Friday Fast Pitch

Good morning! I know I haven’t written in awhile. Let me catch you up.

  • Microsoft PACs were last week. I had a new group, with all new faces. I swam in a sea of acronyms and accents. Then I got out of the water and back to work.
  • This week, we’re down one PM (out on medical leave), and my co-worker is on vacation. I’m lone-rangering it. Not too bad, but keeping busy.
  • My foot hurts. Really bad. I’ve done something to it. Running, unfortunately, doesn’t help it. Going in to see the doctor next week. Might get in today, if there’s a cancellation.
  • We had our Easter services last week. Those of us who brought the music got blessed by the Holy Spirit and the great turnout. It felt like a huge party! Jonathon did a bang-up job designing a brand new set and lighting.
  • Ruby’s home on spring break this week. I stayed home with her on Monday. I asked if she wanted to bake something. She shook her head no. We made chicken noodle soup from scratch at her request.
  • Zac’s spring break was last week. He took care of the animals and the house while we were gone to Seattle. We watched “The Matrix”. Again. I guess it’s a favorite of his. Zac’s out of school April 27, finishing his freshman year of college. What?! New adventures await.

As spring moves on, I find myself grateful for the longer glimpses of sun and warmer temps. Jesus does heal us. Time helps, too. Life blossoms again in fresh and different ways. Let me remember to define myself by who I am in Christ first and foremost.

Good Friday Sully

I’ve done a lot of running this week. When things get crazy, run. It helps.

Sully running

We watched the movie “Sully” with Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart the other night. He was stuck in New York as the FAA investigated him. He couldn’t sleep. So he ran. A lot. Sometimes with his co-pilot and sometimes alone. During the day. At night, by the bright lights of the city. I had to laugh, despite the heavy content of the movie. Runners know. Burn off some of that anxiety and stress instead of eating a whole pie, or drinking yourself into a stupor. Get your head in a good place.

Running, it seems, can be a type of prayer. You pour out your concerns and frustrations to God as your feet hit the pavement. I know it’s been like that for me. I can hear the Lord once I come to the end of my homemade solutions.

I’m thinking about pouring out frustrations today as it’s Good Friday. How it must have hurt Jesus to be betrayed by one of his closest friends. Of course, He knew it all would happen. But I doubt that made it any easier.

Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.”  He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed.  He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” –  Matthew 26:36-39

He felt fear. He understood the weight of what came next, the suffering and pain awaiting him. Judas led the group of men with clubs and swords who came and arrested him, a citizens’ arrest. Then, the betrayal, mock trial before Pilate, beating and crucifixion.

At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” – Matthew 27:46

We all have seasons where we feel abandoned or lost or completely alone. Jesus knows. He went through it all. We remember what He did for us today, and what it cost.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. – Hebrews 4:15-16

Zoom Zoom

This is what today has been like. Okay, make it the whole week. Makes me feel a little

Tasmanian devil

It’s Easter week. Today is Maundy Thursday. I’ve been spending extra time in prayer and worship, considering Jesus’ sacrifice. Despite everything swirling about me, I can’t let this holy season pass by without reflection and thanks.

I don’t want to complain about being busy. I want to find peace in the doing. So, like this


Peace in the extra worship rehearsals for Easter Sunday. Peace in the going to work and getting additional, funky assignments. Peace in working out and abstaining. Peace while making decisions and peace while waiting for answers. Peace when I lay my head down at night. Peace in breathing out, and breathing in.

I pray this Easter brings you peace as well.

In Defense of Performance

Today’s guest blogger is my husband, Jonathon. He addresses the concern about worship vs. performance in the church service. Enjoy!

I have seen a lot of articles on Facebook and elsewhere lately that try to parse the difference between ‘performance’ and ‘worship’. They state that the Christmas and Easter services should be much like their normal weekly counterparts in an attempt to avoid a sense of performance and focus all energies on worshiping Christ. They seem to pit the ‘production value’ of lights, sound systems, video production and multiple practices against ‘true worship’. They tend to advocate for us modern-day Christians to eschew the performance (or entertainment) and get back to true worship of the living God.
This past Easter weekend (2015), I spent 8 straight days volunteering at my church to set up for the Easter Production. I took 3 days off of work to cover it.
  • Ash Wednesday I drove to the closest major city to pick up rented sound gear.
  • Maundy Thursday I set up the rental gear in the sanctuary, as well as re-configured all the audio gear and instruments to make a space for the acting happening on stage….and picking up props…and building the back curtains…and typing and printing a 14 page cue list for multiple sound, light and video techs…and a 3 hour night rehearsal…and 30 minutes for dinner.
  • Good Friday was a day of rest….2 hours finishing set-up and a 3 hour night rehearsal.
  • Saturday I took another 2 hours fixing things and making the final prep for Easter Sunday.
  • Sunday call time was 7:30 a.m. and 2 performances (9 and 10:30), ending around 1 p.m.
  • Monday I returned all the rented gear back to the major city.
  • Tuesday saw me breaking down and reconfiguring the instruments on the stage.
  • Wednesday I cleaned the stage, reconfiguring the lights back to the regular services setting.
Eight days and 50+ hours of work for an Easter performance…and I loved every minute of it!
I believe every minute of work that I put into the production was part of my worship to my God. I want to be excellent in all the He gives me to do. I use my hands to honor Him. I use my feet to honor Him. I use my voice to honor Him. I will use every talent and ability available to me (and some I have not yet developed) in worship to the One who is worth of the best I have to bring.
So…excuse me for being a little defensive and cranky when I read that performance has no part in ‘true’ (or ‘pure’, as one article put it) worship to our God. I simply cannot disagree more. I thought it high time someone stood up for ‘performance’ in church.
I have a college degree in Music and am a classically trained vocalist. I attended both secular and Christian colleges to obtain my music degree, and at both types of universities, the music department was part of the college of fine and performing arts. Note that second descriptor: “performing” arts. Music is an art form that must be performed. Assuming the articles I disagree with mean the music portion of the service when they talk about worship (which is not a true association, but that’s another blog), then there’s no way that the music part of the service can be devoid of ‘performance’ unless your entire service is devoid of music. Singing “Heart of Worship” acapella is still music, and therefore ‘performance’, no matter how poorly sung.
I was a vocal major in college, so after I learned the notes and the correct pronunciation of the language (which is only the beginning of good music, not the end), I focused on performance techniques, such as:
  • Vocal inflection
  • Body Movement for emphasis
  • Facial expression for connection to audience
  • Vowel Modification for clear diction in extreme registers
  • Diction/articulation – for understandable words
  • Resonance – to carry the pitch further
  • Vowel Placement – for tone changes based on the song type
All of these aptitudes make for a better experience for the attentive audience and an easier and better performance for the artist. These performance techniques make high songs more manageable, difficult lyrical passages easier, fast-paced songs more understandable and a host of other benefits – but these are all techniques I learned to help in the ‘performance’.
In addition to my musical studies, I was blessed to study acting, psychology, education and marketing. I finished with a PhD in Education (in case you were wondering), but through my studies of other arts and sciences, I have learned more performance techniques, including:
  • Color theory in psychology and marketing (affecting mood of music/worship and extending the feeling of the song)
  • Lighting techniques (to guide attention of the audience/congregation)
  • Set building and set design techniques
  • Drama production and direction techniques (including a stint as a drama teacher)
  • Sound reinforcement techniques for live production…and many more
All of these count as performance techniques. I’m told to put all of this away so that I can get back to ‘true worship’, as if Jesus doesn’t want me to use what I’ve gleaned over the years in an effort to ‘only worship Him’. He gives us gifts and abilities. Using them to His glory is worship. Hiding them is the opposite of worship (see Matthew 25:14-30).
Some would say that the lights, multiple practices and scripted cues would lead to focus on worshiping ourselves and our abilities instead of God. I  concede that it can. In that concession, though, I would ask for a concession from you, dear reader. I would ask you to concede that having no lights and no ‘performance’ can just as easily lead to an attitude of ‘look at me worshiping the right way’…and then what?
See…the trouble has never been the talents, but the heart. It’s not ‘performance’ but what/whom you are performing for. Judging the heart by the ‘performance’ is just as evil as performing for our own glory, isn’t it? We are constantly told not to judge people by their outward appearance but that God looks at the heart. Yet we see one ‘high production’ number and think that everyone involved must be in it for themselves.
We should run away from performance that puts the focus on the performers. However, an intimate, acoustic set that worships its own simplicity should be shunned as well. Both could be equally effective in leading people to worship Jesus ‘in spirit and in truth’, but both could be equally damaging to a congregation when the focus is wrong.
So…how about we stop this fighting and complaining about the church shying away from performance and get back to ‘true’ or ‘pure’ worship? How about we discover what God wants from us and what our congregation needs from us worship leaders, and do it? Let’s serve our congregations, our pastors and our God the way they need us to. Stop telling us we’re doing it wrong because we utilize the different gifts our body has. Stop giving performance a bad rap.
I have always said that when I get to Heaven, I can’t wait for the wedding feast of the Lamb. I don’t want a place at the table though, I want to be the entertainment. That’s gonna be a party like we have never seen before, and I am gonna put on a show! He deserves nothing less.
Dr. Jonathon Isham

The Sisters

marymarthaAs Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!  There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:38-42

Can I say that I’ve never liked this scripture?  I’ve spent brief seasons as a “Mary” yet decades as a “Martha”.  I’m good with details and lists and organization.  I’m a planner. I think things through, sometimes overmuch. Marthas matter to God, too. Mary gets all the praise in this scripture.  Martha’s role as the eldest is hostess.  She’s shopping, thinking ahead and preparing room for Jesus and his friends. That’s important, too.

Jesus’ response to Martha isn’t unkind, however.  There are times to strategize and work ahead. Taking care of people and showing hospitality with good food and a restful place to sleep blesses folks. Other times, it’s enough to sit at His feet and simply abide.

Something eluded me; I found myself wondering about it early Resurrection morning. I didn’t sense Jesus near and I wanted Him, desperately. Then, the epiphany. I chuckled when I recognized how I’d crowded Him out with all my mental lists. Jesus hadn’t left me; I’d gotten distracted. I recalled the many blessings He had provided.  I told Him how grateful I was (am) for friends, family and cats. We – okay, I – spend so much time asking, asking, asking I don’t enjoy what I do have. A deep sense of peace filled me and I got reconnected to the Source. The joy of the Lord is our strength.

Our times with the Lord ebb and flow as He woos us. Each of us will spend stints as Mary and Martha throughout our lives. We need to gather strength from Him in order to be and to do His good pleasure. May we know the season we’re in and follow the Spirit.

The Great Betrayal

jesus on mount of olivesI’ve moved on with King David in the Bible. He’s king now, an older man with grown sons and daughters. 2 Samuel 15 depicts the way Absalom, David’s son, betrayed him. He hung out at the city gate, listening to people’s possible legal issues. Absalom won the hearts of the people with his smooth words. He manages to stage a coup that has David running for his life – again. He gathers his wives and children and anyone else loyal to him, and sets off.

David walked up the road to the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. His head was covered and his feet were bare as a sign of mourning. And the people who were with him covered their heads and wept as they climbed the hill. – 2 Samuel 15:30

The significance of this didn’t impact me until this time I read it:  Jesus was betrayed in the same place, hundreds of years later.

The last week of Jesus’ life, he visited the Mount of Olives, a ridge running along the east side of Jerusalem, 3 times. First, he spent time there answering the disciples’ questions about the last days.  You know, the good news about persecution, famine and sword (Matthew 24:1-25:30). The second time, he rode a donkey into Jerusalem while the crowds cheered “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38)

The very last time Jesus spent time at Mt. Olivet (another name for the spot) was just after the Last Supper. Jesus went out and spent time wrestling with the taking all the world’s sin upon him. He sweat drops of blood.  He cried out to God to have the cup removed. But then He surrendered. He prayed for those believers who would come after, asking His Father for unity and protection. He walked to the olive garden and awaited the betrayer.

Zechariah says Jesus will return to the same location and split the sky at his Second Coming:  On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south (Zech 14:4).

As Easter approaches, I’m reminded again of this truth:  Jesus can redeem our broken places, those sources of bad memories. Jesus’ betrayal on the Mount of Olives reminds us again of the depth of his human experience.  He knows our pains; he experienced them while walking this planet. But in overcoming death and the grave, he is able transform our excruciating mountains of suffering into glory.

If I Only…

Easter was great. Great sermons, wonderful songs. Thankfully, God breathed on it all. I think it’s safe to say, however, that I have a case of Easter aftereffects.   We just spent a lot of time at the church last week, rehearsing and such. Like 3-hour rehearsals.  We were a merry band of singers and instrumentalists. Lots of singing.  Some flute playing (me),  keyboard and accordion by Jonathon. ( Note:  I did not play flute with the accordion.  It could’ve gotten ugly.) We feel a day late and a dollar short.  Or in my case, simply short.

I’m actively avoiding TMI moments.  I managed a short kettlebell workout. So far, I’ll I’ve been tasked to do is listen and do laundry.  Can do, sir.  Got it covered.  I can even fold the clean clothes.  Just don’t ask me to think too much.  I’m heavily caffeinated and still functioning on “low”.  No quadratic equations today, please.

Have no fear, folks.  I’ll be back to full strength tomorrow.  You’ve been warned.