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Worship

Looking For Christmas

Lately, I can relate to the three wise men. Not the wise part. The looking part.

All of Israel was supposedly looking forward to the Messiah of prophecy but these total strangers from an unknown land noticed a star and went searching. With a few exceptions, almost everyone else missed Jesus.

It would be easy to judge them but the same thing is happening again right now. Jesus is missing from Christmas. I’m not trying to be clever or provocative. I’m just stating the obvious.

The more I realize that Jesus is the defining moment of human history, when God Himself stepped into creation to save us, the more I want to know Jesus. The more I’m grateful to Him. The more I want to learn about Him and be like Him.

It’s like looking for my wife in a crowded room. Or looking for my child in a class picture. Or watching my grandchildren on a playground. The ones I love are my focus.

I can’t help it.

So, when it comes to the time of year that is supposed to be Jesus’ birthday, I look for Him. And more and more I’m not finding Him. And I miss Him.

Without even being aware of what was happening, I began a subconscious search for Christmas. The real Christmas. 

For example, I just watched the new Kurt Russell movie that is getting rave reviews. It was entertaining and heartwarming. But Jesus wasn’t in it anywhere. There was one scene on the steps of a church but the heavenly sounding song emanating from behind the closed doors was not a hymn. It was a pop song about a Christmas tree.

And Christmas trees are not Jesus.

Yes, I have one glowing in my living room, all red, green, white, and silver. But, truthfully, it has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. I’m not trying to spoil the fun. I’m just looking for the missing person.

There’s a present under the tree with my name on it. I’m aware of it and the love involved in picking it out and wrapping it. As a kid, that’s the only present that would have mattered.

But Jesus made no demands for us to merch up His birthday. Yes, the wise men brought gifts but they gave them to Jesus, not their own friends and family. Amazon Prime is not mentioned in the Bible, or Walmart, or even Chick-fil-A.

I’m not being a Scrooge, I’m just looking for the real Christmas.

And, no, Charles Dicken’s character isn’t part of it. A Christmas Carol contains ghosts and greed and fear and drama. It’s a ripping good tale and Scrooge learns a lesson but Jesus doesn’t appear in it.

Maybe it’s being picky but “God bless us every one,” doesn’t mention Jesus. But then, I’m like the unreasonable parent wondering why my child didn’t get the best line in the play.

Because, that’s who I really came to see. 

Santa Claus is easy to find but he’s not actually Christmas.

We all know he wasn’t standing by the manger but today it has to be said. In fact, St. Nick has almost replaced Jesus. Because who can be against a portly, magical grandfather that passes out gifts?

But, he’s not the one I’m looking for. 

Christmas songs are everywhere. Surely, that’s my answer. I do love them. My mom sang them from Thanksgiving to New Years Day.

But, to be perfectly truthful, the angelic host proclaimed. They didn’t sing. Neither did Bing Crosby or Elvis or Amy Grant. The first Christmas was not white. There were no Chestnuts. It did not rock or swing. There was no drummer boy.

It’s a natural response for us to sing in celebration but popular music avoids the real Christmas like the plague. Imagine having a birthday party where everyone sings about other people but no one sings happy birthday to you.

No, I must keep looking.

In my neighborhood, by all appearances, Christmas is about bright lights, projected colors and inflatable, fictional characters. Santa rides through one yard with his favorite dog in an actual antique pickup truck filled with Christmas trees. It makes me smile. But guess who isn’t in the truck?

Yes, I laugh when social media celebrates the season with t-shirts of Bruce Willis saving Nakatomi Plaza. I get wistful over Charlie Brown’s sad tree. I do my best to accommodate the cookie bakers and divinity makers. My ears perk up at the mention of Christmas bonuses.

I watch dutifully as Jimmy Stewart transforms into a wide-eyed lunatic and back again and Clarence the oddball angel finally earns his wings. I snort appropriately when my local coffee shop puts a Santa hat on their logo of a Tennessee fainting goat.

There’s nothing that we can’t Christmas-ize.

But, along the way, I have seen signs that other people are seeking Christmas.

Last night I saw the most amazing laser-cut card depicting a manger scene which included Jesus. It was strikingly beautiful. When I reached for one by instinct, I realized that it was the only card in the display that was sold out. There were plenty of other Christmas-ish cards available.

You are out there. I can feel it. The seekers.

But I know where to find you. There’s only one place left to go.

There are no carved wooden pews or stained glass windows. We sit together on wide padded chairs and listen to the subwoofers thump while children’s voices sing self-consciously.

My emotions swell as memories of children’s choirs past jolt my heart like a cattle prod. We wait patiently until the production is over and the adult choir sings its last resounding chorus.

He climbs the stairs in silence, opens the book and begins to read. And together we all breathe a sigh of relief as the angelic host proclaim what we have so desperately needed to hear.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

.

.

P.S. If you are one of the seekers of Christmas, I would love to hear from you in the comments below. We all need to know you’re out there. And if this helps, please, share.

And to all, a very merry Christmas. 

-Dennis

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A Storm Is Coming: Faith vs Fear

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3 A.M. Mayonnaise Prayers

My Dog Snores

Is it just me or does anyone else regularly find themselves awake at 3 A.M. worrying about the future of the country? Maybe it’s an inevitable consequence of trying to keep up with current events. The dog snores or Suzie rolls over or my neighbor who despises mufflers drives by or I drank too much tea before bedtime, for whatever reason, I find myself awake. And awake. . . In any case, my mind cranks up and it’s off to the races.

They say more intelligent people don’t sleep as much. That must be it. Surely. But it feels pretty dumb at the time. I can’t do anything about the problems at that hour. I know I’ll feel miserable tomorrow. But there I am.

Solutions:

The best solution I’ve found is to have exercised so hard yesterday that I can’t keep my eyes open. I’ll have to remember that when I wake up yesterday. No good.

Sometimes I write my brilliant thoughts into the glare of my phone’s notes app. That’ll fix ’em.

Sometimes I imagine how Hollywood action heroes would solve the problem, but that just leads to enigmatic endings, self-hatred and awards shows.

They say the worst thing you can do is just lie in bed, so sometimes I get up and pace myself to the proper state of not caring. But that dark road descends into the valley of my ultimate nemesis – the refrigerator.

Combo Approach!

So, this morning I opted for a two-pronged attack: prayer and mayonnaise. It made sense at the time.

You see, I went shopping last night and forgot the most essential of all condiments – mayonnaise. I’d forgotten it because I never eat the fluffy white stuff. I’m a mustard man. That’s all you need to know. But my wife loves it and I love my wife so you see the conundrum. It’s a thing I must remember but never think about. Except at 3 A.M.

What I did remember was that Jesus had a lot to say about not worrying. Instead, I’m supposed to pray about everything. Convert worry to prayer and hopefully to sleep. Sounds like a plan.

For the record, Jesus had no recorded position on mayonnaise. But he did mention mustard seeds. So, I’m good there.

Driven To Prayer

One of the big advantages to praying in the car is that you can get really loud and bang on the steering wheel and people just think you’re a Taylor Swift fan singing along. I prayed all the way to Walmart, the only thing open at the time. I switched to stealth mode while I shopped because getting arrested wasn’t on my list. Then I loudly prayed all the way home.

By the time I got back, every politician in the country had taken a beating and I had delivered my worries into God’s hands. Where they were all along anyway.

It was only then that I discovered the flaw in my plan. Putting the mayo away meant that I had to go into the kitchen. Where lived my nemesis. Oh well.

At least Suzie will get up tomorrow and think that I remembered the mayonnaise. Don’t tell.

 

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Blog Featured Latest Nature Politics Prayer

Reflections On The State Of The Union

Woke

I woke up this morning a little after 3 AM to meditate on life and the state of the world. Who knows why? These things happen. After a while it was obvious that I wasn’t going back to sleep, so Nessie and I decided to investigate the refrigerator. You know, just for a security sweep. It pays to be aware. And that’s when I noticed.

Thanks to a (wonderful) neighbor who keeps his exterior lights set on nuclear wasteland all night, we sleep with shades and blinds drawn because the pulsing patterns of blood vessels through your eyelids get annoying when you’re trying to sleep and my solar eclipse sunglasses always fall off. Anyway, as I walked into the kitchen I realized my iPhone flashlight was no longer necessary.

Outside was beautifully illuminated by a pale blue light. In spite of the fact that I was ill-clad and the temperature was 27°, when I opened the patio door for Nessie I leaned out to take a look. What I saw inspired me to forgo the everpresent iPhone camera and reach for larger glass. The result, unfiltered or processed, appears above.

This, of course, only hints at the beauty of the scene as the entire countryside was reprocessed and filtered by God’s Photoshop and the world was viewed anew, colors muted, in crisp shades of blue. Breathtaking. Peaceful. Mesmerising.

Did I mention 27°?

If it weren’t for the temperature/clothing issue, I would still be out there. Instead, my oh-so-awake brain led me to my computer to share the moment with you and a comment.

You see, my Facebook was alive with politics and I am usually all in but the perspective of that moon held my focus. The sun is an essential miracle that drives the engine of life from a carefully measured 93 million or so miles away. I could go on. And have. But the moon. That’s a different story.

Scientists say that without its gravity stirring the world’s oceans that life would cease to exist on this planet but that doesn’t account for the beauty of the scene before me. The reflected light of the sun could be written off as a simple result of geometry but the awesomeness of the sight cannot. The fact that I was here at this time, in this place, to see it and had the capacity to experience the wonder of it all cannot be ignored.

I See God

I see intent and design beyond mere need. I look up into the night sky and see the universe turning silently on invisible bearings, never disappointing, far beyond the scope of my imagination. The delicate balances are, thank God, beyond the reach of human touch, for we would surely wreck it just to see if we could.

No committee on the moon had to stay up and make sure it remained full all night. No government regulations were required. No mewling college students or pontificating politicians were needed. No reporter thought to remark on the state of the moon or commented on the hand-wringing need for more light on some days and the unfair abundance of beauty on others.

God takes care of the theater and lighting and stage upon which we strut. We simply assume it is our destiny.

But such a tiny troupe on such a magnificent stage should give one pause, don’t you think? I am reminded of the story of a friend who told me his life was entirely changed on the night he looked up in wonder and simply said, “Thank you for the moon.”

 

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Breaking Trails

Time Made Visible

There are moments in life when you can look back and see the plan that came together which was invisible up until that point.

Faith was the only way to see it in the future, the only way to be obedient to the call, the only way to visit the dream and see the problem solved.

Today was one of those moments of clarity when I looked back, astonished to see the clear interlocking design that was being laid in place. My view looked like shattered pieces, broken beyond redemption. But then the critical piece was fitted into place. It wasn’t broken glass; it was a beautiful mosaic.

The missing piece was time: time for God to reveal the truth, time for Him to arrange the pattern. The storm would cease. The wind would still. The boat would float. I was never in any real danger at all.

Leap Of Faith

There are those who believe faith is a leap into the darkness that requires turning off logic. But that’s not it at all. Not even a little.

Faith requires the humility to admit that your plans are self-imposed limitations. That God’s plan is greater. That you can trust Him. That He doesn’t need to be watched in case he tries some shenanigans that require your intervention. That He doesn’t need to be overruled.

All I need to do to see the size of God’s plan is watch the sunrise or see rain hit the ground purified from the sea. I just need to feel a child’s hug to understand that love is invisible, yet fact, as real as a mountain. The complexity of it all is breathtaking.

It is clear God did not need my help. He just asked me to trust the plan, do my work, pray, and sleep. My job became remembering to do it. I had to remind myself not to take up a task that I had neither power nor skill to perform.

The Turn

I was in the middle of a sentence today when it hit me. A friend asked me how I was. As I was explaining, I realized the answer to my prayers was coming out of my mouth in past tense. Done. Finished.

Why am I surprised when God is right?

Things did not turn out as I had planned. It was a better solution, beyond my control, that I could not have accomplished. There were too many pieces and people involved. I would never have even dreamed it.

Hindsight

When I looked ahead no path led across the trackless grass. There was no history to follow, no one’s judgement to copy. But when I looked back the tracks were clear and the grass was parted. The direction of it was unmistakeable and focused.

But my feet also tracked through the scene. My efforts were recorded, embellished, enhanced. My job was not to sit idly by and applaud God’s artwork. Faith without works is dead.

Instead, God worked with my faltering attempts. While I slept, he blessed. Seeds grew. Life emerged. I don’t know how. My part wasn’t required, but it was used and rewarded. God let me add my free will to the plan. I got to share in His creation like a child signing a card with a scratch of crayon.

Faith Forward

With this knowledge, I now move ahead. With this understanding I can now apply faith. It is not blind faith; it is just guided by another’s sight. It is not guessing or hoping or wishing on stars.

It is following the clear voice of the One who loves me.

 

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Audio Featured Health Uncategorized Worship

The Great Subwoofer Conundrum of 2017

Hi folks. I know this is not the usual topic of discussion here but I feel so strongly about this that I can’t stop myself.

The History

First, I’m a musician, turned live sound engineer, turned studio engineer, turned producer. I love music and am geeky about sound. Therefore, I want to take care of my ears. As hard core as Beethoven was to compose while deaf, if doesn’t sound like a life plan.

Second, you should know that my sister is deaf in one ear. She lost her hearing at her very first rock concert when she and her friends ran to the front of the stage. She was fourteen. One Concert! I’m still pretty ticked about it. My Dad, a musician, dealt with hearing loss from WWII. War is loud. So . . .

I realized that I had to keep my hearing as protected as possible. Given the volume of most control rooms I decided to eliminate other loud activities and, with great trepidation, gave up shooting guns and concerts. I like shooting sports and am pretty darn good at it so this was a loss. I love live music and this one really hurt but having two people I love with hearing loss was a serious warning.

The Problem

So, what’s the problem? *Sigh.* It’s this: my church built a great new building with a terrific sound system including major subwoofers. Let the conundrum begin.

Every service now sounds like the concerts I’ve had to avoid. My ears still ring Monday morning. That’s 52 concerts a year with Sunday mornings alone. The conversations between professionals, amateur mixers, church congregations and staff are all well documented. Online church policies have been posted, as if that settles anything. Opposing sides are entrenched. It’s a mess.

The Conundrum

Here’s what I know to be fact, regardless of outdated government regulations and church policies – we are damaging people’s ears.

If you think otherwise you are wrong. If you think God needs a subwoofer to communicate love you’re wrong. If you think God is somehow uninformed and needs our help to be relevant to the culture you are wrong. If you think people want hipster-god you’re wrong. If you think we can trick or entertain people into a relationship with God you are wrong. If you think God is somehow missing sub-lows go stand in a thunderstorm.

If you think I’m too old and deaf to understand, I would like to refer you to one of my students in the college level class I taught on studio recording. She was fresh out of high school. She loved music, particularly rap. Producing it was her dream career. Then, one day in class she told me she couldn’t understand what I said unless she could see my mouth.

I asked a few questions and found out she had massive subwoofers in her car. She had Beats headphones to emphasize the sub lows of rap. She loved listening loud. Those of you who’ve been around the hearing challenged will realize she was compensating for her significant hearing loss by lip reading.

I have many more stories and reams of engineering data that I will not repeat here and now.

The Solution

I could go on but let’s talk about solutions. I could stick my nose in at church and be that guy. I could launch a mission to educate and elucidate the dangers of sub-woofer emissions and be that guy. I could post blogs. I could keep the peace and just sit outside until worship is over, as I’m doing now.

Or I could get some serious noise-canceling earbuds. It’s a ridiculous solution for an unnecessary problem but I miss my wife. And worship. Until I can change the world, I guess it will have to do.

Let the discussions begin . . .

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Blog Featured Spiritual Worship

Hearing The Hush: The Quiet Sound Of Miracles

I walked the sidewalk down to the trail in the early morning while the sun was behind the trees and the dew was waiting to sparkle in its first rays. I began to pray in the beauty of it all and I heard that voice that I’ve come to recognize tell me in that mystical non-verbal way what I can only translate as, “Shhhhhh . . .”

I walked down to the bench that I think of as Mom’s. She often rested there in her wanderings and talked to passersby. I could see her from the back deck, just there down the hill, through the back yards and across a small field. A comforting way to verify her presence without taking away her precious freedom. Sometimes she would be gently swaying from the music in her iPod, transported in time.

I sat on the rough wood bench and tried to clear my mind, to listen beyond the constant yammering that goes on in my head. I had said prayers for Mom’s comfort and health and safety as she now navigates the mysterious trails of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Yesterday she flew in her first helicopter, life-flighted to a hospital after a small stroke.

My brother said she she was smiling as they loaded her in. I can see it in my mind. She said she raised up to see out and it was beautiful. Mom is always smiling. Though some might question her rationality, there is always a clear reason. You only have to ask. She will describe the scene in front of you as a beautiful day, though it looks average to you. By the time she finishes pointing out the reality right before your face in glowing terms you just might be able to see it along with her.

But I let go of all these noisy thoughts and louder feelings. As they faded into the background I began to hear the sounds of cricket’s coded messages to each other. The birds called across the fields in an apparent argument. As the first swords of sunlight caught the upper reaches, the excited wind began to whisper through the leaves and blades of grass.

Then I looked between my feet in the soft damp grass aStarGrassFlowernd saw a star – five sided, pale white with small pink flecks. It looked like the frame of a small umbrella, stalks dusted with white fluff. It was beautiful. Spherical drops of fat dew clung to the grass.

Suddenly, in a backwards sort of movie in my mind, I saw it all and it quietly overwhelmed me.

Sometime last week, the sun peeked over the horizon, casting beams 90 million miles to the distant waves of the Gulf of Mexico. The brackish water reacted as surely as the morning breeze around me and heated into mist as pure as a mountain stream. Impurities left behind, the fog soon rose to the heights, dragging its feet behind the quickly spinning earth below.

Forming into clouds that spun north from the equator over Texas and the Mississippi River, they gathered steam from ponds and puddles. It blew into a thunderstorm before it reached Williamson county and drenched a path across middle Tennessee, part of it falling on this very bench.

As I sheltered inside, the grass broke the raindrops’ fall and kept the earth from washing away in a muddy torrent. It then soaked up the moisture with minerals from the soil through a delicate system of pathways. As the rich concoction reached the blade’s tip, deep green from chlorophyll, it absorbed what I exhale and dispersed the oxygen I desperately need.

I took a deep breath.

The soft tendrils fed the rabbits and insects which fed the birds and predators and livestock and me. It then sent up a tiny sprout with five spokes filled with the beginnings of seeds which will guarantee the process continues. Which is good. Because if any single link in this complicated chain fails then I will not survive. But it won’t fail.

Be still and know that I am God . . . Psalms 46:10.

The unspoken message God seemed to be saying was,”Be at peace.” If He, without a single thought or plan or action from me, could make the air that I breathe out of a hydrogen inferno more than 90 million miles away, then what did He need from me? If lungs inhale automatically and oxygen crosses barriers into red blood cells that deliver their gift to the brain that is thinking the thought that I hold in my mind right this very second, what do I have to add beyond gratitude?

So many interlocking miracles occurred to get me to this moment in time. To write them all would take time beyond reach and knowledge beyond my abilities. But in that moment I got a glimpse beyond words.

And peace . . .

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Blog Featured Politics Spiritual

Why Christians Don’t Kill Sinners

We Are Sinners

The reason Christians don’t kill sinners is that we are all sinners; if we start killing sinners, who would survive?

The fifty people dancing in a gay club in Orlando were sinners – just like me. Just like you.

Yes, homosexuality is a sin – just like stealing, not honoring your parents, infidelity, gossiping and cheating on your taxes. No, I’m not gay but I’m just as sinful compared to God’s perfection. None of us have anything to brag about. Not that we don’t try, which is the sin of pride. We are like children covered in mud, each pointing at the other saying,”He started it!”

To God, these are all sins like murder and rape and abuse. All of them fall short of God’s love and are worthy of judgement, because those sinned against deserve justice. All of us miss the mark of God’s holiness.

The Core of Christianity

Jesus makes it very clear that our judgement should begin with us and that the only one perfect and knowledgeable enough to judge a person is God Himself.

To vastly oversimplify it, Jesus sacrificed himself in our place so that we wouldn’t have to bear the punishment of our sin. He forgives those who repent, who agree that they have sinned, and ask forgiveness. We are released from judgement!

This is the very core of Christianity. It is the center of it. Jesus made it clear that any judgement we made against others after being forgiven such a huge debt ourselves would be the same judgement God would use against us for our insolence. How dare we sinners, forgiven at the cost of Jesus’ life, accuse others of not being good enough?

It would be like standing in a lake in the rain and judging the people ashore to be wet.

Forgiveness is our goal.

Not only can we not judge, we don’t know who will ask forgiveness in the future. We don’t know who God will forgive later on.

We don’t know what’s in a man’s heart, which is where repentance takes place. We don’t have the perspective to judge what we, ourselves, are also doing. In fact, rather than making an endless list, we could just stop with the phrase, we don’t know.

The Reward Is The Same

Not only this, but Jesus also taught us, from the prodigal son to the thief on the cross beside him, that the reward of forgiveness is the same for all. Since we didn’t earn it in the first place, we don’t get extra points for doing a little better here or there.

There are no run down neighborhoods in heaven. Everyone gets the grand prize, the full blessing, all of the love.

God doesn’t do degrees of love.

Jesus Loved Sinners

Jesus drove the religious leaders of the day batty by seeking out people who were the serious sort of sinners that “good” people shunned. He offered them the same undeserved love as us.

Because they are sinners . . . just like us.

But What About . . . ?

But what about wars, the inquisition, witch trials, the death penalty, or self-defense?

If your purpose is to find an excuse not to believe, if you are looking for someone to blame for your lack of belief, then you won’t have much trouble finding a shred of an argument to support your cause. There is no one a man can fool more easily than himself when he really tries.

But if you want the truth then you should at least have the honesty to judge Christianity by its founder rather than his followers. If you want the truth it is also easy to find. It’s usually staring you right in the face if you ask the right question. So, what is the right question? It is this . . .

How many people did Jesus kill?

 

 

 

Photo by survivalsherpa.wordpress.com
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Blog Change Featured Perspective Spiritual

How To Wake A Sleeping Brain

It is surprising to me that after 61 years of living on this planet that I should still be learning such simple things as how to wake up. I’ve been doing it, to varying degrees of success, all of my life. It never really occurred to me to do it in a conscious way. Usually I’ve just been trying to get conscious in the first place.

Some Good Days

I’ve been a snoozer, starting my day by setting goals that I plan to put off for another ten minutes. I’ve been a worrier, dragged from my few miserable hours of much-needed sleep by the continuation of yesterday’s waking nightmare that fitfully turned into actual nightmares at 4:00 am.

I’ve awakened in anger at perceived injustice done to me and actual righteous indignation over very real injustice done to those I love. I’ve woken up with the sad realization that today will be as miserable and hopeless as the day before, pulled from my covers by duty and obligation without possibility of change.

And I’ve had some good days, waking up to exciting possibility with all of the beauty of the world stretching before me and a new adventure laid at my feet; barely able to get to sleep the night before in anticipation of the glory of the coming day.

Two Pages

Then, while reading C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity for the first time since college, I read two pages that stopped me cold – the last two pages of chapter eight to be exact. I have been re-reading those two pages every morning, ever since.

. . . the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

We can only do it for moments at first. But for those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through…

C. S. Lewis: Mere Christianity

At first I went back to make sure that I understood it, then to remember it, then to make sure that I never forget.

Those two pages started a fire in me that is only burning hotter. It ignited the possibility of real change in my life. At my age, that’s not just surprising, it’s downright shocking. Here’s how it connected with me.

Old Dog

Science has known for a while that our thoughts are constantly re-wiring our brains. As we think, new connections are made. The term they use is plasticity – as in moldable like Play-doh.

This is how someone with a mild stroke can get much better with therapy. A friend of mine had a small stroke recently and has improved to the point that it’s hard to tell he ever had a problem. The doctors said they expected full recovery. Full recovery!

The way it works is intentional training forces the brain to grow new connections and wire its way around the problem. It’s hard. It takes a lot of work. But the fact that doctors now consider this kind of recovery normal shows how far we’ve come in our understanding of the human brain.

New Tricks

So, what does this have to do with C. S. Lewis? It’s how brain science connects with the phrase,”now we are letting Him work at the right part of us.” When we say that what we think rewires our brain by making new physical connections, one scientist put it this way – our thoughts are creating matter!

That’s part of why change is so hard. Our fleeting thoughts are slowly set in the concrete of our physical brain. We physically become our thoughts. These thoughts become what we call “ourself,” our personality, our identity.

And our brain puts an awful lot of weight on those past thoughts because that is what helped us to survive this long. Our brain wants to get up every day and do the same thing as yesterday because, from a survival standpoint, it worked.

But the obvious question is was what we did yesterday really the best thing we could have done? Or are we just stuck in a loop with success being defined by the fact that we woke up the next day? And there’s an even bigger question. Is what I did yesterday really who I am?

We Are Not Who We Think We Are

I was once and foremost a crier. When things went in a way that I didn’t like I simply took a long deep breath and began to wail until my face turned bright red and things got better. That was who I was. Thank goodness this was not last week. When I was an infant without speech or experience to know what was wrong or how to fix it, I just screamed until things got better. And that worked for awhile because I had a mother. Thanks, Mom.

But now, thankfully, I no longer define myself as a crier. I have grown bigger than that. I am more than that.

At one point my life was limited by doorknobs because I couldn’t work a doorknob. I could have just given up and said I am a person who lives on this side of the door. That’s all there is to me. I am only this. We all can see what a limiting line of thinking this would be. It would be self-imprisonment.

When we add the fact that I can grow and learn and become more, everything changes. Doorknobs turn. Limitations fall away. Unimagined possibilities become everyday facts. So, what I think is me, – my personality, my self – isn’t what I thought it was.

I Am More Than My Brain

It becomes obvious that, if I’m thinking my brain into existence, rewiring my brain by my thoughts, there is more to me than my brain. There is a spiritual part of me which transcends my brain. Who I am is more than just the physical. I am also spirit.

This means changing my mind is more than just behavior modification techniques. It is more than mind control and habits. It is essentially a spiritual task. That puts it squarely in God’s domain, which should be no surprise to me since God is the ultimate changer of lives and thoughts. There is no one better.

This means that if I seriously want to change my brain for the better, I should ask God for help. I should pray,”Lord, change my brain.” In doing so, I’m asking God to change who I am.

Giving Up Myself

In this way I have, for the first time, a real chance at becoming a better me, not merely by my efforts but by the one who created me. But this seems a little scary at first. I don’t want to give up who I am. That’s all I have. I don’t want to become a mind-numbed robot, a clone doing another’s bidding, a cultish, unthinking slave. I’m afraid of this.

But God isn’t interested in making me the same as everyone else. All I have to do to reassure myself is look around. This is the same God who creates individual snowflakes. The one who makes fingerprints different – even between twins! He is creative beyond my wildest imagination. He would never want a stamped-out, assembly-line, production-model person.

It would be like asking the world’s greatest artist to spend his days running a photocopier.

What I Get Back

When I give my brain to God, I get something far, far better in return.

I turn in my beleaguered, battered brain that has been pounded into submission since childhood, hammered into conformity in middle school, melted into societal molds in high school and carefully ground into sameness in college. It has been filled with oft-repeated lies and discouraged from serious thought. It has been bedazzled and video-gamed into a stupor by vapid entertainment. It has been dipped into Facebook and polished by the abrasion of relentless political correctness into a work of avant-garde art.

But what I get back is reborn. My brain has come back to life. Instead of being conformed, it has been released.

At this point in my life, I am discovering a capacity for love that I never knew. I find myself having patience. In traffic! I didn’t work and fret and train myself into patience. I didn’t go to a patience seminar. Instead, I find it hidden there. I find joy and music like a thawing mountain stream in springtime. It’s an amazing discovery, an exploration of the me I could have been all along.

I’m Not Perfect

It doesn’t really need saying that I’m not perfect. You know this. But I am becoming someone I didn’t think I could be, and in fact, couldn’t be in my own strength. My perspective is slowly changing. My courage has sparked into flame. Hope has begun to melt my cynicism. I am not so judgmental of others.

Instead of working very hard to beat myself into submission until I can eek out a smidgen of love for the unlovable, I find myself loving them and seeing myself in them. I understanding how unlovable I am and how amazing it is that someone, like my wife, could love me when I don’t even like myself very much.

But it is not something I’m doing on my own. I’m no longer alone in the weary task of trying to better myself under my own power. I am relieved by humility. The weight of pride is lifted away.

listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

This certainly feels better than trying to carve myself into a new creature from the outside in.

Flying Eggs

Lewis continues:

When He said,”Be perfect,” He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder–in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

Please, do not miss this point. As of this summer it has been fifty-five years since I first accepted Christ. I have taken it seriously.

My parents had me in church before I could say “Da Da.” Sunday School, Sunday night services and Wednesday prayer meeting followed as steadily as the Earth turns. I accepted Jesus at age six in Vacation Bible School. Church choir, youth musicals and mission trips led to contemporary Christian bands. I majored in Bible at a Christian university where I met my wife.

We were married in church and in turn delivered our own children almost straight to the church nursery. We taught Sunday School classes and our church, with grace and determination, carried us through our darkest hours. I prayed regularly. I studied my Bible.

I say all of that only to point out this.

What surprises me is that, at sixty-one years old, I find myself still being re-born, from the inside out, not who I thought I was! I am a stranger to myself in the best possible way. At this age, I am new. And that is good news.

Birth Of A New Brain

All I did was ask God to change my brain. All I had to do was ask each morning. At the birth of a new day, I am also reborn. God’s quiet, daily object lesson is not lost: sleeping and waking, night to light, brand new day.

He gave me the strength to shove back my many plans, to fill my early mornings with intentionally inspiring music, read my Bible and listen for that quiet voice. I’m not just beginning a new day; I’m beginning a new me.

Now some part of me is embarrassed at discovering such life at this age. My relentless inner critic reminds me that making so much progress shows how far I have not progressed until now. But age is no guarantee of maturity. And C. S. Lewis was 54 years old when he published Mere Christianity, just a few years younger than I am.

So maybe growing up at all is the trick. And maybe the fact that there is still so much to learn of this great mystery means life will never grow dull. And maybe, compared to what is to come, we’ve barely begun to learn at all.

What we have been told is how we men can be drawn into Christ––can become part of that wonderful present which the young Prince of the universe wants to offer to His Father––that present which is Himself and therefore us in Him. This is the only thing we were made for. And there are strange, exciting hints in the Bible that when we are drawn in, a great many other things in Nature will begin to come right. The bad dream will be over: it will be morning.

Perhaps it is to this dawn that I am slowly learning to wake. Practicing here for that day, that first good morning, when the snooze will be forgotten and coffee will not cross my mind.

 

Photo by Aris Sánchez via Flickr.
Categories
Courage Featured Never Give Up Purpose Stress

Grit Bits – Forget About Stress – Yisrael Kristal, 112

Stress Kills?

For those of you worrying about all of the studies that supposedly show that stress shortens your life, meet Yisrael Kristal, the world’s oldest man. Yisrael survived two world wars and Hitler’s Auschwitz death camp.

When asked the secret of his long life, he pointed to Heaven. “I don’t know the secret for long life. I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why,” he said. “There have been smarter, stronger and better looking men than me who are no longer alive.”

Your Response

Whatever the secret, you cannot say that Kristal had a stress-free life. If you believe the stress headlines, he shouldn’t be here smiling; but he is! We are now learning there is more to the story. It seems that your response to stress is more important than trying to arrange a stress-free life. Because how stressful would that be?

So, how did Yisrael handle things?

Yisrael’s daughter commented,”My father is a religious man who observes the commandments and prays every morning. In my opinion, what has kept him going all these years is optimism. When something bad happens, he always says, ‘It could have been worse.'”

He was born in the village of Zarnow, Poland, on September 15, 1903, three days before the Wright brother’s first flight. Son of a Torah scholar, Kristal learned to read Hebrew at age four and still recites his prayers daily, from memory now, because of poor eyesight.

He was a confectioner by trade, a skill which helped him survive in Auschwitz. The Nazis wanted candy. He lost his wife and two children to the camp. There couldn’t be a more stressful situation on the planet. The stress gurus on the internet would have this man in an early grave, but Yisrael will undoubtedly outlive all the researchers and writers pronouncing his doom.

The Stress Killer

What some have called the faith factor has now generated hundreds of studies. Many of them try to create a provable scientific formula for achieving the goal of longer life or less stress. I believe this misses the point.

When a journalist told him beforehand that researchers were trying to verify his title of world’s oldest living man, Krystal answered,”Big deal.”

The point of Yisrael Kristal’s faith is not to extend his life. The point of his life is to live his faith. He didn’t do what he did to set a longevity record. And yet his belief helped him through life’s most horrible ordeals. His faith didn’t relieve him from life’s stressful circumstances. It changed the way he responded.

Stress is, after all, an internal problem. And if you change your internal response, you diffuse the effects of difficult circumstances into something other than stress. What causes unmitigated stress in some causes an increase of faith in others. Faith acts like a stress shock absorber.

My Take

I am not a Christian to try to hoodwink God into letting me have a few more years on the planet. I am not trying to trick stress and manipulate happiness into my life. I’m not using a business strategy to meet people at church to build my business. I’m not trying to avoid a gambling addiction by using services as a twelve step program. I’m not crowdsourcing my local congregation as a networking tool to build relationships to support me if something goes wrong.

Love just does all of these things. And God is love. How could it not be good for me.

God doesn’t promise me a stress-free life. In fact, some of my greatest life lessons only happened because of difficult situations. Let’s face it, I just don’t learn much when everything is perfect. I can’t find the motivation when I’m too busy having fun.

And by the way. All of the studies that show faithful church attendance will increase my longevity by seven years are wrong. There are no guarantees that any of us will have another day on this planet. Instead, the better promise I got from Jesus was forgiveness of my sins and eternal life with Him.

Eternal. How’s that for survival?