Archived entries

it may be hard, but it’s not brain surgery

You don’t need to be an expert. It’s not brain surgery. No one is going to die. Seriously.Go ahead, read a book, or don’t. Either way, it’s all going to be ok. Watch a documentary on Bob Dylan, or maybe Tom Petty – or perhaps, just forget you’ve ever heard of those guys, pick up your guitar and start singing.

When it comes to writing songs, there are a thousand reasons to remain a cover artist, a thousand reasons to never emerge from the bedroom, a thousand reasons to never begin – the most popular being that we don’t feel qualified. We have compared ourselves to the masters (Dylan, Petty, Springsteen) and in doing so, have found that magical reason to quit before we even start – we are just not that good.

three thoughts –

Don’t let fake pressure squash the creative impulse. No one is expecting you to write the next double platinum album. There’s not a competition going on here. No one is going to be let down if your first batch of songs doesn’t somehow go around the world.
Comparison is a killer. It’s like having a virus – invisible and silent, you don’t know you have it till you are already weakened by its presence.

No one starts off ‘good’. No one. Every master started off as a shaky mess – but the key that every master holds is desire. Desire that is bigger than one’s current deficiencies. Desire that is bigger than critical remarks. Desire that keeps a person digging until, at last, they find gold. The real question isn’t wether or not you are currently a good writer – the real question is do you want to get better? Desire to get better has a way of centering an artist in a place of humble truth. It acknowledges that improvement can be made. Many a writer never grew into their potential because they were overwhelmed by their lack of skill, but many more, because they were convinced that they had already arrived. Again, the real question is, do you want to get better?

There are lots of different kinds of good. There is no one standard for good writing. Sure, there are principles, but for every principle, there are three exceptions. Josh Ritter is an amazing writer. No one tells a story like he does. Few can pack multiple possible meanings into each sentence like Ritter. He’s a master. At the same time, Tom Petty is a master as well, but for totally different reasons. Petty has a way distilling the American Man down into a few words, complex emotions into a handful of syllables.

don’t come around here no more
don’t come around here no more
whatever your looking for
hey! don’t come around here no more

I point this out because, when comparing ourselves to the masters, we tend to compare ourselves to writers who exhibit the sort of brilliance that seems most elusive to us while ignoring the writers that we actually have a lot in common with.

Stop it! Just because you don’t write songs about mummies that come to life and end up killing the person who discovered them (Josh Ritter’s The Curse), which is really about searching your whole life for something, finding it, and then realizing that thing is going to be the death of you, it doesn’t mean that you are not a good writer. It just means you’re not Josh Ritter, and that’s totally ok.



something more is needed – L.L.&D. pt.3

This is part 3 in an ongoing series. If you need to catch up, you can – go HERE.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve tried to make the point that how we come to know something is perhaps more important than the bare facts that we accumulate. Meaning, just because a person can get all the answers right on a test, and by the way, its a test that will never be given, at least not in a direct question and answer form, that doesn’t mean a person really knows anything.

This is especially true in the church where most of our models for making disciples center around ‘educating’ people with the gospel. It’s little wonder that we have a church culture full of people able to give right answers, but powerless to display right answers. There are countless people who ‘know’ that God loves them, but precious few who feel it, and as a result, spend their entire lives performing for a Father who is already pleased.

It’s interesting to me that Jesus’ was able to reproduce his life in the disciples – supernatural healing and deliverance, anointed preaching, and sacrificial leadership that caused nearly every one of the twelve to die violent deaths for the sake of the gospel. This was not superficial transformation, it was all the way to the core.

Some of us might be tempted to think this sort of life, with threads of supernatural healing and character softened for giving, is a rich tapestry reserved for Jesus and the apostles, but the book of Acts reveals a different story altogether.

In Acts 9, it is Ananias, a mere ‘disciple’ from the church in Damascus who is used powerfully by the Holy Spirit to minister healing and salvation to the bewildered Paul. Ananias, obviously, wasn’t Jesus, wasn’t one of the apostles, and wasn’t even the pastor of the church in Damascus! He was just a disciple! One of the regular guys! Ananias is a powerful example of what it means to be a disciple.

Again, the methods we employ when making disciples are radically important. Consider this, Jesus never actually taught his disciples how to heal the sick or cast out demons, yet when he commanded them to preach the gospel and heal the sick, they were successful!

If we make discipleship primarily a school, a lecture based exercise, we’ll reproduce experts for sure, experts who with all the right answers, but void of life.

Something more is needed.



lab, lecture, and disciples pt. 2

Last week I started a new series that is pointed at our failing discipleship models in the Western, American church. You can check it out HERE.

The church in America has become message-centered, and by that I mean lecture. The center of the meeting for the evangelical church is when the pastor stands up and delivers the message. Again, there are several factors that have lead to this model:

1) Jesus did it! I mean, there’s so much that Jesus did that seems out of our reach, but at this one point in particular, we’re tracking. Well, sort of.

2) We’re Protestants! We got rid of the danged pope (no offense to the pope, who I’m sure could be a really good friend of mine if it just wasn’t for all of his bodyguards), which took a lot of arguing about doctrine, and preaching, and writing, and arguing (we’re Protestant for a reason, we were born in protest), and talking, and debating, and on and on and on. Invisibly, the center of gathered worship moved, based upon our values, from the body and blood of Jesus, to the message.

3) We’re enlightened! Certain cultural shifts have crashed upon us like great waves from the sea, and the enlightenment is one of them. We are all products of the scientific method, and scientific reason. The gospel was put under the microscope – examined, defined, labeled and studied. In the absence of experience, the miracles became myths, and an intellectual approach to faith in Jesus took root, one that exalts ideas – and ideas naturally gravitate towards ‘message’.

That said, the first step in reengaging disciples is to rightfully redefine ‘message’.

Jesus’ message was the gospel of the kingdom of God – and here’s the real point, it isn’t just confined to the words he spoke! When Jesus healed the leper in Mark 1, that was the message of the kingdom of God!

40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

We know the man was bold because he was willing to break the rules – the customs of the day disallowed him from having contact with other ‘non-lepers’. His desperate condition had driven him out of social constraints to the feet of Jesus. His own words reveal the mixed condition of his faith – certain that Jesus could do something, but unsure that he was willing.

And then, before Jesus speaks a word, he reaches out, filled with compassion, and touches the man – a man who has, presumably, not been touched by another person for some time, perhaps years! “I am willing. Be clean” And immediately, the man was cured.

This is the message! It’s more than words! It’s a God who is not only capable, but willing. It’s a God who is compassionate and merciful to rule-breakers. It’s a God who is not distant, but near, near to the point of touching desperate people. It’s a God who is not only concerned with the afterlife, but is just as concerned with this present life. It’s all the message!

We can’t simply reduce the words and message of Jesus to the letters that appear in red – as if what came out of Jesus’ mouth was more significant that the things he did!

Jesus is, after all, called the ‘logos’ – the word of God, and as a good friend of mine has pointed out, he IS the word of God, even when he isn’t speaking. Jesus was the word of God even when he was asleep in a boat in the middle of a storm – and that was the message!

In order to reproduce disciples who look like the master, we must recapture the masters message, the parts that he spoke, and parts that he demonstrated.

Lab and lecture!



lab, lecture, and disciples pt. 1

Just because you have read The Audacity of Hope doesn’t mean you know Barack Obama. And just because a person has read a flight manual doesn’t mean that person has any real clue about flying an airplane. Fact is, when it comes to flying an airplane, the person who has only read the flight manual is probably a good deal more dangerous than the person who has never studied such materials – if for no reason other than the unlearned person is fully aware of how little they actually know!

I bring it up because of the methods that are employed in discipling, or perhaps more accurately, not discipling, followers of Jesus. Almost all our methods are message-centered, and by message-centered, I mean lecture. In fact, our churches are designed for lecture – row after row of neatly arranged chairs all facing a stage where one or two, and at the very most, three or four people lecture, so that ‘learning’ can take place. This is precisely because our churches are genetically related to universities. And this genetic relationship exists precisely because of our values – ‘knowledge’ and ‘safety’. We want things that we can teach precisely in four, or perhaps six weeks, and we want the process to be safe – i.e., free from risk.

At this point, I would like to say that ‘knowledge’, and doctrine, and theology are all important – (I don’t know anyone arguing for a dumber gospel, myself included) but they are not nearly as important as the way in which they are learned. I would also like to say, as a father, and a pastor, that safety is a good thing too, but not at the expense of a risking culture that allows disciples to have the sort of life experiences that can grow real learning and knowledge.

There are untold thousands of Christians who can take the ‘God test’ and get all the answers right, but who remain unformed and unchanged. There are untold thousands of pastors who can accurately teach the theology of God’s omnipresence, but have never actually experienced the God who is everywhere all the time!

Where else would we settle for this sort of ‘knowledge’? Would anyone turn their car over to the mechanic who has only read the book on repairing transmissions? Or would a wise person look for a mechanic with a little grease beneath their fingernails? Could a person who has only read the book really, in all fairness, even be called a mechanic?

There is a process to becoming a mechanic, a kind of learning journey that allows a novice to get their hands dirty – and the process is at least as important as the principles that are accumulated along the way. Without this particular process, knowledge is reduced to mere facts, lacking the context for proper application. These kinds of facts are like asteroids flying through space, held in no particular orbit, destined for loss or collision, either way, unfruitful, and potentially dangerous.

In the same manner there is a process for becoming a disciple of Jesus – one can’t simply read their way into a transformed life. One can’t study (read, listen to sermons, go to college, learn ancient languages) enough to see their life begin to conform to the image of Jesus. And on this point, be thankful, otherwise the gospel would only be for the brilliant and studious!

More to come!



God, are you gonna embarrass me?

17 The LORD your God is with you,
   he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
   he will quiet you with his love,
   he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Ah yes, Zephaniah 3:17, the sort of bible verse that is cross-stitched and framed in the homes of elderly women all across America. There’s a chance that your grandmother has this in her hallway, right next to a framed print of Jesus, the one with the erie eyes that follow you around. And if not your grandmother, then you mom probably has a nice little magnet with this verse stuck on the refrigerator, holding a picture of you – it’s probably embarrassing and she probably loves it.

It’s the sort of verse that used to make me nervous. As a young man, I wasn’t sure I wanted God to quiet me with his love, and I certainly didn’t want him to rejoice over me with singing. It reminded me of when my family would sing ‘happy birthday’ to me – the most awkward 30 seconds of an entire year.

But now, as a slightly older man, with a wife and three children, I’ve had a change of heart. I’m crazy about my kids and I frequently ‘take great delight’ in them – it’s the natural inclination of a father’s heart, and as a father, who is also a son, a son of the very best father, the Father of lights, I’ve decided not to be the squirmy, child who pulls away from the Father’s embrace. I’m beginning to learn that all that he does is for my good, even his song.

Four random thoughts:

1) Everyone is familiar with the saving God, far fewer know the God who takes great delight. That’s sad, and I wonder if the depth to which salvation is able to illuminate my cold, dark heart isn’t directly related to my experience of his love. For too many of us salvation is an intellectual experience, purely academic. (thank you enlightenment)

2) Apparently God sings! Who knew? I thought He just ‘spoke’! I mean we all sort of know that people sing to Him, or at least should sing to Him, but how many of us have ever heard His song over us?

3) If God is singing, then worship is a two way conversation. We love because He first loved us. All worship is a response to the love of God – again, I wonder if one of the reasons that our corporate worship gatherings, as well as our private times of devotion, sputter along with an empty tank of effort is because we haven’t heard Him sing His song of love? Also, how many times have I been in gathered worship when there hasn’t been an opportunity for God to add His own melody, His own song to the set. (And by the way, I’m not talking about that weird, 1970’s deal where at any moment of silence someone speaks in tongues and then someone else ‘interprets’, usually beginning with “my people, my people”. Pass.)

4) If God is singing then… We sing when words alone are not enough. We sing when speech fails us. We sing because some truth is simply too big for the spoken or written word, it must be sung. Melody is a kind of truth all its own – and if God is singing, the unlimited, infinitely articulate, creator of the universe – it can only mean that His love for us is bigger that most of us have ever imagined!



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