Archive for February, 2017

matt10Yesterday, I wrote about not falling in love with our creations. I want to elaborate on it a little more today with a real life story. I’ve written about this first part before. What I am doing now, the speaking, the live painting, the storytelling, making videos, all of it feels very much like the fulfillment of a childhood dream. I was the kid who did the little plays for my younger sister and cousin. I was always making pictures and telling stories and doing puppets and ventriloquism when I was really young. My first pay check was for a dollar, for doing my ventriloquist/impression act for the Bernville Women’s Club when I was six. Then life happened. In school I was a human target and before long anything that made me stand out was something to be feared and avoided. By the time High School came around, I was terrified to speak in public and that dream was dead forever, or so I thought.

But one dream remained. I could make art. I was always pretty good at it. I now know it was a God-given gift, back then it just felt like the one thing I could do that wasn’t put down. I thought I would be a professional artist, perhaps a designer or illustrator, but my parents tried to stifle that. I do not hold this against them. They were looking out for me and they knew that to would be hard to make a living in the field. I went to school in an unrelated field, but when it became clear that track wasn’t going to work, I started to hustle and began eking our a living as an artist/designer. I even had some level of success, and while I never made a lot of money, I did get to do a few pretty high profile projects and somewhere in the midst of all that, I came to Christ. Here’s where it gets interesting. My art career began to be in conflict with my faith. It was fast becoming an idol. I fought this conviction for a long time. The reason for this was simple. I was in love with my plan. I was an artist, it was my identity. It was all I was good at and it was all I wanted to do.

The battle raged on and, no surprises here, God won. I came to the end of myself and I laid down my dream. My call to ministry was almost instantaneous but, to be honest, it seemed absurd. Public speaking was still a major fear for me, and it’s sort of a vital skill in ministry. None of it made sense, but God was at work. Through a series of developments, which will make this story way too long, God made the connection between art and ministry in my life. In the process, I began to tell stories, paint live and do all the stuff I was doing today. Please understand this, to be a professional artist, was a lesser dream than what God had in store for me, but in order to get to that point, I had to lay down what I knew and plunge into the great unknown. Today I have a better, happier, more fulfilling life than I could have ever known, but to get there, I had to fall out of love with my dream and love God more. I often wonder if that was what Jesus meant when He said, “Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it.”

Hold your plan loosely and your God tightly. He will make a way.


Wow this sounds pessimistic. I better explain myself. One of my favorite shows to watch is Shark Tank. Entrepreneurs come into a room to pitch their products to millionaires and billionaires in the hopes of securing a deal and partnership to take their products and businesses to the next level. As a creative, I find this so fascinating. There is one thing that never ceases to amaze me though—the people who have fallen in love. Not with other people, but with their products.

Here’s what I mean. They go into the tank to speak with all these amazing business people and the “sharks” instantaneously find huge problems with the product. The product for one reason or another just will not work. Even watching from the comfort of my home, with a near total lack of expertise, the problems are obvious. The idea is dead. Time to go back to the drawing board. But no, the person is so in love with their creation that they will not give it up. They’ve usually sunk obscene amounts of money into it, often even put themselves in danger of financial, and sometimes relational, ruin but they just don’t care. They love their idea so much that they can’t see it won’t work.

Now I am all about being “all in.” Commitment is a powerful thing and if you don’t believe in yourself and your work, it is likely that no one else will, but even so, there come a time when we have to be honest with ourselves and say this just isn’t working. At this point it’s time to re-focus our efforts and our resources and move on to the next thing. This is wisdom. We can’t afford to fall too far in love with our ideas. The best plan is often to take your idea to the point where others can see it, and understand it and then share it with people we trust, allowing them to be brutally honest. At this point, we should be able to see if this is an idea whose time has come or if it’s back to the drawing board. Better to do it this way than to sink valuable time and resources into something that will never work because of an emotional attachment.

Our ideas are not our children. Don’t fall in love with them.

vangoghs-heartOn Saturday, I did a paint party for 13 women in a church not too far from mine. I have a usual list of the pieces I teach, but the person bringing me in was wondering if she could “order off menu” so to speak. She was wondering if I might be able to do something with a heart. I thought how hard could it be to do a painting with a heart? Well it took five paintings to get one I really liked. I finished it a few hours before the party. Yes I was cutting it close. I call it The Heart of Van Gogh. I was a little nervous about this party. Usually I know these painting like the back of my hand before I present them. Add to that the fact that I had come down with a pretty bad cold the day before and was feeling awful. This had all the makings of a very bad day. It wasn’t.

My wife Dawn prayed for me before I went to the party and by the time I got there I was feeling okay. As the party proceeded, I felt even better. When we started the party, the ladies were wonderful, kind and receptive. I was starting to have fun with them. Then as I was mingling through the room I heard one of the women say, “This is the best thing we’ve ever done.” I’m sure it was a little exaggerated, but it blessed my heart just the same. I don’t say this to boast, or to book more painting parties (though if you want one, contact me). No, I say this to remind us all of something very important. We will not always have an easy time or perfect conditions. Sometimes the idea takes too long to come, sometimes you get sick. A world full of things can happen, but one thing I know.

God is faithful.

Let me start here. I love the Bible. I have read it through like a novel (cover to cover) several times and have also done a few Bible reading plans. This should come as no surprise to people who know me because I am a minister. That being said, I also know that for many people, reading the Bible is a daunting task. Let’s start with the obvious. It’s a huge book. It’s a collection of books written over a long period of time, the books are not chronological and there are a few points where novice readers get stuck, such as Leviticus, the instructions on the Tabernacle. etc. This often causes them to give up.

Enter The Story. The folks who compiled it did a masterful job of making this sort of Scripture collage urning the Bible into one unified story. Composed of actual verses from the NIV Bible with the occasional narration (Set in a different font to avoid confusion) to move the story along, this book would give a novice reader a really nice handle on “the greatest story ever told” and as such I highly recommend it. There are also study questions for each chapter to take the reader even deeper.

Now just to be clear this is not a Bible not should it replace reading the actual Bible, but if you’ve ever been stuck trying to read through the Scriptures or if you’re confused about how and when things happened, this book is for you. Also if you have someone in your life who is curious about Christ, faith and the Bible, this would be a nice way to introduce them to the Lord. I thoroughly reading this in my devotions for the last month or so. I highly recommend this.

There are times when this question is asked in anguish. This isn’t one of those times. This time it just comes out of a mild frustration. Yesterday I shared about the struggles with creating a painting for the context of a paint party. I shared this to deal with the importance of the context of our creativity, i.e. why are we creating and for whom? But there’s something else that really gets my goat and makes me ask, “Why, God, Why?”

Here it is. The painting that became the black canvas was beautiful in my mind. It would have been one anyone, at least anyone who likes that genre of art, would have loved to hang on their walls. I could see it clearly, the issue was, I could not make my hands create it. Somewhere in the 40 inches between my brain and my right hand (approximately) something got lost in the translation. It’s the great frustration for me in art. I can’t always seem to make something look as beautiful as it is in my head. “Why, God, Why?”

There’s only one conclusion that I can come to and I share this to hopefully alleviate your frustration. Here it is, are you ready? Nobody’s perfect. We’re not yet perfect. We will be in heaven, but we;re not in heaven yet. Here on earth, things get lost in translation, but maybe that’s okay. The fact that I can’t always capture what I see in my mind will name one of a couple things happen:

First it might make me give up on the piece. I’m not a fan of giving up, but let’s face facts. We creatives get a lot of ideas, but they’re not all good ones. Sometimes a failure is a way of showing us it’s time to let it go in for of an idea that will be more successful and work better. Don’t let a failure make you give up all creating, but sometimes it’s okay “paint the canvas black” and start over.

Look for the lesson. In this case, a failed painting inspired not one, but two blog posts that will go out to a world wide audience and hopefully help a few people to realize they’re not the only one who has these struggles.

It might make you press on. Sometimes the idea is really inspired and the frustration of not being able to actually make it happen forces us to try harder–to practice more—to develop out gifts until we can make what we see in our heads into reality.

The point once again is that failure is not fatal. We can always learn from our mistakes and move forward. The answer to the question, “Why, God, Why?” is not always apparent, but, especially in the case of our creative endeavors, there is a reason and it is a good reason because God is always good. In the case of my failed painting, I wasn’t that attached to the idea so when it crashed and burned, I was more than willing to let it go. It’s not a paint party idea, at least for now. I may try to render it as a drawing, or a piece of digital art, maybe even a coloring page where it can be more successful, but for the moment, I’ll doodle a little sketch to come back to it later and I’ll move on to what’s next.

Speaking of what’s next, I’d imagine my paint is dry enough to finish the piece and see if this one makes it or if I’m back to the drawing board. Creating is not always easy, but God is always good. Remember that and create something great today.

It took me about an hour. It didn’t start as a black canvas. No, it was supposed to be a new paint party painting. You see I’m doing a painting party on Saturday night for a nice church in my area. I have a few standard paintings that I do in paint parties. They are paintings I know I can paint and teach in the allotted time. They are easy enough that most people can pull them off and have something they are proud of, or at least happy with, when they’re done. This time however the person bringing me in wanted a different design.

Before I go any further, this is not a complaint about the client. What she wanted seemed easy enough. She even sent me a couple of pictures from Pinterest to inspire me. These spawned some pretty unique ideas in my mind. They were quite different from what she showed me but I was confident she would like it, and I set about to make what I was seeing in my head into a reality. I couldn’t do it. About a half hour into the process, I began to see that what I was doing was far too complicated to teach and quite frankly it was kind of ugly. I kept going. Paintings, like most people, go through an awkward stage at different points in their development. I thought maybe this one was salvageable. But around the hour mark, I started to realize it was going nowhere.

First of all for me to teach a painting in a two hour session, I have to be able to paint it myself in 45 minutes to an hour. I’m a confident, experienced artist and most of the people in the pant parties are not. I charge in, they’re usually tentative. A painting that wasn’t finished at about the hour mark is probably not going to fly. A painting that is still “awkward” at that point in time will not be fun for anyone else. So I did what I always do when a painting is dying on the easel. I smooth it off and paint it black. It’ll end up being used for a live painting at my church at some point in the future. (Canvasses are too expensive to waste.)

Why do I share this? The context you’re working in matters. Had I had hours and days to work on that painting to hang on someone’s wall, I’m confident I could have made it a gorgeous piece that someone would have loved. The thing is, I’m not making a masterpiece here. I am making a piece I can teach to a group of people in two hours or less and it wasn’t working. It would do me no good to try to tweak it to make it “pretty.” I had to do something that was a little more accessible. My goal in these paint parties is to help people to have a good time and relax–to remove the fear a lot of people have about making art, in hopes that they will enjoy the process.. Further, I hope that some will discover a love for painting and develop their own gifts. For that reason, I went back to the Pinterest examples to inspire a different take and tried again. As I write this, I am waiting for the paint to dry on that piece so I can do the final details. I’m not sure I am happy with this one either, but I think when the details are done, I’ll be happy. Otherwise it’ll become another black canvas. I hope not.

When you’re creating, the context for which you are creating is huge. Keep that in mind as you work. Time is precious and sometimes black canvasses take a long time to paint.

wpihatYesterday was a great day. About a month ago, my dad came to me saying about how he can’t find anything with the logo of the school he graduated from. My dad earned his living my entire life as a machinist toolmaker. He got his training from a school which was absorbed by Penn State a few months after he graduated (1960) and at that point it more or less ceased to exist. He’s actually a Penn State graduate but he really wished he could have something from the school he actually attended. Well I decided to try to see what I could do. I found a very pixelated copy of the logo online, took it into Photoshop and reproduced it, then through the magic of, I made it into a hat and a t-shirt. It came out great, I gave it to him yesterday. He said there was probably not another one of these in the world, and I said I guarantee it. He was thrilled, so thrilled, he called me again last night, just to thank me. It was kind of a great moment.

Why do I share this? Because our creative gifts allow us unique opportunities to bless other people. We can generate things that other people may not be able to create. This gives us tremendous power to do good. Sometimes we just need to be paying attention and looking for those opportunities. Who can you bless? Maybe you can do a portrait for a loved one or just a special, well thought out card, for someone whose day needs to be brightened.
There are few things that feel as good as being a blessing. I think that’s why we’re blessed.

What can you do to be a blessing?