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Many Members…One Body

 

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Last week I had the privilege of watching three of my six grandchildren participate in the Fine Arts Summer Academy (FASA), program of the Annie Moses Foundation, in Nashville, TN. This is the third time they have participated over recent years and each time I am impacted by the experience.

 

Students involved in the arts from all over the country (age 4 through college) audition with You Tube videos of drama cuttings, singing, and playing instruments. Those tapes are then used by the foundation to determine the roles and parts each will play when they come together for nine days of training and hard work with master teachers and musicians. The days are longer than you might think any child could withstand, but they rise to the occasion with the challenges and as the days go by the strains of the music of these groups is breathtaking.

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It is hard to imagine the results can be so incredible for groups that have practiced for days instead of weeks and months. With just a week or two before students arrive on the campus of Lipscomb University, they receive the music and dramatic pieces they will be performing.

 

As the nine days near an end you are treated to multiple performances of varying productions featuring vocal and instrumental music as well as dramatic pieces. The finale on the last night is a gala performance with students dressed in concert dress black on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Over three and a half hours you hear various ensemble groups, a choir, and the orchestra directed by some of the finest conductors from around the country.

 

If that sounds amazing, you would be right. But I did not include the other piece of the time they spend together. The Annie Moses Foundation is a Christian one and days of FASA begin with chapel service. Students who participate come from Christian families from all parts of the body and grow not only in their musical skills and talents, but in their Christian experience as well.

 

I was struck this time by the beauty of a flute solo as the Hobbit theme music opened and later in the program it was a single violin that opened the theme. The full beauty of the instruments did not fully come into view until the full orchestra was playing. From IMG_4230strings to percussion, brass to woodwinds, the conductor masterfully brought the sound that can only happen when each member is playing his or her own part well. Eyes of the students trained to focus on the conductor resulted in perfection as composer, musicians, instruments, and conductor aligned in perfection.

 

Paul’s letter to Corinth in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 delineates the significance of being a part of the body of Christ in his words many members and one body.

 

As I observed this very special week at FASA, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that IMG_4249passage. How often we, in the body, compare ourselves to one another. How often we see one seeking to outdo another for a place of recognition or honor. How foolish! An eye cannot be an ear. A flute cannot be a violin, or a drum a cello. None of that honors God or speaks to Paul’s message.

 

FASA provided the perfect metaphor as the model. Various persons from varied backgrounds and places came together (many members) and as they submitted to the conductor and focused on his direction, they become one body. The result was awe-inspiring sounds of such beauty that my mind is still trying to capture the moments.

 

Oh, that we, His body, might learn that He, our Lord, is the conductor and our eyes need to always be on Him. He will lead the pace, the volume, and cue any parts He chooses to highlight while always keeping the whole in perfect tune and alignment.

 

Only then will we make incredible music that honors Him.

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Foundational Issues About Authority

 

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As I write this, I wonder what your gut-level reaction is when you read the word authority. It tends to be a word we are not neutral about. The reasons for our reactions can be many and certainly include what we have experienced with authority in our lives. One way or another we come face-to-face with authority very early in our homes with our parents and their surrogates. Soon afterward we connect with authority with our teachers, principals, coaches, and others in a school setting.

 

Beyond that, there are authorities that govern how we live our lives. Those are as basic as stopping at a stop sign or a red light and go on from there.

 

It doesn’t seem to take long until we can easily chafe at authority. We really don’t want to be limited by its restraints. More than ever we live in a time when we want to do what we want to do when we want to do it. Beneath that our western culture encourages that in subtle and not so subtle ways.

 

Sometimes our difficulty with authority can come from not only our experience, but also our confusion of authority with authoritarianism. Authoritarianism means the enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom. Authority has more than one or two definitions, but prominent ones include 1) the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience; 2) a person or organization having power or control; and 3) the power to influence others.

 

People born into a Western culture and tradition have rejected painful experiences with authority and usually decided it is more noble and better to think for ourselves. As a result, in this postmodern age, we tend to discredit and distrust authority.

 

Our path to this place may be understandable, but it leads to a faulty conclusion and anarchy.  The world and we are not set up to function well without some levels of authority. Our bad experiences with authority or authoritarianism cause us to believe that our rejection of authority is justified. It implies we have accepted an “all-or-nothing” type of conceptualization. Instead of rejecting bad uses of authority or authoritarianism as bad, we fall prey to deciding authority in any form is bad. We should be wiser.

 

At a deeper level we often miss that the struggle with authority began in the Garden of Eden. God was clearly the authority and offered our relatives, Adam and Eve, a paradise with one caveat: one tree was forbidden. They appeared to accept that authority until the fallen angel, Lucifer, created doubt and encouraged them to think for themselves. Clearly, that didn’t work out very well for them OR us!

 

More than ever before in this postmodern Western culture, we need to press in to truly know who the authority of the Bible is and how He governs with love, grace, and mercy. The enemy is counting on deterring us from trusting the Lord and His authority. Lucifer still uses his old devices to create doubt. We can be tempted to believe his whispers and the voices of men and women around us who are not wisely informed. It can be easier when some of our brothers and sisters or religious authorities have also disappointed or wounded us, failing their responsibility to lead and guide as He would.

 

I once heard a pastor offer very wise counsel at the end of his sermon: “Don’t take my word for what I have shared. Go home and read the Bible for yourself and test to see if my words line up.” Those are sound words. Do we? He was pointing to the Bible as the authority we can and should trust.

 

God’s Word is the compass, the map, to lead and guide us safely home to Him. Never has it been more important to trust it more than the headlines or nightly news. His Word gives us the interpretation of what those things we see and hear mean. They show us that day-by-day His return is getting closer. Knowing Him has never been more important.

 

When I look into His Word, I find myself standing on tiptoe in anticipation of that day.

 

Maranatha!!!!

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Directions…Ugh!

 

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My dear husband is the perfect model when it comes to opening a box with a new item that has detailed directions for how to put it together or use it as designed. I love him!! He seems to understand the language of directions and takes them by the numbers. I do not have that patience or bent. Directions immediately feel overwhelming to me. I have no idea why, but I am grateful to turn any new appliance over to him for his help. He will often ask me as I hand him the item looking perplexed, “Did you read the directions?”

 

The truth is that I want things to be intuitive so I don’t need to be bothered with the directions. I love to read, but not directions (except in recipes when I can be exacting). I think our son’s recommendation of an Apple MacBook immediately appealed to me when he said that it would be more intuitive than my old PC that needed to be replaced.

 

IMG_2502My husband is great with maps and compasses as well. Maybe that comes from being a Boy Scout and a Marine Corps officer. I do not do as well with reading a map. I am not as visual as he is. I want someone to tell me how to get there with identifying landmarks along the way and I am good to go!! I am more auditory so usually Siri and I get along well with each other.

 

The truth is that directions are essential and I keep trying to improve my willingness to use them in whatever form they are presented to me despite my preferences.

 

When it comes to knowing or coming to know something, directions are a vital and often the most important clue to help us know what we need to know, to help us get to where we want to arrive.

 

My husband has always understood that the directions help him to see what he might miss because ‘seeing is not always believing’. He was first trained on how to use a compass and to read a map. Maybe the fact that I was never originally taught is what gets in my way when it comes to those skills.

 

Each of us needs to be trained how to see things. It is true in a myriad of professions and hobbies. Ask a radiologist how he learned to detect the smallest nuances on an X-ray and he will tell you that someone trained him.

 

To follow directions in addition to being taught how to use and understand them, we need to trust the directions. I think my husband likely does that better than I do as well. I think he trusts that the designer of the product I am trying to learn to use knows exactly the steps that I need to understand to have it work exactly as it was designed.

 

I love how Esther Meek describes it:

 

“Knowing involves trusting ourselves to authorities. This does not mean that our personal act of trust, no matter how perfect the authority we trust, is guaranteed to be mistake-free. Most authorities are not mistake-free, and most authorities have limited areas of expertise.”

 

There is one clear exception to the truth of her statement.

 

When we look to the Bible as directions to live a life honoring and reflecting the Lord, His authority is perfect and His expertise is unlimited.

 

As a result, we can learn to trust the Bible to help interpret who God is, how we are to live, and how to understand our experiences in the light of His Word. When we are new believers and trust Jesus as Savior, we begin to accept those words in His manual for living as true. But these living letters bring us life and as we grow in Him, increasingly scripture helps shape my experiences and what I can and should learn from them.

 

Perhaps those of us who groan about those pesky directions that come in so many languages (including the one we speak) really have more difficulty than not being strong visually.

 

Perhaps we have a problem with trusting or trusting authority.

 

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A Revealing Clue

 

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It can be so easy to look at either my small world or the broader world and have my mood and attitude impacted in one direction or another. My thoughts focus on something that pulls me along a path toward positive or negative views of the world, Christianity, so much more, and myself. My thoughts are highly influenced by what I take in through my eyes in the physical environment as well as what they pick up from the interior landscape of my innermost being.

 

In the physical dimension we rarely notice how wonderfully God has designed us. Each of our eyes has a different line of vision that allows us to see things in three dimensions. We are picking up vast amounts of knowing with little conscious thought about the bits of information bombarding our brain and our perception.

 

One whole field of psychology (Gestalt) is centered on the premise that the information An Example of Figure-Ground Ambiguitywe take in or observe is subjective and biased because it is experienced from the perspective of the individual person who is looking or taking in that information. I’m sure we have all been reminded of that when witnesses of an accident each report something slightly different or even a great deal different.

 

This area of science refers to this tendency as “figure-ground”. The concept relates to our tendency to perceive an image in the foreground first, while other images fade into the psp3721-cognitive-viewoflearning-9-638background. This discrimination in “figure ground” is the ability to perceive what your brain is telling you and determine what you believe is the most important image. It comes because we focus our attention on some aspect of something and it becomes “the figure” and the rest becomes the background.

 

Photographers love to keep that in mind as they are setting up the shots they want to
take and what they want those who will view the photo to focus on. I’m not a professional photographer and I do that as well. I am actually seeking to guide the PICT0239viewer to see something I see and see something differently I think they may miss.

 

Why is “figure-ground” important?

 

It can be a great tool to use to discover what is pulling our thoughts and attitudes in directions that either equip us to face the day’s challenges or defeat us before we leave our bedroom. Are we looking at things with a telephoto lens or a wide-angle lens? The lens we use will make all the difference.

 

Headlines scream at us and often alarm us. They can become “the figure” and soon we can be drawn into fear, anger, and even hate. A disappointment, wound, or loss can result in the same thing. If we focus on “the figure” long enough, it soon becomes all that we see. We cannot help but see our home, street, block, town, etc. as a central focus. It is where we live. But in doing so have we, have I, forgotten that “ground” of the unseen world of the Kingdom that surrounds us and is where our citizenship lays?

 

If we lose that, we can easily become discouraged or fearful. More than a few times, scripture reminds all of us about our focus. Here are just a few examples:

 

Colossians 3:2 (ESV)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

 

Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

The revealing clue is that what has become “the figure” in our lives, will influence our perception, thought, attitude, mood, choices, and actions.

 

Each day we need to align our life, perception, thoughts, attitudes, mood, choices, and actions with His lens, His words.

 

He is “the figure” that must guide each day. Our challenge is not to allow Him to become “the ground” we fail to see.

 

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What is “the figure”?

 

 

 

 

 

Are We Only Hearing?

 

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I think one of the most important things we do is listen, but I am convinced it is also a skill none of us has perfected or do as well as we ought to do. Teaching in a junior high classroom for 13 years and working as a professional clinical counselor for more than 25 years has proven that to me many times over.

 

Lest you think I have mastered the skills, let me assure you I have not and continue to work to improve it. By nature of my calling and professions, I have had a great deal of practice, however.

 

Perhaps the need to improve this skill is why so many books and articles have been written on the subject. If you still haven’t tapped into Adam McHugh’s book, The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, I would tell you that I think it is a “must read”.

 

Listening informs us and if we do it poorly or not at all, we start from a false set of data and that leads us down the wrong road every time.

 

When we are young we can feel as though everyone demands we listen to him or her and no one listens to us enough. We need to listen to parents, teachers, coaches, etc. Maybe that is when we first check out of listening and sometimes hearing as well.

 

The bad news is that the longer we practice a bad habit, the better we become at doing it!

 

So, as adults, we may fail to listen well to supervisors or bosses. We might hear them, but not really believe what they say applies to us. We also may not listen well to friends, neighbors, or spouses. (Ask any marriage and family therapist what the first and most important skill to improve on is:  communication with an emphasis on listening.)

 

The truth is that we also tend to not listen very well to the Lord either. Sometimes we aren’t sure how or if He is speaking to us (or wants to). As a result, time in the Word and quiet times where we don’t do all the talking to Him are not always the priority of our days. We can get used to relying on our pastors to tell us what we should know. We can sing “Oh, How I Love Jesus” and yet easily fill our days up without spending time with Him on purpose.

 

More than the listening piece of this, the other key principle is whether or not we are applying the truth we do hear. Does it show up in my actions, my priorities, my choices, and my words?

 

I am currently reading Longing to Know by Esther Meek and I love some of her powerful insightful words about this. Reading her words and thoughts makes clear that we need to bring every part of who we are into alignment with Him. That is what we were designed for.

 

Here are a few of her thoughts:

 

“Bringing our bodies in line with God’s words involved obedience. Obedience is lived truth.”

 

I love that!!!! “Obedience is lived truth.”

 

But she doesn’t stop there,

 

“His ‘Here’s the way it is,’ the Bible, is like a how-to operate manual for humans and the world. When we orient our lives toward him and align them with his words, we can taste shalom.”

 

“Following through on the First Commandment – No other gods before me—is like grabbing our lives by the topmost point. The rest of our lives slide to their proper place. And the lived body experience that results, the alignment we can call shalom, feels good.”

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“Human action is lived truth (or falsehood).”                      

 

“My true commitments come to expression in my action. That’s why we all can sense the presence or absence of hypocrisy.”

 

Wow!! Does she ever nail the truth and provide conviction of what it means to not only listen, but to hear and live out what we hear!

 

Perhaps we not only fail to do as well with this because we are not truly hearing or listening, but also because we too often fall prey to unhealthy self-focus. It is easy for the enemy to mess us up with this as believers. We can be told and come to see we are too self-focused and then shift to what we believe is more spiritual and try to only focus on others. Without a balance, we get burned out and turned off by doing our faith and even fail with the God focus that is central to it all!!

 

“Notice the interesting thing about obedience. We don’t focus on the obedience; we move through it to focus on God.” Esther Meek

 

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