I admit outright that John and Michelle Thompson have been longtime friends- yet I can say honestly that their new Wayside release “Spiritual Songs” is a standalone winner.Sweet hymns from days past, more recent tunes, here an expected and othertimes quite fresh arrangements & production all hit the mark.This hip mix of nearly all worship-oriented songs is served up in The Wayside’s distinctive Americana-rock-meets-country goodness.The songs, performances, acoustic and electric instruments (including dobro- which I do love so) coupled with “we did this in a big living-room with sincerity” vibe is plain fetching not to mention edifying.KUDOS to em, another great project from genuine disciples who aren’t afraid nor ashamed of the One True Love.http://thewayside.bandcamp.com/-Glenn KaiserChicago, March 2010
I’ve been a grandfather for quite a few years now, and between that and having another birthday the following thoughts came to me the other day… and left me laughing and grateful to God as well.I and all of us probably look, to God, like my 6th month old grandson.God knows we want to walk but stumble, to talk but coo and gurgle, to sing but can barely carry a tune.He sees us upset when we’re hungry, grumpy and distraught when we’re tired.Sometimes we just need to be picked up and held, rocked and sung to, prayed for.On the dark side, at times we’ll have a fit -and may just need to scream ourselves out, finally learning that fits must not be given manipulative, controlling status!
Walking around our huge garage and warehouse area at JPUSA I found a few old beaten-up pieces of wood… just what I needed!See, Wendi bought a “flying cardinal” bird thingee with wings and strings at a yard sale. I hadn’t seen one of these for many years, just the sort of thing you’d see in someone’s yard out in the country in Wisconsin where I grew up.The wings flap when the wind is high enough. You hang ’em in trees, below a line or under a pole in gardens and such. Nice little decoration for Cornerstone Farm for us and a few friends… and makes a cool little Christmas gift for those who like such a thing.But to look at these bits of wood right now… nada! Holes, here and there, a few nails to be pulled. No paint or a bit of dull paint, chiped here and there, a few cracks.What I see in this stuff are 3 or so of these cool birds.I love cardinals. They happen to be at Cstone Farm, and in fact are the state bird of Illinois. Bright screeming red. Shy but just beautiful creatures that again remind me of God, His love and even Jesus’ blood that makes us whole. What an imagination God has to create such incredible creatures!So I don’t see crummy pieces of junk wood- I have a vision of what they can be, and even given as gifts to a few folks who I know will appreciate and enjoy them.I have my tools, string, eyelets and wood all ready to go. I have a pattern from the “yard sale bird” and tomorrow I’ll begin tracing, cutting, sanding, gluing and painting. This is going to be fun…Dear reader: God sees us- some of us quite banged-up, with cracks, dust and dirt, maybe somewhat warped… and He sees what we can and will be in His timing if we will let Him put His hands on us and do the carving, shaping and sanding. When He’s finished we will be a full-on masterpiece! That’s the Greek word Paul uses that’s often translated “workmanship” in Ephesians. A better translation into English is “masterpiece”.Meanwhile, we don’t always feel, look or act like mature, finished material. Sort of like very used, rough 1/4 inch plywood that one has to have a heart and eyes with vision to see anything good or potentially beautiful in.May God give us His eyes for ourselves- and those around us. Certainly, the best gift is Jesus and the love of God He brought and brings. His was and is the most special birth in the whole history of the human race. God came down as a human being.Christmas is a time to celebrate Him, love and family. It’s a time for gifts. Perhaps the best gift to God is yourself.Give… and keep your eyes open. You have no idea what a wonderful gift you can become to Him and others via His loving hands.It’s no exaggeration to say a huge part of His work is about transformation.
What I write now is so obvious it’s almost like, why write it at all… but I’m doing so because I think it may be an encouragement to many in ministry and local churches who find themselves in rather the same predicament time after time.In Jesus People U.S.A. Ev. Cov.church/community, where I serve on the pastoral team, we interact with many people. Quite a few love Jesus fully, are “on fire” for the Lord and care deeply about His Word, His will and missions, locally and elsewhere. We’re doing a lot of outreach on a daily basis in all sorts of areas of need. By God’s grace we’ve been blessed seeing a fair bit of visible fruit in a good many lives over the years.As in most local congregations or ministry centers those gifted and called help to oversee various departments of service meet with staff often, in some cases on a daily basis. We also have committees who look after various needs within and outside our fellowship. I sit on a few of these boards/staffs, or on occasion I am invited to do so.After some 38 years of service I’ve discovered two universal truths: there seems to be nearly never enough a) money or b) responsible people to work in any particular department! I’ve further learned this is pretty much the same no matter what ministry, church or mission area one spends time with in the wide world…God has entrusted people to us who are full of need. Sometimes the needs are long-term. sometimes shorter and easier-to-resolve. There are issues of temptation and sin. Sometimes physical or mental/emotional illness are involved. We in leadership are likewise often in need. Sometimes it’s not the individual in question but their spouse or a child or two, perhaps other family members who are struggling. All of this weighs on the person which in turn affects their ability to think clearly, make sound judgments and at times may even eliminate their capacity to serve responsibly in a particular ministry.If the Lord deems you worthy of working with/alongside of broken people (and you’re likely broken in one or more areas yourself…) then does it not seem He does so at least in part, that you might both get discipled and learn to grow in the everyday flow of things while serving together? This is precisely how it looks to me, in JPUSA and elsewhere.If everyone is totally solid all the time, fully responsible, completely reasonable and rarely walks in anything but “the Spirit”, I’d say you don’t have some sort of ministerial utopia- rather you have a group God doesn’t at present believe He can entrust with hurting people.Or maybe you have a very active imagination?!Those who believe God has called them to minister purely to get a specific thingaccomplished with few or no hassles tend to function better in a corporate, not congregational world.Of course it’s best to vet people thoroughly or not give them “staff” or leadership responsibilities in the first place, but people change, illness or temptation strikes, for any number of reasons “speed bumps” pop up in most any ministering group.You may respond “But Glenn, isn’t the point to bring healed, stable people in to help the sick and unstable?” and my answer to that would be both “yes and no”. Empathy comes from feeling and entering into at least some amount of suffering with those who suffer… even -because- of those you’re serving.If you believe yourself to be perfect you’ll tend to have very little patience with those who aren’t.I’d say that the Father keeps us on our knees in prayer and creative In terms of finances. Prayer, careful thought, budgeting and stewardship of what He has given part of the foundation of any stable work. Linking with godly, experienced leaders in other ministries and local congregations is a huge part of how we learn to flow with the tides.And an oft-missed fact is that it’s not always money we need most. Our lack of prayer, lack of readiness to change, unwillingness to suffer a certain amount of loss/pain in terms of making changes, all of these can keep us locked into thinking it’s all (or mostly) about finances that keep this or that ministry from growing or accomplishing God’s purposes.Truth is, I don’t personally know of many local churches or ministries who actually have a surplus of funds they don’t know what to do with. Do you?! If you knew how close to the edge they were you’d likely not conclude they don’t have some of the same problems your fellowship does. To whom more is given, more will be required. That’s the way it really is!Need keeps us on our knees- seeking the Lord for guidance, direction, help, blessing in other ways as well as keeping us tight with Him in terms of provision.I doubt if humanly speaking, any Christian ministry is overdosed with finances and healthy, responsible people who never bring problems or pain to work with them. I think this has always been and shall always be the case.God is well-aware how we tend to depend on “the arm of the flesh”, in our own smarts, our own power, talents and our own ability as humans to make decisions apart from Him. He knows better than we do what a train-wreck such self-dependence can create.Much like physical exercise, such difficulties stretch us so that we can grow stronger. I’m not saying it’s always a fun ride, only that beneficial spiritual growth happens due to such things. Paul writes “all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose”. A. W. Tozer wrote “miracles follow the plow”. Indeed so.May the Lord help us to lean on Him and not so readily complain about the need most all of us share world-wide. God’s Word is clear: He knows our needs before we ask Him, and He provides exactly what, who, when and how we need that provision. If He clearly does not over an extended period of time, perhaps we are carrying a burden He hasn’t called us to carry.We must remember and remind one another that God indeed has the whole world in His hands, and it’s certain He’s better at meeting need than any of us are.We can also be sure that it’s not the Lord’s will for us to beat ourselves up for our failures. At times we will fail in both loving our neighbor and in judgment calls on budgeting and finance.Nobody is literally “perfect” in doing ministry and mission, but may God help us to grow, trust and obey Him in love that more actual need can be met.In His will, way and timing, God meets the need.
It was the sort of day I like.Well, to be honest, I like many different sorts of days, but today it was raining in Chicago, the leaves are about half-off the trees, it’s 24 hours from Halloween and I get to hear a band I really like (Leper) tonight.My wife is the most beautiful person or thing I’ve ever laid eyes on, and as most reading this will know, guys are especially drawn by beauty… fact is, she’s just a knock-out and I regularly thank God I can still see fairly well, ha!! What a gift she is to me! But her attitude toward Jesus, His Word, our family, the Church and our local church community is so amazing and good… I’m so blessed and have been given the grace to know it. Whew. I thank God for His goodness to me, I surely haven’t earned nor do I deserve one bit of it. Grace indeed.Last night my wife and I enjoyed one of our grandsons celebrate his sixth birthday. It was a bang-up party and he, his parents, brothers, friends and a good number of parents all laughed, smiled and had a great time. This morning I was able to help one of my daughters and one of my other grandsons get to a doctor’s appointment for a routine checkup, and all is well.It’s also a great day in that I’ve been blessed in reading a book by Peter Maiden called simply, “Discipleship” with which I track on so many levels.Further, walking outside my office window is a quiet but very committed bro. in Christ whom I’ve watched soak up the Spirit and Word of God like a sponge for the past few months. Very encouraging to me.A good friend who built me a wonderful electric guitar phoned yesterday, leaving me a voice message as he was walking out to his tree-stand with bow in hand. It’s deer season, one of my favorite times of the year. More on that in a moment, but don’t freak out vegans and non-hunters, there’s good stuff coming if you’ll hang in there for a bit :)Beyond all this, another good friend who built me the most magnificent acoustic guitar I’ve ever had the pleasure to play had time to chat on the phone today, and though he’s had a rough go with illness, there is light at the end of the tunnel, he’s doing much better and we had a great chat about the Lord.If the Lord wills, the rain will pass tonight and the fields will dry up enough for another grandson’s soccer match tomorrow, which I will proudly take him to and attend. If not, we can at least kick a ball around together in a dry indoor place available to us.Are you noticing anything about any of this?The obvious is that I have an amazing family, friends and church all of which I’m deeply grateful for. What may not be so obvious is that it’s all about a life of community, not independence.Then I want to say that the glory of God appears often to me in autumn as I’m out in the woods, sitting or quietly, slowly moving for hours on end, in fairly silent surroundings. But even there I’m never alone.To be sure there are a lot of animals: deer, foxes, coyotes, turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, lots of other birds and mammals. I’ve seen plenty of skunks but thankfully never had a run-in with one yet… Hallelulia!But I’m not alone because the Lord is continually with me.Yet in those times when I’m so removed from people, often sitting under a tree above a creek bottom, nearly motionless, just listening, watching, waiting, I may or may not see the game I’m hunting but I tend to pray and even sing inwardly. Songs often accompany me while I’m in the woods. Many of them are praise and worship songs in all sorts of styles. Some I’ve heard, some are made up on the spot, just between God and myself.I have regular and often lengthy times of prayer and worship in those moments and places, and they are memorable.It’s understandable that some wouldn’t be at all comfortable taking the life of an animal in the wild, but perhaps you’d believe me when I say the anticipation of simply seeing one pass by is itself really exciting and fun.Anticipation is a huge part of the thrill- and I have asked myself if I feel the same deep sense of longing, joy and excitement about meeting with my heavenly Father. Sometimes yes, but sadly and honestly, sometimes no!And yet every autumn about this time I become almost child-like in the excitement about getting out into the beautiful woods again, among the trees, leaves, wind, rain, snow, on top or nearly at the bottom of ridges, stalking through from tree to tree, listening, watching, trying to catch any sense of movement.Often I simply watch, smile and count the seconds by trying to figure how long a particular animal or for example, an owl, will stay near me when it has just landed on a tree limb.I rarely go without a camera and love to take pictures.A couple years ago I woke up with thick snow on the ground. The night before had been quiet and calm and the snow was a total surprise. What cool pics and what a beautiful morning as dawn began to peek through the dark woods, soft, huge flakes gently falling, the snow itself lay with that subtle blue hue. Almost immediately deer began to move, bucks chasing does, a mother with two fawns moving through my immediate area. But it was the glory of God moving in my life that morning that made them and the experience so special.Family, children, grandchildren, friends in Christ, God revealing Himself in and through all that He has made, the interaction of living things in nature, the elements of wind, rain, snow, woodlands, all of these are fully gifts.Thanksgiving will be here soon.