Tuesday, February 19, 2019

First Prayer

How do you pray if you've never prayed before? How do you figure out what to say?

Well...a person could do worse than singing the first song on side two of Randy Stonehill's Welcome to Paradise.


I've been waiting for a long long time
Hopin' You're a friend of mine
If there's one thing that I need to do
Well that's to find out more about You
I have been wondering all of my days
So if You're there show me the way

I see people in a world of lies
Staring out through lonely eyes
Watching as the years go by
Knowing they're living only to die
There must be something missing somewhere
So if You're listening answer this prayer

I will follow if You'll lead me
Help me make a stand
If You'll breathe new breath inside me
I'll believe You can
I'll believe You can

Well I never really learned to pray
But You know what I'm trying to say
I don't want my life to end 
Not ever knowing why it began
So if You'll trust me I'll do my best
And I'll be trusting You for the rest
©1976 King of Hearts Publishing

Truth is...(From Randy's liner notes for the 25th Anniversary CD) I wanted to explain that God isn't waiting for us to be good enough to come to Him. We don't need to be great orators and He doesn't require some exotic incantation to be recited. He just wants us to trust and obey  -  like a child would rely on a father. It dawned on me later in the recording studio that I had been subconsciously paraphrasing the very prayer I had prayed in Larry's kitchen on that special day back in June of 1970. At that crossroads moment, I remember saying to God, "I don't really believe in You but I believe in You enough that I'm talking to You. So, if You are real then come be real to me in a way I'll understand. I don't know why You'd care, but if You truly want me, I'm Yours."

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Add to the Beauty

Funny how one word can change a person's whole perspective.

I was reading Paul's letter to Titus and started focusing on the ninth and tenth verses of chapter two:
Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.
I knew better than to get hung up on the whole "slaves" thing. I knew that indentured servanthood in the first century shouldn't be confused with images of kidnapped Africans on an auction block.

What caught my attention was that last phrase that spoke to WHY anyone should live in a particular way: "so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive."

That's a nice enough thought as expressed by the NIV translators, but how is it stated in other versions?

The Message says "adding luster to the teaching of our Savior God," more-strongly implying that I can actually be an asset to the gospel...not just a beneficiary of it.

And then I read the Amplified Bible:
...so that in everything they may be an ornament and do credit to the teaching [which is] from and about God our Savior.
The word ornament really caught my eye.

It's one thing to think that my honorable and upright behavior can make the teachings of God more attractive. It's another thing to realize that I am one small part of a beautiful Christmas tree; impressive enough on my own, but when viewed in the context of the whole tree...stunning.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...There are plenty of examples of ugly ornaments hanging around today. So much so that many people characterize Christianity as being hateful and anti-this or anti-that. In the face of that, we are called to be model employees, honorable citizens, and helpful neighbors. Together, we can add to the beautiful attractiveness of God's love, poured out on us through the Holy Spirit and demonstrated by Christ's sacrifice.

For a musical exploration of this thought, listen to Sara Groves' "Add to the Beauty" by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

If All Your Friends Were Jumping Off a Cliff

You've heard the interchange before, haven't you?

A youngster gives the reason for wanting to do something  -  something that the parent sees as wrong, foolish, dangerous, or a mixture of all three  -  by saying, "All my friends are doing it."

The immediate parental response: "If all your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you want to do it, too?"

Of course, the youngster in question probably has a whole list of "it depends" statements flowing through his or her head, but if they're a little bit smart, they'll bow their head and meekly say, "No."

This whole scenario popped into my head upon reading a commandment (not part of The Big Ten) in Exodus 23:2 - "Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...Evil is still evil, no matter how popular it is; no matter how big the crowd of people is that rushes to do it; no matter how loudly it is supported on how many channels, news feeds, or Twitter accounts.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Like Yoda Without Frank Oz #SadSimile

It's strange to think of the powerful Jedi master, Yoda, as a lump of foam and latex, but without the arm, hand, voice, and talent of Frank Oz, he's just a puppet...a thing...an inanimate object, incapable of anything except decay.

This is the imagery Randy Stonehill elicits in the final song on the first side of Welcome to Paradise, "Puppet Strings".

I can't keep from mourning for this topsy-turvy world
With all its strife and pain
Mourning for the lost and the desperate children
Who can't remember their names

And I can feel it in my soul
Now the end is getting near
I can hear the devil laughing
And it's ringing in my ears

Long ago He chose us to inherit all His kingdom
And we were blessed with light
But wandering away we disobeyed Him in the garden
And stumbled into night

And I can feel it in my soul
Now the end is getting near
I can hear the angels weeping
And it's ringing in my ears

We are all like foolish puppets 
Who desiring to be kings
Now lie pitifully crippled
After cutting our own strings

But God said I'll forgive you
I will face you man to man
And win your love again
Oh how could there be possibly a greater gift of love
Than dying for a friend

And I can feel it in my soul
Now the end is getting near
I can hear the devil laughing
And it's ringing in my ears

We are all like foolish puppets 
Who desiring to be kings
Now lie pitifully crippled
After cutting our own strings

Cutting our own strings
Cutting our own strings
Cutting our own strings
©1976 King of Hearts Publishing

Truth is...It's not a perfect simile, and we shouldn't slip into thinking that the life God offers us is one where we mindlessly do what the great puppet master in the sky commands. But it certainly is true that when we want to be the ruling royalty of our own lives, it ends up as a horrible mess. For evidence of this, just check out the headlines every day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Things Rich Mullins Taught Me

With a "thanks for the idea" to Amy Swanson, fellow-member of the Rich Mullins Remembered Facebook page, here are some things I've learned by listening to the songs of Rich Mullins:

There's a rest you can find in your work that you can't get out of sleep. ("When You Love")

The other side of the world is not so far away as I thought that it was. ("The Other Side of the World")

There's more that dances on the prairies than the wind; more that pulses through the ocean than the tide. ("If I Stand")

It's a wounded world that needs a healing touch. ("Alrightokuhhuhamen")

Here, I'm tested and made worthy; tossed about but lifted up in the reckless, raging fury that they call the love of God. ("The Love of God")

Even Pontius Pilate played a part. ("Who God Is Gonna Use")

Much joy can blossom from many tears. ("Hello Old Friends")

The world draws up its lines, but at the foot of the cross, there's room for everyone. ("Everyman")

Love is found in the things we've given up more than in the things that we have kept. ("What Susan Said")

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...I say these are things I've learned, but I'm still in the process of living them out. I'm grateful for the songs Yahweh welled up within Rich, and I look forward to the day I can truthfully sing:

I cannot hide this longing that grows
In this temple of silence and stars
But a thief in the night stole in and broke
Every chain that had bound up my heart
I cannot cling to shadows again
So here on this altar tonight
I lay every dream I've ever dreamt
To burn in the fire He lights

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Just a Silly Little Prayer

Sometimes an answered prayer can make a person laugh. It did ME, at least.

I was attempting to put clear plastic up on the window in one of the downstairs bedrooms. (For those who don't live in a cold climate, this is an insulating maneuver, designed to decrease drafts and lower one's heating bill.) I had cut the plastic film to the correct size, but I needed to unfold it...it was doubled over on itself, and I needed to get it opened to its single thickness.

I spent at least 10 minutes rubbing my fingers together along the edge of that plastic...trying to get it to let go of itself and separate. I wet my fingers. I warmed the plastic. I bent, folded, and practically mutilated it.


I finally looked up and said, "Lord, this seems like something really silly to pray about, but I am so frustrated and I just can't get this unfolded. Please help me."

I looked down at the two corners that had been so persistent at staying together and saw them droop away from each other like wilted lettuce or peeling paint.

That's when I laughed, and I kind of think Yahweh did, too.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:11-13 NIV)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Lung Cancer: Lots of Laughs?

It's not everyone who can write a song titled "Lung Cancer" with the expectation of getting laughs.

The fourth song on the first side of Welcome to Paradise gives the world a full dose of what Randy Stonehill has become noted for: an absurd sense of humor.

she went down to the corner store
and bought a pack of filter kings
don't you know tomorrow she'll be back for more
'cause she really loves to smoke those things

and every time that she inhales
a cloud of that cigarette smoke
she's just one step closer to the man in black
and sixty cents closer to broke

she's been working on
lung cancer, emphysema, a cardiac arrest
and she'll probably have a stroke when she sees
the x-rays of her chest

when she had her first cigarette
a puff or two was all she could take
now if she doesn't have one in her hand all the time
you'll notice it begin to shake

even though she's nonchalant
and acts as if her habit's a joke
she won't do too much laughing when
her life goes up in smoke

she's been smoking that C-I-G-A-R-E-T-T-E
that cigarette's got her on her knees
that darn tobacco won't set her free

alright, suck, baby, suck
suck on that cigarette
go on and light up that fag and take a drag
it's bound to snuff you yet
©1976 King of Hearts Publishing

Truth is...there are at least two ways one can tell this song was written in the mid-1970s instead of the early 21st Century. One, "sixty cents closer to broke" would have to be "ten dollars closer to broke" to match today's economic reality. Two, today we seem to be more concerned about showing empathy for those struggling with nicotine addiction; making it seem heartless to make fun of something so physically harmful. (Note: Instead of "physically harmful," I wanted to type "utterly stupid," but this is 2019, not 1976.)