Unforced Errors

Have you ever spoken a word in jest, or in stress, that upon reflection seemed in error? Something that could be taken in a different way than was intended? Could it have caused pain, anxiety, or exposed a part of your inner being that you are not too proud of, something unGodly that needs work? Can well intentioned actions stain the image of our better selves we try to portray? These questions cut a bit close when I look in the mirror. At times I wonder if damage done, even if unintentional, is irreversible.

I have a dear friend who suffered personal trauma, not by my hand, but near the same time we were close. Reaching out after many years, she told me what had happened and how she hid it. Though it hurt to lose contact with dear family friends, it was more painful to recall that time in her life. My innocent message unknowingly resulted in her pain and my regret for not recognizing it sooner. We decided it was best to care, and pray, from afar. Lord, please heal her scars and restore her by Your Grace and Loving Kindness. Amen…

Certain words and long forgotten memories can return to rub salt in old wounds, even though our intentions were nothing by honorable. I have seen mistakes from a lifetime ago resurface in tears of old friends who may choose to address them or simply turn away. If you find yourself somewhere in this story, please accept my apology. Lord, please reshape the rough edges that tend to sharpen my tongue.

My words are not the most eloquent, in fact, quite the opposite. Yet in offering a glimpse into my heart, I risk opening old wounds prompting, “Who is he to preach to me?” I am but a sinner redeemed by Grace, a beggar seeking a crust of bread. I hope to help you find it too.

If negative words linger for a lifetime, it stands to reason that the positive should do the same.

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 NIV

The Spirit in us moves where it wills and carries the positive (while the negatives are driven by other forces). What we do not know is where they go. A leaf may blow from a tree, float on the breeze to a certain resting place, providing cover for a seedling to break through in the spring. Or it may be gathered into a fire-pit and burned. Choosing our words carefully can be the difference.

If my words have caused pain, please forgive, and hopefully forget. If they were a blessing, by the Grace of God, pass them along to another. Be the breeze that carries God’s blessings to those in greatest need. Amen…

 

If these words have been a blessing, pass them along to another who needs to hear. Reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and tell me your story. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Brass Rings

In the early 1990’s, carnival carousels were in their heyday. In the earliest versions, the horses on the outer edge did not go up and down, so they created a challenge to entice riders. A wooden arm would produce metal rings and if your timing was right, you could grab one. Most rings were steel, but occasionally, a brass ring would appear which you could exchange for a prize, usually a free ride on the carousel. It took skill, bravery, or just plain luck. As time passed, the excitement of a merry-go-round faded into nostalgia and “grabbing the brass ring” became an adage like “reaching for the prize”, “going for the gold” or whatever slogan was needed to sell overpriced sneakers. The workaholic in me saw it as that extra hour at the office, messages that apparently could not wait until morning, missing the first quarter of a basketball game or sneaking in late to a band concert.

Arriving home after a day of brass rings passing me by, I was greeted by the precious soul that shares the gold band on my finger. This ring required no skill and certainly no bravery, but just sheer luck (with a few Godly nudges along the way.)

Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. Proverbs 5:15,18 – NIV

King Solomon wrote these words when he had 700 wives in his “cistern” (which meant 700 mothers-in-law, so I question his wisdom), but there is truth there. Water from your own well is much sweeter. Your cistern may have a few cracks but spending more time patching them is well worth the effort. The treasure in your hands is worth far more than shiny things in your view. When our daughter was young, and if there was a carousel, she tugged on Grandpa’s hand, looking for giraffes or zebras. The giggles and sheer joy on their faces was worth more than any brass ring.

Brass rings often are not brass at all, just scrap metal with a bit of paint, masquerading as something of value. Gold bands, on the other hand (Thank you Randy Travis), may harbor a few dents or a bit of tarnish but they still carry the luster of their great worth. The secret is in learning to chase the right kind of ring.

 

If these words have touched your heart, reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and continue the conversation. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

There Are No Words

A somber note was in the air as Holy week came to a close. Joyous Hallelujahs and waving of palm branches had been replaced by shrouded windows and a cross stripped bare. A single light illuminated the wooden cross and the earthy death Christ would endure in our place, Thank You Jesus. My musical counterpart and I sat in relative darkness, only candlelight and an eerie hue beyond the shadows of the cross to light our way.

He, a classically trained musician, sat at a grand organ, surrounded by keyboards and foot pedals, consuming black dots on white pages to extrude masterful melodies. As candles were extinguished and lights dimmed, my fingers found their way across a slightly out of tune piano, my heartbeat offered a rhythm and my voice faltered as I crumbled beneath lyrical images. Contrasting musicians, contrasting styles, combined to invoke the weight of the cross Christ would carry. In total darkness, the church house emptied, not a word to be spoken.

Sitting in the dark, the Gospel story of the widow’s offering came to mind. The rich gave only a portion of their plenty as a poor woman offered but two copper coins, all that she had. I identified with the widow, leaving everything at the piano (if only two cents worth), playing more by faith than sight. Yet in applying the analogy, I was convicted of being more the rich man, offering only a part of what I had been entrusted with. Perhaps if I spent more time practicing instead of chasing shiny things, I would have more to give like the man to my left, his fingers ablaze across organ keys. He has spent a lifetime of training to offer all that he had at that very moment. Perhaps mine is a lifetime of training as well. Each step I have taken, both good and bad, has prepared me to tell of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, a ransom paid on my behalf. When a lyric written in another time and place aligns with such truth, no amount of practice could prepare me for the weight of sin that I could never carry. Jesus chose to carry it instead and there are not enough words to thank Him.

In the Hands of God, our lives become a lifetime of training, joining our individual talents into an ensemble, the size and shape of the Lord’s choosing: melody and lyric, unknown prayers from a distance, a kind word where there can be no understanding, or simply a caring embrace when there are no words.

 

If these words have touched your heart, reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and continue the conversation. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Fishin’s not about Catchin’ Fish

Visiting restaurants was a rarity in the small town of my youth, a luxury for n random Sundays when the faithful would gather at “the local spot” and discuss which preacher was long winded based on the last congregation to arrive. Of course, this was limited during football season and pastors knew better than to get preachy when the Cowboys played the early game.

This particular Friday, I searched for a place to break the routine, outside of the norm. Passing closed signs on long-standing businesses who had succumbed to the pandemic, I happened upon a place that harbors memories of my younger days, vivid images of meeting my father for lunch. The bright exterior had been replaced by even brighter shades of enchilada reds, checkerboard tiles changed to Saltillo clay and burgers on the grill gave way to a wonderful plate of Mexican food, as if Abuelita herself was in the kitchen.

Settling in with thoughts of my father in the corner booth, certain “dad-isms” came to mind. “Work smarter not harder” or sometimes “Grab a shovel, this job needs a weak mind and strong back.” Recently interring my mother’s ashes required a posthole digger to work through the rocks, hard clay, and ultimately a large oak root that rattled my inner being. I could hear Dad chuckle from his adjacent resting place.

I began to recall times we spent together and those we did not, mostly when I was too “busy” to go fishing. I truly regretted the missed opportunities with the realization that fishing was not always about catching fish. There is wisdom in a properly tied lure or in baiting a hook, to sit still and be quiet as “to not scare the fish away.” Stop talking, stop doing, and just listen, even if only crickets. I expect Jesus’ call for Peter to leave his nets was similar; stop doing and listen.

I often think about Peter, on that Saturday after Jesus’ crucifixion. He didn’t know. He had denied his greatest friend three times, heard the rooster crow as Jesus looked his way. He watched our Savior die. Nothing made sense. Sunday morning when he stepped into an empty tomb, he still didn’t know, until Jesus reappeared and everything He had said came back and made sense; talk about “Dad-isms.”

Because of that horrid Friday and the following Glorious Sunday, I’ll get the chance to take dad fishing again, on

“a sea of glass, clear as crystal.”  Revelation 4:6 NIV

Perhaps Peter will come along and show us the ropes and Jesus will sit in the boat and tell us stories. We will stop doing, sit still … and listen.

 

If these words have touched your heart, reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and continue the conversation. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Need to be Kneaded

A baker combines wet and dry ingredients forming a dough, and the kneading begins. A lifeless mound is folded and formed by strong hands yet with the gentle touch of an artist as not to damage the wonder that lies beneath. The repetitive rhythm breaks down the raw mixture forming strand of proteins, giving bread its elasticity. Yeast is activated to produce carbon dioxide which is captured by the protein strands forcing the dough to rise, making the finished product fluffy and light. Breaking of the outer crust releases an aroma of perfection, exciting the senses to yearn for a taste.

Our bodies, as well, can be a lifeless mound, muscles tight and unyielding from overwork and unending stress. By the hands of a loving husband to the feet of his precious bride, that he admittedly does not do enough, or by that same loving bride to aching shoulders, our muscles recapture some elasticity, allowing us to rise, ready to carry another heavy load, and yes, sometimes be a bit fluffy.

Our souls are likewise, bread in the making, dry ingredients of intellect, experience and of journeys long traveled, infused with the Breath of God and His Living Water. The Master’s hands mold us into the wonder of His choosing, creating pockets of healing, forgiveness, and joy, bubbling to the surface, allowing us to rise from our knees, elastic, rejuvenated and yes, sometimes still a bit fluffy. Only when our outer crust is broken do we release the aroma of God’s great love within us, exciting the senses of others to yearn for a taste.

Lord, please gather our faithlessness and failure, break down our stubbornness by Your Mighty hands, that we may absorb the leaven of Your Mercy, allowing us to rise, becoming as the true Bread of Life, Your Son Jesus,

…the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. Romans 9:5 – NIV

 

If these words have touched your heart, reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and continue the conversation. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

audience of One

A midnight mist vaguely obscured the headlights of passing traffic. Troubled sleep found my eyes wide open, staring into nothingness. In the corner stood an old piano, dust covered keys echoing memories of creativity too far removed from my conscience. Family photos and gathered trinkets hid scraps of paper, church bulletins and fast-food napkins; canvases encompassing random inspiration, prose for another day. Many artists harbor such collections, sadly forgotten, waiting for life to slow so their muse may breathe. Reaching for the lamp as to not awaken the household, papers scattered across the keys onto the floor. Fumbling for some semblance of organization, a note caught my eye, a decade old lyric where some particular failure had driven my pen with a longing for redemption. The impetus for this collection had long since been forgiven and forgotten (Thank You Jesus), yet since then, other stumbles had taken their place. Feeling convicted, I recalled King David was fallible yet still found favor in the eyes of God; as close to and as far from God as any of us may ever be.

God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ Acts 13:22

Oh, to seek so fervently the Almighty, that He would recognize me as a man after His own heart, let alone consider me at all.

Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your loving kindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. … Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:1-2, 10- NKJV

Tear-stained papers in hand taught that some words are not meant for the next great novel or to be read by millions, but simply to be consumed by the heart of the author, to be cleansed and lifted by the Heart of the True Author. Perhaps these words may never reach what the world would consider a “significant” audience, but simply an audience of One.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 – NIV

Amen …

 

If these words have touched your heart, reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and continue the conversation. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Fish Stick Fridays

Forty days and forty nights did it rain children. If this does not trigger memories of Saturday morning cartoons and sugary cereals, look up School House Rock. How else would we have learned about “conjunction junctions”, the Preamble to the Constitution and of course “Bill” and how he became a law.

Not only did it rain on Noah, but the number 40 appears 145 other times in the Bible. Moses spent forty days on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, then another forty for the second set of tablets. Kings Saul, David and Solomon each reigned forty years and Goliath challenged the Israelites forty days before David put an end to it. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness, fasting and being tempted which is the basis for our Lenten season. Lent traditionally begins forty-six days before Easter, less the interspersed six Sundays leaves forty days.

The number forty represents a time of trial or purification, so Lent is much more than just a reason to have Mardi Gras. It is a time of self-reflection and sacrifice to honor the sacrifice of Jesus and our purification because of His Resurrection. Hallelujah!  Yet many simply give up eating meat on Fridays which created the wonder that was “fish stick Friday.” Others choose to give up chocolate (which is never a good idea) though interesting enough, we give chocolate bunnies as Easter gifts.

If we are to sacrifice anything, let us set aside our pride and recognize our rough edges. Perhaps we should sacrifice deep seeded pain and offer forgiveness, to others as well as ourselves. Devote time for prayer, learn to listen to the voice of God and reflect on His Words. It is said that it takes twenty-one days to create a habit, either good or bad, so what could you accomplish in forty? Here’s a suggestion: there are 31 Proverbs, one for every day of the month (okay sometimes only 30, or 29, or 28). Whatever day it is, choose to read that Proverb, (if the 10th of the month, read Proverbs 10.) Start small and add in more as the habit takes form. There are 150 Psalms, 5 for every day (if the 10th day, multiply by 5 and read Psalm 46 to 50.) I apologize for the math, but I’m nerdy like that.

This Lenten season, shy away from temporary changes like fish sticks on Friday, only to eat ham on Easter. Focus instead on permanent change: a habit of prayer, self-reflection, forgiveness and helping others. When Jesus’ forty days ended, His ministry began, and He changed the world. God willing, we should strive to do the same.

 

If these words have touched your heart, reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and continue the conversation. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Withering

There stood a tree, shrouded in the garb of winter, waiting for Spring to flourish, alone with a background of towering oaks, alive as if winter never happened. The lesser, a kindred spirit for I too have suffered from the ravages of colder weather, emotionally spent from too little time in the sun, my roots reaching to great depths seeking nourishment yet finding only parched places. Unable to rise with my own strength, I sway in the wind, bending but not breaking.

With only the resolve to roll out of bed an opportunity arose to wash feet (scrub toilets actually). There is value in serving, in humility, yet in completing my tasks, I felt less like a scrubber and more like the scrubee (read into that metaphor, as you will) and my feeble branches continued to wither.

Reading my journal entries, you may discover a consistent theme; my writer’s muse tends to be more active in my darker times, when the pressures of life have weighed me down, noise gathering into a single roar, drowning out the good in my life. This is very fertile ground and I must be wary as whether acorns or sticker burrs take root. Withering trees seek the closest water source yet at times find it salty and unfit. Thirsty souls seek as well, finding an oasis but end up drinking sand. As I suffered in thirst, a song from days past echoed in my ears:

Plant me by streams of living water
My soul is dry and begun to whither
Wash me with water from the well that won’t run dry
Make me whole again; make me whole again, Dear Lord.
Peter’s Lament – john g. adams 2009

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14 – NIV

As the Samaritan woman said, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty” and Peter at the Passover table “Then, Lord, wash not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” John 13:9

That person is as if 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

As a cup overflowing, living waters rushed through the driest deserts of my soul. Drinking deeply, in that very moment, another thirsty soul was in need and I passed it along.

Lord, may You be praised in the thirsting and Glorified in the quenching. Amen…

If these words have touched your heart, reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and continue the conversation. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Helpless in a Hospital

A certain man was dying on the inside, leaving the most astute of medical minds in a quandary. Fearing he would not survive the weekend, his family gathered and each time he faded in and out of consciousness, he saw his pastor, praying, day and night. When the doctors could do no more, he suddenly improved and the sickness was gone. Prayer had prevailed where modern medicine could not.

In hearing the miracle story, one who had suffered a lifetime of illnesses, responded, “I have prayed and been prayed over by those more faithful than I. Where was God then? Where is my miracle?” Finding no words, I replied, “God is always here, but this may not be your time.”

Lord, please forgive my stumbling tongue and poor use of Your words. May her miracle manifest sooner than later and may You be glorified in her healing. Amen…

I have spent many nights, helpless in a hospital, with nothing but beeps, buzzers and the ear of the Creator of the Universe as company.

Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” Matthew 17:19-20 – NLT

Tears welled up as mountains in the distance stood still, mustard seeds exposing my lack of faith. Focusing on my need of a great Godly gesture, I failed to see the breeze cascading across the surface, carrying sand to the wind, making pebbles tumble. Mountains were moving but the small miracles in my hand were outweighed by my need at the moment. God holds the time and place of His healing in the palm of His hand, of which I may not understand until He explains it face to face. Miracles do not show up in the size or shape of our liking, wrapped in pretty paper and tied up in a bow.

When we do not hear an answer, are our prayers are ignored? Hardly. We are taught to be persistent in prayer and to make our requests known to God. Do our prayers touch God’s heart to where He would change the timing of our miracles? He is Almighty God and all things happen at the time of His choosing, so who am I to say? On the other hand, are we drawn to prayer in awareness of our need as His time is approaching? Have you ever been deeply dreaming when an upcoming sound turns out to be your alarm clock? Perhaps God’s timing is similar, anticipation resulting in the unexpected. The day of His triumphant return may just be the same.

This is what the Lord says: “In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you” … Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. Isaiah 49:8,13

Pray hard, be ready, miracles are closer than you think.

Your Grace, Your plan, Your time Lord.
Amen …

 

If these words have touched your heart, reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and continue the conversation. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Flash of Red

On a desolate New Mexico highway, my electronic navigator said to proceed straight for 117 miles. For once, I could truly believe her, as it seemed that distance was in full view. Traveling at or around the posted speed limit, with tumbleweeds and satellite radio as companions, a red blur appeared in my rear view mirror. Before I knew it, a red corvette flew by. It was designed with those speeds in mind, but so was the highway; speed limits are not arbitrary.

As taillights grew smaller in my view, I wondered what it was like to push a car’s limits with the top down. Further up the road I passed a lonely gas station, with one car at the pump, a red corvette. Continuing with a full tank of gas, my 70 mph seemed somewhat pedestrian as the red flash went by again. Perhaps my younger self would have thumbed a ride and relished the breeze but I stayed the course. Relatively slow and steady may or may not win the race, but a shiny car loses its luster in a pile of twisted metal and fiberglass.

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. Galatians 5:7-8  NIV

The grass may seem greener on the other side of the fast lane, but it rarely leads to the same destination. We each have a path laid before us and though my path may make little sense to another, it is my path; walk your own trail, climb your own ladder.

Therefore, … let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith… Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV

Do not envy another’s journey, whose lane appears faster, whose burdens appear lighter. God has equipped each of us for the miles ahead, like a full tank of gas on a long, desolate road. Some angels fly by in a flash of red, some sit peacefully in the passenger’s seat. Either way, you do not travel alone.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:29-31 NIV

 

If these words have touched your heart, reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and continue the conversation. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.