get your blog on

In the past 6 months I have come across several blogs which I really enjoy, and I want to share them with you.  Here they are, with a few notes from their bios on their respective sites.

Michael Hyatt is the Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest Christian publishing company in the world and the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the U.S.  He writes on leadership, productivity, publishing, social media, and, on occasion, stuff that doesn’t fit neatly into one of those categories.  He also occasionally writes about the resources he is discovering.  I find his writing to be very concise, practical, and encouraging.  He is the reason I have really delved into the use of Evernote, about which he has blogged extensively in the interest of increasing productivity.

Seth Godin thinks completely outside the box, and I love that.  I need that.  He has written thirteen books that have been translated into more than thirty languages, every one of which has become a bestseller.  He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership, and most of all, challenging everything.  Incidentally, his blog may be the most popular blog in the world written by a single individual.  I guess I am helping to preserve that title for him.

Recently, as a result of reading Michael Hyatt’s blog, I added Rachelle Gardner to my list of blogs.  She is an agent with WordServe Literary Group based in Denver, Colorado, and her passion is partnering with authors to bring worthwhile books to publication.  I have found the few posts and her interview with Michael Hyatt which I have seen to be very insightful and enjoyable.

Two weeks ago when I started this blog I was attending the Global Leadership Summit put on by Willow Creek Association, and one of the speakers was Michelle A. Rhee, Founder and CEO of StudentsFirst.org.  Michelle is an advocate for students, thus the name of her organization StudentsFirst.  As late as 2010 she was the Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, and was responsible for a controversial but successful overhaul of the education system there.  She is an engaging speaker, and everyone who cares about their children getting a good education should pay attention to what she and StudentsFirst are doing.

I also pay attention to The Drudge Report when it comes to news.

I am learning a lot from these writers and sources, and I suspect that you will, too.

Life: the Greatest Editor

Life has a way of editing your writing.  Case in point.  Two years ago I read the Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (a must read about the radical grace of God, written by a recovering alcoholic and former priest) and was moved to write a song based on how the message of the Gospel of grace really sunk in with me.  I was impressed with the way God releases us from our humanity because of his grace when we ask him for forgiveness, regardless of what we are asking forgiveness for.  Manning’s example of outrageous grace is a beautiful one.

The lyrics of “Grace” then showed a stark depravity against the unflinching and progressing grace of God.  I also used Desert Song by Brooke Fraser and Hillsong United as a model because I am thoroughly impressed by the song, both musically and technically.  Here are the lyrics:

Broken we come before you now
Humbled our hearts before you bow in worship
Here in your presence stained with sin
dead and decaying deep within our hearts we worship

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
and nothing I can do can set me free

Jesus, your love is life-defying
challenging all we know is right and just
Taking the cross to greater heights
passing the life lived pure and right to us
you overwhelm us

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
and nothing I can do can set me free

When I am speechless, you speak your Word
When I am dying, you work your Strength
When I am failing you complete the task set out for me
You set us free, so free

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
and nothing I can do can set me free

Restored we claim no inner gift
Healed we seek to share the grace you give
knowing there’s no greater praise
than a life redeemed by faith in you
we believe you

Now, two years later, my perspective has changed.  I am still confident in the radical grace of God and thoroughly dependent on it because of all the mistakes I make and sins I commit on a daily basis, although I am making progress, again by God’s grace.  That said, I look at the first verse and I find it not quite theologically sound.

Before Christ we stood before God stained by sing, dead and decaying deep within.   We could not worship because we had not been transformed.  We could not be viewed another way because we were not under the mercy and saving grace of God.  Because, however, we have received Christ and asked him for his grace and mercy in our lives, God no longer views us that way.  yes, we sin, but because of Christ’s blood he sees us as complete and whole and beautiful.  We are alive and growing, not dead and decaying.  As the old hymn says, “The Lord has promised good to me; his Word my hope secures.  He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.”  We cling to this promise that God remembers our sin no more and shows us mercy by giving us grace in our most dire times of need.

My theology has changed, or perhaps my writing has caught up to my theology.  Time has allowed me to look back at these lyrics and say, “No, that’s wrong.  There is no hope in the original lyric.”

I have also noticed that my ending stanza is stilted and not in line with the rest of the song, so I am scratching that stanza and replacing it with a reprise of the first half of the first verse, still ending on the “V” chord.  Here are the lyrics now, edited to reflect these changes.  I am also going the change the title to either “Your Grace” or “Broken.”

Broken we come before you know
Humbled our hearts before you bow in worship
Here in your presence free from sin
holding your promise deep within our hearts we worship

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Jesus, you have come and set me free

Jesus, your love is life-defying
challenging all we know is right and just
Taking the cross to greater heights
giving the life lived pure and right to us
you overwhelm us

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Jesus, you have come and set me free

When I am speechless, you speak your Word
When I am dying, you work your Strength
When I am failing you complete the task set out for me
You set us free, so free

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Jesus, you have come and set me free

Broken we come before you know
Humbled our hearts before you bow in worship

How are you allowing your life to edit your writing?

Two Kinds of Churches

In the last year or so since I have been at my present job of Music Pastor at Lakeshore Community Church in Rochester, NY, I have come to think of churches as fitting into one of two categories based on how they handle culture.

One kind of church chooses elements for their worship services by seeing them through the lens of “not making anyone stumble.” What do I mean by that? This kind of church looks at culture and, even though they want to be culturally relevant, they stop short of using anything where the source of that element has a character that is question. The concern here is making certain the church does not endorse anything “questionable.” Scripture often referenced here usually includes quotes of being “in” the world but not “of” it.

On the other side of the coin is the church that looks for nuggets of truth in culture, and when they find something, they pounce on it and exploit it regardless of the source. The Scriptures often referenced here are Paul quoting secular poets and Paul’s declaration that he becomes “all things to all people.”

Lakeshore finds itself firmly in the latter position. Here we see value in “redeeming” truths which are presented in less than desirable ways if doing so will enable us to remove a barrier between someone and God. A pastor once referred to this approach as being “willing to get your shoes dirty.”

Case in point. Almost exactly a year ago we were planning a service on purpose and priorities in life. We were thrilled to find that Katy Perry (yes, the I Kissed a Girl and I Think I Liked It Katy Perry) had recently recorded a song called Who Am I Living For. A church in the first category would not have even taken a look at the song because of the source. Since Lakeshore is in the second category we dove in only find an amazing song asking the right question in the right way, with references to Moses and other Biblical figures. We ended up using the song to great success because we were able to leverage music from a very well known cultural source that many non-Christians listen to. As can be expected we had a few people who got pretty upset about the source of the song, asking why the church was endorsing an artist whose lifestyle clearly states she is not following God. The answer? I like what Christ says: “It is not the well but the sick who need a doctor. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

People in the first category of church tend to think church is more about ministering to and taking care of themselves, while people in the latter kind of church tend to be taught that church is about focusing outward while still supporting and building up those who are already in the church. To reach people who are already turned off by church you are going to have do some things differently and risk a little pushback.

What kind of church do you lead or attend?

eulogy

Recently both an uncle on my father’s side and a member of my church passed away.  Both are in a better place and released from bodies which were failing to house them well, as all of ours are bound to do at some time, whether we like it or not.  Nevertheless, respectful grief is due the loss of wonderful people, of which the world has too few.  Here are a few words in their honor.

Eulogy

A blushing moon mourns,
his face half shroud-
ed in starless
night,
whilst the ousted
light
coyly plots his
bright and avowed
resurrection morn.

 

in a frozen sea

From time to time I will share some of my poetry with you.  Here is one from several years ago where direction in life was extremely hard to find.

In a Frozen Sea

Underneath the sky’s
cruel scale, fishing,
I say, “Waves,
take me where
you will.  Lure me
to your dark horizon.”
The deep swells speak,
but I cannot hear the words,
so I grip the rudder
always casting
into the wind.

The End of Me

I have been listening to Air1, a progressive alternative station related to KLOVE, and today a lyric caught my attention.  Closer to Love is a song written by Matt Kearney, and the lyrics begin this way:

She got the call today
One out of the gray
And when the smoke cleared
It took her breath away

She said she didn’t believe
It could happen to me
I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees

123RF Stock Photos

The last few years, and especially the last few days I have been reminded how tenuous our lives really are.  Researching a job opportunity in Florida I find a church who is grieving the sudden loss of their beloved worship pastor to cancer a month ago.  Life goes on and they must begin a search for his replacement, but I can’t help thinking about how hard it must be to look for a replacement while you are still grieving a loss.

This past week my uncle had a stroke and now is barely responsive.  His family went to say their goodbyes but no one knows exactly how long he will last.

Indiana concert goers just looking for some fun and an escape from reality at a Sugarland/Sara Bareilles concert got more reality than they bargained for when the staging collapsed.  The death toll is now at 5 and the injured more than 40.

We have no control over life or whatever comes our way, and we will never be able to predict the future.  We can discuss trends and averages and stereotypes, but we will never really be able to see what is coming.  Only the Creator who made us is able to shape the future and redeem the past because he is outside of our reality and is ultimately in control.

Sometimes we see pain coming down the road and we prepare ourselves for it, and rightly we should.  When the pain comes though, it still comes as a shock to our system.  We are not in control.  We do not hold all of the cards.

We are all one phone call from our knees.  We will all get a phone call some day, and we will all end up on our knees when the news knocks the wind out of us.  Question is, how will you respond?  I know I am working hard to keep asking God for help when I hit those spots.  I am trying to understand another more encouraging truth:

“The end of me is the beginning of God.”  When I have finally completely given up control of my life God can finally begin to do something beautiful in me.  Difficult phone calls then become a doorway to a fuller life rather than another nail in my coffin.  The voice on the other end is my friend.

The Man Who Knew Too Little

I just finished laughing my way through Bill Murray’s The Man Who Knew Too Little, and it struck me how like life this movie really is.  We go through life thinking we are “in control,” when we really have no clue.  We risk everyone and everything based on our understanding of what is happening, and then we thank everyone for playing along.

Spiritually I would guess that we are The Human Race Who Knew Too Little, wandering around without God, convinced we can “do it on our own.”  Over the last few years I have been realizing that I cannot “do it on my own;” I need help, and I would guess that most everyone needs a little help.  We are just afraid to ask for it.

It’s time for all of us to eat a little humble pie and say, “God, I can’t do this, and forgive me for ever thinking that I could.”  I suspect you, like me, will have to pray this prayer multiple times per day, but at least that will mean there is one less deluded Wallace Ritchie taking bows at others’ expense.