This week as I reflect on my faith journey, I came across these powerful lyrics from Charles Wesley:

 

“O Thou Who camest from above,

The pure celestial fire to impart,

Kindle a flame of sacred love

Upon the mean altar of my heart.

 

There let it for Thy glory burn

With inextinguishable blaze,

And trembling to its source return,

In humble prayer and fervent praise.

Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire

To work and speak and think for Thee;

Still let me guard the holy fire,

And still stir up Thy gift in me.

 

Ready for all Thy perfect will,

My acts of faith and love repeat,

Till death Thy endless mercies seal,

And make my sacrifice complete.”

 

The MockingAdmittedly, I’m a Miami Heat fan.

I’ve heard the accusations of jumping on the bandwagon of the reigning NBA Championship team. However, this is not so. In my own defense, I’ve been a long time fan of the New Jersey Nets. When they decided to move to Brooklyn, they severed ties with me! With that said (and cleared up), I’ve watched the Miami Heat’s seasons of victory and defeat. Now, they have the unique opportunity to be a part of history by becoming NBA Champions three times in a row. If achieved, it will be noted that this is not an easy feat.

After a young adults bible study, I watched ABC to see the last quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. It was already widely reported by this time that the arena was experiencing an air conditioning shutdown. The fans were using fans to fend off the heat (no pun intended)! The conditions in the arena affected game play, especially with one of the most celebrated players in all of basketball – Lebron James. During gameplay, Lebron experienced severe cramping resulting in him forfeiting the opportunity to finish the game. It can be disputed by sports analysts and fans, but when Lebron left the game, the Spurs went on a great running streak. When the game was over, the Spurs were victorious.

This blog post is not to address what happened during the game. Rather, I want to address the mocking that took place after the game. Lebron James “haters” began to post photos on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, mocking how he left the game and why.

“If it was Michael Jordan, he would have played.”

“Kobe had a ruptured achilles and walked off! They had to carry Lebron off!”

These comments and memes began to flood the social media world. They had a new word for the mocking called “LEBRONING”. People from across the country began posting photos of friends carrying them, mimicking Lebron James in pain.

After seeing this — a thought crossed my mind.

Whether you are a fan of Lebron James, the Miami Heat or even the game of basketball, there’s a lesson to be learned. When you are striving for excellence, prepare yourself for THE MOCKING. Subtlety or directly, it will come. In the case of NBA Finals Game 1, before the evening was up, thousands of TV viewers (most of whom have never walked on a basketball court let alone play the game) reveled in the opportunity to make fun of the reigning NBA Champion. It is as if they were awaiting the moment to criticize, harass, or make fun of a celebrity-athlete…who experienced pain.

When asked about the internet wave, Lebron commented by saying he didn’t care what people thought. I don’t know what’s in his heart, but I seriously doubt it didn’t have some affect on him. The criticism ranged from not being like Michael Jordan, not being strong enough like Kobe Bryant and not doing enough to properly hydrate himself. “Well, the other players had to deal with the same conditions. Lebron, get over yourself..” leaves the mouth of viewers who may have never experienced a cramp while playing a sport.

Beyond the Lebron James factor, think about your own life. You may have experienced this in a similar way but not in the national spotlight. As soon as you fail to meet a standard or make a mistake, others around you or who strategically surround you pounce like a caged tiger, ready to devour you with their words. They were waiting for an opportunity, an opening to criticize your gift, your talent, your personhood, your character. But, like in the case of Lebron, most of those who criticize aren’t doing what you do or feeling what you feel. They are observing. They are watching how you time and time again rise above the naysayers and pursue your dreams and goals. Rather than supporting and encouraging, their bitterness turns to criticism devoid of any understanding and sensitivity. 

When you have those who mock, keep them in your prayers. The emptiness of their lives drives them to criticize the fullness in yours. In the case of Lebron James, if he retired right now, he doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone but himself. He’s the type of athlete who has yet to reach his full potential and has already garnered top honors in the NBA and the sports world. You may have not reached your full potential, but you have achieved much. Keep striving. Keep pressing even in the midst of the mocking. Mocking is not blocking. The words of others will never block the Word of God over your life. -RF

BTW: Go Heat! (Much respect to the San Antonio Spurs)

OutoftheLoopLet’s get right down to it: Far too many people feel like they are “out of the loop”. What does that term even mean?

Well, it depends on who you ask. Some feel like they are not included in social outings, conversations or given the opportunity to build relationships with certain people. Others feel like they are rarely considered when decisions are made, leaving them with the sense of worthlessness. Then you have those who have recently discovered that they thought they were “in the loop” to only find out they have been duped.

What is the loop? It’s the people, group, or associations you deem valuable to be a part of. Otherwise, it would not demand your attention, your hurt feelings or your criticism. Depending on the context, “the loop” also has informal membership that rarely gets publicized. Either you are a part of it or you are not. Induction is not official and the way you enter is not public knowledge. We have experienced this on many levels: in the workplace, in friendships/relationships, and even in our families. This extends from Wall Street to Main Street, from your house and yes, even the House of God.

Here’s a question I want to raise and invite you to think about: Why do you want to be “in the loop”? Whatever circle or association you view as important or worthy, what’s the real reason why you want to even be in it? Is it for the closeness? Possibly to access more information or connections? Is it for your own self-esteem? Is it to boast to others that you are in that loop? Checking out your motives reveals your heart and why you are investing so much time in getting in rather than getting to know you.

I’ve seen this time and time again, especially in regards to social media. Nowadays, we can communicate subtly like covert operations to reveal or unveil our connections. The photos, the statuses and Instagram videos display who we are close to and where we go. It is a parade of who’s who in various circles to promote one’s worth. Nothing is wrong with posting anything that is appropriate with friends and family. But, the question is still out there — it demands an answer — why are you doing it? 

Being “out of the loop” (whatever that loop may be) may be very distressing to you. It may cause you to question who you are. You may wonder: “Why can’t I be a part of that”? or “How did that person make it and I didn’t?” I get it. Allow me to take this opportunity to offer a word of caution: Your energy in trying to be a part of a loop distracts you from being a circle starter! Too many people in loops take an unfortunate pride in limiting who can be a part of “them”. If that’s the case, why would you want to fraternize with anyone who has that attitude? A circle starter finds ways of connecting people through their circle of friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and acquaintances. This circle never ends and allows for people who never had the chance to connect to do so.

Discover ways that you can be a circle starter. What ways can you connect people together that are mutually beneficial? Let those who need to be in loops for their own self-aggrandizement to themselves. That’s what they are about — themselves. When you are a circle starters, you organically create opportunities for healthy relationships to be formed in the spirit of growth, learning and exposure to new things. If you want to be in the know, let others discover what they may not know about you. Let them discover the depth of who you are. If there is someone or people you want to know, don’t make futile attempts for them to know you in a manipulative, contrived manner. Be you — start healthy relationships where you are — they will find you out! And you’ll never feel “out of the loop”! – REF

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6

FFFRefSeveral years ago on a Thursday night, our worship team was introduced to a new song by Israel Houghton and New Breed. The song was entitled, “I Am Not Forgotten”. The song’s anthem was soul-stirringly repetitive, coupled with an upbeat tempo to excite even the most casual listener. The lyrics and melody resonated strongly with the worship team that night. Collectively, we were thrilled about the opportunity to minister this song of hope — you are not forgotten. Over the years, I’ve heard songs, listened to passionate sermons, and received timely words of encouragement about God never forgetting or forsaking me. It rings with truth, echoes in my heart and causes “AMENS” to leap from my mouth.

With that said, I’ve learned the difference between intellectually knowing this truth vs. living this truth in our reality. After making the declarations, life’s challenges will cause even the strongest believer in Christ to wonder privately, “Lord, are you with me?” Oftentimes, this question arises in the secret place of pain, disappointment and disillusionment. We may struggle with the tension of the truth of Scripture and how it relates to our circumstances. What does this look like? Here are a few examples:

  • The plan you committed to the Lord did not work out the way you thought or at all;
  • Your prayer request appears to fall on deaf ears while others seem to prosper without much prayer;
  • Despite all of your submitted efforts to serve God, it appears you are stuck in the same place;
  • You’ve been reaching out to God in prayer but the situation is the same or getting worse.

These are real examples attached to real feelings. You are not alone. The Bible writers, scholars and great theologians have wrestled these feelings too. This feeling of being forgotten and forsaken cannot be simply articulated in a tweet, a Facebook message or an Instagram post. Too often, these feelings aren’t expressed fearing that others will question your faith in God. But, it will expose the very delicate nature of our souls by pondering over such questions as:

  • Lord, am I doing something wrong?
  • Lord, did I offend you in any way that would cause a withholding a blessing?
  • Lord, what do you want me to learn in this situation?
  • Lord, are you truly with me because I don’t feel you?

I’ve learned (and continue to learn in a great degree) that your feelings need to be filtered through the truth of God’s Word. Your feelings of abandonment or being forgotten by God are real and not to be disregarded. But, it is how we take our feelings and bring them to God in prayer. Learning to respond to the feeling of abandonment biblically sharpens us to see the difference between our flesh and our spirit. Our flesh nature tends to think that because something did not go our way, God must have left us. NOT SO! There are times in my life that I’m glad it did not go the way I thought. WHEW! I have to rest on the truth of God’s Word and not just my feelings in a moment or yes, even a season.

We live in a competitive society where the basis of success and prosperity have bled into the stream of Christendom. We look at what others have or what they have achieved and wonder — God, how about me? If you haven’t received or achieved what you wanted in your life (yet), it doesn’t mean it will not happen. But, could it be that God wants you to live your life in the truth that the greatest success you could ever have is being with Him? Take the Word of God to be true for your life right now. Your feelings may be in a battle to believe this truth — but here’s the truth: God knows the plans He has for you (Jeremiah 29:11). And His plan never includes forgetting you, forsaking you or abandoning you for another. 

CharisaRouse2Charisa Rouse (aka The Violin Diva) is known for her great talent on the violin and her jazz-infused sounds. Charisa is a well-sought after artist on the live performance stage and in the studio. Recently, Charisa was featured with world-renowned artist Patti Labelle at the BLACK GIRLS ROCK event at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Charisa has worked with world-renowned artists and performed on the biggest stages. With her husband (James Rouse) by her side, Charisa has been able to achieve great success and the best is yet to come.

Behind the curtains and bright lights, Charisa offers her thoughts in this exclusive REFlections interview:

REF: What does an ordinary day look like in the life of Charisa Rouse?

Charisa: My day usually starts around 7:30 AM – 8 AM. God has been waking me up earlier than usual. I take some time to pray and do my morning routine. Then, about 10 AM, you will find me sitting at my desk handling business. In the music industry, we are self-contained entrepreneurs. I am running the business, talking with clients, and answering e-mails (the administrative work). It requires me to sit still. Ryan, I’ve learned that there is just some work I must do while sitting still.

Around 2 PM-3 PM, I am heading into the city (New York City) to teach one of the afternoon violin programs. Most nights, I am in recording sessions, out performing a gig or at a networking event.

REF: Besides the violin, what is your greatest passion?

Charisa: God. That’s easy.

REF: Why?

Charisa: He’s an old friend that I’ve gotten to know. I trust Him immensely. He’s constantly revealing Himself to me. I’ve had a rough couple of months for many reasons. Unequivocally, through this season, God is the surest thing in my life. I feel because of the immense challenges of the music industry — I don’t know how you can be an atheist and be a musician. It’s very difficult — people will stiff you for money (still waiting on checks). Do I get ugly and take this to small claims court? Questions arise that affect your business. Collections are hard; what time your money comes in — its very nebulous. It’s subjective. You might walk into a situation where you are credited for being a good musician but you don’t fit the mold. You are at the mercy and the behest of other’s people’s opinions and preferences that aren’t based on facts. You have to be sure of who you are, what you stand for, and what you are willing to do and not. God is such an incredible center and He is my anchor. Otherwise, people will go crazy in this industry. You must be sure footed and know who you are.

REF: Charisa, you mention God centering you. Who are you at your core?

Charisa: I’m an artist at my core. I am a passionate person. I am very hyper-analytical; I’m a thinker’s thinker. I love books. I’m about how things connect. I was that annoying kid asking why does the world work a certain way. My mother would say “Because I said so!” (laughter). She did get tired of me at times. I was always that kid. The older I get, I am still that kid. I turned 30 last year. I love being in my 30s because I feel like I met myself at 30. I know this chick — I know why she does what she does. There is a spirit of acceptance of who I am now.

I’m an artist at my core. I am a passionate person. I am very hyper-analytical; I’m a thinker’s thinker.

REF: Your future — what’s the most frustrating thing about attaining your personal goals for your future?

Charisa: Two things: (1) Not knowing. I believe God keeps some things secret from me because I can be hard-headed and stubborn. Sometimes I think I know everything. And if He gave me more information, I probably jack it up. I’m a visionary but sometimes not an executor (again, knowing you and realizations about who you are). Some have a 5 year plan. I know the long distance plan, but working on execution. The second thing: (2) Money. As an independent artist, some things take a lot of money. And you can’t crowd-fund every two months!

REF: Do you find yourself frustrated with God or just not knowing the next step?

Charisa: The process. It’s a stretching season and its never comfortable — at least not for me.

REF: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Charisa: Taking over the world (Pinky and the Brain reference)! (Laughter)

REF: And what does that look like for you?

Charisa: I say this to my manager all the time. For me, I would like to tour and play with my band all over the world. I would love my curriculum for violin other schools and programs. I have a real passion for artist development and would like to move into this more. Buy a house, a couple of kids. But, my husband says we may be done after one! 🙂

REF: Have you considered being signed to a label or do you think you thrive in your space as an independent artist?

Charisa: I’m in search for a distribution deal. That is being worked on. In terms of a production deal – if it is the right deal, then sure. I have been approached before by record labels. If it is a mutually beneficial relationship, then sure. But most of the time, it is not mutually beneficial. With the conglomeration of labels, they want 360 deals — if I sing at a church, they want a percentage of that. They have complete control and it is not mutually beneficial. These are not the days of the height of Motown where they believed in artist development. Now, they want you to have the package already set (bundled in, great visuals, great press kits, great videos and 200K followers) and then hand over the keys to the kingdom. A distribution deal is more of a partnership and I am on the hunt. I am control freak when it deals with my brand. I just don’t let just anyone in the circle. When you work so hard and you created it, you have to be a good steward of it. As a woman in this industry, sometimes I’m looked at “sideways” because of my protective nature of the brand. That’s ok with me!

REF: For you, is there a tension between sacred and secular music?

Charisa: For me, no. Both peacefully co-exist within me. I know who I am in God and I know who I am in the world. Truthfully, they are the same person. Some people who are close to me have seen me on a jazz hit in a club in New York and then see me in church on Sunday. I’m the same person wearing the same shoes!!

REF: Do you think others may have a problem with that? If so, how do you handle it?

Charisa: Sometimes. Absolutely. It’s funny. Growing up, I only listened to classical and gospel. It was not a hard rule in my house but it was my parent’s leaning. We were obedient kids (siblings), so we followed the spirit of the house. I didn’t hear a jazz record until I went away to college. I was away at college for a classical music degree. I didn’t feel any lack or void in my life about it because that was my world. To that end, when I was opening up for a big artist, it was the first show my parents saw in R&B/Jazz. My mom was so cute…she was like “Well, baby, I don’t know what you’re singing, but everybody is bopping and clapping! You must be doing something up there, Charisa!” I think they had no idea what I was doing! My mom would be on the phone like, “Guard your spirit girl because you know all kinds of demons run rampant!” That’s momma! I had to educate my own parents to a degree. It was beginning of them realizing that what I do in secular music is not compromising who I am.

I’m a married woman. There are certain things I will not sing about. I do try to codify it for those who ask. Some people are assigned to be attendants only to the house of God like nuns in a covenant. And nothing is wrong with that. That is the seal God has placed on their heart and life to serve the house of God. We absolutely need that. But, there are some of us, like my husband (James Rouse) and I who are assigned to be missionaries on the field in the music industry. And if you are a lawyer and you have clients with all kinds of backgrounds, your mission field is the legal profession. Doctors in the medical field. The same applies to musicians and artists.

God has equipped me to handle the assignment. I have been in the club where a joint is being passed around, a stinkin’ blunt and they pass it right over me. “Hey Charisa, you want a puff?” My response: “No thanks.” Their retort: “Are you sure?” My response: “Yes, I’m good thanks boo boo!” I’ve also been in environments when audience members will compliment my artistry and want to buy me a drink. They will say, “Girl, that was amazing…can I buy you a drink?” My response: “Pineapple Juice!” I don’t drink. By God’s grace, in these situations, I’ve been equipped to handle it. As a mature believer in God, the Holy Spirit helps me to discern what to do and what not to do.

We are screaming at the darkness and not lighting the candle! I choose to light a candle and watch the darkness flee!

As a musician, every gig is not meant for you. Other times, gigs turned into ministry opportunities. God has led me to give prophetic words to elite producers who were on the verge of suicide. God has equipped me to be the light in darkness and He continues to lavish His grace to accomplish His mission. We are screaming at the darkness and not lighting the candle! I choose to light a candle and watch the darkness flee!

REF: As a servant of God, do you believe the Church (universal) lacks power?

Charisa: Unfortunately, in many cases – yes. A cloud of glory is moving and we are not. We are creatures of habits — we like what we know and too often refuse to open up. God has been dealing with me this year about release. In order for God to release blessings into my life, I must be open. I must release that which I’ve held on to. The Church must release their clinched fists to receive the newness that God desires to bring.

REF: What advice would you give budding artists?

Charisa: Know who you are! Know whose you are! When God gives you a gift, it is just that — its a gift. It is the beginning of the story. You have a God-given responsibility to cultivate the gift He has given you. Honestly, there are too many lazy musicians. They don’t want to read, learn music theory, learn singing properly or music lessons. Too often, criticism is shunned and growing as a servant is dismissed. If I was going to be a writer, I must know how to read, right? As a musician and artist, how arrogant can we be to not hone our craft? My mother was approached often with the comment, “Charisa is so gifted!” My mother would respond, “Oh thank you, that’s cute. Charisa – girl, go clean that bathroom before you watch TV.” She was not impressed with the flattery. She wanted my character and integrity to be strengthened.

Think big picture. My husband and I always have a term we share – RESIDUAL INCOME! Think big! House paid off and I am making money sitting on my rooftop reading a book. A good friend of mine said, “Charisa, you’re thinking too small.” Stop thinking too small.

Know who you are! Know whose you are! When God gives you a gift, it is just that — its a gift. It is the beginning of the story. You have a God-given responsibility to cultivate the gift He has given you.

REF: Do you think it takes all that you have to achieve that BIG PICTURE?

Charisa: Absolutely! Anything worth having is worth giving your all. It’s been a process. Even my husband and I dealt with 7 months of hell. Gigs fell through, my car was hit a police chase, my husband’s identity was stolen, on and on! We even lost $3,000 in residual income. God saw us through that season. He will see us through this season and He will see us through the next. God is with us. He never fails!

—————

Click here for Charisa’s Website

 

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. – 2 Corinthians 11:30

IYFIn our celebrity-driven culture, the insatiable need for attention and self-aggrandizement grows at a quickening pace. With all the modes of communication today, it’s hard to keep up! With the opportunity to share life with one another in several ways, we can find ourselves running into the traps of being self-consummed with our world, our goals and our successes. The worst form of this is when we deny we are promoting ourselves, wrapping our comments and stories in false humility.

Allow me to explain…and let’s see if you have run into this from time to time:

EXAMPLE #1: “Boasting In Success and Then Giving Glory To God!”

Have you ever heard someone remark on their successes, what they accomplished and how they were so overwhelmed by their many talents…then bookend their comments with “I give all glory to God!”? Tagging God at the end of your verbal resume as if you are tagging a photo reeks of a pride cover-up! When someone shares a testimony or God’s blessings in their life, we should collectively celebrate the goodness and faithfulness of God. But, there is a vast difference between a bragging about the wonders of the Lord in your life and bragging about what a wonder you are! 

EXAMPLE #2: “Boasting In Success — Already Knowing The Person You Share It With Would Like The Same Thing”

I don’t hear this talked about often, but here it goes. If you know you have received a measure of success in an area, it should beckon a humility and a call to inspire others to reach (if not exceed) what you have been enabled to do. Throughout my life, I have had family members, mentors and friends inspire me through their hard work, tenacity, and healthy ambition to achieve excellence. I’ve learned the art of dismissing excuses and tackling the challenges that lie ahead. For that, I am eternally grateful.

However, if you already know someone is praying, working hard and striving for something you have received, why would you boast in their face? Why mention it every time you are in conversation with them (directly, indirectly or in a subtle manner not to raise ‘red flags of pride’)? Why deliberately provoke jealousy, envy and unhealthy competition? For what? Isn’t your success satisfying enough? The danger of this type of boasting is that your success and blessings are not enough. Unfortunately, too many find pleasure in another’s sufferings. If you cannot find satisfaction in your achievements without trashing someone else, you will never be truly successful. 

EXAMPLE #3: “Boasting Incessantly About You and Then Wonder Why You Have “HATERS”!” 

My generation has coined the term haters. My parent’s generation used the word backstabbers. The lyrics to a classic song by The O’Jays rings true for many: “They smile in your face, all the time they want to take your place, the backstabbers!” In this life, you will have life-long backers and supporters. You will also face those that may not be fond of you — for a variety of reasons. Some reasons are out of your control. But, for that which is in your wheelhouse, why provoke people to not like you? It’s as if our success is measured solely on how many haters we claim we have. Our successes and blessings should be measured on how we love, not how much hate surrounds us.

BOAST IN YOUR WEAKNESS

There are many other examples of boasting that is veiled in false humility, cloaked in false platitudes, and surrounded by wrong motives. But, I don’t hear much about boasting in what Scripture speaks of — your weakness. Boasting in your weakness is not popular. Who wants to willingly reveal their struggles and failings? It takes a level of maturity to share the whole self: the ups, the downs, and the in-betweens. In 2 Corinthians 11:30, the Apostle Paul makes it plain – boast in your weakness. Paul was embarrassed by a late night escape from Damascus in a basket, but he shared it. In 2 Corinthians chapter 12, he speaks of the the “thorn in his flesh” but how God’s grace is sufficient; in his weakness, God is strong.

Imagine if we (you and I) would be so bold to boast in our weakness. Our sharing would not strive to “bleed on” others for the sake of sympathy, but sharing for the purpose of glorifying God and His strength. The Apostle Paul’s example of boasting in his weakness showed his strength. Rather than taking credit for his great exploits, He gave all glory to God. The record is clear — Paul is a major hero in the New Testament Scriptures. But, his heroism was not marked solely by his missionary resume; it was and is demonstrated in his humanity.

Let’s boast in our God, what He has and is doing in our lives. Let our lives shine brightly — for Him. Share your testimony but for the sake of the Gospel. Inspire others to achieve greatness rather than lording your success over them. As we are in this learning journey together, I pray we avoid the dangers of boasting for the wrong reasons and embrace the joy of boasting in our God! – RF

You can’t say IT IS FINISHED and don’t know what IT is! – Bishop T.D. Jakes #ProjectGideon

Under ConstructionFor two days, my wife and I had the unique opportunity to join 500 young leaders from across the country and the world for a mentorship program entitled “Project Gideon”. Under the leadership and vision of Bishop T.D. Jakes, this two-day mentoring intensive serves to identify the core of who we are and pursue our God-given vision with intentionality. During the course of one session, Bishop Jakes made a statement that was written on my heart: “You can’t say IT IS FINISHED and don’t know what IT is!” The room of emerging leaders nodded and voiced their agreement. My vocal AMEN was mixed with conviction and a challenge: “Ryan, do you know what IT is?”

In John 19:30, Jesus is recorded crying out “It is finished!” as He was crucified on the cross. This statement is one word in the Greek: tetelestai. In the context of the Scriptures, Jesus literally cried out “The price is all paid!” What price? Jesus had finished the work the Father gave Him to do. He gave up His life that we may be saved from our sinful nature and have abundant life with Him. He knew His mission, His calling and His assignment. Without a shadow of a doubt, Jesus knew it was finished once and for all. Jesus is a leader who knows when the job is complete.

In many respects, our daily routine dictates whether a job is complete or incomplete. The items left undone have a direct impact on our day, our future and those around us. We may even pride ourselves in completing our checklist for the week. But, like Jesus, our lives and those around us depend on whether our vision and/or assignment is complete. There is an argument to be made that our work is not complete until we reach eternity. But, our goals and vision points should not stay perpetually in “incomplete” status until eternity when the lives of this generation hang in the balance. It’s hard to confess that the lack of discipline and forward thinking has left many visionless.

I concluded with humility that I am under construction. The destination is clear but the roads need to be paved, the lines need to be painted, and the potholes need to be filled. And you may be in the same place. Sometimes we may be driving too fast to realize that God wants to “pave our roads”. Admittedly, I don’t even like being in the middle of construction, especially during rush hour traffic. “Shouldn’t this be done already?” or “Why would they do this work now?” have come out of my mouth from time to time. In order for a highway or building to have a strong foundation, it takes time. You cannot rush the process of quality.

Rushing the construction God is doing in your life is bypassing critical work in your character. The temptation to reach your destination quickly is strong, especially in our culture of “get quick” methods. But, like an expert engineer, God’s construction in your life considers every possible contingency or issue that may arise. When tough times come, you can rest assured that your foundation is strong enough to not only endure but overcome! I pray that you embrace the “under construction” label. Don’t begrudge it or dismiss it. Watch God make all things new in and through you!

Bailey was not only a pet; he was a member of our family. – Ryan

Yesterday, my family had to say goodbye to Bailey, our family dog for 13 years. In the recent months, his health had been declining from cataracts to a collapsed trachea. After losing his ability to walk, Bailey became increasingly frustrated and agitated. He wanted to walk, run, play and do the things he was used to doing. Now, it was time to say goodbye. Via FaceTime, I was blessed to join my family in saying goodbye at the local veterinarian. No doubt, February 7, 2014 was a tough day. Bailey was not only a pet; he was a member of our family. To honor his memory, I want to share some lessons I learned from his life.

Lesson #1: The Ministry of Presence

Bailey did what he was created to do — be a dog! As a part of his nature, Bailey knew instinctively when to come around you without any prompting. I remember the long days of college and seminary when stress levels were beyond human comprehension. As I was working or decompressing, Bailey would walk in my room and sit. He knew I needed his company. And he didn’t have to say a word. His presence was enough. Every holiday or family gathering, Bailey was in the center of the action (hoping to get some food too)!

Bailey had the ministry of presence. He was just…there. How we could all learn from this. Sometimes, we feel the insatiable need to say something or do something. Bailey taught me in simple ways to just be there in the moment.

Lesson #2: It’s Not That Serious

Admittedly, there are times when I can take life’s situations way too seriously. Bailey didn’t have time for that! The simple things gave him pleasure…good eats, nice weather, sitting in the sun, playing with his toys, and lapping up lots of water. When I would see Bailey, I would always say, “Man…what a life!” In my joking around, I realized a real life lesson — don’t take yourself so seriously. Enjoy every moment. This life and the time we have is precious.

Lesson #3: Move Forward

As I type these words, tears come to my eyes. Since my start at Seton Hall University in 2000, Bailey has been a part of every life moment — classes, work, transitions, family deaths, graduations, moving, and my own wedding (we had him wear a doggie tux at home). This Yorkshire terrier had the biggest of hearts in a tiny frame. But, he moved forward after bouts of sickness. Watching in real time was surreal and reminded me that life keeps moving forward. We cannot stop even with our futile attempts to do so.

Our family will mourn Bailey’s loss. We will cry and grieve. In the midst of the tears, we thank God for the gift of this small dog who brought large smiles to our faces everyday. Thank you Bailey for being you and in the process, learning from you. Thank you for a great 13 years. We will never forget you!

You are loved for who you are, and not merely what you can do. – Koo Chung

 

REFlectionsKooChungKoo Chung has a long list of titles: recording artist, touring artist, musician, worship leader, songwriter, producer, photographer, husband, friend, and creative partner. He’s gone on to produce five solo albums and tour around the country, collaborating with artists like Derek Webb, Andrew Peterson, and Jars of Clay. Koo’s resume and list of achievements are too numerous to outline here.  But, it is his humanity that provides an inside look of how to grieve well, hope in the midst of struggle and remain a dreamer surrounded by despair. In the first REFlections interview, it is my great honor to present Koo Chung! 

RF: As a music artist, you have explored various creative directions. What would you consider your most creative moment? Why?

Koo: It’s hard to pinpoint one creative moment, but I would have to say that the most creative moments have always happened in the context of collaborating with other musicians/artists. I love teaming up with people who enjoy thinking outside the box and aren’t afraid to spend some time to achieve excellence by exploring different ideas. Most recently, the most rewarding collaborative process was song-writing with my friend Mike Schmid who helped in co-producing my latest album “Brick by Brick”. It definitely sounds different from my previous work, and I can easily say that it’s my favorite out of all the albums I’ve worked on.

RF: Koo, you’ve been very transparent about your seven-year hiatus from music, detailing it as a period of “life happened”. What were some lessons that you’ve learned during that season?

Koo: The biggest lesson I learned was that you need to know yourself well. Simple as that. The better you know yourself, your boundaries, limits, weaknesses, strengths, and what makes you feel alive – the better you can take care of yourself and be better equipped to maintain meaningful relationships in your life. When all of these are in tact, you’re so much better set up to go out and do what you’re created to do. Not sure why it took 7 years for this to happen for me, but it did.

The other half of this is that yes, “life happens”, and things won’t go our way often, and we’ll experience loss & tragedy. To say you need to roll with the punches is more for small inconveniences. When you face life changing scenarios like losing everything you have, or the death of loved ones – the only thing you can do is to try to grieve well. Look the pain right in the eyes, then when the dust settles a bit – process. Thankfully, one of the ways I was able to process was by writing songs.

RF: How did you incorporate those lessons in your new music featured on “Brick By Brick”?

Koo: I’ve been very candid about my personal life, namely my marriage, in this album. The one thing that might have suffered the most due to not knowing myself well enough, not setting good boundaries, having a stifled music career, & the experiences of loss (loved ones as well as material possessions) was my marriage. The one good thing I can say about loss is that it makes you realize how finite life is, and simply put, I experienced an urgent wake up call to appreciate who and what I have, and to love well with the remaining time I have left on this earth.

Many of us experience similar things, but feel incredibly alone because we think we’re the only ones. When this happens, we isolate ourselves and oftentimes, things get even worse because of it. Part of writing “Brick by Brick” was simply because it was one of the best ways I knew how to be introspective about everything I experienced, and because I loved the idea of creating these thoughts in music form – keepsakes, if you will. But the reason I went ahead with recording and releasing this album to the public is because I wanted to encourage people to remove their masks, and risk being vulnerable so we can love and accept each other better when it comes to the dark and gray areas of our lives. The only way I felt I can initiate this was to remove my own mask first.

RF: How has your faith in God developed you to the man you are today?

Koo: Faith has been the greatest gift, especially in the darkest seasons of my life. When I say gift, I mean it almost literally. It’s not that I have always had a great amount of faith, but it’s that I was able to notice frequently how faithful God has been, and how He has never let go. Therefore, if my life choices, and everyday actions could speak they would probably say, “This is for you God, because I can clearly see Your love and faithfulness in my life. At times it’s as tangible as Your protection and provision, and at others it’s an abstract idea. I want others to experience this, and if I can help reach others with this amazing love, then I’m happy to be Your instrument”.

RF: If money or resources were not an issue, what would you endeavor to do right now?

Koo: I can honestly say that it wouldn’t look incredibly different from what I’ve done in the past, and what I’m doing now. The only difference would be that some of it would be done on a larger scale. I’ve had recording studios in the past and currently own some recording gear, but with unlimited resources, I’d build an amazing recording / rehearsal studio and offer it as a resource to other artists I believe in (of course I’d use it myself as well, to go in and record whenever I need to). This studio would come with an amazing engineer I have hired full time, because I am not a fan of learning programs like ProTools, and understanding outboard gear. If I’m at all knowledgable about technology and equipment now, it’s only because it was a means to an end in the past.

I’d put together a band and would continue touring with my wife, Jinny Kim. The specific purpose or message for the season might change from time to time, but I love the idea of being able to communicate and connect w/ friends and audiences throughout the world especially in the form of music.

When I’m not doing this, I’d be back home trying to get better at my craft, practicing, reading, writing, and of course I would always stay involved w/ my local church’s worship ministry.

So yeah, not entirely different from what I’ve been doing.

RF: What do you consider your greatest success? Why?

Koo: Every once in a while when I meet a younger Asian artist/musician for the first time, I am surprised and incredibly honored when they say to me that they have heard of me, and that I have “paved the way” for artists like themselves. When I was in my teens and twenties, there were still not too many of us putting ourselves out there in the music world (here in the US, that is). A large part of why Asians never pursued their dreams of becoming an artist was because they didn’t feel like they could succeed in the US, or that they didn’t have the blessings of their parents who immigrated here and worked hard so that we can have a good education and be “successful”. We are not all wired however, to have the same kind of academic or corporate success. There are many incredibly gifted Asian artists who can impact the world in great ways. I’m relieved to see how things have changed in the past two decades, and thankful to have played some small role in it.

RF: There are those who are reading this blog that are at a crossroads. They may be conflicted about how they should proceed on a dream or a goal for the new year. What words of encouragement would you offer them?

Koo: Recently I spoke with a friend who said that she intentionally chose not to do something she loved full time because if she did so, it would begin to feel like work and that she wanted to always enjoy what she did. Another friend told me about his experience with an artist he knew that had no backup plan whatsoever, because not doing music was a foreign concept, and not an option. This artist ended up having a hit single on national radio, and continues to do music now. In both examples, their motivations were purely based on how they experienced doing what they loved. Their actions were not determined by a desire for fame or for financial success – and I would say that these two things often hinder our approach to achieving our dreams and goals.

Bottom line is, if you love and believe in something – pursue it. Put in your time, practice, make mistakes, put yourself out there – especially if you believe in the message of what it is that you’re sharing. If you’re not at a place where you can do what you love full time, then work – earn money – but don’t be discouraged or think yourself a victim for having to do so. Learn what you can from your current job. If you’re paying attention, there’s always something valuable to learn. I didn’t want to work at Starbucks forever, but when I did, I learned many aspects of management and cultivated important people skills.

Continue to prioritize and carve out time to do what you love, and if one day it becomes your livelihood, be thankful and set appropriate boundaries in your life so you continue enjoying what you do. Never forget to prioritize important relationships in your life. Love well, and have fun along the way – life is too short. You are loved for who you are, and not merely what you can do.

— REFlections Interview —

For more information on Koo, check out www.koochung.com.

Click here to buy Koo’s latest album, “Brick By Brick”. 

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

― Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLKMTADTHE DREAMER.

The national Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday prompts almost universal praise for the well-known “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. National media outlets play excerpts of Rev. Dr. King masterfully describing the corruption of racial injustice and the potential of racial reconciliation. Dr. King articulated a great dream, but the “I Have A Dream” speech was more than a dream – it was a call to action.

DEVOTED TO SERVICE

Before ascending to the heights of leadership on the international stage, Dr. King was trained in the value of service. Serving the felt needs of people was his top priority. An urgent need that he could not ignore was the racial injustice poisoning the culture in America. He could not stand idly by while discrimination, racism and injustice ran rampant. His devotion to service was not lip service – he made the choice to service with action and devotion.

As an MLK Scholar at Seton Hall University, I was reminded of the great call to action that laid at the feet of my generation. Breaking the cycle of entitlement, it was (and still remains) our responsibility to serve and give of ourselves to the betterment of society. When I think of MLK’s life of service – I must ask: What are we willing to give to serve others? What time, talent, treasure and efforts will we give for the sake of others? As we dream for a better life and society, we can start serving where we are to bring about change.

DEDICATED TO THE CAUSE

Some historians and observers mistakenly limit Dr. King’s influence only to the realm of social justice and racial reconciliation. I would caution you not to make the same error. Dr. King’s cause was greater than seeing racism eradicated. It was extended to the root of the Gospel – love. Unlike the “love” defined by our culture in moments, Dr. King served out of a love defined by the Scriptures – sacrificial giving. His example was in the Savior he preached about. His model was in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of humanity. A young preacher and leader would not make such sacrifices on a whim; the surrendering of his life was in exchange for the agape love he longed to see.

Dr. King never claimed to be a perfect, flawless man. Such an arrogant presumption would violate the humanity and brokenness of this influential leader. He recognized his frailties, but did not excuse himself from the hard work of perfecting our union. He was dedicated to the cause of Christ, leading him to unchartered waters and the “fierce urgency of now”. Dr. King demonstrated he would rather face death than live in the man-made world of apathy and despair.

THE TIME IS NOW

The excuses of delay and denial are no longer acceptable. We cannot delay in taking action steps to make a real difference in our communities and neighborhoods. We cannot deny the need to serve others who we know and see need our assistance. In the words of Dr. King: “This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” Let this vigorous and positive action start in taking a small step to give what you can and when you can. It is my prayer and hope that the words of Dr. King go beyond a dream; it will become a reality for all of us to enjoy.