Monday, June 13, 2011

My Chains are Gone

Yesterday, I played a new arrangement of Chris Tomlin's song Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) and have received several favorable comments. In the heart of every individual is the desire to experience total freedom.....physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I was thinking about the implications of freedom in Christ today when I received my sister's weekly email devotion, "Ramblings." She spoke eloquently about freedom and her personal testimony. I am reposting her email here in its entirety.

RATTLE... RATTLE... CLANK.... CLANK....CLANK... that is the sound of a chain dragging behind you as you walk. I have never been “in chains” in the natural. I do not know what it is like to have a huge black metal chain clamped around my arms or my ankles. I cannot begin to imagine the heaviness of the chain or the sheer irritation of having to wear a chain.

Until 1955, the United States had "chain gangs” in our prison systems. A chain gang was a group of prisoners chained together to perform menial or physically challenging work. The use of chains could be hazardous, causing the prisoners to stumble or fall. Falls could imperil several individuals at once. Some of the chains used in the system weighed twenty pounds or more. Some prisoners suffered from shackle sores — ulcers where the iron ground against their skin. Gangrene and other infections were serious risks.

To be bound in natural chains must be terrible, but what about being bound by spiritual chains? I have been bound by spiritual chains and it is a terrible feeling. A spiritual chain is anything that binds us or holds us back from being all that God desires us to be. These chains can be the old rusty “stand-bys” of bitterness, hate, unforgiveness, or fear. They can also be the shiny new-fangled ones of complacency, violence, or kingdom blindness. All are spiritual chains that need -- no, rephrase that -- that MUST be broken in order for us to grow to our full potential in Christ.

There is only one way for a spiritual chain to be removed. Chris Tomlin said in “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)"

My chains are gone, I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace.

What a difference it makes in people when they believe that Jesus TRULY is the Son of God and not just the product of the human imagination. When we fully understand that He is the only one that can deliver us from the chains that are binding us, then and only then will we be set free. Many on the chain gangs tried to set themselves free and as a result were killed; too many Christians have been killed spiritually by trying to set themselves free as well from the chains that enslave them. You cannot pick the chain; you cannot lose enough of yourself to wiggle your way out of the chain. It takes the blood and the power of Jesus to set you free.

I can truly say “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free!” For the longest time, I had walked in chains of trying to please everyone -- trying to be what everyone else wanted me to be. I was trying to live like THEY wanted me to live, chained by other people's thoughts and beliefs. A few weeks ago, I was set free from those chains! Jesus visited me and I allowed Him to set me free from the chains of what everyone else wanted and expected. I have been set free, ransomed by His unending love and His amazing grace.

My friends, I encourage you to go again to the cross of Calvary and see and feel the power of the blood, believe the Word, and feel the blessing of awe and wonder which breaks into our individual lives. Then you can truly live and walk in the freedom that Christ has to offer you. Your chains can be broken. Whether your chains are self-inflicted or you are a prisoner on a chain gang, the Master Guard, Jesus Christ, has the key and is willing to set you free. You, too, can break out into the song with those who have experienced His deliverance!

My chains are gone, I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace.

Free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last. . .and it feels GREAT!!!!!


My prayer for each of you today is the same as the hope my sister expressed above. May you know true freedom in Christ -- free from the chains of doubt, abuse, and sin that have bound you for far too long. I look forward to hearing that this song has also become your anthem.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wishing and Hoping

I have begun to experience some problems with my laptop.  It doesn't appear to be anything too serious...probably an issue with the screen my files aren't in any great immediate danger.  The machine has been quite good to me and has seen me through a dissertation and tons of various documents and presentations.  I like it a lot, but don't want to invest TOO much money into repairs since I have contemplated buying a new machine anyway.

For years, I have heard everyone singing the praises of the MAC and now I'm becoming more and more interested.  My primary interest lies in the number of music programs that are compatible with the machine and the great reviews other professional musicians give them.  In an ideal world, I want a desktop machine to handle the big projects and a laptop for portability and presentations.  The two would have to be compatible, but I don't foresee making an immediate shift to all things Apple immediately.

I would love to hear from all my friends in cyberspace -- especially those of you in the arts -- and get your reviews of MAC and its usefulness and the difficulties you have encountered.  Let the comments begin!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Under the Weather

I have spent much of the morning apologizing to people I have encountered.  "I'm sorry that I'm not my usual self today."  "Could you say that again?  I didn't quite hear you."  "Would you mind if we lowered the blinds?  I'm a little sensitive to light today for some reason."  After several hours of this, I finally admitted to myself that I was not feeling well -- you could say I'm a little under the weather -- and made the dreaded trip to the doctor.  My regular physician was out of town on a business trip (a miracle in itself given the horrific attack upon Dr. Trent Pierce in West Memphis, Arkansas a few years ago), but his colleague was able to work me in.  Thankfully I'm not terribly sick, but I do have the beginning of an upper respiratory infection.  Medications have been prescribed and I should be back to normal in a few days.

Situations come in our lives that make us feel BLAH!  An unkind word, a missed opportunity, the betrayal of a friend, or a personal pity party can be the culprit.  Days like that happen in all of our lives just as our bodies will inevitably become sick from time to time.  Despite the vitamins we have taken and the rest we have gotten, viruses creep into our bodies.  Attacks come against our spiritual man as well even when we have spent time in the Word of God and in prayer.  On those BLAH days, my response and mindset is most important.

Physically, it would be very easy for me to crawl in bed, pull the covers over my head and wait for the sickness to explode on the scene.  That's not a solution for me;  I've done that too many times and know what happens.....I REALLY get sick!  Instead, I choose to maintain a level of activity while insuring that I am getting the nourishment, vitamins, and rest that my body needs.  In other words, I'm not going at a crazy pace, but I'm not sitting down and stopping either.

The same thing is true of our spiritual man.  When I find myself having a blue day, I may slow my pace a bit, but I cannot stop.  Rather, I must recognize that the spiritual disciplines of reading the Word, prayer, meditation and worship (the things that my emotions would first want me to give up) are the very things that I need to maintain in order to renew my strength and my health.  It's by continuing that my soul receives the tools it needs to fight.

Yes, we will all be under the weather from time to time.  The question is how long we are going to continue to feel that way.  I choose to make a trip to see the Great Physician and allow Him to prescribe exactly what I need in order to be totally restored to the person He intends me to be.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Doors and Windows

It is commonly said, "When God closes a door, He opens a window."  I'm not sure if my personal windows are open yet or not, but I experienced this earlier today.  I received some disappointing news -- it wasn't a total shock, but still disappointing -- and was beginning to feel a little down.  Within 2 hours, I received a phone call that held some encouraging news as well. 

I'm thankful that even when I'm not sure exactly what the plan is, I can trust that my Heavenly Father loves me and promises to work all things out for my good.  Tonight, I'm claiming the promise of Psalm 3:  "You, O Lord, are a shield for me.  My glory and the One who lifts up my head....I lay down and slept; I awoke for the Lord sustained me.  I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about."  My trust and my hope is in the Lord!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Offended....Without Reason!

When was the last time that you were truly upset with someone?  For whatever reason, they had hurt your feelings and you were deeply offended.  Now, when was the last time you had became offended without anyone saying a word?  Sadly, I must admit that the latter statement would be a fairly accurate depiction of much of my day today.

I had a day off from teaching, so I decided to hang around the house and get some things done so I could have some free time tomorrow.  Of course, I wanted free time today too and became upset with other people.  If THEY would bother to do some more of this stuff, I wouldn't have to work so hard.  I decided I was going to show THEM and just take a break.  So I headed to the donut shop -- a sure fix for whatever ails you -- and became irritated with the people gathered there.  What were they doing?  They were laughing and talking FAR TOO LOUDLY!  How dare they enjoy the donut shop?  I was there to get a box of donuts and did not want to be disturbed!

Once I finally get home, I begin to think about people who haven't said anything to me in months -- in some cases, years -- and how completely rude they were in their THOUGHTS of what I should or should not do.  Finally, a light bulb went off in my brain and I realized how utterly STUPID I was being about all of this.  No one had done anything wrong to me today.  I went to a favorite chair alone and, after repenting for my bad attitude today, began to ponder what had brought on this horrible scenario.  I finally came to a conclusion that I would like to share with you.

First things first -- offenses will happen!  Having your feelings hurt is just part of life and will happen to all of us.  While I can't control that, I CAN control my response to the hurt.  There was something else at play today, though.  I was upset with people who were not present and who had done nothing to me.  This is not the first time this has happened, so I began to think back to the other times as well and discovered a common denominator -- tiredness.  When I get extremely tired, my tolerance for other people is very low and it is easy for me to have my feelings hurt.  This reminded me of a principle I have struggled with all my life: the principle of Sabbath.

In the book of Exodus, God set up the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship for His people.  God recognizes the importance of rest in the lives of His creation.  Why do you think God rested on the seventh day of creation?  He was modeling for us the importance of resting from our labor.  Intellectually, I know this. The problem is in the application.

Because of my chosen profession, I have constantly fought an internal battle about appearing busy.  I have been told by various people throughout my life that I don't get a "real" job because I'm lazy and want to have an easy life.  These individuals know very little about what I actually do as a musician and have no concept of the hours of work -- physically, emotionally, and mentally -- that are required at this level of my profession.  In an effort to make sure everyone realizes how hard I work, I work myself past the point of productivity.  Often, I will go for months at a time without truly taking a day of rest from my work.  Normally, the only way I am able to make myself rest is by leaving town.  It's not because my employers don't allow me to have days off;  it's because I don't allow myself the luxury of a day of rest.

So what am I going to do with this new insight I have gained today?  I'm going to strive to take days of rest away from the stresses of work, music, and relationships.  I love what I do and the people I know, but I need to have time for me to maintain a healthy balance.  Because of the many part-time jobs I hold, my day of rest may be more irregular than others.  People may think that I am being lazy.  While that is tough for me to deal with, I know the work that I am doing and how my body is responding at that moment.  So, no more worries about what other people think.......I'm taking the day off.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lazy Days of Summer

It's the beginning of June and I'm looking forward to having some relaxing times this summer.  I'm just wondering when it will actually begin?  Most mornings are spent in the Learning Success Center tutoring students, although there seems to be very few students enrolled this semester.  Since I'm not doing a lot of editing of papers at this point, I have the luxury of writing a short blog entry!  Immediately after my tutoring hours, I will head to the classroom to teach 8 students the joy of classical music. 

I guess I'm just wondering where the lazy days of summer went and hoping I can get them back.  Remember sitting around the house as a child, planning your activities for the day?  When the decision was between a long nap, a quiet bike ride, or a good book under a favorite shade tree, life seemed much simpler and relaxing.  I suppose that is part of childhood that is lost as we mature and begin to take on increased responsibilities.  I don't want to return to childhood entirely, but a day or two here and there without the commitments would be a welcome change.

I'm planning to incorporate a few lazy days into my life in the upcoming summer months.  A day trip to an area park and a visit to the zoo are on my agenda for sure.  What activities do you recommend when you have a free day and are looking for some relaxing fun?