Category Archives: Sunday Series

Sunday Series – Where’s the line?

Once again I received a simple email from my mother and it prompted a post to my blog. It seems that emails from mom have this tendency. I love it mom, don’t stop sending them and thanks for always reading what I write here. Anyhow, I watched and listened to this video several times on Friday when I first received it. The words are powerful. The meaning is clear. The added visual of video multiplies the power of the words by hundreds. As I listened over and over again, I visited the mental images in my mind of that first Christmas. Tears fill my eyes when I think of the humility surrounding our Lord’s birth. Tears stream down my cheeks when I think about the lack of fan fare and attention given to the first Christmas each passing year.

In our busy lives full of somewhere to go, something waiting to be done, and not enough time to do the other things we would rather have done, Christmas comes and goes. It’s not just Christmas Day anymore, it’s a season, and it rushes past every single year. Many folks would say the season is too long, others would say it goes by too fast, still others would rather not be bothered with the whole thing. No matter where you look or listen, after Halloween, and certainly once the Thanksgiving feast has been devoured, Christmas is everywhere. You can’t miss it. Really though, how many millions of people miss Christmas every single year?!? Listen to the music playing in the malls or on the radio, it approaches the subject, but mostly skirts around the meaning of Christmas. It’s not even called Christmas music anymore in a lot of cases, it’s holiday music. Please.

While many have already complained about radio stations playing Christmas music or networks carrying the Christmas Specials on TV, I am taking it all in. I never want to miss Christmas. I never want to let a day in this season go by without visiting why. I am sure I am in the minority but this day, this season isn’t long enough. It should be long enough so that no one misses Christmas and the why. Go ahead, get caught up in the hustle and bustle of these weeks. Buy into the hype, the retailers this and that, the crowds out spending money on others, many of whom do so to feel better about themselves, get all you can get. OR …

… You can also just steal away for a few minutes with your loved one, or on your own, and stand outside in the dark on a crisp, cold, starlit night, and look to the heavens. Imagine it’s the same night sky of that first Christmas Eve. Embrace the chill in the air. Notice the rings of breath escaping your lungs that reflect the low light of night. Think on how you would make your way through the starry night by the light of a star. Listen to the sound of your own breathing in the quiet night and notice how its pace quickens when you put yourself in the shoes of the wise men en route to Bethlehem. Maybe the tunes or words of Away In A Manger or Little Drummer Boy run through your mind. Perhaps just a few minutes have passed, maybe more, but I bet life, the season, slowed down for just a little bit, slowed enough to take in the meaning of Christmas.

See, to me, Christmas doesn’t have to be a long season or a schedule packed with events and places to go, but rather, small moments that never go unnoticed. Moments where you can lose yourself completely in the meaning of Christmas, the satisfaction of giving because you want to, the cozy warmth of sparking lights, soft music, and the mental images you hold of a manger scene from long ago. Lose yourself in the words and the meaning of the Christmas Hymns. It’s the moments that you can escape to the meaning of Christmas or share with your loved ones that ensure you don’t ever miss Christmas. Let it sink in. Soak it in. Enjoy it. Know why. Be better for it. Before you know it the welcoming warmth of these moments will be replaced by the bitter cold winds of January, a reduction of vacation days and paid time off, and the empty space that for a few weeks housed a Christmas tree, beneath which, rested the promise of Christmas morning joy.

As you make your way through this Christmas season, stop, listen, and learn. There’s a lesson in every year. Enjoy the video I have attached here. Don’t forget the real Christmas Story and make sure your children know it too. Unfortunately, but true, as you wait in some line to complete your purchase this year, ask yourself, Where’s the line to see Jesus, because there probably isn’t one. Maybe I will start one. Merry Christmas!

The real reason

Sunday Series – Inside the first time

A few days ago I wrote a post called “The first time” and it was a short story about my first time seeing the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert. I have included that post here and I am also going to add to it. This bit will be part of my Sunday Series as well.

See, in December of 2000 when I first saw TSO in concert I was in the early stages of an internal battle that I hope I never see the likes of again. Maybe some where, some day, I will get into that further. Anyways, I drove to Albany, NY to see TSO. I couldn’t wait! I knew every word, nearly every note, of every song on the CD’s. So much so, that I was a bit skeptical of how each note, and how each word would sound live. Obviously, at that time, I didn’t know anything about their sound in live shows. Over the years, hearing many bands play live, sometimes the recording versions of songs were the best versions. I remember thinking that if they were even close to the recorded versions of their songs, this was going to be awesome.

I made my way into the venue. I looked around, taking everything in. I noticed a little bit of merchandise for sale, I noticed people dressed anywhere from a formal night out, to jeans and t-shirts, I noticed there were young couples, older couples, complete families, and rock star wannabe’s. I noticed a diversity in the audience that I don’t remember seeing anywhere else before. I noticed their was a tremendous sense of anticipation among the variety of people in attendance. I found my seat, right in the middle of the balcony. Not too far up, but high enough to see over any railings. My seat was dead center too, which I found, in later shows, is a fantastic place to see the symmetry of the TSO light show. I sat down, eager for the show to start. I remember the band presented a check to a charity before the show. They always do.

Finally the lights went dark. After the brief applause a dark auditorium always receives, a silence came over the crowd. Eerily silent. Anticipation was at an all time high throughout the crowd. Or at least it was with me. This moment in the dark was also a glaring look inward. For as calm and quiet as the balcony was at that moment, the internal war between my character and my reality raged on.

Then the show began. The narration. The deep voice telling the story. Just the way I had read it. The single light shining down from above. A word had not yet been sung and I already knew this was going to be the best show I had ever seen. The narrator, Bryan Hicks, spoke the words … “our story does begin” and with a snap of his fingers the show’s lights first came on. It was a dark curtain of white lights that lit up to look like the night-time sky. It was much simpler then but it served its purpose.

As TSO played song after song, I couldn’t believe how the sound was so much better than I ever imagined. I couldn’t get over the fact that they did play every single note, just as I knew them, but they took the sound to another level. The vocals were stunning! They sounded even better in that theater on a snowy night in Albany, NY, than I could have hoped for.

The emotion coursed through me like a raging river of truth. I recall sitting there in the balcony and literally shaking. I was enjoying the purest sounds of Christmas that I had ever heard. This performance somehow brought the countless, wonderful, Christmas memories of my childhood and the magnificence of this concert together. It was like a bond that had always been there, but I now was able to see it and feel it. I shook with fear. I shook with joy. I shook from the battle in my soul. I shook in disbelief of the perfection I was witnessing on the stage in front of me. Few times in my life had I ever felt such power.

How I ever held myself together through this time was a feat in itself. And I know it was God that pushed me, it was God that helped me keep it together, for it was God’s truths I was at war with. My character, my upbringing, the things I knew in my gut were right, the countless places I could have corrected my direction, these were the things I fought during this time. As if I were lost in the deepest, darkest forest while knowing a couple of difficult, pride relinquishing steps were all it would take to get back on track, and instead I talk myself into believing this isn’t so bad. I mean how lost can one get anyways? You have to get pretty lost to lose God. Thankfully the little voice in my conscience that represented God never went completely away. I tried to silence the voice over years of time, but fortunately God’s plan was more powerful than anything I could muster.

Back to the balcony and the most amazing show I had ever heard or seen. The music, the narration, the lights, the atmosphere in a small (compared to today’s arenas) theater, it all seemed to be happening in slow motion, but at the same time I couldn’t slow it down enough. I wanted to stop each moment and hold on to it for always. Just like when I was a kid sitting in the living room, the only light coming from the candles in the windows and the Christmas tree, with carols playing on the record player; I never wanted those moments to end. They were perfect moments and so was this show.

Even though I sat in the midst of this crowd, I felt as though I was the only one in attendance. I felt that this show was written for me and was to be delivered solely for my benefit. As the narration continued between the songs …”For there he saw a man alone; Though he was walking in a crowd; And though this man had rarely prayed; Tonight his head was bowed…” Come on! Really? Are those lines really in the show, or was that made up because you knew I was here? That’s how I felt. Another amazing thing was how long I resisted God even when I felt like I did that night in December 2000. It goes to show you that the human mind is a powerful thing. Thanks to God’s grace and that little voice that never was silenced, my powerful mind finally did get out-of-the-way … eventually.

So, don’t fight it. God has a plan for all of us. I talked about this a couple of days ago too, but it bears repeating. Most folks, even the ones who know better, roll their eyes when people mention God’s plan for this or that, or for them. Fortunately it’s not up to your or me, really. It’s God’s plan. What are you and I going to do about it? I mean who am I to plan in contradiction to God? I am not going to go all holier than thou here because I am not holier than though. I can tell you that it is a lot easier to plan in accordance with God than it is to battle Him. If you are not sure what His plan is for you, then ask Him. He may not give you a tangible answer then and there but it’s a start. Be present and participating in God’s plan. I try to remind myself of this all the time. I am human too, we all make mistakes. Pray. Listen. Pray some more. Submit yourself to His will. Pray for God’s will in your life. I bet there’s more things in life you and God both want for you than you might think. Ya, He’s got a plan for us all. It might be worth checking out.

Or just go on whatever way you think is best. Achieve all you can. Attain the things you think are most valuable. Pile up the stuff while you can. And while I may have less than a lot of people, but more than some, I feel like I experience more fulfilling moments every day than most people do in a week or month. No matter the inventory of things, no one can count the fulfillment in moments, nor can they be taken away. Do the right thing. But don’t do the thing that is right based on what you think is right, or what someone else would think is right, but because it’s the right thing to do in God’s eyes.

As the first hour, or so, of the show came to an end, I wanted to start it over and do it again to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I mean there were times when I had closed my eyes while taking in the sweetest sounding Christmas guitar riffs I had ever heard. Other times while the narrator spoke of the angel flying over the earth, my mind had raced back to my childhood, for comparison sake, when the lights were right, the sounds were right, and my family was near, to see how that measured up to the moment I was experiencing with TSO. I fought back the tears as my body was a quaking battlefield of emotions and character against my ‘powerful’ mind and it’s lame brained attempts at self-indulgence.

Every year, as you know now, I see TSO play their show. I still swell with emotion every time. It’s so different now though. The shaking is gone and the battlefield is quiet. Thank God. But I still let my mind race back to my childhood living room and hide in those memories for a time while TSO plays those notes just as perfect as always. The words are the same and the meaning no less important, if anything, more important with each passing year. We are just five weeks from Christmas (sorry if you hadn’t put that together yet) and it’s my favorite time of the year. The Christmas message is just as important now as it was when it happened. Listen to the words, listen to the music, the Christmas hymns, listen to the songs of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and slow down enough to enjoy the meaning. It might be worth pointing out that the meaning actually does apply all year. I have tried it. Start with one day, one week, one month, and so on. Lose yourself in the meaning, let your own mind race back to the sweetest memories you have of the season, even if the best memory is that of the new approach you took today. Some history is worth repeating, and if it is, keep doing it. Right is right.

As for me, I hope I am never far from the emotions, the feelings, and the lessons I learned inside the first time.

The first time

Upon seeing the Winter 2011 Tour visit Manchester this year, I have spent a lot of time, maybe too much time, reflecting on my experiences with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I can’t help but return to the first time I saw them. It was only their 2nd tour at the time and I couldn’t wait to go see them live. I have copied a list of the 2000 Tour stops from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s website. You will notice the number of dates, and the size of the venues, has grown exponentially since 2000.

2000 Tour

  • Dec. 1st – WILKES BARRE, PA (Kilby Theater)
  • Dec. 2nd – WILKES BARRE, PA (Kilby Theater)
  • Dec. 2nd – KANSAS CITY, MO (Memorial Hall)
  • Dec. 3rd – MINNEAPOLIS, MN (North Rop)
  • Dec. 3rd – CLEVELAND, OH (Palace Theater Playhouse)
  • Dec. 4th – CLEVELAND, OH (Palace Theater Playhouse)
  • Dec. 4th – GREEN BAY, WI (Vets Memorial)
  • Dec. 5th – CLEVELAND, OH (Palace Theatre)
  • Dec. 5th – MILWAUKEE, WI (Riverside)
  • Dec. 6th – CLEVELAND, OH (Palace Theatre)
  • Dec. 7th – COLORADO SPRINGS, CO (Pike Peak)
  • Dec. 8th – DENVER, CO (Magness)
  • Dec. 8th – ALBANY, NY (Palace Theater)
  • Dec. 9th – HARRISBURG, PA (Zembo Mosque)
  • Dec. 10th – DAYTON, OH (Memorial Hall)
  • Dec. 11th – GRAND RAPIDS, MI (Devos Hall)
  • Dec. 12th – PORTLAND, OR (Schwitzer Concert Hall)
  • Dec. 12th – DETROIT, MI (The Opera House)
  • Dec. 13th – SEATTLE, WA (Paramount)
  • Dec. 13th – ST LOUIS, MO (Pagent Theater)
  • Dec. 15th – AKRON, OH (Civic Theater)
  • Dec. 16th – PHILADELPHIA, PA (Tower Theater)
  • Dec. 17th – PROVIDENCE, RI (Perf Arts Center)
  • Dec. 17th – PHOENIX, AZ (Webb Theatre)
  • Dec. 18th – NORFOLK, VA (Chrysler Hall)
  • Dec. 18th – EL PASO, TX (Convention Center Hall)
  • Dec. 19th – AKRON, OH (EJ Thomas Hall)
  • Dec. 19th – Ft WORTH, TX (Bronco Bowl)
  • Dec. 20th – HOUSTON, TX (Aerial Theater)
  • Dec. 21st – BOSTON, MA (Orpheum Theater)
  • Dec. 22nd – TAMPA, FL (Mahaffrey Theater)
  • Dec. 22nd – WASHINGTON, DC (Constitution Hall)
  • Dec. 23rd – NEW YORK, NY (Beacon Theatre)
  • Dec. 23rd – ATLANTA, GA (The Tabernacle)

I have selected the two dates I went to see them in my first of twelve years attending their shows. December 8th, 2000 will always be my first. My competitive side wishes I had known more about them in 1999 because I would be able to say I have seen them on every single Winter Tour. One has to start somewhere though, and I am glad I did. December 8th is also my mother’s birthday so this was a special day already.

I first heard Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 on WAAF, a Boston radio station. I immediately fell in love. In my life long pursuit of the best, well performed, Christmas songs, TSO’s signature song catapulted onto my list. I remember calling the station and requesting the song once I had heard it. Then it was a rush to the store to buy the CD’s. I listened. I shared. I listened some more. I read the stories. I read the lyrics. I fell in love with this crazy band I’d never seen, called the what? The Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Once in a while this happens. I will be writing a paragraph and a rhythm to the writing just kicks in. That just happened here in this post so I have replaced the next paragraph with a poem that emerged instead. I hope this will do justice to where I was as a person and the way I felt as I started my relationship with TSO.

 
Where did these guys come from and how did they know?
That I wasn’t in the right place, though I knew where to go
 
My path was missing something and I knew it was all wrong
When all of a sudden direction showed up in the form of a song
 
Nobody that I knew had played Christmas songs in this manner before
Wow! It was so beautiful. I had only an idea of what was in store
 
I couldn’t dismiss the shrill of those guitars, so sharp like a knife
Shredding all the familiar notes of the songs I’d loved my whole life
 
My emotions balanced on every note, each one brought me closer to peace
The artist held me in limbo; his fingers played with a master’s ease
 
Holding me there, waiting, for the note I knew was coming next
Without fail the note is played perfect, always better than I expect
 
The sounds are so timely, so crisp, so pure and unrefined
Etching new meaning to the words that always play in my mind
 
I feel these emotions; they’ve been building since I was a boy
It’s undeniable, overwhelming, it’s pure Christmas joy
 
As the tunes grew on me I started to focus on each word
Somehow I still managed to avoid all the truths I had heard
 
I took daily struggles and somehow turned them to years
I caused myself and others so many unnecessary tears
 
The music accompanied me everywhere I would go
And though I wandered all over, I never missed a show
 
God’s grace followed me though I made it a most difficult task
I always knew, but ignored, to get help I need only just ask
 
A few years were damaged and I hope not all was waste
Eventually I made my way from that dark and lonely place
 
I keep these memories close to me as tough as they are
It wouldn’t be healing if I didn’t make time to recognize the scar
 
And it wouldn’t be learning if I was to somehow forget
The lessons I have learned and I am not done yet
 
Though the words are familiar they still offer a welcome surprise
Every time I am lucky enough to see TSO live
 

I am not sure where that all came from but I am glad it came out the way it did. Maybe it’s more information than anyone needs to know, although it is a very real perspective to me. I know that no matter where I was, or what I was doing, I would still enjoy TSO and their music. It all has a much deeper meaning to me, knowing the path I have traveled since I saw them the first time.

Sunday Series – The Battle Hymn Of The Republic

This is the latest entry in my Sunday Series of posts to my blog. In the spirit of Veteran’s Day and also to touch on some of my favorite hymns, I thought this one belonged. In the past 72 hours I have seen and heard so many amazing stories regarding our veteran’s and active duty personnel. Tears fill my eyes as I try to imagine how I would fare in military shoes. Truth be told I don’t know if I would want to know. I am so very thankful for all the men and women who are serving, and for those who have served our country. To me it’s about as close to God giving his only begotten Son as it gets. I mean people literally have given their lives for me, for my freedom, for our freedom. Think about that. They didn’t know us, but they were there, in harm’s way, for all of us. Some made it home, many did not. And somehow we are fortunate enough to have the gift of the freedom they fought for. Wow. Thank you. Thank you a million times over.

Many gave their life for their country. Their life. They cannot be replaced. There is not another them. How can any of us not be thankful for their efforts? This is not like someone giving you their spare change, or giving up their seat on a train, or even giving of their time to help one another. This is life and death. They were there, they battled, they brought all the bravery, courage, intelligence, devotion, and training they had, and for many that was not enough. For many it cost them their life, their everything they could possibly give. And what’s more amazing is the stories of how so many of these folks positively affected others along the way. God knows all the stories. I wish I could share them all, because they’re all worth telling or hearing. Why shouldn’t we know the stories, I mean we are the ones who benefit from the sacrifice of others.

To the hymn. I love the power of this song. The march that it is. The words are powerful. There is no guessing here. The very first line of the song is just wonderful. Of all the glory I have seen, there is no glory like the coming of the Lord that I would rather see. His truth is marching on. It’s not running on, not walking on, or quietly sneaking around, no, His truth is marching on. No secrets here, just His truth, marching on, whether you like it or not. It marches on because it’s true, it’s right, it’s His truth.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps. Imagine you are up all night, waiting for the next days battle, not knowing whether you will be alive to sit around the fire the next night. You are cold, you are hungry, you are exhausted, and your mind wanders somewhere along the edge of resolve and resignation. There’s an ear-piercing quiet over the battle field, and the only light for miles, is from the watch-fire in your midst. Your mind drifts from your cold, uncomfortable seat there along side your brothers in arms, and suddenly you are home looking down, in the dark, over your spouse and kids, or over your parent that has nothing left in this world, but you. You think how wonderful it would be if that was the biggest worry you had this night. A smile comes over your face while your thoughts hover at home, looking down, at family. Then your mind races ahead to what tomorrow brings, and you ask yourself if you will be back to mind the fire. Will you even make it through tomorrow? And as your eyes stare at the flames of the fire, and your stare takes on the appearance of a trance, your lips move in silence as you talk to God. You pray to Him, for you know there’s only one place you can ask for protection out there on the battlefield.

Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel. Any questions?

Be swift my soul, to answer Him. Be jubilant, or triumphantly joyful, my feet. God calls on us at times, and being quick to answer Him can be rewarding even if our little human minds think we know better. Seriously, can you imagine the pep in your step if you really thought your gait was triumphantly joyful? We have many reasons to be so happy.

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free… There’s the sacrifice I mentioned earlier. He died to make men holy. Let us die to make men free. There’s the freedom we enjoy as I sit here typing this, and you, there, reading this. It also could be that upon dying the holy man is free, as his soul is no longer, ‘on board’, but is in heaven. Free. I can hear the steps now, marching in heaven, jubilant, and on, and on.

What a tremendous song. As creative as I have ever thought myself to be, I can’t imagine seeing something or being so creatively inspired to pen such powerful words. In a day and age where politically correct rules the day and mere participation is worthy of victory, its great to listen to this hymn a few times through. Read the words, and think on them, the power. There are no punches held here. This is not about writing something so everyone feels good about themselves, nor is it about playing just to participate, it’s about truth, it’s about winning. Jubilant doesn’t happen because you showed up and got your participation trophy. Jubilant happens because you laid it on the line, you trusted, you believed, and you won. It’s The Battle Hymn of the Republic. And my soul is with the Hero who crushes the serpent with his heel, saving me from darkness and eternal damnation.

The Battle Hymn Of The Republic

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,
He has loosed the fateful lightening of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on.

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps
His day is marching on.

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnish`d rows of steel,
“As ye deal with my contemners, So with you my grace shall deal;”
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel
Since God is marching on.

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.


Sunday Series – The Old Rugged Cross

I always pictured the hill far away, with the cross standing there for all to see. The cross there was never as finished as the ones seen in churches everywhere. The one I picture is crude, barely a cross, just enough to get the job done by those who put our Lord there to die. The picture in my mind is a sacred place where a stand was taken for all of us, past, present, and future. This space is near and dear to my heart, as without it we are all lost.

I think on the things we gather, the achievements we garner, the trophies we win, the awards bestowed upon us while we are here on earth. I can still hear my grandfather say “it’s all going to burn” as it relates to earthly possessions. Whether you believe or not, the possessions we have here on earth matter not once we are gone. Continue reading

Sunday Series – Amazing Grace

Were it not for God’s Amazing Grace I would probably not be here to write this blog, or to do anything else for that matter. This is yet another heart wrenching, tear jerking hymn from my youth that hits me between the eyes to this day. There are so many versions of Amazing Grace on You Tube that I can sit and listen to the song for hours with many awesome variations. I have always loved percussion and have included one such version of Amazing Grace right here.

I didn’t write this post just to listen to different versions of the song, but to dig into its meaning, at least what it means to me. I look up the meaning of the words, amazing and grace. And even though the meanings say so much, the real life observance of Amazing Grace is where I really know the meaning. Let me combine two of my favorite meanings of these words for you. Amazing: so extraordinary or wonderful as to be barely believable. Grace: in Christianity, the infinite love, mercy, favor, and goodwill shown to humankind by God. So that would be: the infinite love, mercy, favor, and goodwill that He has shown me is extraordinary, wonderful, and is barely believable.

I have lived half of my life, maybe two-thirds of it, and I am sure this hymn, these words, will mean even more to me than they do now. I can tell you that this song and these words already mean a tremendous amount to me. I hear the words, or just hear the song played, and I think of the meaning to me. The simultaneous thought I have every time I hear Amazing Grace, is thankfulness. Which is closely followed by humility.

There have been too many times in my life where the tune and words of Amazing Grace have kept me from harm. Those are stories for another time perhaps. I will say that I have memories, as an adult, when all around me seemed dark and constricting, but Amazing Grace was there to light the tunnel and give me just enough wiggle room. I know God put that tune in my head or those words on my lips just when I needed them.

I am a fortunate man. I am a thankful man. I work on being a humble man. I am so glad God has shed his amazing grace on me. He continues to do so. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. So true, the sound of the words and their meanings, the sound of the song’s melody, the sound of life and all the moments in it. What a sound.

I once was lost, actually I have been spiritually lost more time than I would like to admit, but now I am found. I am glad there’s two parts to that line. This reminds me of another hymn, the being found part, Just As I Am. There have been times when I’ve lost my way and been so blind. Now I see. Sometimes the light flickers, but I can see. And really the Light never flickers, sometimes I just blink or rest my eyes and retreat to the dark imperfections of human nature. The Light is always shining.

The fear of God. Maybe we will cover this later. Let me just say that fear is not always a negative emotion.

Maybe my second favorite verse is the one referencing dangers, toils, and snares. This verse isn’t always sung, but it’s meaningful. I think of the places I have been, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally and His amazing grace is how I have come through them so far. Safe and sound. I know it’ll be His grace that leads me home. I am not going to get there on my own.

Life is good. Life is filled with moments that nobody would consider good, but the good is what is learned upon getting through those moments. It’s also good to look at life differently upon getting through those moments. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger right? That’s good. Good doesn’t mean a joy walk through life. For what is beauty, ease of one’s steps, and enjoyment without perspective? It’s the opposite of fulfillment is what it is. Dissatisfaction is what it is. How many times have any of us seen people in positions we would die for and then upon further inspection, we notice these people don’t appreciate what they have or totally abuse it? I don’t want that. Appreciation is understanding the value of what it is you have because you have the perspective of knowing the difference of not having it. That’s obviously in my own words but it makes sense to me.

Eternity. That’s how long we have to sing God’s praise. I can’t wait to see a place that’s as bright shining as the sun. I love that line in the song.

A wretch like me. Wow, that sounds terrible. Some of may still think so, but I know I have been many of the definitions given the word wretch. I don’t want to be that person. Amazing grace has brought me here, saved from being a wretch, saved others from me being a wretch, I am happy to be found.

When you look at yourself in the mirror and think on the times in life you can’t imagine you got through, maybe it’s amazing grace that brought you there. When the memories hurt and through the tears and shame you reach for the reason you can’t explain as to how it is you made it here, maybe you weren’t the reason, maybe it was amazing grace. When you look straight into the eyes of right and wrong, and choose wrong because you think you can, if you live to tell about it, play some amazing grace. When your mind is bogged down and indecision runs you right past indifference towards carelessness, maybe its time to sing a couple verses of amazing grace. When the war you are waging inside seems as though its spilling into your daily life, find a copy of Amazing Grace and play it. When your character is battling your reality, and reality has reduced character to the word act, that’s it, it is an act, listen to some Amazing Grace and think on the words. Listen to the words, write them out. If you have ever been in a situation that would move you to pen such words yourself, then listen to it knowing that you are not alone and that maybe, just maybe, its amazing grace that brought you to this realization. When the battles have been fought and won and you feel like you can finally stand on your own two feet, listen to the words of this great hymn, because none of us get through the tough times on our own. If you don’t believe it, look up every meaning of wretch you can find, and then know how strong we are on our own. It’s alright. Our pride can take the beating, usually pride needs to be cut back like a rose bush anyways.

As I looked towards the open, starry skies, like I was in a tunnel pressing on me from every side, I lifted my head and listened to Amazing Grace in my mind. Then and there in my darkest hours I knew God was watching over me. The weight of my situation made it difficult to move, but like any journey, it started with one step. I know that God’s Amazing Grace has been here with me all along the way.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me….
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

T’was Grace that taught…
my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear…
the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares…
we have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…
and Grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me…
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be…
as long as life endures.

(this verse is not part of John Newton’s original version)                                       When we’ve been here ten thousand years…                                                                bright shining as the sun.                                                                                                      We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise…                                                                          then when we’ve first begun.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me….
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

Sunday Series – preview

Come back tomorrow for the 3rd installment of my Sunday Series. Tomorrow I touch on the hymn, Amazing Grace, and it’s meaning to me. Thank you for checking out 1inawesomewonder.

Sunday Series – Just as I am

The sermon closes, the organ and/or piano plays, the congregation is standing and singing. Those singing are on the edge of tears, pulling for those who battle the urge to come forward. One steps to the aisle to come forward. A tear runs down the face of many who fight the urge to walk the aisle with someone they don’t even know. The sermon was moving, powerful, maybe even memorable. This wasn’t a sermon scripted to fit the hour between 11 and noon. Rather, this was molded from a combination of the scriptures and the life those in attendance brush up against each and every day. The preacher stands at the front of the church, he’s come down from the podium to join the rest. There’s equality at pew level, man and women alike. The feeling is strong, emotions are high, you can hear the intensity in the sound of the hymn perfectly sung by an imperfect choir of many. The hymn of course is, Just as I am.

I can’t even tell you how many times I saw this scenario play out while growing up. I guess I didn’t understand fully then, and maybe I still miss it now, that silence in solitude is so much more comfortable than a voice in the midst of many. I was in so many church services over the years, and I heard so many incredible preachers and evangelists bring their best to the pulpit on any given Sunday. Just as I am was often times the closing hymn of the service. As it should be.

I may be biased here, but my dad, the preacher, the man at the front of the church, was the best I ever heard. Not because he’s my dad, but because he poured all he had into each sermon, he left nothing in the sanctuary. When I got older and spoke passionately on various subjects in meetings, or coaching sessions and presentations, I too, learned what that meant. Remember, I was a teen for many of those church services. I wanted to be anywhere but in that church a lot of times. Like many teens I wanted to challenge my parents on what I thought I knew better than them. So, I wasn’t sitting there in my pew with stars in my eyes, although I wish I had more of that then. Dad just knew how to bring the message to everyone in terms they could relate to, even for a teenage boy who fought going to hear dad speak yet again.

I can hear it now, the sound of everyone singing the simple, powerful words of Just as I am. Listen to the words, read them, know how simple they are, but how much power they contain. Just as I am, there is no prerequisite. None.

I can’t think of another way to put my thoughts on this. The preacher wears it on his sleeve, gives it all he has, heart and soul committed completely to the words he speaks. Then to level the playing field, this imperfect human steps out from behind the barrier between man and many. He invites those searching for answers, or even those who don’t know what questions to ask, they just know something is missing, to come forward and join him and pray the prayer of salvation.

Here’s how this played out and still plays out in my own mind. I never made that walk physically. I believed. I just believed, and still do. But I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I made that walk in my mind, in my heart, and with my eyes following someone else who did, dozens of times. It was emotional EVERY time. The emotions still hit me, even as I listen to the hymn while I write this. So in my own words, in perhaps an odd approach, and this may get deep into the walk itself and what it represents to me. This me sharing this with all the layers peeled back, just as I see it. So, here we go.

Just as I am, I come. There is no other way for me to come forward, this is me, who, and how I am. I have no plea. No excuse. No urgent request. It’s me and I come because I was asked. And because I know there seems to be more here at the front of this church, filled with strangers, for me than in the world I closed the door on at 11. I don’t have the answers and maybe neither does this preacher, but this is most sense I have made in an hour since I can remember. Oh, and I have conflict, I have doubt. That’s why it took six verses for me to leave my spot at the end of the pew. The spot I chose in case I needed to leave without commotion. I figure the folks can start singing verses over again if it helps me or anyone else avoid the door without addressing the void in our lives. I took several steps before my heart signaled my brain that I was really walking. Now I can’t go back. Oh yes, there’s conflict. But this walk is less conflict than the internal conflicts that play out each night while I should be sleeping in heavenly peace.

I come. I am poor. I have nothing to offer. Maybe even less. I am out on a limb here. What happens next? I get to the front, completely in tears. Feeling about as small as the person I have been. Then the preacher welcomes me and another puts their arm around me, just because. It’s genuine, and it feels right. The preacher says God will receive me, welcome me, relieve me, if I believe. I believe something very real is happening here, because I wouldn’t have walked to the front of a classroom to write on the blackboard among friends, but here I am in front of strangers singing at me. Yes, maybe its God’s love, because, today, in this moment, I can’t find any barriers. The people around me, the pew in front of me, the sense that I was more calm, cooler, than the rest; those were barriers just to name a few, but here I am. So, just as I am, I come. Just plain old me. I come. I pray. I believe. Just as I am at noon. I feel better already.

As I watched that walk time and time again, I wanted to walk with them. I wanted to hold their hand. I wanted to wipe their tears. I wanted to comfort them with a hug, or with my arm around them for support. There’s strength in numbers even if that number is just two. EVERY time. I wanted them to know that everything would be alright. I wanted that feeling to never end. The feelings, the emotions, the fearlessness of some, the song, the presence of God in our midst, all of it. I never wanted it to end. There were always several reasons why, but mostly it was the powerful sermon and the song. Those words. Simple. True. Powerful. Just as I am.

1. Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

2. Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot, to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

3. Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

4. Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind, yea, all I need in thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

5. Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

6. Just as I am, thy love unknown hath broken every barrier down; now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.