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.

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.

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.

 

 

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

I Looked in the Pages

Lyrics to a song by Steven Curtis Chapman come to mind.

“These are the places I was sure I’d find Him I looked in the pages and I looked down on my knees.” Sometimes He comes in the Clouds – Steven Curtis Chapman

I was preparing music for Sunday worship. The readings were about prayer and being attentive in prayer. I recently heard wise words about recognizing “heavenly interruptions” and read about the need to take time, not only to pray but also to listen.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 NIV

Song selection took some heavenly nudges to pluck my heartstrings, but it finally came into focus. Then came the question of a special selection. Something that would fit the sermon or just something that God needed to be said. Then, news that a family friend earned her angel wings, so the planning for her life celebration service began (I prefer not to call them funerals). More songs to prepare, but still not settled on the song for Sunday.

I looked through the pages and I looked down on my knees. I pulled out one of my songs from 2008 called “Million Promises” and the lyrics hit me as they did 10+ years ago.

“You said that we should approach the throne in confidence
but my eyes so full of tears I just can’t see”

Life has been coming at me hard lately, so that rang true.

“All I know to do is put my trust in You   Open up my heart and just believe.”

Yep.

“I’d trade a million promises,  for one that I can keep
‘cause when it comes to sacrifice, my will is much too weak
When what I was has come and gone, and I’m left with what I am
Just a heart, a soul, one spirit Lord, is entrusted in Your hands.”

Ten years ago, all I knew to do was trust. Ten years later, it is still all I know. In that span, I am still weak; I have gained a few more worry lines, a few pounds and a gray hair or two (or more). I hope that I have gained a bit more wisdom, a bit more patience, and a lot more grace.

I am still trusting, still looking through the pages and still looking down on my knees.
And always Blessed in Great Measure

If you are at our church this Sunday, you probably will hear “Million Promises” (unless the Spirit moves me elsewhere).

If not, you can listen to it or some of my other musical offerings here: Million Promises

Listen to “Sometimes He Comes in the Clouds” by Steven Curtis Chapman here:

 

I Am They

I Am They

This band found their way through the virtual jukebox that is my computer, through my headphones into my heart.

The first track that struck me was “My Feet are on the Rock”(Listen Here). A high energy praise song with great harmonies and some banjo mixed in for a little bluegrass flavor. My music plays in the background of my daily life, so I rarely stop what I’m doing to find out more. But this was one of those songs.

Digging deeper, I found “Scars”(Listen Here). A beautiful song about being thankful for what we’ve been through because it brought us closer to God. Listen to the end when they change the chorus a bit to being thankful for what Jesus went through for us. A wonderful turn of a phrase.

Reading their bio revealed that each of the band members overcame mountains of addiction, failure and not being good enough, and laid them as stones to build an altar of praise to God. When they sing about hurt and being delivered from it, it rings true because they have lived it. Anthems of our own lives.

“I Am They” flows through the veins like “Casting Crowns” and “Mercy Me” but with their own unique flavor. I look forward to hearing more from this band. I recommend that you do the same.

Find out more at www.IAmTheyBand.com

Leave a comment if you are touched by their ministry.
I’m always up for a good story if you have one to tell.

Quo Vadis – Where Are You Going?

A Latin phrase meaning “Where are you going?” Its modern usage is attributed to a passage from early Christian writings called “The Acts of Peter.” Upon the urging of his friends, Peter leaves Rome to avoid being captured and killed. As he was leaving, he saw a risen Jesus returning to Rome. Peter said, “Domine Quo Vadis” or “Where are you going, Lord?” Jesus replied that He was returning to Rome to be crucified again. When Peter realized that his life was being asked of him, he returned to Rome instead, joyous that he had been deemed worthy to be martyred.

In searching for the definition of this Latin phrase, one of the links asked. “What made you search for this?” Allow me to start at the caboose and work my way to the steam engine of this train of thought.

There is an episode of M*A*S*H, called “Quo Vadis Captain Chandler”, where a bombardier came to the hospital and believed he was Jesus Christ. The psychiatrist explained that something in this soldier had changed. He realized he was not a killer, he was Christ. The soldier said he didn’t know this Captain Chandler, but he hoped they could find him and help him. So much truth in that.

What brought this to mind, was a discussion that Dr. Freedman had with “Jesus”. The psychiatrist asked if God answers all prayers. Captain Chandler as “Jesus” said, with tears in his eyes, “Yes, but sometimes the answer is no”.

I was pondering why certain prayers seem to go unanswered in this age of instant gratification, fast food and movies on demand. I once heard that there are two answers to prayer: “Yes” and “No, but wait, I have a better idea.” Yet this morning, as I held an electronic wealth of information in the palm of my hand, a quote came through social media that changed my perspective.

“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.” C.S. Lewis.

It’s not just “No and be patient”, it’s more like a loving look saying, “Be at peace, my child. You don’t understand what I am doing in your life right now.” A comforting thought when I am a bit disappointed that things have not happened on my terms.

As I considered the whispers floating around in my brain, another reinforcing hint came to mind. Many times, God has spoken to me through the talents of Steven Curtis Chapman and today was no different. His song “Higher Ways” is a sobering reminder that the ways of God are not like our own. It is based on a passage from Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.  Isaiah 55:8

So I don’t always understand, and that’s okay . . . for now.

This train seems to be all over the track, so when does it finally pull into the station? Just as God is the Alpha and Omega, this journey ends where it began. “Quo Vadis”. Where am I going? Steven Curtis Chapman probably said it best:

“But until I’m with You I’ll be here with a heart that is true
And a soul that’s resting on      Your higher ways”

 Restless, but still resting on His higher ways.
And Blessed in Great Measure.

Different

We recently received great news on an upcoming project. The proposal took a herculean effort from our team. Many stepped way out of their comfort zone to make this happen. Win or lose, a job well done is a victory in itself. But of course, winning made it better. Yet in the midst of the excitement and pats on the back, I did not share the elation. Don’t get me wrong, the new project is a great thing. I just felt different about it.

One of my daughter’s basketball coaches would always say, “Don’t cheer for a layup, you are supposed to make layups.”

I guess that’s why the congratulations rang a bit hollow. I did my job and that’s what is expected of me. I wish I could as easily dismiss the negatives when I’m not as successful.

In the midst of my contemplation, I got a heavenly hint. A song by Micah Tyler called “Different” streams through my headphones. So powerful. I recommend giving it a serious listen.

Different. Yeah, different.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

Non conformity. Uniqueness. That’s what I strive for even though sometimes it’s easier to just fit in and fade away. So I’m different, and that’s good.

But then the song continues about being changed until the whole world sees the difference, then asking God to be the difference.

Gut check.

I can hear the difference in the corners of my mind or the recesses of my heart, but on the outside? Not so much. So there’s work to do.

As much as I’d like to think that I have no rough edges, that is just not the case. There are still lumps of clay waiting to be fashioned by the hands of the Master. I am thankful that God is still willing to mold me, even if it hurts sometimes.

So why not be giddy over such a victory in the workplace? Maybe my goals are set differently. Maybe I measure success with a different ruler. Different.

Trevor Lawrence, quarterback for Clemson University, said that football, no matter how big the situation, would not define him. He sees his identity in who Christ thinks he is and who he knows Christ says he is. That gives him confidence, no matter how well he plays.

Success and a different set of goals.
It can be done.

So here I am
Blessed with some success

And always Blessed in Great Measure.