A perfect atmospheric worship song from Phil Wickham to end a stressful week.
It is easy to get discouraged.
I met with two friends this week, both guys married and in the midst of careers. We each go through our days and nights with family and, in our own way, we have struggles. They can be rough jobs, stressful kids, not enough money or the weight of the future.
We break it down and encourage each other and there are moments when we need to understand the essence of faith.
Paul tells us:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
Our walk is a choice.
In the age where faith becomes a derogatory term and a political coin, we must break it down. Do we follow the one who is alive? Do we know that, after this life, is something greater?
Do we live with the power of the resurrection inside (Romans 8:11)?
That changes our life:
~God works through every conversation.
~Adversity is overcome to reveal glory.
~Struggle transforms us through refining power.
~Hope is constant.
~Prayer is war.
~Our calling puts a dent in the universe and changes eternity.
~Dreams are radar. Visions become our compass.
~Worship never ends.
I’m praying for this is my life and the life of our family. How does that list make you feel? Nervous? Excited? Scared? Remember, he is alive and this life is available for everyone willing to follow the path and change the world.
From Passion 2016 and one of my favorite artists Kristian Stanfill:
All the conflicts, the arguments, the time outs and clean ups. All the weeks of endless Mondays, tablets with scribbled plans and shaded dreams. All the lyrics, lines, stories and songs. All the business ideas, service plans, chances and steps.
Every day is about bravery.
Every walk is about faith, leaning not on our own understanding. Putting down ourselves to raise up the one that called us higher. It is about losing the last grasp of control and stepping into the void of a life surrendered and passion unleashed.
It is about the comeback and it is waiting for you.
There are seven basic stories.
Every writing class I had, from college to grad school, I found at least one professor stating that old line. Seven stories told over and over. Our only hope, as writers, was to put our own spin on them. In On Writing, Stephen King says we develop a style as we read. The end result is a mashup of our favorite authors combining to a unique voice.
This may be true in writing but it is not true in life.
We must never lose sight of the New.
In Mark Batterson’s book, If, he recounts a moment that set his foundation for ministry in the years to come. At a conference he had attended, the speaker said:
There are ways of doing church that has not been thought of yet.
The New is the line between fear and faith, sorrow and hope, doubt and assurance. It is the difference between the end and the _nd.
The New is the mystery.
I believe there are stories yet to be written, worship songs that will ignite a fire all across the world, ministries and charities that will change lives and provide for families. I believe there are ways of church waiting to be discovered, ways of worship only found in our dreams.
Your story is not over. The _nd is not complete. Change is one choice at a time. One shift from if only to what if. One phone call, cup of coffee, meeting with a friend and plan with a spouse. One jog around the block, lifting of the dusty weight set, breaking out the easel and paints from college and opening your creative eye. It is the first choice against the addiction, depression, stress and sorrow.
There is another side, roads not taken, opportunities that will emerge as 2016 unfolds.
The New is chasing the calling, stepping towards discomfort as God stretches us into new territories of faith and guarding ourselves with the essential promise:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
Val and I attend a large church. This allows for some variety with worship music and, though there is an official worship leader, a group tends to rotate through as the months pass. We’ve had everything from gospel to youth, men, women, national artists guest leading for a week, and a choir. There is one young woman who stands out every time she’s up there.
You know the one.
She hits the high notes extra high and runs Mariah Carey-esque trills up and down through Chris Tomlin’s latest hit, eyes closed, hands gesturing and face scrunched up to show just how hard she is leading worship as she orders the audience to join in, pray, let go and take part.
In case you haven’t experienced this yet, remember that worship directing us to the stage and not to God is not worship.
This morning, the writer and speaker Donald Miller posted on his blog about living a private versus public faith and why he has leaned more towards private recently. He cited the passages in the Bible where Jesus tells us not to be like those on the corner, making their good needs known to all, but to go to God in secret.
This stands, like Jesus always did, against all of society today.
What if we changed things?
Imagine an end to the social media debate, to politicians claiming Jesus on their side in an effort to win votes. Imagine Hollywood actors and actresses not thanking God at the Academy Awards. Imagine pastors not telling the media that they will light themselves on fire because of the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Let’s break it down a little further.
Jesus didn’t say he’d make us millionaires, famous, beautiful, or influential. He said he’d make us free.
Free from the race, the hustle of humanity, the ever-expanding yard stick that we’ll never reach because it will never stop. Free from the lens of this world, the gaze that will keep criticizing from the grasp of moral relativism.
Free to say, we don’t have every answer and to love those different from us, the ones on the fringes that need a face-to-face encounter with the love of Jesus before they’d ever enter a church.
Free to pray, on our own, and spend quiet time with God, to help a neighbor and not email our small group about it.
When I was an undergrad in college, Val and I attended a church near the school and the pastor asked one night, “If this all burnt down and we had nothing, no building, no stage, no candles or instruments, how many of you would come back and worship your God on a pile of ashes?“
This week, try some private time with God. Burn off the distractions. Kneel on your own pile of ashes and be thankful because you are still breathing and your work isn’t finished yet, because even in the darkness, you are never alone.
If you or are friend are looking for some new reading material this week, two of my books are free on Amazon for the next four days. You can download my novel, The City, or my book on writing titled, Lazarus Art by clicking the link here.
Tomorrow I’ll celebrate another year of life. I remember when turning thirty freaked me out. Now, making my way through my thirties, it has truly been a refining few years. I’ve felt like I was nearing the end of one season in life and starting a new one. The plot of my family had taken plenty of turns and things are starting to, slowly but surely, clear.
The clouds are lifting. The journey isn’t over and we are finally seeing progress.
There are still things on the horizon and, I pray, our paths will be straight. I’m thankful for a time of professional, personal, and spiritual development.
Here’s a quick review of the last year and some of my favorites:
Favorite Worship Song(s):
I have a few to pick from so here’s a pair of them:
Promises I lean on:
Jeremiah 29:11-“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Proverbs 3:5-6-“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Hazel Shaner, “Princess,” my grandmother. She was the matriarch of our family and lived a full 98 years of life. She was a great woman and embodied the love of God. Princess, you will be missed and I know I’ll see you again one day.
The motorcycle accident that took the life of our pastor’s wife Lynn Koch and landed our pastor Bryan Koch in ICU. This occurred just last month and has caused numerous deep conversations within our family and friends about struggle, suffering, and grace. You can see one of my posts about it by clicking here.
My current book project about poverty and activism in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania (Poorest city in the US in 2011) is in the draft editing phase. I’m excited to lay it out, tighten it up, and get it in front of publishers! It is a non-profit project and I can’t wait to see what God will do with it! There are other developments shaping up to make this next year a big one for us.
I’ve decided to dedicate my writing to God, to give it back to the cause of changing our community, society, and the world.
I dedicate this year to:
~My wife and sons. Thank you for putting up with a dreamer, father, and husband working to be the best man he can be. I am nothing without you.
~My audience. The writing, all of this, is for you to celebrate faith and life in action. I pray you find hope here, that the words resonate with you and you know, deep in your heart, that you are not alone.
~The dreamers. The ones looking to do worship, church, creativity, and community differently. Now is the time for a shift, for open doors and changed lives. Now is a time for authentic service, for unity and hands raised in triumph over hate, discrimination, and violence.
~The writers. If you are making this writing journey with me, I dedicate this next year to you. We are a community, drawn in by the pen/pencil/keyboard and we do this together. Never stop writing.
~The soldiers. To everyone I’ve met compiling this book on Reading, this next year is for you. For the men and women on the front lines of the fight against poverty, this is for you. For the ones who wake up every morning to serve those in need, this year is for you. My prayer is that this book shines light on your actions and inspires support through increased volunteers, funding, and effort from an audience around the world.
For everyone that’s taken the time to read my thoughts, thank you for being a part of this community and spending time with me every week. I’m honored that you stop in and I promise you more content, stories, actions and real connection.
Tomorrow is a new year for me, this blog, and my writing. Come with me and we’ll make the journey together.
The past few weeks we’ve found ourselves in the midst of deep conversation about the intersection between faith and society. Voices call for more and less. Political factions take sides. Lines are being drawn.
There seems to be a race to the bottom, to be the most offended by people of faith. Personally, it has reminded me of the response of Jesus when asked about the greatest commandment. He replies to love God and love your neighbor, hardly the musings of a political leader.
For we know Jesus did not come for any earthly power. More than once the crowds and leaders of the day tried to bait him with questions and conflicts. Every time he made his way around it, destroying the conventions, structures, forces and “common sense.”
Eternity was at hand.
So what if we’ve gotten it wrong? What if the church stands at an important intersection, at the crossroads of potential? What if it is primed for a shift, for a new way of community, service, prayer and worship?
In a post last week, I added a song by Isla Vista Worship. Watching more of their stuff on Youtube, I found this video:
The narrative in the clip makes a statement that struck a chord with me. It says that worship music should be done with skill and artistry, that is should shape the sound of secular music.
Think about that. We’ve reacted for so long. What if it was time for Christian writers and artists to shape the narrative? To reflect the love of Jesus into society with such power and impact that it changes things, that it removes the debate.
It is time for change, for real and actual change. It is time to build fresh and living faith, to show real moves of the Spirit, to reach into communities and fight for those in need.
Are you ready?
I’ve made it my goal to find some new and interesting worship songs. I’ve started at The Good Christian Music Blog and worked my way out. Check out “Holy” by Isla Vista Worship.