Purple Piano

It is not often a musician from Minnesota becomes a giant, international phenomenon, but that is just what Prince Rogers Nelson became. Better known simply as “Prince”, this singer-songwriter-musician was born and raised in Minneapolis to musician parents and grew up with a deep interest in music from a very early age. Prince wrote his first song on his father’s piano at age 7, a tune titled, “Funk Machine” and went on to join his first band, called Grand Central, while in high school. It was the beginning to a very prolific career.

In 1973, while still in junior high school Prince met famed songwriter and producer Jimmy Jam, who was impressed by Prince’s drive, work ethic, and multi-instrument talents. Morris Day eventually joined Grand Central as drummer and Prince’s first band played local clubs and parties, eventually changing their name to Champagne when they started playing original music.

In 1975, Prince joined his cousin’s husband, Pepe Willie, to record guitar tracks for Willie’s new band called 94 East. He was living, at the time, with André Anderson (later known as André Cymone) who joined Prince in the 94 East recordings. From there Prince created a demo tape in 1976 at producer Chris Moon’s studio but was unable to garner a recording contract. He brought the tape to local businessman Owen Husney, who signed Prince to a management contact and produced a new demo at Sound 80 studios and a press kit that ultimately got Prince signed to Warner Bros.

Warner Bros agreed to give Prince creative control and his first album, For You, was recorded in Los Angeles at Record Plant Studios. The album was released on April 7, 1978. His first platinum album, the self-titled, Prince, was released in October 1979 and resulted in several hit songs including “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” which sold over a million copies and reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. And just like that, Prince’s career was off and running.

Perhaps it was the 1984 hit film, Purple Rain, and its soundtrack of the same name, that are the most memorable of Prince’s early career. The movie was based loosely on Prince’s own life and earned the musician an Academy Award for best original song score while the soundtrack album spent 24 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and sold 13 million copies in the US. The songs “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” reached number 1 and the title track reached number 2 on the charts. At one point in 1984, Prince had the number one song, number one album, and number one movie in the US at the same time, the first time a singer achieved such a feat.

From there Prince’s career continued to soar to new heights in creativity and collaboration. Simply put he was as prolific as any songwriter or musician before or since. So much so that space doesn’t allow me to recount all his work or accomplishment. Beyond his work, Prince was generally known as a humble man who didn’t always like all the attention he received. He was an active member of his adopted community of Chanhassen, Minnesota (a suburb just west of Minneapolis) and, though he never talked much about it, was reported to be quite the philanthropist. His death last week came as quite a shock and has resulted in an unbelievable outpouring of support from his fans.

I will confess that I was never really a big fan of his work, though I have seen the movie Purple Rain enough times to remember several of the scenes.  But in the days since his passing I have learned a lot about Prince, and what caught my attention more than everything else, perhaps, was what people have said about his live performances. Being a fan of live music, I can honestly say I now wish I would have seen Prince live at least once.

But while I know relatively little about Prince, I do know that at age 57 he died seemingly long before his time and his death was absolutely shocking on a global scale. Tributes to Prince have popped up all over the world with buildings and other structures lit up in purple, stars such as Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and David Gilmour have sung tributes to him, and TV shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Voice have honored Prince. Even Google paid respects with a Purple Rain Google Doodle.

Clearly Prince was a well-respected artist and people everywhere thought he would be around for many years to come. And when we stop to think about it, isn’t that how we feel about all our loved ones, all our friends, and even ourselves? Don’t we tend to assume we have another day or another hour, when the reality is we may not even have another minute? If Prince’s untimely death can teach us anything, perhaps it is that we should never take our friends, family, or coworkers for granted. We should let them know, right now, how much we love and appreciate them and live every day with them as if it may be our last.

The Psalmist wrote, “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4) May I encourage you to consider how quickly our assumptions of longevity can be shown to be mistaken. Before it’s too late, please reach out in love to those around you and, if you haven’t already, please consider your own mortality and reach out to Jesus, “for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

As noted by the writer of Hebrews: “Therefore he (Jesus) is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”  (Hebrews 7:25)

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A Season of Hope

Spring - mod  Spring is here! The trees are budding, the birds are singing, and there are tell-tale signs everywhere reminding us of the hope for a new season and new life.

Putting your Faith in Christ is like this, too. Winter is often seen as the dark and endless season where coldness and gloom seem to be the rule. Just like winter, our lives sometimes have seasons that seem to be dark and cold. Seasons where we can become bogged down by the world, feeling hopeless from an ostensibly endless string of bad decisions, bad behavior, hurting others, or seemingly endless dark days of a difficult or depressing time. During such periods we can lose sight of hope. But just as Spring promises new life, there is hope. A new and profound hope that can be found in a relationship with Jesus. Even if you feel like you’ve made too many mistakes or that you are stuck in an endless time of darkness or you feel like you are teetering on the edge of a hope precipice, Jesus offers hope like no other.

20160416_110050 mod  Just as new flowers push up through the once frozen soil to bring new life to a barren landscape, there is new life waiting for you to uncover it and let it blossom into the newly living splendor that was created for each of us in Christ. I can remember times in my own life when I felt hopeless. Times when I wondered if there would ever be light in my life again. As a child, I had many dark days to live through when my father abandoned our family. Just trying to survive was sometimes all that I could muster. Watching my mother struggle to provide for my brothers and I brought uncertainty and confusion. I struggled to find anything I could trust in. Finding Jesus lifted me up out of this darkness and created a hope in me that sustained through an uncertain future.  And I found that my problems grew smaller as Christ became bigger in my life.

Everyone has a story or a different journey. No matter what you’ve been through, what decisions you have made, what you have been put through, or how dark your days seem today, Jesus offers hope.

Jesus suffered and died to bring all of us a new hope and new life through him. Maybe you are a skeptic? Maybe you are just not sure that this Jesus people talk about is real. There are clearly convincing facts that Jesus did exist and that the stories and truth we read in the Bible are factual. Below we’ve linked to some resources that can help you know these stories are true. I would also encourage you to find someone who can answer your questions about God. And by all means don’t hesitate to ask God, He created you and knows what is in your heart and He longs for you to know Him.

Saying yes to Jesus and living a life grounded in him releases us from the gloom of darkness and gives us new life. We are transformed, much like the transformation of new life in a Spring flower, we rise up out of the coldness to be renewed in the Son. Having accepted a new life in Him, we have His word to nourish us and help us grow in the hope-filled life He has planned for us. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

God loves you. He gave his Son for you. There is nothing that can keep you from the hope found in a relationship with God. Your dark and endless path, hopelessness and darkness, can all fall a way and bring to you a new life, a new Spring. Are you ready to walk into the warmth and light of the One who loves you?

Here are some resources to help you get your questions answered:

Cold Case Christianity

Lee Strobel

Answers In Genesis

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How to Be Perfect…

perfect-966211_960_720  Few of us would claim perfection, and most of us would admit to having experienced some period of rebellion or failure in our lives, albeit to varying extents. But can we recover from such periods of fallibility and reclaim a position of rightness? Can we move from forlorn to fantastic?

Last week I shared the story of Joey, who was suffering from alcoholism and addiction and finally came to a moment of clarity and was able to turn his life around. This week, to explore the question of our potential for restoration,  I want to walk through a parallel story from the Bible and see if we can find the answers to our questions. So let’s see if we can relate.

First the story, from Luke 15:11-32 (NIV):

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

The first thing we might notice about this story is the overwhelming sense of entitlement the younger son displays. Think about verse 12 for a moment; this young man has already made the assumption that he will get a share of his father’s estate and he doesn’t want to wait for it and he surely doesn’t show much interest in earning it.  It is, actually, a fairly large assumption to think that his father will even still have an estate to divide once he reaches the end of his life for many things could happen to leave him penniless, but his son shows no interest in any of that. He just wants a free ride now. Instant gratification. He might as well have wished his father dead.

Can you identify with this young man’s lust for immediate reward? Do you relate to his lack of concern for his father and his family in deference to his own desires? I sure can.  For who among us has not wished for something more than we have now; for something we are not patient enough to earn for ourselves? Isn’t this why the lottery is so attractive to many of us? Who hasn’t searched for or thought about a get rich quick scheme? We can also guess that this father’s willingness to oblige his young son may speak of further family dysfunction, but we’ll leave that possibility for another time.

The younger son, having received his share of the estate, quickly abandons his generous father and family, shirking any sense of responsibility, and heads off to a “distant land” where he promptly begins a lifestyle of wild living. As is perhaps common to young people, he had little sense of concern for his future and held back nothing for emergency. And, of course, an emergency quickly arose, in the form of widespread famine. It wasn’t long before the young man was cold and hungry and desperation began to settle over him. So he hires on with a farmer and is assigned the task of feeding the pigs.

It is somewhat important to the story to recognize that this young man is Jewish, and in the Jewish tradition of the time pigs are the vilest of unclean animals. To have sunk so low as to have to feed a hated, non-kosher animal hints at the desperate nature of the situation this young man had fallen into. That he desires the very food these filthy pigs are eating only underscores the humiliation he was experiencing. We might equate this today to a father whose gambling problem has cost him everything he once held dear; or a young woman forced into prostitution to pay for the drugs she has become addicted to.

Perhaps because the famine was so widespread, or maybe because they knew his trials were of his own making, or possibly a little of each, but for whatever the reasons, no one gave the young man anything.  He couldn’t even beg a living. And this brought him to rock bottom and it is in this state of deep despair that he finally has his “moment of clarity”, or as verse 17 puts it, he “came to his senses”.  And here in the depths of his despondency the young man comes to a point of remorse and contrition.

Finally, in this state of penitence the young man realizes how good he had it at home and he returns to his father. “I have sinned against heaven and against you” are the words he practices in verse 18. And as he approaches his father’s home he is spotted in the distance and his father, who has obviously been waiting and hoping for his return, rather than being angry or judgmental, acts compassionately and runs to his son and greets him warmly and enthusiastically. In verse 23 the father proclaims: “My son was dead but now he is alive; he was lost and now he is found,” and a great celebration begins.

Those of you who are parents will no doubt understand the father’s reaction. As parents we all see our children make mistakes and we hope they learn from them, but when the mistakes are huge and life changing, how much more do we rejoice when they finally claim victory and begin to live well once again?

And this is exactly how God feels about each and every one of us. No matter what you have done or how far you have fallen, God longs for you to come to him. For you perhaps it has been just a few mistakes you’ve made along the way, or maybe like me you have made some rather large blunders, but whatever your situation you know you have sinned “against heaven” and against others, and probably against yourself. You know, instinctively, that you are not perfect.  God knows, too. But rather than waiting in anger to judge you harshly, God seeks you and longs for you to come to Him with your regrets so He can extend His forgiveness and grace to you.

Will today be the day you accept the gracious forgiveness available through the shed blood of Jesus? For it is only in Christ that we are made perfect (in heaven).

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