That’s What the Lonely is For

i was born as the last child in a family with three sisters.  i never really considered myself the youngest (probably some pride showing there), i would just say that i arrived late.  But i grew up with no brothers in the house.  This was the greatest injustice in my young mind.  No one understood me, and no one wanted to play with me… If they DID want to play with me, it usually involved Barbies or getting dressed up like a girl.  Don’t laugh, it would’ve happened to you too.

Anyway, i grew up kind of feeling alone.  But this loneliness gave way to something unexpected.  i have found that loneliness enables those who bear it to receive a special blessing.  In the case of my neighborhood friends, and especially my cousin, Jon, i began, at a very young age, to develop deep friendships, and very real devotion.  These are gifts that i don’t think would have been possible if i had never been lonely.

David Wilcox explains some of this in his song “That’s What the Lonely is For.”  He says your heart is like a mansion or castle, with a bunch of rooms.  We fill the rooms with people.  When we feel the “draft” from an empty room, the temptation is to question why God gave us so many rooms with no one to fill them.  We say our heart has been designed poorly, and we start “fixing” it by building walls over the doors to those rooms.  But your heart was not designed poorly.  All of those rooms are there for a reason.  When you notice an empty room, He has placed it there for a reason… that’s what the lonely is for.

So, i have lonely.  And i know that God hasn’t put that lonely there for no reason.  The question becomes, am i brave enough to embrace the ones he chooses to fill those rooms with?  That’s a tough one.  When i was young, it was scary to walk up to those doors and ask people to be my friends.  When i asked Lori to marry me, it was REALLY scary.  It feels like it’s scary because i don’t think i have anything to offer these people.  But “the Lonely” already let me know i have a room available.  Instead of dwelling on yourself and your own pitiful shortcomings, let all those empty rooms give you the freedom to invite the people God has given you deeper in.  Give them a room to stay in.  Invest in them, and let them invest in you.

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I Will Follow

So, it’s hard to pick songs for worship.  i usually start with where i’m at, or where it seems that the people i’m singing with are.  Is there some aspect of God’s character that i have been personally impressed with lately, or something that i am praying for Him to show Himself to be?  There’s always a starting point.  You are always somewhere.  It might be harder to find if we’ve been doing a lot of hiding lately, but that’s another post.

Once that is established, i usually jump straight to the end.  Where are we going? Is there a song that speaks that message clearly?  Often times, this requires a conversation with the Teaching Pastor, or whoever is speaking later in service.  Corporate worship is a wonderful thing.  We are all coming together and learning about and expressing our love for and communicating with the God we serve.  If there are multiple leaders in this time, they all need to be on the same page and headed in the same direction, otherwise you can be very distracting. If you plan the whole service together with the leadership team, that’s a great way to get everyone going in the same direction, but more often than not, that turns into a committee meeting and you start voting (can i make it any clearer that i grew up Baptist) on what songs you like better… not worship.

So you’ve got where you are and you’ve got where you’re going.  The road that leads from one to the other can be a treacherous one.  Sometimes it is relatively simple.  One song leads to another and another and another, throw a prayer and a key change in there, and HEY, you got a worshipful hour on your hands.  More often than not, though, you run into a snag. Well, this is a great song, but 60% of the congregation doesn’t know it.  Or, gee i’d like to use this one, but i’ve gotta make room for a couple hymns so i don’t get sister Bertha upset with me (Sorry if that one hit too close to home, but you know it’s true).  i find myself wondering who we’re actually worshiping in these hours.

Here’s why i think picking songs for worship is difficult.  i’ve wrestled with this for a while.  It’s not because i can’t find songs that say what i think needs to be said.  Between the Hymnals and CCLI there are so many options, it can be a little ridiculous.  It’s not that it’s hard to get from point A to point B with a clear train of thought.  And it is CERTAINLY not that we have a hard time finding things about God that we think are worthy of praise!  The issue is, this is CORPORATE worship.  It’s not my private quiet time.  It’s not time for me to try out the latest guitar riff i’ve been working on.  As a worship leader, it is time to help a group of people get their mind off the distractions that seem even more rampant on Sunday morning, and focus on the One True God.  And i have yet to see a church that is made up of people who all think and act the same way.  Side-note: it wouldn’t be much of a church if they were all the same anyway… note Paul’s reference to us being a body and having multiple parts… He was talking about the global church, i think, but the same is true for the local church.

Anyway, you put all these distracted people in the same room and you say, “Hey! Pick a song!”  Good luck with that.  Especially when the options are everything from “Holy, Holy, Holy” to “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High”… you know what i mean.   The point is, i’ve tried the “make everybody happy” route and i’ve tried the “tough luck, this is what we’re singing” route and neither one of them is effective.  The truth is, sometimes you’re going to sing songs that everyone knows, and sometimes your going to sing songs that people need to learn.  But it is your job to make sure that whatever you sing, you sing it for the glory of God.  If you sing “Blessed Assurance”, “Amazing Grace”, and “Come Thou Fount”, but can’t still your mind enough to be in awe of who God is, it’s not worship.  In the same sentence (even though it’s a different one), if U2’s “With or Without You” gives you a clear picture of the love and sacrifice that Jesus has for people who don’t deserve it… guess what… that junk is worship.

If you lead the people of God in worship, you accept no small responsibility.  There is no easy way to wrestle with the hearts of God and man, but should it be easy?  Keep fighting.  Keep pushing yourself and those around you to examine your motives and come back to true worship.  It requires sacrifice, and it’s worth it.


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Ain’t No Reason

i love getting gifts.  i also love giving gifts.  Having said this, Christmas has been a sort of mix of emotions for me.  When i was a kid, i got made fun of for having a sort of one track mind when it came to this holiday.  i was after the presents.  No question.  But in retrospect, i was almost as excited to give people stuff, as i was to get my own toys.  Now, i was no different than any other kid.  If i didn’t get anything, there would’ve been tears, but there was one Christmas that i can point to as being the moment of realization in my life that it was better for me to give than to receive.

Mama and Da are both MASTER givers.  They are WONDERFUL at getting people, not just stuff, but gifts that communicate love and identity and value.  Every Christmas, when we were growing up, there would be 4 red Neiman Marcus bags under the tree for my mother and my sisters.  Da would go to that monster of a store and pick out make-up and perfume and all kinds of girly things for my sisters.  Seriously, the ladies working behind the counters RECOGNIZED him.  They knew when he came in, he was gonna be leaving with some serious baggage.

Well, one year as i was playing elf, and handing out the gifts, as i grabbed for those bags to hand to the girls, i noticed that the tag didn’t just say from Daddy.  It said from Johnny and Daddy.  i broke down.  Now, this melt down may certainly have been a combination of not sleeping well Christmas Eve and the straight adrenaline that comes from seeing all that stuff under the tree, but i remember, in that moment, being consumed with the thought, “i did NOT give them this!”  i WANTED to have been a part of it, but i knew i hadn’t actually given anything.  i knew in that moment that i wanted to be that kind of giver.  The kind of person that people are excited about getting gifts from.

Fast Forward to yesterday.  This year, i had the unique opportunity to actually give Lori most of the things i had been thinking about giving her.  That’s not always going to be the case, but this year it was.  We went ahead and gave each other our gifts this year, cause hey, we’re not kids anymore so we don’t have to wait.  But when i gave her presents to her, i was twelve years old in my family’s living room all over again.  i LOVED watching her face light up as she saw, not just the stuff in front of her, but the things that i was thinking about when i got them for her.  It was WONDERFUL.

i want to be a great giver because i see the reward of that in the lives of my parents.  They have taught me, as they were taught by their parents, and let me tell you what the secret to being a great giver is:  Knowing Jesus.  WHOA! CURVEBALL!  i thought this post was just about getting and giving presents on Christmas.  Well, at the risk of being overly corny, let me just say that’s exactly what this post is about.  The greatest Giver of all eternity has given the greatest gift in the life, death and resurrection of His Son.  If you don’t know this (and i mean know it in your soul, not your mind) then all the presents that you exchange this Christmas are nothing more than stuff.  And stuff doesn’t last.  We don’t give each other material things because there is lasting value in those things.  We give them because there is lasting value in the person you are giving them to.  It’s only a shadow of what our Father has done for us.  And just like that Christmas that my father put my name on the bags next to his, our Heavenly Father has given to us, that we might give to others.  Remember what you have been given this Christmas.  Let that instruct your giving.

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All the Way Down

i hate being sick.  It’s just a crummy feeling to know that you don’t have the energy to do the stuff you want/need to do.  Broken.

i was talking to my sister this afternoon, and she was telling me how she has been sick as well, and when she was brave enough to ask for some help, she got treated like a leper.  So, you’re already feeling pathetic, and now someone feels it’s necessary to tell you that you ARE pathetic.  Broken.

i think physical sickness is a great reminder of how weak we really are.  We can get pretty sure of ourselves when we are normally able to do all the things we think we should be able to do.  Then we get a little head cold and all of a sudden we can’t think clearly and it feels like our arms and legs weigh a ton each.  Broken.

The truth is that we’re not supposed to get too comfortable here.  This life is full of broken.  We spend a lot of energy acting like we’re fine and trying to convince everyone that nothing is wrong, as if there’s nothing wrong with them either.  It’s exhausting, isn’t it?  You might even be sitting there thinking, “i feel alright.  i don’t think there’s anything wrong.”  That’s a different kind of broken.

Our frailty has become a white noise of sorts.  Have you ever been sitting around doing something, lost in thought or busyness, and then you hear it… silence.  You hadn’t even noticed the noise around you until it was gone.  It happens to me when i’m on the computer and then the playlist that i was listening to ends.  That’s when you hear the silence.  Our brokenness is a lot like that.  All of the “normal” keeps us from noticing it until something jostles us into the reality that we need help.

Sometimes it’s sickness.  Sometimes it is an emergency.  Sometimes it’s just a lot of things that add up to being short with your spouse.  All of the sudden, you feel it.  You can sense it as easily as if someone had just stepped on your toe.  You are broken.  You can’t do this on your own.

God has given us the gift of each other, and He expects us to participate in this thing called community, but He’s also given us everything we need for life and Godliness.  All of it is a gift, though, and when we start thinking we can do it on our own… “Don’t worry, Jesus, i’ve got this one.” …we soon find that we are even weaker than we thought.  Don’t be discouraged.  This is loving reproof.  You aren’t supposed to do this alone.  Don’t try.  You are broken.  Join the club.  i’ll make cookies.

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Start With the Ending

i really like story-tellers.  When i was a little kid, my mom had a video tape that she had bought at a conference or something, and it just had people telling stories on it.  i used to love to watch that tape.  It wasn’t anything special; just a guy on a stage telling stories, but i could repeat those tales almost verbatim.  i enjoyed listening to my mother tell stories.  She used to read them to us, but i really liked it when she told us about stuff that had happened to her, or other people in our family.  There’s just something really memorable about someone who is actually engaged in what they are telling you.

Now, i find myself loving to listen to song-writers who are story-tellers.  There’s a lot of musical imperfection that i can overlook if the person who is singing is really engaged in what they are conveying.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s no amount of conviction that will make me enjoy the local karaoke bar’s rendition of Beat It, but there is something truly inspiring about guys like Dave Barnes, David Wilcox and Jonah Werner.  They talk in between the songs they sing and that’s usually entertaining, but what gets me is that they aren’t just singing what they’ve memorized.  They’re painting you a picture.  They’re bringing you into their world.  They are communicating with sincerity!

David Wilcox wrote a song called “Start With the Ending” where he talks about how much more honest we’d be if we started every relationship by ending it.  Basically, what it comes down to, is the idea that (and this is most obvious in male/female relationships, but is true for so many more areas of life) when we begin a relationship with someone, we’re so worried about “maintaining” that relationship that we start to hide what we really feel behind our insecurities.  Most of the time not talking about certain things leads to not talking about anything… and the relationship ends badly anyway.

So why not be honest from the beginning?…

i have accepted a new position at Pine Cove.  i’m going to be the AV Manager.  i’m moving out of my 5 year home in maintenance and into the IT department.  i was really excited to hear that the guys in that department really wanted me over there, but when they offered me the job i felt insecurity jump up inside of me.  In a flash, i could see myself going through the first few days of working in this new department, just trying to fake that i knew ANYTHING about what they were talking about.  i got very uncomfortable.  So i decided to end it before it began.  Don’t get me wrong, i didn’t refuse the job.  Obviously, i’ve already said that i’m doing it.  But i stopped Cody mid-presentation and expressed, plainly, that i didn’t know much in this field. He wasn’t surprised by this information, and he and Chad both reassured me that my immediate future would hold a lot of training, but the point is that you can’t go into new things in your life pretending to be something you’re not.

“The truth will set you free.” – Heard it from a pretty smart guy.

So here’s my encouragement to you: Be honest.  Be sincere. Every day of your life. In the story you’re writing, it doesn’t matter what you risk losing, you’ll lose much more by pretending to be something that you’re not.

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Nobody Loves Me

The end of the year is upon us, and at Pine Cove that means, among other things, that it’s time for appraisals.  This year we are doing self-appraisals first.  i have to admit, this is like my least favorite thing.  So i went ahead and completed mine this morning before i could fret over it too much.

Some would say it’s an opportunity to talk yourself up.  i can’t help but wonder if it’s a counter to some grumblings that made their way up the chain about how someone’s appraisal was unfair, or how they didn’t get to justify themselves before their appraisal was finalized.  i’ll admit, there have been times that i wished i could have written an autobiography of how awesome i did something, but on the whole, i know how bad i suck better than my boss does.  So if i’m being honest, the self-appraisal is gonna go a lot worse than i want it to… but how often are we honest?

As a general rule, we judge other people more harshly than we do ourselves because we think we know the extenuating circumstances in our own lives, and it is far to easy to look beyond another’s hardships (C.S. Lewis has a good article on this, but my book has disappeared, so i can’t tell you where to find it. Sorry).  This may be clearly evident when our appraisals come out every year.  We get a bad score. Our pride is injured.  And all of a sudden we find ourselves explaining away our short-comings and bitterly noticing every single flaw our manager has ever displayed.  My, how savage our pride can be.

i have written my appraisal.  Let me first say that i don’t think anyone could mistake me for a raving fan of John Redfearn, Jr.  He is arrogant and lazy and tends to eat too much.  But there are certain things that i thought i did pretty well this year, or at least that i made a concerted effort to do better at.  i have noted those in my far-from-sparkling appraisal and submitted it.  What happens if my manager does not see these moments of greatness?  Even if he did, what if he does not count them as worthy of superior marks?  Am i going to be embittered and resentful in my work?  Will i forsake efforts that i now regard as unnoticed?

Here’s what i think.  i have felt all of those jaded questions pulse through my heart.  More often than not, i use them as an excuse to cut a corner or not put my whole heart into a task.  But what does it say about me, that i am unwilling to make an effort if men do not praise me for it?  Isn’t my reward in heaven?  Isn’t the One for whom i labor omnipresent?  Isn’t He a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him?  i find myself identifying more with the Pharisees praying in the streets for everyone to notice or the one who could stand before God justified in his fasting and tithing, and less like the tax collector who beat his chest and asked for mercy or Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who anointed her Lord’s feet with perfume and tears.

The truth is that i do not believe.  In the arena of my professional life i feel as alone as any man can.  It is up to me to prove myself and to battle any man who stands in the way of my self-actualization.  You can see how combative this can get in a hurry, because your boss is not just coaching you to do better, he is questioning your worth.  He’s not asking you to do better.  He’s questioning if you can.  Lord, i believe! Help my unbelief.

There’s nothing wrong, in my opinion, with making a case for why you should be hired or get a raise or a promotion or anything.  None of these are denials of God’s sovereignty or rule in your life.  But… make sure that you are not stroking your own ego or trying to satisfy some self-imposed criteria for what success looks like.


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Like a Stone

I’ve decided that all of my post titles are gonna be songs in my itunes library.  Creative, huh?

I chose this Audioslave song because i’m feeling pretty heavy.  The Rangers aren’t doing well right now.  This shouldn’t affect me this much at all.  I was so excited that we made it to the post season.  I was glad when we won more than one game… then one series… then we beat the Yankees, and i kept telling myself, in all of these wins, that it was good enough and they’ve done more than was expected and played so well.  But now they’re losing.

They’re losing in the World Series to the Giants.  I don’t want to take anything away from the Giants.  They’re real good and they’re playing well, but this is disappointing.  It’s not disappointing because they’re losing to the Giants.  It’s disappointing because they are NOT playing like the team that beat the Rays and the Yankees.  NOT EVEN CLOSE.  If we’re gonna lose at least make them fight for it.

We can pitch better.  We can field better.  And we can definitely hit better.  Play baseball fellas!

There’s my rant for the day.

Y’all have a good Friday!

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Where are you goin’?

Some would say that 27 is much to young for a mid-life-crisis.  In the traditional sense, i agree.  i’m not gonna run out and buy some expensive car or an RV or anything.  But the truth of the matter is, you are never too young to evaluate where you’re at and where you’re headed.

I didn’t like college. It was hard to feel like i really fit in around there.  People seemed to know what they were going to do, and were excited about the classes they were taking to get there (or at least were faking it very well).  Don’t get me wrong, the relationships with friends and faculty that i was blessed with in those four years were AMAZING.  But most of them will be the first to tell you, i was pretty much miserable for 4 years.

Here’s what i think.  Somewhere in the midst of school and all that other stuff, i lost a little direction.  I’m still pretty certain that the traditional academic route is not the direction i see in my future, but lately i have found that i do enjoy learning.  Imagine that. All that time that i wasted moaning about how i didn’t want to be  in school was just misplaced energy that i should have been channeling into finding out where or how i should be learning.

If you are in College and reading this: FINISH! Don’t quit in the middle.  You WILL regret it.

If you are in High School: GO TO COLLEGE!  If you are thinking about not going, you better have a bullet proof plan for the next 30 years that explains, in detail, how you plan on reaching the goals that you have without an education… believe me, there is no bullet proof plan.  I didn’t enjoy school, but it was something i needed to do.  And mostly, the lack of enjoyment was due to not taking ownership of my decisions.  Go to school… but always evaluate the path that you’re on.  Don’t be scared to seriously consider other options.

With that in mind, i wonder what stifled dreams are out there.

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