Monday, May 28, 2007

Jesus The Artist

Having recently gone through Rory Noland's The Heart Of The Artist with the Hannaford Praise Team last Fall, I've encouraged us to look at ourselves as artists - both the good and the bad. Noland's book is quite good and reveals the challenges we artist deal with when serving God and working with artists in community.

Recently I read a blog article by Mark Batterson which spoke of Jesus as an artist as well. Batterson wrote...

We don't tend to think of Jesus in artistic terms, but I think we underestimate how artistic Jesus was.

For starters, Jesus created the heavens and the earth. Looks pretty good on your artistic resume! But let me put it in incarnational terms. During his tenure on earth, Jesus spent most of his time as an artisan. He was in carpentry much longer than he was in ministry. Almost a 10:1 ratio. And I'm pretty sure he took pride in his carpentry craft. He sanded till the wood was perfectly smooth. He measured twice to make sure the angle was just right. He cared about color. He cared about contour. He cared about quality. And like any carpenter, I'm sure he wanted his work to bear his unique signature...

\I think we underestimate how much his artistry influenced his ministry. Read the gospels. Jesus was a wordsmith right? He chose words like an craftsman. Each word was measured like a carpenter measures wood. Any way you slice it, Jesus was an artisan first. And his ministry was shaped by his artistry."

The point is this. Jesus gave his best and we are called to give our best as well - a wholehearted effort for our master. As Dorothy Sayers is quoted, "No crooked table legs or ill-fitted drawers ever, I dare say, came out of the carpenter's shop in Nazareth."

May it be the same with us through the power of Christ!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Quotable Quips - Tell Me Something I Don't Know

"Tell me something I don't know... The church ought to be the place where original thought is most prevalent. We have the Holy Spirit to illuminate us and lead us into all truth. But all too often I hear what I've heard a thousand times. So I tend to tune out. Challenge my assumptions. Violate my expectations. Shift my paradigms. The best speakers have a way of saying old things in new ways."

Mark Batterson, Lead Pastor of National Community Church< in Washington, DC, and author of In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. As quoted from his post Tell Me Something I Don't Know (April 27, 2007)

Mark really has something here. There are so many people that find church boring - and it often is. The problem is that God is NOT boring. I truly believe that it is a sin to make God and His truths boring. This is one sin the Church really needs to get past. We need to repent and find the true joy and creativity that only comes from the Creator of all things.

And Speaking of Bananas?

...and maybe even nuts. I may be stepping on a few toes here, but I think that Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron of The Way of The Master have finally gone bananas! Perhaps you heard, or perhaps you saw, but these guys have gone head-to-head with athiests on ABC's Nightline.

Now, a debate is one thing but here is the nutty part...Ray Comfort "claims he can prove the existence of God, scientifically, without mentioning faith or the Bible."

I'm sorry, but this is just wrong on so many levels. One (as CMS points out), Ray thinks he is going to address and answer "the single question humanity has wrestled with since the dawn of time - does God exist?" Two, if we really could scientifically PROVE the existence of God, there would be no need for faith. Jesus said, "...blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29).

I mentioned CMS, and that's where I came across this sad, sad story. I encourage you to read their post here. (And on a side note and a slightly different subject, check out the Banana Argument they link to - more sadness.) I just think the approach of Ray Comfort and The Way of The Master is an approach that leaves out relationship. And without relationship, we really don't have others or Jesus...we don't have anything, really.

Going Bananas?

You may think I'm going bananas, but I did an experiment this week. Seth Godin suggested on his blog that "it's a lot easier to peel a banana if you start from the 'wrong' end." I took those words as a challenge! I went way out on a limb (not literally) and tried out this new wisdom at lunch on Tuesday.

First, I carefully examined both ends of the banana to see if Seth's claims seemed plausible. Considering that I like a rather pre-ripe banana, the stem is usually a bit difficult to open. Usually, a gentle incision with my front teeth break the stem open enough to begin peeling. This time I focused on the other end. I looked carefully and then I started...It was a breeze. Seth was right and I told everyone in the office!

Here's the point. Will I continue to peel bananas this new way, or will I go back to the way I've always done it? Will the rest of the office try it? (Andrea did.) Will people consider me strange for peeling bananas this way?

Like Seth says, I think we have a tendency to continue to do things the hard way because it just "feels" like the right thing to do. It's hard to change and it's hard to get others to change even if it easier or more effective.

How often do we approach ministry this way?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Hearing From God

I mentioned before that the Hannaford Praise Team and I are going through Buddy Owen's The Way of a Worshiper. This week we discussed “Hearing From God.” Owens points out that some people believe that God no longer speaks. He says...

“How sad it must be to worship a God who doesn’t speak ... To believe that God no longer speaks is a frightening proposition. Throughout scripture when God is present, He is speaking. If God no longer speaks, is He no longer present? ... If God no longer speaks, then what makes us think He is listening?"

Thankfully, God does still speak.

Owens continues, “He speaks through the scriptures, through the wise counsel of others ... In Christ, through providence bestowed or withheld, through circumstances, opportunities and closed doors, and through the still, small voice of His Spirit...”

Here's a question. I understand and believe that we can't spend every waking moment trying to discern our every step. "Do I cross the street? Do I eat this sandwich?" And yet, at what point do I say "I don't need to hear from God anymore?" Andrea says, and I agree, that it's really not about determining whether every little thing is God's will or not, it's about making ourselves available to hear His voice and follow Him whenever He speaks.

While preparing our discussion for this last Sunday, I came across a post from Mark Batterson entitled, “Ten Ways I Hear From God.” Here's a few wonderful insights. Check out the original here for the whole list.
  • I hear God better after I've confessed my sin. Somehow confession gets rid of the static. Besides, when I'm living with unconfessed sin I don't always want to hear God's voice.
  • I hear God better when I'm worshiping Him. Worship is one way I tune into God's frequency.
  • I hear God better after I've read my Bible.
  • I hear God better when I'm not in a hurry. Blaise Pascal said, "All of man's miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone."
  • I hear God better when I'm fasting. I hear God more clearly when I do a TV Fast--sometimes we have to tune some voices out so we can hear the voice of God.
  • I hear God better when I'm out of my routine. Change of place + change of pace = change of perspective. God seems to show up in burning bushes in the middle of nowhere!
  • I hear God better when I'm going after a dream. God doesn't speak to me when I'm not stepping out in faith.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Quotable Quips - The God Of The Actual Bible

"I began to slowly realize that the God of the Bible, not the God of formula and bullet points that some have turned the Bible into, but the God of the actual Bible, the old one before we learned to read it like a self-help book, had a great deal to say to me."

"Perhaps if we stop reducing the text to formulas for personal growth, we can read it as stories of imperfect humans having relations with a perfect God and come to understand the obvious message He is communicating to mankind."

"I wondered what it would it would have been like to have studied the Bible and not be tainted by lists and charts and formulas that cause you to look for ideas and infer notions that may or may not be in the text, all the while ignoring the poetry, the blood and pain of the narrative, and the depth of emotion with which God communicates His truth. I think there would be something quite beautiful about reading the Bible this way, to be honest - late at night, feeling through the words, sorting through the grit and beauty. It wouldn't bother me at all to read the Bible without all the charts and lists because a person could read the Bible, not to become smart, but rather to feel that they are not alone, that somebody understands them and loves them enough to speak to them - on purpose - in a way that makes a person feel human."

Excerpts from Searching For God Knows What, by author and speaker Donald Miller.

Here's my two cents. The book of the Bible is NOT THE OBJECT of our faith. Instead, it points us to the person of our faith - the one and only triune God.

I've heard it said that we need to develop our relationship with the Bible. That thought seems blatently wrong to me. We need to develop our relationship with the PERSON of God. We need to know Him.

I am tired of the Bible being referred to as my "text book," my "instruction book," or my "authority." (I am not questioning the authority of the Bible here.) To me, these labels belittle the Word of God and our faith. For that matter, I am insulted when I am told that the sum of my Christian life and God's purpose for me on the earth is to sit in the "classroom" of our worship services and be a good "student" of this text book.

I believe our lives, our faith, and especially the Bible are something different - something much more important. The Bible is the very breath of God spoken to humanity. It is a narrative of how God has interacted with mankind since the beginning. It shows us who He is and what He is like, and more importantly - how desperately God loves us. By reading it, we begin to know his nature and, more importantly, we begin to know Him.

'Nuf said.

Six Books I'd Like To Read

For the first 25 years of my life, I didn't spend a lot of time reading books. All that changed when I began working on my Masters. There was a lot of reading required, but what I found is that I really enjoied it - specifically books on Christian thought and leadership.

At this point, I can say I've read a number of books that have changed my life or, at the least, changed my thinking. Not everything I've read is agreeable and I've found that helpful as well. Those books help me realize what I believe as much as the one I do agree with. Every once in a while when I read a book that annoys me quite a bit, I later find that it was more "on track" than I realized - it grew on me.

With this said, you can see three selections I'm reading through right now in the sidebar. (Actually, I've also started a fourth, Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller.) Here's a list of at least six other books that are on my list to check out in the future...
With all this said about books, I can't help but acknowledge that the book that has had the greatest influence on me is the Bible, written by God himself through flawed human individuals. I would say, however, that I love this book for a reason somewhat different that you may think. I will discuss that in a later post...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What Makes Us Who We Are

Here is a great story from Greg Adkins' blog It's so good, I'm reposting the whole thing. Let me know your thoughts...

Isn't it amazing the small moments in life that make us who we are? For almost all of us, if we think back through our history, we could identify one small moment... one chance encounter... one accident... one sermon... one coincidence... one something that changed our whole direction. I was thinking back on all the things that have led me to where I am now and realized that it would probably all be totally different if not for that one day when my friend Mark Nelson's son got sick.

I was a freshman in college and Mark had asked me to come help him lead worship at a week of camp in North Carolina. Back in the day, Mark was asked to lead worship all over the place and I almost always went with him and played the keyboards. Sometimes it was just me and him and sometimes we had a band. At this week if I remember correctly, we had Scott Bradford on drums, and a couple of other people I can't remember on guitar and bass... this was in 1994 so forgive me if my memory is a little hazy on some of this.

Anyway, at this point in my life, I didn't sing really... I mean, I had been in choir but I didn't ever sing alone. No solos, no worship leading, no nothing. I was terrified of the thought really. I was surrounded in high school with people who had amazing solo voices (Justin, Mendi, Casey, etc...) and I knew my voice wasn't in the same league as theirs, so I was more than happy to just hang out behind my keyboard. Paul Schaeffer was my hero.

On Thursday night that week of camp, we started our worship set about the way we usually did and all was well. Mark was rocking us all out on a little number called "Praise Him Raise Him" and probably got crazy with a little "King Jesus is All" too... I can't remember what songs we really sang, but in my memory, Mark is perpetually leading those two songs. As we moved through our faster more upbeat songs and got ready to sing some quieter things I remember seeing Mark's wife Monica walking down the isle towards the stage. She looked concerned. Very concerned. We had just started the intro to the song "Beautiful Scandalous Night" (I do remember that song for sure...) and Monica stepped onto the stage and whispered something into Mark's ear. I remember looking at him as she whispered and his eyes got wide and a look of concern grew on his face. I was not ready for what happened next.

Mark picked up his microphone stand, calmly walked over to me and set it in front of my face. He leaned in to me and whispered only one word: "Lead!". He then jumped off the stage and ran out the back of the room. Everyone's eyes followed him running out the back of that old wooden gym. And then slowly... their eyes... turned back to the front... and looked at me. I'm not sure what I thought at that moment, but my guess is "Oh crap!".

I honestly don't really remember what happened next... I know I sang "Beautiful Scandalous Night". I'm sure we sang 2 or 3 more and I'm sure I was terrified. It must not have been too bad though because afterwards I can remember a few people telling me I had done a good job under such strange circumstances. Turns out Mark's son Michael (who was probably 4 or 5 at the time) had gotten really sick... sick enough to need to go to a doctor. I don't remember what was wrong, but I know he was okay and back at camp later that night.

After I got home, I heard that my home church was needing someone to lead worship on Sunday nights for the youth group. I called the youth minister and told him that I would be willing to do it. I'm certain that I never would have done that without the confidence I had gained from leading in North Carolina. For the next couple of years, I led every Sunday night there in the senior high room at Farragut Christian Church. I made friendships with musicians then that last to this day... guys like Danny Rosenbalm, Scott Bradford, Jason Blankenship, Corbitt Reeves, Jeph Hurst... they were good times.

It's strange the things that make us who we are... I never would have asked for a little boy to get sick, but who knows where I would be if he hadn't? It's hard for me to imagine my life if that one event had never happened... would I have spent 9 years as a worship pastor? Would I be a songwriter? My wife first noticed me when I was leading worship (I know... checking out the worship leader...) and on and on it goes. I could have been a completely different person.

New Spring Update

Well, here's a small update with some photos added in the e|Photo Gallery.

1) Andrik and I went out to the Trap Shoot event sponsored by the Outdoorsmen group at our church. It was my first time shooting a shotgun and Andrik's first time shooting a real gun (of course). We only did 25 shots total before we had to go. About halfway through our flight, Andrik got real frustrated and handed over the gun to me to finish it off. (There's a lot to remember reloading, keeping the safety on, and keeping the barrel down.) Anyway, I hit maybe two out of fifteen.

2) We had the Mission:Possible event at church. I was able to have dinner with Dan Sager and his family who have been serving in Moscow, Russia. He was our speaker that Sunday. It was a joy to meet him and spend some time talking about his experience (and eating ice cream)!

3) I mentioned that the kids and I went bike riding. I got a bike for myself at a yard sale for $10. It's not bad. You'll see some photos we took on our rides as well a small movie of Kellin riding.


Guitar Hero? Maybe Not

Perhaps you've heard of Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero II. It's a PlayStation 2 and XBox video game that comes with a "guitar" controller. Basically, you press the fret buttons and strum a toggle switch. If you hit the right buttons and do it on beat to the songs, you'll rack up the points. Pretty cool.

What could be cooler? Accordian Hero, of course. I thought this was a joke at first, but it is not. Both the accordian "controller" and the game was apparently created by some German guy who really wanted to rock out with his accordian and his PS2 (check out the screen shot to the right). M.C. Hammer's Can't Touch This and the traditional In Heaven There Is No Beer are just a couple of tracks you can rock out to.

Accordian Hero - How did we ever live without it?

This Is Why I'm Hot

Well no, not me personally. Strangely, I thought this was funny in a subtle way. It is a (tongue-in-cheek) graphical dissertation on the number one song in America, Mim's "This Is Why I'm Hot." Mim's song actually hit number one on the Billboard charts last March. Here's the link. Sometimes I have a warped sense of humor, so let me know if you think this is funny, too.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Physical & The Spiritual

As the Hannaford Praise Team and I are going through Buddy Owen's The Way of a Worshiper, these last two Sundays we discussed "Using Our Bodies in Daily Devotions." What it really boils down to is this. There is a connection between the physical (what we do with our bodies) and the spiritual.

When we use our bodies in worship (including personal devotions), it enhances the spiritual aspect. When we don’t use our bodies, it stifles the spiritual. I personally believe that physical demonstrations such as singing aloud, clapping hands, kneeling, raising hands, and more are vitally important to our spiritual life.

I offer this passage from Brian Wren’s book, Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Song. Let me know your comments.

...The Bible affirms that human flesh, and the human body, are part of the material universe that God creates and affirms as “very good” (Genesis 1:31: Paul’s use of “flesh” in opposition to “spirit” describes, not the body as such, but human life in opposition to God). Because “the Word became flesh and lived among us, revealing God’s glory, full of grace and truth (John 1:14), we may logically affirm that “good is the flesh that the Word has become.”

By contrast, the early church acquired the increasingly powerful belief that the human body is shameful and distasteful, that sexual desire (seen as located in the body) is a temptation rather than a blessing, and that everything bodily is inferior to, and hostile to, our “spiritual” and “rational” nature ... Many worship traditions still act as if the body were an embarrassment. We find it hard to talk or pray about bodily matters in worship. Our seating patterns minimize movement, and our movement vocabulary is limited. We stand, sit, crouch or kneel, pass the offering plate, and occasionally shake hands or hug each other as we [greet one another in the service] ...

Yet God did not make us as brains walking on stilts, but as embodied beings. The Word became flesh, not disembodied intelligence, and our body life enhances or diminishes our spiritual life. Posture, eye contact, and body language help to shape our attitudes and relationships. When we sing from the heart, with full voice, some of us use our bodies more thoroughly, perhaps, than at any other time in worship. Our diaphragm expands to draw in air, which is expelled through the delicate muscles of the larynx, producing sound that resonates through the head, given meaning as tongue, teeth, jaw, and lips follow complex signals from the brain to form the words we sing. Persuade a congregation to sing the first stanza of [their favorite hymn], giving it everything they’ve got so that the roof shakes, and you’ll hear what a bodily experience congregational singing can be and rediscover how bodily commitment invites a commitment of spirit. Body and spirit are inseparable: ... When body attitude combines with deepest beliefs, [worshipers] are taken out of themselves into a heightened awareness of God, beauty, faith, and one another.