April 30, 2011

April 27, 2011

Distinguishing features of a Christian life

Psalm 40:3

He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.

From my early teens I have been telling people that song lyrics are vitally important and the musical style only important insofar as it supports and contributes to the message of the lyrics (or detracts from that message). But, many years ago the group 4Him put out a song called “The Roller Coaster Ride.” As I often do, I ignored the things I had repeatedly asked others to do. I enjoyed the music, but did not pay a lot of attention to the words.

I’m not sure how I missed the lyrics of this song because they talked about how the ups and downs of life can overwhelm us if we don’t keep our eyes focused on Christ. Great advice.

Great advice that I continually need to remember.

This morning I decided to listen to sermons instead of music as I began my day, so I pointed my MP3 player to my sermon collection and began listening to one of the sermons in Arturo Azurdia’s “Distinguishing Features of a Gospel Congregation.” And like those lyrics that I had missed over the years, apparently I had missed something in one of these sermons when I listened to them before.

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Dr. Azurdia tells the story of a conference he preached at. He told one of the host pastors that he was thoroughly enjoying the singing there at the church. The pastor responded, “Here’s our approach. We sing when we’re happy, and we sing when we’re not happy. And when we’re not happy; we sing until we get happy.

God knows that our lives are going to be roller coasters. Some people cower in fear and close their eyes when they’re on roller coasters. Others cringe and hang on to the bar in front of them with a death grip, then sigh in relief when the ride is over. And then there are the others...

When I was a teenager, I remember going to King’s Dominion with my sister and our friends. I remember getting onto roller coasters and preparing for the ride. If I focused on the ups and downs of the ride I became a cringer. If I focused on the ups and downs of the ride, but I was afraid to look weak to my friends I became a hang-on-for-your-life-and-sigh-when-it’s-done rider. But... when my sister, who has no fear about anything, would break into song—and then the rest of us would join in—I would raise my hands in the air, sing along as loudly as I could, and have a blast for the duration of the ride. Then, at the end of the ride, we would get off, run as quickly as we could around to the entrance and jump back into the line again so we could do it all over. At the end of the day we went home happy and still singing until we got to the meeting location where all the parents would pick up their kids and take them home.

That’s how I want to live my life. I want to throw my hands up in the air, abandon my fears, and sing with gusto because, after all, he has put a new song in my mouth—a song of praise to our God!

April 26, 2011


Follow from Igniter Media on Vimeo.

HT: Laura Caldwell of Dancing Joyful Blog

To cut a broad swath and shave close

I have never thought of myself as “normal,” nor have I ever truly desired normality. I have often wished that I didn’t have to deal with the foolishness I create in my own life, but I’ve always seen normal as boring and have attempted to blaze my own trail.

As life goes along, we get mired more in more in the mundane. Life moves from the exhilaration and exuberance of youth to the steady plodding of adulthood. Or, to pull a scene from Knight’s Tale:

William: Oi sir, what are you doing?
Chaucer:    Uh... trudging. You know, trudging?
To trudge—the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on.
William: Uhhh... were you robbed?
Chaucer: [laughs] Funny really, yes, but at the same time a huge resounding no. It’s more of an... involuntary vow of poverty... really.

So... as we get older, we find ourselves trudging. Actually, quite a bit like an involuntary vow of poverty. Not necessarily financial poverty, but poverty nonetheless.

When I ruminate, I often think of things I have read in books (or comics) over the years. These thoughts today brought a couple good ones to mind:

When did we forget our dreams?

The infinite possibilities each day holds should stagger the mind. The sheer number of experiences I could have is uncountable, breathtaking, and I’m sitting here refreshing my inbox. We live trapped in loops, reliving a few days over and over, and we envision only a few paths laid out ahead of us. We see the same things each day, respond the same way, we think the same thoughts, every day a slight variation on the last, every moment smoothly following the gentle curves of societal norms. We act like if we just get through today, tomorrow our dreams will come back to us.

And no, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how to jolt myself into seeing what each moment could become. But I do know one thing: The solution doesn’t involve watering down my every little idea and creative impulse for the sake of someday easing my fit into a mold. It doesn’t involve tempering my life to better fit someone’s expectations. It doesn’t involve constantly holding back for fear of shaking things up.


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”

There are good reasons that we move from fantasy to reality as we get older. But if we dump our personality and our uniqueness along the way, we do ourselves and the world a disservice. At least, it seems that way at times.

There must be a middle ground between forcing Johnny to color inside the lines and allowing Johnny to run around tackling people in the grocery store... a middle ground that doesn’t kill Johnny’s spirit.

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars...

Jack Kerouac

April 25, 2011

How Great Thou Art!


friend of mine posted this phenomenal video to her Facebook page for Easter. I just had to pass it along for anyone who has not yet seen (and heard) this. Simply outstanding!

April 23, 2011

Blog Header - April 23, 2011

I took the picture of these beautiful flowers as I walked home from the doctor’s office this past Thursday. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday and the local flowers are in full celebration. I love this time of year!

Happy Easter! Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia!

April 21, 2011

Blog Header - April 21, 2011

I took this picture of my friend, Casper, in the Entrance to Arlington Park in front of our office building. We walked to the park early in the morning while the street lamps were still lit to get some unique pictures.

This park is quite beautiful—especially in the spring when the flowering trees and bushes are in full bloom. Not a bad place for being right at the edge of the city.

April 16, 2011

It is good to have a voice

There’s a place in most of us where the rain is pretty much constant, the shadows are always long, and the woods are full of monsters. It is good to have a voice in which the terrors of such a place can be articulated and its geography partially described, without denying the sunshine and clarity that fill so much of our ordinary lives.

—Richard Bachman

Hunger trumps all

If not for Florida and Maryland, our lives would be so very boring. How does every lunatic in the nation end up living in one of these two states?

Roberta Spen was apparently quite hungry and in no mood to deal with cops.

Blog Header - April 10, 2011

I took this photo of my friend, Melody, on her birthday. It was the first time I had seen her in 19 years and it was a wonderful reunion. Friends are precious.

April 15, 2011

Perpetuum Jazzile - Jump

Every time this choir puts out a new video it blows me away! And this one is mind-blowingly awesome again. I would so love to be part of this choir—even if that means I have to move to Slovenia!

April 14, 2011

A simple man

I grew up in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. When I got married I began a step-by-step journey further and further away from the city. In the past 25 years of marriage we have moved from about 25 miles out of central D.C. to our current home, which is 75 miles from D.C.

Because I work in D.C., many people wonder why we would chose to live so far away from everything. I find it hard to answer those questions. Perhaps I could tell them that they live far away from everything—not me. After all, we live on the banks of the Shenandoah River with beautiful mountains on all sides. We live within a couple of miles of everything our town has, so we could actually walk anywhere in town without problem. And we live only a couple miles from the most highly regarded recreational drive in the nation—Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park.

Of course, those are not the things people mean when they say, “you live so far away from everything.” They, of course, are referring to things like traffic, crime, and pollution. Or, maybe they see something else in the city worth living near.

I recently read a wonderful passage from someone who gets it—Jack George Edmunson. From his newest book, The Sun Sharer, here is the foreward:


here’s a beautiful place in Catalonia called Yapanc. It has beautiful people bathed in a beautiful light reflected from the beautiful sea and is tranquilo—quiet, fresh and alive.

The local Health Service actually works, the good schools are free to all and there’s very little traffic so it is easy to park in the centre of the sleepy neighbouring town called Palafrio. When you shop, you go to Palafrio’s markets for your locally caught fresh fish and other produce. Simple, loose and unpackaged food that you carry around in your hand-woven basket feeling relaxed, having spent time talking to your friends and eating breakfast together sitting outside one of the little cafes in the pretty square.

Then you go home refreshed and happy, feeling at one with a simple life built around real genuine people who share that simplicity.

When the sun goes down you can stand on the hill above Yapanc by El Far—The Lighthouse and watch the sun set behind the hills to the west of Palafrio that is spread far below you, feeling at one with the real world.

In my ‘home’ of Yapanc I have ‘Real Life’ where less is truly more.

There’s a place I originally thought was beautiful in Cheshire called Tettenhill.

My friends were the beautiful people but are now forgotten acquaintances, which in fact they always were.

It constantly seemed to be grey and rainy but as I was always working away from ‘home,’ I can’t be totally sure, so maybe it was just dismal in my heart and mind.

You would wait days for a doctor’s appointment and then see a locum; pay twelve thousand pounds a year for your child to be in the right school for the right ‘friends’ and always queue in traffic on the A51 at any time of the day. These queues stretched right into the Sainsbury’s car park, even when we went in early or late to miss the stampede for processed and over-packaged food, taken away in a host of plastic bags.

It was a frustrating place. Overheating with people who were preoccupied with possessions like cars and TVs. There were always things to do and so it developed into a meaningless drive to nothingness for many individuals and not just me.

So this was not ‘Real Life’ and therefore many people were not truly happy.

There is also a hill above Tettenhill as in Yapanc. This is reached via a stunningly beautiful footpath through a valley called Dingle Dell where the trees form a natural tunnel as they lean into the sun. If you walked up this trail you reached a window on the west where you could turn and contemplate the same sunset as in Catalonia but behind the distant Welsh Hills. You could feel at one with the world and be a Sun sharer with a loved one in Yapanc—but of course it’s England and there’s no time to take spiritually uplifting strolls like that.

The places in this story don’t matter but the people do.

Because people make life, not places, not possessions, not things.

There is no way you can avoid the highs and lows of life but you will see that ‘Real Life’ needs those lows to make the highs that much higher.

It’s all about what you say and do and not what you think or propose to do.

Doing changes mundane and meaningless to a reality that is exciting and important.

You have to remember that it is down to you only and therefore you cannot blame anyone else for the life that you lead.

Someone said to me at work.

“Jack, why are you going to live in Yapanc?”

This was a question said with an incredulous voice and reinforced by a quizzical look, as if Yapanc was at the end of the world.

“Because, I can,” and I left it at that.

April 12, 2011

You CAN go home


ow! What a Sunday! Evangel Baptist Church, the church founded by my father when I was just a lad (and a young one at that), celebrated its 45th anniversary this past Sunday. The event drew an eclectic group of people from many different locations scattered up and down the east coast. But the eclectic group had one thing in common: we knew each other when....

Luke 6:38

If you give to others, you will be given a full amount in return. It will be packed down, shaken together, and spilling over into your lap. The way you treat others is the way you will be treated.

And what a day it was!

My father was asked to preach and I wanted to see my parents and hear my father preach, so I headed out to Dale City from my home in Front Royal—about a 75-mile trip—early in the morning. I turned through Manassas, Virginia, and the nostalgia began to set in. I spent a lot of time in Manassas during my high school years—primarily because the two girls I dated in high school lived there. As I drove past places I had not seen in 30 years and saw how much things have changed I began to reminisce about those old days. And I thought about how nice it would be to see some of the people I knew back then.

My father preaching again from his old pulpit

Sunday was another milestone day. It was my best friend from high school —my next door neighbor, Melody Oestreich’s birthday. It had been 20 years since I had seen Melody too. So as I passed through Manassas and approached Dale City, where Evangel Baptist Church is located and where Melody and I lived next door to each other all those years ago, the memories from those days came flooding back. I was early, so I decided to drive down the road Melody now lives on—just to see her house. But when I got there I could not drive away without stopping to say hi. So I parked and rang the doorbell.

Melody and Bruce

Melody’s friend, Bruce, answered the door, warmly welcomed me in, and called up the stairs, “Melody, Rich is here!” He had taken her out for breakfast for her birthday and they had gone to her house so she could get ready for church. Fortunately, I showed up at the right time. They decided to go to church with me, so after Melody got ready, we headed to Evangel Baptist Church.

Greg Lambert, welcoming the people

We sat next to my mother. My mother was sitting next to a beautiful young lady who smiled over at me. It was Ruth, my high school girlfriend from Manassas. Up on the platform, behind the pulpit, was my friend Greg Lambert, who married Becky—my other high school girlfriend. A little bit further forward from where I sat was my friend Randy Leatch, a friend my wife and I became very close with early in our marriage—25 years ago. Everywhere I looked I saw old friends—friends who were very dear to me down through the years, but most of whom I had not seen in decades. It was simply wonderful.

Ruth (Sandberg) Houser, sitting on the other side of my mother

When the opportunity came for us to mingle a bit, friend after friend came up to say hi. There were a lot of hugging, a lot of tears, and a lot of huge smiles as we greeted one another. And it was good. So good, in fact, that it is impossible to explain. And I realized that I have been blessed beyond belief with some of the world’s most amazingly wonderful people in my life. And Sunday evening I got a bunch of Facebook friend requests from the people who had been there for the anniversary celebration, which seemed like icing on the cake of the wonderful day!

Melody and me

I’ll not forget these people this time. At the beginning of this year I determined to be a better friend. This felt like a reward sent to remind me how precious friendship is.

Thank you, God. You’re awesome!

April 06, 2011

It hurts so good

The over-achieving exercise junkies used to drive me nuts with statements such as, “it hurts, but it’s a good pain.” Who would have ever thought I’d be echoing their sentiments.

I recently posted a Facebook status message of I think I’m becoming an endorphin addict to let everyone know how much I was enjoying my new exercise routine. So today, when the rush of good feelings hit me toward the end of my workout I decided to look up endorphins and see if what I had said actually made any sense... it did!

Why I am enjoying exercising

Endorphins ("endogenous morphine") are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters.

They are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in vertebrates during exercise, excitement, pain, consumption of spicy food, love and orgasm....


April 01, 2011

Get it before inflation hits


ast night my son asked me, “Dad, why are girls so hard to understand?” To which I answered helpfully, “get used to it.” But this morning a friend told me about this great device that may help my son in his quest for understanding of the feminine species (I’d say the feminine sex or try to be current, albeit grammatically incorrect by saying the feminine gender - but when it comes to language, we are clearly different species). So, I pass along the advice to all my brothers out there who need help deciphering what a woman says: