Filed under: Leadership, Spiritual Formation | Tags: ministry, spritual growth
Our backyard neighbors have a beautiful flowering tree in the corner of their fenced yard. I know this because the tree’s branches are covered in amazing, pink blossoms that flow over the top and down the outside of the fence for our enjoyment. As far as I know our neighbors never deliberately chose to have these flowery branches spill over into our view. In fact, I’m quite certain they simply planted a tree for their own pleasure, watered it and nurtured it. They’re probably not aware of how the tree looks from our side of the fence or how we enjoy it every time we look out a back window or spend time in our backyard. One morning as I read my Bible on the patio I looked over at the tree and the words of Jesus came to mind…
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart...” (Luke 6:45 NIV)
When we take time to nurture our walk with God and cultivate a relationship with Jesus, his grace, truth and joy flow out of us and into a hurting world. We don’t need to force it. Like our neighbor’s tree it just happens. The natural result of a real and vibrant relationship with God is lives being touched by the overflow. Whether you’re a school teacher, nurse, construction worker, cab driver, waiter, etc., if you have a genuine relationship with Christ you have a ministry. If you don’t have that relationship you don’t have a ministry, regardless of any title, ordination papers or religious activity leading you to believe otherwise.
So go ahead and nurture your walk with God. Make it your highest priority. As He works in you He’ll also work through you. Your job is simple…
1) Enjoy Him
2) Let it overflow
“Ministry blossoms naturally in holy lives” ~ J.I. Packer
(photos are courtesy of my daughter, a ‘budding’ photographer)
Filed under: Spiritual Formation
A few weeks ago my 11 year old son was having a sleep over with one of his buddies. It was a two-nighter and his mother and I we weren’t sure sleeping over for the second night was such a good idea. Sure enough, as we were settling in for the night the phone rang.
“Dad, I wanna come home. Can you come and get me?”
I couldn’t respond quickly enough.
“I’ll be right there,” I said as I grabbed my car keys.
He’s actually had a few aborted sleepovers through the years and I always love going to pick him up. This particular time as we drove home in the minivan I decided it was the perfect time to share an important message.
“You can always come home, you know. Never forget that. Whether you’re 11 or 20 or 30 or 50 (he grinned sheepishly) it doesn’t matter… you can always come home. Never forget that.”
I’m not sure what he thought of my words but I had no doubt about my goal for the conversation. I wanted this truth etched in his heart and mind. I wanted it to sink in to the very fiber of his being. I wanted him to know that he would always be loved and welcomed home no matter how terrible things seemed or how badly he messed up.
Then it dawned on me that I was feeling something similar to what Father God feels toward us. No matter how far we wander, no matter how poor the choices we make, no matter how big the messes we create… we can always come home… and we’ll always be welcomed with open arms. Always.
“There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’
“So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’
Luke 15:11-24 (The Message)
Stay Right Here was born out of an unforgettable moment in God’s presence. I was standing on the plains of Colorado staring up at Pikes Peak in the middle of a hot summer afternoon. The view was overwhelming, God’s presence even more so. I was completely lost in the moment. Suddenly it occurred to me that I’d lost track of time. Had minutes passed? Hours? I really had no idea. It was the closest thing to timelessness I’ve ever experienced. It felt as though time stood still. Somewhere during that time I started singing a few phrases, a simple description of what was happening at that moment… intimate songs… sweet tender words… flowing between heaven and earth. I had only completed a few lines when I decided it was time to head back to the ‘real’ world. Ironically, I was actually leaving the real world to return to the unreal world but we don’t usually think in those terms. I got in my car and began driving along the highway, still overwhelmed by God’s presence. Another lyric came to me. I pulled over to jot it down. I didn’t want to lose anything from this moment. I wanted to savor ever second. A mile further down the highway another phrase came to me. I pulled over again. It felt like taking dictation. I know that opens a theological can of worms for some but it’s just the best way to describe how it felt. It’s also not a commentary on the quality of the song. It’s just what it felt like to write it. I arrived home with a few more lyrics and still feeling completely enveloped in God’s presence. It was like coming up out of water completely clothed. I was drenched and felt like I was dripping everywhere. The feeling lasted about three days and I kept writing lyrics and melody as they came, intermittently yet effortlessly. Then it wore off and the song was done. I often write songs during prayer and quiet times but this was unlike anything else. It’s never happened to me since.
From the very beginning I always envisioned Stay Right Here with just piano and cello. I felt like the two instruments would captured the intimate flavor of the song and represent the simplicity of interaction between God and man that day. I was blessed to have the gifted John Catchings play cello for the track. My talented producer, Jason Garner, worked up some additional string parts to enhance the dynamics. I love it all.
I once had a successful country songwriter listen to a rough demo of Stay Right Here. He really liked it and wanted to change some lyrics to make it a country love song. He thought it had potential to get recorded by a major artist. But I couldn’t change it. The song meant too much to me. I kind of thought of Stay Right Here as “our song” (between God and me) in the way that lovers use the phrase for a special song that captures their relationship. So I broke one of the unwritten rules of Nashville and told a successful songwriter ‘no’. I made it clear that I wanted to write with him but that I just didn’t want to rewrite Stay Right Here as a love song. Truth be told it was always a love song… but not an earthly one. Although I tried to carefully explain my reasons, he was offended and made it clear that he no longer had an interest in writing with me at all.
Worship songs like Stay Right Here have recently come under criticism in certain circles. For some folks the imagery in worship songs like this is too much like that of ‘earthly’ love songs. Several times in scripture we see bride & groom imagery used to describe the relationship between Christ and the church but that’s not how I would explain my choice of lyrics for Stay Right Here. I simply chose the words that best described an amazing moment in God’s presence. If I could come up with a better, more accurate way to describe it I would.
If you’ve never experienced a moment like the song describes I hope you will someday. You’ll be blown away by His glory and beauty. You’ll probably lose track of time and you’ll probably want to stay right there in the moment. Maybe you’ll write a song about it, too.
Filed under: Music, Song Stories, Spiritual Formation, Worship | Tags: be still, calm, faith, God, hardship, heartache, pain, prayer, provision, rest, storms, suffering, trust, wisdom
When I was on staff at Calvary Church in Pueblo, CO, I was sitting alone at the piano in the church worship center early one morning. It was well before office hours so there was no one else in the building making it the perfect place for a quiet time. Weeks before that day I had placed a piece of Plexiglas on the piano to hold chord charts in place when the ceiling fans were running. As I played and worshiped in the stillness of the early morning I suddenly saw quick movement behind me reflected in the glass. Because I thought I was alone it startled me. I jumped and immediately spun around as my heart skipped a beat. What a relief to realize it was only a squirrel on a telephone wire outside the window behind me. I took a deep breath as my heart resumed beating. I felt embarrassed by my reaction even though nobody was there to see it. Then, in that unguarded moment God began to speak to my heart.
The squirrel startled me because I didn’t realize it was there… but God knew it was there. I felt like God was saying “I’m completely aware of every detail of that little creature’s life, the coming and going, searching for food… every single detail. How much more, then, am I aware of the details of your life?” It was like the ‘squirrel version’ of Matthew 10…
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
Within moments I went from being startled by a squirrel to being deeply moved by God’s overwhelming love. I went back to playing the piano and without even thinking sang the first lines of the song…
I see the sparrow fall from the sky. These little creatures cannot escape my eye.
I continued to play and sing as the song poured out effortlessly. In 30-40 minutes Rest In Me was complete. I decided it was just a simple little song between me and God and that I wouldn’t be sharing it with anyone.
In my next post I’ll explain why I changed my mind.
Filed under: Leadership, Spiritual Formation | Tags: influence, leadership, obedience, Romans 12:1-2, transformation
Today is the first day of school for my kids. After the typical photo shoot and goodbyes with my daughters I had some time with my son whose classes start later. I decided that breakfast was a great opportunity to discuss some basics of leadership with him. I already see his leadership ability and I want to encourage that gift and channel it in the right direction. During the conversation I asked him to explain the difference between the head and the tail in the animal world. He looked at our dog sprawled across the kitchen floor and said “The tail has a butt under it but the head has a chest under it.” I guess you never know what to expect when asking a 10 year old boy a question. We went on to discuss how the head always determines the direction of the tail and not the other way around. We talked about how everyone is either influencing or being influenced. I prayed with him and asked God to make him a leader and influencer at school this year. I prayed that he would be the head and not the tail.
Filed under: Spiritual Formation | Tags: choices, consequences, death, Romans 6:23, sin
Cheerful title, huh? This is not a warm and fuzzy blog post but I hope you’ll read it.
Over the weekend my wife defrosted our upright freezer which sits in our garage. I was reminded of an incident several months prior when I was getting a loaf of bread out of that freezer. I reached into the lower freezer bin and saw something disgusting… a dead mouse. Somehow it had gotten into the freezer, ripped a hole in a bag of bread, eaten as much as it could and died right there on the spot. I guess our freezer door was accidentally left open an inch or so (a frequent mishap) and the hungry little mouse took advantage of the situation… or so it thought. Interestingly the mouse died beside the bread and not the door. There were no scratches indicating an attempt to escape. It appeared that when the door was shut the mouse just kept enjoying the bread. With the rise and fall of blood sugar levels and the onset of hypothermia it probably paused to take a nap between fillings. The nap was permanent.
Once I got past the disgust of a dead mouse in my freezer the spiritual implications hit me. The incident is a vivid picture of how we often deal with sin. We’re quick to indulge in it while ignoring God’s Word and the danger signs. Romans 6:23 makes it clear that the wages of sin is death but like the mouse we think, “Just a little is okay!” or “Just a little more and then I’ll stop!” We’re oblivious to the fact that it’s killing us. It numbs us to reality without our even knowing it. Our spiritual senses become dull. We think we’re in control but we’re not. The deception leads to more poor decisions. We bring pain and destruction upon ourselves and those around us. It feels great at first but eventually we have to face the consequences. For some, the destruction is permanent. For others, recovery is possible but grueling. For some there is only partial recovery. Although God forgives completely we often have to live with the consequences of our sin. For all, the situation is avoidable.
So if you’re indulging in sin right now, this just might be your wake-up call.
Filed under: Spiritual Formation, Worship | Tags: be still, calm, devotions, dogs, faith, guidance, lightning, peace, prayer, reassurance, storms, stress, thunder, trials, trust
It happened again. Turbulent storms pushed their way through middle Tennessee with torrential rains, deafening thunder and dramatic lightning.
I love storms but my dog doesn’t. She paces back and forth, hides under tables and my keyboard (think music not computer) and sometimes she even drinks from the toilet if we forget to put the seat down. I know that’s gross but humans have peculiar ways of dealing with stress, too. Last night as our beautiful Lab/Husky paced the floor I tried to calm her. I petted her gently and spoke in a calm, reassuring voice. I told her everything was going to be alright. She didn’t believe me. Actually, she had no idea what I was saying. She was completely focused on the violent thunder and lightning. Her tail, which normally wags with happy-go-lucky delight, was pointed straight down as she paced and panted. I wanted so badly to calm her but I couldn’t get through to her. I knew everything was going to be okay but I had absolutely no way of conveying that truth. It was sad. I was sad.
Then it hit me. Could this be how God feels toward us at times? He’s promised to take care of us and meet our needs. He’s promised to never leave us or forsake us. He’s promised to finish the work he began in us. But we can only hear the thunder and see the lightning. We’re focused on what the checkbook or the evening news or the doctor is telling us, shouting at us. Sometimes, many times, the voices are also internal.
But it’s all lies. He’s standing there waiting and wanting to reassure us, calm us, quiet our hearts. He wants to give us a peace that passes all understanding. If only we would turn to him. If only we would ask. If only we would receive. But on we go in our struggle and stress. We pace, we worry, we fret. We listen to the voices, but not his voice. If only we would tune everything out we would hear him. We’d hear that still, small voice whisper three simple words.