Music

The Effervescent Beauty of Timmy P's "Dear One"

Those who have listened my music over the years, know that the theme that resonates in my heart louder than any other is LOVE! As I sit here listening to the Timmy P's latest release, I find myself smiling. This brother has created a masterful piece of music dedicated to the love of his life. In compositions that are delightfully modern in their production and lyrical approach, Timmy has put together a record that underscores the most timeless aspects of life-long love. In this way he has created something truly unique - an exploration of traditional values couched in an irresistibly modern setting. 

You can't listen to this record without being swept away by the rhythms. Likewise you can't listen without sensing that Timmy P's messaging has found it's way into your heart and your mind. This is a record about love - the real kind - and in so being, it lives up to it's name. This album is most definitely a Dear One. Well done Timmy! 

You can check out Timmy P's "Dear One" on pretty much any digital music service. You can also click the album art on this page to listen at iTunes. 

VA Attorney General Launches Initiative for 21st Century Policing

Yesterday, I was sat in on a press conference with Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring. The AG called the conference to announce his new initiative to promote 21st century policing in Virginia. Attorney General Herring's plan centers on a dual track training program that is designed to give law enforcement agencies throughout the state access to the most current, evidence based training that brings police and communities together. 

Citing nation-wide statistics and recent event that underscore the data, the Virginia Attorney General articulated an understanding that people of color have deep concerns regarding their relationships with police. The AG said "I've talked with parents who feel their children are being forced to choose between their rights and their dignity."

The new initiative's two tracks include training for existing police as well as new modules for police in training academies. The trainings are not mandatory but near universal acceptance is expected. The training programs are being funded and developed through the AG's office since many small localities said they could not afford the price tag to provide their police with this kind of training.

More about the Attorney General's plans is available here: http://bibbs.li/1KRZNE0


 

Attorney General Mark Herring announces new plans to improve community / police relations.

Attorney General Mark Herring announces new plans to improve community / police relations.

Inbox Inspirations

You're Not Cutting It

This weekend I thought about today's email and found myself a little overwhelmed. I had so much it earned to write about! After praying a little I felt a particular pull toward one word: grace.

I've grown up in liturgical circles my whole life. My mom is a pastor and theology school professor. My dad is a Bible teacher extraordinaire. I went to Christian schools as a child. I was in church pretty much every day as a kid. I've pretty much always been surrounded by preachers and deacons and "church folk".

Somewhere along the way, I got lost in my cultural emersion, though. People who are familiar with church culture might be able to relate to me, here. Somewhere along the way, my perception of my salvation became all about me. The consequences of this thought process were pretty ugly.

In my second year at Hampton University, I pretty much gave up on Christianity. Sure, I kept the facade for my family and church community. The truth was, though... I was exhausted. I was tired of working so hard to fit into the perceived Christian ideal. I was sick of faking. I was sick of feeling guilty all the time; guilty for my thoughts or partying, or whatever else I thought would make my fellow church members gasp in disapproval.

I really did pretty much give up. I gave little to no thought to God or Jesus for a long time. I did what I wanted. It felt good, too! I was so happy to just feel FREE!

Then, after a couple of years some real conviction started to weigh on me. What I once considered freedom started to become terribly heavy. I felt a need for relief. So, I did what I knew to do. I went back to my laborious life - my pursuit of perceived perfection.

Neither of these spaces was comfortable for me. Even though I was really good at faking it, it sucked to always feel the need to jump through hoops to please God and his peopl. It hurt even more to separate myself from God because I felt the expectations were unachievable for me. I was hurting at a really deep level and didn't even know it. I did my best to keep chugging along in deep internal conflict. Nobody even knew I was going through it. Well... except one special person.

It wasn't until my dear friend and I began to talk about all of this that I discovered that I'd gotten lost. What I discovered was that my salvation and my peace of mind weren't really about me at all. It wasn't about other people's perceptions of me. Their judgements had no influence on my standing before God. I had it all wrong. My friend opened me up to really understand the mind blowing concept of God's grace. 

Sure, I'd heard the word before. I knew the churchy definition of what grace was. But, I had a twisted understanding of grace in reality. In my mind grace had been given once and I had better be as close to perfect as I could be in order to keep my grace-stamp. Even though I'd memorized a definition of grace the began with the word "unmerited," I was still trying to win God's approval. Worse still, I was using people's responses to me and what I did or how I dressed or what I said as the barometer of God's approval of me. The church culture's approval of me was commensurate with God's approval; at least in my head.

You may ask... what did your life look like? I'll tell you. Miserable. It looked like extremism and discomfort. It looked like someone lurching from being a goody-goody to being a hellian, and looking uncomfortable at both extremes. That was me!

It wasn't until I accepted grace and stopped trying to win my own salvation that I really found myself. Grace made it possible for me to be comfortable in my own skin. Grace meant I didn't have to fight or be unstable or please people or prove anything. Grace meant I only had to trust in Jesus.

This isn't to say that I don't believe I still have to fight with sin. Quite the contrary. I'm keenly aware of my sinful propensities. I struggle with them daily. But, God's grace set me free to struggle and put an end to my hopeless struggle to be free.

Grace made me ok. It gave me peace with missing the mark. At the same time, it wrested from me my false sense of control and gave me the fresh air of surrender. Because of grace, I stopped wrestling with myself. God's grace opened me to the Holy Spirit who is fighting on my side, refining and purifying me. It's no longer my fight.

Before I understood and truly accepted the infinite gift of grace I would beat myself up with the phrase: "you're not cutting it." Now, when that phrase pops in my brain, grace reminds me that I'm not supposed to. Jesus has done it already! All I have to do is just trust him. 

"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." - Ephesians 2:6-9

No questions this week. 

Inbox Inspirations

A Love Supreme

In December, 1964 John Coltrane recorded what would be widely viewed as his seminal work. The album which had been all recorded in one session at Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, NJ was released in February of 1965 under the title “ A Love Supreme.”

If the project wasn’t his seminal work, it is at the very least my favorite from the Coltrane catalog. His performances are visceral. The quartet is persistent against the waxing and waning of Coltrane’s improvisational gusto. In a lot of ways the project is a painting of the spiritual awakening of John Coltrane. The music and the subtext that unfolds in it is illuminating. Coltrane’s love music on this project is not comprised of sappy love songs. His aural painting is of a love that is much higher.

In the West, our concepts of love are a bit convoluted. Love is a word we use across so many spaces of our lives that sometimes it seems impossible that we can ever really know what love is at all. We love chocolate. We love our favorite musicians. We love to win. We love our girlfriends and boyfriends. We love our husbands and wives. We love God. We love… everything.

Listening to John Coltrane’s recording yesterday, I found myself completely taken aback by the concepts of love that emerge from his music. His concept of love is not always resolved. There is dissonance. There is incongruency. The spiritual connotations are inescapable. There are moments in this music that are down right sermonic. This ain’t puppy love that John Coltrane is playing about. This is tough love. It's durable. It is strong and passionate. It's everlasting. This is God’s love that he is extolling!

As I listened this weekend, I couldn’t help but run to the word of God to relish the underpinnings of the music I was enjoying. I felt pulled toward these words that Jesus gave:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. - John 15:12-13

This is Jesus’ definition of supreme love. Yes his teaching was compelling but his demonstration of his definition serves as the foremost example of what love is. His words and his actions were scions of what love really is.

I often marvel at the divine model of salvation as outlined in the scriptures. In effect and in fact, God humbled himself to be subjected to the ridicule and abuse of his own creation in order that it (his creation) might be saved. This is absolutely counter intuitive - even scandalous!

Other than Jesus, himself, nobody does a better job of explaining this phenomenon for us than Paul. Paul masterfully depicts the critical element of God’s love toward us and presses us to emulate the divine paradigm:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being the very nature of God did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! - Philippians 2:5-8

The supremacy of God’s love is not clearer anywhere else! If we want to know what love really is, we have to look no further than God’s love for us!

While we relish the great ecstasy of God’s lavish love, we must remember that we are called to be replicas of that love in our everyday lives. We are called to follow the Christ example of humbling ourselves. We are called to put others first.

In our society love does not hold the same weight that it does when we look at the Jesus way of loving. Our culture redefines key elements of the nature of love. In our time, love is conditional. Humility is correlative to merit. Existentialism has torn us away from the ideals of connectedness that Jesus illustrated over and over again.

The challenge for us is to sidestep the cultural definitions and stick to the playbook that Jesus provided. We are called to love extravagantly. We are called to forget what we deserve and humble ourselves before people who may or may not deserve LESS than we do. These aren’t easy ideas to deal with. This isn’t the rose-colored lens through which we typically see love defined.

The truth of Jesus’ example of love is that it is hard. Just like those Coltrane solos, it contends with the waxing and waning of persistent challenges and trials. Jesus’ example of love is far from easy. But it is the zenith of everything that love is.  

As we go out into this week, let’s agree to take closer looks at Jesus’ example of love. Let’s look at the nuances of his ways. As we look, let’s resolve to emulate him. If we do it right, I’m willing to bet that we will find ourselves enjoying a renaissance of love in our lives and in the lives of everyone we touch.

And... no. I’m not talking about fly by night, flimsy love. I’m talking about the kind of love that God demonstrated through Jesus. I’m talking about A LOVE SUPREME!

Questions?

What’s the greatest expression of love that I’ve ever seen?

What’s the greatest expression of love that I’ve ever given?

What is humility? Does my concept of it associate with merit?

How can I be a better reflector of Christ’s example of love? 

Inbox Inspirations

Everything Must Go

I hope your weekend was absolutely awesome. Mine was incredible and  busy. This weekend I drove about 500 miles, took in the sights and sounds of Richmond Folk Festival, taught a lesson at church, played for our church choir's anniversary service and filmed a music video. Can you say  exhausted!? 


As I was buzzing around this weekend I found myself thinking about Job. Most of us know this guy's story. Christian folks point to this story as prime illustration of stalwart faith. Atheist use the narrative as a basis for their unbelief. Job's story is complicated. It isn't easy to digest. It isn't just about faith. It also reveals a great deal about the nature of God.  

I think one of the reasons why we have such struggle with the story of Job is our culture. In the West, we have a greatly diminished perspective of God. We under appreciate his vastness. We under estimate his power and and authority. That's one of the major themes we see in the book of Job. In this book, we are reminded of the stark reality of God in all of his sovereignty.  

I find it interesting that God points to Job as a prime candidate for Satan's attacks precisely  because of his faith. The Bible says that Job was an exemplary man. The scripture says that even when Satan began to act with God's permission Job did not sin - a pretty marvelous fete if you think about it. Most of us would look at Job and say this guy's faith was super strong. 

As strong as Job's faith was, it is also very clear in this narrative that he didn't a great understanding of God. It wasn't until everything that Job valued was gone that God was fully seen by Job. It wasn't until he was brought to his lowest point that Job came know God. He says: 

"I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you."  - Job 42:2-5  

As painful as Job's losses were, they were a means to God's end. This is a point that atheists consistently miss in this story. God's permitting Satan's action was not an empty flex of God's omnipotence. Through Job's suffering God revealed himself. He revealed his sovereignty; true. However, that's not the only thing God revealed to Job through his suffering. God also revealed his grace. 

In our lives we often find ourselves in situations where we - like Job - wrestle with our circumstance. Our understandings of God are challenged in these space. We find ourselves asking "why God?". We find ourselves asking "why me? why now?". In many of these challenges we face, God's answer to our questioning is the same as it was for Job:  I AM GOD! 

It is important for us to know and understand that God doesn't offer himself to us flippantly when he asserts his sovereignty this way. God's revelation of himself in these circumstances  is a blessing. Out of our struggles comes a richer understanding of who he is. Flowing out from our struggles is an opportunity for deepening enjoyment of God, deepening peace, deepening dependency on him.  

The uncomfortable truth is that God ordains that our relationships with him is sometimes painful. That pain is a causeway to knowing him more. God's deepest desire for us is to enjoy fellowship with him. That fellowship requires us to  know him. We do well to realize this. We have to remember what Jesus said would be required of us:  

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. - Luke 14:26

The same uncomfortable truth is corroborated in Job's story and Jesus' own words. In order for us to truly understand God and fully enjoy fellowship with him we must be willing to give it all away. That's a tough pill to swallow but it is the truth. God's desire for us is that we value him above everything and everyone. This isn't an unreasonable expectation of a narcissistic and harsh deity. God's requirement is actually an exercise of his unfathomable love. 

Everything in our lives will pass away at some point - except God. Since only he is eternal, only he is can be our hope for eternal satisfaction. This is why he insists, when it come to the people, places and thing in our lives we must posture our hearts give it all away. In order to position ourselves to know him more fully we need to get comfortable with the idea that our sovereign God may just require that  everything must go! 

I've got questions!

  • What do I cling to?
  • How do I react in times of loss and pain? Do I run more toward God or do I withdraw from him? 
  • If God required me to give up the person, place or thing I value most in order to know him more, would I be willing to trust him?

Inbox Inspirations

Watch That Ego!

Toward the end of the day, yesterday, I spent some time with one of my friends and we got into a really interesting discussion. Our talk became the prompt for this week's email. My friend and I talked about egos in our modern times and just how much our culture revolves around ego.  

We really are living in unprecedented times. In the social media age we all have abilities to create our own little worlds where we are central. We have our very own "followers" and our very own soapboxes. We can use these platforms we create to espouse our ideas with great authority. Every "like" or retweet that we receive strikes a dopamine trigger in our brains, fueling our senses of self and gratification. They validate us and our positions and our thoughts. 

With each one of those dopamine laden validations and gratifications comes a little bit of an ego boost — a little more self-importance. To make matters even more complicated, the media and music of our time helps to fuel our self-centered perspectives. Advertisers cleverly use our desires to build our own little worlds to peddle their wares, telling us if we buy this thing or that we can be among the elite. They tell us we can be bigger and better and stronger and sexier than our peers if buy their products. 

Because our society is steeped in the unprecedented hyper-existential and self-centered nature of these times, we who are following Christ have an uphill climb on our hands. Jesus calls away from self-centeredness. Jesus calls us away from our followers and our validation. The challenge for us in these times is huge! The "likes" and retweets and cool things we accrue are very tricky. Even our service and giving can be tainted by self-seeking and ego boosting in this environment.  

How do we contend in this space? How do we stand up against the challenge to live in worlds where are the center? How do we resist the cultural norms to be what Jesus calls us to be?  

I believe 1 Peter 5 has some great instruction for us that is consistent with Jesus' example throughout the scriptures. Peter writes:  

"All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, 'God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."   - 1 Peter 5:5b-7

These few verses from Peter's writing are so rich and instructive for us in these times. At the heart of our self-seeking is a fundamental failure to submit ourselves to God and his authority. When we allow our egos to inflate, we allow that part of ourselves to grow that opposes God. The psychologist Helen Schucman addresses this issue in her book  A Course in Miracles. Our inflated egos don't want to submit to God - or anyone else. This is why these unprecedented times are so treacherous for us as followers of Christ. 

At the heart of our self-seeking, usually, there is a sense of inadequacy — a sense that we are not enough. Our response to this sense is to build ourselves. Jesus calls us to do something else all together. Jesus calls us to walk away from ourselves and make ourselves, (and our egos), last. Jesus calls us to submit ourselves to God, first. Then, he calls us to submit ourselves to one another.  

This is counter intuitive in our time. Self-help, positive psychology, social media and lots of other factors can get in the way of the Jesus way of living life. That space in us that  needs validation and gratification can lead us to unduly rely on these things to satisfy us. As a result we find ourselves requiring more — more "likes," more retweets, more validation, more gratification, more... stuff. 

There's more than instruction in this 1 Peter passage, though. There's good news in the form of an assurance. While we are called away from self-seeking activity to fill our needs for fulfillment and validation, we are also promised that humility under God's hand results in elevation — the very thing our culture tells us to seek for ourselves. We are promised in this letter from Peter that God will fill that deep need that we so often look elsewhere to fill.  

As we move out into our week, let's take a look at ourselves. Let's take a look at our posts and our purchases. Let's think about our motivations. Let's think about  why we are doing what we're doing. Are we seeking ourselves in what we're doing in the little worlds we build? If so, let's take the time and drill down to figure out what needs we hope to fill by these actions.  

I know I'm going to spend this week evaluating myself on this. I hope you will too. It's so important that we get a great grasp on this if there's any hope of truly meaning elevation in our lives. It's so important for us to remember that even our most clever and effective attempts to fill our needs for validation are fleeting. Only God can  trulyelevate us. That's powerful and very critical for us to remember. 


Questions for the week

  • What kinds of things do I do because of my ego?
  • Do I see how getting validation for myself always leads to a need for more gratification? 
  • What kind of elevation do I desire most? What makes me feel validated?
  • How do I use social media? Are my motivations pure or are they self-seeking?

Inbox Inspirations

Threat Level = Zero

Hopefully, this email finds you winding down toward the end of your work day. This week's story has one that hits home for me. As you prepare to get into the evening hours of your day, I hope the writing this week is good to and for you!

In 2 Kings chapter 6, we find a story about Elisha - one of the most powerful figures in all of scripture. Elisha was God's chosen spokesperson to the people of Israel. He was an advisor to kings and a fearless man of God. In chapter 6, we catch a glimpse of what lay at the core of Elisha's fearlessness. 

Israel and Aram were at war. From the looks of things in the scripture, it seems that Aram had a strategic advantage over Israel. Israel's king was doing his best to set up a camp for his army. Time and time again the king planned a campsite, only to receive word from Elisha, "Beware of that place, because the Aramean will pass there." 

It wasn't long before the king of Aram became frustrated. His scouts were never able to pinpoint where the Israelite army was located. He came to the conclusion that their must be a mole amongst their ranks. Someone had to be telling Israel about his scouting and steering the Israelite army clear of his sentries. One of his officers spoke up and told the king there was no mole. The officer told his king "Its Elisha, the prophet of Israel. He tells the king of Israel even the very words you speak in your bedroom!"

Needless to say the king of Aram was infuriated. Elisha had be silenced. The Bible says that the king of Aram sent a "strong force" to surround the city where Elisha was, intent on capturing or killing the prophet who was thwarting his strategy. 

Elisha's servant looked up and saw the army surrounding the city when he awoke the next morning and naturally, he was a little concerned. He asked his master: "What shall we do?" 

Elisha's response?  "Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them."

The servant probably looked around the house at this point. lol! I know I would have. I would have wondered "who is this dude talking about?" I'm sure the servant must have wondered something similar. That's why Elisha prayed: 

"Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see."   - 2 Kings 6:17

When Elisha finished his prayer, the servant looked and he saw a massive force of angels on chariots of fire all around them. It was suddenly very clear to the servant how his master had remained so calm and confident in the face of what he perceived to be a clear and present threat. 

So many times in our lives we find ourselves surrounded. Our circumstances often seem to provide us with no way to escape; no way out. We all have these moments when fear tugs at our heart-strings and tells us to fold. We all know these situations when everything inside of us says, "Be afraid! Be very afraid!" 

The challenge of faith is that it calls upon us to believe in a reality that is higher than what we see in the physical world. What our eyes see, ears hear, hands touch is ever-fading. Faith is the tool by which we transcend these limited perspectives of the truth to rest in absolute security. When we pray, "Open my eyes, Lord, so that I may see," we are praying for a revelation of absolute truth. 

In the case of Elisha's servant, he was only looking at one bit of reality — the enemy army was there. He perceived a threat that incited fear. Elisha's well-developed faith allowed him to see more! He saw the whole reality of the situation. Not only were God's forces present, they were more in number and more mighty in power than the troops that were supposed to endanger him. 

In our lives we do well to remember this story about Elisha and his servant. We do well to remember this kind of praying. We do well to remember to ask God - before we even ask him to do anything — to reveal truth to us; to open our eyes! If we do this, instead of finding ourselves wracked with fear when challenges arise, we will see the same way Elisha did. We'll realize absolute truth and that truth is this: 

For God's people, in all situations and all circumstance we are ever protected. Our God is sovereign and in absolute control of all that is. Because of that fact, in all things the threat level to God's people = zero. Period and AMEN!

Questions for the week

  • Are there things that I've been led to do but haven't done because of fear?
  • How do I define reality? 
  • How do I perceive God in my concept of reality?
  • When I pray, do I pray about what I see through my eyes or what I see through faith?

Inbox Inspirations

Don't Judge Me

How's your Monday going? I hope it is off to a beautiful start. Here in RVA, the sun is shining and the temperature is PERFECT! It's an unbelievable gorgeous day!  

Here's a phrase that is pervasive in popular culture these days: "don't judge me!" I don't really know exactly where the popularity came from, but I suspect it may have started with Tupac Shakur and his popular adage, "Only God can judge me." Where ever it originated, the idea is pervasive in our culture. I've been thinking about this a lot since last Wednesday. I've been wrestling with this idea. I looked to the Word of God, and the texts there seem to say conflicting things. When I prayed about the tension between some of the Biblical references, I believe God gave me some clear insight about this.  

Matthew 7:1 is probably one of the most well known scriptures in the entire Bible. In his own words, Jesus says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." It seems pretty straight forward, right? Don't judge! But there are questions that this passage leaves behind. What about sin? Do we ignore it? If no, how do we deal with it without judgement? This is where the tension exists for me. This is where I've struggled — even within myself. How do I deal with  my sin?  

As I prayed about this I found myself coming to terms with one of the reasons why I've experienced tension here. For so many of us the Bible is abstract. We read it like a set of rules to be followed. Lots of times tensions arise in our understandings because we don't put ourselves  in the Word of God. We pull the scriptures a part — separating words from intentions and actions. I think this "don't judge me" thing is one of the places where this is true.  

When I put myself  in the scriptures — looking around at the landscape, watching Jesus work with people and situations a trend emerges. Jesus didn't ever sidestep sin. He didn't hesitate to call sin what it was. However, he also rarely spent time chastising sinners. When we put Jesus' words together with his work we see a perfect example of dealing with our own sin and dealing with other people who are struggling with sin, themselves. Jesus' approach was always steeped in compassion and ours should be as well. 

I think one of the profound things about Jesus' dealings with sinners was just the fact that Jesus always addressed root causes. Over and over again in the gospels we find Jesus reading people. We find him being perceptive about what was going on insidepeople — in their hearts and in their heads. He wasn't taken by people's  actions like we are. Jesus always dealt with the root of the problems of sin he encountered.  

So what does that mean for us? I think as Christians we are called to have a profound interest in  people. I believe this is the Jesus way. I believe we are called to follow Christ's example of not getting stuck on why people do what they do. I believe we are called to look deep within ourselves and within others to try to see their hearts. When we do this, we learn to bypass judgement. When we do this, we learn to care for people with compassion. This is  exactly what enables us to love our enemies and pray for those who use us

I even think how Jesus dealt with other people is instructive to us in how we deal with ourselves in our own sins. I think his example shows us how to break sinful habits in our own lives through prayerful consideration of the  causes  in our hearts. I believe Jesus' example of dealing with sin keeps us from creating the debilitating baggage of guilt and shame. I believe his loving care for others is instructive to teach us — not just how to love others but also how to be loving toward ourselves.  

All the way up to the cross, Jesus was pushing aside the veneer of people's actions and looking to their hearts. Even in his agony, he was looking deeply into people to see their spiritual illness and praying for them in that space. Oh what an example he gave us! What a picture of love — not just in his death but in the details of his living!  

This week, as we observe so much going on in the world let's try together to pay special attention to this aspect of Jesus' example. Wherever we encounter sin — even when it isagainst us or  in us — let's ask God to open our eyes to what is really taking place. Let's ask God to help us remember there's more to every situation than we can see. Let's ask him to give us the clarity to see total truth and deal with ourselves and others in a way that is consistent with Jesus' example. Let's ask him shape in us a spirit that is courageous to be honest about sin and compassionate to suspend judgement and see the roots of sin that need prayerful care and healing! 

Questions for the week

  • Am I judgmental?
  • Is my perception of righteousness based on a judgmental paradigm?
  • How do I deal with my own sinfulness? Do I beat myself up? Do I take time to understand where my sin is rooted? 
  • How do I deal with sin when I encounter it in others?

Inbox Inspirations

It's My Blessing and I Want it Now

It is an unbelievably beautiful day here in RVA. I hope you are enjoying your day and getting a productive start to your week. I'm just home from a weekend of events in Detroit. While I was in the D, I played in a charity basketball tournament raising over $1,100 for kids in the city. I also played a concert while I was in town. 

While I was riding around Detroit I saw a bunch of those ambulance chasing attorney ads on billoards all around town. Apparently, Detroit has a lot of car accidents! I'm positive that I didn't go 5 miles on the freeway without seeing one of those things.  They were everywhere. 

Seeing those ads on the freeway got me to thinking about funny lawyer and financing commercials that we see here in VA. The first one that came to mind was J.G. Wentworth. I've always found those commercials to be hilarious "Its my money and I want it NOW!" I'm pretty sure everybody has seen one of those commercials.  

As funny as it is, that J.G. Wentworth ad is a brilliant appeal to our natural bent toward impatience. In the Bible, Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son reminds me of this ad. The youngest son of a very wealthy man decided he didn't want to wait for his inheritance. He wanted it all and he wanted it immediately. It was his inheritance and he wanted it now! He had no regard for his father's timing. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. 

I know I can relate to Mr. Prodigal's sense of immediacy. In truth, I  think most of us are terribly impatient - especially when it comes to the things of God. We want blessings to show us immediately.  We have no regard for God's processes or his timing. So many times we only care about our requests or God's promises. We care nothing of his ways! 

As it turns out, the prodigal kid that Jesus spoke of wasn't at all ready for inheritance he'd been given. He blew it all, recklessly spending his money turning up (that's a slang  colloquialism for partying, lol). Sure, his father would later show mercy and welcome him home but the prodigal son's inheritance was spent! There was no getting that part back. 

I'm sure the prodigal kid's father knew what his son would do with the inheritance he had for him. I'm also sure there was an appointed time for him to bequeath that inheritance to his son. The prodigal son didn't have any regard for his father's wisdom and in the all his disregard for his father's wise timing cost him the inheritance he wanted so badly.  

There is a sobering lesson of trust in this story. We can learn from Mr. Prodigal. We do know that every promise of God is "yes and amen." We also know that God has promised to affirmatively answer every prayer we pray according to his will. However, patience and trust in his timing are critical. We must learn that he has his reasons for delaying. We must trust that his delays always result in dual purpose: his glory and our good! 

So, as we set out into the week with our lists of things we are praying about, let us us seek the Lord for increased grace that manifests as trust and patience in his processes and timing. Let's pray for greater revelations of who God is as we count on him to work with, through and for us in those spaces where we are praying. Let's pray that he will quiet that self centered voice that all too often shouts out "it's my blessing and I want it now!" 

Questions for the week

 

  • What is patience?
  • Can I think of times when I've been impatient with God and wound up wrecking a blessing?
  • Do I take pleasure in seeing God work or just getting my way?
  • Do I trust God's processes as much as I trust his results?

Inbox Inspirations

What Are You Doing Here

Congratulations! You've just about made it through Monday! I hope last week was amazing for you. (I took a break from writing for Labor Day.) I also hope your day, today has been great. Mine has been quite busy with school and preparations for a concert in Detroit this weekend. I do apologize for the lateness of the email. 

In the midst of the busyness of the day, I've been thinking a lot about the story of Elijah. One of my favorite stories about Elijah is the spectacle at Mt. Carmel. God used Elijah to  embarrassingly defeat 400 prophets of the false-god, Baal. God showed his power in incredible fashion, using Elijah as his spokesperson as he demonstrated his status as the one true God.  

What is also interesting about this story is Elijah's less than spectacular behavior after what happened on Mt. Carmel. Just one chapter later, we find Elijah consumed with fear and running for his life. Apparently, the queen didn't like Elijah's participation in the defeat on the prophets of Baal. She vowed to kill Elijah. When he heard about the queen's vengeful promise, Elijah took off running like a fugitive.  

The story of Elijah's great escape is rather interesting. He ran to the point of exhaustion into the wilderness. He isolated himself. Leaving his servant in a town along the way, Elijah continued his trek into the wilderness. Finally he found himself out of energy, out of courage and out of faith. He prayed to God:  "Take my life." 

In his exhaustion, Elijah fell asleep in the wilderness. He was awoken by the touch of an angel. The angel provided him with food and water. Elijah partook and went back to sleep. He was again awoke by the angel who again provided nourishment for Elijah. After being refreshed this second time, Elijah took off running again — for forty days and nights — eventually taking refuge in Horeb, (aka The Mountain of God).  

After Elijah had rested for a night at his hiding place in Horeb, the Bible says God spoke to him saying:

“What are you doing here Elijah?” - I Kings 19:9

There's more to the story. God reveals himself to Elijah at Horeb in breathtaking fashion and soon after the mountain experience, God also relieve Elijah of his duties as his prophet. He takes Elijah to himself in a chariot of fire and Elisha assumes Elijah's mantel as God's prophet. But, for this email, let's stick here at God's question for Elijah. "What are you doing here?" 

I find it amazing that Elijah was so strong in his faith that God could use him to destroy 400 prophets of an idol god. I also identify with just how flimsy his faith was when Jezebel threatened his life. He ran away from this woman, whom he knew to be ruthless and at times bloodthirsty. The thought of this woman being after him shook Elijah to his core. He ran.  

I think we can all identify with Elijah. It is really interesting how our faith can be strong in one area and weak in another. We're good at courageously trusting God when we are sure of how he is going to do things. Elijah knew exactly what was going to happen at Mt. Carmel. God was directing him step by step. There was plenty of certainty there. He knew God wouldn't leave him hanging there.  

After Mt. Carmel, something was different, though. There was no word from God saying, "Elijah, don't trip out, now. Jezebel is going to come at you." There was no expressed promise, "I will protect you. Don't fear, Elijah." Many times we are just like Elijah in these circumstances, aren't we? In the absence of an expressed word from God, our faith gets flimsy! We get fearful. We forget about the  nature  of God and the mighty ways he has provided and protected us in the past. All we see is the danger before us.  

Just like Elijah, when we feel fear, we try and make our own moves. We run. We hide. Just like in Elijah's case, fear often leads us to find ourselves far from where we belong. In our spiritual amnesia, we run away forgetting our own Mt. Carmel experiences only to find ourselves exhausted in wildernesses!  

There's a rich lesson for us in Elijah's story. King David puts that lesson in imperative terms in Psalm 103:3 — "forget not his benefits." One of the things I'm learning in my faith walk is that faith is largely a function of memory. If we look at our lives individually, we can see the faith story that God is developing in and for us. Look back at your life and all that God has done! Remember how he has cared for you, and comforted you, and provided for you, and protected you!  

When fear comes, we have to look back at our own Mt. Carmel experiences and remember! When we feel our fears of the future welling up inside of us or when we find ourselves on the run from the scary things on the horizon, we do well to ask ourselves the same question God asked Elijah. When Elijah allowed his fears to drive him far from his assigned place, God asked him the pointed question:  "What are you doing here?" 

Questions for the week
 

  • What is my assigned place? Do I know where am I supposed to be?
  • Do I feel uneasy when I am not hearing from God? How do I respond?
  • How do I keep my spiritual memory refreshed so I "don't forget his benefits?"
  • What kinds of fears send me reeling and move me from my assigned place? 
  • Where am I now? Am I in a wilderness, moved there because of fear or am I where I believe God has assigned me to be? 

Inbox Inspirations

Knowing is in Tasting

I hope your Monday is off to a great start. I’ve just completed some training with the team at Richmond Prep, and I’ve got to tell you: I’m really pumped about this upcoming school year.

Yesterday, at church my mom preached from Psalm 34:4. After sitting down to do some work in preparation for this morning’s training, I spent some time looking at the entire Psalm 34 passage. I took a look at the history of the psalm and I found myself really focused on verse 8:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” - Psalm 34:8

When I was a kid, I was a really picky eater. That trend lasted well into my adult years. When I say I was picky, I mean picky like... I just started eating tomatoes last year! To this very day I refuse to eat onions; I don’t believe in them. (Don't ask.) My parents used to laugh at my pickiness. They used to tell me all the time “you don’t know what you’re missing!”

Raw vegetables? No, thank you. Salad dressing? Nah. I’m good. I wanted no parts of that stuff and at least one hundred other things that looked yucky to me. I was serious about my pickiness, too. I can laugh at my highly selective eating habits, now but the truth is, most of the time I had no reason for “disliking” food. I based my distate for any given item on the way it looked to me.

A few years ago when I finally started to get out of my dietary box, I started with eating some really basic salads. I was so shocked by how good these things were! (Cucumbers! Praise the lord for cucumbers!) I finally realized what my parents had said. I hadn’t known at all what I was missing and there really was no way for them to describe to me all of the intricate tastes that make salads delicious. I’d been missing out on big time deliciousness all this time because I was just too afraid to try.

In this Psalm, we find David doing his usual: extolling the graciousness of God. But these circumstances were weird. As he was writing this passage, he was leaving the service of the Philistine king of Gath. If you remember your Sunday Bible school lessons, you’ll remember that David slew the champion of Gath, Goliath. As a result he became the toast of Israel’s court and of Israel’s king, Saul. But, Saul’s favor for David fell when he learned that God’s anointing was on David. David spent a long time running from Saul’s attempts to assasinate him. During his time as a fugitive of the king he once served, David found himself in the favor of the Abimelech - the king of Gath whose champion David had slain in legendary fashion! Talk about an example of God's grace and unique way of doing things!

This was just one piece of David’s epic life story, but through all of the twists and turns, we learn that David was a pro at leaning on God. Maybe it was experiences like the ones he had with Saul and Abimelech that developed him to so faithfully trust in God. In fact, I’m sure that’s the case. I think this verse from Psalm 34 is the proof. David knew God. As a result of knowing him, he trusted him. But, the knowledge of God and David’s legendary trust in God all began with David stepping out to try God in the first place. To put it another way, David’s knowing came as a result of tasting God’s nature. He says “Taste and see!” Tasting leads to knowing.

In our daily lives, we are often challenged to rely on God. In fact, we are probably more challenged to do this than we might want to recognize. A lot of times we talk ourselves out of obedience because the circumstances don’t look right. Sometimes we convince ourselves that things don’t make sense. We lean to our own understanding and away from God’s almight providence. Too often we pass up opportunities to taste and see that God is faithful and loving and mighty and wise and beautiful!

As we venture out into the week, let’s make a promise to ourselves to look for opportunities to sample God’s goodness in new ways. When he pulls us toward challenges, whether great or small, let’s look at his pulling as an opportunity to try a sample - an opportunity to taste and see. Let’s look at each of those opportunities as a chance to know God more. If you can’t look to my reformed eating habits, you can certainly rely on David’s testimony in this: knowing is in tasting!

No questions this week. Just go for it!

Inbox Inspirations

Bury That

I hope and pray you had a great weekend and your Monday is off to a wonderful start. I enjoyed a restful weekend, here in RVA. I'm excited about this week and the weeks ahead as we move toward the fall, (which is my favorite season of the year). Fall means the bulk of my attentions turn toward Richmond Prep! (Shameless plug. lol!)  

Today is a rather special day in my musical life. A year ago, today a song that I recorded with No Malice (formerly of the insanely popular hip-hop group, The Clipse) was released on his Hear Ye Him album as the lead single. The song was entitled Bury That.(Here's the music video for the song.) The whole experience around the song and the release of that album was exhilarating. It was really cool to have folks walk up and say "Hey! I just saw you on MTV!" 

Bury That was a ground-breaking release. It was a song about No Malice's conviction to bury his past as a drug dealer and the highly lucrative rap career he and his brother, Pusha T, had built on stories of their drug peddling exploits. It extolled Biblical virtue of over popular culture's principles of indulgence and self-satisfaction. What made it so ground-breaking is that this song was played out before millions of hip-hop fans who were hard-core fans of No Malice's (formerly Malice,) drug-game hyping history.  Bury That and the  Hear Ye Him album were all over the news. It was even on CNN! 


Over the course of the last week or so, I've found myself thinking about that song a bit and the Biblical concept behind what No Malice so eloquently laid out in the song. In the theologically rich passage that is Romans chapter 8, we find Paul reminding the Christian church in Rome that they had a responsibility to bury some things:  
 

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. 

- Romans 8:12-13  

In today's "Jesus is my Homie" culture, we spend a lot of time talking about the amazing grace of God. We do a lot of talking about God's gracious love and his call to us to come to him as we are. These are really beautiful concepts to consider - that God's grace covers us. However, I think it is important for us to be careful here. We must remember that God's call is for us to come as we are. It is  not for us to  stay as we are! 

By no means am I writing today about getting on some kind of self-improvement plan. I don't think that's what Paul was telling the Romans to do. I don't think he was telling the Romans to get themselves straight. What I  do think Paul is saying here is this: accepting grace isn't a passive act.  

Sin is tricky. It makes us think we owe something to our flesh. We all have these sticky places in our lives where we have trouble escaping sin. Often, we convince ourselves that our sin is okay because we're "only human" and grace covers it. So, we're good. Right? I know I do this. I'm definitely stepping on my own toes with this whole email today, but it is true. I so often try to use my weakness as an excuse and God's grace as a cover for my deliberate wrongness!  

Here's the thing, though. Grace doesn't just cover. It also empowers us. It removes the myopic lens that sin puts on our eyes - the lens that shows us the gratification of the moment. Grace gives us a choice! Grace frees us from slavery to those pesky temptations that tell us "you'll never be free of me! You're only human." Grace gives us a place to go.  It replaces that obligation that we feel to do things that we know are destroying us, with an obligation to God - who is so committed to our well being that he subjected his only son to humiliation and murder at our hands in order to save us! 

God's glorious grace is about more than cover.  It is also about burial. The astounding grace of God empowers us to funeralize our obligations to our old nature; that part of us that pulled us toward actions and thoughts that only result in shame and guilt and hurt. Grace gives us something more beautiful! 

Again, I have to emphasize this point: I'm not saying we need to get on some kind of self-improvement plan to obtain God's grace. I'm saying just the opposite. I'm saying that God's grace gives us the opportunity for improvement through him! Whatever our personal thing might be, we are empowered by grace to overcome our old nature through the Holy Spirit! 

God's grace is irresistibly beautiful! So, this week let's look toward God's grace with fresh or renewed perspective. Let's not just think of it as a covering. Let's remind ourselves as we look at our lives and see flashes of our old obligations to temptation that God's grace does more than just cover that. It gives us power to  Bury That! 
 

Critical Questions:

  • What comes to my mind when I hear the phrase "The Grace of God"? 
  • Do I have a "thing" - a temptation I can't resist? What is it and what is the usual or eventual result of my giving-in to it? Would I classify that result as "living" or "dying"? 
  • What am I really saying if/when I tell myself "I'm only human"? 

Inbox Inspirations

Delight & Vindication

I hope your morning went fantastically well and you're coasting toward the end of a productive day. I'm wrapping up a few hours of work at my desk at Richmond Prep. The weekend was busy! I played a concert  in New York last night. I had a blast! As always, you can check out a couple of snapshots from my travels via my Instagram account. 

In my own prayer time on the train this weekend I found myself at Psalm 37:

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.   

- Psalm 37:3-6

 

I found comfort in this scripture this weekend. It's true: if we are following Jesus, we will at one point or another find ourselves hard pressed between our faith walk and popular opinions or ideas. The comfort that is offered here in these verses is a promise that if we delightfully commit to following our Lord, we  will be vindicated! 

The scriptures are full of evidence that God vindicates those who are committed to following his way. From Genesis to Revelation we find examples of people who stood in faith - even while folks around them mocked them. We find people who were dismissed as "crazy," we find people who were tortured and abused. We find them all in the scriptures and we also find that God never failed to vindicate them! That vindication came to them and will come to us righteous rewards for delighting in him!  

If we delight in him,  we can rest assured that we are always on solid ground. We should note here that David is paying attention to the attitude that we have in our obedience: delight. God does not honor begrudging obedience. This is fundamental to understanding him. God is more concern with our internal state than our external action. An insincere act of obedience is no act of obedience to him at all. We must delight in him! We must delight in his instruction! 

This week's note is rather short but please don't let it's gravity escape in it's brevity. If we delight ourselves in God - if we learn to love him and his ways - then he promises us that he will vindicate us. He promises that he will give us our hearts' desires - the only thing that will satisfy us completely: more and more of him!  

As we set out into this week, let's look to find more ways to delight ourselves in him. Let's do our best to do what David said: commit our ways to him. It doesn't have to be a grandiose undertaking. We don't have to be overwhelmed by the thought. We can start simply by relishing him in small moments. We can start by looking for his movements in the situations we face, today! We don't have to try to be hyper spiritual or over the top. We can start to delight in him more in simple ways that have big results! We can start right now to take pleasure in our almighty, absolutely delightful God.

Critical Questions:

  • What does it mean to "Delight" in God? 
  • Is my obedience to God paired with an obedient atitude toward his direction and instruction?
  • Have I stood in my faith before to see vindication come to full fruition? If yes, how does that experience shaped my faith? Am I stronger or no?
  • How do I adjust my atitude to a delightful posture when I don't necessarily like what I've been instructed to do?

Inbox Inspirations

Trust the Process

I’m a bit late with today’s inbox note. I’ll skip the prologue and get right into this week’s thoughts.

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. - Genesis 3:15

Most theologians agree that in this passage we find the first promise of the coming Christ. The seed of woman (usually regarded as a reference to Jesus,) will crush the head of the serpent. Though the serpent will strike at his heel, woman’s offspring will ultimately crush the tempter. This sentiment is echoed in many of Paul’s writings. He repeated says that “God has placed all things under his [Jesus] feet.” (Eph 1:22, 1 Cor 15:27, Heb 2:8).

This is the first time God shows us a glimpse of his plan for the redemption of mankind. This was the first indication of his glorious plan to pour out grace to all of mankind. After the promise, it would be another 77 generations (4,000 years) before God’s plan of redemption was manifested in the flesh on earth. Another 77 generations before mankind would see any tangible proof of God’s plan coming to fruition.

Why did God take so long to do his thing, here? What was going on across those 4,000 years? What was he doing and why was he taking so long?

While God’s ways aren’t like ours, he has been gracious enough to reveal some of his ways to us through his word. And, I think he’s revealed some of his purposes for this 4 millenium gap between his promise and the proof of it through the narrative of his word. Not only that, but I think this revelation about this 4 thousand year gap is instructive to us in our lives:

As elaborate and intricate as his designs are, I think God’s timing in the coming of Jesus boils down to one word: process.

We live on earth. Space and time define our physical realities. We race against the clock in just about every aspects of our lives - our jobs, our families, even our liesure is set against the backdrop of time. This isn’t God’s reality, though. God is the author of time. Just like the author of a book, he lives outside the time oriented reality he has created for us.

If God lives outside our time oriented reality, it makes perfect sense that he is never in what we would consider a “rush”. God doesn’t have a clock to punch. He knows everything. He has everything well in hand. He has set everything into motion. He has no uncertainty. Because he is all knowing and all powerful, he is obliged to take his time in working out his plans. He is obliged to take his time to reveal himself. He is obliged to work every meticulous detail without skipping a step. He is obliged to delight himself in his processes!

So many times in our lives, our time oriented mentalities cause us to be impetuous. We make irrational moves and countermoves to beat the clock. We skip steps - often times, thwarting our own attempts to get to point A or point B in our lives. God doesn’t do that. God values processes far too much to skip steps!

Last week, I wrote to you about the great privilege of prayer and the unique invite we have through Jesus to pray persistently. Many of us have been praying about people, places and things for long periods of time. Sometimes we think God isn’t answering. Sometimes we think he isn’t moving quickly enough. Sometimes, much like Mary the sister to Lazarus, we think “if God would only move on this, NOW!” 

Whatever it is that you may be seeking God about these days, I want to encourage you to continue to engage him in prayer. Don’t give up. Keep going back to the throne of grace with your request. However as you approach God with faith and trust to answer you, I want to encourage you to also trust his processes.

Over and over again throughout the scriptures we see God answering people’s prayers. However, he doesn’t usually go about it in conventional ways. He doesn’t come on the schedule we prescribe. He doesn’t come in the ways we expect. He has his way of doing things. 

These days, I’m praying for more grace to be appreciative of God's methods - not just the outcomes. I’m praying that God will create in me a heart that is joyful in patience. I’m praying that God will give me a heart and mind that looks to him in all things, trusting steadfastly in the efficacy of his processes.

Critical Questions:

  • How does time effect my decision making?
  • How would my decision making be different if I had all the time in the world?
  • Can I think of ways that God has answered my prayers, but through unforeseen means?
  • When I ask God to do things, do I also subconsciously think he should do them a specific way or at a specific time?
  • Have I missed God moving in an area of my life or in response to my prayers because I was caught off guard by his process?

Inbox Inspirations

Untapped Treasure

It’s Monday!!! I hope yore weekend was incredible. Mine was! I had some new experiences and some much needed time for rest and relaxation. I’m excited about the week ahead. I hope you are too!

This week I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve been having about a part of the greatest sermon ever preached in history: The Sermon on the Mount. In this epic sermon, Jesus touches a bunch of subjects. Of all of the pieces of this sermon, the portion that is most resonating with me these days is prayer.

What if you got a phone call from the White House today and the person on the other line said:

“President Obama invites you to contact him directly with your requests and he will see to it that you get whatever you need based on those requests.”

You’d be blown away, right? You’ve just been told that the President of the United States has invited you to make requests AND has said that he will reply to them. No, it’s even better than that. He isn’t just saying “request, and I’ll look into it.” According to the statement you’ve been given, the President has already said that he is inclined to respond affirmatively to your requests!

The idea that the President would hear and genuinely give consideration to our individual requests is an astonishing one. There are 319 million people in our country. The privilege to submit requests and be confident that they are given real consideration by the uppermost leader of our country is not something we’d take lightly at all. Right?

If we find this Presidential scenario to be unbelievable, then we should be in absolute awe at what Jesus said about prayer during the Sermon on the Mount!

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

- Matthew 7:7-11

What Jesus said here is mind blowing, really. Jesus says in plain language that the almighty God - creator and sustainer of everything - invites us to bring him our requests! Not only this, but Jesus also says that God is inclined to GIVE to us according to our requests!

If you grew up in church with me, then I imagine you’re pretty familiar with this abstract from the Sermon on the Mount. For a lot of us, the power behind these words is a bit lost because we’ve become so accustomed to hearing it. But, this is something we should savor! Prayer is a treasure - an unbelievable gift from God. We are invited to connect directly with him. We are invited to lay our requests before him and we aren’t given a limit!

In Luke 18, Jesus tells his disciples not to feel squeamish about coming to God with persistent requests. Jesus tells a parable about an ungodly judge who acquiesced to persistent requests for justice from a widow under his jurisdiction. Luke says Jesus tells them the story about this widow so they will learn they should “pray and not lose heart.” It is interesting that Jesus uses the same contrasting rhetorical tool here that he used in his teaching about prayer in the Matthew passage above:

“Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

- Luke 18:6-8

So, we are not only encouraged to make our requests, but also to keep making them until we hear directly from the Almighty in response to them. Again… this is incredible!

I don’t know about you but sometimes I take prayer for granted. Sometimes I catch myself going through motions with it. I repeat cliches. Sometimes I do it mindlessly.

This past weekend I asked myself if I would take an audience with President Obama with the same casual attitude that I approach my open audience before God. I found the implications of that question to be rather alarming. I think I’ve done a lot of under appreciating prayer as something I’m just supposed to do. What Jesus says puts things into perspective, though. Praying is not a ritualistic practice. Prayer is a supreme privilege to be savored and treasured!

Questions:

  • What am I praying about these days?
  • Is my communication with God forthright and honest?
  • When I pray how is my concentration? Am I more or less engaged than I would be in the presence of a dignitary or world leader?
  • How persistent am I in my prayers? Do I make a request and give up if I don’t get a response from God immediately?

Inbox Inspirations

The Plan

I hope your weekend provided great opportunities for rest and relaxation and that you are having a fantastic Monday! I’ll dispose with my usual pleasantries and jump right into this week’s note.

Here we go.

I cannot possibly tell you how far reaching my mom’s influence is in my life. I often find myself quoting her maxims. If you look closely, you’ll find my mom’s influence on the way I do business, the way I see the world and other people, how I take on projects and so much more. My mom was and is a pretty tough cookie, but the lessons she taught me as I grew up stuck.

Probably the most influential thing my mom taught me was to have a plan. She would always tell me “Have a plan - and not just one plan. Have a plan A, B and C!” That’s how she always does things. She always has an idea of the direction she wants to go and how to get there. My mom has really impressed upon me a penchant for planning. Because of her, planning has become something that is very important to me.

As I’ve gotten closer to God and gotten more intentional about reading and thinking about his word, I’ve discovered that plans aren’t just important to me. They are important to God! The more I read the Bible, the more clearly I see that God has an intricate plan for each one of us.

Reading the book of Jeremiah, I was really struck by how often God talks to Jeremiah about his plan. Jeremiah starts off his writing telling us that God had a plan for him - an intimate and amazing plan. Jeremiah says God spoke these words to him:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

- Jeremiah 1:5

Not only does God reveal that he has an individual plan for Jeremiah, he also tells Jeremiah that he has a plan for his people. Later on in the book he tells Jeremiah to pass this word along to the nation of Israel:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord , “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

- Jeremiah 29:11

Reading this book has been really interesting to me. What I’ve found is that God’s plan is often hard to swallow. His ways are so much higher than ours. While we often find ourselves wondering why he does things the way he does, we can’t possibly hope to understand all of the intricacies of his designs. His plans are bigger (and sometimes much more tiny in detail) than we can conceive.

Maybe this is why he so badly desires and pleasures in our complete trust in him. Maybe this is why he is so offended by our impetuous actions - our planning and moving without him. Maybe this is why he warns:

Woe to the obstinate children," declares the LORD, "to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin

- Isaiah 30:1

What I’ve learned from my time with God over the past weekend and the reading of Jeremiah is that God’s plan is infinitely important. In fact - it is the ultimate in importance. Because of that, my planning should always consist primarily of consulting God’s plans. This require an ever deepening humbleness to come under the directorship of God and subordinate what I want to what he wants. His plan is bigger and ultimately important. My plan better fall in line or the results of my planning will be ultimate failure.

As we go into this week, let’s pray together for God to outpour more of his grace into our lives. In that outpouring, let’s pray that we find grace to be more trusting and submissive to God’s plans. Let’s pray that we can learn to create our own plans in such ways that they always advance his plan. 

My mom's right - planning is very important. I'm just starting to understand just how important it is! 
 

Questions:

  • How do I construct my plans?
  • Do I ever consider God’s plan when I am constructing my own?
  • Have there been times when my plans have ultimately failed? What was I planning toward? Did I consult God’s plan in those instances?
  • How do I go about synchronizing my plans with God’s?
  • What is the role of humility in my planning?

Inbox Inspirations

Don't Get too Comfortable!

Over the course of the last week or so, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about just how big God is. What started me thinking in this line was a video that I came across on Tuesday. (If you'd like to check out the video, here it is.) I have to say, it absolutely blew my mind.

After watching, I found myself thinking over and over again about how inconceivable God really is. I started thinking about how wondrous it is that he loves me - little, insignificant ME! All of last week was consumed with these kinds of thoughts. Again, the implications of that video completely blew my mind!

As I started to think about my relationship with God and my perception of him, I found myself dealing with some conviction. Considering what I’d seen that video and how I had been interacting with God, I suddenly felt like I’d become way too familiar and cozy with him. I suddenly felt like I'd been under estimating and under appreciating him in a huge way. Let me explain what I mean.

When I consider my place in the universe, the fact is that I’m utterly insignificant; all of us are. The flip side of that is this, when I consider God’s place in the universe the complete opposite is true. He is supremely significant! The whole universe - all those millions and billions of stars and galaxies rest in his hand; under his authority!

Now, with that fact in mind, I started to consider how I pray. I started to consider how I worship. I started to consider how I think about God. The more I considered, the more I felt convicted. I’ve had things backwards! I am not central. I am not significant in this universe. Only God is! I exist for him and his glory; not the other way around!

With this in mind I’ve found my posture in prayer and interaction with God being made over across the last few days. I’ve found myself completely humbled at the thought of my insignificance up against his supreme magnitude. I’ve been even more humbled by the thought that God cares for me - even as insignificant as I am! 

David said it this way:

What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

- Psalm 8:4

There are three things that I’ve taken away from this past week.

1) Thinking about God and his supremacy in and over the universe should naturally result in an ever deepening humility in my hearts.

Just the thought of the vastness of God’s creation, and how big and holy he must be to do such work should press a button that triggers humility deep down within our souls! The thought that the massive and supreme God who holds all of this universe together has any awareness at all of us should take our breath away - not to mention that he loves us to the point of sacrificing his son for our salvation! This is scandalous stuff! It really is unfathomable. If we see think about God this way, then it should compel us to live every day with an ever deepening humility.

2) The natural bi-product of this ever deepening humility is complete submission to God and his supremacy. 

If we are humbled before God, then it follows that we ought to be completely submitted to him. This is sticky for us in our culture. We all to often feel entitled to God’s gracious nature. We easily get caught up in thinking he exists to serve us. Our cultural perspective tells us that God is there to give us stuff, and heal our sickness, and make us prosper. Yes, God is gracious and he kindly does these things for us according to his will. However, it is a huge mistake to think these are the reasons why he exists! He does not exist for us! He was before the beginning of time. The idea that he exists for us is.. frankly put...  stupid. The fact is we exist for him and that fact has two implications:

A) resisting him is futile. 
B) submission to him is the only thing that makes sense.
C) The humbled and submissive heart is overwhelmed with gratitude.

When we humble ourselves before God and posture ourselves to submit to him, it follows that we will enjoy him more and more! The thought that God, in all of his glory and magnificence, would do anything at all for us should be cause for overflowing gratitude. Oh, but how much does he do for us and how much does he give!?  WOW! If we are humble and submissive before him, how can we not be completely satisfied and grateful in him?

As we get into this week, I hope you’ll consider some of this. I hope you’ll take a look at your walk with God. I hope you’ll reassess how you see him and how he sees you. I hope today’s email will be a reminder that when it comes to our relationship with God, it is important that we don’t get too comfortable.

No questions this week!

Inbox Inspirations

What are You Laughing At?

I hope your day is going fantastically well! The week’s off to a great start here in Richmond. This weekend was incredibly busy. As I noted last week, I spent time in Norfolk at studio with my band, recording over the weekend. I’m really excited about the music that’s come as a result of the work. 

This week is super slammed as well. Tonight, I’ll be singing at the National Anthem for the Flying Squirrels baseball game. If you’re in the RVA area and able to come out, please do! (Tickets for tonight’s game are here if you’re interested: http://bibbs.li/1jh93JR) Friday night, I'll be doing a concert tribute to Motown in Richmond as well. It's a benefit concert for Little League baseball fields in RVA. Tickets for that are here: http://bibbs.li/jbmotown. 

This week’s email is all about an important question that has to do with our faith. When it comes to faith, there’s no greater case-study than the life of Abraham and that is exactly where today’s email finds root.

I’m pretty sure you already know about Abraham’s adventure with God. There’s a part of the story that is I find rather bizarre, though. A year ahead of Isaac’s birth, the Bible says that God made a personal visit to Abraham and his wife, Sarah. During the visit, something strange happened:

The men said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?”He said, “In the tent.” One of them said, “I’m coming back about this time next year. When I arrive, your wife Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was listening at the tent opening, just behind the man. Abraham and Sarah were old by this time, very old. Sarah was far past the age for having babies. Sarah laughed within herself, “An old woman like me? Get pregnant? With this old man of a husband?” God said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh saying, ‘Me? Have a baby? An old woman like me?’ Is anything too hard for God? I’ll be back about this time next year and Sarah will have a baby.” Sarah lied. She said, “I didn’t laugh,” because she was afraid. But he said, “Yes you did; you laughed.”

-Genesis 18:9-15

Bizarre, right? Sarah laughed at God’s promise! We have to take it easy on Sarah, though. She may not have known with whom she was speaking at the time. Then too, we have to bear in mind that Sarah and Abraham had been praying and following God’s instructions for a long time, with hopes of seeing the promise of a son come to fruition. They’d even tried to take matters into their own hands. Sarah had encouraged Abraham to father a child with her handmaiden, and he did. This wasn’t the promised son, God had committed to giving Abraham, though.

By this time, after all those years of trying to be obedient and sometimes trying to wrest control of the situation, themselves, things must have seemed hopeless - especially since the Bible says that both Abraham and Sarah were well past child-bearing years. Under normal circumstances Sarah’s laughter would seem perfectly reasonable. But, these weren’t normal circumstances. This wasn’t just some guy saying this to her. It was God!

So many times we find ourselves in Sarah-like situations. We know that there are promises that God has given us. So, we enthusiastically wait… at first. Then, we think “maybe God needs my help,” and we try to bring his promises into fruition on our own terms. Then, when we fail in our own attempts, we often find ourselves giving up hope. We often find ourselves throwing up our hands and letting the promises God has made fade to memory, or we start to question them. Was it him? Did he say that? That couldn’t have been his promise. If it were, it wouldn’t be taking so LONG!

We all have these Sarah moments from time to time. We all have these spaces in our lives where we’d just rather not hear about the promises anymore because hoping hurts too much! Deep down in our hearts, we feel hunger-like pangs every time we think about those promises. Sometimes we try to insulate ourselves against the discomfort of waiting and hoping by maintaining “healthy” doses of skepticism. Maybe that’s what Sarah did. Maybe that’s why she laughed.

Surely, we can relate to Sarah. How long had she waited for this promised son? How much had she and Abraham tried to conceive? How many years did she keep her hopes high that this would be the year when she would know the joy of conception and birth? How long had she waited? Now, when things seemed just about impossible, here was God bringing up that painfully hopeful promise again - this time with a timeline: one year. Maybe Sarah was all “hoped out” at this point. Maybe that’s why she laughed. Whatever the reason, she did. 

God, in all his glorious omniscience, saw right through Sarah. I find it interesting how he chose to deal with her unbelief. He didn't rebuke her. He simply asked why she was thinking the way she was. Then, he asked a more poignant question: “Is anything too hard for God?”

If we believe God has made us promises, we have to develop trust that he is faithful to see his word come to fruition. We will all have those moments when we slip into despondency and feel like the promises we’ve received are figments of our imaginations. We’ll have those moments, for sure. In those moments, the great challenge for us is to repeat the question that God posed to Abraham and Sarah: “is anything too hard for God?”

The answer of course is, no. The answer will always be no. In those spaces where our faith starts to sag under the weight of our perceived realities, we may have to rehearse this question over and over and over and over again. Every single time, the answer will be the same. Nothing is too hard for God! When we find ourselves chuckling internally in the face of seemingly absurd promises from God, this question should stop us in our tracks. It’s an eye-opening question that leads to another, in the context of this particular scriptural story

Simple Questions

Is anything too hard for God? No? Then what are you laughing at?

Inbox Inspirations

Focus on the Goal

I hope your Monday is off to a great start already. It is yet another gorgeous day here in RVA! Hopefully, you’re enjoying similarly beautiful conditions wherever you are.

I’m heading down to the 757 this week to record my 7th album / ep. I booked the studio time for the recording about a month ago. I felt led to do the project and at the time I was really very stoked about it. Since then, though, I’ve been dealing with some consternation about this record. I’ve been wondering how I was going to fund it. I’ve found myself a little afraid about some of the technicalities of the music and arrangements.

This week’s inbox inspiration came right on time for me as I prepare to hit the road and do this musical work this week. As I spent prayerful time with this scriptural story, I found myself invigorated and refocused. I hope you find it has the same effect for you.

Our note this week is rooted in a story many of us know very well. If we don’t know it well, I'm sure most of us have at least heard about Peter jumping out of a boat to walk on water with Jesus. We find this event recorded in Matthew chapter 14.

As the story goes, Jesus had just finished teaching and famously feeding an enormous crowd of 5,000+ people. He instructed his disciples to sail across the Sea of Galilee ahead of him while he took some time atop a mountain to pray. The disciples followed his instructions and found themselves in the middle of a storm. Their tiny boat was tossed to and fro in the water and the men were rather panicky.

Suddenly the 12 men on the boat looked up and found their master walking toward them on the water. The disciples were flabbergasted! They mistook Jesus for a ghost walking on the angry sea. This is where we pick up this morning.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

- Matthew 14:27-29

It seems Peter was always first to speak up when it came to these kinds of situations with Jesus. In this case, his boldness was remarkable - at least at first. Don’t we often find ourselves in this same kind of spot? We see Jesus making moves and we are so excited to get out of our boats and go with him - at least at first.

Jesus always invites us to join him in what he is doing. He says to us, just what he said to Peter: “Come.” And so, we go, just like Peter did. It is indeed remarkable that Peter, (unlike his peers,) had the initial faith to stand up and step out of the boat. But if Peter was remarkable in his initial faith, he was all too much like many of us who sink into the storm surge as our faith is challenged. The scripture says:

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

- Matthew 14:30

As I thought about this, I found myself talking to Peter in my brain: “Wow, Peter! You walked on the water with Jesus! Then, you lost your focus. You started looking at the wrong things. The uncertainty of the situation pulled your eyes off Jesus. So, you started sinking into the storm surge you were walking on just seconds before.”
But we’re all a lot like Peter, aren’t we? We are so quick to avert our gaze! We are so easily spooked by what we see around us. Remember, Peter had already seen Jesus’ absolute control of storm and sea. He’d been on the boat with him when he spoke to the storm and demanded peace, (Matthew 8). He knew who Jesus was - in fact, that’s why he had the initial faith to step out of the boat in the first place. Yet, just like so many of us, Peter’s circumstance was quick to overtake him and crowd out all of his previous experiences with Jesus. By the time Peter’s feet started to fall through the waves, even his initial faith seemed to be miles away. He lost focus and consequently he lost faith.

Over in Hebrews, we get this reminder from Paul about how to run our life’s races with Jesus:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

- Hebrews 12:1-2

The key here is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. If we’re looking at the right place, we won’t need reminders of his capabilities to “keep us from falling,” (Jude 1:24). We won’t need pep talks to resurge our faith. If only we can train our minds and our eyes to stay glued on Jesus! If only we can learn to trust him! If only we can get our minds to really believe that if he tells us to “come,” there is no storm surge that can overtake us!

What I like about the Hebrews 12 verses is that they clearly define our goal and remind us to keep our eyes on the prize! Maybe Peter forgot that prize as he stepped out of the boat. Maybe he started thinking his goal was to walk on the water. His own words… “Tell me to come to you on the water.” Maybe Peter forgot what he’d asked for and started to think this whole experience was about doing something cool, (walking on water). Maybe he forgot that the water-walking experience was really only the path to the goal of getting to Jesus. Maybe he forgot that walking on the water wasn’t the goal at all. Whatever he might have been thinking, at some point he took his eyes off the prize and got distracted by what he saw on the path.

Let’s learn form Peter. We’ve got to keep our eyes on Jesus! He is the object of our faith. He is our goal. He is our lifter, our support, our comfort. He is everything! We can’t get caught up with the distractions along the paths he tells us to walk when he calls us to him. We can’t allow our callings or our gifts or our talents to become our points of focus. We have to remember that HE is our prize; him and him alone! We must fix our eyes on Jesus!

Because we are human, we will inevitably have those moments when we, like Peter, find our faith succumbing to our circumstances. We will all have those moment when we will find our feet falling beneath the waves. In those times when we feel ourselves sinking, feeling hopeless or overwhelmed or captivated by the uncertainty of what is ahead, we must remember our goal! We have to remember where we should be focused. In those moments, it is of utmost importance that we learn to lift up our heads, turn away from the distractions and look ahead to Jesus. HE is our goal!

Questions are critical! Don’t be afraid to ask, em!

  • What are my goals right now? Am I confusing my goals with the path God’s calling me to walk?
  • What is the correlation between faith and focus?
  • Can I think of things in my life where I’ve had initial faith, but found that initial faith to be absentee once I actually started to move in the direction my initial faith led me?
  • Examining my inconsistencies, do I see correlation with where I am focusing in life?

Inbox Inspirations

Destruction and Restoration

Happy Monday!

I hope you’re enjoying the start to your week, already. The sun is absolutely gorgeous here in RVA. I’m looking forward to getting out there and enjoying all of this glorious beauty!

Today’s inbox note is all about restoration.

In the 2nd chapter of John’s gospel, we find Jesus in the middle of a confrontation with some of his fellow Jews. Jesus had just completely disrupted the commerce that was taking place in the temple, and told the financiers and merchants who were doing business there to move out and not come back. The Jewish folks who were at the temple looked on with disdain and consternation. They demanded that Jesus prove his authority to take such radical action: “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” they asked him (2:18). Jesus replied:

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

John 2:19

As I was reading this, initially, I found it rather weird that Jesus would make this statement in this context. I asked out loud “what are you talking about, Jesus!?” The scripture makes it clear that the Jews had no idea what Jesus was talking about, either. Not only that, but his disciples also were puzzled about what he said all the way up to his resurrection. Why did Jesus choose this temple analogy?

He starts off with an astonishing supposition - “destroy this temple.” What is astonishing to us, was probably out-right offensive to Jewish sensibility. They thought Jesus was speaking of the physical temple where they worshipped. You can imagine how taken aback they must have been. “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.” Why would Jesus say this?

The second time I read it over, I found some more clarity. Jesus’ analogy is actually assertion his authority based on his restorative power. Jesus restores!

There’s a connection between what was taking place in the temple and what Jesus was saying. The Jewish people were defaming the temple by turning it into a marketplace. They were desecrating the purpose of the temple. In casting out the vendors, Jesus restored the temple to it’s rightful place as a house of worship.

After he has restored proper order in the house of worship, Jesus makes his “Destroy this temple,” remark. Of course he isn’t talking about the building they’re all standing in. He’s talking about his body - the new tabernacle; the dwelling place of God. “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.”

If we look at what Jesus was doing and then pair it with what he was saying here, I think there’s a beautiful message for us about who Jesus is, and what he does in our lives. The fact is, our human nature is destructive. Sin is a part of who we are and it distorts, strains and ultimately annihilates our connection and right relationship to each other and God, too. Our natural human tendency is to destroy. Look around. You’ll see the proof all around!

After I read over this passage a few times I found myself truly overjoyed! What I see in this passage is Jesus saying: “your degenerative, destructive nature is no match for my restorative power!” Jesus restores - even in the most hopeless circumstances.

We’re human, full to the brim with inconsistencies and faults and doubt and meanness and self-centeredness and so much more ugliness than I could ever hope to put into words. All of this ugliness is constantly tearing away at the fabric of our lives. We do things to ourselves and to each other that are straight up wrong - even when we mean them not to be. We resist God and his direction. We go hard after our own interests without regard for others. Our intentions are often off center. 

We are terribly destructive creatures! But Jesus stood in the temple that day, after restoring it to proper order and proclaimed that he is the ultimate restoration! “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.” Jesus asserts that he can restore even those things that seem beyond repair.

What an amazing truth is this, that in him all things can be restored! Praise God for THAT!

Questions:

  • Are there things in my life that I’ve destroyed and believe are beyond repair?
  • What does trusting Jesus for restoration look like? Am I looking for restoration on my terms or his?
  • Are there examples of restoration in my life? Have I seen Jesus fix relationships or circumstances? If so, how does that experience help my faith, now?
  • What am I trusting Jesus to restore in my life right now? Have I given the matter to him completely, or am I still trying to make it happen on my own?