Between Pulpit and Piano

A pastor once said, “Everyone has one good sermon in them.” I am not sure if it was to encourage thought or because he wanted to sit in a pew and listen every once in a while, but the story resulted in a gift of a journal which led to these stories, so there is truth in the statement.

“One great rock show can change the world!” Dewey Finn (Jack Black) – School of Rock

When you ask for wisdom it may appear in the literary masterpiece that is School of Rock, yet there it is. If one great rock show can change the world then one good sermon could as well, if not more. My words in song or story may not be profound, poetic or grammatically correct, but they are honest, unfiltered and written as God grants me His whispers to ponder.

I have offered stories from pulpit and piano, yet mostly writings of others. What could I write better than “Amazing Grace” or can you sing “How Great Thou Art” too many times?  There were songs I thought would touch a certain churchgoer, only to see them slip out before I could find out. I too have left the church broken, my meager talents failing what I thought needed to be said. Perhaps I will find out about both one day, sitting at the feet of Jesus next to those that were changed, if any.

This world has its own ruler to measure success, and in the literary world, it is books sold or blogs read. My brother asked if only one heart was changed, was my writing worth it? “Absolutely.” He responded, “Then keep writing, all the rest is in God’s hands.” Though my readership numbers are not astounding by any measure, my words have made it from Russia to China, Europe to Africa reaching around the world, not by my efforts, but the Almighty Hand of God, at the time and place of His choosing.

Jesus said, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:16-20 – NIV

As I learn to write, publish and extend the Kingdom of God, my focus is to produce good fruit, not just in my writing, but in everything I do, every effort I make. In my deepest prayers, I ask:

Does my life reflect Your Glory?
Does my heart respond in praise?
Search until you weed out all the hidden parts
And nothing’s left there but Your Grace
.
Be Glorified – John G Adams

Lord I pray Your Grace would abound in me and through me, that I may be a reflection of your great Love that others would draw nearer to Thee.

Amen …

If you have been blessed by my meager ramblings, send me a note at John@BlessedInGreatMeasure.com. I love to hear good stories.

Keep an eye out for the release of my upcoming book Echoes Intertwined, a collection of parables, lessons and God whispers.

Soundtracks

Rainy Days and Mondays by the Carpenters provides the backdrop as summer showers trace windowpanes; dropping quarters in my inner jukebox to replay over and over. Karen Carpenter’s sweet voice conveys feelings in my soul as she has done many times. Tears well up as my life’s soundtrack recounts bluer days of my past, but also for such lost talent, poetic embers that faded too soon. Young girls longed to be Karen; I emulated her brother Richard, the musical genius that fueled the songs that warmed my heart through colder days.

Soundtracks of my life run through many landscapes: tender songs of Barry Manilow and James Taylor, arena rock of Styx and Rush, buckle shining waltzes of George Strait and Charlie Pride, and Christian music from Amy Grant and Keith Green, to Petra, Third Day, Casting Crowns all the way to Skillet. Each song found me where I was and drew me to where I am, or needed to be.

Soundtracks play in the background, creating a mood or accentuating some event or emotion. Thoughts of my own recall days of peace and angst, joy and sorrow, hearts broken and hearts restored.

Music may drive my mood or be driven by it. Some days need guitar driven, face melting screaming at the wall, others are floating on peace like a river. Days in-between lean toward the purest of praise from Steven Curtis Chapman, Phillips Craig and Dean, Chris Tomlin and Lauren Daigle.

“But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” Psalm 22:3 KJV

I am in great need of the Lord inhabiting my praises, my music, my words, whether spoken, sung or written. May each breath be a soundtrack of praise that the Lord may inhabit all that I am, so that others may know all He is.

Amen…

If you have been blessed by my scribblings, send me a message, I love to hear good stories. And subscribe so that you will be notified each time my ramblings make it to paper (or this site).

Keep and eye out for the release of my upcoming book Echoes Intertwined, a collection of parables, lessons and God whispers.

Slow Down

holding-child-hand

A few years back, Nichole Nordeman wrote a song called “Slow Down” all about kids growing up too fast. Lines about pulling tiny fingers from my hand because you can do it on your own. Quite the tearjerker as we sent our babies off to college. Now that they have conquered college and press on as adults, the lyrics remain just as poignant. This morning, I heard a new recording of the song with Nichole singing alongside her daughter, even more precious than the original. These past weeks though, it took on different meaning.

Lately, I have been busier than normal. Work has been crazy and has been pouring over into my home time, a big no-no in our house. After a recent health scare, the doctor said my body just wants me to slow down. Not taking time for a Godly pause has left me vulnerable to mistakes. I have seen more of the man I have been, instead of the man I should be.

My mother has a saying, “Don’t run faster than your Angels can fly.”
Lately I’ve been out running my angels.

“Slow down, won’t you stay here a minute more?
I know you want to walk through that door.”

I too often try to pull my tiny fingers from God’s hands because I can do it in my own. Yeah, not really.

Slow down, He says. Don’t work so hard. Read more. Write more. Sing more. Rub your wife’s feet more. Breathe.

A recent “Jesus Calling” devotional said: “Do not let unexpected problems distract you from My Presence. Instead, talk with Me about everything, and watch confidently to see what I will do”.

Slow down.
And be Blessed in Great Measure

 

If you have been blessed by my meager ramblings, send me a note at john@blessedingreatmeasure.com. I love to hear good stories.
And subscribe so you will receive an email when the Spirit moves me to scribble thoughts again.

I Drop My Sword

I drop my sword and cry for just a while
Deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child. – Twila Paris -1984

Most days, my shield can cover the chinks in my armor. Today, the shield was heavy, my arms strained from the weight. Flanking arrows tested the chain-mail that normally deflects glancing blows. The foes that I face daily were reinforced by every little “supposed crisis” that came along.

I have leaned that the more you are able to do, the more indispensable you become, yet, it comes with a burden of more responsibility.

In the Parable of the Talents, the servants that returned a profit from the gold they had been entrusted with heard:

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” Matthew 25:21

Sounds familiar. But just because “I CAN do all things through Christ who gives me strength” Philippians 4:13 does not necessarily mean I NEED to do all things.

Tasks began to gather in my path, some warranted, others simply a result of apathy or foolishness. Adversaries to the left of me, jokers to the right, gathering like some Saturday morning cartoon villain, transforming into a Goliath beyond my control. Not having the strength to gather stones, nor the faith to wield a sling in battle, I retreated to a quiet place.

“I dropped my sword and cried for just a while.”

As I implored the Spirit to intercede on my behalf, because I did not know how to pray, I heard:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Well rent me a blimp! I’ve got weakness to spare and a lot of boasting to do.

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16

If the Son of God, the Almighty in human form, needed to withdraw to reflect and recharge, then I am in good company, stealing away moments in my busy day to breathe, and breathe in the breath of God.

I do indeed “go running home when I fall down”.

“Deep inside this armor the warrior is a child”, but the child of the Almighty Father.

Boasting in weakness
Patiently waiting for His perfect power
And Blessed in Great Measure

 

If you have been blessed by my meager ramblings, send me a note at john@blessedingreatmeasure.com. I love to hear good stories. And subscribe so you will receive an email when the Spirit moves me to scribble thoughts again

 

Clay Doesn’t Get to Choose

Clay

Jeromy Deibler and his wife Jennifer shared lead singing duties for the group FFH, sometimes known as “Far From Home”. They have been a favorite for many years. Their piano and guitar driven music with deeply heartfelt lyrics appealed to my aching heart on many occasions.   Their songs are relatable and fit well into my vocal range and musical style. They have been transparent about their journey from independent projects, to record deals, to solo shows as well as personal hills to climb in family, illness and truly trusting God for their next meal.

Through various social media platforms, they have shared stories of coffee shop writing sessions in Tennessee, life in the mission fields of Africa and wonderful stories of their children. Those stories caught my attention, because my daughter and theirs share the same passion for life and all of God’s wonders.

Recently in self-quarantine, Jeromy began a series of daily inspiration sitting at his piano, sharing music, scripture or just the words placed on his heart. One of these offerings was about frustration that events did not always turn out as they had hoped. He sang a song called “What if Your Best” which his wife usually sings, but this time, it was just him and his piano. He did say she was lying down on the couch and he did not want to disturb her (another reason I like him).

I had heard the song before, but never really consumed the lyrics until the background music and production was stripped away, leaving raw emotion. The premise echoes the prophet Jeremiah:

“Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.’” Jeremiah 18:5-6

The song asks if God’s best is less that what we hope for, is that good enough? Then a profound line hit me.

I am only clay and clay doesn’t get to choose.”
“I am only clay and clay probably shouldn’t speak.”

A sobering thought when I feel God could use the benefit of my opinion.

Running into a friend at lunch, we spoke of how some aspects of business succeed and some fail. It is all in God’s plan so we keep moving forward and changing.

“I am only clay and clay doesn’t get to choose.”

Then a blessing came my way that I was not expecting nor deserving, but that is why it is called a blessing.

“I am only clay and clay doesn’t get to choose.”

In the bible story, God sends Jeremiah to the potter’s shop where the piece he was working on was marred, so he took the clay and molded it into a new shape. We are but dust and water, mixed into mud, being molded into a new creation. When our molding becomes marred by sin and stubbornness, the Master Potter’s hands can take the pieces and refashion formless clay into something beautiful as He sees fit. For clay to be shaped, it must remain malleable, ready to be worked with.  We must focus on being clay, allowing our hearts to be re-created by The Creator.

Clay does in fact get to choose: Whose Hands we allow to form us.

Simply being clay in The Master Potter’s hands
And Blessed in Great Measure

If you have been blessed by my meager ramblings, send me a note at john@blessedingreatmeasure.com. I love to hear good stories.
And subscribe so you will receive an email when the Spirit moves me to scribble thoughts again

Bruises

karate man

In a scene from the movie “Trading Places”, Eddie Murphy is recounting his arrest with “cops plural”. When asked about results of the fight, he said, “karate man bruise on the inside, he don’t show his weakness.” Hiding my weakness is something I do often whether karate induced or not, ignoring the “inside” bruises and pressing on.

A recent morning reading spoke of facing the clutches of uncertainty but offered these words of hope:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

At times, morning meditation can be a harbinger of what the day holds, but I tapped the snooze button and would deal with it in another 9 minutes. An early morning meeting and my nerves were getting the better of me, even though I had fared well in these negotiations hundreds of times. My commute was spent in silence, wondering if there was still chalk dust on my slate of errors and omissions. Once cleared by the Grace of God, I recalled previously granted wisdom of “Two eyes, two ears, one mouth – use proportionately.”

A quick check of my sword and shield and I was ushered in by an attractive young woman with a subtle hint of soft perfume. I took my battle position, but a lag in the proceedings allowed the slightly intoxicating scent to drive a wedge between my preparation and my focus. I deposited my two-cents worth to move things along and to clear my vision. The meeting concluded and I walked away a bit rattled. Battle wounds are not always a result of an exposed weakness, but simply being out maneuvered by the opponent. Evil searches for a soft spot and jabs you there. Apparently, there was a chink in my armor that I was unaware of. Grateful that God plugged up the hole until the battle was over, the task remained to find that hole and hammer it closed, ready for the next skirmish.

This brought to mind a song by Twila Paris called “The Warrior is a Child”. The heart of a knight in shining armor is not always as bulletproof as it appears. I am grateful that God sees all the bruises we try to hide, both inside and out, and can heal them with a touch.

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24

Showing God all my bruises
And Blessed in Great Measure

If you have been blessed by my meager ramblings, send me a note at john@blessedingreatmeasure.com. I love to hear good stories.

And subscribe so you will receive an email when the Spirit moves me to scribble thoughts again.

 

 

Dark Saturday

kneelingprayerThe Gospels give account of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection; washing the disciples’ feet, the last supper; Jesus’ arrest and torture, His journey to the place of the skull, His suffering and death on what is known as “Good Friday”. Then there are stories of Sunday morning when the women approached the empty tomb, encountered Jesus and told the others what they had seen. We read about Sunday evening, as the disciples huddled into a locked room, the risen Jesus appeared to them. But not much is said about the Saturday in between.

“Holy Saturday” as it is called, was the Sabbath day and a special one as it followed the Passover feast. The disciples may have followed tradition at the temple offering prayers. They may have stayed locked away out of fear for their lives. The two men that walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus were returning home, so some may have scattered.

Easter Sunday is bright and joyful, and rightfully so. “Good Friday” is shocking and sorrowful, ending in darkness. Saturday is a mixture of dark and light, stuck in a gray fog. That Saturday had to be one of the darkest days ever known, second only to that Friday. Some tears had since dried and the shock of the crucifixion had set in. Fear, doubt, and disillusionment most likely ran rampant.

“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, … ‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Luke 24:13-16; 19-21

These two had hoped for deliverance, but now doubted what they had heard and seen, abandoning their newfound faith and running away, possibly feeling foolish for believing such things. This must have been a common feeling. It is believed that Judas witnessed all the events that his betrayal caused, and hung himself sometime thereafter. A dark Saturday indeed.

Now consider Peter. The man who Jesus renamed “Petra” meaning “Rock”. He boldly pronounced that Jesus was the Messiah and stepped out of the boat to walk on water with Jesus, only to sink when fear set in. He said he would follow Jesus to death and drew a sword, yet denied Jesus three times in the courtyard.

“Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.” Matthew 26:74-75

For Peter, it was a dark Saturday, “weeping bitterly”.

One Sunday morning, I was playing a song I had written. Truths in song based on personal experience tend to resonate loudly, but can be dangerously raw. I began the song confidently, but in the first chorus, a phrase struck me in a way I had not expected. Tears welled up, my hands shook and my voice began to falter. I remember thinking, “I’m already a mess and the bridge has always been the hardest to sing.” I stumbled through the words; my hands forgot how to play. I cut the song short, directly left the church, sat in my truck and wept bitterly. Memories of past failures rendered my meager talent unworthy for God’s use. I could hear the rooster crowing in Peter’s ears.

Later, I sat at the piano, trying to play out my pain. Deep seeded emotion tends to block out the rules of writing and produces something creative, whether painful or otherwise. A melancholy melody began to form and drew me deeper in self-pity.

“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.” Psalm 1:3

That’s where I wanted to be and lyrics flowed like tears. The resulting song ranges from failure and darkness to a cry out to God for wholeness.

“Plant me by streams of Living Water
My soul is dry and begun to wither
Wash me with water from the well that won’t run dry
Make me whole again, Dear Lord.”  – Make Me Whole Again by John Adams

Each time I revisit that song, memories of that time replay. I also get a chance to root out dead wood that has blocked me from peaceful waters.

Dark Saturday reminds me of Peter’s pain and of things I try to hide in the shadows.

On dark Saturdays
Make me whole again, Dear Lord

And allow me to be
Blessed in Great Measure

Struggling to My Knees

Staring as raindrops pelt my window, tapping out their rhythmic chant that seizes my aching heart. The drops gather and race past, carrying with them remnants of dust and springtime pollen.  Similar drops well up in my eyes and trickle down my cheeks as my hands tremble.

The day has been chaotic, a culmination of weeks of uncertainty. I have tried to be the voice of reason in this “Sky is falling” mentality. I always thought I was the one with the answers. The Holy Spirit guides me to breathe in and trust what I say I believe; however, things were spiraling out of control like a street performer juggling a ball, bowling pins and chainsaws, trying to toss more than his hands could catch. I closed my eyes, cried to Jesus with no specific words, and let the silence consume me.

Consume Me”. A song by the group “DC Talk” that was playing in the jukebox between my ears this morning. “Consume” – to ingest or absorb, to completely use up. The lyrics speak of burning flames invading my space. It is said that wildfire can engulf the forest and consume it. In the same way, the Holy Spirit can surround my heart and absorb the struggles.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29

“A kingdom that cannot be shaken. . . God is a consuming fire.” The group “Third Day” eloquently echoed this passage in song. “Flames burn deep in our souls and melts a cold heart of stone.”

These songs have always tugged at my heartstrings. As fire can burn wildly, the Holy fire inside can engulf all the fear and disbelief that I harbor as I try to control the world around me. I am reminded that I control nothing, and it is a hard pill to swallow. Praise God that He is always there to slow me down and remind me when I stumble forward without a grasp of His hand.

I cannot control everything and worries have a way of multiplying until I cannot hold it in. But, I can pray. Nothing grandiose or lyrical, sometimes no words at all.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

Good thing, because right now, I have nothing left to pray.

Letting the Spirit Pray for me,
That we would be
Blessed in Great Measure

Keep Swinging the Hammer

NoahandMonkeys

In the midst of the latest crisis, I was reminded of the story of Noah. God had seen all the evil that the inhabitants of earth had become and regretted creating them. He planned to bring floodwaters and destroy all living things. Yet He found favor with Noah, a faithful and righteous man. He instructed Noah to build an ark and gather pairs of all birds and animals that breathed the breath of life. Keith Green wrote a wonderful song called “He’ll Take Care of the Rest” and rhymed how the neighbors laughed at Noah’s pet giraffe. Noah’s neighbors surely laughed and cast insults at the crazy old man. When the animals started gathering, they must have wondered what kind of zoo Noah was building.

Then it began to rain. At first, the people stayed in their houses. As the waters began to gather, they moved to higher ground. At some point during the next forty days, the higher ground was not high enough. I would suspect that the same neighbors that scoffed were calling out for Noah and beating on the doors wanting in. Noah could have taken an “I told you so” attitude, but being a righteous man, he probably struggled with the pain of what was happening around him. Yet he was faithful and continued to follow where God was leading. Time passed and he was placed back on solid ground.

In the current worldwide chaos, there is panic and fear, driven by those who feel impelled to promote it out of some need of sensationalizing. These reports are balancing against those in power who try to offer solutions to rapid growth of the crisis.

As fear and confusion reverberate in my ears, I turn to the truth of God’s word.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. 2 Corinthians 12:9

I accept that I fear, but in my weakness, the power of Christ rests on me. Therefore, I set my fear aside and continue to hammer out the ark I am asked to build, trying to offer some calm in the chaos. Yet, surrounded by a cacophonous chorus of doomsday-speak, it is easy to allow fear to creep back in.

Yet, God’s grace is sufficient for me and made perfect in my weakness. Lately, it feels like it is getting closer to perfect every minute.

The sky is not falling but it has started to rain, so keep building, just keep building, whether it be a global crisis or a personal battle that doesn’t make the 24/7 news cycle. Be the crazy old man that hears the voice of God and confidently keeps swinging a hammer. At some point, the masses will see you are working on something special and gravitate your way. I am so grateful that God put a rainbow in the sky as a sign of his covenant of Grace towards us. The door to the ark will not be closed again.

All are welcome to come in from the rain
And be Blessed in Great Measure