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?

So a handful of months ago, I decided to commit to a daily blog.  Did i feel like I had something to say?  Yes.  Did I know if there would be an audience for it?  No.  I simply felt led to put my thought-life into writing.  I wanted to  encourage those who need the comfort of Jesus, and also to lovingly provoke others who need a spiritual kick in the pants.

...I got what I wished for.

I received thank-you notes from readers who appreciated my honesty and boldness about what God's up to.  But I also got e-hate-mail from readers who disagreed with me, telling me I had fallen from the path of truth and that I needed immediate rescue.

Honesty, my reaction to the negative comments was cowardly.  I took the opposition-letters as a threat.  In my head, I had placed the approval of others as a higher priority than finding my worth in Jesus.  So, I decided it would be better to not say anything and offend no one instead of say something that could offend  anyone. 

I chickened out, and stopped blogging. 
But God was well at work.

In the months that followed my decision to stop, I was confronted by the reality of what I'd done.  I had, in a way, chosen to live a different life than Jesus lived.  As Jesus spoke with people during His life, many of them became furious with Him.  He had effectively destroyed their idea of what life looked like, and instead of taking a cue from Him and asking if they maybe needed to adopt a new mindset, they decided that getting rid of Him (read: KILLING Him)would be easier than changing their life based on what He said.  I had personally chosen to not be OK with the very thing that Jesus came here to do; live a life in relationship with the Father, no matter how it's perceived by the people around you.

I guess my real reason for not blogging any longer was because I've always had an issue with feeling accepted.  I've thought of myself as 'not handsome' and 'too nerdy' for a long time.  I've assumed that people inherently thought I wasn't cool and that my goal was to change their initial opinion about me.  I've made acceptance from people more important than acceptance from God.  When people started reacting negatively to my blog posts, I got scared of losing whatever amount of 'coolness' I thought I had built up.  (Recently, God has been hard at work transforming me in these obvious lies I've been buying into for years, to which I'm unbelievably thankful for.)

The truth is, God's truth is absolutely going to offend people.  Why?  Because His truth goes against our human nature (i.e. sinful nature) in every way possible.  I shouldn't be scared of people opposing what I say - I should EXPECT it!  In order to follow Jesus whole-heartedly, we need to let Him crush our pride, individualism, arrogance, and unwillingness to change.  We need to let Him destroy OUR minds and give us HIS mind (Rom. 12:2). 

I'm not saying I won't ever slip up and say something wrong or half-true... my life is in-process, just like everyone else's.  But please know that slip-ups will never be intentional, will always be corrected, and that I rely on my team of accountability partners to call me out on issues like that.  My #1 goal isn't to make people upset - it's to live Christ out loud.  That will make some people really happy and encourage their walk with Him.  It will also freak out those who aren't willing to take a second-look at their beliefs and question why they oppose what I say.

Jesus said in Matthew 10:19-20 that when His followers are persecuted for speaking His truth, "Do not worry what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you."  That's what I'm banking on; that God's been given the reins to my life, and that He may say whatever He wants to whomever He wants through me.

So from here on out, I'll be blogging as often as I feel led (a few times a week or so - sometimes more, sometimes less).  I pray that these words do what I'd originally set out to do - to wear my life-in-Christ on my sleeve, encourage those who need encouraging, and provoke those who need provoking.  I will stand before Him one day and give an account for everything that He asked me to do, and I don't plan on letting this part of my life fall into an 'incomplete' column before Him.  I encourage you to do the same.
the embrace
day 02

“So God created man in his own image; in the image of God He created him.”  ~ Genesis 1:27a
“It’s the return of how You made me.”  ~ The Embrace

Fellowship with God, constant focus on Christ, life in the Spirit; these are the things we were created for!  We were built to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30 ESV); not just some of your heart, but  all of it!  Not  just a few thoughts in your  
mind, but all of them!  It  sounds extreme, but it isn’t some lofty ideal that we should hope to live up to someday; it’s what Christ has commanded us to do, right here and now.

With so many things in this world competing for our attention,  we must realize that  we don’t  make a choice between daily life and God; we must choose to let daily life flow from God.  If we maintain our focus on Him and “seek first His kingdom” (Matt. 6:33), He will provide the time, resources, and opportunities that He wants us to take part in.  Only in Him can we live the life He created for us to live.

*What adjustments need to be made in my life to ensure that God  is the number-one priority in my heart, soul, mind, and strength? 
*Is my devotion to the Lord simply a small part of my life, or is it truly encompassing everything I say and do?

Many blessings, everyone.
I get excited about creating.  The idea of making something out of nothing excites me.  

I think the main reason I enjoy creating is because of the sense of unpredictability that comes with it.  A lyric line might lead to a melody changing form or rhythm.  A guitar part might inspire an extra set (or two, or six) of measures.  A vocal verse that was ad-libbed at the last minute might say twenty times more than the verse that I spent days on.  

There's an infinite amount of creativity (and unpredictability) on this earth.  I love how no two snowflakes have the same pattern, how all these different climates can somehow sustain life, how a sunset can stir the soul as much as a song can.  

Why, then, are we trying to look like everyone else, sound like everyone else, act like everyone else, and just be like everyone else?

We are to find satisfaction in who we are in Christ, not who we are compared to some celebrity or supermodel.  

We are to find satisfaction in who God has created us to be, and stop trying to imitate another person's work or lifestyle.

So, instead of attempting to churn out another piece of contemporary Christian material that fits the image of that genre (before it changes, of course), instead of trying to get my body to be shaped a certain way or to look like I've got my act together, I simply want to rejoice in the fact that I am God's creation, and the gift of creating is something that He's passed down to me.  

I'm so thankful for the creative outlet that He's given me to express how my soul responds to Him.  Whether it blesses tens or millions isn't my concern.  I just want to confidently offer myself back to Jesus with all I've got.

So, next time you're creating, whatever it may be, remember 
For those of you who are wondering about the next worship project, THE RISING [Songs of Redemption], here's a few little tidbits of information:

- There's quite a few items on my plate right now, but I'll be making every effort to release THE RISING during the year 2011.  I don't doubt that it can happen, but it's ultimately up to our God as to how the timeline unfolds.  As of right now, though, the aim is definitely for a 2011 release.

- Lyrically, I want THE RISING to be penetrating and blunt.  I think we should be held accountable by the lyrics of the songs we sing to the Lord, and I want to enter my foot into that circle.

- The content of the lyrics is, of course, about redemption.  It'll explore biblical answers for what redemption really means for our DNA, our daily lives, and our eternal allegiance.  (Let's just say that there'll be a lot of rejoicing on this album.)

- Musically, don't expect THE RISING to sound a lot like THE EMBRACE.  This isn't because I'm intentionally trying to be different.  It's because different seasons of creativity bring different outcomes, and I'm excited to see what happens.  (Hint: I'm feeling a lot more creative on electric guitar than on acoustic guitar lately.  We'll see where that leads!)

- Finally, the costs of recording, producing, mastering, manufacturing, and distributing music aren't cheap.  If you've been blessed by my music or this blog, I invite you to make a donation to the ministry.  

slavespiritministries exists to further the love and truth of Jesus by all means possible.  It does not exist so that we can make a few dollars, sit around until the money's gone, post more Internet content until a few more dollars show up, and repeat.  We're in it for Jesus.  Please give if you're called to give.  (You even get a personal thank-you from me in your email inbox.  How much fun is that?)  

Also, If you're led to donate to the costs of bringing THE RISING to life, simply put "rising" in the Add Special Instructions field on the final donation page.  As a bonus, if you donate $25 or more, you'll automatically receive one of the first copies of THE RISING when it releases.  

You can click on the link below to donate.  No minimum amount is necessary.  Giving is an act of worship: give as you're led to give, and thanks for doing so.  (You do not need a Paypal account to donate.  Simply look on the lower left part of the page that says "Use your credit card or bank account".)

Copy and paste this link to donate:

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU all for your support through prayer and giving.  It's an honor to walk alongside you in this life in Christ.  Be blessed!
As Kait & I were doing our quiet time this morning, it hit me: we have no clue what's going to happen in the near future.  ...And we're okay with that!

I realized that we don't have a career arc to aspire to.  We don't have plans as to how we think this life is going to look.  We don't know where, when, how, why, or what's in store for the next month, even.  

But "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7).  We can't explain why we're peaceful in any other way than this: His peace is guarding us.  What an awesome thing to cling to!

I'm not saying that there isn't ever a time when planning for the future isn't legit.  I think it just boils down to if we're doing the planning, or if we're letting Him do the planning.  If your heart is being led by Him to a certain place, cause, or opportunity, don't doubt it.  But don't try to force something through on your own terms either.  Release it to the Lord and let Him deal with it (and with you) accordingly (see Prov. 15:22, Prov. 19:21).

To think that God isn't going to use us in the exact ways that He sees fit (if we allow Him to do what He wants with us, that is) is lack of faith.  We're not putting our hope in a house, a job, or any sense of accomplishment.  We're putting our hope in Jesus.  The only Hope that never

There's plenty more to say on this, which I'll probably explore more of in future posts, but this is where I'm stopping for now.  

Many blessings and much of our God's love to you in the New Year!
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!