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Friday, February 23, 2018

You Should Be Here


“Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about people who have died 
so that you won’t mourn like others who don’t have any hope.”
1 Thessalonians 4:13 (Common English Bible)

You Should Be Here is a piano-driven country ballad, co-written by Ashley Gorley and Cole Swindell, and recorded by Swindell about the death of Swindell’s father. In September 2013, Swindell was out on tour after signing a record deal. During his tour, Swindell was informed that his father had died unexpectedly – and tragically – when a truck he was working on fell on him. Though the song is deeply personal to Swindell, the lyrics are not so specific that those who haven’t lost a parent will feel left out. Each one of us have experienced those moments when everything seems perfect except for the absence of a loved one. This track recovers those moments, releases the deep emotions of loss and articulates with candor, “You should be here, standing with your arm around me here.”

It is this particular moment – remembering a loved one who has died – that the apostle Paul addresses in his first letter to the Christian community in Thessalonica. With deeply emotive language, Paul expresses genuine love and concern for these new Christian believers. Paul then provides a heartfelt, pastoral response to the deep grief that has cast a shadow over them as they remember those who have died: “Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about people who have died so that you won’t mourn like others who don’t have any hope.” At first glance, it would appear that Paul is suggesting that if we have enough faith in the promises of God, we will not mourn the death of a father, mother, or any other loved one. In fact, this is not what is suggested by Paul. A second glance is necessary.

A deeper look at this one sentence of scripture reveals something quite different. Paul understands that grief and mourning are important. The presence of deep grief is testimony that the one who has died made a difference in our lives. Mourning is indicative that the world is a better place because that person was born, lived, and positively touched others. Paul values mourning as part of the human experience. What Paul is saying is that the Christian community is not to mourn “like others who don’t have any hope.” Mourn, yes. But mourn differently. Paul is asking for a distinctively Christian-type of mourning that acknowledges that because of Jesus Christ, the one who has died is not separated from us forever. In the resurrection, we will be together again. Mingled with our grief is the certain knowledge that there will be a heavenly reunion with our loved ones.

In a particularly expressive lyric Cole Swindell captures my own longing for my father when I am walking on the beach: “You’d be loving this, you’d be freaking out, you’d be smiling, yeah I know you’d be all about what’s going on right here right now. God, I wish somehow you could be here. Oh, you should be here.” My father loved the ocean and walks on the beach. I walk to the beach from my office on occasion and wish my father was right there by my side, “standing with your arm around me here.” But grief doesn’t consume me. That is because I mourn differently. Because of Jesus Christ, I now anticipate that day in the future when my father’s arm will be around me once again.

Joy,

Friday, February 16, 2018

Dear Hate


I have been asked to repost this meditation from November due to the
High School shooting that occurred this past Wednesday.

“God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them.”
  1 John 4:16b (Common English Bible)

     Dear Hate is a deeply moving song, written as an epistolary conversation with hared itself, introducing hate as a character “on the news today” and having the capacity to “poison any mind.” Written by Maren Morris, Tom Douglas and David Hodges and performed by Morris and Vince Gill, the song pinpoints the garden – presumably the Garden of Eden from the pages of Genesis – as hate’s origin. The voices of Morris and Gill, supported only by two acoustic guitars, lead the listener along a serpentine path from Selma, Alabama (“you were smiling from that Selma bridge”), to Dallas, Texas ( “when that bullet hit and Jackie cried” ), culminating in New York City ( “You pulled those towers from the sky” ). Yet, hope remains, “But even on our darkest nights, the world keeps spinning ‘round.”

     Hatred’s power, made visible, is answered three times by a confident affirmation, “love’s gonna conquer all.” It is then that the last chorus flips the narrative of hatred’s destructive ambitions to address love as someone who is personal and omnipresent. Though doubt is identified, “Just when I think you’ve given up,” the presence of love becomes unmistakable once again, “You were there in the garden when I ran from your voice. I hear you every morning through the chaos and the noise. You still whisper down through history and echo through these halls.” Love then speaks, “love’s gonna conquer all.”

     Here in 1 John, love’s name is revealed, “God is love.” More, a promise is made. Anyone who clings to love, not as a feeling but as intentional conduct towards others, will discover that they are, in fact, taking-up residence in God and God in them. It is precisely the demonstration of love toward one another, in obedience to Jesus’ example and command, that the reassurance of love’s power over hate becomes unquestioned. By the intentional and active force of love, given freely to others, Christians are able to abide in God and God in them, in a state of mutual indwelling. And it is precisely by this mutual indwelling that we know we are loved and that the very best that hate can summon will not defeat us.

     Dear Hate stands among a growing canon of songs that grapple with hatred – most notably for this writer, Tim McGraw’s Grammy-winning, “Humble and Kind” – and offers a heartening message that love is stronger. Most days, it seems, the news swings the camera toward another appearance of hatred, moving among us at its foulest. All of us fight back tears and struggle with doubt. It is precisely at those moments that Maren Morris and Vince Gill seeks to encourage us with the good news, “love’s gonna conquer all. Gonna conquer all.”

Joy,

Friday, February 9, 2018

God Will Guide Us


The following is from Doug Hood's Heart & Soul, Vol. 2

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. 
Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight.”
Proverbs 3:5, 6 (Common English Bible)

The fall semester of my senior year in college would be in England. Arriving at Gatwick Airport in London, I disembarked the flight, entered the airport and immediately experienced considerable confusion. Standing in a common area, bewildered by the signage, I felt a hand on my shoulder: “This is the direction you want to go,” spoke a friendly voice. The confusion cleared, my path was made clear, and I was on my way. I am a reasonably intelligent person but that was a moment when I desperately needed guidance.

Anyone honest about his or her own life journey admits moments where guidance is welcomed. It is no mistake that high schools, colleges and universities have “guidance counselors” available to their students. Determining a direction in life is not something to be decided casually. Nor is it a simple matter to discern God’s desire and direction for us as individuals. There are simply moments when we are as bewildered as I was when I stood in Gatwick Airport so many years ago.

These words from Proverbs provide help. Rather than be intimidated by the vastness of choices and decisions to be made, Proverbs invites us into a relationship with our creator, a relationship that moves from the mind to the heart. There is a critical difference. The mind alone gathers information, orders data and considers several reasonable alternatives. The entire exercise can be accomplished without ever disturbing the heart from its sleep. On the other hand, try building a relationship with a spouse or friend solely on the arrangement of data. It doesn’t work. The heart senses, feels, and longs to know and be known. There is knowledge that is simply unavailable using the mind alone.

How shall we trust and know God with all our heart? We begin by learning of God as God is revealed in the Bible. We continue by doing God’s will as best as we understand it from our reading. There is no substitution or short cut. Divine guidance only comes to those who daily seek it in the scriptures. We become sensitive to the nudges and promptings of God until one day we sense a hand on our shoulder and a voice that speaks, “This is the direction you want to go.”

Joy,




Friday, February 2, 2018

Tequila


“God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep! 
They are as mysterious as his judgments, and they are as hard to track as his paths!”
Romans 11:33 (Common English Bible)

     Let’s be clear – the new country music song by Dan & Shay, Tequila, is not the drinking song that you might expect just reading the track’s title. Careful attention to the lyrics reveals something so much deeper – and extremely relatable – that has an enormous capacity for stirring latent emotions within each one of us. Tequila is first a love song, and for this writer, a beautiful one. The song talks about how something – or some experience – can trigger memories, in this case, a relationship. For the narrator of this song, that “trigger” is tequila: “I can drink whiskey and red wine, champagne all night. Little scotch on the rocks and I’m fine, I’m fine. But when I taste tequila, baby I still see ya. Cutting up the floor in a sorority T-shirt. The same one you wore when we were sky high in Colorado, your lips pressed against the bottle. Swearing on a Bible, baby, I’d never leave ya. I remember how bad I need ya, when I taste tequila. When I taste tequila.”

     This is precisely what is occurring in this sentence of scripture from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. The entire eleventh chapter of this letter is given to a theological conversation of God’s continuing relationship to Israel. With considerable care, Paul outlines a profound and compassionate response to the question of what happens to God’s chosen people (the Jewish nation) when they don’t embrace the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Paul will not accept the simplistic conclusion that God now excludes the Jewish people from God’s promises because they fail to believe in Jesus Christ. And then something happens. All this “theological talk” about the larger purposes of God “triggers” within Paul’s heart an emotional response that he simply cannot suppress: “God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep! They are as mysterious as his judgments, and they are as hard to track as his paths!”

     Each of us carries within us “triggers’ of one kind or another. Some triggers are negative, dredging up from within a deep place an emotion of sadness, anger, or fear. Others are positive, triggers that cause delight, feelings of warmth or joy. I lost my father twenty-three years ago. He was the single greatest influence in my life for my deep love of Jesus Christ. Often during my childhood he would tell my brother and me that he cared little what vocational choice we made once we became an adult. What did matter to him is that we love Jesus Christ. One of my father’s greatest joys was spending time with his family in the Florida Keys – particularly enjoying snorkeling in Bahia Honda – one of the middle Keys. The Florida Keys, naturally, is one huge trigger for me. When I am there I feel as though my father is walking right by my side, that large, delightful smile across his face, his hand grasping my hand.

     People have nostalgic attachments to senses like smells and tastes and sounds. For the narrator of this song, tequila is one of those things. Generally, the consumption of various alcoholic beverages has no affect upon him. But the taste of tequila triggers his deep romantic affection for a particular woman. More, he recalls, “I remember how bad I need ya, when I taste tequila, when I taste tequila.” The narrator is clear, “I ain’t even drunk, I ain’t even drunk, and I’m thinking how I need your love, how I need your love. Yeah, it sinks in.” This is not the alcohol speaking. It is the taste of tequila, a trigger that summons forth heartbreak and regret. For the Apostle Paul, teaching and preaching Jesus Christ triggers emotions that began shaping within him when Jesus appeared to him on a certain road that led to Damascus. Emotions birthed and nurtured by continued attention to a relationship with the love of Paul’s life, Jesus.

Joy,