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Kait & I have been visiting family down in southwest MN for the last couple days, and we plan on being here for another day (unless we totally get snowed in by this likely-ridiculous snowstorm that's coming this way).  Leaving a city with over 4 million people in the metro area and going to a town with a population of 12,000 (which, down here, is one of the bigger cities) is a total change of pace.

In today's world, and especially in the bigger cities, we are being told to GO GO GO GO GO.  There's not a second to lose, not a moment to forget, and never a chance for quiet.  Even our relax-time is usually dictated by an onslaught of internet, TV, music, texting/email, and whatnot.  (Take a look at my post about "being still" from a while back.)

Down here in southwest MN, "relaxing" takes on a whole new meaning.  Sure, there's still plenty of a chance for internet/TV/etc (...we're still having all sorts of fun with the iPad Kait won on the radio a couple months ago)... but the culture just feels different.  There isn't a constant pull for our attention down here.  There isn't a laundry list of daily tasks that can't go unnoticed.  We get to spend time together as a family, I get to catch up on the John MacArthur and Peter Rollins books I'm in the middle of, and we get to basically forget about what time it is.

I wonder if the life down here reflects the life that was commonly lived a few decades ago (or maybe several decades ago).  In one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption, Brooks Hatlen was a prisoner for at least forty years before being released on parole.  One of his first thoughts about the way things had changed since he had been jailed decades earlier is this: 
"The world went and got itself all up in a hurry."  
And he was released from prison in the 1960s.  Think about how he would've felt if he would've lived to see today!

Without trying to sound too much like previous posts, I simply want to encourage you all to schedule time for your "day of rest."  God built rest into the system from the very beginning (see Genesis 2), but our culture doesn't really want anything to do with that.  Go counter-culture.  Refresh.  Recharge.

Maybe your new year's resolution shouldn't have anything to do with getting more accomplished.  Maybe it should have everything to do with getting less accomplished.  Leave more time to bask in the glory of who our God is and the amazing opportunity He's given us to be in relationship with Him.

Here's to a new year, filled with a greater intimacy with Jesus.  Happy new year, everyone!
 
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Do you consider yourself a patient person?  I have great days with patience, and I have horrible days with it.  

Here's a question I've been processing a bit lately: When we bank on God to uphold His promises to us, why does it feel like He takes His sweet time to answer?

Look at Joseph (start in Genesis 37).  Look at Abraham (start in Genesis 17).  Look at David (start in 1 Samuel 16).  (There are plenty other examples - these are just the top 3 that come to mind.) Here are a bunch of God-fearing men who, after God spoke to them clearly about their future, each went through serious times of waiting.  Joseph endured a couple years of waiting.  David?  At least a decade.  Abraham?  A quarter-century.  

So why on earth didn't God just wait to tell them what He told them?  Why not wait until the last day of the 25th year to tell Abraham what He told him, instead of putting Abraham through a 25-year patience pressure-cooker?  

Well... we actually don't learn too much about why God spoke "early."  We see that they each went through a bunch of trials and hardships.  We see that they each cried out to God in panic and discouragement.  But we don't ever get the answer to why God did it on that timeline.

Here are two reasons why I think God's timing plays out the way it does.

1) Going through (what seems like) silence from God is what builds a firm faith.  If we've tried to boil His blessings down to a science (i.e. "this much prayer + this much Bible reading + this much worship = supernatural wonders!"), we'll come up short every time.  God is creative.  He is not a God of patterns; just look at how each of us look different, act different, have different struggles, and come to God differently.  I think He stays silent at times because He wants our faith to depend not on what we can see, but that we actually believe in what we can't see (see Hebrews 11).  If God was predictable, we would have no reason to trust Him.

2) We need to let go of the idea that we know what's best for ourselves!  God may have had something waiting down the line for Abraham, David, and Joseph (...and all of us too, of course!), but God also had a perfect purpose for each and every minute that led up to God fulfilling what He had said.  I can't imagine how the faith of those guys grew during their waiting.  Their patience, trust, surrender, humility, and passion for God multiplied each and every day, I'm sure.  God doesn't simply know where He wants us to go, but He knows exactly what we need to go through to get there.

These passages in Psalms (written by David, appropriately!) jumped out at me yesterday:

"Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act." (Ps. 37:5)
"Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him." (Ps. 37:7)
"But to You, O Lord, do I wait; it is You, O Lord my God, who will answer." (Ps. 38:15)

These verses are powerful, but I think they're even more powerful knowing that the author had to deal with quite a bit of "being still" and "waiting" with God himself.  David lived out what he spoke.

So, for those who find themselves getting impatient over the little things or the big things, remember that the Author of the timeline knows exactly what is needed and when it's going to happen.  And He wants you to press in deeper, fully trusting that He is who He says He is in His Word.  

It's a journey... and painful or not, it couldn't be sweeter.  
 
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I am one of fourteen-bazillion writers in the blogosphere.  
There are tons of sites with more page-views than mine.
There are tons of people who have more interesting things to say than me.

So... should I stop?

Absolutely not. God's been teaching me a lot about what having a holistic view of life in Him means.  Having a holistic view of this life means that the focus on my life disappears, and instead I focus on the "whole" (God's plan for our entire universe).  Holistic living is completely contrary to how our sinful selves are programmed by the world to work (...we like to think about/provide for/protect ourselves like crazy), but it's what God calls us to (see Philippians 1:12-14).  

I've taken an honest look at my heart... and I've realized that I have very much not been living with the "whole" in mind.  
- I've gotten jealous when I see other artists sign a record deal, land a big show, or sign on as worship pastor at a big church.  
- I get frustrated when I see people get studio recording jobs that I think I'm "better-qualified" for (which also means that I'm placing myself above others in a prideful way).  
- I worry about my own record sales, album reviews, and yes, blog page-views... somehow convincing myself that bigger numbers means that I'm being more effective in ministry.

Long story short, my inner heart is much more concerned with "self" rather than "whole".  It'd be safe to call me anti-holistic.  This is what God is gutting out of me.  

Should my concern be about "standing out"?  Not at all.  God's given each of us a part to play in the body of Christ.  I can't buy into the lie that, as of this moment, my level of ministry is a failure in His eyes.  I should be thrilled with the people who've been given the opportunity to reach thousands with the truth of Jesus, and be satisfied with the portion of those thousands that He empowers me to minister to.  I'm a part of the holistic movement for Jesus.  I'm not the movement... I'm a part of the movement.

So, saying crazy things or trying to stir controversy for the sake of standing out is aimed at the wrong goal.  (Of course, being honest with biblical truth will always stir controversy somewhere... but that's a whole 'nother blog entry in and of itself.)

Be praying for the continued forming of my heart to being holistic in everything that I do.  Jesus, it's about You.  Not me.
 

Once a week, I'll be posting one of the daily entries from The Embrace devotional.  Here's the first.

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The Embrace
Day 01

“Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”  ~ Rom. 6:4b
“It’s the beginning of surrender…”  ~ The Embrace

The moment we receive new life is the moment our old life ends, stops, ceases to exist.  The independent, self-centered nature of our lives doesn’t get whittled away at bit-by-bit; it’s destroyed in a single blow.  How many of us truly realize that, through Jesus, our old life is truly dead?

One of the most essential moments in the death of our old life is when our prideful nature– the idea that we are capable of living Christ-centered lives by our own efforts– comes crashing down.  We must let go of thinking that we are worthy of being children of God on our own merit.  Surrender doesn’t just mean I accept and trust that the Lord knows what is best; it means I also admit that my own attempts to measure up to Him will always fall short.

*What is standing in the way of my complete surrender to the Lord?
*Am I willing to admit that I am righteous and blameless only because of the sacrifice of Jesus, not by my own efforts?
--

Blessings on the rest of your 2010!
 
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After all the gatherings have come and gone, the presents have been opened, the food has been eaten, and the Christmas carols have been heard countless times, then it's time.

Time for the Post-Christmas Lull.

The bank account stops wheezing from all the presents that have been bought, the waistline starts getting back to its normal size, and the schedule starts looking less and less hectic.

It feels awesome.

Don't get me wrong, I'm so thankful for everything that the Christmas season brings with it.  I'm just thankful that life has settled back down a bit now... for the time being, at least.  I also feel like Jesus should be celebrated like crazy constantly instead of this little window around the mid-to-late December, so I guess I'm thankful to going back to celebrating Him on the normal days instead of just celebrating Him on the days that the calendar tells us to.

Musical present of 2010: a ukulele.  Pretty pumped about that.  Be sure to look out for it on future recordings.

If you can't get the spirit of giving out of your system (...which we never should try to do!), please check out the blog of our dear friends and international missionaries the Cannys.  Go to http://cannychronicles.blogspot.com/ to read a bit about how God's been speaking to them and where they're headed to.  God's provided a lot of the financial support they need, but they still need a bit more.  Pray it over, see what God says, and check out their site and give give give.

Merry belated Christmas, everyone!
 
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Along with a daily dose of Scripture, I keep up-to-speed with two different devotionals from the late Oswald Chambers.  He's extremely faithful to the Bible and delivers direct applications to our life.  I've been blessed like crazy by the work that God brought forward through him (and published by his wife after his death).

Today's entry went something like this: 

--
"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him..." (John 6:44)

When God begins to draw me to Himself, the problem of my will comes in immediately.  Will I come to Him?  Will I commit, placing myself completely and absolutely on God, and be willing to act solely on what He says?  If I will, I will find that I am grounded on reality as certain as God's throne.

I must place no confidence in my own works, but only in God.  Trusting in my own mental understanding becomes a hindrance to complete trust in God.  I must surrender myself completely to God.     (emphasis mine)
--

First of all, this is a huge encouragement to me & Kait.  God's been continuing to pull us through a process that is only explainable by Him, and we are determined to act solely on what He says.  To some people, some who even call themselves Christians, we look crazy.  That's disappointing to me.  It's not really disappointing in the sense that we don't have their support, encouragement, and prayer... it's disappointing in the sense that they claim to have absolute faith in Jesus, but when asked to live it out in a very real and tangible way, they go back on their word.  Our responsibility is to God, not to man.  Whether or not we look crazy to you isn't really a concern of ours.

Secondly, I have to continue learning just what it means to stop "trusting in my own mental understanding," because I am severely limiting God's work in my life if I insist on being able to understand everything that He's up to.  I don't want to get comfortable with the small bit that I know about Him.  I want to keep allowing Him to expanding me past what I know of Him today.  I want Him to tear down the incorrect walls that I've put up in my heart and head.  I want the death of my wrong convictions about Him, and life to what He wants to share with me.


I won't take this any further... Oswald's words speak much greater than my own.  Dwell on his meditation on the Bible, and see what God wants to sort out through you.


What's He calling you to do?
 
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The newest installment in the “Stuff I’m Sick Of” feature.
 
STUFF I’M SICK OF.
- Malls getting more attention than Jesus during the month of December.
 
- Anything getting more attention than Jesus, any time of the year.
 
- Christmas carol lyrics that go by so fast.  There’s so much in there – I totally want to slow down every song and just dwell on the good stuff.
 
- The overall attitude of many a child when it comes to presents.  Our culture certainly starts breeding the idea of “what’s rightfully mine” at a very early age, especially in America – the land of over-abundance and taking it all for granted.
 
- Christmas cookies.  Yes, they are ridiculously delicious.  What I’m sick of, though, is that our culture basically says that it’s okay to indulge total gluttony for one month each year, a decision that totally messes with our view of food for the other eleven months. 
 
---
 
That’s enough bah-humbug for this season.
 
Please, as cheesy as it sounds, truly enjoy “the reason for the season.”  And become your own version of the sanctified skeptic: find some stuff that you’re sick of.  Release it to Jesus.  Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be the change-agent that He plans on using.

 
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God has seriously been dealing with me by using a lot of car-related illustrations lately.  The most recent example: headlights.
 
My wife & I bought a new (well, new to us) car this last summer.  Last week, one of the headlight bulbs went out.  So, after buying a replacement, I then pop the hood and attempt to figure out how to put the thing in.  I unscrewed assemblies that didn’t need to be unscrewed, took out the high-beam bulb instead of the low-beam, spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out why I wasn’t getting anything done, and got close to frostbite on my hands in the process
 
(OK, frostbite is an exaggeration.  But it’s now officially Minnesota winter, and my hands get cold real fast.  So I wasn’t super thrilled about that.)
 
I then (at Kait’s request – thanks for dealing with me, darling) asked the clerk at the auto parts store if they help out customers with bulb issues.  The guy kindly threw on a coat, came outside, and yanked our burned-out bulb out of the car.  Within ninety seconds.  It was that easy, apparently. 
 
I was so humbled that I almost laughed out loud.  How on earth was I trumped by a headlight?  I mean, seriously – I’m fine with getting help from others, but I didn’t think that headlight-bulb-changing was outside of what I should be capable of figuring out.
 
I seem to be learning more and more about just how particular of a part to the body of Christ I am.  He’s given me certain gifts and areas that I excel at, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that there are plenty of gifts and areas that I do not excel in. 
 
So, I’m going to stop getting frustrated with the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to take out a headlight bulb, and instead be thankful that there are people in His body that have been wired to understand problems like that.  They can solve my little issue without a second thought, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
 
With that, I’m curious as to just what God wants to do with this particular set of gifts that He’s given me.  I only hope that I’m able to bless others with what God’s doing in me the same way that the auto parts clerk blessed me, and just like the church of Acts showed us how they lived: by selflessly giving what we’ve been given by God to anyone around us that is in need (see Acts 4:32-37).  It’s not about the good of any one particular person, but about the good of the Body.  And that Body belongs to Jesus.
 
So whether that means that you need to be more selfless with your money, your time, your talents, or simply yourself, know that the way that you’ve been created was not by accident.  Your gifts will bless others in the same way that you will be blessed by the gifts of others.
 
Thank You, Lord, for mapping this life out so much better than we as finite humans could ever come up with.

 
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I want to take this time and wish you all a merry Christmas from our family to yours.

Please take time to set aside all the busyness of this season and breathe in the real reason that we're celebrating anything at all.  

Jesus.  

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.  

I pray that the reason for Christmas is something that stains you deep, throwing you to your feet in awe of Him not just once a year, but every single day.  

Please let the Truth of Jesus be something more than folklore.  Please let it not just be a Sunday-school story that you know all the facts about.  

Let it transform you.  After all, the birth of Jesus in me means death to the "me" that tried to live apart from Him.  

Simply knowing about Him isn't enough.  There's plenty of people, people who even call themselves Christians, that know plenty about Him but aren't truly, absolutely, madly in love with who He is.  Admitting our absolute need and dependency on Him is what He's really after from us.

So, in the midst of all the holiday chaos, set aside all the lights and garland and cookies and gift wrap and snowmen... and celebrate the birth of the Son of God.  Emmanuel.  God with us.

Please, don't be impressed with yourself... be impressed with Jesus.  That alone is worthy of celebration this season.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Be Me.

12/20/2010

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Merry Christmas-week to everyone!  Kait & I have already been to a couple family celebrations, and we have a few more in the pipeline as well.  Along with a couple Christmas Eve services and plenty of hours behind the wheel, it's looking to be a busy but fantastic season of celebrating the debut of God in the flesh on earth.

Isn't it great when He shows up in extremely unexpected ways?  ...Yeah, I think so too.

I was working on my classes this morning, and I hit an assignment that looked like it'd been written by a two-century-old dictionary.  It basically was a bunch of fifty-dollar-words strung together, which made me feel like the author was getting paid based on how many times he confused his readers.  I felt pretty, well...not smart.

At the same time, there was some ridiculously catchy music being piped through the coffee-shop speakers.  The muted drum groove and melody were syncopated and way cool.  I couldn't get it out of my head.  I took it as a reminder from God that He's created me with a set of skills as a member of His Body that no textbook or overly-well-written article will ever trump.  

So, of course, I totally stopped focusing on studying and instead focused on songwriting.  I was trying to figure out how a few recent ideas would translate into songs for the next album or other projects.  And immediately I started thinking the same thing that I've had go through my head every time I've written material, well, ever: "What will [insert random friend/musician/church member/artist/audience member name here] think of this new chord change/rhythm/melody/lyric?"  

Or, in other words, "What will they think of what I create?"  

And it hit me: I will never be satisfied with how a single song turns out if I keep asking myself this question.  Because, no matter what, there will always be someone who doesn't agree with some decision I make.  But in the midst of this, God said to me, 

"You are not here to fulfill their expectations of you.  
You are here to fulfill My expectations of you.  
Go.  
Create.
Be you."

We aren't all the same limb or organ in the body of Christ.  We all have a distinct purpose.  I'm done believing the deception that I have to meet the approval of people around me with my work before I meet the approval of God with my work.  After all, He's much more interested in my satisfaction of simply being with Him instead of trying to do a bunch of .  I simply need to take this work that He brings through me, offer it to Him, and let Him do what He wants with it.  Whether that means it'll spread like wildfire throughout the nations or that it'll never been seen by a single soul isn't the point.  

I'm going to be me.

Are you you?