The Last Song

I have come to the end of my year-long running journey, where I had decided to run through the last twenty years of my music collection, going back-in-time with my thoughts and musings to see where it led.  Each song or album that I acquired over the last twenty years had a memory or meaning attached to it.  So I began the journey by loading up my MP3 with a variety of songs and genres and took off running.  As the year came to a close, I found the last artist on my playlist – U2.  It seemed appropriate enough.  This particular album was a collection of four songs from a Starbucks CD back in the early 2000’s.  Ah yes, I remember those early Starbucks days, juggling morning carpool and a full-time commute into downtown. Starbucks had become my refuge for a while and this CD had offered solace.

So I began my last musical journey listening to the songs, “All You Need is Love” and “I Believe in Father Christmas”, and then finally came to the last song: “The Redemption Song”.  It was originally sung by Bob Marley, and his words played over in my mind as I ran…

“Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom
Cause all I ever have is Redemption Songs.”

Redemption.  Such a powerful word.  It’s a transitional word, bringing to mind many other similar words and progressions.

Atonement.  Restitution.  Forgiveness.  Grace.  Love.  Jesus.  God.  Heart.  Soul.  Life.

A great way to end the year’s running and thoughts – Redemption.  After all that a year can bring – happiness, sadness, new beginnings and old friends – I am forever humbled and grateful to be here, and hopefully a little wiser.  We are all on a journey; let’s make sure we’re on the right one because we only have this one life to decide.  What will be your last song?  little feet

Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and have sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1-2

Bob Marley – Redemption Song
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFGgbT_VasI

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Signs at Work

The musical group, Train, always makes me smile.  Their songs have that nostalgic, 
feel-good feeling mixed in with a little hope and inspiration.  I ran across one of their older songs on my running journey today – a song called “Calling All Angels” from 2003.  Ten years later, the song is still relevant, perhaps even more so today.

The lead singer for the band is Patrick Monahan.  His unique sound and onstage presence of a messy-haired, slightly awkward little kid makes you want to root for him even more.  His songs invoke memories and hope.  This particular song begins with those familiar words, “I need a sign…”

As I began to listen to the song once again, my immediate thoughts take me back to a time at my workplace ten years ago.  I was facing a tired and beaten project team near the end of our project, and they had just discovered why our new computer programs were not working as planned.  We were getting our data from an accounting software program that did not use negative signs in the dollar amounts.  Instead, it used a debit and credit indicator to determine if it was a negative number.  Now all of our data was showing up as positive numbers and over-inflating the balance.  I looked around the room at all the long faces, and without hesitation, immediately jumped up and started singing those words,
“I need a sign…” while using my best Train impression.  They did not see the humor in it, or perhaps it was just my bad singing.  Eventually though, we got through the project as we always do, but I still remember that memory and smile to myself.  It was good times during the bad times.

Signs of another kind at work began to jog my memory as well – the signs of God’s constant care and interest into the details of our lives.  There is one story in particular that stands out above the rest; one lesson that I will never forget.  Many years ago, I was responsible for a large project that was beginning to take a wrong turn.  The team had split into two different groups, each with different ideas and agendas on how to complete the work.  Each group was working independently on their own, and often against each other.  I knew the project would not be successful if we continued like this, and we would certainly not make our million dollar deadlines.  I decided I had to call a meeting with the new Director of the company to express my concerns.

I sat in the stark conference room with the Director on that day, and began to explain the dire situation to him.  After I finished, he just sat there and said nothing in reply.  He turned his head slightly to the side and quietly spoke as if saying to no one in particular, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”  

“What?”, I thought to myself.  I was expecting to hear a typical response like, “how 
did this happen?”  But his answer struck me as odd.  What did he mean it wasn’t supposed to be this way?  Who told him that?  And then he did something more.  He closed his eyes and bowed his head.  At first I thought he must be thinking, but after an uncomfortable amount of silence, I realized he wasn’t thinking; he was praying.

It seemed to be one of those serious conversations with God too, not the quick desperate kind we often pray when we’re trying to get out of a situation.  I sat there in silence, realizing this one was not about me.  When he finished and looked up, he did not apologize or make excuses.  He only said, “Will you give me a day?” 

“Ok sure,” I replied as I fumbled around for my things and left the conference room. 
I ran into my manager on the way out and he asked how the meeting went.  “I’m not sure,” I said, “but we will know tomorrow.”  I walked away leaving my manager with a puzzled look.  “This is not how corporations are supposed to handle things,” I said under my breath, shaking my head with a sigh.

The next day I waited in anticipation.  I was also a little skeptical that this too would fall  short like most other good intentions do.  Then miracles began to happen.  Barriers were knocked down, obstacles broken, and the bureaucratic red tape that had been in place for years had suddenly disappeared.  The team reunited and we were back on track with a new purpose.  People asked me how I did it, but I could only shrug and say that I had done nothing.

I learned a lot that day, about how to live the rest of my life at work.  I can choose to just work harder, always beating my head against the wall, or I can first go immediately to God with my problems, unapologetically to everyone else, and do things His way.  After all, I have the greatest Computer Designer of all times by my side.  God cares about us and our well-being, but He is not as overly concerned as we are about how to handle negative signs and computer designs.  He parted the Red Sea.  He raised the dead and healed the sick.  He designed the Universe!  

Now I understand now why Jesus refused to give the Pharisees the sign they asked for in the New Testament.  There are miraculous signs all around us in everyday situations, but we must be open to believing them or we will not see them.  I often wonder what could have been the outcome of our recent government shutdown and arguing between the divided groups in Congress, if they too had first tried the approach that my Director took that day.

Thank you again, Train, for the memory during my run today.  Your video is a wonderful reminder of the human potential and spirit in all of us.  It definitely makes me smile.  But I don’t need a sign.  I see God’s handiwork all around me. 
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train

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmIOqlNGp54

The Creator and the Created

It’s been awhile, I think to myself as I step out to run today, alone.  Scrolling through my song lists to see where I left off in my running journey, I come to Third Day’s Offerings album.  Well, I guess it’s just me and God today, I say as I select the album and start my run.  No distractions and no one to discuss the day’s work or other daily annoyances.  I begin to enjoy this time alone, running with God.  This is nice, I think to myself.  I haven’t had this much solitary time in my runs in many years.  I fall into a cadence while my feet traverse through the familiar streets and sidewalks which I have traveled on foot for many years.  The old, familiar songs start to come back to me – King of Glory, These Thousand Hills, My Hope is You.

This album from Third Day came out in 2000.  Where was I then, 13 years ago?  Y2K, a 5-year old son starting kindergarten, before 9/11, before job changes and breast cancer scares, before things became more complicated and then became easier again.  It brings tears to my eyes, with thoughts that are humbling, repentful, and grateful.  I think when we die and meet God, the first emotion we will have besides the indescribable awe, will be humbleness.  Humbleness for seeing our position next to an almighty God, for all those times we did not see or trust Him when He was right there with us, and for all those petty things that really didn’t matter in the end.  We can each fill in our own list here.  Will it really matter then that we had a 5,000 square foot house, or more clothes in our closets than we needed, or that prestigious job that took all of our time?  How did we treat people?  Humbleness, and maybe some regret is what I think I will feel.

I continue my running, though my thoughts are a little unsettled today.  And then I begin to see, that of a loving God, who wants us to trust Him, who knows what is best for us, and who wants to be with us.  The Creator and the created.  God, who knows the future, and myself, who does not even know what is around the next corner in my run or within the next hour.  But together, me and God.  Just like 13 years ago, God knows then and He knows now.  I do not remember why I bought this particular album back then, but it has been a nice reminder for me on this day.  And I hear God say to me, “I got this. Go back to work now with a rested mind.”

An hour later back in the office, I receive a surprise email about a new job restructuring  coming soon to my area.  After experiencing the usual range of emotions that we all have at times, I remember what God had just said to me.  God knew this was coming.  He’s got this worked out, and my mind is rested.  Do I still believe what God has said during the certain times is also true during the uncertain times?  Yes I must; otherwise it means very little to only trust God during the good times.  For how can we believe in a God who created you and I and everything in the universe, and raised Jesus from the dead, yet not also believe that He knows the future and wants the best for us in that future?  It would equivalent to only believing in a partial God.  We must believe in all of God, and know that all of God is good.  No matter what, He is always walking with us, the Creator and the created.

creator

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Half a year

Half a year has already passed by.  Do you ever think back to January around this time of year and wonder at how much has changed or transpired in just half a year?  I do, and I am always amazed at the things I discover that I didn’t know then but I know now.

I began my running journey this January, conspiring to run and think my way through the last 20 years of my CD song collection that I loaded on my mp3 player.  I have temporarily laid aside my mp3 player for this particular part of my running journey.  Like running, life can sometimes take us down different paths.  Two of my fellow running comrades have recently passed away since the beginning of this year, both too young and too sudden.  And I have lost others too, in the sense that after more than a decade of seeing them almost every day at my job, running with them, taking coffee breaks and talks, they will be leaving as part of unexpected job layoffs.  So I have traded my mp3 runs at the moment for a few remaining running and work conversations, and precious talks that are of the most urgent and non-committed kind.

I have also just returned from a week of traveling in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, where my morning runs took on a more silent, spiritual ritual all of their own, as I reflected on this half of a year.  I began to look forward to this time alone, and to take in the beauty and “sounds of silence” that only God’s nature can speak to.  We all need these times where we put down the mp3, forget, and just listen.  So today, here are pictures, and not so many words, from my morning runs in Yellowstone.

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Running at the top of the world.

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No grizzlies on today’s run, but I did run across this guy.

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Do I walk past him at the end of the trail or turn around and go back?

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My favorite ~ blue dragon flies.  In the simplest and smallest of things, life is amazing!

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The Grand Finale of morning runs – WOW!

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And of course, Old Faithful

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What a unique creature! Wonder what he is thinking?

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If one ever doubts the existence of a magnificent God, then a trip to Yellowstone is a must-see for a lifetime!  It will make you believe, or nothing will.

And a magnificent God will lead us through the second half of the year too, no matter what may come.  Life is precious.  I sit here now, waiting in a hospital for a family surgery, the same hospital where many things began for me so many years ago… lest I ever forget what God has done in my life.  I am in His Hands, which is the best and only place to be.

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Rock stars, and Bono on Jesus (a repost)

We need rock stars.  All kinds, not only those that can bang out a tune on stage, but that helps too.  Bono is one of my favorite – he is larger than life and unassumingly quiet at the same time.  He just goes about doing what God has given him.  The following article is too good to pass up for the opportunity to re-share, and to keep too.  If you or anyone you have known has ever had doubts or unanswered questions about life and what we’re supposed to do, Bono seems to explain it better than anyone I have heard, and in a way we can all relate.

The New Testament had its rock stars too – John the Baptist, Peter, Paul and many others.  They were radical and went against the norm.  They were not raised in the ivy league temples of the day.  Fisherman, not politicians.  And they changed the world for Jesus.  Yet today, we are much like the Old Testament again.  We are running around in the desert with our golden idols, not knowing quite what to do.  Like the Old Testament Israelites, we too have fallen away from God as a nation in many ways.  And there are periods of intertestamental silence.  Maybe Jesus will be coming again soon.  Maybe it is time for new rock stars to lead the way.  This upcoming generation of youth, The Millennials, no matter what may be said of them, have a power and knowledge that no previous generation has had.  They do not cling to the prior history of prejudice, class warfare, or suppression.  They can lead us out of this desert.. and back to God, if we engage them.
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Here is the article from Bono.  It’s worth the read and to share!
June 12, 2013 by Frank Viola.  Source: patheos.com

Bono by Michka Assayas
From the Amazon page:

“Bono’s career is unlike any other in rock history. As the lead singer of U2, Bono has sold 130 million albums, won fourteen Grammys, and played numerous sold-out world tours, but he has also lobbied and worked with world leaders from Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to Nelson Mandela on debt relief, AIDS, and other critical global issues. He has collaborated with the same musicians for nearly three decades and has been married to his childhood sweetheart since 1982. His life, at all turns, resists the rock star clichés.

In a series of intimate conversations with his friend Michka Assayas, a music journalist who has been with the band since the very beginning, Bono reflects on his transformation from the extrovert singer of a small Irish post-punk band into one of the most famous individuals in the world; and from an international celebrity to an influential spokesperson for the Third World. He speaks candidly about his faith, family, commitment, influences, service, and passion. Bono: A Self-Portrait in Conversation is the closest we will come, for now, to a memoir from the iconic frontman of U2.”

What follows is an excerpt from the book where Bono talks about Jesus Christ in an interview with the author:

Bono: My understanding of the Scriptures has been made simple by the person of Christ. Christ teaches that God is love. What does that mean? What it means for me: a study of the life of Christ. Love here describes itself as a child born in straw poverty, the most vulnerable situation of all, without honor. I don’t let my religious world get too complicated. I just kind of go: Well, I think I know what God is. God is love, and as much as I respond [sighs] in allowing myself to be transformed by that love and acting in that love, that’s my religion. Where things get complicated for me, is when I try to live this love. Now that’s not so easy.

Michka: What about the God of the Old Testament? He wasn’t so “peace and love”?

Bono: There’s nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that’s why they’re so relatable. But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you’re a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules. But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.

Michka: Speaking of bloody action movies, we were talking about South and Central America last time. The Jesuit priests arrived there with the gospel in one hand and a rifle in the other.

Bono: I know, I know. Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. [laughs] A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship. Why are you chuckling?

Michka: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?

Bono: Yes, I think that’s normal. It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

Michka: I haven’t heard you talk about that.

Bono: I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.

Michka: Well, that doesn’t make it clearer for me.

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

Michka: I’d be interested to hear that.

Bono: That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

Michka: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.

Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled . It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.

Michka: That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that farfetched?

Bono: No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you.

And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we’ve been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched

If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s— and everybody else’s. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that’s the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it.

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