Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Speaking Truth To Beauty

With thanks to Delanceyplace.com, for their quote from Marilyn and Me, by Susan Strasburg:

Susan Strasburg, daughter of famed acting instructor Lee Strasburg, had her star turn on Broadway originating the role of Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank. Nominated for a Tony Award at the age of 18, she became the youngest actress to star on Broadway with her name above the marquee title. Here she recounts seeking feedback from award-winning actor Sir Laurence Olivier:

"As much as I loved doing Anne Frank, it now overwhelmed me. After a year and a half, the high emotional pitch of the performance had taken a toll on my energy and psyche. I was getting every germ that floated into Manhattan. I was losing weight, unable to eat. The year before, [Lee Strasburg student] Marilyn [Monroe] had brought Laurence Olivier to see the play. Afterward he'd been very complimentary. As we were taking publicity photos, all smiling our best airline stewardess smiles, I'd pleaded, "Please, Sir Laurence ..."

" 'Larry,' he'd insisted. 

" 'Please ... Sir ... Larry, tell me what you really thought.' He cleared his throat. 'Well, dear child,' he'd said precisely, 'half the effort would have had twice the effect.'

"I was devastated. My smile evaporated, as did his. The flash popped, and the moment was stamped indelibly on film, and on my ego. Marilyn came to my defense. 'She does that because she cares. She wants the people who came to see her to get their money's worth.' I was grateful to her. 

"It was true I'd asked, but he didn't have to tell me. He was supposed to be an English gentleman. I knew how the actress felt who had screamed at my father backstage after her opening night, 'How dare you come back here and tell me the truth?' "

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...sometimes the truth hurts. No wonder the apostle Paul encourages us to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Who Is THIS? A Prosified Christmas Hymn

Who is THIS?

Who is this child sleeping in Mary's lap? Who IS this being welcomed into this world by sweetly singing angels and watchful shepherds?

Well...this baby being guarded by shepherds and serenaded by angels is Christ the King! Don't waste any time! Bring your praise and adulation to Mary's baby boy!

Bring him gifts of sweet aromas, expensive treasures, and soothing oils. Everyone, whether poor or rich, should come to Jesus and acknowledge his greatness. He is the ruler above all rulers, and his coming to Earth opens the way to salvation for us all...so put him on the throne of your heart; let him be in charge and fill you with love.

Raise your voice in song - loud and long! The virgin mother is singing her lullaby, so let's sing our praise of deep, abiding joy: This newborn child - Mary's baby boy - is the Holy One sent from God...the Christ!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...I wish you all not only a Merry Christmas, but a heart filled with the Love of the Babe, the son of Mary.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

I Am A Refugee

It started out as a misunderstanding of where a couple tickets were telling a couple people to sit at a sporting event, and ended up being a viral blog post about racism, terrorism, and fear.

And the most surprising aspect of it all was the verbal challenge being used as an accusatory weapon: "Are you a refugee?!?"

Hmmm...let me think about that.

Refugee, noun...a person who has fled from some danger or problem.

I have certainly tried my best to avoid problems like personal conflicts or unappetizing meals, but what about important problems? And what about actually fleeing?

Truth is...my biggest problem - separation from Yahweh because of my bent toward sin - has absolutely caused me to flee. I have run into the welcoming arms of Jesus. And the deeper truth, as Jesus illustrated in his story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), God didn't stand around waiting for me. He took the initiative.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Where Is God When It Hurts?

In the spring of 2007, a disturbed student at Virginia Tech chained some doors shut, killed thirty-two students and faculty members, then killed himself.

As part of a local church's attempt to help students and other residents start working through their shock, grief, and fear, author Philip Yancey was flown in to speak on the subject of one of his books, Where Is God When It Hurts?

Considering that some people may be asking that very question in the aftermath of last week's shootings in San Bernardino, allow me to share a little of what he said, as recorded in the book, What Good Is God? (To read my previously-posted comments about this book, click here.)

I would like to promise you a long life and a pain-free life, but I cannot do so. God has not made that a guarantee and not even Jesus was granted those favors. Rather, the Christian view of the world reduces to a simple formula. The world is good. The world is fallen. The world will be redeemed. Creation, Fall, Redemption - that's the Christian story in a nutshell.

You know that the world is good. Look around you at the glories of spring in the hills of Virginia. Look around you at the friends you love. Though still overwhelmed with sorrow just now, you will learn to laugh again, to play again, to hike up mountains and kayak down their streams, to love, to rear children. Yes, the world is good.

You know, too, that the world is fallen. Here at Virginia Tech in April of 2007 you know that as acutely as anyone on earth. The author and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel had a conversation with a renowned rabbi and asked him the question that had long been haunting him, "Rabbi, how can you believe in God after Auschwitz?" The rabbi stayed silent for a long moment then replied in a barely audible voice, "How can you not believe in God after Auschwitz?" The shootings here on campus, as well as the mega-evils like Auschwitz, show what humanity on its own can produce. "Apart from God, what was there in a world darkened by Auschwitz?" asks Wiesel.

The final chapter of the Christian story asks us to trust that the world will be redeemed. This is not the world God wants or is satisfied with. God has promised a time when evil will be defeated, when events like the shootings of Amish children at Nickel Mines and of students at Columbine and Virginia Tech will come to an abrupt and stunning end. More, God has promised that even the scars we accumulate on this fallen planet will be redeemed, as Jesus bodily demonstrated to Thomas.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...God specializes at wringing every last drop of good out of even horrible situations. He took the worst thing mankind could ever have done...the killing of Jesus...and turned it into the best thing that ever happened to us...our salvation. We expectantly await what good Yahweh is going to bring out of the insanity of the San Bernardino shootings.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Suit Up! The Battle's On!

Just finished a study of Paul's letter to the Ephesians in one of my church's rejuvenated Sunday morning Christian Education classes (i.e., Sunday School). It was great to sit in a room with several other adults and discuss how to follow Jesus in the light shed by Paul's words.

One of the most familiar passages in the letter talks about putting on the "full armor of God" (6:11, 13): "Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:14-17 NIV)

The interesting take our teacher took was to forget about concentrating on which part of the body is being protected by which piece of armor. Instead, look at what those armor pieces are protecting us from...what attacks of Satan are being neutralized by this equipment?

A Christ-follower needs a belt of TRUTH because the forces of evil are attacking with an onslaught of lies and deception. According to Jesus, "there is no truth in [the devil]. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar, and the father of lies." (John 8:44)

A breastplate of RIGHTEOUSNESS will not only protect me from the hurtful consequences of sin in my life, but get this...it's not MY righteousness that's being talked about. It's God's armor. It's His righteousness. I'm just wearing it. He declares me righteous because of Jesus' sinlessness, not mine.

Because Satan is out to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10); because he wants to cause loss and chaos and worry; because that's the kind of thing I'm fighting against, I need to be ready. And my readiness comes from the good news that I am at PEACE with God. The gospel assures me that Yahweh is on my side in this battle.

The shield of FAITH deflects and defuses the burning little barbs the devil throws our way: "You're not good enough. God is so tired of hearing you whine. You've blown it too many times." I can stand firm with Paul and say "The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

We are given the strong assurance of a helmet of SALVATION that protects us from Satan's abundant supply of condemnation.

We have the sword of the SPIRIT(the WORD OF GOD) that absolutely counters flimsy weapons of flesh and blood, hearsay and rumor, death and decay.

Truth is...Paul could very well be listing a seventh piece of armor when he writes, in verse 18, "And PRAY in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people."

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

ABCs of Thankfulness

Angel - Our first child, who has proven over and over that we picked the perfect name for her
Bounty - What I've been blessed with, just by virtue of being born in the USA. Compared to over 75% of the world, I am rich.
Curtis - Our only son, who fell in love with Jesus all over again after a few years in the wilderness
Dogs - Shining examples of unconditional love and loyalty
Evangelism - Throughout history, one person telling another led to me finding out about God's love for me
Forgiveness - God's initiative, my benefit
Grace - Getting what I don't deserve (See Mercy)
Holiness - I've got none of my own, but all of God's.
Incarnation - The strange miracle of God becoming flesh, experiencing temptation as we do (yet without sin)
Jesus - The name above all names, because He is the person above all persons
Kelly Jo - Our youngest child, full of beauty, grace, and creativity
Love - The greatest of these
Mercy - Not getting what I deserve (See Grace)
Nails - Instruments of death that led to my Life

Order - One piece of evidence in favor of the existence of God
Parents - When church was happening, we were there ("Seven people jammed into a car that seated five"). And no, that didn't turn me off...it taught me how important it is.
Quiet - I don't enjoy it nearly often enough, but it serves to facilitate both relaxation and rejuvenation.
Rich Mullins - The source of the quote (above) about too many people in a car, and the ragamuffin singer-songwriter closest to my heart.
Shonda - Our second child, whose heart is more tender than the rest of us combined. Her picture is next to "empathy" in the dictionary.
Thanksgiving - A yearly reminder to count my many blessings
Unemployment, The End of My - Last year at this time, I was in Month Two of a 10-month job search.
Victory - In Jesus, my savior forever; He sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood
Wife - I could have listed her as Debbie or Beloved, but I could never find enough words to describe her influence on me and how much of my heart she absolutely owns.
X-rays - Seriously, this is the outcome of God giving us brains and expecting us to use them. What an excellent healthcare tool.
Yesterday - The part of my life that doesn't matter when it comes to how God feels about me; "Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future."
Zebras - God could have just made more horses or mules, but no...He refused to hold back His creative artistry.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...26 words on one day out of the year is only scratching the surface. I am indeed a blessed man.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What Good Is God?

This phrase sounds so much like it's coming from an atheist, when I was reading this book in the office lunchroom, I didn't want people to see the cover.

But the truth is, this book by Philip Yancey is full of anecdotal 
evidence for the existence of God. Not that it's going to change the minds of any unbelievers who happen to read it, but it certainly bolstered my faith and cultivated a sense of wonder and awe at what God does...even in the midst of horrible circumstances.

What kind of circumstances, you ask? How about the campus massacre at Virginia Tech? How about the professional sex trade in Green Lake, Michigan? Or the post-Apartheid uncertainty of South Africa? Or dodging terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India? Or any one of six other situations in which Yancey has spoken during the last decade or so?

This book's ten sections consist of a chapter introducing the circumstances leading up to the author's involvement in these different settings, followed by an almost-transcript of the speech he gave at the time. (Yancey is a journalist, and would never characterize his public addresses as sermons...and rightly so.)

Let me give you a taste of what impressed me about God's work in the hearts of people as I read each chapter.

From the chapter on the underground church in China:

China was the pearl of the missionary movement, with 7,000 foreign missionaries overseeing seminaries and publishing houses as well as 900 hospitals and 6,000 schools. Almost overnight Chairman Mao forced them all to leave. Members of the largest agency, the China Inland Mission, met in Australia to consider their fate. Should they disband? Or relocate to other Asian countries? And what about the Christian community left in China? Four hundred years of missionary work had produced a million Protestant and several million Catholic converts, a tiny minority in a country already exceeding a half billion in population. Who would teach them, print their literature, nurse their sick?

For several decades no one knew how the Chinese church was faring, especially in light of the leaked reports of social turmoil. Had Madame Mao succeeded in her vow to destroy Christianity? When China finally began to crack open its borders, some of these same missionaries returned to visit, astonished to find that the church had exploded in size. [Former Time magazine reporter, David] Aikman estimates the number of Christians in China today may exceed eighty million; others suggest a total of more than a hundred million. No one knows for sure because many of them meet in unregistered (and illegal) house churches of twenty or thirty members. This, the largest religious revival in history by far, took place with little direction and no foreign influence.

And consider this quote from Pastor Allen Yuan, one of the four patriarchs of the underground church, who spent twenty-two years in prison for his faith:

We live in a time like the apostles. Christians here are persecuted, yes. But look at Hong Kong and Taiwan - they have prosperity, but they don't seek God. I tell you, I came out of that prison with faith stronger than I went in. Like Joseph, we don't know why we go through hard times until later, looking back. Think of it: we in China may soon have the largest Christian community in the world, and in an atheistic state that tried to stamp us out!

Truth is...God's love and grace are not bound by political ideologies nor hindered by oppression. God's ability to bring about good from the midst of injustice and suffering cannot be squashed. So whatever dire circumstance you find yourself in, rest assured that the Lord of the Universe knows what's happening and has not forgotten you. God is good...all the time. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Letterman Live...Almost

A long, long time ago...

...I can still remember how I accompanied our only son, fresh out of high school, to New York City. He was entering a two-year course of study at Circle in the Square Theatre, and I was spending four days with him; helping him learn the subway system and trying my best to let go.

Just for kicks, we had arranged to attend a taping of The Late Show with David Letterman. (Yes, even though it appears to be a live show, it [and all the other late-night talk shows] are taped the afternoon prior to broadcast.)

Prior to picking up your tickets and entering the theater, a couple staff members walk along the line of waiting audience members...just chatting with people, getting a feel for the personality of the people attending that day...but also looking for possible participants in any audience-participation game that might be played in that particular episode.

Curtis and I were thrilled to be picked as possible players in that night's game. We were instructed to leave the line we were in and go around to the stage entrance (right next to the Hello Deli, for those of you familiar with the show) where we would be ushered in (along with others) at the appropriate time to take seats along one of the aisles, making ourselves available for David Letterman's merriment.

The door opened, an assistant waved our anxious little group in, and within 10 steps, we found ourselves walking across the stage where people like Tom Hanks and Paul McCartney come out to the sound of thunderous applause.

My first thought was, "Wow, this is a lot smaller than how it looks on TV." My second thought was, "Hey we better book it off stage into those aisle seats, because the rest of the madding crowd is coming in and starting to fill the place."

As it turned out, Curtis and I weren't picked to actually interact with Mr. Letterman, but we enjoyed watching the show...on the large monitors at the front of the seating area.

That's right. There we sat...not 20 yards from where Letterman was interviewing Jennifer Lopez, and instead of watching them, we were experiencing the show like we always did...on a television screen.

Truth is...it's really easy to go through our whole lives like that; business-as-usual, ho-hum, it-is-what-it-is. But Jesus came so we "may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10) Let's not be guilty of "playing GameBoy standing in the middle of the Grand Canyon" (Steven Curtis Chapman). Or as Rich Mullins put it: "So go out and live real good and I promise you'll get beat up real bad. But, in a little while after you're dead, you'll be rotted away anyway. It's not gonna matter if you have a few scars. It will matter if you didn't live."

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Are YOU My Neighbor?

Last weekend's message by Pastor Dave included a quick reference to Luke 10:25-37, commonly referred to as The Parable of the Good Samaritan. It reminded me that I had written a humor-infused version of the story for my other blog, Almost the Truth.

And then I got to thinking...that little trifle wouldn't be so terribly out of place in THIS blog.

And so, I invite you to follow the following link to revisit my retelling.

Truth is...funny or not, Jesus makes His point very well. The question should not be "Who is my neighbor?" but rather "Who am I being a neighbor to?" And if the answer isn't "Whoever God places in my path," then I'm missing the point.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Chance Meeting Results In Unequaled Success

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) is selling 11,000 books a day...24 years after his death. And yet, his first book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, almost didn't get published.

From A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, by Brian Grazer:

The story of Geisel being rejected twenty-seven times before his first book was published is often repeated, but the details are worth relating. Geisel says he was walking home, stinging from the book's twenty-seventh rejection, with the manuscript and drawings for Mulberry Street under his arm, when an acquaintance from his student days at Dartmouth College bumped into him on the sidewalk on Madison Avenue in New York City.

Mike McClintock asked what Geisel was carrying. "That's a book no one will publish," said Geisel. "I'm lugging it home to burn." McClintock had just that morning been made editor of children's books at Vanguard; he invited Geisel up to his office, and McClintock and his publisher bought Mulberry Street that day.

When the book came out, the legendary book reviewer for the New Yorker, Clifton Fadiman, captured it in a single sentence: "They say it's for children, but better get a copy for yourself and marvel at the good Dr. Seuss's impossible pictures and the moral tale of the little boy who exaggerated not wisely but too well."

Geisel would later say of meeting McClintock on the street, "If I'd been going down the other side of Madison Avenue, I'd be in the dry-cleaning business today."

Truth is...Persistence doesn't always lead to success, but we fail 100% of the attempts we don't make.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What You See is What You Get - "Just As I Am" Prosified

In 1835, while in the midst of feelings of worthlessness, Charlotte Elliot wrote the words that soon became the hymn, Just As I Am. She certainly had no idea her personal outpouring of submission and surrender to God would become the soundtrack for thousands of people coming to Christ in churches and Billy Graham evangelistic meetings around the globe.

While you can read the poetry at any number of places online, perhaps this prosification will lead to a deeper consideration of the Truth in the Art.

Dear Jesus, what You see is what you get, but I'm coming to You...without a single request except that You died for me and You desire me.

I'm not going to wait a moment longer to come to You, because You're the only one who can make my dirty, sinful soul clean again. 

And it's not like I've got my act all together. I'm coming to You unsure of myself; full of doubts and conflicts. I'm fighting with, and fearful of, not only other people, but even myself...and yet...I come to You.

And You've promised to accept me with open arms: forgiving my sins and freeing me from Sin...what a relief to come to you and be welcomed.

That kind of love is unheard of, and has broken down every wall that separates me from You. I want to belong to You, and You alone. What You see is what You get, but I'm coming to You...the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Truth is...I should probably recite this every morning.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Four Hands, One Guitar

One plus one can equal a lot more than two. Consider Fernando, from Brazil, and Cecilia, from Uraguay.

When I watch this video of them four-handing a guitar, my cheeks start to hurt, because I cannot stop smiling. The joy with which they play spills over and fills me up.

Truth is...cooperation and collaboration really can create something better than the sum of the individual parts. None of us is as smart, wise, good, or creative as ALL of us.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

If You've Only Got 3 Wishes...

"You do not have because you do not ask." (James 4:2)

That's pretty clear. James doesn't beat around the bush...burning or otherwise.

But if you're being honest...and if you're anything like me...you might be thinking right about now, "I've asked plenty, but a lot of those prayers have gotten me zilch."

Well, James has a verse that covers that pretty well, and it's the very next one: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures."

Yep. You got me there. I pray for my bank account (so we can eat out more often). I pray for my Beloved's health (so she'll feel well enough to do things with and for me). I pray for the people on our church's list of requests so I won't feel guilty and so others will think I'm a great elder.

I'm pretty much like the mortal in this F Minus comic, by Tony Carillo:

While the metaphor of God being a genii can only go so far, and probably shouldn't even go that far, the point is that here we are...with direct access to Someone with "phenomenal cosmic power"... and we spend our time asking for physical health and financial wealth.

How about things like "make me a positive peace-maker in my contentious workplace"? What about "make Yourself real to my atheist friend" or "help our church to change our neighborhood"?

Truth is...I want to be an instrument in Your hands, Yahweh. Forgive me for not thinking big enough, for not dreaming in Technicolor, and for making You small enough to fit in my tiny box. Unleash Yourself upon a sick and dying world...and if You want to use me to do that, here I am.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How Could I Ask For More?

The word on the street is that the 90s are making a comeback. From fashion to movies to musical styles, everything old is new again.

It's a fairly common occurrence, actually. The sitcom Happy Days, set in the 1950s, was hugely popular in the 70s. That 70s Show was a hit in the 90s. And now, 20 years after the fact, surprise-surprise, here come the 90s again.

As far as music goes, it kind of leaves me in the dark. I pretty much stopped listening to Top 40 radio after Billy Joel's 1981 album, The Stranger (which was the last vinyl record I ever purchased). Not because that wonderful collection of songs scared me away, but because...well, I'm not really sure why. I had become a father and was going to Bible college to prepare for a life of vocational ministry and maybe I no longer had a desire to dedicate any time to that portion of popular culture.

None of which has any effect whatsoever on how glad I was this week to stumble on a song from 1992 by Cindy Morgan, How Could I Ask For More?

It's a quiet, thoughtful recounting of some simple pleasures...things that make life sweet and hearts happy.

Truth is... some of the best things in life are free. Not a new thought, but one that's good to be reminded of, no matter what decade it is.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

For Fast, Fast Relief, Insert Prayer Here

Even people who don't believe Jesus is the Son of God tend to weight his words with a certain level of importance. So when He says something like, "You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it," (John 14:14) a guy might want to pay attention.

The devotional book I was reading (Why Did I Lose My Job If God Loves Me? by Rick J. Pritikin) used John 14:14 as the basis of a particular day's thought, but wisely brought in the verses around it...

I decided to look at the context of the promise by reading several verses before and after John 14:14. In verse 13, Jesus said, "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son." In other words, Jesus will give me what I ask for in his name if it will glorify the Father. This isn't about you and me getting whatever is on our wish lists. God isn't a celestial vending machine. Rather, our requests should glorify him.

There's more. In verse 15, Jesus went on to say, "If you love me, keep my commands." In today's sales language, that's the "kicker." In other words, you and I can't expect to get what we ask for in prayer unless we are walking in obedience to the Lord and unless the fulfillment of that prayer will glorify God.

All of which led me to write the following in my journal:

This is still a tricky thing. It could become, "If I push the right buttons or cross off the right items on a to-do list, then God has to give me what I want."

Yes, verse 13 is important. If my request would bring me glory instead of Yahweh, it most probably will be ignored. But I'm not so sure verse 15 is part of Jesus' paragraph on prayer...and actually, the paragraph isn't about prayer; it's about the unity of God the Father and God the Son and that we are invited to enter into that unity.

And that's the thing! If I am united with God through Christ, it means I am "in [His] name," not my prayer. The point for Jesus is not for us to say the words "in Jesus' name" before "amen". The point is for us to be in Jesus's name, immersed in His character and authority.

Yes, of COURSE that means being obedient to His commands, but it's not as simple as keeping a list of rules.

Truth is...the NASB and Amplified versions render verse 15 as "...you will keep my commandments", coming across as more of a prediction or promise than a command or threat.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

This Singer Could Really Speak

This Saturday marks the 18th anniversary of the passing of the talented singer-songwriter-ragamuffin, Rich Mullins. I've taken this space before to point out the depth of his lyrics and the freshness of his perspective. (Just click on the "Rich Mullins" label below, and you'll see what I mean.)

This time around, I invite you to take a break from the noise that surrounds you and let the Spirit of God take these scattered quotes from the mind of Rich and apply them wherever He sees fit. (My thanks to the Facebook page, Rich Mullins Quote of the Week, for having posted these gems.)

  • I don't know how you feel close to God. And no one I know that seems to be close to God knows anything about those feelings either. I know if we obey, occasionally, the feeling follows. Not always, but occasionally. I know if we disobey, we don't have a shot at it.
  • But the nice thing about getting older is that it bothers you less and less how stupid you are. Because you hang out with smart people long enough and you see that they have nothing that you want. It's more important to be alive than it is to be smart. Better a living dog than a dead lion, I guess.
  • The problem is that we in America trust institutions so much that we have all these other organizations doing the work of the church. And because they do this, the local body is robbed of the joy of actually involving themselves personally. I think that a lot of people want the Christian music industry to be an evangelistic or nurturing thing. People are looking at the Christian music industry and saying, 'Feed us! Convert us! Make us what we want to be!' And that is not the job of any industry. That's the job of the church.
  • I personally have a real problem with really slick music and really slick lifestyles and people who are dressed in all the right clothes and all that - you know, being very "in" - because I think Jesus reaches to the people who are very "out".
  • I get this all the time - "I'm so glad you came because I'm in such a spiritual low. It's been three months since our last Christian concert and I'm just starving spiritually." And I go, "Well babe, you're starving worse now than ever, because you just got a lot of candy. That's all I can give you. If you really want spiritual sustenance, go to church."
  • We try to make Christianity attractive. And that's like saying I'm going to make the Rockies attractive. How are you going to do that? By letting them be what they are. I think nothing is more compelling than to see people who have the Spirit living in the Spirit, and not trying to advertise, just being what they are.
  • Your friends that have kids and on their refrigerators, they have those really horrible scribblings that their kids do. And they're really proud of them. And you look at them and you go, "How can you possibly put that up in front of other people for them to see?" I think that a lot of us think that someday we're going to become the Van Gogh of Christianity -- that we're going to paint something truly, truly beautiful, and God is going to be so impressed that He's going to hold us up and say, "Here's an exemplary Christian." But you know what, I think God just likes people to scribble however awful it comes out. And then He goes, "This is my kid's."
  • I feel like God's leading me out so I'm kind of sleeping with my shoes on. When God parts the sea, you don't want to say, "Oh rats, where are my sandals?"
  • I think that all these doctrinal statements that all the congregations come up with over the years are basically just not very worthwhile. I don't mean to sound mean toward the people who came up with them. I understand in the past there have been many heretical movements, and we still need to maintain sound doctrine. But I think our real doctrine is that doctrine that is born out in our character. I think you can profess the Apostles' Creed until Jesus returns, but if you don't love somebody, you never were a Christian.
  • Start realizing that your ministry is how much of a tip you leave when you eat in a restaurant; when you leave a hotel room whether you leave it messed up or not; whether you flush your toilet or not. Your ministry is the way you love people. You love people when you call your wife and say, "I’m going to be late for dinner," instead of letting her burn the meal. You love people when maybe you cook a meal for your wife when you know she’s really tired. If you are a Christian, ministry is just an accident of being alive. I don’t know that you can divide up your life and say, "This is my ministry," and "This is my other thing," because the fruits of Christianity affect everybody around us.
  • And then he [Job] went to God and wanted to know why the righteous suffer. And Beuchner points out, God never gave him an answer. That God merely gave him Himself. And when Job had encountered the Almighty, the questions lost their power over him. And I think that a lot of us are real interested in some easy answers, and some "Wow, if I can, if we can come up with some kind of an easy answer to make life comfortable...." We're much more interested in answers than we are in the Truth. And the Truth is always going to be a mystery. It will always be a paradox. It will always be a little beyond our grasp. And if we're uncomfortable with that, that's okay, because a little bit of discomfort will keep us moving.
  • The end is that God made man. He created him in His own image. He created him out of dust. He breathed into him the breath of life. Man became a living soul. He gave man sexuality. He created them male and female. And He gave man work. And I am just doing my work. I am not trying to write great albums. I'm not trying to write great songs. I'm not trying to do any of that. What I'm trying to do is be faithful. If I were a plumber... most plumbers don't say, 'Man, I'm going to come up with the most original arrangement of pipes here.' But when you flush your toilet, if things go the way they should go, you are very thankful that the plumber was doing their job.

Truth is...in addition to being a great songwriter and a well-read, profound thinker, Rich can also make a person laugh. Even in the midst of making a sincere point, the funny bone can be engaged:

"And people often ask what inspires songs, and I always hate that because you know, I have all my pagan friends and you try talking about the inspiration of the Scriptures, and I think when you just throw the word 'inspired' around loosely like that, it becomes very confusing to them. So I always like to say that my songs are not particularly inspired. The Scriptures were inspired. My songs are provoked."

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Devil Made Me Do--Oh Skip It

There's something missing from your Bible.

I'm sure Paul meant to include it in one of his letters to the Christians in Corinth, but it just slipped his mind or Satan threw a fiery dart at just the right time...or wrong time...or...well, you know what I mean.

Here's the thing: in one of the lists of spiritual gifts, there should be mention of "avoiding personal responsibility". And by that I mean, the ability to pass the blame for my own muck on to something or someone else.

You can thank Jonathan Acuff for bringing this thought to the surface when he wrote the piece in his book, Stuff Christians Like, titled "Throwing the Devil Under the Bus for Everything":

Sometimes I think we Christians throw satan under the bus for things he might not have been involved with. For instance, if your band at church sucks one Sunday morning, it might be really easy to say, "The enemy sure was attacking service today. None of the songs worked well, and our timing was completely off. What a mess. Satan sure was pressing in on all sides."

I agree, that's one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that you guys didn't practice. Nobody showed up on time to rehearse the songs, and when they did, they ended up joking around, pretending they were Lincoln Brewster, or just grumbling about all the songs they'd like to play if the senior pastor would release his death grip on what's "big-church" appropriate. So when Sunday showed up, you sounded about as good as you practiced, which was awful.

Did satan do that? That's debatable. Was he down in hell watching the service saying, "Watch this: The drummer's got a completely different rhythm going and it's killing the bass player's sense of self confidence and timing. My master plan has come to fruition!" Doubtful. I think more likely he was somewhere sinking ships or punching old ladies in the kidney when a demon came and reported, "Hey, Truth Rising Baptist Church had horrible worship music today." To which he responded, "Awesome."

Truth is...I do pretty good at fouling things up without the devil's help. In fact, I make his job pretty easy. Not to say he isn't involved, but when it comes down to who is really responsible...

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Celebrity Sightings

Last Thursday and Friday, I was involved in all-day meetings at my new place of employment. Team members from all over the country had flown in so we could hammer out final details on some documents that I was responsible for making look like something other than the literary equivalent of a platypus.

The conference room tables were arranged in a U, and I was editing on the fly as points were pondered and decisions were made.

At some point around hour 10, the man sitting next to me, Mark, was talking and gesticulating and I got distracted by the fact that I was apparently sitting next to Dustin Hoffman. Seriously, something about the gleam in his eyes, the carefree flip of his hair, the shape of his nose...

And then I got to looking around the room.

There was Ben Stiller (Zoolander), and sitting right next to him was Matt LeBlanc (Joey from Friends) and Jack McBrayer (30 Rock's Kenny the Intern). To top it all off, the corporate Vice President in charge of the whole shooting match was a dead ringer for Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Patrick Stewart.

I could not look at ANY of them without thinking of their celebrity doppelgangers.

It made me think of a song that's on Beloved's third CD, drenched in HOPE. It's written by Pete Carlson and Amy Roth (no relation) and titled Do They See Jesus in Me?

Is the face that I see in the mirror
The one I want others to see?
Do I show in the way that I walk in my life
The love that You've given to me?
My heart's desire is to be like You
In all that I do, all I am

Do they see Jesus in me?
Do they recognize Your face?
Do I communicate Your love and Your grace?
Do I reflect who You are
in the way I choose to be?
Do they see Jesus in me?
©2001 Matters Most Music/A.L.Roth Publishing

Truth is...there is a much older text that carries the same message. Here are a few lines from what is known as Saint Patrick's Breastplate:

Christ with me
Christ before me
Christ behind me
Christ in me
Christ beneath me
Christ above me
Christ on my right
Christ on my left
Christ when I lie down
Christ when I sit down
Christ when I arise
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me
Christ in every eye that sees me
Christ in every ear that hears me