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NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: TO WIN THE LOTTERY

lotteryNew Year’s Resolutions are sort of like returning a Red Box rental. Everyone has good intentions, but few follow through. Even when I set goals & write them down like you’re supposed to, I don’t achieve them half the time. Here’s why…

There are three kinds of goal setters:

1) PEOPLE WHO WIN THE LOTTERY. These are the folks who catch a lucky break. I don’t mean they win the actual lottery. I’m talking about people who acquire a family business or an inheritance. I’m talking about bands that get signed to major labels for their first album, or authors who write a best-seller on their first try. I think it’s elusive how rare these situations actually are. We hear about people like this in the media with stars in our eyes. But how many people do you know who have actually caught this sort of break?

2) PEOPLE WHO ARE WAITING TO WIN THE LOTTERY. Even though these folks are “waiting,” they are actually quite busy. It goes like this: They get really pumped about an idea. Maybe it’s a new diet, or a new project, or a new way to make loads of money. And they spend maybe a week, or a month, or even six months totally psyched about that new idea. And after some short period of time, the newness wears off, and the idea doesn’t work as quickly as it should, and the winning lottery ticket never comes. After a short period of disillusionment, the cycle repeats. More lottery tickets.

3) PEOPLE WHO DON’T BUY LOTTERY TICKETS. These are people who believe that there are no get-rich, get-healthy, or get-famous schemes that are worth it in the long run. These people look at life as a marathon, not a sprint. They take tiny little steps all the way to the point of achieving their huge goals, and then they keep going. The goal was never the point, after all. The goal was only made, and the hard work applied, because they are passionate about something. They build endurance and discipline not because they want to, but because they know the only other option is sitting around and waiting to win the lottery.

Here’s another point worth noting: People tend to look at hard workers like they won the lottery. We look at a doctor and think he has a charmed life, but really it took him 8+ years of school to get where he is. We look at married couples with beautiful children and think they’ve struck the American Dream, without recognizing the tough work and sleepless nights that go into a healthy family. We look at a band like the Avett Brothers playing on the Grammys with Bob Dylan and think, “those guys hit the jackpot!” But few people realize that the Avett’s toured in crappy vans for about 10 years while they slowly built a huge fan base.

The lottery is only worth millions because so many people are buying tickets, waiting to win. Setting goals only works if you’re willing to be disciplined. And discipline sucks. But the way I see it, there’s no way around it, unless you’re willing to cheat, steal, or lie. Before 2013 hits and we all start on our resolutions, we probably ought to decide which camp we want to be in. Are we going to work hard?

Or are we just waiting to win the lottery?

Which category do you fall into? Feel free to share goals, successes, and failures in the comments.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ADULTS AND THREE YEAR-OLDS

lincolnThe other day my wife said to out three year old, “Hey Lincoln, you want to pray with mom and dad?”

“No,” he said, “I’m busy. I’m busy playing cars and playing Curious George games.”

“Well, I guess that’s how most adults treat God a lot of the time,” my wife said.

The difference?

Three year-olds are honest.

Thoughts?

WHY JESUS DOESN’T HANG OUT IN THE SELF-HELP SECTION

When I was a little kid we had this long gravel driveway. I hated that driveway, because it had a ton of weeds. Once every few months, my parents would make me and my brothers pick all the weeds. We’d sit cross-legged and pull up the weeds, tossing them in plastic buckets my mom gave us. If we pulled the weeds the wrong way, my dad corrected us. “You can’t just pull off the tops of the weeds,” he’d say, “you have to get down and tear them out by the root.”

Because the problem with weeds is that if you don’t tear them out by the roots, they just grow right back.

I know that is a pretty obviously statement for anyone who’s ever done thirty-seven seconds of yard work, but I think we overlook this principle when it comes to the problems in our lives. I think we spend way too much time pulling up our “weeds” without ever getting to the root. We just pull off the tops of our weeds. Heck, sometimes we even trim them up nicely to look attractive.

What is our problem? What are the “weeds?” Guns? Well, you could take away guns and people still murder. Is the problem mental illness? Most of the killing done in the world is done by (arguably) sane people. Let me make an overly-simplistic proposition that will make half of you quit reading:

The root of the problem is sin.

Not “sinning,” like cussing at your kids or drinking too much whiskey or cheating on your spouse. Those are just the behaviors of sin. We can stop doing those things. We can even start doing better things. But that doesn’t erase our condition, which is sin.

Jesus is the gardener who can pull up sin by it’s roots. Jesus can erase the condition of sin. Jesus has taken chaos and is bringing creation back into harmony with God. Jesus will defeat every last inch of evil. Jesus will ultimately restore heaven to earth. There will be no more kids murdered, and no more tears. No more war or hatred. The earth will be unified with the knowledge that Jesus Christ is king and victor, and everyone will gasp, shake, and bow at the sight of him.

I hate saying that it’s that simple. But it’s true. I know saying things like “Jesus is the answer!” is the butt of all the hipster jokes. I hate sounding like an old fire-and-brimstone preacher. The difference is that those old preachers attack the behaviors most the time. “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t hang around with others that do…” They’re still just pulling up the tops of the weeds.

Accepting that “sin” is our condition is actually really liberating, because it shows how we can (and how we can’t) go about fixing things. It moves us from a place of self-reliance to a place of dependency on Jesus. As long as we’re in self-help mode, we’re doomed. We can’t help ourselves. That’s sort of the point of the cross.

Don’t get me wrong, we should change our behavior. We should do good things. We should talk about gun control, and we should promote thorough treatment for the mentally ill. It’s just that those things aren’t the starting point. The starting point is this awful condition that the thesaurus just won’t let me call anything other that “sin.” That’s where we find ourselves. So what do we do?

Re-read the last four paragraphs.

Do you think that society’s problem is as simple as “sin?” (All viewpoints welcome!)

 

A PRAYER FOR SANDY HOOK SHOOTINGS

(This morning I posted about finding inspiration in reflecting on death. I’ve removed the post because of the events this afternoon.)

I thought I was going to throw up when I walked into work today. On the news were scenes from a horror film. Except it was real. A young man went on a shooting rampage in an elementary school. There was a traffic jam of ambulances. A slew of black bags with dead bodies inside. Parents weeping. Newscasters and the president crying on television.

20+ families have Christmas presents wrapped underneath their trees that they’re going to have to figure out what to do with now.

If that’s not hell on earth, I don’t know what is.

Christians, join me in prayer this weekend. For the victims and their families. For the shooter’s family. For the community.

Father, forgive us…We don’t know what we’re doing. We’re lost, and eating each other alive. Forgive us for the things we’ve done. Forgive us for the things we’ve left undone. Clear out the evil in our lives, and restore the joy of salvation. Bring heaven to earth through our words and deeds. Have mercy on us. Lord, give us the strength to forgive. May we seek peace in the wake of violence. Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen

COME QUICKLY LORD JESUS…JUST NOT TOO QUICKLY.


Last week I released a
free download of the hymn “Blessed Assurance along with some thoughts about the lyrics. Here are a few more thoughts on the song…

My pastor recently joked about a bumper sticker that said “Jesus is coming…look busy!” Iron & Wine said “if Christ came back he would find us in a poker game.” And Joe Dirt’s mom used the return of Christ to scare her son out of spending too much time in the bathroom. It’s fairly clear that culture doesn’t have a high view of Christ’s return.

But do you?

How will you feel if Jesus returns during your lifetime? What is the feeling in your gut when you read that sentence? Does that make you feel anxious, or relieved? I’ve found that our perspective on the return of Christ is a good barometer for our spiritual state. People who eagerly await the return of Christ are usually at peace with God. Those who feel anxiety about his second coming are usually spiritually restless and uneasy.

Do look forward to his coming? Like the hymn-writer are you “watching and waiting, looking above”? If we’re really honest with ourselves, I think a lot of Christians could answer “no.” When I was younger, I hated the idea of Jesus returning. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to go to heaven and all. I just wasn’t in any rush to get there. Life was good. I was busy running Power Wheels off bike ramps and sneaking around to watch the second Batman movie. I didn’t really want Jesus interfering, you know?

Maybe that’s how you feel. I admit I do sometimes. This life can be pretty good. We’ve all had those moments where we grasp so tightly to this life that we don’t want Jesus interrupting. I don’t think that makes us the devil. I think that just reveals that we just don’t know him as well as we could or should. Because if we really knew Jesus, and understood what he was offering, I think we’d be begging him to return.

The early Christians were desperate for Jesus to return. These were people that knew Jesus personally. They had seen his power directly through his miracles. Many of them had met him and heard him speak. After Christ’s ascension many of his followers were being persecuted by the Romans. As an exiled prisoner, the apostle John closed Revelation with the cry “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” When we read the letters in the New Testament, it’s safe to say that the apostles had an eager expectation of Christ’s return. Have we lost that sense of desperation?

When I was a kid we sang an old waltz hymn at church called “Jesus Is Coming Again.” I can still hear the voices swaying to the rhythm and echoing off the wood-panel vaulted ceilings: “Co-ming again! Co-ming again! Maybe morning, maybe noon, maybe evening, maybe soon…”

I hate to sound like a hokey backwoods billboard, but…“Jesus is coming!” How does that make you feel?

Be honest with yourself- if Jesus returned right now, how would you feel about that? Feel free to post honest answers in the comments…

 

NEW MUSIC: “BLESSED ASSURANCE” – THE MARRIAGE OF CONTENTMENT AND HOPE (pt. 1)

Today I released an updated version of the hymn “Blessed Assurance.” (Click the player to the right to stream the track.) The hymn was written in the late 1800s by a blind hymn-writer named Fanny Crosby. Though I was familiar with the original tune from my childhood, this new melody was written by some friends of mine, Ben and Jess Newell.

I actually recorded two different versions of this song before landing on this arrangement. The first version was way too happy. It was an upbeat acoustic song, and it confirmed my wife’s philosophy that “anything that’s up-tempo and acoustic with handclaps automatically sounds like John Mellancamp.” So that was a bust. The second version was way slow and emo. The lyrics say “watching and waiting…” My second version sounded more like it was “waiting and dying.”

Both of my first two attempts failed to capture the heart of Crosby’s lyrics. The words of the hymn are simple, but it’s implications are not. If you read between the lines a bit, you can see that the lyrics imply a strange depth to Crosby’s relationship to Christ. There is a certain sense of present contentment coupled with the future hope of Christ’s return.

The balance of these two seems to be near-impossible. I admit that I tend to neglect one or the other, and neither extreme is healthy.

My buddy Brandon Andress recently wrote about how Christians getting caught up in “the End Times” can be dangerous. Without remaining grounded in the present, Christians can easily get wrapped up in the post-apocalyptic bizarro-world where Kirk Cameron is actually a respectable actor. Pretty soon you’re making video games that murder non-Christians and hiding out in a bomb shelter drinking Kool-Aid with Joel Osteen. Scary.

But the other side of the coin is obsessing over the responsibilities of our lives. We stop trusting that God has our backs. When we get wrapped up in our worries, it’s easy to become so concerned with this life that we forget about the return of Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven. Most of us get more excited about the series finale of “The Office” than we do about Christ’s second coming, do we not? A lot of us express more concern that Starbucks screwed up our order than we do for our friends or family that don’t know the phenomenal love of God, right?

When we lose the balance of present contentment and future hope, we get wacky. Our priorities get really screwed up. Both extremes are bad. But how do we maintain the proper balance? I believe- and Franny Crosby believed- that the balance lies in “abiding in Christ.” Stay tuned for more on what the heck “abiding” means…

Let me know your thoughts on the new track in the comments section.

HOW I WAS CONVERTED TO SINGING IN CHURCH BY A PAIR OF JOGGING SHOES

I like to say half-jokingly that I make “worship music for people who don’t like worship music.” If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like the current racket of Christian radio, or is embarrassed to invite your friends to church because they make fun of the music, I can relate. If you stand with your hand in your pockets during worship sets, or cross your arms, or pretend like you’re singing so that no one thinks you actually hate the music, or spend the entire worship set in the prayer room so that you don’t have to sing…I can relate. I’ve done all that since I was old enough to sing in church.

But about a year ago, something changed: I started jogging every morning.

Anyone who has ever made the resolution to work out in the morning knows that for the first 10-15 minutes of being awake, you want to stab yourself in the face for ever having the idea to wake up before the sun does, let alone work out. 

But five or ten minutes into my first run, something strange happened. My body adjusted to the shock, and the fresh air felt good on my lungs. The silence of the early morning brought a calming serenity, and my head cleared. Pretty quickly I realized that a morning workout was better than a strong cup of coffee. My energy levels drastically increased. I started eating healthier to supplement my work-out habit. Prayers and creative ideas would come to me during morning workouts. I became one of those crazy people who really like working out early in the morning. (For the record, I never started jogging in place or wearing bright spandex shorts.)

I realized that I had become pretty physically disciplined through exercise, but I was totally neglecting spiritual discipline in regards to corporate worship. “What would happen,” I thought, “if I treated corporate worship like I do my jogging routine. What if I was consistent whether I felt like it or not. What if every time I went to church, I made conscious decision that I was going to worship God, no matter what?”

The results were immediate. I started singing in church, every Sunday. No matter who was watching or listening, no matter how much I didn’t like the music. I reflected on the truth of the lyrics, and sang along. The first few times I did this, I noticed something strangely familiar. After about 10 minutes of singing my reservations wore off. My critical spirit disappeared, and I began to really open up and worship. I began to connect with God. My pretense slowly melted away, and I was left with gratitude and a sense of fulfillment. Just for having showed up and worshiped.

I also started leading worship more consistently for various church functions. No matter how I felt or what songs we were playing, I’ve committed to showing up, giving my best effort, and focusing my attention on God. Some of the times when I was most reluctant to show up and lead worship music have been the most engaging corporate worship experiences I’ve ever had.

I learned a solid principle when it comes to spiritual discipline: we should worship God because it is good for us, not because it makes us feel a certain way. We can’t wait around until we “feel” like worshiping. That may never happen. Worship is a spiritual discipline. We shouldn’t wait for a “reason to sing” any more than we should wait on a reason to pray or to love our neighbor. Like love within marriage, “worship” is a choice and an action, not a feeling. Sentimental emotions toward God will come and go, but the best weapon in the arsenal of Christian worship is resolution: a firm dedication to giving God the glory He is due, as often as possible. 

So next time you show up to a worship service and don’t feel like it, start with discipline. Force yourself to sing the gospel, and let me know how that goes for you…

Thoughts?

 

MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTION

Q. Why does God reveal His purpose for us step by step, instead of just revealing the plan all at once? Why no blue-prints? Why doesn’t He show us the destination and say “see you on the other side!”?

A. Because we’d probably screw it up

B. Because we’d miss all the important steps and preparation

C. Because the end goal is knowing Him

D. All of the above.

E. Write in your own answer…

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