Thursday, August 27, 2009


I apologize if I ramble in this one a bit, my mind is all over the place. Lately I've been feeling blessed. It's not that things are going any better for me, or that my future looks brighter based on current projections, it's just that I've felt a random wave of gratitude and I need to write about it so I don't forget. I need to record this feeling so that when the wall of despair comes I'll have some C4 to blow through it.

I've come to find lately that life isn't about the haves and the have-nots, its not about your wants or even about meeting your goals. It's about enjoying the process of living - the failures and victories that inevitably lead to growth and a better perspective. It's about having the peace that surpasses understanding. The peace that doesn't come with the ownership of more materials. So many times have I glanced in envy at my neighbor, be it other more successful bands or well-adjusted professionals, and I've craved their success. I would ask: Why not me? When is it my turn? Have I wasted my earning potential?

This only brings unrest.

There is something in a man that makes him feel inadequate when he is unable to provide support and stability to those around him. The ability to provide financial security, comfort, protection and opportunity is something that I have not yet been fully awarded with, so at times, I've felt the pang of regret. Have I wasted my gifts?

But then, once in awhile, something happens. I don't believe in Karma, necessarily, and I don't think that God is cause-and-effect or easy for humans to wrap their heads around. So I'm not saying I did anything to deserve this feeling, but sometimes when my life feels like it is in right-standing spiritually, when I am giving back, I start to feel blessed. It's funny, because I have absolutely no worries. Regardless of the circumstances (they rarely change), I know that things will be okay. My perspective changes, and I am overwhelmed with a calming sense of peace.

Some would say that I am foolish and that I have no basis for any sense of peace, I mean, look at my situation, what am I really doing to "protect my financial future"? Regardless, I know that I am taken care of. Kristie and I have three meals a day, reliable transportation, a comfortable roof over our heads and a place to call home. I don't mean to brag, but we even have iPhones (=D). In my weak moments I've felt weighed down by our debt, but in better moments I've felt peace that we have the freedom of not being burdened by major investments. We have dreams of a house someday, and kids. Just like my band has dreams of a bus, and fans*. But it's not about the end result anymore.

What if our band blew up off of our first record? I often shutter to think about how much I would have squandered that blessing. The fame with the credit would have probably gone straight to my head, and the influx of money would have inspired ideas of how to spend it - ideas which would have become idols. The blessing would have been a waste. I wouldn't have learned any of the valuable lessons I've taken to heart over the past four years. I would have squandered any real growth. In fact, I'm not so certain I wouldn't squander it now if it happened. My current goal is not to be at the ever elusive "top" anymore (If it exists, I've never seen it). I'm happy to enjoy the process, because in the trenches of war growth happens, and that's what really matters. Material success will pass and ultimately never satisfies, but what you learn about the things that matter is eternal.

I'm happy to be in love with my wife in a world where true love is rare. I'm blessed to have family and friends who pray for me, who really care about my well being. Making close to the poverty line every year isn't a struggle, living in a small one-bedroom apartment isn't a struggle, not being able to afford fixing my dented bumper isn't a struggle, shouldering debt is not a struggle. I am BLESSED! I have not struggled at all on any level that means anything. Peter talks about sharing in Jesus' suffering with Him and what a blessing that is. Keep in mind his audience was truly struggling in terrible ways:

For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

-1 Peter 2:20

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing... if you are reviled for the name Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

-1 Peter 4:12-14

I have not struggled. I have not suffered! If when I see Jesus some day all I have to tell Him about my struggle was that I couldn't afford nice things I WILL WANT TO SHOOT MYSELF IN THE FACE (sorry for lack of a better term, and the caps-lock).

I won't starve to death, die of malaria, aids or lack of clean water. I am blessed to live here in this country at this time. I won't get sawed in half, burned at the stake, filleted alive by knives or crucified upside down for being a Christian as the disciples were. I wont even get thrown in prison. It's quite the opposite. By claiming Christianity I can get elected president, sell out high-paying church concerts or make a lot of money by duping nice old ladies on TV. Of course this isn't the real form of Christianity (the Christ-movement), it's a bastard form that creates religious drones enslaved to their practice whose only struggles have to do with lacking the one thing they should be characterized by: Love. They're great at judgement and discernment, but how convicting is this passage by Paul:

And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:3

If there are any Christian martyrs in our country they are those who are attacked by the so called "Christians" who have no love. Our oppression as American Christians comes from within the Church, and so our struggles come from living inadequately in the eyes of the extremely religious. The roles in our country are completely reversed. The church no longer suffers, the church is responsible for inflicting suffering. The Bible says the world will hate you if you live correctly, and I say a dead church and a dead Christian will hate you just as much. The Pharisees who knew the prophets could not see that Jesus was the Messiah. They hated Jesus and His movement of love that flew in the face of their religion. Their religion blinded them and they missed the boat.

We have not been chased from our homes and into hiding, we have not been separated, abused, tortured and devalued, but we have been scrutinized by our own church family. We are blessed, and should choose to bless in return. Not out of duty, but out of gratitude for how much we've been spared in comparison to those who came before us.

Sometimes I think the fact that we've been spared any real oppression is more of a curse than a blessing. Faith lies dormant in so many lives, even in my own, and it could really be awakened by a healthy fear of persecution!

Alas, I've stumbled into another topic. My point is that I feel blessed and I have no reason to fear tomorrow. I have no good reason to worry. As long as I am obedient in my faith I know that I will be taken care of. The next time I worry, I resolve to punch myself in the face with this blog post.

*being a little jocose here, I know that we have some.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


If you were raised listening to Christian sermons you've probably heard someone tell you that mankind was made to worship. Makes sense right? Why else would there be so many different faiths? Worship plays a major role in many religions, and the desire to worship almost seems to be the impetuous behind the beliefs of the religious. Lately I've been thinking about worship on a broader scale. I used to "lead worship" at a church a few years ago, but I think really all I was doing was singing songs. I think the church mistakes "worship" for music too often, and although music is a great avenue to share your gratitude, as a fundamental practice I feel like the singing of songs can sometimes fall short (Especially if the songs are poorly written, but that is another topic). That might be surprising to you, me being a musician and all, but like I said I've been thinking about this and I guess I just want to share what I've come up with.

This isn't a new idea, in fact it has been talked about by many folks much smarter than l for hundreds of years. The fact isn't that you were made to worship and so you should do so to fulfill your purpose. The fact is that you DO worship, every day, and you don't really have a choice in the matter. Every day of your life there is some goal, some throbbing need or desire that propels you through your day. Whatever that is for you, that is what you worship. Examples are a need for more money, fame, respect, love, freedom, self-actualization or inner peace. It has symptoms like overworking, people pleasing, greed, laziness, emptiness, pride and longing. It manifests itself in excessive behavior with drinking, video games, drugs, working, reading, traveling, eating, watching TV or movies, promiscuous relationships, obsessing over things. If your sole motivation is characterized by any of these things, or anything else you can think of, then that is what you worship. That is your idol.

I've heard it said that an idol isn't necessarily a bad thing. I believe that statement. An idol is usually a good thing made into a God thing which then becomes a bad thing. Money can be used for good, but when you worship it people suffer. You suffer. People can also make idols out of their kids, acts of service or charity and good works. These are all good things, but the problem is that man-made idols never fulfill, because man himself is flawed. If you worship your deeds, you worship imperfection. If you idolize a person, you worship something that will never fill you completely, something that will always fail you and leave you empty. When you idolize flawed things, you become even more flawed. Sin is not a generous boss. Loving your kids is not a bad thing, making idols out of them will probably not only cause you suffering, it will cause the suffering of your kids as well. We all do it to some extent though. We have this longing to be driven, to be obsessed, to worship something. We were all built to worship.

So where have we gone wrong? Why do we make idols out of such petty and insignificant things? Why do we choose to worship empty gods? The answer is that perhaps we were not made for this Earth. Perhaps the Earth is not how it should be. Maybe our world can never satisfy us.

C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." He also says in Encounter With Light, "If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it that you don't feel at home there?"

We long for more, we long to be in relationship with something amazing, to worship absolute goodness and be in communion with it. We long so much for this that when goodness is not fully apparent we find things to take its place. Bono says, "I have this hunger in me…everywhere I look, I see evidence of the Creator. But I don’t see it as a religion, which has cut my people in two. I don’t see Jesus Christ as being any part of a religion. Religion to me is almost like when God leaves – and people devise a set of rules to fill the space."

We choose things we do, things that define us, things that serve as practical idols that may or may not be disguised as good things. We create a religion when we are out of communion with the pure goodness of God. This is no new phenomena.

In the Old Testament the Israelites couldn't be left alone for more than a few days before they would create an idol to worship. When Moses came back with the Ten Commandments, he came back to his people dancing around a newly fashioned golden calf, which they had quite quickly decided was the new god that they were going to worship. It was a physical god, made of gold and things found precious in the eyes of man, but a man-made god nonetheless. A lifeless, meaningless, dead god. Yet we all do this. As Christians we spend some time apart from really seeking God and suddenly these idols start creeping back. The career, the family, the tasks at hand, those things that fulfill only temporarily. Like a crack addict living for their next hit, worshiping the pipe and the temporary relief it provides, however devastating to their life, soul and welfare.

Out of the Ten Commandments, number two and three are about having no gods before God and not worshipping idols. God is a jealous God, for sure, especially when people worship empty pieces of scrap metal over the God of Creation, but I think it's more than that. It's because God knows we were not designed to worship anything other than Him. He wants us to choose the best option for our lives. We are so quick to fill the void with garbage and we self destruct when we do so. Sometimes it takes fifty years for people to learn this, and some people never do. They die bitter and alone. A perfect picture of that is Daniel Day Lewis' character in There Will Be Blood. His idols greed and lust for money became so powerful that they eventually chased away anyone that ever cared about him. He ended up a broken down, bitter old murderous drunk.

What is incredibly sad is that many so-called Christians these days choose many gods before God: acts of service, judgement, principal, religion, pride. These things enslave Gods people, only damaging them and those around them. So when I enter a church and see all these people who worship money, family, religion and status singing songs, I find it hard to believe that those songs really mean anything. True worship is when God is first in your life. Only when that happens can you have perfect love for your family. Only when you worship the True Goodness can True Goodness flow from you. When God is first, you wont have greed, judgement, anger, bitterness, laziness. Your sufferings will only be short-term in light of the peace that comes from community with the Creator. I've been blessed enough to experience this on occasion in my life. I am terribly flawed in my own right, and am guilty of everything I've spoken against, but I've experienced Truth in a way that brought overwhelming peace, and I just want to share with you so that you might have that same opportunity.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Honesty Breeds Integrity

It's true we all lie, even the most honest of us. I personally believe in full disclosure and I pride myself in being an honest person, but even so I'll lie. You know those questions you get asked in small-talk conversations. Those "Have you seen...?" and "Do you know...?" and "Have you heard of...?" questions. Sometimes I'll just nod my head "yes" when I have no idea what the person is talking about. It's mostly for the sake of expediency, to allow the person to get to the point without having to further explain themselves, but it's a lie nonetheless. Don't act like you haven't done this. I think partially we want to be included - we want to be in-the-know - and its an easy lie to tell, especially since it's a one word answer. I feel silly when I find myself doing this. Maybe it has something to do with how much I hate small talk. I think honestly I just want to skip all the who-knows-what and get to the good stuff... or just get away depending on the situation. This habit of course pales in comparison to the addictive and compulsive habit of telling flat out lies about ones life, but if left unchecked who knows how it could grow. A tiny seed can become a giant tree - it's natures way for things to grow, however bad or good. The point is we all have the propensity to fib, and when we do it can really take a toll on our character.

When I was a teenager I used to lie a lot. I was pretty good at it too. I would make sure that everyone had the peachiest picture of me, even though I wasn't so peachy. I used to withhold truths from Kristie, things I knew she would have liked to know. She always found out about these things at a later date, which made the truth that much harder for her to deal with. Anytime the truth has time to marinate, it will always hit harder. Contrary to meat marination, truth always tastes much worse over time. It will always hurt more. The thing about Kristie finding things out after the fact was that it hurt our trust, and trust is the most important ingredient in any relationship. Without trust, you will fail. Because of my betrayal of her trust she would end up scrutinizing my every decision, passing it through a field of questions, wondering if it was truth or if I was covering something up. I guess she was hoping to unveil anything that might hurt sooner, so that it wouldn't have the chance to hurt more later. Turns out the withholding of the truth to "protect Kristie from being hurt" (which was really a selfish justification) only made things worse for me. She would get hurt anyways, only making it a bigger mess to clean up. When she inevitably found things out it would hurt the both of us - myself more deservedly so. However, without those hurtful lessons I wouldn't have learned anything. I'd still be a schmuck.

Without trust it took a lot more effort for me to do anything without suspicion. I was a slave and it was terrible, so I did something dramatic. I decided to start telling her the truth. Pretty soon I learned that I had to tell Kristie everything - especially things that I knew she would like to know -if I wanted to be free from the burden of suspicion. She would like to know who I was with, if I drank too much, smoked something funny or did something stupid. It was absolutely freeing. What's wonderful about Kristie is that as I disclosed things I was ashamed of she offered immediate grace (Of course, it helps to have a partner who understands Christ-like grace). I know that grace would have turned to righteous criticism if I had waited to disclose the information, so I continued to be honest. The thing about that practice, the honest one, is that I started to NOT want to do things that would hurt her. Wierd, I know. No longer would I justify my actions with things like: I'll think of something to say. If she found out she'd only be upset. She doesn't need to worry. Instead I would be in a situation and I would think, I'm going to have to tell Kristie this, and then she's going to forgive me and give me that sweet-but-hurt-at-the-same-time face and I'll feel like a jerk. So I wouldn't do it. The thought of that started to stop me in my tracks. I'd think about my actions, and because of my trend of being honest I was forced into rethinking my lifestyle. Honesty breeds integrity. Suddenly, my word started to mean something. What I told her became exactly what I did, and vice versa, because of my new habit of honesty.

The story I was telling about myself became the true story of my life. No longer could I hide behind the "peachy picture" I used to paint. I wanted a good story, and I had to learn to live one instead of just telling one. Once my "peachy picture" was exposed for the ugly truth, there was no turning back, I had to paint a real one.

Ten years later, I can think of countless admissions of guilt and struggle that were met by grace each time. It is easy to extend grace for her admissions as well. The thing about Kristie is that she is to the core a fundamentally honest person, so I've never had to fish anything out of her. This is probably due in part to the fact that she's a terrible liar. She doesn't even try. Even a surprise purchase on the credit card gets broadcasted with a loud and sheepish "Nothiiiiinnnng" when I walk through the door. I always find it hilarious, so it's hard to be mad. Of course, it is also incredibly manipulative to play on my weaknesses with cute voices, and I've been meaning to talk with her about this, but every time I try she puts on this really cute baby voice and I'm rendered useless. All jokes aside, and to risk making a fairly obvious statement, honesty has built our individual characters and strengthened the trust between us. There is ultimate freedom in our trust, which (to be obvious again) is the great reward for being trustworthy.

If you want to develop character - to be a leader or see your dreams come to fruition - you have to be honest. Familiarize yourself with your weaknesses. Consult people who know better than you if you must, but be real about who you are. Honesty breeds integrity, and people with integrity are extremely rare these days.