Like an old Sabbath

A few weeks back, I was invited to do special music for the church I’ve been attending since I arrived in Houston. Given that I really had not other performance opportunities in sight, I accepted.

I haven’t played much, and I have honestly felt the void. On Monday, I had an excellent practice session. It was productive and fun—one of those you don’t get all the time. Then on Wednesday, while preparing the piece for Sabbath, I hated my guts because my altissimo register just plain sucked (that’s what practicing is more like on a daily basis).

So even though I generally don’t play music outside of the classical genre, I looked forward to performing once more, to feeling those nerves and the adrenaline, to enjoy being shaken by the beauty of music.

My faith has been faltering; my spirit has struggled with finding purpose, my self-esteem with the ever-challenging demands and expectations of a PhD program. But today, playing for the worship service at the West Houston Seventh-day Adventist Church, I felt fulfilled. Making music, participating in worship, if only for a moment, I was home.

The Sabbath closes and I thank God for a much-needed reminder of who He is even as I am overwhelmed with, not doubt, but questions. And I am grateful for another chance to make and share music. I needed it.

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#023 – Michael Paradise

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Before leaving Lincoln, Neb., for good, I sat down with Michael Paradise in his office at the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church where he serves as the young adult pastor. I was curious to know what it is like to work with young adults and what made him want that job—it may have something to do with having a pretty wife.

After a fun chat, I left so he could continue eating pizza and playing worship songs on the guitar, which is basically his job description—according to him, not his employer.

In Times of (Some) Trouble

I’ve heard it’s easy to trust God when things are going great. When things are looking up, we look up. However, when crises arise we focus on what we can do instead of asking for help.

That makes sense, I thought when I first heard this idea.

I’ve also heard, though, that when we have plenty, we forget about God and perhaps tend to believe it’s all from our own making. Then, when we hit rock bottom, we kneel and ask God to take hold of us because we just can’t go on.

Of course that’s how it works. (See, hindsight bias applies for erroneous conclusions, too.)

So, which one is it? Which one is the universal principle we should apply? I don’t know I care which ‘axiom,’ if any, better describes reality in this context. What I can tell you is I’ve struggled to be close to God in both situations.

When things were okay, I prayed for meals and before going to bed—morning prayer has always eluded me. Once the day looked ominous, I prayed for meals and before going to bed. Treading rough emotional patches, I prayed for meals and before going to bed.

Although I’m not sure I’ve prayed every night in the last two weeks, my relationship with God hasn’t improved nor deteriorated. But perhaps, things have changed slightly.

Scattered throughout the year, from January and through the summer, I’ve dropped to the floor and pleaded with God for guidance, for the certainty I once had. In the last few weeks, those prayers come with tears.

I’ve shed copious tears (in that regard, I live an opulent life), but I maintain abundant reserves.

I just don’t have time or space to cry, even if I need it. Do I have time for a chapter of two of First Peter when I need to soon decide whether I stay or go home to Mexico?

How do I take time to read the Gospels when I’m trying to find some solid ground—ironic, I know—or at least prepare a speech to recite when I’m asked what I’m doing, why I’m still around?

Petty social stuff, right? I’m guilty!

But how can I read little, cutesy devotionals when on top of the existential crises I need to figure out where from I’ll get enough for food?

How do I take time for God when time is what I don’t have? Think about your life in heaven, I can hear you say. I get it, there’s a life after this one, but this one is pretty fucking real.

How do I take time for morning prayer when I have no idea where I’m sleeping that night?

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Yet, God has provided in abundance. Not the way I expected, not in all matters, but in what I needed most then.

I don’t care about those universal principles we come up with for the next pop religion book or viral sermon. Don’t give me the prosperity gospel or the newest Joel Osteen grin.

When things are not looking up, I’ll look up. I’ll try that. It’s all I can do.

#017 – Tyler Morrison

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Today on the show we have Tyler Morrison, a talented Christian singer-(now)songwriter. On September 4, he’ll be releasing his debut album “Surrender.” Tyler is here to share all about how his music ministry has evolved and where it may go.

To receive a free download of “He Leadeth Me” visit tylermorrisonmusic.com and subscribe.

This week’s book and film recommendations (check them out!):

Dave Eggers’s “What Is the What” (recommended by Pablo Colindres)

People Places Things (recommended by Slade)

If you liked this episode, share and subscribe on Facebook, iTunes, and Twitter!

A church that fits me

While going through some old posts from an older blog of mine, I found a quote from C. S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters.” Every time I read this passage I think about what the point of church is. Is it important to find a church that fits you? Is it about something else? I’m really not sure of the answer, although sometimes it might seem obvious. Lewis poses some thought-provoking ideas.

In “The Screwtape Letters,” a demon and senior tempter named Screwtape writes to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter. The uncle provides advice to Wormwood, who has been assigned a man. His task is to prevent this man from following God. The “Enemy” referred to in the letters is God.

My dear Wormwood,

Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.

The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy want him to be a pupil.

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE

Sabbath days (part 3)

This is the third post in the series Sabbath days. If you have not read the previous posts, you can read the first one here and the second one here.


“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

—Isaiah 58:13, 14

Sabbath had become kind of a pain. I certainly waited for it every week, but once it passed by I’d realize how disappointing it had been. I had great expectation for the Sabbath that never materialized.

During my sophomore year in college, the Spanish Sabbath school continued under new leadership, but it never took off. I can’t exactly remember when we stopped doing it but there was no point in continuing there when we could all probably have a more fulfilling Sabbath experience attending other groups.

So I began attending another Sabbath school which I liked because it combined feeling and rational thought. Many great professors are part of this group and they bring thought-provoking perspectives. Yes, I am a nerd.

Despite the great fit, I started to show up less and less often. I would stay in my room thinking I had things figured out. I thought, my relationship with Jesus is personal. I don’t really need to be part of a group. I can just stay in my room and read the Bible. You know, have my own devotional. That’ll be more fulfilling.

Deep down (or not so deep) I knew things would not get better. However, that’s what I told myself on Saturday mornings to be okay with myself for sleeping in. After all, I had been really busy during the week and was really tired by the time Sabbath arrived. I deserved my break, my alone time.

This changes to my Sabbath came as a result of how I felt during the week. By the end I was not only tired but extremely frustrated. Perhaps I did not get as far as I wanted or needed in my clarinet repertoire. Perhaps my ear was still as bad as the previous week. Perhaps my writing did not seem to get better. Whether it was knowing too little or failing at accomplishing relevance, I felt as frustrated as never before.

Sabbath became my day. It was a break, or so I told myself. Little by little, I made Sabbath a day where I could get ahead on the things I was behind. What if I worked on my ear or read a good book? It is for a good cause and, besides, there is nothing inherently wrong with those activities. So, I began doing those things. I began taking advantage of that day of rest to not rest.

I quickly noticed that doing these things frustrated me even more, because I knew I was cheating God. I did not feel okay going my own way on the Sabbath. And even if I wanted to blame my guilt on conservatism, that’d be futile. As Ezekiel 20:20 says, Sabbath is a sign of a commitment between God and me. This is not legalism, this is about a commitment with God. Sabbath is a sign of that and a reminder of who God is.

Whether it was trying to advance on my musical abilities or adding something to my brain or maybe even playing video games to give vent to my frustrations, I felt empty. The more I left God out of the picture, the more dissatisfied I became.

I had willingly distanced myself from God. Sabbath was no longer a Sabbath, it was just a day off.

When I went back home this summer, it hit me how much my spiritual life had changed. Before I left Mexicali in the summer of 2012, my relationship with Jesus looked like a linear graph with a pretty good slope. Three years later, I couldn’t help but see a parabola.

Going home was my reality check. It was time to realize where I really stood. I had to categorically admit I had screwed up.

I only had two options. Ask God for help or quit.