Pomegranates by Chanan Mazal

Pomegranates by Chanan Mazal

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Exercising Joy

Exercise and Joy are not two words I typically put together in the same sentence.  

In fact, since returning from vacation, the only participation in physical activity that I seem to engage in has been from the comfort of my own couch - watching others sweat during American Ninja Warrior.  I know - so sad, but true. 

As I thought a little further about the subject, I realized that perhaps I actually do have an exercise routine.  And it just may be the best kept joy-filled secret health regime ever.

You will not likely hear about this from any trendy health programs, books or blogs.  This is something that any age or ability (non-athletic person like myself) can do and it is seriously a blast...

Wait for it... 

Sing!  More specifically - join a choir!

Yes -- I fully acknowledge that I am biased...but hear me out!
Author and choral member, Stacy Horn, uses the term, "exercising joy" to describe her weekly routine of getting out of the house to sing with her local amateur choir.  She claims "you can't reach heights like this singing alone in the shower."  Stacy shares the story of how her own happiness increased once she joined her local church choir.

Like Stacy, if you are looking to improve your health or desire to increase your joy - may I suggest you warm up your vocal chords and join a choir.

The Fountain of Youth
Those who are said to age well are people who continue to grow, learn and create.  Choral singing provides a creative environment to develop new skills as people learn harmonies, technique and memorization.  So if you want the secret to staying young, I say - skip the expensive wrinkle cream and join a choir!

Boost Your Brain
There is now scientific evidence to prove that singing has a positive impact on the brain.  The hormones that are released through the physical activity of singing actually help to lower anxiety, depression and reduce stress.  Who doesn't want that?

Here are some of the other benefits of singing in a choir that I came across in a Chorus Impact study.

Civic Leadership
According to the study, choral members scored high on participation in civic leadership.  Choir members were more likely than other groups to volunteer or contribute to philanthropic or political causes. They were found to be strong supporters of performing arts in their own local communities.  As I researched further I even found one article that linked choral singing to higher emotional intelligence scores - how cool is that!

The chorus impact study also revealed high scores in being willing to explore areas outside of musical expertise.  This suggests that choral members experience increased confidence, flexibility and adaptability to change and trying new things.  

Fostering Unity
Choral work teaches people to work together as a team. Singing in groups helps to cultivate a listening ear and heart.  To sing as one voice you first have to learn to listen to all the other parts around you.  What a powerful life lesson!

Restore Your Soul
I admit there have been rehearsals where I begrudgingly dragged myself out to choir after a long day at work. However, after I started singing a strange thing happened.   I forgot about myself and my problems.   My disposition changed and my mood lifted.  I became attentive to God instead of consumed with things I couldn't change about the state of my own circumstances. 

I have seen this physical transformation first hand as I watch those I lead during rehearsal.  Some come to choir drained, quiet and with an unspoken weight on their shoulders.  As we begin to sing I notice their energy increase, they sit up a little taller, start to smile and end up leaving practice happier than when they first arrived.

As we learn to empty and surrender ourselves together in worship this enables God to fill the recesses of our hearts with the joy of His fullness. 

I see why Saul called David to play the harp for him when He was suffering in spirit.  Music is a powerful healing force.  Music reaches into the depths of our hearts to restore and allow truth to be heard.  Music quiets the soul placing us in the position to hear and respond to God.

Building Community
There are many people who suffer from depression, loneliness or are simply seeking a place to belong.  We learn to love each other as we grieve, rejoice, intercede, extend hospitality, patience and grace through the fellowship in this unique musical community.  God has certainly used my own church choir family to reveal the gift and beauty of living out the gospel in community - for which I am deeply grateful.  

Created In His Image!
I love the verse from Zephaniah 3:17 that reminds us that God rejoices over us with singing!  If God delights to sing over us and we are created in His image - then I believe we are also designed to sing!  We are wired to minister to Him in song and to also sing over His beloved.  Singing is built into our DNA.

We may not all be skilled and talented musicians.  In fact, the musical ability and performance is not the central priority.  God calls us to praise, to sing and testify to who He is, what He has done and who we are in Him.  We are to edify and encourage one another in song.  In the Bible, it is the choir (not the soloist) that leads the people into victory (2 Chronicles 20:21).  There appears to be strength in numbers.  

Carol Cymbala, author and conductor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, beautifully articulates the ministry of a choir, 

"to lead others into an encounter with Jesus
...and when our lives match the lyrics
 then we are truly singing."

Above all the other benefits ... singing makes God happy.  I believe when we delight God by learning to minister and worship Him together in song, we in turn discover true joy.  It is not a fleeting happiness, but an authentic lasting joy.

So get your comfy yoga pants on, grab your unsalted almonds and green juice and join your local choir to exercise your way to joy! 

My sister sent this to me, it cracked me up and I thought it might help you get started on your musical way...so here you go!  Hope to see you at choir!

Explaining Sheet Music  - Julian Cianciolo


Friday, 9 September 2016

Radical Leadership - A Shepherd's Heart

As I alluded to in the last post ... when it comes to leadership, the topics of healing and brokenness are not exactly trending let alone even part of the conversation.

Yet, I wonder... what if we dared to be vulnerable, speak out and expose our fear and inadequacy in this area?  Maybe we could together stop the rampant burn out rate of incredibly talented leaders. 

And in the process, help some wounded, yet overlooked, gifted sheep along the way?

The Good Shepherd ..."strengthen and heal the sick, care and bring healing to the broken."
Ezekiel 34

Most leaders support those who have a physical illness or who have experienced loss through practical acts of kindness - sending a card, flowers or perhaps arranging a meal.  

However, there is a different type of challenge that leaders face regardless of their title or position.  Whether you work at home, church or in the marketplace... you will inevitably run into the emotionally wounded sheep.  

 Warning Signs
  • The person may withdraw, exhibit passive-aggressive or confrontational behaviour, snap at others out of the blue, be defensive, overly sensitive, needy, critical or divisive.
  • You begin to notice that others on your team are complaining or avoiding activities that require interaction with that member. 
  • There may be poor attendance on your team or in your group.
  • As the leader, you start to experience signs of burn out, exhibit a loss of passion & entertain thoughts to retire early.
  • You catch yourself secretly praying that this person moves on to greener pastures elsewhere! 

If any of the above sounds familiar then it could be that there is an emotionally injured sheep in your midst.

I think it is time to be honest and acknowledge that leaders are prone to injury from wounded sheep.

We pour our time, resources and heart to invest in others, which places us in a vulnerable position to also get hurt.  I have sadly seen many great leaders over the years not only burn out, but end up resenting the very people they once loved to serve. 

So, how do leaders avoid becoming the next sheep in need of mending


at the same time follow Ezekiel's call to bring healing to the emotionally wounded?

Here are some things I have been learning along the way...  

The transforming power of prayer
Prayer helps to avoid falling into the trap of presuming people will never change. We forget the powerful truth that God delights to heal our innermost hurts and wounds.  In my experience, prayer does not impact the person’s behaviour overnight, but it certainly has transformed my own heart and attitude toward the person who is acting out of their hurt.

Ask the Shepherd 

We are not on our own to figure this out.  God desires to lead His shepherds.

Ask to see the person from God's perspective.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?  Yet, I can’t tell you the number of times I failed to put this into practice.

Ask God for healing words of life to speak into this situation.

Ask God to reveal the areas where we ourselves require healing.  

What are our own triggers when we are interacting with the wounded sheep?

There are many articles today that speak to the benefit of leaders who have a high emotional intelligence.  One of the attributes of this type of leader is self awareness.  This is a huge asset when leading others, but the trouble with self awareness is... it still relies on ourselves!  Only God can search our hearts and minds to uncover our conscious and unconscious triggers when we engage with others.
I remember a number of years ago where I was struggling to lead a person who was quite critical.  Despite the stress, I felt like I was handing the situation quite well by providing context for the things that this person would complain about. 

God, however, had quite a different perspective on the matter.

By the end of our conversation together God had revealed that my goal had been self protection at all cost.  I would respond to the criticism with self-defense and my personal favourite... classic avoidance!

I had been adding to the dysfunction through subtle forms of exclusion through avoidance.  God then began to nudge me to sit next to this person in meetings and listen to the criticism without defending myself or saying a word.

I needed God to uncover what my "self" awareness was not consciously prepared to acknowledge - it was certainly a humbling moment!

Is this something I need to address or an offense I should overlook? Where and when should I have the conversation? Taking time to respond to the injured helps to avoid reacting out of our own emotional triggers - something I continue to struggle with!

Surround yourself with a network outside of the situation who will be there to support you as you seek to care for others.

Jesus was never too busy to listen to the needs of others.  Listening may well be one of the most under-utilized attributes of a leader.  Yet, when the art of listening is put into practice it can be the most valuable and healing resource at your disposal.

Lead With Truth and Grace
Grace certainly does not mean there will not be difficult conversations or outcomes.  When we speak the truth in love we respond for the benefit of the other.  The more we learn to receive and live in the fullness of God's truth and grace the more we will be able to extend it to others. 

Seek and Search
Jesus accepts us in our brokenness, knowing all of our unresolved emotional hang-ups!  He invites us to belong in our brokenness - not when we are perfect.

I believe this is why Ezekiel calls the good shepherd to seek and search for sheep.  Ezekiel 34:16

Those with raw exposed emotional wounds are often the ones who struggle to belong.  

I cringe when I think of the embarrassing displays of behaviour from the brokenness in my own life.  Despite my outward behaviour, God remained relentless in seeking after me.  He never gave up on me.  He unconditionally embraced and welcomed me into His fold.

I never had to earn my place back into belonging or contributing.

Should we not extend the same inclusion to those we lead?

I believe when we lead with a shepherd heart...

there will be a tremendous healing power that takes place
 as people are accepted,
 included and belong!

Take courage if you are leading a wounded sheep or if perhaps you are the broken sheep in need of healing. 

After Jesus broke the bread, He gave thanks and not only used the bread for His glory, but He multiplied it in order to nourish His sheep!  

Radical leadership is seeing brokenness as a beautiful opportunity for God to display His glory, to feed and restore His beloved sheep and shepherds.

Stuart Townend The Lord's My Shepherd

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