Monday, April 17, 2017

Sometime We'll Understand


This is a re-posting of what I originally wrote and published last month. The experience I had at rehearsal that I describe here is what led me to create my second Lamb of God video, this one about Thomas. And when I had such a positive and uplifting experience in creating this video, I couldn't stop creating videos until I had done almost every song in Lamb of God. I even had to go back and republish my original Peter video in a higher resolution and with fonts and a style consistent with each of the other videos I'd made.

I am re-posting this now as a culminating conclusion to the series of videos I've been sharing over the past week. Each video and song has touched me in different ways. But I think that Thomas' sweet song, Sometime We'll Understand, is a fitting conclusion to my week-long thoughts on the Savior and on Easter. There have been many times in my life where I have sought meaning or understanding in some event or trial in my life. And I haven't always found what I've been looking for. I am eternally grateful for my Elder Brother's sacrifice for me. And I don't fully understand how it was possible or why He saw fit to save me. I can't fully comprehend His love. I seek to find meaning in the struggles I am faced with at times. There is so much that I'd like to understand. I yearn to one day be able to look back on everything I've experienced and endured and to know of a certainty that all these things were for my good. But, as Thomas shares from his own experience, not now, but in the coming years--it may not be when we demand--we'll read the meaning of our tears, and then sometime we'll understand.

As much as I'd like to know and understand so many things, I am glad that there are some things that I don't need to understand. Like the prophet Nephi said, "I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things." I love those words. I love them because I, too, know that God loves me. And that should be enough. Yes, I may still pray to one day have a loftier perspective on those things that may have troubled me in my life. But for now, I can be satisfied with the knowledge that great and miraculous things were done for me by my big brother. And if He could love me that much, then I can also find greater love for myself and more contentment with my lack of knowledge of the meaning of all things.

If I were able to share one thing with you in the aftermath of yet another wonderful Easter season, it would be that I know that God also loves you greatly. I know that healing comes through the Atonement of Christ our Savior. I know that, even if you were the only child of God to require the sacrifices Jesus made on the Cross and in the Garden, our brother would have still endured what he endured just for you. These are the things I know, and this is my testimony. And, though this faith and understanding of mine may indeed be simple, I can feel content in knowing that it is enough.

**********

(March 5, 2017) This week marks the sixth year that I've been blessed to participate with a group called Witness Music during the Easter season in performing Rob Gardner's masterful sacred work called Lamb of God, which musically tells the story of the Savior's last week through the eyes of those people who knew Him best. 
Sadly for me as a tax accountant, the Easter season falls in sync with tax season, and  80+ hours a week are an ordinary affair. Despite the little time I'm able to stay away from the office, I am thrilled to spend 3-4 hours each week rehearsing with this group and finding healing recharge in this incredible music.

In the early years of performing this work, it was easy to feel touched by and to relate to many of the traditional characters like Mary the Mother, Mary Magdalene, Martha, Pontias Pilate, and Peter. However, I struggled with Thomas. And I'm not quite sure why. 

I've thought long and hard about this, but the song that Thomas sings just never quite hit me the way I wanted in seeking a closer connection to him and his story. Sure, I can relate to Thomas. My fears and doubts in life are many. And even though I am not blessed as was Thomas to see and then believe, I can indeed be blessed as I have not seen and yet believe. There is a powerful gospel principle of faith and belief at work in the Thomas story. In fact, this principle is one I focused on exclusively in another posting called The Faith of an Engineer. And though I did not refer to Thomas' story in that posting, I did share Michael McLean's Forgotten Carol about the shepherd boy who slept through the angelic visit in the night and did not go with his friends to see the Christ child in the manger. This boy was told a fantastical story about the coming to earth of the Messiah the first time, while Thomas is told a fantastical story about the coming to earth of the Messiah a second time. 

For as much as this shepherd boy's song each Christmas opens the flood gates of the Spirit and truly makes me feel inspired to be one of those of whom Christ said, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed," this song of Thomas in Lamb of God still just didn't quite do it for me. The best rationale for this that I could come up with is that, by the time I've exerted so much of myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to traverse the musical journey from the raising of Lazarus from the dead to Gethsamane and then on through the Betrayal and Crucifixion to the joyous Easter Sunday morning at the Tomb, I am generally spent. It has been a thrilling ride. And I am so overcome and joyous that the good side has triumphed over evil. But I hardly have any energy left to keep my spiritual, emotional, and mental focus on the aftermath of that glorious victory.

I liken this feeling to the sentiment I heard from many critics of the movie version of Tolkien's The Return of the King. Many were complaining about how the ending simply dragged on, that there were half a dozen different "endings" to the movie. As a self-admitted Lord of the Rings fanatic, I was all too happy to experience every extra minute that Peter Jackson allowed me in Middle Earth. And every extra minute in the winding down of that epic story was glorious and beautiful to me. However, I can easily understand how other movie-goers who fall lower on the fanatic scale than I might feel that the movie dragged on through those ending scenes. I don't believe that I was on a higher "spiritual" plane where I could better appreciate those scenes. I simply believe that to the average viewer, the final battle is over. The ring has been destroyed. Good has conquered evil. Jesus Christ has conquered both sin and death. I believe that it is all too easy to move on to the next movie, the next conflict, or the next encounter between good and evil without feeling obliged to worry about the happily-ever-afters (or the not-so-happily-ever-afters) that continue on with the characters we watch in these movies after the main story has been told. 

Whether or not this accurately represents how those critics viewed the cinematic conclusion to Tolkien's tale, I am pretty confident that this accurately reflects how I personally used to feel about the final musical numbers in Lamb of God after Mary Magdalene's beautiful song of joy at the Tomb. Everything else seemed to be aftermath, whose significance and spiritual teachings were partially lost on me. Don't get me wrong. Those closing numbers of Lamb of God after Easter morning are incredibly beautiful and moving. But I can honestly say that part of me had shut down each time we performed this work so that I wasn't as prone to be taught and moved by the Spirit during those ending scenes.

These ending scenes begin with Christ first appearing to the other disciples, and the choir voices a stirring and beautiful hymn of gratitude called Jesus, My Savior. This wonderful scene where the disciples had confirmed to them the reality of Christ's resurrection from the dead, where previously they had to rely on their faith in Mary Magdalene's account, climaxes with these words of gratitude:

Ten thousand gifts could I employ
To show my praise, my thanks, my joy!
All of my life, yea, all of my days
Still not enough to sing Thy praise!

In that moment, I am reminded of a heavenly host of angels heralding the birth of Jesus and I can only imagine tens of thousands of angels, including you and me, singing Hosanna and Gloria in pure gratitude and praise of Him who would save us all. It is hard for me not to feel stirred as I hear that glorious chorus. Then we hear the narrator telling us about Thomas who, like Michael McLean's shepherd boy, missed the action and struggled to come to grips with what he was told by those who were there.

After Thomas is able to feel the wounds in Jesus' hands and side and reverently exclaims, "My Lord, and my God!" Thomas goes on to sing a song called Sometime We'll Understand. Now, as wonderful and profound as this song might seem to other Lamb of God "fanatics" who are able to better appreciate and relate to Thomas' song of introspection after his notorious doubts were forever inscribed into history, this song just didn't seem to resonate with me the way I hoped. Again, I blame it on the Lord-of-the-Rings-multiple-endings idea where I had simply mentally and emotionally subconsciously decided that it had been a thrilling ride, that I had experienced my spiritual high, and that I was ready to move on with my changed-for-the-better life. 

This all changed one year. In one of our final rehearsals before the performances, my mind was wandering. I don't recall what I was thinking about. It could have been the upcoming excitement of March Madness. It could have been the dusty mess of rosin dust that had gotten under my violin's finger board. More likely, I wasn't thinking about anything at all and was just playing on autopilot. I happened to glance at the brother who was singing for Thomas out of the corner of my eye. What I saw immediately sent shivers down my body and brought the Spirit crashing over me in waves. What I saw was a single tear running down his cheek. I froze. I lowered my violin and sat transfixed as I watched him finish his song. 

Not now, but in the coming years, it may not be when we demand,
We'll read the meaning of our tears, and there, sometime, we'll understand.

Why what we long for most of all eludes our open, pleading hand;
Why ever silence meets our call, somewhere, sometime, we'll understand.

Sometime, we'll fall on bended knee, and feel there, graven on His hand,
Sometime with tearless eyes we'll see what, here, we could not understand.

So trust in God through all thy days; Fear not, for He doth hold thy hand;
Though dark thy way, still sing and praise; Sometime, sometime we'll understand.

This brother of mine had a beautiful and flawless voice. The emotion in his voice was not forced. His gestures while he sang were simple and subtle. In all ways, he was a model and a star performer who immediately sucked me into his character. But there was that single tear. And as I watched this brother, I could clearly see that there were dozens of tears being held back so that he could stay true to the role he was exuding to portray as a stand in for my other brother Thomas. I was truly taken aback. How could he be having such a different experience with the message of this song, however beautiful the words and melody, in stark contrast to that I was previously having. In that moment, the message and the spirit of that song didn't suddenly dawn on me. I was no closer to having my own personal breakthrough that would transform the "multiple endings" of Lamb of God into something so much more meaningful to me. But I left rehearsal that evening with a commitment in my heart that the next time I accompanied this brother in his song, the song would indeed have greater meaning to me.

Over the coming days, I spent some time in the scriptures studying Thomas' short story. I spent some time on my knees. I read, and reread, and reread again the lyrics of Thomas' song. I don't know if I'll ever be able to internalize and truly feel the emotion that the composer intended to create for Thomas in the same way that this brother felt and feels to this day after acting as proxy for this disciple of the Savior. But ever since that rehearsal, I personally feel changed. I feel like I am now truly a Lamb of God "fanatic" who can truly appreciate every minute of those "multiple endings." To me, the aftermath and the ever-afters of Thomas, of Mary and Martha, and of Peter and John mean as much to me as the penultimate action scenes themselves. Every year, one song stands out from the rest to be my "favorite" for the Lamb of God season. More than once has Thomas' song of sometime understanding claimed that favorite designation.

Sitting at our final rehearsal tonight, I found that a single tear was running down my own cheek as we ran through Thomas' number. This year, a different brother was singing the role of Thomas than that brother whose musical testimony had changed my perspective on this song. But I happened to see this Thomas from several years ago sitting in the background watching on. And I watched him closely, or as closely as I could while trying to keep playing my instrument, as he was focused so intently on the brother singing. I could tell that he was remembering singing this song himself and that he forever would share a close bond with the disciple Thomas. When he lost it and buried his face in his hands, being overcome with emotion, I voyeuristically felt like I was peeking in on a private moment between our 2016 Thomas, this former Thomas, and the Thomas of old. And as out of place as I should have felt in spying such an intimate moment, I too felt like I was sharing in that connection for a moment in my own way.

Last year, I was especially touched by Peter's songs and Peter's story, and I decided to put those songs with some footage of Christ and Peter from the LDS Bible Videos. I was very pleased with the resulting video as I felt that some of the visuals helped to capture the spirit of Lamb of God that much more strongly for me. There's something incredible in hearing Peter's agonizing song as I watch the footage of Christ being led to see Pilate as Peter watches on from the shadows remoursefully intoning, "What have I done? Denied Him? What have I done? So now am I no different from the men who take Thy bread then turn again? And when Thou lookest for a friend, Thou findest none, for I have fled! Oh God! What have I done?"

As I got home tonight, knowing that I had a busy 80+ hour workweek ahead of me with many sleep-deprived nights, I felt compelled to sit down at the computer and to again put video footage from the Bible Videos to Rob Gardner's beautiful songs, this time telling the Thomas story and showcasing his beautiful song. I know that there are many days when my own understanding is so shallow in some ways and that there will come a day when I will be able to look back with tearless eyes and see what, here, I could not understand. But for now, I glory in that understanding that I have been blessed with. And I glory in the Spirit of God that gives me hope and reassurance as I make my way through life. If you haven't yet been able to experience Lamb of God, I hope you take the opportunity to do so someday. This music truly has power to change lives. From experience, I can declare that it has changed mine.

May you have a wonderful Easter season as you remember the life and the fulfilled mission of our elder brother. 

God Bless!


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Gloria!



After a wonderful week of remembering Jesus and the true meaning behind Easter through the inspiring music of Lamb of God and through the beautiful visual depictions of these sacred events, Easter morning has finally arrived. 

Yesterday, I shared some thoughts about the haze, twilight, and storm clouds of Saturday. And today, those clouds have fled, and the sun is shining brightly as our hope that carried us through the long and difficult Saturday has been confirmed by the light and truth of Jesus Christ's glorious Resurrection.

This wonderful week for me began with joy and exultation with a shout of Hosanna at the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Now, on Easter Sunday, my week ends with similar feelings of joy and exultation with my shout of Gloria at the triumphal return of Jesus to life and His glorious victory over death and sin.

I thank my God for the gift of His Son and for the opportunity for second chances. I thank my God for the opportunity to see my little sister, and all those who have gone before me, again. I thank my God for the opportunity I have to live through the Saturdays of my life so that I may glory in the brilliant light and joy of the Sunday mornings that follow.

Knowing that there is little that I could add that wouldn't detract from what I've already shared of my joy this Easter morning, I will simply join my voice with Mary's and sing Gloria!

**********
Sing O my heart, Sing thy rejoicing,
Morning has dawned and will stretch forth her wing.
No more the night holds thee his captive,
Jesus is risen, my Savior and king.

I'll sing Gloria, Glory to the Lord!
Gloria, glory for the life he doth bring.
Gloria, gloria gloria!
Gloria for my Savior lives!

Why dost thou weep? What is thy longing?
Why art thou cast down and turned from the light?
Lift up your eyes, look for the morning.
Wait for the darkness is only the night. 

And sing Gloria, Glory to the Lord!
Gloria, glory for the life he doth bring.
Gloria, gloria gloria!
Gloria for my Savior lives!

Israel rejoice, Sing all creation,
Jesus is risen with life in His wings.
Raise up your voice, Sing our salvation,
Now more than conquerers through Him our king.

Sing we Gloria!
Gloria, glory for the life he doth bring.
O Sing Gloria, gloria!
Gloria for my Savior lives!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Here is Hope


Hope did not die here, but here was given.
Here is Hope!

In the aftermath of the turbulent and heart-wrenching events of Thursday and Friday of Easter week in Rob Gardner's Lamb of God, we are treated to these words that, to me, represent a ray hope through the gloom and darkness following our Savior's death.

I love the imagery in this video. Particularly, I love the image of the angels so effortlessly casting aside the stone from the tomb. And I love the way in which the soldiers flee in fear when the angels approach just as the music intones, and ours is the vict'ry. These represent a very visual reminder that there is never and has never been any question of who the victor will be in the end. I also love the imagery depicted by the cloudy, overcast twilight of Friday evening and I am easily reminded of all of the times in my life where twilight and storm clouds settle in. At times like these, I brace myself for the inevitable storms that will follow. And I hope against all hopes that the sun will rise again. What I often forget to remember in these moments is that the Son did rise again. Again, the victorious outcome has already been determined. And it is in this that I can find my greatest hope. Here is hope

Even with that hope that was given through the Atonement of my brother, though, the Saturdays of our lives are not necessarily any easier to endure while we wait for the joyful resolutions of our own Easter Sundays.

When my little sister Amy passed away in a tragic accident at a very young age, I remember feeling more low and devoid of hope than probably at any other time that I can remember. The twilight and the storm clouds lingered for a very long time after the accident. Even now, I still feel a great deal of pain at my memories of the accident. And I know that I am not alone in these feelings. I specifically remember a conversation that I had with my dad in the weeks that followed while I was still waiting for that ray of sunshine to pierce through the thick haze that had descended on my life. Dad told me that, the way he saw it, there were three reasons that we might grieve at Amy's passing. 

First, Dad told me that we might feel sad at the loss of Amy because we would never see her again. Of course, he told me by way of sharing his testimony and faith in the Resurrection, this is not true. I still remember how resolute and firm Dad's testimony of the Resurrection and of the eternal nature of families was as he shared it with me in this moment. 

Second, Dad said that we might grieve at the tragic nature of Amy's passing. We might grieve for the pain and for the horror of the accident. Dad then proceeded to share with me his belief--perhaps his deepest hope--that, even though the accident was so vivid and traumatizing to those of us Amy left behind, he did not feel that Amy suffered greatly. Even today, I too share this belief and hope. I can't believe that an infinitely loving Elder Brother, who suffered the little ones to come unto Him and said that it would be better to hang a millstone around one's neck and drown in the depths of the sea than to offend one of these little ones, and His Father would allow such a precious and sweet little child to suffer physically in that moment. I don't necessarily believe that, like in the movie Heaven Can Wait, guardian angels would jump in to pull a spirit from a body just prior to an accident to save that person from the physical pain that would follow. But, if our Father were to allow this with any of His children, I truly believe it would be with these little ones. However it might work out, I believe and I hope that the passing of any little one, or any child of God who dies in the Lord, would be sweet unto them, whatever that might entail in the eternal scheme of things.

Finally, Dad said that we might and we would feel grief at the absence of our little Amy. Yes, we would see Amy again. Yes, her death might have been sweet unto her. But her absence would leave a void in our own lives that could be patched but would always remain. 

For some of us, our Saturdays may last for a very long time. The storm might seem like it will go on forever. But, because the Son rose again on Sunday morning, we can be assured that the sun will rise as well on our own Sunday mornings. My personal hope swells at the knowledge that my Saturday will not and cannot last forever. And I am blessed with the comforter, which Christ promised to send in His absence and whom Christ promised might abide with me forever, who can help me through each day of my personal Saturday. I thank my God for the blessing of that comforter. I thank my God for the blessing of good friends. And I thank my God for the hope that was given through the life, the death, and the rising of my Elder Brother. Hope did not die here, but here was given. Here is hope!

**********
He who healed our sorrows, here was bruised and broken.
He whose love no end knows, here was forsaken, left all alone.
Here despair cries boldly, claiming this it's vict'ry.
Sweeter peace enfolds me:
Hope did not die here, but here was given. 
Here is Hope.

He who was rejected, He knows well my longing.
He so long expected, carried our burdens, bore every sorrow:
Here is Hope.

Here is love unbounded, 
Here is all compassion, 
Here is mercy founded!

Hope did not die here, but here was given.
And ours is the vict'ry.
Here is Hope.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Greater Love


"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

"Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

How beautiful and profound are these moving words of Paul! Why is it that there is no force that has power to separate us from the love of our Savior and, by extension, our Eternal Father in Heaven who so loved the world that He gave His Son to us?

I am not sure that I will ever fully understand the answer to this question. However, in my simple, imperfect understanding, I know that the divine love granted unto us from these members of our Heavenly family is eternal and everlasting. We can try to separate ourselves from that love through the choices that we make in our lives; but, whether our choices and acts are acceptable to our Savior and our Father or not, that love will remain. It is unconditional. It is incomprehensible to us. As earthly parents, we might have the briefest glimpse of what it means to have divine or Christlike love for our own offspring. But that purest of charities that is encompassed in the infinite love of our Heavenly Father is something that we will never fully feel ourselves in this life. And it gives me hope in the darkest and most turbulent moments of my life that I am never beyond saving. That there is always an open door and an eternal family that is waiting for me to come home.

This eternal and infinite love was made so powerfully manifest through the Atonement of our brother. Jesus knelt in Gethsemane for me. He prayed for me. He shed many drops of blood for me. And while those who knew Him not nailed him to a tree and so callously mocked Him and casually cast aside His perfect life, my brother once again suffered for me and for my frailties and weaknesses. He took upon Himself my sins and my infirmities. With those stripes, Jesus my brother made me whole.

I say that I am grateful for this outpouring of love. I bear witness that I accept my brother as my Savior and my Messiah. I do my best each day to try to repay Him for his loving gift to me. But in the end, how truly grateful am I? How pure and heartfelt is my witness? How much effort do I truly make? It surely isn't enough. As Pontius Pilate, John the Beloved, and Mother Mary intone in the stirring song from Rob Gardner's Lamb of God:

"Enough! Enough! Behold, Is this not enough? Behold, the Man, the punishment He's bourne, the cruel whip, the mocking scorn..."

"O Lord, How long 'til Thou wilt cry 'It is enough?'"

"Enough! Is this not enough? O Lord, my God, Show mercy on my Son! Has not thy will in this been done?"

In the end, it was Christ Himself who decided when it had been enough when He voluntarily bowed His head and gave up His life. No matter how much effort I make, how much service to others I undertake, how much time I spend on my knees in gratitude to my Father for His Son, or how many times I raise my voice in bearing witness of my faith in Christ, I may join those voices with my own in crying out to Heaven, "Is this not enough?"

And even as I know that the answer is most assuredly No, the answer I will receive through the comforting promptings of the Holy Spirit will most assuredly be "It doesn't matter..." For it is not by my own effort or because of my own acts that I have been invited back to our Heavenly home. Nothing I could say or do in this life would earn that Heavenly reward. It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that I shall be saved. And it is because of this wonderful gift of love that I choose each day those words and those acts that would express my gratitude to Him who loved me.

"Greater love hath no man than this," the love expressed to me by my brother and my friend. And in response to His invitation, "As I have loved you, love one another," I will continue to strive each day to show that love unto others, first and foremost to my Father and my Savior above. "We love Him [and therefore each other], because He first loved us."

This Easter, I ask you to join me in recognizing that love that has never and will never be eclipsed by any earthly soul and in answering the Savior's call to love one another as He loved us.

God Bless!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Peter My Brother, My Rock



Today's posting is a re-posting of the very first Lamb of God video that I made. I posted this here on my blog about five weeks ago, but decided to change the posted date to today to fall in the timeline with each of the other videos I've posted this week. My thoughts below are those that I wrote when I posted this the night before our Lamb of God performances began for this year.

The only comments I have to add as of today are my takeaways from the wonderful arc of Peter's story in Lamb of God. When I hear his story, I feel no judgement whatsoever of Peter for his three-time denial of the Savior. If anyone was counting, they'd find that I have denied my Lord a whole lot more than the paltry three times that we read about with Peter. No, I don't make a habit of going around publicly denouncing my brother. But I am human. I am weak at times. I have my flaws and my favorite sins. I'm guessing that you do, too. And if one were to add up every time that I've purposefully made a wrong choice, whether I felt like I had good cause for it at the time or not, my "denials" of my brother would run pretty high.

With all of my weaknesses, so much more condemning and damning than any denial by Peter, I don't feel that I could have worthily stood beside the cross as Christ sacrificed so greatly for my unworthiness, hoping that I might truly find in my weakness my greatest strength.

Through the grace and mercy of God, Peter was given another chance to stand before his Lord and Master. Peter—Cephas—was given the opportunity to prove his repentance and his true devotion to the Master. And in my faith, I know that I, too, will one day have that same opportunity to look into my Savior's eyes and thank Him for His great sacrifice while providing an accounting of my service to Him as a product of my heartfelt repentance.

**********
(March 9, 2017) In excitement for tomorrow's first performance of Lamb of God for 2017 with Witness Music, I wanted to bring back out of the archives a video that I put together last year. Earlier this week, I published my first post in some time. I posted a video I created of Thomas' story in Lamb of God set to some beautiful imagery from the LDS Bible Videos. I was thrilled with how it turned out. My motivation for creating that video this week was a similar video I put together last year. This video was based on Peter's songs and story from Lamb of God. 

The reasons behind focusing on Peter's story were laid out in another posting called Is it I?... It is I! I won't endeavor to repeat some of the lessons I learned and the inspiration I received from Peter's story, particularly his song I Cannot Watch Them. But the song is incredibly powerful, as is the entire Lamb of God production. If you haven't experienced it before, I strongly encourage you to do so. It is easily worth an hour of your time, and I promise you that it will help set the stage for a more meaningful Easter season. Perhaps more importantly, I have found true healing power in the message of this music and the Atonement and sacrifice of our elder brother which is at the heart of the work.

Even though I updated my blog posting from several years ago to include this video I made last year, I wanted to showcase it here--not because of my incredible, amazing video editing skills, but because I find that the visuals along with the music give me a slightly different experience with Lamb of God that helps me to find different understanding and different insights than the music alone. Perhaps the most powerful thing to me as a whole with Lamb of God is the way in which it helps me feel like I can for a brief moment step into the shoes of those people who knew the Savior best and had the privilege to interact with Him personally. And I feel that the beautiful visuals I have found in the Bible Videos help me to relate even that much more with those blessed characters in the wonderful story of the life and resurrection of Jesus.

I'll be the first to admit that the music can stand on its own just fine; furthermore, I'll be the first to admit that Lamb of God should be experienced aurally and not only as an audio/visual experience. There have been many times when I have plugged in my earbuds and closed my eyes for an hour to listen to the music in its entirety without any visual or other physical distraction. But I have so much enjoyed putting together these audio-video montages of selected songs from Lamb of God that I am already planning on putting others together, if not in the coming weeks for this Easter/Lamb of God season, then certainly for the next.

May you have a wonderful Easter season as you think on Him whose life and sacrifice we celebrate and esteem through our deepest gratitude and as you look to relate to those brothers and sisters who got to personally bear witness of Christ's divinity.

God Bless!


**********
Lord, is it I? Would ever I betray Thee?
Having known Thy love, could I so cruelly turn away?
Could my heart so fail Thee and my feeling turn so cold?
If I should leave Thee, where would I go?

Lord, is it I? Am I then to betray Thee?
Having seen Thy wonders, could my foolish heart be swayed?
Is my faith so little that my soul would cease to burn?
If I should wander, where would I turn?

If I am prone to leave Thee, If I am wont to doubt,
Oh, wilt Thou still receive me, Bind me fast! Oh, find me out!
That I may never wander, That I may ever see, 
Oh, that my hope seek not but Thee! that I might follow with Thee!

Lord, is it I? Could ever I betray Thee?
Having followed with Thee, could I seek some other way?
Though my heart is willing, could my flesh become so weak?
If I should leave Thee, whom would I seek?

O Savior, Take Thou my weakness from me! Help Thou my unbelief!
Let nothing overcome me! Be Thou with me! My sure relief!
Thou art my only Shepherd. Thou art the only Way. Oh may I ever serve Thee...

For it is I who owe Thee my devotion.
It is I, yes I so safely folded in Thy care.
Let mountains fall! Let earth divide! Let valleys rise!
Yet one thing shall I know: I will not leave Thee...
If I should leave Thee, where would I go?
********
What have I done? Denied Him? What have I done?
So now am I no different from the men 
Who take Thy bread then turn again?
Oh... What have I done? What have I done?

I hear their filthy tongues, their vicious scorn. 
The lies they spin with Satan's yarn.
I watch them spit and strike Thy face, 
They mock Thy name in foul disgrace.
And when Thou lookest for a friend, 
Thou findest none, for I have fled!
Oh God! What have I done?
As thou hast taken stripes for me, 
Could I not take but one for Thee?

I cannot watch them take my Lord. 
I can't endure their cruel hand upon Him.
While His own hands are tied with cord.
Those hands with pow'r to raise the dead, 
Command the storm, now bound instead, and
I cannot hear them mock His name. 
I cannot bear their foul breath upon Him.
I dare not look upon His face
And see the very Son of God, 
His brow so bruised and stained with blood
His eyes that shed my sorrow's tears, 
And watch as all hope disappears,
I will not watch them crucify my Lord!
For I know this Man! I know Him! 
I know this Man!

I cannot watch what He must bear. 
For surely He must carry all my burden.
Forgive me, Lord, that I'm not there...
But, when my eyes have closed in death, 
These words will hang on my last breath:
I know Him.
**********
In thinking about how I've been able to relate to and step into the shoes of those characters from Lamb of God, I was reminded of a video that Witness Music put together with a few members from the group sharing their feelings about some of these individuals and another video about how some members felt about Lamb of God as a whole. I've decided to share those videos here.
The videos end with the invitation Come Join Us! The dates are wrong, in that these videos were for a prior year. This year, the dates are March 10-11 at Orem High School and March 17-18 at Jordan High School in Sandy. The performances are free but are ticketed for reservation purposes. Tickets have long since been claimed, but I've yet to see someone turned away at the door in the standby line. Go to www.witnessmusicutah.org for more information if you'd like to join us. Otherwise, please consider coming next year. Let me know, and I can help you find out about getting tickets early.





Tuesday, April 11, 2017

This is He


On Tuesday of the Savior's final week, we read that Jesus spent the day in Jerusalem, teaching in the temple, and later at the Mount of Olives where He delivered the Olivet Discourse, where He taught and prophesied about the destruction of the Jews and Jerusalem and His second coming. While at the temple, religious leaders aggressively challenged Jesus and His teachings, seeking for some excuse or opportunity to ambush Him in His words and to have cause to arrest Him. These leaders specifically question His authority, asked Him about whether one should pay imperial taxes to Caesar, and tried to trick Him with questions about marriage and Heaven. Among Christ's teachings at the temple and at the Mount were the Parables of the two sons, the tenants, the wedding banquet, the bags of gold, and the ten virgins. On this day, Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God with all thy heart, might, mind, and strength and the second greatest commandment is to love thy neighbor as thyself. He taught that an act of service or kindness toward a fellow man is an act of service to God, saying, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." 

It was on this morning when Jesus, en route to the temple, cursed a barren fig tree for failing to live up to its purpose and bring forth fruit. As the tree immediately withered and the disciples looked on in wonder, Jesus used this miraculous transformation to the tree to teach of faith. He said that by their faith and lack of doubt, they could not only duplicate Christ's miraculous transformation to the tree but could also tell a mountain to cast itself into the sea and the mountain would obey. The events at this fig tree remind us of similar teachings when Christ referenced a mustard tree, particularly a mustard seed, pronouncing that with faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, nothing shall be impossible unto you.

With this context of faith and testimony, I believe that today's Lamb of God video is especially fitting. This video depicts a scene where Jesus sat teaching in the temple and where nonbelievers accused Him of blasphemy for His teachings and prophetic and Messianic declarations, calling for the people to take up stones as punishment for His blasphemy. I can easily imagine such an exchange as the one we hear in this song taking place on this day as the religious leaders sought to trip Him up in His words. I love the song that follows from the mouths of three apostles who declare their faith and testimony that Jesus is indeed the Christ, that this is He. Particularly, I love the way that their testimonies blend together, supporting and building off of each other. One witnesses of testimony built upon sight, another of testimony built upon what has been heard, and the third upon what has become known through the promptings and confirmations of the Holy Ghost. The scriptures teach that in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. This is He is a musical representation of this principle, and there is great power in this song. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. 

Knowing the simple faith and testimonies of these three apostles would be challenged not only later this week with the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, but also throughout the rest of their lives as these apostles would go into the world teaching the word and suffer persecutions and eventually death as martyrs, I know that our own faith and testimonies are subject to turbulence at times. But I also know that the Spirit speaks to both our minds and our hearts. When our minds are shaken by the philosophies of men and the often confusing debates of logic and words, we can rely upon the feelings that we have felt from the Spirit speaking to our hearts of the truth. And when our hearts are ripped out and grieving because of loss, pain and suffering, or other turmoil that might otherwise cause us to question how a loving God might allow certain events to transpire, we can rely upon the light and understanding the Spirit has previously given unto us in our minds. I believe that both forms of testimony are essential and that no faith is complete without both. And because of the Spirit teaching us in both our minds and our hearts, we can join with Peter, John, and Thomas in singing This is He.

God Bless!
**********
They've seen His face. They've seen His wonders.
They've seen His touch restore the sick, but still they're waiting.
For they don't see Him, don't truly see Him.
But I have seen, and I believe that this is He.

They've heard His words. They've heard His teachings. 
They've heard a voice from heaven speak, but still they're waiting.
For they don't hear Him, don't truly hear Him.
But I have heard and I believe that this is He.

He fed five thousand men with little bread; 
But once their mouths were filled, they cared not what He said.
They bring their sick; they bring them healed.
And still they pray that their Redeemer be revealed.

He has declared He is Messiah!
And He has bid them come and see, but they wont follow.
For they don't know Him, don't truly know Him.
But I know Him...Yes, I know and I believe that this is He.

They've seen His wonders. They've heard His teachings.
And all these testify of Him, that this is He.

(Narration): He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Make Me Whole


Although I'm posting this next video on the Monday of Easter week, the events in this video technically took place before Palm Sunday. However, I thought it would be fitting to share this video on Monday because of the strong foreshadowing of what was to take place at the end of the week.



The story in this video is that of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. We know precious little about these three individuals other than that they were close friends of the Savior. Particularly, we are told of one time when Jesus is invited to dinner and Martha is caught up being a typical "Martha Stewart" while Mary is less interested in hosting the perfect dinner party and more interested in spending time with her guest. Although Jesus' gentle words might be taken as a rebuke when he tells Martha that Mary had chosen the good part, I tend to believe that He might have in fact been saying that Mary had chosen the better part for her.

Personally, I feel that Martha had the best of intentions when deciding to make her very best effort to serve her master. Did not the woman who anointed Jesus' feet with very costly oils and perfumes in her alabaster box receive the Savior's praise when His disciples otherwise thought the anointment a waste that could have better served the poor? I'm pretty sure that our perfect exemplar was not showing any hypocrisy here and was not making any general statement about the merits of expensive oils, party planning, or listening and attentive ears. I think that each of these three acts was an attempt to serve and connect with Christ in a personal way, and I think that Jesus recognized and was grateful for each gesture and act of love. I think that there are most definitely good and better ways to show forth our love. Personally, I would contend that there isn't a single best way to show forth our love to our Master. But each of us should strive to find some way that is a personal best way for each of us when we are evaluating gifts that we might offer our King. Martha was reminded gently that, ultimately, there were more important things than making sure that the dinner place settings were aligned just so. But I don't believe that the Savior was telling her that her service and gifts to Him were unacceptable or warranting criticism.

Looking forward in time, we are again introduced in the scriptures to Mary and Martha at the unexpected death of their brother Lazarus. When Christ comes to meet these sisters, we are again reminded of their close friendship when Jesus is moved to tears upon sharing their grief. As a child, this was the verse of scripture that my friends and I joked about sharing in Sunday School when it was our turn to recite a favorite scripture. Why? Because it was only two words, Jesus wept. Having put aside childish things, I now can appreciate the beauty and significance these two words and of this glimpse into our elder brother's raw emotions in this moment. We are asked as disciples and saints of God to mourn with those that mourn and to bear one another's burdens that they may be light. Without a doubt, our Savior has borne our burdens making our yoke light. Without a doubt, we can be assured that He stands close by mourning along with us when our griefs are near the surface. And He knows how to succor us because of what He experienced for us in the Garden as He, in some way that I will never fully understand, took upon Himself and experienced every burden, every sorrow, every joy, every emotion that we will ever experience. Without a doubt, He understands.

One more thought about the story behind today's video. We read in the scriptures that by the time Jesus answered the call of Mary and Martha and came to Judea, Lazarus had lain in the grave four days. Jesus had previously told his disciples that Lazarus' sickness was not unto death, but for the glory of God. And we read that Jesus purposely delayed his journey to heal Lazarus by two days. With what we know about the love Jesus felt toward Mary, Martha, and Lazrus as evidenced by his tearful weeping upon meeting the mourning sisters, this two day delay might seem out of place. But is it? Some quick mathematical reasoning would suggest that, had Christ not delayed for the two days, He would have still been too late to save Lazarus by two days. So one might argue that the Savior knew there was no cause to rush and that He might have chosen to complete some business before making His journey. I tend to believe that the two day delay had other significance and purposeful intent.

Lazarus' raising from the dead was far from the first miraculous raising in the scriptures. Jesus raised both Jairus' daughter and the son of the widow of Nain from the dead. Both Elijah and Elisha raised souls from the dead. Another miraculous raising was the result of a body simply coming in contact with Elisha's bones upon temporarily being cast into Elisha's sepulcher at the signs of an approaching enemy. So the raising of Lazarus from the dead was not a new, unprecedented miracle. But, to those who witnessed the miracle, it was unprecedented and exemplified the glory of God as Jesus prophesied. Why? According to Jewish custom, the spirit would linger with the body for three days after death and, upon the fourth day, resurrection would no longer be possible. When Jesus commanded that the stone be taken away from the tomb, Martha was horrified at the prospect, suggesting that her brother stinketh. I would guess that Jesus' disciples knew that He had raised others from the dead. I am pretty sure that they had faith that He could do so again. However, as evidenced by Martha's reaction, I believe that most of them didn't even consider such a miracle at this moment given their tradition of the spirit and the body. In delaying two days and waiting for the fourth day after Lazarus' death, Jesus was demonstrating His complete and total power over death, something He would be demonstrating again in the coming weeks on the Sunday following Passover.

Thinking about the miracle of Lazarus, I am reminded of my own sister, Amy. My sister died at the age of three in a tragic accident, and I still vividly remember the grief and pain I felt in the days that followed. I generally keep these memories close to my heart and don't often share them with others. When I hear the glorious chorus, I am the Resurrection, I think about Amy and other loved ones who have gone before me. I think about the joy and majesty that accompanies my faith that I will be able to see them again. I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live! What a wonderful hope! What a miraculous prospect! O Death, where is thy sting? Where is thy victory? Paul answered his question to the people of Corinth in his epistle to the people of Rome, We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us!

I am so grateful for the Savior's healing power. Not only will He make me whole when I will, along with each and every one of you, be resurrected from the grave; but He has the power to make me whole each and every day as I seek for spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical healing from my Savior. I am happy to say that I have selected Jesus Christ as my primary care physician. Without a doubt, He is the Healer of Healers and the King of Kings. And though the rising costs of healthcare are a heated topic of debate in today's world, my personal co-pay costs to cover the valuable care I receive at His hand seem so insignificant to me. I will happily pay my mite for such healthcare. However, I know that, even though the monetary value of my co-pays and premiums seems little, my personal contribution can and should be as valuable and precious as the Widow's mite. I love the words of Christina Rossetti who ponders the gifts of the shepherds and the wise men to the Christ child, "What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can give Him: give my heart." Like the Aramean commander Naaman, who was prepared to give any sum of money to seek miraculous healing from a Heavenly source, I will discover that silver and gold, of which I have none, cannot buy the miracle I seek. But such as I have, I can pay the true cost to have the Savior make me whole. Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

God Bless!


**********
Touch my eyes and bid them see that my gaze might pierce the veil,
And behold the wondrous scene that, in dreams, I've long beheld.
Oh, touch my heart and bid it know that ev'ry sorrow here is but a moment's tear,
And Thou wilt make me whole again.

Touch my ears and bid them hear all the glory of ?Thy truth,
That my hope might come of faith and no more require proof.
Oh, touch my heart and bid it know that, while in darkness here, the Light is ever near,
And Thou wilt make me whole again.

Then touch my lips and bid them sing songs of everlasting praise,
That my soul might then believe and give thanks through all my days!
Oh touch my heart and bid it know that ev'ry breath I take is by Thy tender grace,
And Thou wilt make me whole again.

**********
I am the Resurrection and the Life.
He that believeth in me, though he were dead, Yet shall he live.
And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die!
I am the Resurrection.