Friday, February 26, 2010

It Doesn't Matter What You Play, It's How You Play It

My mom Ruth passed away five years ago today at the age of 86, a remarkable woman who would be mad at me for telling her age. But I can also tell of her vivacious personality, her caring heart, and her music.

She took what little she had and ran with it. Mom was born in 1919 in Fort Worth, Texas, an only child. Her father was a grocer who was often paid in chickens and eggs and once a very annoying canary. They lived above the store behind a mattress factory, and my grandmother taught piano to make ends meet. Mom played both piano and violin, playing for the first time on radio at the age of five. Her dad died when she was a senior in high school. Mom worked her way through college by hosting a live early morning radio show. She married a fighter pilot who was shot down over Germany eight months later. She went New York, earned her Master's degree in music and played on early television. She married my dad, a PhD research chemist. They had four children, but Mom kept up her music through orchestra work, teaching, and concerts. My grandmother came to "hold down the fort" when my oldest brother was born.

To those who knew Mom, those are just the bare bone facts. I struggled when I was younger, because Mom wasn't like everyone else. At the time, I just didn't grasp what she was trying to teach me: Love God, love people, and lead an extraordinary life. My mom would have cut her right arm off for just about anyone. That made some people uncomfortable. An ordinary life didn't fit.

At the top of my grandmother's piano lesson plans was written, "It doesn't matter what you play, it's how you play it." Mom took that motto to heart. In the 1980s, I went with Mom to have her violin appraised for insurance. Everyone has always remarked at the amazing tone of her violin. She carried it everywhere because she was so afraid it would be stolen. We dropped it off and returned several hours later. "This violin is hardly worth a thing," the appraiser said. There are thousands of people who were blessed through the years who would disagree vehemently. It's how she played it.

Mom is no longer here. But we know where she is. She loved God, loved people, and she's gone Home.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


In times of overwhelming danger, in times of overwhelming every-dayness, in times when I have to make a decision or face a fear or walk away from something "too big for me," I need a diet of in-couragement. No, that is not a typographical error. The world seeks to be encouraged, "you can do it," but God seeks to place in our hearts His presence which produces courage within, "I am with you." There is a huge difference.
More often than not, we seek deliverance through a change in difficult circumstances. Indeed, deliverance from the LORD can mean at times pulling us out of the miry bog just in the nick of time. But for the most part, deliverance from the LORD is not dependent on a change in our situation, but a change in our hearts.
Deliverance from the LORD is seeing what God does in the midst of a troubling situation, even a place where you would not dare tread. God specializes in unlikely leaders, as seen throughout the Bible. And in each of those cases, their courage comes from God alone. God did not pluck Moses from the wilderness, but parted the Red Sea. We all have Red Seas in our lives.
Is our prayer to God "help me!" or "get me outta here!"? We are all in scary places. It is not a matter of getting your shield in place, but getting yourself behind God's. Over and over again, God reminds us, "I am your shield," (Genesis 15.1), "My shield is with God," (Psalm 7.10), "He is a shield..." (Proverbs 2.7). At the beginning of each day, get your shield in place and realize that it is not your own.
From what do we seek courage? Easy situations? Self-help books? Oprah? Cute little needlepoint sayings?
Or the Creator of the Universe?
"Be strong and of good courage, and do it. Fear not, be not dismayed, for the LORD God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you..." (1 Chronicles 28.20)
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1.9)
"Our help is in the name of the LORD, Who made heaven and earth." (Psalm 124.8)
These verses are not mantras to be repeated to psych yourself up, but the very Words of God to be woven into your life. The Scriptures are laden with His courage for you. And in the midst of that valley or on the edge of a cliff or surrounded by wilderness, you will see the hand of God and experience His in-couragement: "We don't know what to do, but our eyes are upon You." (2 Chronicles 20.12)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

It's Not About Football

It is Super Bowl Sunday. There was a time in college when one of our girls declined an invitation to go to a Super Bowl party. When I asked, "why?" she replied, "I don't even like football, why would I want to go?" And I told her, "Because it's not about football."
There is something transcendent in everything we do, everything we experience, a deeper significance and purpose, because God is in the picture. That is a Biblical worldview, viewing the world through the reality of God at the core of our lives. "...for in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." (Colossians 1. 15-17) God redeems everything.
There is something more in this life, because that is how God created it. That transcendence is not something beyond reality, but His presence infused in it.
That is why we must continually be sensitive to the leading of God's Spirit within us. The things that you experience may not be about you after all -- indeed they probably are not. That allows you to be flexible with whatever God brings into your day, or whomever God leads into your life. In the end of the movie The Four Feathers (which I highly recommend), the lead character asks the Sudanese tribesman, "Why did you help me?" And the tribesman who risked his life for this stranger said, "Because God put you in my path."
So as you attend a Super Bowl party tonight, or stay at home with family, realize that it is not about football. It is an opportunity to develop relationships, to serve others, to listen and be a friend, and let God redeem those moments for His glory. God makes all the difference.