Friday, September 28, 2007

An old Picture of Anna in a Santa Claus hat, because...

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

Well, not really. Actually, I don’t even think Wal-mart is decking the halls yet, but I have been thinking about Christmas all this week. You see, when you write church music, you have to think ahead liturgically which means that when everyone is watching bowl games on New Year’s day, still basking in the radiating joy of Christmas, I am already thinking about Good Friday and Easter music. And when everyone is mowing their yards for the last few times as fall really starts to kick in, I’ve already been thinking about the baby boy in the manger… the greatest story of all.

My favorite themes to write Christmas music around are the juxtaposition of opposing concepts… you know like the fact that Jesus who is King over all was not born in a palace and into fame and riches, but born into poverty in a stable… and the way the Almighty Master and Creator of the universe became a helpless newborn… the way the Great I AM, perfect in wisdom and knowledge became an infant incapable of speech. I love those ideas because they seem to be the ways God does everything… sort of backwards… you know, like the fact that weakness is strength, laying down your life is keeping it and the first will be last.

Well, in the middle of working on and thinking about Christmas music, I was reading Isaiah 46 this week and came across a verse that captures one of those cool, backwards thoughts, and it might just be a Christmas verse… In verse 13 the Lord says, “I am bringing my righteousness near; it is not far away…”

When I first read that verse I thought about the fact that the righteousness of God is about as far away as anything could ever be! When you sit down and read about what is righteous according to the Lord in the books of the Law, you find that the only thing about His righteousness that is near is the fact that it’s nearly impossible for us to be righteous in any way! The idea of God’s righteousness being near is almost a ridiculous concept… that is, until you consider Jesus.

When God Almighty took off His glory and put on skin, becoming a tiny baby on that first Christmas, the righteousness of God came near. That which is so unbelievably far away and so impossibly unattainable moved in to our little planet and walked around. The Righteousness of God grew up, had friends, went over to their houses, sang songs, ate food and laughed over jokes and good times. The Righteousness of God came near... near enough to touch, and then laid down His life, dying in our place, so that Paul was able to write those unparalleled words in Romans 3:21 which say, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known…”

Christmas isn’t here yet, but I’m getting fired up just thinking about it, because it means that the thing that is farthest away from me was brought near… It means that I can have the righteousness of God! As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

and now, a little video post from my Mom's most recent visit (with a little help from Allison Krauss & Union Station)

Friday, September 21, 2007

(not to be confused with dundies)

I don’t remember too many things from being a little kid with any kind of clarity, but if there is one thing that sort of permeates all of my really old memories, it is football. With dad being a football coach, it seemed like that game was always a part of our lives. Officially, there was an off season, but not for dad. I can remember work-outs with players, picture day, scrimmages, picnics, banquets and of course the intensity and rush of Friday nights in this football-loving town. I can remember Dad spending every fall Sunday night at the kitchen table painstakingly drawing out the blocking schemes for that next week on a manila folder that would be color-coded, laminated and then referenced for the rest of the week.

I have this one memory of Dad bringing home a video tape marked, “Fundies.” I had no idea what that meant, but I remember him watching that tape and wondering why he had to do it. See, it wasn’t a tape about the latest and most creative, new-fangled blocking schemes. It was a tape about how to get in the right stance, how to pull for a trap and where to put your hands for a good, solid, base block. It was the basics. I was confused as to why my dad, who had had played football in college and coached for like a kabillion years had to watch a tape about the basics. I mean, I was just a little kid, but growing up in that house, even I knew when to call a QB draw and exactly what an offensive coordinator is thinking when you’re on your own 8 yard line… That’s when Dad told me that “Fundies” meant “Fundamentals” and that if our players weren’t experts in the basics, they didn’t have anything.

This past week Christy and I tried an experiment… We were talking one night and the stress in the room was thick. We were both just down and dark about all kinds of stuff and we didn’t know what to do about anything. We tried to talk ourselves out of all of our fears and problems, but it wasn’t really helping. Finally we decided to take it one spiritual problem at a time… to identify one area of our life where we were straight-up forsaking a fundamental teaching of the Lord and just spend that week working on that one basic thing.

When we looked at our conversation, we had tons of anxiety and fear about things in our future… would the show on Wednesday be a disaster? Will our kids be well- equipped for Kindergarten? What is it going to be like when they are 14? In Matthew 6, Jesus said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? …Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

So, we’ve made it our goal to take this one basic teaching of our Lord and focus on actually obeying it this week… to listen to each other and help each other to become an expert at this one ‘fundie,’ and guess what? It is possible! We’ve been doing it all week! I think a lot of times we look at Jesus’ teachings and just blow them off, thinking, “Yeah, whatever… blah, blah.” But I think He really meant us to do this… to really stop worrying about anything that exists in tomorrow or after. I know one thing, I have had one of the most joy-filled and laugh-infested weeks I’ve had in a long time and it’s all because we just decided to trust Him and let Him deal with tomorrow as well as the next decade. What would happen if we just took Jesus seriously and became experts at the basics? I’m going to try to find out. I’ve tasted a sip this week and behold, it was good!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Anna drew this picture of Nan for her birthday this past Wednesday...

On Taking Tests

Have you ever known people that make you feel like you never meet their expectations? You know, people who always for some reason make you feel like when you’re around them you’re just failing their tests? It’s like, when you entered the room, you didn’t know it, but you needed a number 2 pencil because the exam was about to begin, but you might as well give up now, because nothing you do will be good enough… I have had tons of people like this in my life. When I was in high school I had long hair and was in a really loud (and pretty bad) rock band and I had teachers who just didn’t like me and it was because of the way I looked and the skater friends I had. It didn’t really matter how hard-working or insightful I was in their class, they had a test called the “I think good students should look a certain way” test, and I failed it every day.

Just the other day I was playing guitar and singing at a fund-raising banquet for some ministry here in town and when I arrived, the lady who booked me came up to me and said in a real sugary voice, “Hey there Lee! Oh! I see you forgot to shave this morning!” (In case you missed it, what just happened was this lady saying, “In order to pass my test, you needed to wear a tie and shave your face.”) Her disappointment with me was tangible. It was like an invisible but very substantial wall in between us. I had failed to please her… failed to meet her expectations… failed her test.

The problem is that everyone around us has expectations for us. And we care so desperately what other people think about us that we take their tests trying to pass to get their approval. Why would we do just about anything to get people to think we’re cool or good enough or that we have it all together? Why are we like this? –Because we want to be liked more than anything! We want to be cool more than anything! We want to be noticed, but we want more… we want to be cherished! We want to be wanted and if we are going to be wanted, we are going to have to please other people, right?

Paul said this in Galatians 1:10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Then over in 1 Corinthians 4:3 he says, “I care very little if I am judged by you or any human court; indeed I do not even judge myself.” Then, and lastly in 1 Thessalonians 2:4 Paul says, “We are not trying to please men, but God who tests our hearts.”

You see, the only test you have to worry about passing is the test God is giving. So what if other people throw tests on you… you don’t have to pass them. You are accepted and loved by the God of the universe! You are only being given one test that matters… and that is the test God is giving your heart. Do you remember what Jesus said when asked what works God requires? He said “The work God requires is this, to believe on the One He has sent.” –it’s just about believing in Jesus, and believing in Him includes believing what He says about you now… that you are loved, accepted and valuable to Him.

When that lady said to me, “Oh, I see you forgot to shave.” I said, “No, I didn’t.” Then she answered back, “Oh, so you’re growing your beard out?” And I said, “Nope. Just didn’t shave.” She looked at me with such disappointment and such confusion that the big fat ‘F’ she just gave me on her test didn’t seem to bother me… a while back it would have, but I’m learning to believe in Jesus more. I’m starting to believe what He says about me and passing God’s test is good enough for me.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

So, Caedmon's Call has a new record out... Derek's back and so is Caedmon's. Go buy one. For real.

So-called Little Things

A few weeks ago Christy broke her foot and I played the role of Mr. Mom around our house. Now, I have done a lot of difficult things in my day including contact sports, AP classes, a college degree in four years, teaching a class of 36 ninth graders, lots of public speaking, composing for orchestra, leading a band and even stuff like plumbing and sheetrock; but I have never done anything that is anywhere near as hard as what my wife does. I love my two little girls more than I ever imagined was possible, but taking care of them full time is the most challenging thing I have ever tried to do.

Christy and I have great kids, but having kids (even great ones) is really hard. During my week as mom I learned a lot about my wife that made my eternal respect for her climb through the roof. For one thing, everything I did was undone in what felt like ten seconds. I would work so hard on the dishes just to turn around and find 10 million more dirty ones waiting on me in no time. I would bust my tail on laundry all evening just to find that all the humans in the house used more clothes the very next day making more piles of evening sucking laundry! I worked hard on food they didn't eat which meant I had to dirty more pots, pans and dishes making more food while the piles of books, toys and crayons all over the once clean floor multiplied like wildfire. How I made it through that time without going absolutely bonkers escapes me.

This little temporary trip into my wife's world showed me that there are some serious areas in my spiritual life that are underdeveloped. I learned that I am an excessively selfish person who doesn't get a whole lot of practice in laying down his life. I learned that I rock at complaining which, like golf, is a sport in which a low score is what you want. I learned that a life in 'direct, full-time ministry' isn't always where you find the spiritual studs. I think that in the Christian world we sometimes assume that the really important stuff is only happening on the so-called front lines where the Gospel is being preached and the Word of God is being shared and taught... And don't get me wrong, that stuff is important... but every life can be infinitely important, and when it is lived for Christ, every little thing is huge.

Back in the day in Israel the High Priest was the most important dude with the most important job when it came to things of God. He had special clothes that no one else got to wear with bells on the hem and a golden plaque on his turban that read, "Holy to the LORD." In Zechariah 14, a prophecy tells us what it's going to be like near the end of days and he says in verse 20 that "On that day "HOLY TO THE LORD" will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the LORD's house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the LORD Almighty..."

We're in those days... days when everyday things are holy and everyone is just as special and important to God as the High Priest. Whether you are sitting in chemistry class, filling out expense reports in a cubicle or cooking up mac & cheese for the kids, you can live those moments in a way that is holy to the LORD. Every seemingly little thing can actually be a very important thing. Loving your classmates, co-workers and kids because you are laying down your life to serve the One who gave His life for you is about the holiest thing you can do.

Caedmon's Call has a new song called Sacred written by Randall Goodgame and Andrew Osenga and the lyrics help me remember my awesome wife, how hard her job is and how much I need to grow:

This house is a good mess
It's the proof of life
No way would I trade jobs
But it don't pay overtime

I'll get to the laundry
I don't know when
I'm saying a prayer tonight
'Cause tomorrow it starts again

Could it be that everything is sacred
And all this time
Everything I've dreamed of
Has been right before my eyes

The children are sleeping
But they're running through my mind
The sun makes them happy
And the music makes them unwind

My cup runneth over
And I worry 'bout the stain
Teach me to run to You like they run to me
For every little thing

When I forget to drink from You
I can feel the banks harden
Lord, make me life a stream
To feed the garden

Wake up little sleeper
The Lord, God Almighty
Has made your mama keeper
So rise and shine, rise and shine,

'Cause everything is sacred
And all this time
Everything I've dreamed of
Has been right before my eyes

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