Gospel Artist and Rainer Maria Rilke

I picked up Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, and I quickly stumbled across this:

I know no advice for you save this: go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise: at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might come from outside.

Seen through the eyes of a Gospel Artist, and one who is called to change, this is a great quote. I actually we believe we are all called to create a gospel-shaped life. We take the destiny of Christ-likeness (or at least we do, if we choose), and begin our pilgrim path of change and evolution.

Have you ever considered that change is possible? That you are called to create (along with God through the Holy Spirit) a life that is shaped by God?

What would it look like if you were called? What could your life look like if you decided to create something wonderful and beautiful?

What would it look like if you chose to be an artist? 


Gospel Artist :: Enjoy the Silence

photoMaybe we just talk way too much.

It’s not surprising, considering out environment… How quiet is the space you’re in, right now?

How much music is there?

How loud is the traffic?

Is the TV on?

Do we even know what “silence” is? (Never mind what it can actually do in our lives).

A few months ago, I was blessed to be able to spend 2 days in silence and solitude. Don’t get me wrong it was really pretty freaky at times (At times, I was the only person in the entire retreat facility: The Shining, anyone?)

But during those few days confirmed what I’ve been gradually learning more and more in my life:

Sometimes we just need to shut up. 

I just noticed something recently about a familiar story. It’s about a guy named Elijah, and how God reveals himself to him. Through some stuff that happens, Elijah finds himself hanging out by himself in a cave, pretty beat up and at his wits’ end. God decides to show up:

The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the LORD. The LORD is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the LORD. But the LORD wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the LORD wasn’t in the earthquake. But the LORD wasn’t in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the LORD wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

The thing that stood out to me is the description of the voice. In English we miss how small this “small voice” was. The Hebrew for small is a word that references the thickness of a hair or a grain of sand. One Rabbi said that the voice could be described literally as “a voice of silence.”

Easy to miss.

As Elijah is looking for something, the biggest and flashiest events that God can muster roll by him. But God isn’t there. And only when Elijah is quiet enough to hear the “voice of silence” can he come to the edge of the cave and hear what God wants to ask him.

So I have two questions for you:

1. What might God want to ask you? 

2. Can you hear the voice of silence? 

So many of us desire direction. So many of us are hungry to hear that centering Spirit, that voice. We are in caves, and we don’t want to be there.

We are waiting to be called.

But we also just won’t. stop. talking. 

We muster our own wind, and earthquakes, and fires by the things we say about God, about what we want from him, when all the time He is waiting for us to just be quiet, so that we can hear that “grain-of-sand voice”.

Are you willing to be silent to hear God? Are you willing to trade your “earth, wind and fire” (never gets old, but just try to watch that video without smiling) for the voice of silence?

Oh yeah, and THIS.


Why Not Become a Professional Christian?

I’d like you to think about becoming a professional Christian.

Do those two words even belong together? What does that look like? A televangelist? A faith healer? A church shopper? A person who takes faith and turns it into something legalistic and dead?

It seems like a far cry away from the idea of loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving others as yourself.

A far cry from the Good Samaritan; from the Father running after his long lost son; from the powerful images pulled from the BIble. Rather it seems dry, dead, almost crass.

I’ll actually allow that it’s really easy to think about it like that; in fact, that’s very much the way I used to think about it.

A year or so ago, a little book was recommended to me, and it has revolutionized my way of thinking about a lot of things.

In The War of Art, writer Stephen Pressfield sets forth powerful insights into the nature of creativity, but as I read the book a thought started to form in my head…

What if these same creative principles apply to living the “Spiritual Life”? 

What if our primary call is to create our own Gospel-shaped life? 

Pressfield says that the key to the creative life is to “become a professional.” Here’s how he describes it:

The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.

To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.

The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time.

The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is all there seven days a week.

The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning “to love.” The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while th epro does it for the money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real vocation.

The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.

So many people are hungry for something different.

So many people ask themselves, “Can my life really be different? Can it look at all like some of these stories I read in the Bible or church history?”

So many people even want it to be different.

But they aren’t willing to “turn pro” as Pressfield defines it.

They may be willing to give their life to God, but they’re not willing to give their life to the process of God’s work in their lives. They’re not willing to give their life to it, to show up every day in order to create their “work of art”—their Gospel-life.

You can hunger all you want, but most of the time it—life change, or spiritual growth—is simply not going to magically happen. We have to commit to going beyond being “amateur Christians” and actually choose to do the work—not in the sense of earning our salvation, but in the sense of arranging our lives for spiritual growth. 

Letting God do the work, but making sure we show up and give His Spirit the space to do so.

What would it look like if you decided to “turn pro”?

What would have to change?

What would you gain?

What would you lose?


more thoughts to come….






Six Ways to Deepen Your Corporate Worship Experience

Sorry it’s been a while. I’ve been busy getting reacclimatized to ministry after a 3-month Sabbatical.

In the upcoming weeks I want to start unpacking my vision of how to create a Gospel-shaped life.

This week’s installment is about how we might deepen our corporate worship experience.

  • I’m assuming here that you share my belief that worship is a spot where heaven meets earth.
  • I’m assuming here that you believe that God indeed inhabits the praises of his people, and that He wants to meet with us, to speak to us, to “do stuff” in us during worship.
  • I’m assuming that you think that worship (not just the musical kind) is probably the most important thing you can do on earth.
  • I’m assuming that you think God is more important than you are, that is, that He belongs on the throne of your life, not you.

So is it possible to learn to worship better?

Should “learn” or “better” even be part of the conversation?

I think they should. I think to the degree that we want worship to be rich and meaningful; to the degree that we want to meet with God and to hear Him speak and feel Him in our presence, we should own up to our end of the bargain. 

We should do our best; we should come to worship with best, not so that we can work our way into God’s presence, but so that we can make the most room for Him—and His Spirit—that we can.

Too often we show up to worship in order to receive only. Doesn’t this turn things around? Doesn’t this make worship about us? About God giving to us? Worship begins when we recognize who God truly is and who we truly are; once that relationship is clear, God tends to then speak and do His business with us in the best possible sense.

So how do we get better at worship? I’d like to suggest six very practical suggestions to helping all of us come to God better prepared to meet with Him.

  1. Get a good night’s sleep. Most of us roll out of bed at the last possible minute on Sunday, scurry to church, get adequately caffeinated (if that’s an option at your church), and then wander in, greeting people as we go, eventually settling down just in time to start singing the third verse of the second song. And then we wonder why the band seemed a little “off” that week, or why worship was a little “dry”. If God is truly worth it, and if the Sabbath is truly the joy that we say it is, maybe Sunday worship should begin on Saturday night. 
  2. Engage in the “worship before the worship.” Before you come to church, read Scripture and pray. Thank God for another day of life, and tell Him you are excited to worship Him today. As you get in your car to come to your gathering place, take time to center down into God’s love. Pray for yourself and for the worship team of your church. Pray for your pastor. Prepare your heart individually in order to engage corporately. 
  3. As you sing, engage deeply with the lyrics. Connect the words to your own life. It’s only thing to sing, “He loves us, oh how He love us” passively and absent-mindedly. It’s another thing entirely to connect those words with your own story.
  4. Be willing to worship “from the outside in”. We talk a lot about “inside-out” worship, and having the inward state of our hearts match the words we are singing. But this ignores a basic truth of how the body occasionally works. The truth of our existence is that our physical postures and expressions can affect our emotional states. This means that sometimes if you want to experience worship more deeply, you should be willing to engage your body. I know there’s lots of different worshiping traditions, some more expressive than others. I also understand that Paul calls us to not be distractions in our corporate gatherings. But within those parameters, I believe we should experiment with physical expressions of worship—raising our hands, clapping (I won’t even mention movement… yet), kneeling, etc.—that can unleash deeper realities for us.
  5. Look Around. We don’t merely worship as private individuals; we worship as a body. Occasionally, take your eyes off of the screens (no really, please take your eyes off the screens) and look around the room. Who is mourning? Say a prayer for them. Who is rejoicing? Celebrate with them. Allow yourself to be shaped by the way your brothers and sisters are worshiping with you.
  6. Offer a sacrifice. Worship isn’t about you. It’s not about the band. It’s about God. It’s easy—so easy—to show up on Sunday morning with an attitude of “Give something to me, God.” Indeed, sometimes life beats us down and it’s all we can do to limp into our gatherings on Sunday.But our job during worship is to offer a sacrifice to God. It’s His job to heal us, to comfort us, to give us faith, to remind us that we’re loved and valued as His children. So consciously make a switch in your mind to give rather than receive. Or at the very least, commit to giving first and receiving second. 

I hope that these six suggestions might equip you to bring a deeper offering to God on Sundays. Ironically, I also think they’re the key to receiving more from God during worship as well.

But it’s still not about that.


Ira Glass, pastor.

Well, not quite, but take 2 minutes and watch this.


Now ask yourself, “What if instead of ‘creative work’, Ira Glass was talking about the spiritual life?”

Does this change the way you view growth, sin and “failure”?

It should.

Three quick thoughts.

  • We don’t necessarily need to be “people of taste” in order to determine what God might want for us; rather, we are a people of “The Book”. The scriptures tell us what God wants for us; that’s where we find the vision for our lives.
  • Knowing that there’s a “gap” between that vision and where we are at, we should expect to fail. We won’t be perfect. Not for a long time.
  • That being said, the point is to keep doing the things that pull and push us toward that vision. I’m not talking about merely “exterior”/visible things like service; I’m referring to the quiet, secret things like prayer, meditation, scripture study and reflection. These “creative” things make room inside us for God’s Spirit to take hold and begin to mold and change us.

The point is to allow God’s Spirit to “close the gap” between where we are and what He wants us to be.

To become “Gospel Artists”

To “ship” our lives.

A Professional Faith

Stephen King has written 49 novels. Forty-nine. 

Since 2000, Ryan Adams has released 13 records. He released five records—Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Lights, and 29—in 2005 alone. 

King and Adams have a mutual admiration society. King has included excerpts of Adam’s lyrics in his books, and has said, “I won’t say that Adams is the best North American singer songwriter since Neil Young…but I won’t say he isn’t either.”

For Adam’s part, he has said that King “works harder and twice as fast and has more valid ideas than many people know how to deal with…”

Both guys are relevant, vital artists who are well respected in their genres.

In Steve Jobs’ (and others) words, “They Ship.” 

How do they ship? How do they work through the laziness, the fear, the doubt and just produce over and over again?

While I’m not ultimately sure, Stephen Pressfield says that real artists work through all of these barriers—he calls them “The Resistance”—by doing one thing:

Becoming Professional. Being a professional means that you do “the work”—write, research, create, play—no matter what. It means you arrange your life in order to facilitate this work, and that you remain relentlessly focused on getting the work done. You make an appointment to write; to sketch; to play; to sculpt. You don’t wait for “inspiration,” because inspiration is capricious, and is easy prey for distraction.

Someone asked William Somerset Maugham asked if he only wrote when he was inspired. He replied that yes, he only wrote when he was inspired, but that fortunately inspiration struck at 9am every morning. 

Okay, okay, we got it: professional. ship. Got it.

What does this have to do with faith?

Simply this: as God’s people in the world, we are charged with being transformed in God’s likeness; bearing fruit, producing works of righteousness out of the overflow of the love of God in our hearts.

We have work to do.

Unfortunately, most of us never dream of the fact that we could be as prolific as Ryan Adams or Stephen King; furthermore, we have a tendency equate “professionalism” with “mechanical”, “detached”, and “unemotional”.

However, do you think Stephen King isn’t passionate about writing?

Do you think Ryan Adams’ music is uninspired?

So often, we save our spiritual “work”—praying, worship, service, scripture study, meditation, etc.—for the times when we feel inspired. We would never think about becoming “professional” Christians, until we consider that we have something to ship: namely our gospel-infused lives. 

If we consider our lives as a work of “gospel art” than we realize—like Ryan Adams and Stephen King—that nothing else matters besides “shipping our art.” 

And the best way to “ship” is to become a professional.

A professional Christian. We pray; We don’t wait for inspiration. We worship; we don’t wait until we feel like it. We embrace community; we don’t wait until it’s convenient.

  • Is your life arranged in such a way to become a professional? Are you still relying on inspiration—rather than faith and determination—to foster the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life?
  • Can you make an appointment to pray, to read the Bible, to worship, each day?

… Because the most important thing is to get the work done…

… To have our lives transformed…

… To produce fruit…

… We have lives to ship.

“Gospel Artists”, pt 1

We have too many maps.

In general, maps do a great job of (a) telling you where you are, and (b) telling you where you need to go. Some of them even tell you the fastest route to get there. Maps are efficient and effective.

But what maps can not do, almost by definition, is how to discover something unexpected. They cannot tell you how to find that beautiful accident: a scenic highway, the fruit stand with amazing  peaches, the funky old barn right beyond the turn of the road.

It’s the job of maps to be accurate and efficient; that’s their nature.

But sometimes, I think we need to acknowledge that we need something “beyond” (or “short of”) a map.

As human beings, disciples, and ministers in the 21st century, I think we live in a time where “Gospel Maps” abound all around us. Books and conferences, CDs and Podcasts abound, all sharing the best ideas from around the world. We are inundated with information about how to find out what God is doing in the world, and then how to translate that into gospel activities.

But they are all maps. And maps inhibit discovery; they inhibit serendipity; they give us the easy way to get from Point A to Point B.

And I’m not sure that “efficiency”, and even “accuracy” is the point of living the Gospel Life.

What if the point is “creativity”, “innovation”, and “love”.

Maps can’t really tell you how to ultimately do that.

In Linchpins, Seth Godin writes, “The reason that art is valuable is precisely why I can’t tell you how to do it. If there were a map, there’d be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map.”

From 1997–2001, I was a part of a ministry that was attempting to connect with a new generation of believers that saw the world slightly differently than their parents and grandparents. In the early years of Axis, finding any other “partners” in ministry was difficult. In fact, we only knew of two other ministries in the entire U.S. that seemed to be speaking our language.

In other words, there were no maps.

There were no conferences to go to.

There were no minor ministry celebrities to follow on Twitter.

There were only three widely-released CDs of worship music that sounded like “us”.

Let me say that again: there were only three widely-released worship CDs that resonated with what we were doing. 

No maps.

We had no choice, but to try and innovate. We looked at each other, and called out the best of our creativity and imagination and will. We experimented, we implemented, we corrected, focused and re-focused.

I think that our history as believers is chock full of innovators, people who found themselves in places where there either were no maps, or the maps they thought they had were incorrect:

Brennan Manning…

Henri Nouwen…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer…

Karl Barth…

Thomas á Kempis…

Martin Luther…


Paul of Tarsus…

John The Beloved Disciple…

James the Just…

… and, of course, Jesus Christ.

All of these artists innovated fearlessly and creatively. Their imaginations were fully engaged, and though (save Jesus) they made mistakes (yup, they made mistakes) they kept forging ahead rather than retreat to the map.

Today, maps surround us. You can follow any number of ministry blue prints and worship styles. Hundreds of “new” ideas/maps are thrown at us—daily—through Amazon, Lifeway, Catalyst, Passion, Willow, Hillsong, Twitter, etc. etc.

But is this your best? Is this the best imagination that you can bring to the table?

Understandably, sometimes we need a map. Sometimes we need to get from Chicago to Richmond quickly and efficiently. But if we never got off the major interstates, would we ever discover the farmer’s market outside of Winchester? (The most amazing apple pie, ever, btw.)

I think our Gospel—our Good News—deserves more than a map. It deserves all of our imagination and effort.

Where are you relying too much on Gospel Maps?

Where do you need to learn—or what do you need to throw away—in order to become a Gospel Artist?