10 Albums/10 Days | 90s Grunge

The “post 10 albums in 10 days with no commentary” thing has been going around Facebook again. I was thinking about posting mine, but then, Dylan Lloyd went ahead and nominated me to do it. I am not going to choose anyone, but I will do is share here how the album influenced my life.

This is Album/Day Seven

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You may have wondered when I would get to some 90s music.

There is a test on Facebook that posits that whatever album/song was #1 on your 12/13/14/15th birthday represents your life. I looked mine up. It doesn’t. But there is something about the music that shapes you as a teenager.

As you’ll guess from many of my post that music from the Christian scene/market is what I listened to the most as a teen. That probably made my parents happy (though much of what I listened to, the lyrics were indiscernible), but to be honest it made me happy as well. As a teen, though, I did hear quite a bit of music on the radio and while I was with friends. I loved grunge music and most of 90s rock.

The funny thing about all this is that I really only knew the songs that got played on the radio. Smells Like Teen SpiritEvenflow, Jeremy, Dead and Bloated, Sex Type Thing and the list goes on. I didn’t know the “B” cuts of the bands or anything else that was on an album. Sometimes, I didn’t even know who the artist was. For the most part, that was ok. I wasn’t entering any trivia contest about song titles or artist names.

As an adult, though, I have gone back and purchased some of the albums that shaped my teen years: Nevermind by Nirvana, Core from Stone Temple Pilots and Ten from Pearl Jam are at the top of the list. Even though I could hardly name most of the songs, the more I listened the more I realize how much their music played a role in shaping who I am- especially in my musical taste. Let’s be honest, I have Sirius XM radio in my car. I’m in my second year. The reality is that I really only listen to three channels: Lithium (90s Alternative), 90s on 9, and ESPN Radio. I do jump around some. I try to listen to some current alternative/hard rock music- but for better or for worse, I go back to my 90s rock.

Side note: I cannot tolerate Christian Radio. It all sounds the same. It’s overproduced. It is, generally, not good musically. 

If I had to put this down to one album, it would have to be Nirvana’s Nevermind while I was a teenager. Today, it would probably be Pearl Jam’s Ten. But for these purposes, I will take most of the genre as defining “albums.”

What was your defining 90s album?

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10 Albums/10 Days | Morella’s Forest | Mxpx

The “post 10 albums in 10 days with no commentary” thing has been going around Facebook again. I was thinking about posting mine, but then, Dylan Lloyd went ahead and nominated me to do it. I am not going to choose anyone, but I will do is share here how the album influenced my life.

This is Album/Day Six

Morellas Forest and Mxpx

Morella’s Forest: Super Deluxe/Mxpx: Pokinatcha

Two posts ago, I mentioned the Bible Gift Shop in our town where I purchased some of my earliest Christian music (Petra and DeGarmo & Key…and yes, probably Carmen. Sigh). The owners of the store helped with their youth group and attended the Creation Festival in Central Pennsylvania. Each year, they would bring back bands from Creation that they heard to sell in the stores. This was the mid-90’s and while the internet was starting to become a real thing in our area, you didn’t just get online to learn about bands. There was no Spotify or Apple Music. You had to hear of a band from someone else.

I had birthday money to spend. It was burning a hole in my pocket. I wanted some new music.

At this point in time, I had never heard of Mxpx or Morella’s Forest. I don’t remember what directed me to these albums because I don’t believe I had ever heard of either band. Honestly, like my post about The Prayer Chain yesterday, I think I purchased both CDs because of the album art.

Mxpx is (they are still recording) a punk band from the Pacific Northwest. Of course, Green Day was popular at the same time so the natural comparison would be to them. Certainly there were differences. Pokinatcha, I believe, was recorded when the band was still in high school. As excited as I was for Mxpx, I remember some of my friends complaining how it all sounded the same (can’t you make that argument for most bands?) I purchased the next three albums from Mxpx in the ’90s and I continue to listen to Mxpx today.

At that time, Morella’s Forest really caught my attention. While I didn’t know it, they were a shoegaze band filled with distorted guitars juxtaposed against Sydney’s vocals. This is a great kind of chill album. They had songs like Fizzle Kiss, Puppy Love, and Curl that stood out to me at that time. Without the internet, it really took years (until I was in college) to even realize that they had put out additional releases. By then I had moved on to other bands.

Along with the albums, this was my first foray into Tooth and Nail Records. Nearly 25 years later, I would guess that most of my favorite albums are from Tooth and Nail bands and that my taste in music has been highly influenced by Tooth and Nail (Stavesacre, Demon Hunter, Anberlin, The OC Supertones, Project 86, and Jonezetta to name a few).

We live in an age of digital downloads and the disappearance of physical bookstores (Let alone Christian bookstores). How different things were in the 1990s when Tooth and Nail (and other labels) did everything by mail order. I am grateful for our local bookstores and two trips I made that gave me some bands, albums, and labels that have had staying power over the last 25 years!

[Could these videos look any more 90’s?]

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10 Albums/10 Days | Shawl and Mercury | The Prayer Chain

The “post 10 albums in 10 days with no commentary” thing has been going around Facebook again. I was thinking about posting mine, but then, Dylan Lloyd went ahead and nominated me to do it. I am not going to choose anyone, but I will do is share here how the album influenced my life.

Here is where I begin to cheat a bit and list multiple albums under the same post. Of course, the albums will be related. Today’s post marks a significant shift, for me, in the music I listened to and what really speaks to me musically.

The Prayer Chain

The Prayer Chain: Shawl and Mercury Vinyl Editions

The Prayer Chain is, perhaps, the most influential band in my teen and young adult years.

This story also begins in an independent Christian bookstore. This time, Grand Book and Bible in New Castle, PA. My mom took me there as a fourteen or fifteen years old. I was excited because their music selection was 2-3 times larger than our local store. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I was looking for music.

I saw the standard fare, Michael W. Smith, Petra, Amy Grant, Degarmo & Key, and many others. But they had a large selection of Christian Alternative that would not fit in the CCM category. I had never heard of The Prayer Chain. I was struck by the cover of Shawl as well as the back photograph. There was no CD player to sample the music. I purely purchased the album based on the cover art.

Note: I still love buying the physical CD and Vinyl Albums, mostly for the artwork. Many bands have a “look” and a feel for their packaging that goes beyond the music. I want something more than digital- I want to feel and look at the entire package.

When I listened for the first time, what I heard was raw, loud, honest, and emotional. There was no “yay- Jesus” music on Shawl (or Mercury). The faith influence was undeniable, but the lyrics wrestled with real feelings that I had. There was room for questions; room for doubt; and hope in the midst of those feelings. I needed this as a teen (just as I continue to need it today.)

Looking back, The Prayer Chain was ahead of its time in the Christian music industry. When many popular Christian bands followed a cookie-cutter form (and several years behind anything considered popular in General Market)- The Prayer Chain’s music was fresh and current. Their music was art (which you cannot say about most/many Christian “artists”- just listen to Christian radio, it’s ALL THE SAME). Their lyrics were deeper, honest, and introspective. Later in life, with the proliferation of the internet, I could read of the impact The Prayer Chain had on others. These albums set the tone for me of what I wanted in music.

On Mercury, The Prayer Chain completely scrapped their sound from Shawl and it is so beautiful and compelling. Again, there was nothing like it in the Christian market. Unfortunately, the band broke up recording the follow-up to Mercury. It was released (Antarctica) and it is said that you can literally hear the band break-up in this album.

These two albums opened the door for me (and for many others) of what music could be like in the Christian market. At the time when everyone was listening to Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jame (I’ll get to them), I was listening to The Prayer Chain. Nearly thirty years later, I am still listening.

Do me a favor and listen to both albums and let me know what you think. Below are a couple of songs.

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10 Albums/10 Days |Beyond Belief | Petra

The “post 10 albums in 10 days with no commentary” thing has been going around Facebook again. I was thinking about posting mine, but then, Dylan Lloyd went ahead and nominated me to do it. I am not going to choose anyone, but I will do is share here how the album influenced my life.

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I grew up in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Well, that was my address. I lived 7 or 8 miles outside of Greenville in a different school district. Greenville is a beautiful small town that has been slowing dying with the end of manufacturing and the steel industry in Western Pennsylvania. There were a couple of stores that Mom took us to that I would enjoy. One was Amy’s Books. Mom would trade in books and let us pick out some books of our own. I would pick up some Hardy Boys books and have them read a day later.

Just down from Amy’s Book was The Bible Gift Shop (Shoppe?). It was a small store with plenty of Jesus Junk in it. The owner was super friendly and involved in youth ministry in their church. This small store had some great music selection in the Christian scene. If you were listening to Christian rock in the 1980’s, then you likely listened to Petra. Petra was the first cassette that I remember buying at The Bible Gift Shop. That album was Beyond Belief.

By 1990, when Beyond Belief came out, Petra was already veterans of the Christian rock scene. Beyond Belief was the second album with John Schlitt as their lead singer. Beyond Belief isn’t heavy metal, but probably closer to arena rock. It is listed as No. 71 on the list of the 100 Top CCM Albums.

I had the opportunity to go see them at the Star Lake Amphitheater outside of Pittsburgh with the youth group. I remember Geoff Moore and the Distance opening for Petra. This would have been my first “rock” concert but more than a really fun concert with the youth group, Petra’s music encouraged my faith. Songs like Creed (Apostle’s Creed inspired song), Seen and not Heard (letting actions speak louder than words)and Beyond Belief (living by faith) were all songs that encouraged me every day I listened.

Petra had a run of three albums, This Means War, Beyond Belief, and Unseen Power that pretty much sum up my musical taste from 12-14 years old. There would be big changes in the music I would purchase starting with tomorrow’s album.

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10 Albums/10 Days |Never Picture Perfect | Rich Mullins

The “post 10 albums in 10 days with no commentary” thing has been going around Facebook again. I was thinking about posting mine, but then, Dylan Lloyd went ahead and nominated me to do it. I am not going to choose anyone, but what I will do is share here how the album influenced my life.

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I was in sixth grade when my friend, Brian Gray, called me on the landline and asked if I wanted to go with him and his Aunt and Uncle (Mr. and Mrs. Devey for all my CP friends) to a concert at a local church. At this point in life, I don’t think I had ever been to any sort of music concert. I asked my parents and they said yes. I had never heard of the artist, which would not be surprising since we didn’t listen to much music in our house. Since the concert was at the church, I knew I wasn’t going to hear AC/DC or Guns-N-Roses.

Rich Mullins was the performer at the concert that day. To be honest, I don’t remember much except that Rich seemed real authentic. I remember him doing the “cup song” to Screen Door on a Submarine. I remember the song Allrightokuhhuhamen. That song is on the album, Never Picture Perfect, which I purchased at the concert (on cassette).

The album set the tone for me in listening to Christian music. I’ll be honest, looking back some of the music I listened to was terrible. But the most important thing it did was encourage my faith. Listening to Rich Mullins started me in that direction. If you’re unfamiliar with Mullins, he wrote the songs Awesome God and Step by Step, but of which were standards during worship in my youth group days. His songs have been recorded by countless artists over the years.

As you’ll see in some of the future posts, Christian music has been an important part of my faith journey. Rich Mullins was the beginning of that for me. I no longer have this album, but it is a cornerstone album that I can point to that begin an era for me to develop my sound and taste.

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10 Albums/10 Days | Thriller

The “post 10 albums in 10 days with no commentary” thing has been going around Facebook again. I was thinking about posting mine, but then, Dylan Lloyd went ahead and nominated me to do it. I am not going to choose anyone, but what I will do is share here how the album influenced my life.

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As a child of the 80s, it is pretty hard to ignore Michael Jackson and the influence he had on pop music. He is, after all, the King of Pop. Certainly his crowned has been tarnished by the sexual abuse allegations, but his imprint on culture and music in undeniable.

Thriller came out in 1982, which was when I was four years old. Remember, yesterday I said that the radio wasn’t played in our house much. I would have heard Michael’s music on the school bus (Is there is more “real” education than on a school bus with students K-12 on the same bus?). In fact, the school bus is where I heard Guns-N-Roses, Poison, Def Leppard, Tiffany, and any other 80’s Pop/Rock outfit. By the time I was in High School, our bus driver (Mrs. Heffern) would let us bring cassettes to play. The Urey’s were always bringing Metallica, Def Leppard, and GNR.

I am sure that comparisons could be made, but this is such a solid album from beginning to end. The album starts off with Want to Be Starting Something which always would get my feet going. But the strength of this album is the amazing run of Thriller, Beat It, and Billie Jean. This is as strong of a core as any album. Thriller would have been played at every elementary class Halloween party. Beat It was great- and likewise, so was the Weird Al spin, Eat It! At of all the diamonds in the album, Billie Jean was my favorite.

Our family still listens to the Thriller album. Our girls used to request Thriller in the car while we waited for the bus when Abbie was in 1st or 2nd grade. Michael’s album really helped me to love pop music.

 

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Ten Albums/Ten Days | Endless Summer

The “post 10 albums in 10 days with no commentary” thing has been going around Facebook again. I was thinking about posting mine, but then, Dylan Lloyd went ahead and nominated me to do it. I am not going to choose anyone, but what I will do is share here how the album influenced my life.

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Band: Beach Boys
Album: Endless Summer

I have to be honest. I don’t remember music being a significant player in my younger years. I do not have memories of Dad spinning records on the hi-fi (we had one). Nor do I have any recollections of Mom or Dad me to listen to their favorite bands. I completely missed the music of the ’60s or ’70s. I know very little about either decade.

What music I remember from my earliest memories came from the radio while Dad was working in the garage or while we were driving in the car. (Note: If the Pittsburgh Pirates or Steelers were on, we were listening to them above anything else- much to my Mom and Sister’s chagrin.)

When we listened to the radio, we listened to 93.3 FM, which was an Oldies station in our area. I clearly remember Rockin’ Robin (Bobby Day), Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry), All I Have to Do Is Dream, and Bye Bye Love (The Everly Brothers). But what I remember the most is The Beach Boys.

I’m pretty sure Dad had an 8-Track of Endless Summer in one the truck. The 8-track seemed foreign, even in the ’80s, when we also had the much smaller cassettes. The sound of The Beach Boys became the epitome of both summer and American Rock and Roll. I would put them in the category of the Greatest American Rock-n-Roll band in regards to importance and influence. But you can freely argue that because I really don’t know much about the music of the ’60s and ’70s. (England can keep the Beatles and the Stones!)

When our family goes to the beach, there are times when The Beach Boys serenade us on our way. When I was purchasing records for my record player, Endless Summer was on the top of my list. While there was a plethora of artists and albums that I could have chosen from my Oldies 93.3 days- The Beach Boys are at the top of the list.

Note: It is not lost on me that listening to Oldies on 93.3 FM meant songs from the ’50s and ’60s in the 1980s. Songs that were 20-30 years old. That means that when I play Nirvana, No Doubt, and Pearl Jam for my kids, that they would be on an Oldies Station today. 

 

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Blessed are the Peacemakers

[Sermon preached on Sunday, May 17th at Avenue United Methodist Church. Listen here.]

There is a memorable scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where the Griswald Family is driving to the country to cut down their own Christmas Tree. There is only one other vehicle on the road, and it is tailgating Clark Griswald’s family station wagon. Clark and the truck engage in an episode of road rage that results in the Griswald station wagon riding underneath a semi-trailer.

According to a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 80 percent of US drivers expressed significant anger, aggression, or road rage while behind the wheel at least once in the past year. In the survey

51% said they purposefully tailgated
47% said they yelled at another driver
45% said they honked at another driver out of anger or annoyance
33% said they made an angry gesture
24% said they tried to block another vehicle from changing lanes

There are a lot of angry drivers on the road. One of the study’s researchers wrote, “Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly.” https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2016/october/4100316.html

Each of us could attest to the need for more peace in our daily lives and our world. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says:

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9, NIV
In our Western culture, when we talk about peace, we are talking about a sense of inner-tranquility or the absence of conflict. We live in a troubled world and during anxious times. Inside, many of us is a raging civil war. The battle is difficult to live with. Some of the most popular apps on your smartphone are apps design to help with breathing, centering, and mindfulness. In short, these apps are created to help you find inner peace. On a macro-scale, we see conflict in families, communities, and between people-groups and nations. We are a world that is in constant conflict- a world without peace.

What does Jesus mean when he blesses peacemakers?

Peace, in the Jewish context, comes from the idea and word Shalom. It is translated as peace in English, but it has the meaning of wholeness- both personal and communal. In this context, peace is not the absence of conflict, but our personhood and relationships that are on proper terms, relationships that are life-giving.

Even before terms like social distancing became a thing, we live in a world of distance. We talk about being “close” to some people or “not very close” to others. We live in right relationship with others, and some of our relationships are not right. We have icy relationships, estranged relationships, and unhealthy relationships. Think of our relationships as points radiating from ourselves like the spokes on a bike. Some of our relationships are close, and others are far. If we were to connect the lines of those relationships, like a tire around the spokes, we might have an uneven tire or circle. To live in shalom, or peace is to form a perfect circle of relationships with God, with others, and throughout our community. To live in shalom is to live in right relationships with God and others.

When Jesus blesses peacemakers, he is not blessing peace-wanters or peace-lovers- both of which as passive endeavors. Jesus does not bless peace-living, which can turn into something individualistic. Jesus blesses peacemakers. The grammar in the Greek indicates that peacemaking is something active that we participate in. Jesus blesses those who are active and socially engaged in the lives who need peace. Peacemakers are those who work towards reconciliation in the communities. Paul reminds us of this ministry writing:

“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV.
When we receive salvation, we are a new creation and given the ministry of reconciliation; helping others live in right relationship with God and with one another. The church has gone to one side or the other in the West. There is a church segment that puts all its stock on spiritual peace or reconciliation between God and humanity through salvation. Another segment says that we bring peace by caring for others over and beyond any concern for their spiritual lives. It’s either been salvation or social justice. Paul says that as an overflow of our faith that we have the ministry of reconciliation. Faith is inclusive of the spiritual and the relational. It means we have a ministry to bring people into a right relationship with God and to experience restorative relationships with one another. To do one without the other is to live out only have the Gospel.

Paul talks about the importance of reconciliation or peace within our relationships in Ephesians. Paul writes:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, but which he put to death their hostility. Ephesians 2:14-16, NIV
Paul uses the conflict between Jews and Gentiles as an example. Not only was there a conflict between the two, but that conflict kept them from truly experiencing God. Through Jesus, God is bringing people together who have been at war and creating new humanity that has its roots and life in Jesus. This peace that God is working in our world is spiritual, and it is relational. We cannot have one without the other.

When we think about being a peacemaker, it is not a pushover. A peacemaker does not sweep things under the rug. Peacemaking is full of conflict. Being a peacemaker will require us to do the hard work of confronting evil and oppression wherever we find them. The life and death of Jesus define peacemaking. It is difficult. Jesus didn’t hide from conflict; he addressed it. We see Jesus addressing conflict with the Pharisees throughout the Gospels, and yet he does it in such a way to keep communication open rather than trying to win an argument. To live in right relationship with others, we have to speak the truth when someone has harmed us and be ready to receive when we have hurt others.

To follow Jesus, then, means that we never react passively in the face of injustice, abuse, or suffering. Being a peacemaker who follows the way of Jesus is always an energetic and risky endeavor, filled with vigorous, complicated, and costly goodwill. If we follow Jesus with integrity, we liberate the oppressed and set the captives free. We not only seek justice, but we “live or do” justice and work to transform brokenness into wholeness in all areas of our community as the overflow of the peace we’ve received from God through the Cross of Jesus Christ.

What does peacemaking look like in our communities? In short, it is followers of Jesus who are actively working towards reconciliation in our world.

Peacemakers are those who work to help restore relationships between children and their parents. Peacemakers seek to restore marriages that have become broken.

Peacemakers are those who work to raise up their neighbors out of poverty by providing career counseling, resume writing, and job training.

Peacemakers are those who provide foster care or seek to adopt children who have lost their families.

Peacemakers actively work with addicts to help them overcome the demons that they cannot overcome on their own.

Perhaps one of the most important areas in the white, American Church where we can live as peacemakers is in the areas of racial reconciliation. Author Jim Wallis calls racism “America’s original sin.” While it feels good to think that we’ve come a long ways since the 1960’s, or the time of slavery- there are reminders in the news of how far we have yet to go in our nation.

The case of Ahmaud Aberey has gripped the nation over the last several weeks. Aberey, who is black, was shot by a white neighbor who was suspicious that he might have been entering an active construction build. This vigilante actions of the two white neighbors have been likened to a lynching in the black community. It is just one of the entirely too many instances like this.

I am sure that bringing up this story may bring strong feelings to your mind. This is the challenge for the white church. We are called to work towards peace and reconciliation. That means that we should seek to understand the experience of our Black, Latino, and Asian brothers and sisters. We may say something like “ALL LIVES MATTER,” to which I will say that until the plight of our Black, Latino, and Asian brothers and sisters matter enough for us to stand with them and be actively engaged in peacemaking- then we cannot say All Lives Matter. As followers of Jesus, we are called to be peacemakers because “Jesus is our peace making the two groups one and tearing down the dividing wall.”

Peacemaking, actively working towards reconciliation, is the natural result of our salvation. In the beatitudes, we are the poor in spirit, helpless without God. When we realize this, we mourn for the brokenness that we see in the world and we approach our relationships with meekness and humility. The sinfulness and brokenness we see in the world will cause us to hunger and thirst for righteousness-for justice. This hunger leads us to action- to show mercy, to be purely and single-mindedly focused on God, and to actively work towards peace and reconciliation. While we long for the day where God will redeem all of creation, we have a ministry of reconciliation to take part in now.

When I walk through Milford, I long to see Avenue as a place where peacemaking takes place as a result of our faith in Jesus. I long to see people who are in conflict with God make peace with God through the cross of Jesus. I long to see the racial, economic, and social barriers torn down because ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This morning, I want to invite you to think about the opportunities for peacemaking and reconciliation in our church, in our families, and in our communities as we watch this video.

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Let’s Not Return to Normal

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Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash

If there is one thing I hear over and over again during this stay-at-home Corona-quarantine time is that people are longing to “get back to normal.” I get the sentiment. For the last 50 days, we have been homeschooling four kids while Andrea and I do our best to work from home. The normal routines and rhythms of our days and weeks have been disrupted. Let’s be honest, we’re tired of seeing each other all day every day! (I’ve got to keep it real!)

What if “getting back to normal” is the worse thing we could do?

I’m not talking about re-opening the economy “getting back to normal.” I’m talking about “How I live my life ‘getting back to normal.'”

The last fifty days have taught a lot of us some new skills and abilities. It’s taught many families to live together, to have more meals together, and to be more involved in the educational process. I’ve seen pictures on Facebook of families hiking together, doing family Olympics and other creative efforts, and sharing the cooking responsibilities. Families are worshipping together, doing Sunday School lessons together, and having time for more conversations. Sure, it’s not been perfect and hasn’t worked for everyone, but the Corona outbreak has created more space for our families to thrive.

The Corona outbreak has caused a disruption in just about every aspect of our lives. This disruption has brought about adaptation and innovation. In our families, it has created the opportunity to make new rhythms and to chart new courses for our families to journey. Why would we want to “get back to normal” if that normal is not where we want our families to be? Why would we want to return to a “run ourselves ragged rat-race” that leaves little time for the things we really find important?

I hope we don’t return to normal. I hope that my family and yours will adapt, innovate and ultimate re-calibrate to focus on what is most important. That way, when we can leave our homes or return to work/school that we do not lose the soul of our families.

What is a new rhythm that your family has created during quarantine time?

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On Our Side | Pure in Heart

geometric_heart_lightstockIn February of 2010, I felt something that I’ve never felt before. I felt my heartbeat. Certainly, I’ve felt my heartbeat, but I’ve never felt it throughout the course of the day. I’ve never felt it as I lay in bed or when I would drive my car. Every once in awhile I could feel my heart skip through my chest.

I went to my doctor who was able to catch the leaping heart on the EKG. I had to wear a heart monitor for a few days and then I went back to the doctor. I was diagnosed with a benign arrhythmia- my heart was skipping beats. On the diagnosis, I remember being told long ago that my pediatrician had been aware of this condition, but in my 32 years up to that point, I had never felt my heart like that.

The doctor and I spoke and she told me to cut out caffeine (which I wasn’t even drinking coffee regularly yet) and to find ways to relax. I laughed at that because as I would lay in bed at night, feeling my heart leap through my chest, I would get worked up wondering if my heart would give out. Not necessarily the most rational thinking. But I was terrified. I would think about Andrea, Abbie (who was 3) and we would soon find out about Chloe. My doctor’s advice was to relax.

I experienced these symptoms for about three months. Then, one day, it just stopped. I don’t know whether I relaxed more, whether I lost weight, or whether or not the prayers I prayed were answered. But just as quickly as my heart started leaping out of my chest, it stopped.

For each of us, our hearts are important. Not only do they pump the blood that keeps us alive, they are the seat of our emotions. They are the center of who we are as individuals.

As we continue in our series on the Beatitudes, Jesus says in Matthew 5:7

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Our hearts are at the center of who we are. Fredrick Dale Bruner says that when Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure of heart” that what he means is “blessed are the ones who are centered on God.” I find this helpful because, in my own life, I know when things get out of balanced and off-centered. I can recognize, sometimes slowly, when my heart is not centered on God because it is focused on other things. Blessed are the pure in heart- Blessed are those who are centered, focused on God.

We see the importance of purity of our hearts in Jesus’ teaching. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says,

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”[1]

 When our hearts are not pure, when our hearts are divided, what is in our hearts eventually comes out. In many ways, it is the garbage in, garbage out principle. If we put sinful, lustful, prideful things in our hearts- that is going to come out of our mouth. The opposite is also true if we fill our hearts with the things of God- grace, mercy, love, forgiveness- that will come out of our hearts as well. We cannot do both. Our lives, our words, and our actions reflect what is in our hearts.

Leon Morris writes: To be pure in heart is to be pure throughout.

There is a civil war going on inside of our hearts for where our focus and our affections will be fixed. There is a battle to keep our hearts pure. King David provides a good example of this.

In 2 Samuel 11, we are told that during the time when kings go off to war, King David remains in Jerusalem (which is our first sign of trouble). While there, he goes out to his rooftop terrace, which would have been the highest point in the city and observes a woman bathing. This woman, Bathsheba, is the wife of one of David’s soldiers, Uriah. Rather than turn away from temptation, David lingers and his temptation gives birth to sin- by engaging in adultery with a married woman and then having her husband killed to cover up his sin.

What is compelling about this story is that in 1 Samuel, David is called a man after God’s own heart. David has this faith in God that we see throughout the Psalms. David is exemplary in many ways. And yet, David loses focus. David goes from single-mindedly focusing on God to have his heart and affections tempted into something illicit and sinful.

The prophet, Nathan, approaches David and confronts him about his sin. When David realizes that his sin has been brought to light, he confesses his sin to Nathan and to God. This is where most commentators believe Psalm 51 from. It is a Psalm of someone who has been confronted by their sin and seeking forgiveness from God.

“Have mercy on my, O God,
According to your unfailing love;
According to your great compassion
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.

 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
Or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
And grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”[2]

 David’s heart had become divided. In praying “create in me a pure heart,” David is praying that God would restore to him a heart that is undivided- purely focused on and desiring God.

This prayer is so vital for each one of us. Who among us has a heart undivided for God? Who can say that their heart is clean? Is pure? This prayer is key to Kingdom Living- it is Key to seeing more and experiencing more of God in our lives. We must have pure hearts.

Our heart is the dwelling place of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. So, the condition of our heart is extremely significant. Psalm 24 asks, “Who will ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts.” God blesses the pure in heart; they are the ones who will see God. They are the ones who will experience God.

To be pure in heart is to be pure throughout. To be pure in heart is to see God.

This morning, we hold up the mirror of scripture to our lives. When I look in the mirror and ask the Holy Spirit to point out and convict me of my sin- I see the real condition of my heart. It’s often not very good. We can look at our hearts and see pride, lust, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, idolatry, cheating, complacency in light of human suffering, fear, a puffed-up ego, and so much more. What do we do? We must invite God to perform heart surgery.

Ten years ago as I lay awake at night with my heart leaping out of my chest, one of my fears was that I would require some sort of heart surgery. It was an irrational fear, for sure, because my doctor told me I wouldn’t require anything. But for those of you who have had heart surgery, where the doctor cuts you with a scalpel, separates your ribs, and works on your heart. There is a lot of pain associated with the procedure. But it is necessary to have a properly functioning heart.

It wasn’t comfortable for King David to have his sin exposed by Nathan, but it was necessary to begin the spiritual healing. It is not comfortable to have the Holy Spirit look into our lives, but the promise of the beatitude is that the pure of heart will see God. If we want to see God in deeper ways, then we must pursue a pure, undivided heart.

We will see God move in our personal lives and in our church in new ways as we pursue a pure heart through our encounters with Jesus and The Holy Spirit. Jesus, the Great Physician, mends our broken and divided hearts so that are able to focus our heart’s desires and affections on God.

This morning, there may be sin in your life that needs to be confessed. Perhaps, like David, you need to declare, “Against you alone have I sinned.” It is our sin that keeps us apart from knowing and seeing God in the ways that we desire. So we join together in praying:

Create in me a clean heart, a pure heart, O God
And renew a right spirit within me
Cast me not away from your presence
Or take your Holy Spirit from me
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
And renew a right spirit within me.

Because of our sinful nature, we are divided. Yet through Jesus, we can have an undivided heart. God is on the side of the Pure in heart- and they will see God.

[1] Luke 6:45, NIV.

[2] Psalm 51:1-2, 10-12, NIV.

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