Friday, September 30, 2011

Purpose of Worship

An interesting quote from a book I'm reading:

"The transformation of people's lives must be the ultimate goal of worship, as it is for church life generally. I know all the arguments for worship being about glorifying God [whatever that might mean] and for worship to be God-centered. I just don't accept them as the end of the discussion....

A life of words and actions and thoughts that are being transformed is more likely to bring glory to God than the endless singing of love songs to Jesus that bring no transformation. Transformation of the worshipers is the goal of all worship." [The Art of Curating Worship, Mark Pierson]

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Do Everything/Do Nothing

There are two types of vacations, and two types of vacationers. The first type I call the Do Everything vacation. Wherever you go, the Do Everything vacationer will plan it all out so that you maximize your time, see and do everything you possibly can, and experience life at your destination to its fullest. You will wake up early, go to bed late, and rush from here to there in order to cram in as much as possible. The Do Nothing vacationer doesn't care where you are, their plan is to do nothing. They will sleep all day, stay in the shower or bathtub forever, read a book, watch a movie, and generally veg out. At the end of this type of vacation, you will have done very little--but you will be rested.

I am a Do Nothing vacationer.

My wife is a Do Everything vacationer.

We usually meet in the middle. We just returned from our annual Do Nothing Vacation in the Smoky Mountains. We join eight other college friends in a fancy cabin in the Smokies, and generally hang out, play video games, eat, talk, read books, scrapbook, whatever. It is my ideal vacation.

This year, we got a little more active. We took a hike for a better part of the afternoon one day, and we played a round of golf on another day. The rest of the time we mostly ate. All in all, it was a great time--but a little more Do Everything than I care for. Next year, I am a committed Do Nothing vacationer.

How about you? Are you a Do Everything, or a Do Nothing vacationer?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Out Next Week!

I'm on vacation next week. So I have a lot going on today to try to tie up loose ends. With that said, this blog post is finished.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Here and Now

One of the most important things in life is enjoying the present moment. I've heard it called the "sacrament of the present moment." There is something sacred and holy about being in the "now", being awake to what is present, and the God who is present in all and through all.

In the present moment, we can hold life gently. We can take it as it comes to us, and appreciate it for the good gift it is. We can slowly become aware of God around us, within us, outside us, holding us, sustaining us.

We can truly be present to others. We can hear others' hearts. We can think. We can create.

All we truly have is THIS. Here. Now. As Jesus said, "Don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough trouble of its own."

Friday, September 9, 2011

Work v. Play

I struggle to balance the tension between effort and restful service. I believe the best work comes out of the overflow of the heart. However, I believe that we should also give all we have to what it is that we do. I'm in this period of life where I am feeling incredibly motivated to accomplish a lot, to be fruitful, to make a difference. And every once in awhile, I am wondering to myself: Am I being too driven?

I do believe that it is God's power in me that allows me to live and move and have my being. I believe it is Jesus who sustains me breath by breath, moment by moment.

However, I also believe that I will reap what I will sow. I believe that if I put my "talents" to work, and work hard, that the harvest will yield its fruit.

So I struggle with this. I want a healthy balance between work and play, activity and rest, movement and stillness. And right now, I'm not sure if I'm balanced enough. I'll have to sit with that a little longer, I suppose.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Cheat To Win

Today is a day that I am supposed to blog, but I have lots to do right now, and there is no time. So I am fulfilling my duty as a legaliast in writing this post, but also allowing myself to do other things.

Cheat to win.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

End of Office

This week I wrap up this 30-day experiment of praying through the daily office. I have not rigorously kept the schedule [three prayers a day]. Usually I would pray at the beginning of the day and at midday. The prayer I most often missed was the evening prayer. I found myself too tired as I prepared for bed to muster the strength to pray.

I discovered that I do like the rhythm of intentionally returning to God to spend some time in prayer. It helped keep me centered, and allowed me to feel the rhythm of life better. However, I usually didn't love the written prayer. It was difficult to pray the words, and not just read them.

So, going forward, I'll probably keep the morning prayers going, using the book as a guide. But at midday, I will probably spend some time in personal prayer or lectio divina-type prayer and reading. That's the plan!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


This morning, I was listening to sports talk radio [as I often do]. They were talking about connectivity between a certain player, and the number of wins he accounted for. Essentially, they were saying that this connectivity gave you a good idea of his worth to the organization.

It made me begin to think about connectivity and worth in an organization. Of course, this has real job application. If you're in sales, then your worth is the connection between you and the amount of advertising revenue you generate.

I think there is application in the church as well for staff people. What is the relationship between any staffer, and the amount of good works done by the church, the amount of ministry "produced", or even the amount of people who begin or recommit to a relationship with Christ.

Futhermore, we should all be able to find our worth in God's economy, by measuring the amount of ministry we are doing. The number of good deeds we do, the amount of love we show to neighbors and family, etc. This will give us an idea of what our current worth in God's kingdom. Not our worth as holy and loved people of God, but what value we're bringing to the Kingdom.

Churches might be able to measure their worth in God's kingdom this way as well. What is the connection between our church's existence and local graduation rates, divorce rates, homelessness, hunger, etc. Are we worth much in the community, when measured this way?

It's a bit of a cold and utilitarian approach, but I think it does have some merit.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Our worship team was recently talking about the concept of beholding, as in beholding God. Holding God and the world in a meditative, receptive gaze. Being fully alive and fully present in our world, moment by moment.

We talked about how incredibly difficult this can be for many of us in our fast-paced society, where instant gratification is the standard. We drive fast, talk fast, walk fast, eat fast, sleep little, and hurry, hurry, hurry through our lives. We blast through our work week, desperately waiting for the weekend, so we can jam pack as much recreation as we can into our schedules. Then we wake up on Monday and do it all over again. This leaves us, as a people, hurried, distracted, and frantic.

This is not the abundant life offered in Jesus.

One of the biggest ways to combat this distracted desperation is the principle of slowing. One might even call it a spiritual discipline. Slowing is an intentional effort to slow down the pace of life, in order to be more present in the moment, to see the God who is in all things, and to hear God's stilll small voice.

I have found that when I do things more slowly [eat, drive, talk, work], I manage to restore sanity to my soul, moment by moment, bit by bit. I feel more human and alive. I am able to approach everything from the overflow of my soul, rather than forcing my work and life through the fumes of exhaustion. I am able to work restfully, play restfully, minister restfully, pray restfully. I begin to see color and smell aroma and breathe again. I begin to see people's innate goodness and beauty, and see the image of God in others.

I'll share some practical ideas on this subject in upcoming blogs.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reflections on the Daily Office

So I'm about a week into this daily office praying, and so far, it has been going well. Certainly, since the prayers I'm saying are mostly written down, and I'm just praying through them, there is a tendency at times for my mind to wander. Probably no more than when I just pray spontaneously.

There are two things I am enjoying about praying at specific intervals throughout the day. The first is the rhythm. I am enjoying bringing my focus back to God three times a day. Beginning the day and ending the day are especially meaningful to me. It makes the whole day feel more enveloped in God's presence. Also, the return at midday to a focus on God and on my heart, and our relationship, etc. That has been good as well. I'm also finding myself more mindful of God's presence throughout the day, and am therefore communicating with God more frequently during the day. Most of these prayers are sentence prayers, or "flash" prayers, but they are also good for returning my focus to God.

The second things I like about this kind of praying is the priority it takes, if one is going to practice it faithfully. I have to take time out from my morning, my time in the office, and stay up a few minutes longer, in order to pray these prayers. And something about that feels right. I am forced to pray regularly.

All in all, a good first week for praying the daily office.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Daily Office

I am doing a 30-day experiment. I have read a lot about praying the daily office, and have even done it from time to time, but never for an extended period of time. However, I have decided in the month of August to pray the office every day. For those unfamiliar with the practice, it is essentially periods of prayer [typically about 10-15 minutes] that are set at regular times or intervals throughout the day.

For example, each day, I will pray through scripted morning prayers, midday prayers, and evening prayers. It is a very liturgical approach to prayer, but I think these structures might help me to embrace more rhythm in the spiritual life.

I will not be a stickler about doing the prayers at specific times [although that might be additionally helpful]. Instead, I'll start each day with morning prayers. After lunch [whenever lunch happens], I will have midday prayers. Then before bed each night, I will pray my evening prayers.

The resource I am using is Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro. I like it because it is justice-centered and Kingdom-of-God-focused. It is also contemporary, has special insights on each day, and schedules time for praying for others and silence for meditation within its structure. All in all, it appears to be an awesome resource.

I know some don't like the recitation of prayers, because it feels stiff or formal, or insincere, but I've never had a problem using these prayers. In fact, I have found that they often give voice to longings and emotions, and thoughts that I struggle to convey to the Lord.

I am committing to it for 30 days, and will report on my experiences here on my blog. We'll see!

Monday, July 25, 2011

30 Days

I recently watched a Ted talk by Matt Cutts on the power of trying something new for 30 days. The speaker talked about his decision to live life in 30-day blocks of time, and try something new each 30 days. In one month, he jogged. Another month, he took up mountain climbing. In another, he wrote a book. You can view the talk here.

His point was that the next 30 days will come and go whether you like it or not. Will you use it to get better? Or will you let it slip away?

I love that message, because it has a certain playfulness about it. This guy attempted things he never would have otherwise done. He got healthier. He had fun. He found new hobbies. He did amazing things, based on this philosophy.

I think we should treat life like a big playground, a big experiment. I am too driven by my task list, my schedule, etc. I stay within my comfort zone too often. Instead of trying new things, I stick with "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Instead, I want to live life, try things, go places. This 30-day idea might be something to bring into my world, and try it out. I could use it for fitness, creativity, spiritual growth, fun, hobby...the possibilites are endless.


Friday, July 15, 2011

The Problem of Heaven

In the new heaven and earth, beyond this life, beyond this world, there will be some things now that simply cannot stand. Injustice, greed, laziness, judgment, unkindness, etc. will be exposed, called what they are, and destroyed.

It has made me consider what is inside me now that will not stand in the economy of God's new kingdom. As a sort of confession, I offer these attitudes and actions that must be redeemed, if I am to be a part of God's kingdom:

1. My desire for comfort, which often comes at the expense of other.

2. My laziness when confronted with the need to work in God's kingdom. [For example, when someone in need comes to me, do I put in the least amount of effort I can get away with, and then usher them away, or do I really invest my time, energy, and resources into getting to know them, and helping them along their way?]

3. My sarcasm and cynicism. [Yikes. Will words even come out of my mouth, if all the sarcasm and cynicism is taken away? Sad to see the true state of affairs in my inner world.]

4. My desire to put myself first, think of myself first, accomplish my agenda first, and get my task list done first.

The other problem is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand. Meaning, if I am to partner with God in the ongoing work of His redemptive and creative purposes, these things cannot stand NOW. Not some day, sometime in heaven, but NOW. When I display these behaviors and think these thoughts, I am outside the Kingdom of God NOW. I am working at odds with the good, beautiful, powerful, saving efforts of God NOW.

Heaven is here. Time to act like it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What Have I Done?

I will be making my debut [for better or worse] in the pulpit, when I deliver the August 7 message at FCC. A friend poignantly asked, "How did that happen?"

Combination of factors:
1. Need. Our regular senior pastor will be on vacation for a few weeks.
2. Development. This will be a growth opportunity, as I tackle a challenge that I never have.
3. It's just time. I am the only other full-time staff at FCC, so I probably should be involved in speaking when our senior pastor is out.

I have no idea what I'm gonna speak about. I have no idea how it's going to go. I asked some people if I should go warm and fuzzy, or if I should be a little more confrontational. They said, "Go confrontational. Warm and fuzzy isn't really you."

They're probably right. Sigh. I'm nervous already.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Takeaways From Hillsong United

As I mentioned in my last blog entry, I went with several people from FCC to see Hillsong United on Monday night. It was, of course, awesome. As with just about any high-quality artistic expression, there were several takeaways. Here are the biggest things that I took away from the concert:

1. Vocal compression: Without getting too technical, the compression on the voices was excellent. Rather than just being their voices but louder, the compression kept the voices from covering up the instrumentation, or from getting buried by it. Instead, the vocal compression kept the voices in a range where they could be a stable piece of the overall puzzle of the sound.

2. Supplemental instrumentation: Hillsong used additional percussion, additional guitar, additional synth, additional vocals, etc. to enhance their sound. Many of these small supplements would be difficult to pick out if you weren't paying close attention, but they add important details and support of the overall arrangement of the songs.

3. New arrangements of familiar songs: While keeping melody lines intact and familiar, the chord progressions or rhythms or instrumentation of familiar songs was changed to keep them fresh and new.

4. Attention to detail in arrangements: Often there were very minute things that a specific team member would play here or there. No one would ever notice if these pieces weren't in the mix, yet the fact that they were there added something to the overall. As mentioned in point number 2, these are things you would never miss in a song, but the addition of these parts of the whole make the whole better.

5. Excellence in execution: You could physically see how each team member gave deep focus to getting their part right. "Good enough" was not good enough. Even in the body language of the team, you could see how much they cared about bringing their very, very best execution of their part.

6. Customized weekly approach, rather than system-based approach: These last two points are just things I gleaned indirectly from Hillsong that have application to our team. Rather than creating a system with interchangeable parts, and it not mattering who plugs in where, I want to focus in a more customized approach to each week on the team. Rather than having systems where any person can do anything we do, I would rather look at the team each week, and say "Here is what we have this week. Let's leverage these specific talents in these specific ways." This will lead to more arranging on the fly, and collaborative experimentation, I think.

7. Apollo 13 motto: At one point in the movie Apollo 13, they are discussing whether or not fuel cells will burn in a specific way to correct the spacecraft's course. The engineers say, "They weren't designed to do that." Then the flight director says, "I don't care what they were designed to do, I care what they CAN do." Hillsong used singers for percussion, guitarists for synth players, etc. So rather than saying, "You're the rhythm guitarist today, that is all you will do," in certain situations, my motto might be "I know you are the rhythm guitarist today, but I could use you on the shaker for the first half of this song." I know what the team members are scheduled for, but there are more ways to tap into the skills the team members CAN do.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I have greatly enjoyed my time off. The family and I went to Holiday World and to Indiana Beach. Both trips were REALLY fun, and the kids did great. We all had a blast. I am convinced that I have the most wonderful family in the world.

I am returning to work energized and rested. I am excited to hit the ground running. I love my work, and am excited to do it better throughout the summer. Get excited with me!

Also, as a bonus, I get another shot in the arm tonight, as several members of our team will be at the Hillsong United concert in Indy tonight. So I'm pumped already, and getting more pumped! God is good!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Time To Get Silly

No blogs next week, because I will be on vacation. I have some time planned with friends and lots of time with the family. It's gonna be awesome! I am looking forward to getting some sun, hanging out with the family, and general happy-making for a week.

I know I will come back rested and re-charged...just in time for VBS! Have a great week next week!

Monday, June 6, 2011

20/20 Vision

I am reading some books on leadership right now, in an effort to grow in 2011 as a leader of my team and my church. So far, the reading has challenged me in a number of areas. One of the greatest areas that I have lacked [in my opinion] is that of vision-casting.

I do have vision for our church and our team. However, too often, it has remained in my head, or in conversation with a few close friends. I have heard the challenge [most clearly in Bill Hybels' book Courageous Leadership] to translate those visions out of my head, and to communicate them to my team and my colleagues [if not the entire church, even].

According to Hybels [and I agree], a compelling vision:

1. Allows the leader's passion to become contagious
2. Challenges me [and my team] to embody the vision
3. Allows people to understand the main thing.
4. Increases energy and moves people into action
5. Increases ownership
6. Provides focus
7. Smooths leadership succession

This has been very challenging for me, and has caused my juices to start flowing. I am excited about spending some time in the coming weeks thinking through vision for the arts in my church, and our small groups [and overall discipleship] process. I want to be a leader that energizes and empowers people to live out their creativity and giftedness, in order to further God's kingdom on earth.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Not A Huge Fan So Far

Blogging twice a week was one of my 2011 goals, and so far, it's gone pretty well. Looking things over, it appears that I have fallen short of my writing goal, usually averaging 5-6 posts per month. So I'm not quite there. However, I will not be legalistic about my writing frequency [or infrequency], but will simply do the best I can.

The process [although that seems too concrete a word for how these blog entries come about] has been interesting. I have heard it said that some people enjoy creating, and others enjoy having created. That is, the process is not enjoyable to them. For me, when I write music, I enjoy the creative process. However, writing these blog entries has not been very enjoyable for me. It's like working out; I am trusting that it is benefiting me [somehow], and so I am doing it even though I usually don't feel like it.

What the benefit might be? Who knows. Certainly there is no harm in wanting to improve your writing or cohesiveness of thought. There is nothing wrong with trying to discover your own voice. However, I'm just trusting that these benefits are taking place on a deeper level, because I am not perceiving them in any way.

Truthfully, I haven't put very much effort into these blog entries. In fact, the first few weeks I put in the most effort, and since then, have usually just been trying to get these posts finished. Just trying to accomplish the goal that I set for myself. I apologize to you, the reader, if there has been little of value here.

But for now, I'm not overly enjoying this discipline. I am trusting the results will be good for me, but

Monday, May 16, 2011

Working Towards Goals

I have spoken on this blog some about some goals I am working toward in 2011. I have created several goals for 2011, so that I can maximize my time, and not allow life to get away from me, always putting off things until the next day or the next moment.

It's going quite well. With the exception of one goal, I have made significant progress toward each of these ends.

All in all, I am finding deep fulfillment in a number of areas as I work towards these goals. I go to bed each night, content that at least some of my day each day has been moving me towards these goals. My hope is that they are helping grow me into being the person God wants me to be.

I highly recommend goal-setting. It has been said, "If you don't know where you want to go, any road will take you there."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Murder Isn't Sin

I am a sucker for John Grisham novels. I recently finished his latest, the Confession, which centers on a man who was wrongly convicted for murder and awaits lethal injection on death row.

SPOILER ALERT!! The good guy gets the needle. He is executed by the state of Texas.

This book has me thinking again about capital punishment. I am strongly opposed to it, to be frank. Reading the book made me upset. Not that, in the story, the wrong man gets the punishment, but that this system of "justice" exists at all. It is violent, hypocritical, and unjust.

Philosophically, it makes no sense. We kill people because they killed people. When an individual does it, it's murder. We prosecute. When the state does it, it's "justice." I just can't get on board with this idea. Either killing is wrong, or it isn't. If it's wrong for an individual citizen, it's wrong for "the state," too. [I use quotation marks when I say "the state," because this is merely a word to make us feel better about execution. It makes us feel like a faceless entity is doing the executing. In truth, it is judges, juries, doctors, wardens--men and women, real people--doing the executing.]

Every advanced society in the world, with the exception of the United States, has discontinued the use of capital punishment.

Consider this verse:

The earth is the Lord's and everything in it,
The world and all who dwell in it. [Psalm 24:1]

If the earth and all who dwell in it belong to God, then who are we to end someone's life prematurely? What gives "the state" the authority to decide that which should be left to God alone? Christians are certainly outspoken in their belief that abortion and suicide are sin. Why? Because it's the taking of a life that belongs to God. Can anyone honestly say that capital punishment is any different?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Perfect Storm

I'm happy to say that lately, I've been feeling great. Honestly, I feel like I can be kind of a moody guy. If not publicly, at least in my thought life, I vacillate between being optimistic and being incredibly cynical. Being encouraging and being sarcastic. Very moody. Eh, it makes me feel more like an artist.

I think I'm feeling so great for a combination of factors:

1. Working out a lot. I'm on about Day 50 of P90X, the hardest workout program I've ever been on. The workouts are increasing my energy level and general mental and emotional outlook. At home and at work, I feel focused and energized. It's exactly the boost that working out is supposed to give you. Check out P90X here.

2. Scheduling my week. I recently read a blog post by Michael Hyatt, the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing. He is an oustanding blogger, and recently posted a breakdown of how he actually schedules his week. I have been trying this lately, and am finding myself being more productive and focused at work. I love it. Turns out, I prefer more structure in my life than I originally thought. I think as long as I can create the structure for myself, I enjoy having a scheduled and organized week. It has really helped me a lot. You can check out Hyatt's blog post here.

3. The weather is improving. I think the weather is partly dictating my mood. I know that as a songwriter, I almost always match the type of song I'm writing with the weather [rainy=mellow, instrospective; sunny=upbeat, celebrative]. And I think it affects my mood as well. While it has been rainy lately, the warmer weather has been really helpful in my overall happiness and thankfulness.

4. Focusing on specific goals and attitudes. At the beginning of the year, I set some goals and attitudes I wanted to approach 2011 with. So far, I've been faithful to these goals and attitudes. It's going very well so far. The result is that I'm living in the sweet spot, focusing my energies on things that excite me, and am "using my time wisely" [as Mrs. Waggoner would say].

All in all, it's been a formula for an abundant, focused, joy-filled few weeks. Give it a try.

Monday, May 2, 2011


‎Last night, as I was about to call it a night, I saw the ESPN ticker breaking the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed by US forces. So, I stayed up and watched the President's address. And I jumped online and clicked around for reaction from the social media.

There is great emotion involved in a moment like this. Personally, I feel a mixture of emotions. I feel a little better [in that I presume, probably naively, that the world is safer without bin Laden].

Mostly, I have just been feeling a deep sadness. Sadness for our propensity for violence. Sad thinking back to 9/11. Sadness for how we glorify violence. Sad at our human desire for revenge. Sad that more life was lost. Sad that this will not be the end to the violence.

"Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble do not let your heart rejoice." Proverbs 24:17-18 (NIV)

Today is a day to measure how we're doing with the whole "Love your enemies" thing. And I don't think it's going well.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Naked Spirituality

Brian McLaren's latest release, Naked Spirituality: A Life With God In Twelve Simple Words outlines what spiritual life looks like against the backdrop of the postmodern, post-Christian, post-everything matrix. For those looking for more classic McLaren controversy, there will be little to offer in this book [with the exception of the acceptance of evolution, occasional political rhetoric, and lack of gender pronoun usage with reference to God]. Instead, McLaren offers up his view on the seasons of the spiritual life, encapsulating each in twelve simple words. The book breaks down like this:

Simplicity: The Season of Spiritual Awakening [Here, Thanks, O]
Complexity: The Season of Spiritual Strengthening [Sorry, Help, Please]
Perplexity: The Season of Spiritual Surviving [When, No, Why]
Harmony: The Season of Spiritual Deepening [Behold, Yes, ...]

Naked Spirituality therefore reads like a progression of spiritual seasons, with springtime [Simplicity] moving to summer [Complexity], descending into autumn [Perplexity] and coming full circle at winter's end [Harmony]. In my own life, I have had a growing awareness of the seasons of the spiritual life, and McLaren's writing gives beautiful voice to these journeys. For anyone who has wrestled with faith and experienced both the fullness and depravity that mark spiritual life [or life in general], McLaren's words will ring true.

McLaren writes most powerfully and effectively about the season of Perplexity, what St. John of the Cross famously called "the dark night of the soul." With sensitivity and depth, he articulates the emotion and turmoil of the season of darkness. McLaren gives the reader permission to feel the fullness of negative emotions with God or their situation. He does not trivialize or dismiss such feelings as a lack of faith, but practically enters the reader's mind and better articulates the pain and searching. A reader gets the sense that McLaren himself has endured and survived more than one such season.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. McLaren moves effortlessly between prose and poetry, narrative and song, weaving together a beautiful portrayal of the abundant spiritual life offered to all. He deals honestly with struggles and questions at each stage of the spiritual life, and refuses to offer trite, pat answers.

The book did lose me in a few places, where it belabored ethereal points that are quite elusive. At times, McLaren's descriptions and outworkings of thought seemed vaporous and tough to understand. However, he can be forgiven of this shortcoming, as such is the nature of the spiritual life. Words fail us.

McLaren does not leave the reader thinking that they are not doing enough, as Richard Foster [unitinentionally] might have done with his classic Celebration of Discipline. I loved Celebration of Discipline, but at the end of the book, felt like I needed simply to do everything better! McLaren is not trying to add this discipline or that to one's life [although certainly there is a time for that]. Instead, he attempts to awaken us to the God who is already there, already the All in all. It's an attempt to get the reader to simply open their eyes and see the God in all things.

I will be taking my team through this book in the coming weeks. This book includes a helpful reader's guide, and some appendices covering group practice and prayer practices.

While Naked Spirituality will not be considered McLaren's signature work, it might be one of his best. Time will tell if it has the staying power [or will even be readily accepted enough] to become a spiritual classic of this generation.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

My favorite Good Friday meditation, courtesy of Brian McLaren:

Good Friday.
Here in Maryland, it's a beautiful spring day ... bursting with life. But only a few months ago, the area was buried under nearly three feet of snow.

Wherever there is death ... wherever hope is buried ... wherever evil triumphs over law, and wherever law triumphs over grace ... wherever injustice, unkindness, and arrogance are winning ... just wait. It's not over yet.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Windows to the Sky

I have been reading a book called "Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross," a compilations of contemporary essays on atonement. It is discussing, in new and relevant ways, the significance and scandal of the cross, and how we are reconciled to God through it. So far, it has been really interesting.

I have always struggled with the widely-held theory of penal substitution atonement. This theory says that God, in His justice, demanded that humanity's sin be paid for. Therefore, Jesus took our place, and took upon himself the wrath and punishment of God so that we could be reconciled to Him. To me, there are several problems and tensions with this theory].

The problem is that all atonement theories are incomplete and imperfect. We are trying to ascertain mysteries far beyond our understanding, so our attempts will always be seeing "through a mirror dimly." While all offer aspects of the truth of God, none will completely capture and encompass these truths and mysteries.

I exchanged emails with a friend on the subject recently, and he lamented our need to have one all-supreme atonement theory that must be agreed upon. He suggested [and I like] more of a both/and approach, where we savor and celebrate what's true and helpful about all the varying atonement theories in Scripture [victory over death, paying of the debt, perfect sacrifice, moral influence, etc.]

In another book I've recently read, the author describes atonement theories as windows, looking out to the sky. While we can see pieces of the sky through the windows, and each window offers its own unique view of the sky, the vastness and glory and expanse of the entire sky can never be contained through one window only. In fact, even the sum of the views of all the windows will offer but an incomplete view of the sky as it truly is.

The significance of the cross is so vast and expansive, so all-sufficient and all-mysterious, that we can never fully explain or understand it.

So, more than ever, it is imperative that we hold to our views humbly, always willing to learn and grow as the Spirit opens us to new realities, and celebrate the goodness [known and unknown] in the mystery of the cross.

Friday, April 1, 2011

On the Attack

A quote from the new Rob Bell book, Love Wins:

"For some, the highest form of allegiance to their God is to attack, defame, and slander others who don't articulate matters of faith as they do."

I have two thoughts on this quote.

First, I think it a shame. Attacking, defamation, and slander is not the language of love, the language of Jesus. It's about as un-Christian as it gets. Therefore, no matter how absurd an idea may seem, it is critical that we remain loving towards each other. We don't have to agree on everything, but we do have to treat each other with love and respect in everything.

Let's not lose our religion defending our beliefs.

This is why non-Christians dislike Christians. It's not because non-Christians are hard-hearted, or sinful and blind. It's because Christians, too often, are not agents of love. We are agents of attack and slander. Even though we're on the same "team," we treat each other like crap. Why would anyone want to join us, seeing how we act toward each other? [Not to mention, how we act toward "outsiders?"]

Secondly, it is critical for me to remember that those attacking and defaming sincerely believe they are demonstrating their highest allegiance to God. They feel like they are acting out their faith by defending their beliefs. So I must act with a great deal of patience and understanding, as I realize that, for that individual, this is allegiance. This is what it means to be a Christian.

I just wish they were nicer about it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ignore Your Weaknesses

I am reading a book right now about putting your strenghts to work, and focusing your energies there. It claims that I will be most effective when I am working on maximizing my strengths, rather than striving harder and harder to improve my weaknesses. This is not trying to minimize the deficiencies in my personality, only trying to improve upon my professional performance.

One activity that I am doing this week is tracking my emotional reaction to the activities I do. When I feel a strong emotion associated with a task I am doing, I am supposed to record it.

It has been interesting to do this so far. Already I have learned about some areas that I dislike [that I never realized I dislike]. Not surprisingly, I am finding my strongest positive reaction to be in the areas of creativity and artistic endeavor.

I will learn more as I continue through the book, but it is an interesting thought: the proposal that I will be more effective by focusing my work away from my weaknesses [rather than working hard to improve my weaknesses] and simply building on just a few strengths.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Future Role of the Arts in the Church, Part Two

In my last post, I wrote about my belief that the church, in the future, would more likely organize itself into smaller, organic pods of believers, and live out faith in these smaller clusters. I posed the question that given this new form of the church, how would the arts be manifested in these smaller communities and how might devotional arts impact culture from this context. Here are my opinions:

1. Worship will be less programmed. I believe that it is far more likely that, while small worship gatherings will still have times of worship and discussion of God, it will not be the programmed, polished, consumer-oriented product that we currently see. My prediction is that worship will arise more naturally and organically. I also foresee less congregational singing, and more congregational discussion.

2. More art will originate from within small community. These days, one could attend about any contemporary church and hear familiar songs. Not because great hymns of the ages are being used frequently, but because the same 50 songs are coming from the top music artists and publishers in Nashville, and local churches are simply copycatting these songs. While there are many great songs to be used from these resources, I think in the future, these smaller communities will form their own artistic expression in music, art, poetry, video, etc. The "canned" material will be less important to the faith community, and natural expressions of congregants own experiences will be more highly valued.

3. Art will be formational. We will attempt to understand [literally, stand under] art in our communities. We will stop seeing it for merely its emotional impact in supporting a theological point, and will begin to see the theology of individual artworks. We will treat them as we would a sermon or a curriculum, and attempt to derive our own spiritual anchor points from these works of arts.

4. Art will seem more secular in nature. Rather than limiting expressions of God to come through approved "Christian" channels [using approved "Christian" words and phrases], we will begin to see God's movement in art outside the church, and incorporate it into our own expression. We will allow the goodness of what is being done in the world to impact our Christian experience. We will appreciate and celebrate good art wherever it is found, even incorporating it into our communities. [We already see this at work in some circles, particularly in music and video, as many contemporary churches use secular music or box office hits to illustrate points or deepen meaning in worship services.]

5. The church [even in these small faith communities] will begin to understand itself as a steward of art, which it will use to impact the world for good. The church will more and more realize that "every good and perfect gift" comes from God, and will use the goodness and beauty inherent in its art to impact culture. I think it will not be uncommon for the church to be a regular host for art shows, concerts, ballets, movies, etc. as it begins to understand itself as an administrator and executor of goodness and beauty.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Future Role of the Arts in the Church, Part One

I don't claim to know the future, but over the next 50 years [or 10 years or 500 years], I believe that the Christian church will move away from building-centered, program-driven megachurches, and newly manifest itself in smaller, incarnational groups or networks of groups. This will allow each church to have greater flexibility and adaptation for relevance and influence in each specific context in a rapidly-changing culture. It is even possible that American megachurches will one day stand as empty tourist attractions, like the vast cathedrals of Europe. Depending on what you read, this trend is already taking place now.

The question that further interests me is this: In this new manifestation, what will the role of the arts be? How will worship and devotional arts have impact in smaller settings? How will Christian art impact culture as it breaks through the confines of the building-centered worship service? In what new ways might art impact the world around us?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Black Swan

I got to see Black Swan a few days ago. It was stunning and incredible. It was also dark and disturbing. In all, it was really good art. In that way, it was inspirational for me.

I was moved by the dancing and music onstage. I was moved by the beauty of the costumes and makeup, the lights and the production of the ballet. I was also stirred and wrenched by the composition of the movie itself. It certainly deserved all of the attention and accolades it received.

I also received it as a call to pursue excellence in my artistic endeavors. I want to create art that is moving, compelling. I want to "lose myself", as Natalie Portman's character was instructed to do by the ballet's director. I want to give my everything in pursuit of beauty and transcendence. I believe that in so doing, I will honor God.

Of course, I really don't want to go bonkers.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Weird Showers

Our small group is currently looking at a DVD series from Matthew Sleeth called "Hope for Creation/Hope For Humanity." It is a Christian-based view of environmental and social justice issues, and how we are called to respond as followers of Jesus. So far it has been really good. I'll likely share some of the experiences and findings from our group on this blog, but in the meantime, I thought I would share a little of personal experience.

In an effort to improve our water conservation, one project I have undertaken this week is to take "weird showers." That is, I get in, wet myself down, turn the water off, soap up, turn the water back on, and rinse off. You can save an awful lot of water this way. In many parts of the world, this is how the majority of people shower [if they shower at all--in many parts of the world, showers are still too wasteful].

So I've been doing these showers this week, and here's what I have learned:

1. Your skin dries more quickly than you think, so you must soap up quickly.

2. It's not as cold as you would think.

3. It's difficult to turn the shower back on without blasting yourself with really hot or really cold water.

4. The shower time is shortened considerably.

5. I now feel guilty about taking a regular shower. So I'll probably be doing the weird shower more often.

Go ahead, give it a try.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Artistic Integrity in the Church, Part Two

As I see it, there are two reasons to strive for excellence in whatever it is that we do for God.

First, that which we produce [be it music, writing, manufacturing, teaching, supervising--whatever we do] can reflect the very glory of God. If we can bring the very best of our talents and giftedness, this excellence radiates the beauty of God. God is the giver of every good and perfect thing. So when good things come from our hands, they pulse with God's life and goodness and beauty.

Second, our efforts to bring our best are accepted as worship to God. Our laborous efforts, intensely trying to get things right in order to honor God, is worship. When we bring God our best work, our serious effort, our attention to detail, we worship.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [Colossians 3:17]

Friday, February 18, 2011

Artistic Integrity in the Church

I've been thinking more recently about the arts in the church, for better and worse. This stems from the release of the new Hillsong United album, titled "Aftermath." It is, by far, their most artistically interesting album ever. It is highly nuanced and dynamic. As you could probably guess, I love it.

However, if there will be a criticism of Hillsong for this, it would be that its music is not accessible to local congregations. That is to say, the church is going to have to get used to it, or not worship with it at all.

My opinion is that works of art like this, by the church and for the church, are to be celebrated. Sadly, most of today's worship music has devolved into simple, obvious, predictable arrangements. The Church at large loves it, because it's catchy, and easy to remember and adapt locally. Personally, I am more and more feeling stale from this tired formulaic approach to worship music. It's making it difficult for me to enjoy many worship releases these days. This latest Hillsong release is a breath of fresh air.

I am in the midst of writing music for a solo worship album, and I'll be using this Hillsong release as an influence. I could [and have] written some boring, obvious progressions and arrangements, but that's not what I want to do. It's not excellent. It's not bringing my best effort. And I want to do all things with excellence, as a reflection of the glory and beauty of God, and as worship to God.

I celebrate more creative, nuanced versions of spiritual art. These things have an artistic integrity that most modern worship music seems to lack.

I long for such artistic integrity in my own work.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Prayer Does Not Work

I've recently been struggling with how we interact with God in prayer. I do believe that God hears our prayers, and responds to us in prayer. And I believe prayer to be the most important thing we do as followers of Jesus [yes, more important than studying the Bible, although I give that high priority as well]. Like all relationships, communication is pivotal to relational growth and development. If I want relationship with God, I must communicate with God. Prayer is the primary way I do that.

After that, it gets less clear for me. Many Christians believe that God's "mind" can be changed based on prayer. There are scriptural examples supporting this belief, and I used to believe it was that simple. But now the waters are muddied. I tend to subscribe to other Scriptures that say "Who can know the mind of God?" [Romans 11:34, 1 Corinthians 2:16]. Many say that God "answers" our prayers, or acts based directly on our prayer. I have espoused this belief in the past, yet now I think this might be too simplistic an explanation.

It's like this: I have a dear friend who has struggled with lymphoma for years, and now has had a recent flare up of a more aggressive kind of cancer. She is receiving treatment, which is going well. I know hundreds of people have been praying regularly for her healing, which so far has not come.

Why hasn't God healed my friend as a result of all of the prayers? Surely he isn't waiting to get to 50,000 prayers for her, and then POOF, she's healed. Surely he isn't waiting for one specific person to pray for her, and then POOF, she's healed. Surely he isn't waiting for a "right" prayer to come, and then POOF, she's healed.

So how does God interact with us in prayer? Can we change his mind? Does he act [or not act] based on what we pray?

I am still very short on answers at this point. However, I recently read this helpful quote from Andy Crouch in a book called For the Beauty of the Church:

"Does prayer work? Should prayer work? No. Prayer does not work. It does something far better than work. Prayer brings us into the life of the one by whom all things were made and are being remade."

This feels a lot better to me. Prayer shouldn't "work." Just like talking with my wife doesn't "work." I talk with my wife, and she talks with me, because we love each other. I communicate with her so that I can be brought into her life.

Recently, our 18 month old twins have not been sleeping well. One night this week, my four year old [Ava] prayed for God to give them a good night's sleep. And we all slept like babies. It was very tempting to ask her to pray the same prayer again the next night. But something about that felt giving God my to-do list.

I don't think I want prayer to "work." I want to be brought into the life of the one by whom all things were made and are being remade.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


This weekend is a huge blessing to me. We've recently had lots of time as a family [mostly because of sick children]. But because of some special events and parties this weekend, I'll be spending the majority of my time with different groups of close friends.

What an awesome blessing friendship is. This weekend, I have already enjoyed time with longtime friends and new friends from church, laughing, dancing, eating, and enjoying each other. I have laughed a lot already!

Tonight, I get to enjoy time with friends from college. They are some of my oldest and closest friends, and probably know Amie and I the best. [I'll also have the blessing of playing some music with longtime friends, and being around a combination of old and new friends].

Tomorrow, I'll experience church with longtime and new friends, and will host a gathering of friends in our home tomorrow night.

There's a unique blessing in friendship that differs from the blessing of family. Perhaps it is the rarity of time together. Perhaps it is that laughter comes easier and differently than it does with family...whatever the case, I am simply drinking in the goodness of time with friends. I am thankful to God for this good gift. It is filling me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Stop Worshiping Jesus?

In his book If The Church Were Christian, author Phil Gulley suggests that the church should worship Jesus less and follow his example more. By "worship," Gulley seems to mean the general practice of the Christian church of putting Jesus on a pedestal and essentially equating him with God.

While I'm not sold on this theologically, I arrive at the same conclusion as Gulley. Essentially, he makes the point that because of our reverence for Jesus as divine, we dismiss his life as impossible for us to follow, thereby excusing ourselves for falling short of what Jesus lived and taught. Inherent in this discussion is what exactly it means that Jesus [according to traditional Christianity] was both fully human and fully divine. That is, was Jesus simply God with skin on, able to live and act with his own internal God-power? Or, was Jesus so human that he relied totally on God, depending on God's power completely [as we mere humans do]?

For a long time, I thought that Jesus was so God that he was Supreme Power in a human shell. He could do what he wanted when he wanted. However, the more I read the gospels, and the more I think about what it means to be human, the more I believe Jesus was just as human as me, and was, in fact, completely reliant upon God's power to do the things he did.

What does this mean for me? I think, quite simply, that I can live as Jesus lived. Can I perform the miracles that he performed? I don't know [although I know I'm certainly not at that point yet, if I ever will be]. At the very least, though, I have no excuse for dismissing his compassion, love, and concern for others. I can approach others with the same grace and acceptance as Jesus. I can begin by following his example of affirmation, love, and hope.

And this is the point Gulley makes in his book. The conclusion he gets to is that we should stop treating Jesus as God, and start treating him as our supreme example. I don't intend to stop worshiping Jesus, but neither can I let myself off the hook for not following the example of Jesus in the Bible, living out his same love, charity, and compassion, and encouraging others to do the same.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

American Exceptionalism

One week ago, the President gave his annual State of the Union address. Prior to the speech, analysts and strategists and talking heads said the President hoped to evoke a renewed sense of "American Exceptionalism," or the concept that America is special and unique above other nations. Pundits said that this feeling is missing amongst Americans today. We had it, and we lost it. So apparently the hope was that the President, through some eloquent turn of a phrase, could inspire us again to believe that we were special and unique among the nations.

Many believe that America is special, exceptional even. Often I hear that America is the greatest nation in the history of the world. Perhaps even that America [or democracy or capitalism] is the hope of the world. Perhaps even that God's anointing is on us [more so than any other nation].

I once read a bumper sticker that said, "You're special. Just like everyone else."

And I agree. America is special. Just like everyone else.

But that's just the problem. When we begin to believe in our own "exceptionalism," we begin to elevate ourselves, either as a nation or as individuals [or both], to a higher plane than everyone else. We become convinced of a superior "us" and an inferior "them." "Our" ways must be right, and "their" ways must be wrong. "We" are better than "them." After all, we're special. We're unique. We're chosen by God. God is for us; who can be against us?

The greatest atrocities of mankind have been committed by people unshakably convinced of their own superiority.

Do we really need a renewed sense of American exceptionalism? Or is it possible that one of the greatest things the last few years of recession and decline have taught us is a renewed sense of humility? Or the realization that we aren't too big to fail? That we aren't too mighty to tumble? That maybe we can't trust and hope in our own "exceptionalism"? That we should pledge our allegiance to something even higher and greater than ourselves?

I don't think we need a renewed sense of American exceptionalism. I think we need a renewed sense of faith, hope, and love. A renewed love of God and neighbor. I think we need a renewed sense of humility and servanthood, following in the way of Jesus.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Non-Conformity And You

I am reading a book about non-conformity. It is pretty interesting, and causes you to ask a lot of big picture questions...what do you want in life, what goals are you pursuing, what will your legacy be, etc...

It recommends getting a blog going, setting a regular writing schedule, and sticking to it for a year. I'm thinking about this.

I have ideas, and thoughts, and opinions...but I'm not sure how much are for public consumption. Of course, I'm also reading about the importance of living boldly, taking a stand, and bringing what you've got to offer the world.

So, with all of that in mind, perhaps I'll get this thing up and going again. But, it's not the first time I've said that!