I’ve been asking myself a question that seems to grow in size every time I try to wrap my head around it.  I started thinking about it in the middle of a songwriting session, but by no means think that it’s limited to musicians or ‘artsy’ people.

Here’s the question: When I’m working on creating something, am I actually creating, or am I actually discovering something already in existence but just hasn’t been realized yet?

I’ve had a few songs that have had a basic construct laid out for them for several months, but trying to add other parts to them to complete them never seems to fit.  Today, after wrestling with one of these songs for a long time, something finally ‘clicked’.  The song began to make more sense.

But while I was doing it, it didn’t feel like I had written another piece of music and had simply found something that fit well with the existing pieces of the song.  Instead, it felt like I had finally found additional parts of the song that had been there all along, but simply hadn’t been ‘unearthed’ yet.  It was like the song had already been written, and I finally found the missing puzzle pieces that belonged to it. 

Does that make any sense?  It sounds like an artistic-only question, but once you strip it down to its most basic level, it seems to make a lot more sense.  When you decide to paint the house a certain color, do you choose a particular color because you had a choice, or did you choose the color that your God-given personality is designed to enjoy? 

(This isn’t an argument over what choices are right and wrong – we’re the BODY of Christ, every one of us playing a different part in His story.  This is a question of if our opinions and ideas come from nowhere or if they’ve been there all along and we simply have yet to find them.)

Colossians 4:17 (which I know I’ve quoted before) says, “Be sure to carry out the ministry the Lord gave you.”  Not “the ministry you’ve created yourself”… but rather what “the Lord GAVE you.”  We look at all the ways that the Holy Spirit leads God’s people in where they are to go, what they are to do, and when & how they’re going to do it.  From the examples we see, it seems like it’s less about us creating for God, and more about realizing what God’s created in us and watching it unfold in our life.

I’m curious as to how you feel about this.  Do we create?  Or do we discover what He’s created in us for His glory and His purpose?
 
I’m getting ready to head out to work with the music ministry at a summer camp for a week with one of my dear friends and brother in Christ. 

Camp ministry is an interesting animal – as much as you think you know how God’s going to be at work, you never fully know what’s going to happen until you’re in the heat of the moment.  Sure, one can plan and program and rehearse until they’re blue in the face, but when it’s time, there’s a myriad of x-factors that can make calling an audible an almost-constant possibility.  The supernatural things that God plans to do in the hearts of hundreds of campers can’t possibly all be planned for.  The spiritual attacks that Satan also tries to unleash on those same campers can’t all be foreseen and dealt with.   It’s up to the Holy Spirit – and our sensitivity to how He’s at work – to move, guide, direct, give discernment to, and LEAD every member of the camp staff.

When we take a closer look, isn’t this really how our entire lives work?  Don’t we plan and rehearse, thinking we’ve got our act together and our five year plan knocked out cold… when all of a sudden, a cluster of plan-B-inducers slap us in the face and swing us seemingly “off-course”?  You’d be hard-pressed to find a follower of Christ who doesn’t have SOME element of this somewhere in their story.  We assume that we’ve been thrown off of our path and need to somehow deal with the issues at hand, navigating our way back to where we think we need to be. 

In reality, the “x-factors” that changed our path were the REAL path that God’s created for us.  The character and reflection of Himself that God wants to build in us through the times of trial are inseparable from life in Christ; if we’d be able to see in advance how He plans to use difficulties to mold and shape us, we’d kick & scream and fight to never let it happen.  But if we accept direction-changes as His handiwork instead of ‘something wrong happening’, we get a better glimpse of who He is and who we have yet to become. 

Let’s plan and prepare our life, surrendering EVERYthing to God with every step we take… and let’s not be unbelievably surprised when He allows our direction to change.  It may be for a season, it may be for our entire life… but it’s Him who purposed it, and it’s Him who should get the glory for writing our story the way HE wants to, regardless of what our involvement in it looks like.  I may be the tiniest pawn in his play or a main character for a chapter, but one thing’s for sure – I’m not the Author. 

Holy Author, please give me the strength to take each step that You give.  Give me the grace and discernment to navigate direction-changes that You’ve planned.  Give me unshakeable faith, that I may trust Your story is better than any one I’ll ever be able to write.  Give me more of You.
 
The nice weather is FINALLY HERE in Minnesota.  To be honest, I can hardly stand the cold and snow.  It's not my favorite.  (But this is where God has us for the time being, and I'm happy that we can rest in the promise that we're where He wants us.)  

Summer weather is a great thing.  Sun, warmth, breeze, everything about it screams "freedom from indoors".  BUT, of course, it also has its own list of 'cons', if you will.  Mosquitos, yardwork, constant sweat, and so on.  We are left with a choice.  Do the pros outweigh the cons for us?  It's different for everyone.

One thing I'd like to encourage each and every one of you on is this: daily time with God.  Set aside time for prayer, reading the Bible, and going over what you just read (to see how God wants to teach you through it) are pretty standard.  Feel free to add your own expressions as well, different for each person in each place.  But set aside time for God every day.

Now, of course we’d be able to come up with a list of ‘cons’ for this.  Setting time aside every morning probably means you’ll get less sleep.  You’ll have less time to check email, text, and surf the web, or read blogs (!!).  You’ll have days where you don’t feel like you “got” something out of your time with God, causing you to question if it was even worth it.  And  so on. 

But the real question is this: in spending time with God, do the pros outweigh the cons for you?  Have you learned that an hour with God is more valuable than years of anything else?  Have you learned that doing for God isn’t nearly as important as simply BEING with God?  Do you trust that when you draw near to Him, He responds every time by drawing near to you (James 4:8) even if there may not be something that jumps out at you?

Please, don’t let Satan convince you that the cons are so seemingly important, and the pros aren’t worth anything.  The reason he wants to toss us down that path is because he knows just how much power there is in a son or daughter of God who can’t imagine their life without intimate connection with their Father. 

I’m going to go outside, sweat a bit, slap some mosquitoes on my arms and legs, and know that the pros outweigh the cons. 

 
Continuing work on the new album. 

THE RISING is musically risky, and that excites me.  It’s going to make some people upset that it doesn’t sound like the first album, and I’m sure it will make others take shots at me because I wasn’t risky enough. 

THE RISING is lyrically dense, and that’s new for me.  I’m used to using ten words in my lyrics when two will do.  I’m finding that the two-instead-of-ten-word-lyrics are a lot harder to write, but they seem to hit me in the chest harder and drive home what it’s all about.  Some people probably won’t like the fact that it’s more pointed and raw than the first album, and I’m sure others will think I didn’t break enough new ground.

Basically, I’ve realized that in all aspects of life (my walk in Christ, music, or anything else), I’m too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals.  To those who consider themselves progressive, I’m too much of a traditionalist.  To those who consider themselves traditional, I’m too much of a progressivist (I think I just made up a new word!).

I’ve ultimately learned that when it comes to living for Christ, I need to stop caring about how I’m perceived by the people around me.  I need to love everyone in Christ, but stop treating life (and ministry) like it’s some type of popularity contest.  I’m creating this music about Jesus because it’s through Jesus that I’m able to do it and it’s for Jesus that makes it valuable.   If He didn’t give me music to write, I wouldn’t do it.  If I offered my music (read: not just the lyrics, but the music as well) for any other gain besides gain in the eyes of Jesus, I’d be pursuing the wrong dream. 

So, regardless of if you think I’m being too risky or if you think I’m being too timid with this music, it all boils down to the fact that I’m in the place that God wants me to be for this album.  He’ll use it to bless those that He wants to, no matter how many or few.  The enemy will NOT stop me by trying to convince me that a certain musical or lyrical decision might upset this person or that person.  I may be caught in the middle of different earthly opinions, but I’m really just in it for Jesus.
 
As I've been working on the material for the next collection of worship songs, I've been processing over what "art" is.  I am, of course, coming from the angle of music-as-art, but these ideas certainly apply to all avenues of artistry.  Some of my random thoughts:

*I wonder what makes art 'valuable.'  
Does it have to do with how many people enjoy it?  
Does it have to do with how much time, money, or effort goes into producing it?

*If your art aims to please one audience but instead pleases an entirely different audience, is that considered a success or a failure?

*The beauty of music-as-art in the studio is that I can choose as many (or as few) instruments, notes, rhythms, and lyrics as I want.  
Is the writer/performer of a simple song labeled as boring and a beginner, or are they praised for making bold and accessible choices? 
Is the writer/performer of a complex song labeled as someone who "doesn't know when to stop", or are they praise for making intricate and complex choices?

*Ultimately, do I rest in the truth -- much like a dad praises his kids who come home from school with fingerpainted pictures, God is THRILLED when His children create art that reflects their passion for Him  --  or do I become consumed with how other people react to my creation?  

It's an interesting road to walk down, but I know that in the end, God is the focus.  Not me, my glory, my success, my 'legitimacy' in whatever industry one feels like clumping me in.  The focus is creating for the Father, singing the song He's put in my heart.  

To me, THAT is art.
 
Where do we draw the line?

I’ve been bouncing this around in my heart and head for a while.  It was stirred up in part by what God’s been doing in me lately, and in part by a couple books I’ve read recently.

There’s no doubt that God speaks through His Word on a regular basis to those who spend time in it.  He speaks through various verses, passages, people, and situations.  It can come at any time, pertaining to any thing, and through any way He sees fit.

But where do we draw the line when it comes to the relevance of the Bible in our lives?

Here’s the scenario:  Joe Reader has just read a portion of the Bible that has real-world-application he doesn’t like.  Following it would force him to drastically change certain actions and attitudes.  So, instead of running his life based on what it says, he simply labels that passage as “irrelevant” and moves on.

Did you catch that?  He didn’t say he believes some Scripture is true and some isn’t.  No, it’s way sneakier than that.  He chose to say that all Scripture is true, but there are certain parts of it he’d rather not follow.

When did we all of a sudden think that we have the authority to choose what parts of Scripture are relevant to our life and what parts AREN’T relevant? 

I’m pretty sure that God’s order of events didn’t include handing us His Word and saying to us, “All right… feel free to skim through that book and weed out anything that seems a bit dicey.”  When we begin to weed through Scripture, we’re saying that WE have the final say on our life, NOT God.  It’s cocky, it’s arrogant, and it’s pretty much the way that our culture runs these days.

I think the huge culprit in this whole deal is the idea that following Scripture leads to a crappy, uneventful, lame, no-fun-times life that’s void of all things glorious and cool. 

Think about it – God put human life into motion so that we may have relationship with Him.  He LOVES us!  When we royally messed up the equation (see Adam and Eve), He put His guidance and commandments -- and ultimately His Son -- in place so that we could return to the relationship-focus life was originally about.  “Following His Word” equals “most fulfilling life.”  Satan wants us to think, however, that “most fulfilling life” has NOTHING to do with following His Word.  He puts so much effort into trying to convince us that following God’s Word equals prison.  And he’s wrong.  Following God’s Word doesn’t equal prison; it equals FREEDOM (2 Cor. 3:17).

So what do you do when it comes to the tough stuff in Scripture?  Do you breeze right past it and choose what parts of Scripture you ignore?  Or do you let the Word of God transform you?