Awhile back I read an article about Billy Graham. He was talking to a football team and somebody asked him how to maintain a close relationship with God. He said, “read the Bible and pray every day.” I hated how simple that is. I really wanted it to be more complex and interesting and something I felt good about figuring out. But I figured if it worked for Billy Graham, it might work for me too. So I started reading the Bible and talking to God every day, and listening to see if He has anything important to say. I think I’ve learned more about God in the last few months than the rest of my adult life. You know what I’ve learned?
God is really nice.
Like, really nice. He keeps telling me that he loves me, and that he likes me even. And honestly, as a dude it makes me feel sort of uncomfortable sometimes how much he says he loves me.
Another thing I’ve learned, and it’s probably equally important.
God is really scary.
Not in the horror movie or prison showers kind of way. More in the “giant grizzly bear that could crush you in a heartbeat but decides not to” sort of way.
It reminds me of my dad when I was a kid actually. My dad is super nice. Anybody who knows him knows how nice he is. When I was little, he always spent a lot of his free time helping people move and cleaning old ladies’ houses and counseling messed-up people on the phone late at night. And he was nice to me and my brothers. He came to all our basketball games and taught us how to work hard and took us out to eat on our lunch breaks at school.
But he was also really scary in a way. Anyone whose dad took the idea of discipline seriously knows about this. My mom would “wait until my dad got home” to decide on our punishments. And if you had to wait until dad got home, that pretty much guaranteed a spanking with the wooden spoon. When you’re little, this is confusing because you have this super nice guy who is really calm but also whooping you at the same time. And as soon as he was done spanking us he would always give us a hug, sometimes with tears in his eyes, and tell us he loved us.
In a lot of ways, I think that’s what God is like. I admit it can be confusing, especially when you’re young. Some people paint this weird picture of God, like He gets off on torturing people that don’t bow down to him. I disagree. I think it’s more like a really good dad who spanks his kid with tears in his eyes because it hurts to punish your kid, but if you don’t he’ll destroy his life and turn into a bratty adult with no friends.
Nobody wants a cop that looks the other way when someone’s getting mugged. Nobody wants a teacher that gives all her students an “A+” no matter how they actually perform. Nobody wants parents who let their kids run the household. Even Adam Sandler learned that lesson in “Big Daddy.” If we’re honest with ourselves, I’m pretty sure we don’t want a God who doesn’t discipline either.
I guess that’s why the term “Father” is used to describe God so much. God, in a lot of ways, is like the picture of the ideal father. Really nice because he likes you and understands you more than you do yourself. And really scary because you know that if you disobey him, he’s not going to overlook it. He knows that’s not good for you, and he likes you too much to see you wreck your life.
Thanks dad, for helping me to understand and relate to God.
To Mike Morrow and to God, and to all the nice + scary dads out there:
Happy Father’s Day.
The following is an excerpt from a teaching I did a few weeks ago titled “Jesus Is Teacher.”
Suppose you visit England and fall in love with the sport of cricket. You’re so intrigued that you set out to start a cricket league in your hometown. So you gather a few friends who are willing to play with you. You hype the cricket league, spend money on advertising, and get the word out to as many people as possible. A dozen or so more people show up. So then you and your friends cast the vision to the newbies, and they also start helping your raise awareness and sign up people for the league. This goes on and on and snowballs, and after a few weeks you’ve got hundreds of new cricket players and dozens of teams.
Notice that up to this point, everyone involved still has no idea how to play cricket.
You’ve made a boat-load of converts. But until you start learning and practicing the fundamentals of the game, it’s gonna’ to be a hot mess. Sometimes I’m afraid modern Christianity operates in a similar way.
Jesus said to go and make “disciples.” I feel like we sell this awfully short sometimes, and just aim to make “converts.” Sometimes people get really hyped on being converted and go out and try to convert as many people as they can. Some people do this their whole lives. The problem is, you can become a “convert” and never enter the rough task of being a “disciple.” And then you miss all the really good, deep stuff like feeding the poor or loving your enemy or learning how to forgive even when it sucks.
We aren’t doing ourselves any favors by making thousands of converts without discipling people. People that don’t go to church have a name for that. (Hint: it starts with an “h” and rhymes with “zip-a-crits.”) I think the global church would do well to return to the task of disciple-making, and the “conversions” will take care of themselves.
So let’s go learn some cricket, eh?
After being asked by several people, I realized that I’m long overdue for a Tangawizi update. Unfortunately, there is not much to tell beyond the closing prayer requests of my last update.
The recent rains in Kenya have made it impossible to travel (safely) from Nairobi to Keekorok. Gloria said in a recent email that her friend in Keekorok is poised to call her as soon as the rain waters recede and it’s safe to travel. In the meantime, she’s sent pictures of both the photographer Gabriele Galiberti and Tangawizi ahead, hoping to get a lead on where to find the boy and his family. Because of the timing of the trip being delayed, Jennifer may or may not be able to join Gloria in searching for Tangawizi.
On this side of the pond, Lincoln talks about Tangawizi often. Once a week or so, he matter-of-factly reminds me that we still need to take a bed to Tangawizi. When I tell him that it’s too far to travel for us, he offers the simple solution: we should just take a submarine. It reminds me of one Lincoln’s favorite stories, The Carrot Seed:
A little boy planted a carrot seed.
His mother said, “I’m afraid it won’t come up.”
His father said, “I’m afraid it won’t come up.”
And his big brother said, “It won’t come up.”
Every day the little boy pulled the weeds around the seed and sprinkled the ground with water.
But nothing came up.
And nothing came up.
Everyone kept saying it wouldn’t come up.
But he still pulled up the weeds around it every day and sprinkled the ground with water.
And then, one day,
a carrot came up
just as the little boy had known it would.
Honestly, it feels like we’ve lost steam, and a lot of hope. Fortunately I have my three year old and “The Carrot Seed” as good reminders.
I had the pleasure of writing a new article at forworshipleaders.com. It’s a (hopefully) funny tale about some of the insecurities I’ve battled as an artist, and the answers I’ve come up with in dealing with them. Here’s a snippet:
“I was scrambling for reasons that I’m better than these other guys to make me feel better about my own abilities and boost my confidence. I’d told myself I was just being a music critic. I was actually just being a jerk. The sudden realization of my insecurities was horrifying…Judging ourselves against the performance of others is a common temptation. Even in Christian circles, it’s easy to be jealous of someone else’s gifts or opportunities. As worship leaders, we need to be honest with God and confess our insecurities.”
You can read the entire article here. Big thanks to Steven Potaczek for the opportunity to share a few thoughts. Feel free to share thoughts (or your own triumphs over insecurity) on Steven’s blog or in the comments below.
The other day I saw a friend post on Facebook that the Boston Marathon bombing was a “government conspiracy.” Confused by (a) how that could have been a conspiracy and (b) why anyone would post something like that, I checked out his Facebook profile. Not surprisingly, everything is a conspiracy to this guy. Burger King and KFC are conspiracies. Television is a conspiracy. Gum is a conspiracy.
So when my buddy Brandon said he was writing a book on the “End Times,” I was a little wary. After all, the “Left Behind” video game and the end-of-the-world blitz of 2012 was probably enough apocalyptic zaniness for a few decades.
As it turns out, this was just Brandon’s point in his new book “And Then The End Will Come.” Brandon talks about how we sometimes get so obsessed with the “ends” that we forget to live in the “means” as Christians. We get so pumped about End Times minutia that we forget to live as students of Jesus in the here-and-now.
I asked Brandon if I could share about his new book and ask him a few questions about it. After reading the interview below, I hope you’ll be as psyched as I was to check the book out. You can get the book on Amazon in a variety of formats (paper, hardback, Kindle, etc) and stay in touch at Brandon’s blog.
Here’s the full interview.
The book opens with talking about our culture’s obsession with the “end times.” Did you ever have a weird Christian phase where you got sucked into end-times conspiracy theories yourself?
I love conspiracy theories! And yes, I was neck deep in “End Times” conspiracies for about a decade of my life. I never missed a History Channel special that discussed Armageddon, Nostradamus, or the identity of the Anti-Christ! I’m not so sure that I was wrapped up in it for it’s religious appeal, as much as I was just curious about anything esoteric. And that is where my book begins- and where I thought a great diving in point would be- with our natural tendency toward curiosity about the unknown. We are all curious at some level. We have a desire and hunger to “want to know.” And that makes this book incredibly relatable to everyone.
Yeah, that hunger seems to have its pros and cons maybe? On one hand, it drives us toward the mysteries of God, and on the other, it drives us toward wanting to know Snookie’s baby’s middle name. How do you find the balance, or the right channels for that curiosity?
That is exactly the point I am driving at in the book. Engrained in each of us is a deep, innate sense of “wanting to know,” of longing for something more. And you are right, this can be directed in healthy, life-giving ways or in ways that are shallow and less-than-life-giving. But you really get a sense from Jesus and his parables that a life defined by curiosity is a really good thing. In regards to finding “life” Jesus uses terms like asking, seeking, and knocking. He also uses parables about searching for treasure in a field and looking for a prized piece of jewelry in a jewelry store. So Jesus is all about the path of curiosity in pursuit of something greater, in this case the Kingdom of God or that which gives eternal life. The interesting thing is that even when his disciples’ curiosity of the “End Times” was directed the wrong way, toward “when is this going to happen” and “how is this going to go down,” Jesus didn’t punish their curiosity. Instead, he lovingly and patiently re-framed and reoriented them toward who they (and we) should be right now in anticipation of what is to come. It is a beautiful thing. Hopefully I have done the same thing within my book.
Was there a specific moment that caused you to say, “I need to write this book…”? What was the importance for you- at this time- to write “And Then the End Will Come”?
Not to be too freaky, but I had a very bizarre dream about a year ago. It really affected me after I woke up because I never dream, and it was so real and vivid and spooky. Because of the political nature of the dream I didn’t tell anyone about it. I was afraid people would try to use it for their own political agenda. And being that I am so apolitical, I just couldn’t stand the thought of that happening. As a result, I just let it go. But about six months ago it came back to me again. And man, it just sat on me like an elephant. The burden of it would not leave me alone. So I reached out to an amazingly Spirit-led person who I really trust and respect, and who also interprets dreams, and gave her the low down and all the specifics. After a couple of weeks she wrote back to me. Her interpretation of my dream was completely opposite of what I expected… but it really pushed me in the direction I took with this book. Sorry to be so general and vague about the dream. I am not sure if it is the right time to share it.
Wow….I had no idea. So this isn’t the first time that you’ve sensed God speaking to you in a big way. You shared a little about your “Nehemiah” story in your first book “Unearthed.” Not to get too off topic, but…I’m a big believer in hearing directly from God. I think that’s the idea behind of the Holy Spirit. Care to share any wisdom you’ve learned about how to process those times when you feel God speaking to you directly?
I am very reluctant to ascribe every single thing that happens in my life to “God speaking to me.” That has been abused and mishandled in too many instances and has caused quite a bit of damage for Church and for Christianity, in general. I do believe, however, that God speaks in a variety of ways to a variety of people, if we are willing to listen. In my life, more times than not, I know God is speaking to me when it is completely opposite from what I want to do myself. And specific to the conversation we are having about my book and the “End Times,” the last thing I wanted to do was write a book about this topic. But in a split second I went from not having any idea for a book to write to having the entire content of this book “downloaded” into my head chapter by chapter. It is a very strange, but amazing thing.
So how has your perception of the “end times” changed in recent years? It seems like your focus on it isn’t less important, but just from a different angle?
Well that is the real irony of me writing this book- While there was a time long ago that I was really wrapped up in the stuff. I have suffered from “Armageddon fatigue” and “Rapture unreadiness” for much of the last decade or more. When I told people close to me that I was writing an “End Times” book, they were like “WHAT? YOU?” It has just not been my cup of tea. But my thinking on the subject, influenced by many of the words and parables of Jesus, is that we should all keep a watchful eye to the future, but not to the neglect of the present. This is where I believe a great synergy can take place: between those who have become increasingly cynical, negative, or skeptical about anything “End Times” and those who have become so zealous and fixated on the future that they have missed the beauty and opportunity to extend the Kingdom today.
It seems like there is sort of a shift with the younger, Millenial generation to not care about what happens in the future. Its seems that post-modern relativity and cynicism has sort of brought with it a relaxed attitude about Christ’s return. This sort of, “I don’t care what happens in the future, I know God is with me now” attitude. How can the iPod generation regain our sense of hope and mystery in the return of Christ?
There are million things to say, and a million directions we could go, specific to the topic of Millenials and the Church. But I want to focus specifically on the idea of narrative and how our lack of narrative within the Church has distanced a generation.
In my book I discuss how, in many ways, we in the Church have set our focus so much toward resolution, or the end of the story that we have neglected the middle part of the story. Or, that Jesus is good for us to “get to heaven,” but he is of really little use, or of very little consequence, for us in our daily lives.
But here we are, right now, in the middle part of the story, living and breathing and thinking and contemplating… dealing with immense conflict all around us… and we want to know about TODAY.
So a narrative narrowly telling us that we have to endure the hell around us and wait for heaven one day for things to be right, seems irrelevant and pointless to many because it neglects today.
However, if our hope for the future is tied directly to our present identity and purpose, then that becomes incredibly relevant and life-giving right now. If we have our eyes set toward how things will be one day when God restores all things, then we can actually, presently begin to participate in that kind of life right now. And it looks like loving everyone and serving our fellow man and being those who bring peace around the world and those who work for reconciliation presently in all things. And people, especially the Millennials, are hungry for something with meaning and substance and purpose and life.
That kind of narrative embraces the middle two-thirds of the book we have neglected by focusing too specifically on the end. Being able to articulate and embody this will re-engage those who have dismissed Christianity as being out of touch with present reality. Younger generations are cynical and skeptical for a good reason- there isn’t a lot of substance in our world. I believe that my book addresses this head on- Christians have to be a people of substance presently, even when the world seems to be coming apart at the hinges.
So I haven’t read the end of the book yet, but I’m guessing it ends with “The Walking Dead” right? Some sort of zombie apocalypse anyway?
I admit that I watch The Walking Dead. And while there are a great many theological discussions that could arise from The Walking Dead, I would say that my book ends quite a bit differently than that show. In fact, my last chapter is the antithesis of The Walking Dead. It’s more like The Walking Alive! It is a hope for the future that is not abandoned to death and decay, but one of resurrection, healing, and restoration. It is exquisite and beautiful. And I think people will be excited about, not just with how God is working to redeem things in the future, but how we can join and participate in that life and hope presently.
Over the last several months I’ve been (not so) secretly demo-ing songs for a gospel album I’m hoping to release once I’m finished with school. Part of the beauty in releasing the demos has been the feedback I’ve received. It helps to know what songs people do or don’t like before you go to release an album!
Would you help me with that process by telling me…which version of “It Is Well…” do you prefer? The first version (solo with ukulele) or the second (full band version with the Mister Rogers Neighborhood bell set)? Just vote via the poll below, or feel free to leave feedback in the comments section.
Like most artists, I tend to avoid trying to replicating something that’s already been done. I can’t stand the idea of being unoriginal. But I also believe the church has a certain responsibility to preserve our canon of hymns. Every few decades, we revise the language of the Bible. Our scholars take a fresh look at the meaning of the original texts, and translate the Scriptures for a modern context. I think we owe our hymns a similar recycling process.
I recently heard the story of the restoration process of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling contain arguably the most iconic art of the Christian tradition, but the plaster was chipping and the colors had faded drastically. So in the late 70’s, a team of professionals began the twenty year restoration process. They had a rigorous set of guidelines, and took almost five times as long to restore the paintings as it took to actually paint them.
Like the restorers of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, I’m just trying to bring the color out for a new generation. I can’t claim to have written anything nearly as beautiful as “It Is Well With My Soul”,” but I think it’s important to preserve. (And thankfully, this process was more like 20 hours, not 20 years!) I’ll admit part of me gets anxious when I spend precious recording hours refining something that’s already been done seventy-three thousand times by every Christian recording artist and their grandmother. But if the hours of “restoration” work give my community a chance to see these lyrics with fresh eyes, it will have been worth it.
A few notes about this particular “restoration”:
I have a well-documented obsession with the ukulele. When my wife suggested I record a new version of “It Is Well…” I thought the instrument was a natural fit. While I wouldn’t suggest worship leaders turn to the ukulele often, I think it works particularly well here. The beautiful chord progression is pretty simple on the uke, and you can download my chart for it here.
I updated a few notable phrases, in hopes that the lyrics would be more understandable to the average listener. I have a friend who hates when I take the “thee’s” and “thou’s” out of worship songs. But if a “thee” or a “thou” creates a barrier to the gospel, I say slash it and don’t think twice.
I only recorded two verses for this version. I feel like these two verses (if we’re in 1975, “…verses 1 and 3 in your hymnal”) maintain the main theme (verse 1) as well as the gospel-centrality (verse 3) of the hymn. I was actually pumped to find some beautiful “forgotten verses” of this song.
I’ll be anxious to hear your thoughts on which version of “It Is Well…” you prefer- this one or the full-band version I released a couple weeks ago. Feel free to post thoughts in the comments.
May the God of all real peace be with you, and may you recognize His presence.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
-the apostle Paul (Phillipians 4:4-7)
I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the “anti-rock star worship leader” idea. The more I’ve wrestled with the topic, the more I realize what a struggle it is for me personally. In the days of super accessible self-promotion (social media, mega-churches, etc) I think it’s wise for worship leaders to reflect on how they’re presenting themselves. How we engage with the culture of modern marketing has everything to do with how we view ourselves. Are we servants or are we rock stars?
“…our culture loves rock stars. And if most of us were being honest, we’d kind of like to be one ourselves…Seeking the warmth of the spotlight is a real temptation for many worship leaders, and I’m no exception. For most of us who lead from the stage, there’s a strong desire to be popular, widely recognized, and successful. In the days of giant music festivals and mega-churches, it’s really tempting to use our platform to exalt ourselves in place of Jesus. Most times without even realizing it. That doesn’t make us the devil, that just makes us human…I’m convinced that the worship leaders that will make the biggest difference are not necessarily the one with the most Twitter followers. They’re the ones that look most like Jesus.”
Huge thanks to Worship Leader and to Jeremy Armstrong for wicked editing skills, and for giving me the opportunity to reflect more on the topic.
I also collaborated on the article “Are You a Worship Janitor?” with Steven Potaczek at ForWorshipLeaders.com. You might remember Steven from the interview I did earlier this year. Steven’s been a great encouragement to me, and I give him ten thousand bonus points for the phrase “toilet bowl worship.” Again, you can read the entire blog here, but here’s some of the juice:
“By far the most common Greek word (ie: the New Testament) rendered worship in our Bibles is proskuneo which expresses the notion of ‘kneeling and kissing the hand of a superior (like a dog licking the hand of its master).’ To me, this imagery clearly connotes surrender, humility, and yes, servant-hood…Maybe I’m way off base, but I really wonder what it would do for the heart to scrub a urinal before the lights come up on the stage? What if you got your worship team to come and help too?”
I had the honor of being interviewed by Worship Links – an online library of worship blogs, articles, etc. I got a chance to talk a little about my struggle with worship music:
“…worship music didn’t become a passion for me until just a couple years ago, oddly. My Venn diagrams of “Music” and “Jesus” never really overlapped much until recently. When I was a teenager I became a big music snob. I was always embarrassed by church music. I try to be honest and confessional about that on the blog and within my community. I’m a recovering non-worshiper! (At least corporately speaking.) …God has been kind, and it’s been a strange journey. I’m finally starting to appreciate worship music and its function within the church… “
Jennifer and Gloria’s trip to the Serengheti is less than two weeks away. We have raised enough money to send them and buy the bed, but we want to be poised to help Tangawizi’s community in whatever ways we can. We really believe that God has a few things up his sleeve, and we don’t want to be limited by our cash flow. We want to send and bless Jennifer and Gloria to do whatever God lays on their hearts if/when they find Tangawizi.
So for the next couple of weeks, the proceeds for my entire recorded catalog (Quick Said the Bird, BRIGHTEN UP!, and the gospel songs) will go toward Lincoln’s “Buy Tangawizi a Bed” fund. It’s my attempt at making a difference by making music. As always, enjoy the tunes, help me spread the word, and let me know what you think. As an incentive to help me reach further: if you share this link via email and/or social media I’ll send you one free download code as a thanks. (Be sure to copy me on the email at email@example.com, or tag me in the Facebook link or Tweet, so I know who to send the free download to.)
Here a sampling of my favorite recordings, one from each band:
If you’d like to donate without getting any music, you can still donate via PayPal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, Gloria and Jennifer have requested for prayer for the rains in Kenya, which are particularly bad at the moment. If the rain doesn’t let up soon, it could very well block roads and bridges to Keekorok, which would delay their trip. I’m convinced God hears and responds to prayers. Lets pray that their trip will be successful.