Archive for the ‘Thoughts on art ministry and life’ Category

So the other week I spoke at a wonderful Christian Writer’s Conference. It was the first time I had spoken outside of my church all year because of COVID. I felt a little rusty but I was prepared and it didn’t take long to hit my stride. I ran a little longer than I planned, which I attribute to the rustiness, but I got a lot of great comments when it was over. It went well over all.

The other day I got an email that held all of my evaluations. Overall they were good. Four tens, three nines, two or three eights (one commenting I went a little long, guilty!) two sevens which hurt a little, but someone gave me a 4… A 4!!!!! How did I get a 4? I mean come on, a four says things like “You’re worthless” “You stink” or “That was 45 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.” My first thought was, “You’ll never be invited back!” followed by “Should I go back, if I am invited.” Of course I would go back, I love this conference and it has blessed me tremendously, but a four hurt. That’s not even average.

Then I started to wonder about who would rank me that low. I mean this was in a place filled with creative people. I tailored the message to the audience. I tried to overflow with encouragement. I’ve been looking for what my next long form presentation would be, and after that presentation I thought this would be the one that I would expand, I was even considering making it my next book, and then I got the four. Who would give me a four?

Why am I writing this? I hope you’re seeing it because this is an affliction that afflicts many creative people. I got a lot of great comments and some really good numbers. I got four tens, but that was all eclipsed by a four. Understand that’s a choice. We get to choose where we focus. Some of the mid-range numbers should make me want to shift and adjust, but if I take one four over four tens, maybe I deserve to hurt. I don’t know what was going on with the person who gave me the four. The conference director was very kind, constructive and helpful,
many people were constructive and appreciative.

Do yourself a favor. Check yourself on the fours, but don’t ignore the tens. Focus on the positive, keep improving and stay encouraged. Oh and one other thing. When it’s your turn to be an evaluator, be honest, but be kind. Some day the show will be on the other foot. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t a four!

I was out on a long prayer walk this morning and had a few thoughts that I thought I would share. If I look like I am extremely sweaty, it’s because I was extremely sweaty, but I felt like I had to get it recorded right away. I pray it blesses you.

I was listening to a YouTube video of Michael W. Smith’s version of Everywhere I Go I See You. I love that song. Somewhere in this midst of this lyric video that someone cobbled together there was a photo of three crosses. I’m not sure why it struck me, after all I’ve seen that type of photo a million times, but, for some reason, it did. It wasn’t unusual, the middle one, the one Jesus would have been on, was slightly higher than the rest. I wonder was it really that way. I mean we Christians perceive it should be higher than the rest, but did a bunch of pagan Roman executioners get the significance of what they were seeing? I doubt it. Yes I know later in the day a centurion did, but the executioners? I still kind of doubt it.

The second thing I noticed was that the center cross is ever so slightly askew. That struck me as somewhat odd. Needless to say, the one in the photo is a modern construction and not the original, and yet there was something striking in the “askew-ness.” The cross was not built for permanence. When Jesus was taken down, someone else was probably put up. The cross didn’t have to be perfect, it didn’t have to be permanent, it just had to kill. On that day, most people didn’t get the significance and they surely didn’t see the permanence, but on that day everything changed. Jesus changed the narrative. A cruel instrument of death, became a symbol of life and peace and for those who place their faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross, everything changed forever. A temporary structure, was used to create a new permanence. Life forever for all who believe.

Embrace the permanence of life in Christ.

Confession time. I have been angry and frustrated over all things COVID for quite some time now. I’ve looked with doubt at politicians and media sources. I have swallowed a few too many conspiracy theories and I have been frustrated. Bottom line, I’ve been doing a lot of asking why. If you’re a regular reader here, you know I’ve posted a few things on this, but I’ve decided, (and I can only do this with the Lord’s help) to stop. You see, in prayer I have seen a new question.

A few weeks ago, in our Zoom Bible study, we got into a good discussion of the permissive will of God. I’ve come to the conclusion that God brings some things upon us and the enemy brings other things upon us, but nothing happens without God’s allowing it to happen. Well today a new thought crossed my mind. Chief among my frustrations with this whole COVID situation has been the inability to worship the Lord with a body of believers, but hear me out, God allowed that to happen. The question then is why? Why would God effectively allow corporate worship to be shut down? Please resist the urge to write me a response to my question. The question isn’t for you. The question is one we, especially we who are church leaders, need to be asking God.

I was going to place some suggested reasons here, but I felt some pretty strong leading not to do that. Instead I urge us all to spend some time on our faces before God asking that question.

If you want to see something that is truly a dichotomy, look at my Facebook feed. Being an artist and a minister will do that. The thing is I really care about all of these people, but at times it feels like I’m being drawn and quartered, but most of the time, it just feels like something I grew quite used to in my teenage years. I don’t really fit in anywhere. On one hand I see the liberal Christians I know, lauding our churches being shut down due to COVID as a badge of honor and those who want to open as if they are committing an act of violence. All I can say is I miss my people. I’m doing online services and trying my best to minister, but my most at risk people from COVID are the ones I can do the least for. I can’t visit, and the best I can deliver for them is a phone call and, as a worship experience, cobbling my sermon notes together into a letter they can read. That breaks my heart.

Then on the other side, the more conservative folks are posting things. like this quote from Steven Lawson which stated “Stop with the secular wisdom from the pulpit. Cancel the entertainment in the church. Fire the drama team. Get rid of the schtick. Unplug the colored lights. Put the pulpit in the center of the building. Stand up like a man, open the Bible, lift it up, let it out and let it fly.” Now two things, first of all I’ve never heard Mr. Lawson, and I know nothing about him. Secondly, I agree with some of what he said here, but when he speaks to firing the drama team, I just want to cringe. Now before we go any further, when it comes to God’s Word, I am pretty conservative. I believe the Bible is inerrant and that unless otherwise noted, the Bible says what it means and means what it says. Mr. Lawson’s approach will work just fine in a room full of established believers. The problem is a church should not necessarily ever be full of established believers. We should be constantly reaching beyond the walls and people need to be met where they are. Further, one day I will stand before God to give an account. What will I say when God asks me why He gave me a whole bunch of talented people that could have been used mightily to reach those people?

Now to be clear, I will never hold a church service where God’s Word is not preached, ever, but part of my responsibility is to find the gifted and help them to use their gifts to serve the Lord. After all, I am a walking illustration of how that works. I was dwelling on these thoughts as I was walking this morning and I started to pray. I was taken to an unusual place, to my favorite band from my teenage years, long before I was a believer. The band is Rush. I loved that band. When it seemed everyone else was trying to feed me a diet of sex, drugs and rock and roll, Rush was giving me classic literature, complex stories, Greek mythology and more. The song I was led to was their epic, full side of an album song Hemispheres. The opening lyrics say, “When our weary world was young, The struggle of the ancients first began.The gods of Love and Reason, Sought alone to rule the fate of Man.” Yes it’s mythology. Yes, I only believe in one God and yet, this is the battle—science vs. faith, heart vs. mind. What people tend to ignore is we are all led by both. The object of my faith is the Creator of science, and I am commanded to love Him with all my heart, soul and mind. He is the Lord of both heart and mind. He is Creator. He is the greatest theologian and the greatest artist. To love Him is to love all of Him. He is Lord of heart and soul and mind. Why should I put Him in a box?

Maybe that’s why I was drawn to the song this morning. Now it’s not a Christian song by any stretch of the imagination. What it is, is an amazing work of art. The song expresses the battle between heart and mind. It shows how when one is emphasized over the other, both sides are weakened. In the song, there is a person in the midst of this battle who sees something better— balance. Heart and mind together, and the gods of Olympus promote him to being Cygnus, the god of balance. Now I know I titled this piece Am I Cygnus? Let me first off state, that I have no desire to be a god, nor do I have any illusions toward that, but what if God has given me the gifts and talents and, dare I say, passions He has given to, in some small way, bring balance? And what if I’m not alone. What if there are a lot of us out here, who don’t always fit, but who have a calling to minister from both heart and mind? What if we refuse to be either/or, but to proclaim the truth of the unchanging Gospel with all of our gifts and talents? What if that’s why we don’t fit?

Lately, I’ve been having some trouble sleeping. It’s not surprising given all that’s going on. The dialog going on in my head is the problem. I try to pray but the combination of fatigue and distraction make it difficult to concentrate. I think about all that is going on in the world and all that I am hearing from so many quarters, from the uninformed to the informed that I doubt are telling me the truth. I think of the death toll. It’s small compared to even things like the flu and so I wonder why the lockdown? At the same time, I realize that any loss of life is hard and affects many. I start to wonder if I’ll ever just be able to take my wife to dinner, sitting in a restaurant again, and how in the midst of social distancing if we’ll ever be allowed to worship together. I know it’s only been about a month and a half, but on the other hand it’s been a month and a half. There was a big protest at our capitol here in Pennsylvania. The usual suspects are condemning them, but a little voice in my head wonders if they’re right. I hear business moguls talking about prevention methods that sound more like Nazi Germany or number of the beast than the America I know and want to live in. I wonder who, if anyone is behind this mess and what should be done to them if they’re found out. I think of friends and family in business who will have a very hard time weathering this storm. What can I say? Right now inside my head can be a very scary place, especially in the middle of the night. Add to that the condemning voice that wonders what kind of man of God would be wrestling with this, and you might understand the insomnia.

But it’s about this time that they prayers break through, and I hear other words. “David, David,” (think Martha, Martha, if you’re familiar) “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” It’s the story of an overwrought hostess, who is trying to get all her ducks in a row when she notices her sister and main helper, Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, hanging on His every word and Martha is irate, so irate that she goes to yell at the guest of honor. The above phrase was His response to her and, I think, to me. See the bottom line is most of the thoughts above are none of my business. If there is a conspiracy, the conspirators have already been caught by the ultimate righteous judge. He has all of this under control and none of it is my job.

What is my job is the one thing, the thing that Mary chose. Sitting at the feet of Jesus. See what our world needs right now is Jesus. Not conspiracy theories, not panicking preachers calling everything out. No the world needs what (who) it has always needed. We need Jesus and in this time of separation, we need people who are creative and who know the technology, doing what it takes to share His love. In short this is my one thing. In a sea of things over which I am powerless, this is the thing that I can do, so this is what I must do.

After this, I slept.

My friends at Delta Lake Bible Conference had some of their speakers make encouragement videos and I asked if I could do one. A few of these graphics and part of the story made it into my sermon to this week.
I hope it encourages you too.

Well I dropped the ball today. I saw something in an area that is one of my pet peeves related to truth in media. Of course, it touched off a firestorm. So what did I do? I killed it. You might want to ask why, you might even think it was cowardly. Maybe it was, but here’s the thing. I can’t speak for you, but I live in two separate worlds. There’s he arts world and the closely related world of my past life, which I count as one. To be clear, I love those folks and am glad they are in my life. I also have my new life, my ministry and all that is attached to that. I love those people too and am glad they are in my life. I can honestly say that the only person I totally agree with all the time is my God, and that only because I know He’s God and when I disagree, I have to own the fact that He’s God so the problem is obviously me.

That being said, I’m pretty opinionated and sometimes I feel the need to speak up. Please know, I step back from most things and don’t even bother. Then sometimes I write a really eloquent post (to my mind at least) and then delete it without hitting send. When I actually do hit send, I’m usually pretty sure something needs to be said. Now if I was alone in this universe, there’s a better than even chance that I would go toe to toe and (verbally) fight it out. If I cared enough to hit send, I’m pretty secure in my rectitude. So why did I kill my post? Because when I see the people I love, on either side of my two world life, being mistreated by the other side, that’s a fight I am not willing to abide. Further, I feel I am in my ministry because God put me there, so my church folks are definitely off limits. There was a problem today, and the truth is, I started it, the moment I hit send. I want to fight back against my own statement and say, “I’m entitled to my opinion,” and it’s then that I need to step back and ask the question “Who am I and why am I here?”

My struggle today was with a media story. To my point of view, it was out of hand. To be clear, I still think it was. Now am I saying all people in the media are evil or dishonest? Beyond the Romans 3:23 definition that lumps them in with me and everyone else, no. As a matter of fact, a good friend of mine has a daughter in the media, and I’m sure she is a very fine and upstanding person. My issue is more with the fact that the vast majority of network news outlets will not admit their bias, and as a result they spin the story to advance their agenda, rather than just telling me what happened (that used to be their job). As you can see I am starting to slide back into it, so let me pull back and say it this way. I need to remember that I am not in this world to fix the media or politics, and thank God for that. Instead I need to stay in my lane. We live in a world that is asking Pontius Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” When He asked the question, the Truth, in the person of Jesus Christ, was looking him in the eye. That’s my lane. I’m not here to fix the media, or politics, or politicians, I’m here to represent the Truth that sets men free. He can fix what I can’t. Trying to fix it myself is arrogant at best and I am sorry.

I’m far from perfect. No doubt I will veer out of my lane many times, but if I’m not reflecting Christ. I’m not doing this right.

I wrote this for my church and thought I’d share it here.

We live in a world of great complexity these days. Everyone around us is telling us we need to be apart, by at least six feet and never in groups of more than ten. It sounds simple enough until you decide to go to work, or have a celebration, or be the church. That can be a real head scratcher. In these nearly unprecedented days, it begs the question “What do you do?” Now the answer to some is to rebel. I saw there was an arrest warrant issued for a pastor in Florida who kept his church open. Truth be known the church ended up being full. The comments ran the gamut from a man standing for our constitutional rights to everything that is wrong with the church. I will leave that up to His God to decide. At Springfield we have taken a different tack.

Part of what makes this complex is we have a pretty clear Scriptural command. Some will say you can worship God anywhere, and that is true and you should, but the Bible also says in Hebrews 10:25: “Do not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” It seems pretty clear that the Bible is telling us that gathering for worship is not just important, it’s commanded, especially when the world, and the church for that matter, are in need of encouragement in a way I can scarcely remember in my lifetime, as least sing 9/11. So how can we be together when we can’t be together. It seems to me we need to learn to be together/apart.

For example, one of the things that brings people together is shared experiences. It is for this reason that we have started to share our services on line. Our facility is such that wi-fi does not work particularly well. Old buildings with two foot thick walls tend to not be as conducive to bouncing signals off of satellites. For this reason, live streaming is not really a good option, but nonetheless we can make sure that everyone hears the same message and sees the same images. For those who do not have internet access, we mail the messages so that they too can keep up with what’s going on.

Another way to be together apart is to have our Bible study on Zoom, which we are also doing. That way we can have some face to face contact even though we are separated by quite a few miles. We are also making efforts to connect more via social media and my hope is in creating all this very sharable media, that we are also creating tools to take the Gospel beyond our walls.

Other than that we have to go with the old tried and true methods. We can call each other, write letters and send cards. Now I’ll be the first to admit, none of these solutions is perfect, but what is in a pandemic situation? All of us are learning as we go. We will get some things right and we will get some things wrong. My prayer is that nothing we do will go too wrong. Please know, we’re trying, even as we pray this soon comes to an end. I long for the day when we can worship together again, but until them, There may be a “shelter-at-home” order in place, but we can still stay connected and if we do that, we can still be together even when we’re apart.

I’ve been hearing this story a lot lately. The idea is pretty simple. Sometimes the best way to move forward is to eliminate the possibility of turning back. Here’s a little tip, the way forward very rarely involves going backwards. Where in your life do you need to burn the boats?