In the early 1980s, a phenomena swept the nation. I know what you’re thinking. Apple computers? U2? Pop rocks? Nope. And while all those things certainly have their place in the history of American culture, one trend stands out above the rest, like a lone mountain surrounded by hills:
The Chia Pet.
Who wouldn’t want a terracotta figurine that grew chia sprouts for hair in only 2 weeks? Ch-ch-ch-chia! Ok. Maybe they aren’t as exciting as I remember. But the idea was brilliant. Transform what would normally be just an ordinary pot into an animal of your choice and just add water. The best part was that awkward in between stage when the sprouts hadn’t fully grown in and it looked like the animal was suffering from hair loss.
The interesting thing about the chia pet, and potted plants in general, is that they aren’t connected to an in-ground root system. Their roots are limited to the space in the pot, and they require somebody to physically water them in order to flourish. Sometimes, I think we treat our faith as Christians like a chia pet. We crave a vibrant and intimate relationship with God, but our spirituality remains pre-packaged and homegrown. It’s so much easier to go through our days depending on our own root system for life than it is to tap into the eternal wellspring of life God offers us through his Spirit. Jesus had something to say about this in John 15:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”
No beating around the bush (or vine) here. Jesus is pretty clear about the fact that we will only experience abundant life in him. There are a seemingly infinite number of places for us to find motivation these days. A desire for success. The need for approval. A longing for intimacy. The hope for a second chance. All of these things are real and a part of our experience as humans. But Jesus says that he is the source for all of the life we crave. Apart from him, our own efforts are feeble and insignificant. I’m guilty of having chia pet faith more often than I’d like to admit. It’s so easy for me to navigate my relationships and conversations on my own strength, adding some water every now and then to give the appearance of lasting growth. But this way of life wears on me. What about you? Can you look back on the trajectory of your day and see the fingerprints of God and his Spirit? Or is it a one man show?
Jesus understood the importance of being rooted in his Father’s vine more than anyone. And he desires for us to experience that same fulfillment. So let’s stop settling for faith in a pot and let our roots go deep into the soil of all that God has for us.
This summer will mark 3 years that I’ve been in the band Attaboy. If you would’ve asked me before graduating college if I thought I’d end up doing this for a living, I would’ve said fat chance. And I would’ve been wrong. I truly consider it a gift from God to be able to play music and support my family at the same time. And while dream jobs are called dream jobs for a reason, they aren’t void of challenges.
We live in a culture that celebrates celebrity and equates value and worth with how high up the corporate ladder someone is. Maybe this isn’t news to you, but it poses a serious threat to the life of humility Jesus died and rose to call us to. On the eve of his arrest, Jesus demonstrated one of the clearest pictures of servanthood ever. Jesus, the Christ, got down on his hands and knees and began to wash the disciples’ feet. For those of us who were raised in the church, it can be easy to glaze over the significance of certain stories in the Bible because they’re so familiar. This is a moment we should not underestimate. There are many instances in Jesus’ earthly ministry where he goes out of his way to reach out to people who had been deemed “unworthy” or “unclean” by society’s rules. And he had little regard for who he happened to offend along the way. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if I am more like a Pharisee than I am a disciple.
So. How does this all tie together? Earlier I alluded to the unique set of temptations that accompany being in front of hundeds of people for a living. It’s no secret that performance is a pretty sizable element of what I do. But the hope is that it isn’t about the performance in and of itself. It’s about the opportunity God has given me to use that platform to speak his truth into peoples lives. But in my brokenness, I can subconsciously allow the thrill of being on a stage to trick me into thinking I’m directly responsible for changing people’s hearts. This becomes a huge problem when it takes priority over simply being faithful to God with what he’s given me. The point is this: I am only a man. And the more I try to do what I cannot and only God can, the further I get from who he has called me to be. In the words of John the Baptist, “I am not the Christ”. John was telling people this because they were confused. Some thought he could be Jesus. But John understood something very important; something many Christians have lost sight of today, myself included. Zach Eswine words it perfectly when he says that, “only by surrender to our proper human place can we glorify and enjoy God the way we say we want to and the way he requires”.
The moment I elevate myself above another human being because I think my vocation somehow makes me more important is the moment I believe the same lie the serpent told Adam and Eve: you can be like God. My struggles are many. And I hope that by being transparent about them there can be healing. The pursuit of personal success is so destructive to the Christian life. That’s what makes my job hard. Sometimes it’s hard to separate personal success from bringing God glory. Sometimes they’re the same thing. Most of the time they aren’t. That’s the fine line I walk everyday. I’m learning that trying to be an exception to the human race encourages arrogance among most of us and burnout among the rest. We are all the same. We all need Jesus. And the sooner we understand that on the inside, the sooner we’ll start looking like him on the outside.
2013 has officially arrived. For many of us, it signifies a fresh start; a chance to re-establish good habits and break bad ones. We’ve all made resolutions. Some of us want to eat better. Some of us want to be a better friend. Some of us just want to try something new . Personally, I’ve always struggled to reconcile the concept of New Years Resolutions with the Christian faith, but I’ll get to that later.
Back in December, my wife and I were going a through an Advent devotional every day leading up to Christmas. In of the very last ones, we stumbled across a reference to this 21-day fast that many churches do together at the start of the new year. After a little bit of google searching (or YouTube if you’re under 15), I stumbled across a website that seemed pretty popular. It talked about what’s called the Daniel Fast. In short, the Daniel Fast is a 21 day fast based on 2 passages in the book of Daniel where he goes without certain foods and drink. Biblically, fasting refers to abstaining from certain foods for a spiritual purpose. So without going into all the details, my wife and I are on a stricter version of a vegan diet and drink only water.
Before I go any further, let me just say that this is one of the most difficult challenges I’ve set for myself. I LOVE to snack. If I were a wild animal, I would be what’s known as a “grazer”. I’m sure some of you can relate. My desire for food is often based less on hunger and more on boredom. This is not a good thing. And so limiting my diet this way has really caused me to re-think the way I approach food. But over the last few days, God is starting to show me something a little bit deeper.
It’s easy for me to get caught up in all the food restrictions that I forgot why God prompted us to embark on this journey at all. For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled to maintain any sort of routine. And when it comes to my spiritual practices, this translates to a level of inconsistency in my relationship with God. So when the idea of this fast came up, I immediately knew it was God’s way of moving me into a place of increased dependency on him and decreased dependency on my own will power. Let me give you an example of what happens when depend on will power to make the right choice. The other day, I was rummaging through my pantry for my lunch box.* As fate would have it, my hand pulled down a bag of chocolate chip cookies. And in that moment, I swear these cookies had eyes. And they STARED at me. Literally. So I did what any normal person would do and ate 1. Or 2. Actually it was just 1.
I tell you that to show you that although the will can sometimes work, it is ultimately too weak to handle the trials and temptations we’re faced with. Through this fasting experience, I’m learning to celebrate my weakness because it means a chance for Christ’s strength to fill me instead. So many of us are so content to go through life hoping our good intentions will be enough. So many us know that they’re not. Jesus invites us to “take up your cross daily”. Daily. Every day we make a decision that we will die to ourselves and our desires. The surprising side effect of dying is that in doing so, we discover true life. Kyle Idleman puts it perfectly in his book “not a fan”.
“In a twist of irony, we find that giving up our lives gives us the life we so desperately wanted all along.”
So rather than simply resolving to do better because we’ve entered into a new calendar year, I pray that we would be people of discipline. I pray that we would embrace the places where we fall short, knowing that Christ waits graciously to be everything that we cannot.
*You heard me. I have a lunch box. It might not have Buzz Lightyear on the front, but it’s still pretty cool.
With December right around the corner, it seemed appropriate to take a quick look at one of the things that makes the holiday season so nostalgic: Christmas music. If you’re anything like me, there’s no replacement for the songs that take you back to your childhood. From hanging ornaments with the family, to sipping on that perfect Starbucks peppermint mocha, and everything in between, Christmas music holds a special place in all of our hearts. So, without further ado, here are my top 5 favorite Christmas albums:
1. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Vince Guaraldi Trio (1965)
As if Christmas music wasn’t awesome enough on it’s own, they had to go combine with two of my favorite things: Charlie Brown and jazz music. More than anything, this album takes me back to some pretty fond memories. And I’m not ashamed to say that I may or may not have a blanket similar to Linus’. Just kidding. But seriously. Not…
2. “Christmas” Michael Buble (2011)
Maybe you’re noticing a trend here, but with his jazzy renditions and crooning voice, Michael has me hooked. If you haven’t heard it, you really need to check this album out. It’s a wonderful blend of traditional songs with a modern twist.
3. “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas” Mannheim Steamroller (1984)
Let’s be honest. If you’ve got a mom and she even remotely enjoys Christmas music, you’ve heard this album before. Something about old school synthesizers and the 80’s brings out my very limited dancing chops. What can I say? I just can’t help myself.
4. “Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Hands” Relient K (2003)
Our favorite Christian pop-punk band never ceases to entertain. Although it might not be a classic anytime soon, there’s a certain pleasure that comes from hearing Handel’s Messiah played 170 beats per minute. But don’t let the power chords fool you. “I Celebrate the Day” might be one of the most personally touching original Christmas songs I’ve ever heard.
5. “A Very She & Him Christmas” She & Him (2011)
For anyone who likes the movie “Elf”, this album is for you. As only Zooey Deschanel can, her soothing voice and old soul remind listeners that being original doesn’t always mean being cutting edge. And while she might epitomize the notion of “hipster”, Deschanel’s collaborations with M. Ward are creative and relaxing.
So there you have it. I’d love to know what Christmas albums mean the most to you guys!
For those of you who don’t know, a little over two weeks ago we were involved in a car accident. We were coming from a camp in New Hampshire headed to a church in Connecticut. After stopping for dinner in Massachusetts, we decided to look for gas somewhere. Little did we know that that search would result in a mess of metal, debris, and law enforcement vehicles. A massive storm had just passed through the town we were in, so the roads were still wet. The dusk light made conditions even more precarious. I was driving through an intersection when out the corner of my eye, I saw a blur from the left speed toward our van. The next thing I knew, we were swerving from the impact until we finally came to a stop in the oncoming turn lane in the road adjacent to us, leaving a broken highway road sign in our way. I am beyond grateful to God that nobody was injured. Had the other driver been just 2 seconds later, he probably would’ve hit where people were sitting in the van. Here’s the aftermath.
I’ve never been in an accident before, but the expression “your life flashes before your eyes” has new meaning for me. Everything happened in slow motion. It’s like your brain goes into overload because your senses don’t know how to interpret such an unexpected circumstance. It’s difficult to fully recall everything that transpired after that. The police came. Ambulances arrived as a precaution. The whole thing was pretty surreal. But in the midst of all the flashing lights and phone calls, one thought surfaced in my heart above anything else:
Your life is but a breath on this earth. And it can end at any moment.
It was if God was reminding me that his sovereignty doesn’t mean I’m invincible. And while I believe wholeheartedly that God is in control and holds that universe in his hands, I recognize that we live in a broken world where death and disease still exist. In the past, whenever I’ve thought about the brevity of life, I got scared. Something about acknowledging the temperance of earthly life was difficult for me. But since the accident, I think God has enlarged my perspective. Our short lifespans should motivate us to make the most of the time we’ve been given, not recoil in fear and apathy. What a precious gift our time is. God doesn’t owe us anything, yet we have this one chance to point to him, to live and breathe and eat and create. We are allowed to live on this earth for one purpose. To live lives that bring God glory in all that we do. I know what you’re probably thinking. These concepts are talked about a lot in church and Christian communities. And if you’ve grown up in that kind of environment, then you know how easy it is to become desensitized to some of the central truths of the Christian faith.
For me, it took getting in a car accident to be awoken to the reality of my purpose on this earth. I don’t know what will awaken you, but I pray that God will give you the grace to recognize it when it stares you in the face. Christ never promised any easy life full of prosperity and health for those who follow him. What he DOES promise is to walk with us in the midst of whatever life brings our way.
“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
You know the feeling. It’s happened before. You made the mistake of bringing your phone in the bathroom. Or you got careless at the pool. Or if you’re like Relient K, you dropped it on the Batman roller coaster. And the next thing you know, you’ve got the reflexes of a tiger and you’re trying desperately to save your phone before it falls to a watery death.
This has happened to me twice now. You think I’d learn my lesson. But I didn’t. We’re at a camp in the middle of what I’ll call “Devil’s Armpit”, Oklahoma this week. It doesn’t smell bad or anything. But it’s been consistently above 100 degrees everyday. And Satan’s armpit seems like a place that would be unbelievably hot. I digress. I had just finished texting my wife as I walked into the bathroom. And in my haste, proceeded to put my phone into what I thought was my pocket. Nothing could’ve prepared me for what happened next. Rather than resting safely in my pocket, my phone made B-Line for the toilet. I swear, in that moment, I moved faster than I ever have in my life. No sooner had the phone plunged under the surface than my hands scrambled to retrieve it. It was maybe under water for .2 seconds. Maybe. My efforts were in vain though. My phone was broken. I couldn’t hear anything from the earpiece. If you’re familiar with phones, the ability to hear people on the other line is quite important. And so I did what any self-respecting human being does when something is broken. I tried to fix it.
I searched countless pages of forums and help sites that provided tips on how to remedy the problem with minimal effort or cost. One site even suggested putting your phone into a bag of rice overnight to suck out the moisture. Which would be great if I had brought a bag of rice to camp. Not this time. No matter how hard I tried, no amount of effort on my part could heal my phone. It was beyond my capacity to fix. So after at least an hour of fruitless web surfing, I resigned and went to bed…
And awoke to a joyous feeling. My phone had completely fixed itself overnight. I was in disbelief. I called my voicemail at least 10 times just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. In a matter of hours, I went from dreading telling my wife I had ruined my phone to complete relief. And this is where the real story begins.
As the day went on and I shared what happened with other people, I slowly felt God speaking to me, telling me to pay attention to what had happened. “What happened?”, I thought. “It seems pretty black and white. I dropped my phone in the toilet and it miraculously fixed itself overnight. How awesome is that?” But God was calling me to tune in to an even greater miracle. You and I are living proof of it.
We are all broken people living in a broken world. Sin has tainted us. It’s changed the very nature of our being. Because of this, God chose to bridge the gap created by sin through his Son Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life on earth, and in his death absorbed the wrath of God for all humanity; past, present, and future. His sacrifice was made complete when he rose from the grave, conquering death for good. And yet for some unexplainable reason, you and I continue to believe that we need to fix ourselves up before we go to God.
Somewhere along the line, we’ve bought into the lie that God won’t accept us or approve of us or love us until we’re THIS spiritual or THAT mature or THIS put together. We aren’t made holy and righteous because of anything that we do but because of everything that Christ has already done. Don’t you see? We can search the world over for ways to find meaning and satisfaction of the soul. Nothing we collect or accumulate in this world is coming with us in the next. Even Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived, pursued all the world had to offer and still came away saying, “Meaningless, meaningless. Everything under the sun is meaningless.” The key phrase there is “under the sun”. Solomon realized the vanity of pursuing earthly pleasures in and of themselves as a means for eternal fulfillment. He realized that he was broken, and that no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t fix himself. He recognized that only God was capable of providing him with the sense of peace and “shalom” he sought.
Here’s the good news. Jesus was perfect so that we don’t have to be. That doesn’t mean we aren’t called to live lives of obedience and faith as we seek to know God more. But it does mean that we are chasing after the wind if we think we can heal our brokenness through self-help books and behavior modification and earthly pleasures. When I found out my phone was working again, I wasn’t just happy because it worked. I was happy because it wasn’t my responsibility to fix. You and I are healed only by the saving work of Jesus Christ. Anything less is a cheap substitute. Don’t settle for substitutes when the God of the universe is waiting with open arms to love you right where you’re at.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. — Philippians 4:4-7
Be encouraged by this today. Paul gave up everything to know Christ more fully. Are you and I willing to do the same?
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” — Philippians 3:7-11