Archive for February, 2018

As you may or may not know, in addition to all the art and creative work that I do, I am a pastor at a church here in Pennsylvania. As such this is one of the busiest times of the year, working through the Lenten season coming up to Easter. This year in addition to the Biblical teaching I am doing, I am creating short videos for my congregation (and the rest of the world, via YouTube) about the traditions around the holiday. I thought I would share this with you as well.

I created this video after wondering, why does Easter seem to fall on a different day every year, and deciding to share what I found. I hope you like it.

If you read my title and got offended, you’re not reading it right, but at least you’re here, please read on. I saw it again on social media and it was maddening. A friend posted a study showing the correlation between making music and brain development in children. I used to work for a music education non-profit and one of the things I struggled with was the felt need to associate the study of music with other things, mainly increased test scores. Even though I understood the need to quantify things, and I didn’t hold it against the teachers, it always bothered me that teaching kids to make music wasn’t enough for some people in our culture. People acted as music in and of itself didn’t have enough value. Whatever happened to art for art’s sake?

Well (pardon the pun) I’ve changed my tune somewhat. I now question if art for art’s sake even exists. Think about it. Do people really make art just for the sake of making art, or is there something more? I mean at the very least, people make art to express something that’s going on inside them, or to comment on something in our world. As such, their work isn’t art for art’s sake, the work has a greater purpose, art for expression’s sake. At the moment I am wearing a shirt that shows the work of one of my favorite artists, Jim Henson’s Kermit the Frog. His early work with Sesame Street could be argued to be art for education’s sake and his later work was art for the sake of entertainment, communication, and sometimes art for the sake of provoking thought. Many artists do similar things. Even abstractionists usually often make their nonrepresentational work to convey emotion. Of course there are also those who do their work for the sake of commerce, and I refuse to put them down. I have taken projects at times solely for the money and I say that without apology. Everything in the arts costs money and those projects made possible other work that I otherwise could no have afforded to do.

So I don’t know if there’s art for art’s sake, so instead I determined to do (as much as is possible) art for Christ’s sake. After all, at the end of the day, He gave us this ability for that purpose. Our gifts and talents have been entrusted to us largely for the purpose of knowing Him and making Him known. Think about it. In making us creative, God gives us a small glimpse of what it’s like to be Him, in a small way calling into being that which was not. With these gifts we can spur one another on to love and good deeds, we can communicate the Gospel. We can express God’s love to the people around us. We can give the world a glimpse of His glory. So whatever you do, whatever your discipline, check your motivation. Ask yourself why you do what you do and then make art for Christ’s sake.

Well one of the heroes of the faith has gone home to be with the Lord. I for one am grateful for the example this man set in his decades of ministry. He was a man who lived largely above reproach, spoke truth to power and was used to change the lives of many. Thank you Dr. Graham. May we all leave a legacy of faith and faithfulness like you did.

for my Masterpiece paint parties that is… I just came up with a new floral design to teach at the parties. I call this one A Pop of Spring. What do you think?

So a friend of mine reposted a meme that said this:

“School shootings wouldn’t happen if god were allowed in school”
Does god keep pedophilia out of church, tho…”

I wanted to get angry, but mainly I was hurt. I wanted to lash out, but in doing that, I would have been adding to the noise. Instead I decided to try to explain how I see things. First of all God is allowed in schools, the students just have to bring Him with them. We adults are not allowed to impose our faith on the kids, but the kids have the freedom to express their faith, at least for the most part. Secondly, we need to remember that God does not impose faith upon us. He doesn’t force us to follow Him, He invites us into relationship with Him. This is also, in a sense, part of the problem.

The meme above implies that God would impose His will on us, forcing us to obey. Were that the case, there would be truth in the meme, but He doesn’t force us. He loves us and He wants us to choose to love Him. No, the reason the above things happen is because we are in the midst of an unseen, supernatural war, fought by an enemy who wants to separate us from the God who loves us and in the midst of that battle, is the church.

I’m a pastor. The reason the meme upset me, is because I know and love the people I serve and I can honestly say they would go to great lengths to protect a kid, as would I. People who post a meme like the one above, would expect that the church welcome anyone, with any set of problems into the church with open arms, and they would be the first to blast us if we didn’t, and that expectation is probably justified, but you can’t have it both ways. I often say the church is like an airport, everybody enters dragging their own baggage (including me). Combine that with the fact that we are under constant spiritual attack and you can see the struggle and by the way the better we do, the more intense the attack. The enemy is fierce.

The meme would say that means God (and prayer) is ineffective (or non-existent) but this is not the case. Rather free will sometimes wreaks havoc both within the church and outside our walls. Most Christians are not self-righteous jerks, and the ones who are are not following our humble Savior. Most Christians are people who’ve found the love of God and try to make a difference, realizing our brokenness and recognizing the great love, grace and mercy God has shown us. God is still completely good, all-powerful and effective, but people still get to make choices. Our greatest hope is to submit our wills to God and when this happens, things change. Sadly this does not always happen. So what is the church to do? Turn our backs on the broken? No, the broken are at least part of why we’re here. You also have to keep in mind that people are often not forthcoming with their problems and the stuff we keep hidden is the stuff that kills us. The hidden stuff is also the hardest stuff to protect against, but we try and yes, I believe God helps us.

We do background checks, we have child protection policies in place, but the reality is those things are only somewhat effective. For example, if you had asked me ten years ago, I would have told you Jerry Sandusky was a hero and most people would have agreed. A man who rose to the top of his profession and started a charity that was helping hundreds or maybe even thousands of kids. It wasn’t until around 2011 when things came to light that we knew the truth. Before that he would have passed any background check. People like the person who created the meme would probably point out that Jerry Sandusky claimed he was a Christian. While I do my best never stand in judgment of anyone, Christians are supposed to be followers of Christ and he was not following any semblance of Christ’s example when he did what he did.

At the end of the day, bad stuff often happens because someone makes a bad choice and those choices often splatter. God loves us and gave His only Son to save us from our sins, but the choice is still ours and the battle rages on. The best we can do is to live to honor God and try to help as many as we can. Following the example of Jesus, an example of sacrificial love and righteousness (doing the right thing because it’s the right thing) is the best path we can take in this life. Free will guarantees bad things will still happen but God is good and can be trusted.

I made this video a couple years ago, but it’s still relevant. Functional Saviors are the things we trust in when we should be trusting in God. This video contains a sampling of those things. In our day where our culture seems to trust everything but Christ, this video bears repeating.

I should comment here that I made this during the Obama administration and so it features a quick picture of President Obama. It was not meant as any disrespect of him. I was merely stating that from the time the Israelites decided to be led by an earthly king rather than God all human leaders have been trying to do a job that only God can do. The crown was too big in the says of Saul, through the days of Obama and to the current time. It will remain so until the perfect King Jesus Christ returns. There is only one Savior, everyone and everything else will fail us, and to trust in anyone or anything else to save is, in fact, a form of idolatry.

Forget functional saviors and trust in the One true Savior, Jesus Christ.

Yesterday was the culmination of a really busy week. Lots of things got done, that I wondered if I could accomplish. I officiated a funeral for someone I had a huge amount of love and respect for. The words came somewhat difficultly, not because I had nothing to say, but because it was hard to pick the best things, to give him the service he deserved. It ended up going very well and for that I praise God.

Friday night, I spoke at a Jr. High Lock-in. The events of the week in the news, and especially the school shooting, made the words hard to come by once again. I wanted to give words of encouragement, but I also wanted to challenge the students that the way we treat others matters and can make a real difference in this world. I have always thought this was a huge part of my calling and am seeking more and more ways to deliver that message. The lock in also went really well, except for the fact that, at 54, staying awake all night is not as easy as it once was. I intended to go out to my van and sleep a few hours, but alarms on the doors of the facility made it difficult to get to my van and so I stayed up all night and tried to encourage the youth workers at the event in one on one conversation. Once again it was a good time of ministry.

Saturday, I went to bed and slept for about 5 hours before driving to church, to spend the night in hopes of being closer to church (My church is an hour from my home) when the impending snowstorm hit. I figured service might be cancelled, but I was prepared just in case. Well, the snow ended in the wee hours and the combination of good plowing and a beautiful sunny morning made it possible to have our service. I preached on a very timely and difficult topic, and it was very well received. Then I went home and took a nap.

Why do I share all of this? Because those were just some of the things that happened last week in this busy, busy life. A lot of work got done and a lot of thing were accomplished. I am convinced that on my own, I could not have finished it all, but God was faithful and I did my best to be faithful in response. The end result was everything got done and it went well to God’s glory. Tomorrow I jump back into everything again, but today I rest. I have to.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I could fill this time. We’re five weeks from Easter after all, and if Pastors had a Super Bowl, it would be Easter. There is much to be done for church, and I am booked with something every week beside my pastoral duties. There is a lot of creating to be done between here and there, but today I rest.

I know you’re busy, but are you resting? My week demonstrated something to me that every creative needs to remember. God is good and faithful and He comes through. He doesn’t need us but enjoys working through us. At the beginning of the week I didn’t know how it would all get done, but by the end of the week, it was done, because God came through. So today I rest. I have a leisurely pace, I’ll spend time in God’s Word, but I’ll resist the temptation to start studying for the sermon. Sometimes I need to let God just speak to me. I’ll take a prayer walk. I’ll do some reading and if I go into the studio it will be just for the sake of creating for joy. I will trust God to be faithful and deliver and I will acknowledge that my ministry is dependent on Him and not me. The same is true for every Christ-following creative.

Are you resting?

You need to.

I spent 16 years publishing and editing a magazine. Nearly a third of my professional life has been spent looking for typos and it’s sort of a force of habit by now. I can spot a typo heading down the road, out of the corner of my eye at 55+ miles an hour. I’m notorious for it at times, but there is one writer who can always get them by me, every single time no matter how often I look at their work. That writer is me. Now if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you are probably not surprised and at times autocorrect has not been my friend, but I am continually amazed how often I just plain miss things.

Case in point—I’m currently reading my own book, Enough. Now I have read this thing backwards, forwards and sideways, before I hit publish and I thought I had it pretty tight, and for the record, it is pretty tight, but it’s not flawless, and that drives me crazy and leaves me scratching my head and asking the age old question:

How did I miss that?

I know what you might be thinking, “Why didn’t you hire an editor?” Well the reality is the profit margin on a self-published books is relatively small (often non-existent), and editing fees would most definitely take the project way into the red, and besides “I edited for 16 years…” (I say to myself somewhat overconfidently). Still I ask myself, with all that experience, “How could I miss it these annoying little typos?” Let me see if I can answer my own question.

Have you ever met a child whose behavior is atrocious? Have you noticed the only one who doesn’t seem to notice is his parent? Why don’t they see it? I mean after all they have no problem seeing problems with other people’s kids. The reason is simple. They’re too close to it. They’re too familiar and so it is with our writing. We know what we’re trying to say so editing our own work is really hard. It’s easy to miss the flaws in something you’re really invested in.

So what can we do about it? Well maybe rather than paying an editor, you can find another author and d a swap. You read their book, they read yours. At least this will make your glaring errors stand out. Of course, in the publishing world, if you get a company to publish your book they will assign an editor or maybe even a team of editors to you, so that may be the way to go. Of course the issue with that is, you have to decide you’re okay with waiting to be picked, and that got old all the way back in my freelance days.

Now to be clear, the few thing I found are not horrendous, and the book is still really readable and probably the best thing I have ever written, the flaws are just annoying. I do hope you’ll read it. When I finish reading, I will probably take another run at editing. The nice thing about self-publishing is you can always make things better.

One last thought, nobody’s perfect (except Jesus), and I’d rather release and re-edit than withholding it until I achieve an unattainable perfection.

I love my kindle. Not only is it a great way to read, but it gives me ads suggesting other books to read. I’d been seeing ads for Union Station for month. It looked interesting, but based on the cover, I thought it would be a graphic novel, so I put it off. When I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas, I picked it up. Well I was wrong about it being a graphic novel, but I figured it would be sci-fi, and it is, well sort of. To be honest, this is a book like few I have read and I loved it. It’s not so much an action story as it is a story about relationships. It’s a very funny book, clean and well written. The reason I say it’s sort of sci-fi, is because it’s set on a space station and there are aliens and artificial intelligence beings all over the place, but what really sells this book is the relational stuff that happens as all these diverse beings learn to coexist in spite of some pretty vast cultural differences. As such this humorous little sci-fi series could be pretty important in life today.

That’s not to say it’s a morality play or a parable. At times it feels like a more lighthearted Hitchhikers Guide. It’s told from the perspective of Earth Ambassador Kelly Frank McAllister, who struggles to understand what her role is in the grand scheme of things at Union Station. The station is run by these sentient robotic AI beings called the Stryx who help her in the process while at times complicating her life. The characters are immensely well developed. The three books in this collection were a lot of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed these books, and I look forward to reading more in the series.