Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Friday, April 5, 2013
Epic TV shows have shown me something about following Jesus. Allow me to explain.
Music has the ability to take us to places silence cannot. It can induce many different feelings in us like hope, fear, reflection, anticipation, resolve, or sadness. Some time ago, TV show and movie producers figured this out and began to supplement the action on the screen with whatever music induced the type of emotion they hoped the viewer would feel. It works. There have been many moments that while watching TV I have been overwhelmed with emotion, captivated by the story so much so that it feels like I have a stake in it. I’m sure this resonates with some.
In those epic moments, when our hearts are beating fast and our emotions are running high, it’s easy to notice how much we care about the story we are watching. But we aren’t really just watching it, we’re invested in it. We actively hope for certain things. We hope certain characters succeed. We hope other characters lose. We hope she realizes she’s making a mistake before it’s too late. We hope he makes a good judgment. We hope for relationships to be restored. We hope for others to end. At times we even wish we were the characters (I always wanted to be Jason Bourne). The point is, the TV shows and movies we love all have a series of events that lead to a climax aka the moment we have all been waiting for. TV series have profound potential for good storytelling because series are organized into smaller parts called ‘seasons’ and even smaller parts called ‘episodes’. Essentially, you can have resolution or even a climactic moment at the end of every episode and every season. There is rarely a dull moment. Such is the life of a devoted follower of Jesus.
When Jesus invited Simon, Andrew, James, John, Matthew, Philip, Nathanael, and others to follow Him, He was inviting them to experience the adventure of a lifetime… a mission so monumental that it would cost them their lives. Many of the first followers of Jesus had to leave behind occupations and financial security; it cost many others their family relationships, inheritances, etc. It was a whole life pursuit, one that cost something -one that cost everything. Yet, within the subculture of Christianity in America, it basically costs nothing except a Sunday morning and giving up a few addictive practices. “It’s the free gift of salvation” many say – but that is not consistent with how Jesus talked about discipleship, “if anyone wants to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever will lose their life for my sake will save it”. Paul spoke quite often of being crucified with Christ, sharing in His suffering so that he could share in His resurrection, Christ living through us. Jesus Himself said, “Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples”. While all this sounds a bit dreary to the heart that has never experienced it, it is really an invitation to experience an incredibly, adventurous, meaningful life.
I believe the reason epic TV shows are so engaging for us is because they tap into a deeper truth: our hearts long for mission, for adventure, for purpose. And many of us, Christian or not, are going through our everyday lives feeling like we don’t have a stake in anything. Followers of Jesus though have been invited to join with God in the ministry of reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5). Our prayer everyday should be that His kingdom comes among us, that His will happens on this earth now like it happens in the heaven reality. Followers of Jesus get to continue the work of Jesus on this earth – that is why we are called “the body of Christ”. Our mission is urgent, our call critical. Every morning should feel grand. There are two great human activities, the second of which is to participate in the mission of inviting all people to be a part of the kingdom of God, making your portion of earth as King-centric as possible. The first of which is to worship the King. Followers of Jesus get to engage in both of these activities every day. That is real life. This is the epic journey.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
I am not going to talk about homosexuals here; rather homosexuality. After all, one of the strokes of genius for the gay rights movement was to make it impossible to talk about the issue of homosexuality apart from “attacking” real people. Their strategy was to make it impossible to talk about “it” by making it about “them”. My intention is to approach the subject with grace while providing a lens through which Christians should interact with it on a philosophical level.
‘It’ has become a talking point in political campaigns and many ‘progressively’ minded Christian circles. Many denominations have come to accept homosexuality, some accepting it is a reality for ordained ministers. Most of us have friends that have found an identity in this movement. And the media is in full force trying to make it a commonplace idea in the lives of every American. By the late 90’s, nearly every TV show had a representative for this movement. At first it was subtle. Those who portrayed the movement were friendly, quirky, and likeable. Their sexual orientation wasn’t a main theme in the show but one-liners here and there over the course of many years softened us to the idea. Then a group of more progressive shows began to surface which put more of an emphasis on sexual orientation. And finally we have arrived with situational comedies like “New Normal” and “The Modern Family” which are focused on showcasing the new way we do family in America. As a student of leadership, I have found the gay rights movement to be one of the best case studies for designing and executing an overwhelmingly difficult strategy. Everyone reading this has been impacted by that strategy in one way or another over the last 30 years.
The current cultural debate is not really about human rights. Every citizen of the United States has equal access to the bill of rights regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. What advocates are standing for is the right for the equal expression of marriage. Marriage has traditionally been defined as a sacred covenant, undertaken by a man and a woman, before God. And as I will explain, there is good reason for the marriage relationship to exist within the confines of that definition.
I often hear people on both sides of the argument use scripture to debate it. The people on one side point to parts of the Bible that clearly speak against it. People on the other side point to external sources that propose that the other side has misconstrued what those verses really mean. But I believe the biblical view is embedded in the overarching narrative.
In the beginning, God created man in His image. Then He created woman in His image. Genesis records she was taken “out of man” – ‘and for this reason a man will leave His father and mother and be united to His wife. And the two shall become one’. In the union between husband and wife, two become one. It is a picture of the Godhead Himself (3 in 1). In marriage, we see the image of God on its fullest display: a man in God’s image united with a woman in God’s image – over time the oneness they grow into is a model of God himself. Both genders expose something unique about God, and together a man and a woman can express a beautiful picture of God Himself to everyone who sees. And out of their union children are born. Life itself is created in the joining of male and female. This is why marriage is such a sacred assembly. My chief question about homosexuality is how these truths about marriage are fulfilled within it.
As I understand the metanarrative, homosexuality doesn’t fit in the story. And accepting it as part of the story when it doesn’t fit is a precarious path for the church to pursue. I’ll end with the thought that when God created everything he said it was good or “functional”. The first time that He saw something in His created order that wasn’t functional was when He saw that man was alone – so He created woman. “And it was very functional”.
With all this being said, all people should be able to identify those who follow Jesus by our love. In many ways being ‘right’ is a very dangerous objective to chase. All people are our neighbors. Our lives should be centered on inviting people to live in the restoration Jesus provides, and only the Holy Spirit can convict people to change – we should be content to allow him to do His work.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
I have spent a lot of time around musicians and music lovers, I consider myself both of those things. And if you hang around those types for very long, you eventually come across a person that listens almost exclusively to indie music, sometimes labeled a hipster. I know there is a shirt for these people that says, “I listen to bands that don’t exist yet”, and that is truly their sentiment. They like to be aware of the bands that no one else knows about and take pride in bragging about it constantly. But something very interesting happens when one of the indie bands they like signs with a major record label. Almost immediately they un-fan themselves and will probably hate the next CD the band puts out. They’ll say things like, “they used to sound raw but now they sound too produced” which actually means, “they used to record with really crappy equipment and now they use really professional equipment”. And you’ll also hear them say,” They sold out”. And when they say they sold out, what they really mean is that they have handed over creative control to someone else – someone else now decides the image they will portray, what venues they play, what magazines they will appear in, and ultimately how their album sounds. They even decide who they want to target with the album, how many songs will be on it, and how long the songs will be. And in the midst of all the normalizing and auto tune we come to the conclusion that at some point along the way our favorite bands stopped caring about making great music and started caring about selling records. And in doing so, they lose the only thing that ever made their music any good: its authenticity.
There is something about authenticity that draws us to in -- but in our culture it’s hard to find. Its elusive nature may be the side effect of modern marketing. Marketing is by definition ‘managing perception’ and everywhere we turn someone is trying to shape our perceptions. After being engrossed in a media driven culture consumed with manipulating how other people see things, a lot of us have learned to market ourselves. Social networks (especially Facebook) make this easy because (and I completely made up this statistic) 99% of the interaction we have with 80% of the people we know happens through digital social networks. In other words, most of our interaction with most the people we know happens in a digital world largely absent of accountability to reality. This makes it incredibly easy to manage the way those people perceive us. We can become whoever we want to be even if it doesn’t reflect who we really are. By editing everything from interests, to music, to photos, to status updates, we can gain a reputation constructed upon nothing but a processor and a keyboard. While social networks allow us to have interaction with more and more people, the interactions are generally on a much more basic and shallow level. This allows us to be perceived easily as the person we project on the surface. And the person we project on the surface is typically who we want to be or who we think other people want us to be. Do we eventually suffer the fate George Orwell speaks of in Shooting An Elephant, “he wears a mask, and his face grows into it?”
During the time of Jesus, there were a lot of different sects or religious people. One of the more prominent sects was a group called the Pharisees. Jesus used a pretty offensive word to describe them at times: hypocrites. The Greek word literally means “mask wearer”. Over time, the characters that actors played in Greek or Roman theaters who wore masks during their performances became known as hypocrites. So it’s interesting to me that Jesus chooses this word to label the religious people that practice their righteousness in front of other people to gain their approval. Mask wearing actors. Unfortunately, the most elaborate study ever done on what non-Christians perceive about Christians recently found that 85% of people used that same word to describe Christians. This was never how the church was supposed to turn out. The people who wear the name of Jesus being perceived and described as the very thing He couldn’t stomach?
Let’s face it, people generally tend to act differently, speak differently, and dress differently in the context of a gathering of God’s people than they do when they leave – and nothing could be less attractive to people who are looking for something real, genuine, original, true, and worth spending a life on. And nothing could be less attractive to Jesus. One of the things that has always captivated me about Jesus is that He wasn’t a big fan of religious people. Rather, He was interested in inviting the broken and humble, the worst of sinners and the greatest of debtors to walk by His side.
In marketing ourselves we end up tricking ourselves. We sometimes don’t even realize that we’re wearing masks to cover up our hurt or our struggles or our doubts or our insecurities. But like John Lennon once said, “one thing you can’t hide – is when you’re crippled inside”. You don’t have to join a masquerade to be a part of Jesus’ church. So, pull down your mask and allow the people around you to see who you really are.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Navigating the landscape of Christianity often feels like standing in front of these signs. Everywhere you look it seems like another Jesus follower has a different take than you. As I will argue below, the best thing to do is figure out what your non-negotiable beliefs are and then be open to the rest. These are 3 reasons why many of us probably have flawed ideas about God and all three support each other:
1) Our ideas may not actually be informed by scripture
If we are honest with ourselves, all of our beliefs are not informed by scripture – many are simply opinions. We are all victims of our context and experience – these things shape us even more than we can imagine. We are influenced seriously by the voices we choose to listen to, the preachers we give credibility to, and the authors that write the books we read. And while I believe that I’ve made the right interpretations on matters of opinion, all the people who disagree with my opinions would say the same thing of themselves. As one professor of mine said, “If I thought your opinion was right, I’d change mine”. This is why it is so incredibly important to approach theology with humility. Once we believe we have all the right answers, we are in trouble. Of course, saying our ideas about God are formed from scripture can mean many different things to many different people depending on how you handle the whole hermeneutical process. As I have learned by now, you can make ‘God say’ most anything you’d like by using verses in ways they were never intended to be used. In fact many of the most prevalent ideas about who God is in popular Christian culture aren’t biblical at all; they simply have the appearance of truth. There is a certain humility that comes along with realizing that there are 2 billion Christians on this planet and at least 75% of them disagree with you about a lot of things. I also could have titled this one, “we take ourselves too seriously”.
2) We Find Too Much Identity in Denominations
Every type of church has things they focus on more than everyone else: some focus on the sovereignty of God, others on the Holy Spirit. Some hone in on grace and others on taking care of the poor. Some emphasize holiness, missions, baptism, fighting injustice, the resurrection, or the cross. I have found that all of these distinctive focuses can be instrumental in helping me gain a well-rounded perspective of scripture. Many churches spend most of their time talking about one or two things like talking points. The danger in that type of teaching is that we can find too much identity in the specific focus we hear each week and not enough in the whole picture scripture paints. One particular tradition has popular teachers that spend the majority of their time talking about how everyone else has it wrong and are in clear violation of scripture -- they see themselves as the doctrine police. This eventually breeds a “we are the only Christians” mentality and the people in that tradition end up listening only to the teachers in that tradition.
I tell people all the time that I am a pastor – the obvious follow up question is “what denomination are you”. I try to say something like, "I'm not". The church universal is full of people with different perspectives and they are all my brothers and sisters; they all worship YAHWEH, all proclaim Jesus as Lord, and we have all received the same Spirit. I am a big believer in having dialogue with people who have different perspectives because I like to learn new things. And while I disagree with many of their ideas about what scripture says, I am convinced that unity will begin when we refuse to let those differences of opinion divide us or make us become opponents of one another. Our current situation seems off base in light of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and Paul’s tough stance against divisions in the church in his 1st letter to the Corinthians. Divisions happen when we are unwilling to have healthy + humble dialogue about our divergent opinions and when we elevate ‘being right’ to a place of prominence over the unity of the Spirit. I should note that divisions can also happen when a segment of the church gets the core of who God is wrong and I don't see any issue in taking them to task over it since I would maintain that the character and nature of God Himself is worth defending -- but I digress. Ultimately, one of the ways we can gain a wrong perspective of God is if we isolate ourselves in one particular tradition, standing firm on a ‘tenets of faith’ instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us through all of His people.
3) We entertain too many questions about “positions” and not enough about “belief”
As an intellectually geared person, I often find myself asking a lot of questions. When it comes to scripture, I tend to see the questions the text raises in terms of theology – but I can often fall into the trap of being so worried about having the correct ‘position’ that I don’t actually end up letting the Holy Spirit change me according to what the text says. True belief always translates into life change. Spiritual maturity really has nothing to do with how accurate our doctrinal positions are and has everything to do with how obedient we are to the teachings of Jesus and how responsive we are to the voice of His Spirit. While questions that challenge our intellect are intriguing and often very important, questions that make us consider whether we are really following Jesus in real life are just as important. However, they can make us uncomfortable because they often reveal the inconsistencies between what God says and what we do. The truth is that the Holy Spirit still has a lot of work to do in each one of us when it comes to forming beliefs centered on God’s truth. Many of the smartest bible scholars in the world have exactly zero relationship with the Father because they have never submitted to the Lordship of Jesus and have not learned to be led by the Holy Spirit.
Friday, February 15, 2013
I have been writing songs for over 15 years now. During that time I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to write a good piece – but it’s such an elusive task. And while I have written a lot of songs, I’ve never sat down to assimilate my thoughts on the subject. So, here are a few of my reflections on songwriting:
1) Express Something Meaningful
I’ve never wanted to write a song about nothing. After all, the basic impulse towards writing music is an urge to express something. Many times in my life I have sat down to write for the sake of writing only to realize I have nothing to say. Music is an indelible force suspended in space, created by God Himself to help us interact with the world on a more profound level. It’s like nothing else in the universe. The reason for writing is paramount; the best of which is to express something you couldn’t otherwise.
“The city is built / to music, and therefore never built at all / and therefore built forever” – Alfred Tennyson
“A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.” – Paul Cezanne
2) Every Canvas Worth Painting Is Blank
Every piece of art originates as a series of movements on a blank canvas. In reality, none of us actually start with a blank canvas; all of us are shaped by our context. Every artist has a few prominent influences. With that being said, at some point you have to break away from those things and become your own artist. Art is a unique type of expression because no two pieces can be the same and great artists embrace that truth. This enables them to be focused purely on their unique expression – unconcerned with how it relates to everyone else’s. If you don’t write the song in your head then no one will.
“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original” – C.S. Lewis
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation”; “Art only begins where imitation ends” – Oscar Wilde
3) Allow Your Ideas to Age
Inspiration is a strange thing; song ideas come to me at the most random moments. However, until I inject those bones with life by putting some meat on them, I just have a messy piece of inspiration. It’s sometimes beautiful to me because it’s raw and soulful, but the aging of an idea helps me internalize it on a deeper level which helps me communicate it more effectively. Masterpieces have never been thrown together; they are intelligently and elaborately designed. Give yourself some creative space to sit in the inspiration so you can give it a chance to become something more beautiful than you first imagined.
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead” – Mark Twain
“The idea comes to me from outside of me - and is like a gift. I then take the idea and make it my own - that is where the skill lies.” – Johannes Brahms
4) The Urgency is Beginning
One of my mentors told me the above phrase. When I think about writing I always tell myself, “You can write anything but first you must write something.” You never know what lies ahead. As Robert Frost once said, “the afternoon knows what the morning never suspected”. Feeling an urgency to write a great song is pointless (unless of course you are contracted with a label and have execs breathing down your neck). In most situations, I’ve found that type of urgency to be self-defeating. The only urgency you should allow yourself to feel is to begin.
“All you have to do is write one true sentence; write the truest sentence that you know” – Ernest Hemingway
“Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” – Lewis Carroll
I’ll end with one last thought. Leonardo Da Vinci once said, ““A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.” Let us continue to use art to shine light upon those things which are dark.