Walls.

First, this: I don’t believe in “creative walls.”

You either do the work or you don’t.

But there are other walls, I guess, and I think I just hit them.

About 6 months ago I decided to post twice a week, no matter what. And up to last week, I managed—though sometimes just barely—to do it.

But last week, I couldn’t/didn’t push through. School started for my kids; summer semester wound down for me; work, life and ministry (or maybe it’s better described, “worklifeministry” pushed on.

But I’ve managed through this before. So why did I stop? 

I think it’s because it began to feel successful…

I originally committed to posting so frequently because I sincerely wanted:

  • to develop my writing/teaching voice
  • to stretch myself with a goal
  • to try and speak to people about this God I know, and this life that I’m trying to lead

I’ve received a ton of encouragement from everyone here; and I believe that I’m being called to keep writing, and keep speaking, and keep teaching.

…But what I have to confront is the idea that those things quickly become meaningless.

I’m constantly tempted to find fulfillment in everything around me, the things I can see, touch, taste. I feel like this is truly “Spirituality 101), but even at my age, I still do fall victim to it.

So when the statistics—site hits, twitter followers, “likes”, comments, etc.—start to go up, I keep expecting to feel better.

But I don’t.

Because I’m not supposed to.

Don’t get me wrong: these things are blessings. I want to keep writing. I want to speak to more people—go ahead, tell them!—and to help people wake up to the reality of God in their lives.

But those things don’t bring peace, don’t bring shalom at the end of the day.

That peace is only found in abiding deeply in the peace and love of God.

In sabbath and “family rest”.

In rich and satisfying worship.

In meals together with friends.

In slowness.

Ultimately, I’m so grateful for everyone’s encouragement; as I said, I’m going to keep writing and wrestling with stuff.

But moreso, I’m glad for a God that reminds me that there are more important things than this.

‘Everything is meaningless,’ says the Teacher, ‘completely meaningless.’

Keep this in mind: The Teacher was considered wise, and he taught the people everything he knew. He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying them and classifying them. The Teacher sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly.

The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep.

But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.

That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God, and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.  -Ecclesiastes 12:8-14

FEEL FREE TO COMMENT. I’m ready.

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Know Your Core

At Willow Creek’s 2011 Global Leadership Summit (hollah), Bill Hybel’s challenged us to be aware of how we would summarize the central message of Christianity:

“What five words would you use to describe the gospel?”

He had everyone draw a circle, and then write the five central messages inside the circle. Everything inside that circle should be driving your mission; those words should be connected vitally with your mission, either as an organization or an individual. 

My core

Question 1: What are your five words?

Question 2: Are you living them out?

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Four Ways Gigging Made Me a Better Worship Leader / Church Musician

One of my favorite quotes is in the movie Rocknrolla: 

There ain’t no school like the old school and I’m the #@$%@#$% headmaster.

When I started playing guitar, playing in church was not an option. Our church was a piano/organ place, and we only did acoustic guitar on a very, very rare occasion.

In fact, as crazy as this may seem, I never heard real electric guitar—not the heavily compressed, chorused, thin sound—in church until I was probably 30 years old.

So, musically, all my formative years weren’t spent in a youth band; they were spent in clubs.

This is what I think I learned:

  1. Be excellent, quickly.My first gigs were in a cover band. Two hundred dollars for a night (for the whole band). Two 60-90 minute sets. You were paid to be the entertainment. If you couldn’t grab the crowd’s attention, than you (a) were going to have a boring night and (b) weren’t going to be invited back. You had to get their attention, and then hold it. Probably the most extreme situations were when we’d play for a group of bikers; the pressure to entertain and “be cool” was definitely heightened. You had to be on your game.By contrast, church is mostly a captive audience. They’ll tolerate mistakes and give you second chances. However, just because the congregation lets you get away with a bad note doesn’t mean you should let yourself get away with it.
  2. Have your gear together. Even in the era of Guitar Center, you still couldn’t find a place to buy a cable at ten o’clock at night (maybe you still can’t). I remember driving 3 hours to a gig where the drummer forgot his hi hat stand. Outcome: gig with no hi hat. You had to double-check your stuff, and be prepared. Churches today come stocked with complete drum kits, miles of cabling, and usually a tuner (or 4) lying around. It’s nice to have a backup plan, but it’s also unprofessional to show up without a guitar strap. It assumes that someone will take care of you.
  3. Expect the worst. I remember playing a gig in this big wooden room that was essentially tuned to Ab. Every time we hit that note (which we did a lot, because we tuned 1/2 step down), the whole place would erupt with Ab feedback. It made for an interesting set. I also never knew that multiple monitor mixes were even possible until I was probably 25; my first 10 years of playing were spent learning to hear my voice—and the other instrumentalists—in one mix (that was usually too quiet).These days—if I can sound a bit crusty—a church is considered a bit lacking if the Aviom mix isn’t in stereo. Listening—and thus true interactive musicianship—isn’t based on the quality of your monitor mix; it’s based on the discipline of working to hear everyone on the stage, and to be aware of what they’re playing and how it impacts what you’re playing.
  4. God is everywhere. Though I wasn’t always firmly rooted spiritually, I learned that beautiful music can be made in the dirtiest places. On my final (probably) jaunt around the country, I was playing a gig in Lawrence, Kansas. The band I was in “gave in” to the crowd and played a (somewhat ironic) version of “Freebird.” As I played that ridiculous slide part, I practically heard God speak to me, “Do not think for one minute that I’m not hear in this bar. Do not think that you cannot send these notes to Me as worship—as thanks—right here in this moment and in this place. I am here.” 

    Though the church as a body is sacred and essential, God is also everywhere. When you only play music on Sunday morning, or only for your youth group, it’s easy to fall prey to the idea that God is only in the church, or that He is only “listening” to corporate worship music (that is often too safe). Playing music in so many environments helped me understand that God is out there, always moving, sometimes even moreso than what we see on Sunday.

Anyway, that’s it. I’m old school, but I think we do well to make sure our church musicians are seasoned and prepared, and have as wide a view as possible of God’s activity in the world.

Sermon Thoughts from This Morning

For any interested, here are the lyrics to “Trapped” by Jimmy Cliff (via Bruce Springsteen), that I referenced this morning.

Well it seems like I’m caught up in your trap again

And it seems like I’ll be wearing the same old chains

Good will conquer evil, and the truth will set you free

And I know someday I’ll find a key

Yeah I know somewhere I’ll find a key

Well it seems like I’ve been playing your game way too long

And it seems the game I’ve played has made you strong

But when the game is over, I walk out  a loser

And I know someday I’ll walk out of here again

Someway I’ll walk out of here again

But now I’m trapped…

Well it seems like I’ve been sleeping in your bed too long

And it seems like you’ve been meaning to do me harm

But I’ll teach my eyes to see beyond these walls in front of me

And someday I’ll walk out of here again

Someday I’ll walk out of here again

But now I’m trapped…

<take it away, Clarence “Big Man” Clemmons>

Well it seems like I’ve been playing your game way too long

And it seems the game I’ve played has made you strong

Cuz now I’m trapped…

Life in the Wilderness

After God leads Israel to freedom and gives them an identity and a foundational constitution, they spend a long time in the wilderness, wandering around and preparing to enter the land of Canaan, God’s promise to them.

I resonate pretty deeply with this story, at least in part because I feel like it has represented my own journey in at least a few different seasons in my life. Essentially, God’s people are called to wait and to be patient and to grow before they enter into a new season of existence and mission in the world.

I’ll be honest: mostly it sucks. Israel bears witness to this in how much complaining they do; I have born witness to this in, well, how much complaining I do. (I’m working on this, I promise.)

But here’s the deal: the Wilderness is a reality of life, and what’s more it’s necessary. 

So here are a few humble thoughts on it.

How do you know you are in the Wilderness?

  • The maps don’t make sense anymore. Israel doesn’t follow a direct route through the Wilderness to Canaan. They wander around in circles. The Wilderness can feel like that to us: circles, indirect wanderings. In fact, sometimes we realize that the Wilderness is so wild that there are no maps whatsoever to guide our journey.
  • The story doesn’t make sense anymore. When Israel leaves Egypt, they are leaving a well-defined story: YOU ARE SLAVES. It’s not a pleasant story, but it was familiar. The Wilderness is about turning slaves into children, and this is no small thing. Nothing feels right, or feels like it fits. We may have felt like we were on a certain career track, but something no longer resonates. We may have identified ourselves with a certain lifestyle, but something seems odd about it now.(Note: at this point it’s always tempting to go back to Egypt. This is mostly a bad idea.)

Here are some ways to engage the Wilderness:

  • Avoid nihilism. The most tempting—but most dangerous—thinking while you are wandering is, “My life is over; nothing matters anymore.” Once you give up on a promise of the future, anything is an option. The Wilderness won’t last forever. There is always a promise.
  • Find different ways to move forward. In the Wilderness, the ultimate promise—”the land”, the job, the relationship, the career, etc.—may be months or even years away. It’s easy to give up hope. Despair sets in when we feel like we are walking in circles or not moving at all. What we can do in the meantime is to simply engage in smaller goals. I imagine walking around the middle east it might be, “Hey let’s just see if we can get to that rock!” or “Let’s put the tent up differently today…” (ugh?)The point is to try and find some way to feel like you are moving forward. Can you set a physical goal? Can you try to read some new books? To grow intellectually? Keep moving.
  • Engage with God. Ultimately, the whole point of the Wilderness is to be prepared for what’s next. While you are wandering, engage with God. Wrestle with Him. Pour out your heart—restless though it might be—and be honest.

If you’re not already there, the Wilderness is coming. It comes for all of us; in fact, I might even say it is a defining characteristic of God’s people. We are, after all, pilgrims who are on the move. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself in a place where the maps don’t make sense, and where you feel detached and disconnected from the story you are living in.

Just don’t disengage, and make good use of the time.

Lenny (with SLASH!)?

THE Prayer, Part 7 :: Times of Trial

Our Father, who lives in the heavens,
May Your name be kept holy.
May Your Kingdom come,
May Your will be done,
On earth just like it’s done in Your presence.

Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Don’t bring us to the times of trial,
But deliver us from the evil one.
Amen.

Following Jesus is not an invitation to pretend that the world is wonderful and perfect, and that nothing bad will ever happen to you again. Headlines sing a loud song to this illusion. Neither is following Jesus an excuse to believe that the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket, and so our main task is to be patient and wait until we die and go and meet Jesus somewhere in the sky.

The truth is somewhere in the middle, and it’s also hinted at by this line in the prayer.

It’s not strange that Jesus would leave us these words, because he knew “times of trial” intimately. Consider:

  • Though we don’t know when exactly, we know that Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph is out of the story fairly quickly. The assumption is that he has died, leaving Mary and her children at risk socially and economically. He wasn’t one of the “insiders”.
  • His ministry begins with 40 days in the desert, culminating with a confrontation/temptation with Satan.
  • He experiences constant surveillance and opposition from the religious authorities in Judea.
  • His ministry was marked by a constant confrontation with evil spirits.
  • His closest disciples and inner circle consistently misunderstand him.

Jesus knows what the times of trial look like and feel like.

They are the times when we are most susceptible to doubt, to fear, the times when we’re most tempted to give up, to surrender.

To be faced with a trial is to be faced with the temptation to fall, to fail. To pray that we aren’t brought to the “times of trial” is to implicitly acknowledge that they exist, but not necessarily to allow our lives to be governed by them. In the face of the difficulties that Jesus faced, he went about his ministry fully and faithfully, even in Gethsemane when the trials began to be backed by Roman fists and clubs, whips and swords.

If you find yourself in difficulties, understand that Jesus knows all too well what it feels like. He is there with you, and he knows what it feels like. 

Ironically, Jesus ultimately confronts the times of trial not with glamourous victory but with blood, sweat, peace and eventually the cross… but that’s for another post.

What about you? What does it mean to pray, “don’t bring us to the times of trial” (or more traditionally, “lead us not into temptation.”?

Just This…

Hey everyone…

Nothing from me today, but I wanted to encourage you all to go check out Dave Gwartney’s new ebook.

Dave is a good friend and gifted thinker and teacher; do yourself a favor and check out Ten Essential Words. 

Peace

eric