have experienced some other kind of brokenness.  Leading out of my brokenness has enabled me to connect much more effectively with people from the platform and throughout the week.

4.  Because of my divorce I have been forced to think creatively about my future, and the results have been unpredictable and refreshing all at the same time.  This blog, writing poetry, pursuing my doctorate this fall, private teaching and mentoring have all come to fruition because I have been forced to think differently.

5.  Because of my divorce I have been learning how to watch for God to open doors rather than trying to make things happen.  Everything I am now is a result of God opening doors.  I’m excited about what he is going to do next.

6.  Because of my divorce I understand more completely what it means to be a partner in a marriage.  The hours of counseling opened my eyes to the false ideas I believed about being a spouse and made room for the right ideas and beliefs to grow.

7.  Because of my divorce I am learning more clearly how to forgive.

I could go on for a while here.

Divorce is not God’s plan.  Period.  But we are fallen people, and when we sin and make bad choices or simply are oblivious God shakes us up so we see things clearly.  Then he takes us right where we are and walks through it with us, still loving and caring for us, and makes us better people than we were before, if we allow him.

At first I was choosing to be grateful.  Now I truly am.

Where do you need to improve your attitude by choosing to be grateful?