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January 28, 2017 - 2 comments

Silence and Solitude (Part 1)


“A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains
and shattered the rocks before God,
but God wasn’t to be found in the wind;
after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake;
and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire;
and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.”
-1 Kings 19

For a long time, I have worked with artists, musicians, and creatives all over the country to tell the unchanging gospel story in fresh ways. I have surrounded myself with the most talented and dedicated artists I can find. Most of them have been what sociologists call millennials.

Millennials are an interesting bunch. Considering they currently make up 25% of the American population, it’s no wonder people are paying attention. What I love about millenials is that, more than those before them, want their life to matter in substantive ways; to have a clear purpose and make a difference. They sacrifice money and power to achieve their goals faster than their predecessors. That said, one discipline matters more than all the rest in that pursuit of that kind of clarifying purpose (whether you grew up watching Boy Meets World or not). If you want to live a life of calling, and not just wander around, moving from compulsion to compulsion, you must learn and practice silence and solitude.

Silence and solitude are the foundational disciplines that provide spiritual and psychological space for all other disciplines. They are the way by which we face our real selves and enter into the presence of God. The primary means by which you will determine your calling and avoid compulsion, is in SILENCE AND SOLITUDE.

“If you want to live a life of clear calling, and not just wander around, moving from compulsion to compulsion, you must learn and practice silence and solitude.”

Much of what I’ll share in this three part series is informed and guided by spending time with two brilliant men, Jim Cofield and Rich Plass. These two men are pastors of pastors, who work full time in soul care, counseling, writing, and helping leaders around the country be healthy. They wrote the book “The Relational Soul”, and if you want to stay in ministry a long time and be wise beyond your years, read every word of that book.

WHAT IS SILENCE AND SOLITUDE?

Alright, so how are we defining this discipline? Here’s what I use to frame it up:

Silence and solitude is the act of freeing ourselves from the distraction of people and tasks and words so as to give ourselves completely to God alone with all of our being.

Solitude is an intentionally alone place, not to hide but to listen.
… it is Jesus in the solitary place (Mark 1:35)
… it is Elijah at Mt. Horeb
… it is John on the Island of Patmos, shunned by his own community
… it is Paul imprisoned wondering what to do next

Silence is where you find the real you.
Solitude distances us from the fake version of us we have made for others.
…a place where we put down our curated and filtered Instagram lives,
….a place where we are more honest before God without having to perform
…..a place where we see that our identity is a gift and not earned.

This is true of everyone, but especially those in public ministry, we’re often on display, and we become adaptive to what others expect even though that may not always be the true us. In solitude, God does deep work without any pretense of
being something other than our true selves. In solitude you ask God to be
merciful and show you the REAL condition of your soul.

You are not the fringe.
Without solitude we mistake the fringe for the center and think “that’s the real me!” We become addicted to maintaining that fringe and that image. It’s impossible to slow down in your life if you are constantly servicing that fringe version of yourself. Keeping the fringe from falling apart is an insanely tiring and consuming activity.

Silence isn’t just environmental.
it’s NOT just a condition outside of me … it’s state of my soul before God. Silence frees me from having to say something. Silence intensifies the solitude. They go hand in hand.

“Solitude doesn’t make God love you more, but it might let you see more of God’s love.”

Silence and Solitude are not…
They aren’t just daydreaming or simply emptying the mind. They aren’t an attempt to become more spiritual or the same as meeting God, but certainly an environment to do so. Solitude doesn’t make God love you more, but it might let you see more of God’s love.

Next week, we’ll look at why silence and solitude are very difficult for most of us. Three specific challenges keep us from this rhythm and knowing what they are makes a huge difference. Read part two, and have the courage to step into the silence and hear what God’s love and mercy sound like.

go to part two

I recently spoke at Northwest University on this topic within a series of Ted-talk style sessions around the spiritual disciplines. You can listen here (begins around 45:00). Practical tips on how to do solitude can be found here.

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January 24, 2017 - No Comments!

Jesus Is the All-Wise

 

Most worship leaders I know are balancing a lot in their lives. Working full or part-time, going to school, church activities, touring, families, kids, travel, etc. Just getting through Sunday can feel like the win. This dictates how we as leaders approach liturgy at times.

When I think through the liturgy for the upcoming Sunday each week, based on margins, I frequently reach for an established resource; a creed, a prayer, a psalm etc. On occasion, I feel like I need to spend the time to write out myself what I want our people to know and hear.

This past Sunday, we looked at God as the source of wisdom, as we walked through part two in our series in the book of James. I wrote and then read this confessional prayer with the congregation. Feel free to use it if it’s helpful in your context.

 

LEADER: When our days are darkened, and trouble surrounds us.
CONGREGATION: Your wisdom is true and right. You are the all-wise God.

LEADER: When others sin against us, speaking unkindly, betraying, or minimizing us:
CONGREGATION: Your wisdom is true and right. You are the all-wise God.

LEADER: When we grasp for what we falsely believe is rightfully ours, and attempt to control or manipulate our circumstances or relationships:
CONGREGATION: Your wisdom is true and right. You are the all-wise God.

LEADER: When we isolate and hide from community, in an attempt to protect and defend ourselves:
CONGREGATION: Your wisdom is true and right. You are the all-wise God.

LEADER: When we kneel before Fear, paying homage to an abusive king that robs us of life, and neglect you the True king that brings life:
CONGREGATION: Your wisdom is true and right. You are the all-wise God.

LEADER: When we receive your blessings with entitled hearts, recognizing the gifts but not the giver:
CONGREGATION: Your wisdom is true and right. You are the all-wise God.

CLOSING:
For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
Proverbs 2:6

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May 16, 2016 - No Comments!

Not Strong Enough

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One of my favorite parts of leading worship in a local church is getting to articulate what God is doing in my heart for the congregation to process and identify with. The hopeful and messy parts, strewn together. It’s helpful for me because it forces me to remind myself constantly that I am a sheep before I am a shepherd. I believe it to be helpful for those in the room because they are given an out from the pretending and posturing that everything in their own chest is fine and clean.

aweBOOK

Last Sunday, I read an excerpt from Paul Tripp’s new book “Awe” that I recently picked up. I found the following section helpful in setting up our worship time together:

“As it is true of a street sign, so it is true of every jaw-dropping, knee weakening, silence-producing, wonder-inspiring thing in the universe. The sign is not the thing you are looking for. No, the sign points you to what you are looking for.”

This is a perfect description of how the good things in our lives that we commonly elevate to supreme over our lives (i.e. work success, influence, romance, family, recreation) can actually redirect our affection to God rather than replace it. Replacing God is something we’re quite good at, even if it is only our own perception change and not a positional change. It’s a perfectly understandable and flawed habit we humans have.  We want to place our hope in something we can wrap our arms around or pay for online. The tangible feels trustworthy.

Simply put, the weight of our hopes and hearts can not be held up by other things. It just weighs too much. These smaller things are not strong enough.

Thankfully, He is.

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April 05, 2016 - No Comments!

Confession: He Provides

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Here is a little something I wrote for last Sunday as we looked at Jesus’ unexpected provision in the book of Mark:

A Prayer of Confession For Repentance

We forget that you are over all, and love us dearly. We try to take things into our own hands instead of trusting you.
Response: The Lord is good and provides for his children. 

 //

We store our treasure and carry anxiety that we will go without tomorrow, even though our yesterdays are packed full of evidence that you care for us.
Response: The Lord is good and provides for his children. 
 //
Our hearts are full of worry when we lack and full of pride when we have. We take credit for the things we have and forget that even our abilities, intelligence, and work ethic have been given by you.
Response: The Lord is good and provides for his children.
//

February 01, 2016 - No Comments!

Jesus As Healer

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(I wrote this for our gatherings this last Sunday.)

Jesus is alive. He is with you at this moment. He is our healer. He is willing. He is able.

Today we will look at how Jesus did some unexpected healing.  The beauty of Jesus is that he is full of depth. There are thousands of reasons to give our all to Jesus. This is why we gather to worship the same  triune God every Sunday, but rarely for the same reason. This is why a weekly rhythm of corporate worship is always fresh and never tired. The aspect of our Savior that is reason for today’s worship is Jesus as our healer.

“We don’t have to simply clamor around the crowds watching the miracle carnival.”

The thing that stands out to me in the stories of Jesus healing is that most often, someone goes to great lengths to get to Jesus. They pushed the crowd. They would drop down their friend through a hole in the ceiling. They will do whatever it takes. Some would call them desperate. Many surely called them foolish. We know, because we have the luxury of looking back on their lives, that they were indeed the smartest people in the room.

But this is where our story differs from theirs. We don’t need to run to town to catch a glimpse. We don’t need to hope the rumors are true. We don’t have to simply clamor around the crowds watching the miracle carnival.  We can relate to him and be known by him in the comfort of our desk at work or the driver’s seat of our car, or the rocking chair in our newborn’s room.

Jesus is alive. He is with you at this moment. He is our healer. He is willing. He is able.

Some of us have never asked Jesus for healing because we don’t think he’d ever say yes. Some have asked for healing and he has said “not yet” because he cares more for the part of us that will last forever and knows that when he works through our circumstances (including pain) that we are transformed. Can we trust that whatever his answer is to our pleas for healing, he’s answering the question the way we would if we knew everything? If you want healing from God, then rest in his goodness and timing.

Jesus is alive. He is with you at this moment. He is our healer. He is willing. He is able.

January 27, 2012 - No Comments!

Tooting Your Horn

Self-promotion stinks, and most people can smell it.

I’ve noticed a recent trend on Twitter where creatives doing great work talk about all the reasons that announcing your own great work is a bad idea. Re-posting a compliment you receive online is lame/disgusting/distasteful. I get it. No one likes the guy at the party telling everyone how awesome he is. And 99 parties out of 100, that guy isn’t awesome at all. Or he was born on 3rd base and acts like he hit a triple.

In fact, I recently saw a post from a creative professional I respect immensely, @JeremyCowart that nailed this sentiment on the head:

I should say I wish there were a 100 Jeremy Cowarts. He does phenomenal work and seems to love Jesus. Those that I have worked with, that work with him, adore him. That’s a good sign he’s a stand-up dude.

My contention is that this oversimplifies an important piece of most artist’s lives.

The same pin used to pop the “humblebrag” balloon, is also frequently used against those trying to do what God commands for our joy. Brag on Jesus. Brag on what he’s doing. Brag on what’s he’s done. And when you have 140 characters, it’s not always easy to tell whether someone is trying to throw themselves a party, or share their gratitude and excitement about what is happening around them. Cowart’s point seems to be, “don’t be that guy” but reading others I wonder about who gets arrested by the Humble Police because they tried to celebrate something worth celebrating.

Does it matter who is at the bar? At Cowart’s watering hole there are currently 47,000 patrons, and I’m willing to bet he hasn’t shaken hands with many of them. That’s part of being crazy talented like he is; his Twitter follower list is a lot longer than his Christmas card list. What if you’re online audience is mostly people that know you well and know your heart? I suppose that’s not common, but I do wonder if announcing a big break in a bar’s backroom with friends and family is different than the picture he paints. We all don’t have 47,000 people at our party.

Maybe who’s in the room doesn’t change anything. But if someone follows you on Twitter, aren’t they agreeing that your particular networking/promotion efforts are of interest to them? Obviously, posting your work, and posting other’s comments on your work are not the same. That said, if Obama posts a message about Cowart’s work with the Dalai Lama being awesome, I’m interested and don’t blame him for sharing it.

It seems God is not a fan of folks who make the world about them. That said, most circles I run in are not proficient celebrators. Cynics don’t celebrate. They criticize. I want to be less critical and better at celebrating.

As someone who is assigned the task of communicating on Twitter what God is doing in our community weekly , I wish I had a better handle on this topic. Would love input on this one.

November 23, 2011 - No Comments!

Creativity: A Lost Treasure of the Church

Four years ago I made a video to request some of our church attenders to switch services. It is seen below.

The first copycat I ever was sent was the video below. The notes indicate that they admit they stole the idea.

Then they started popping up all over, mostly for men’s retreats. I don’t particularly care, as I didn’t contract Gerard Butler to make the first one, but I can’t help but feel that part of what is wrong with creativity in the church can be summarized below. (this is a SMALL sampling)

At our church, this kind of thing happens a lot. We recently received a request from a church on the east coast to purchase some of our artwork (both physical and digital) from the last teaching series. We’re sending them the full graphics package for free.  Having the integrity to ask instead of just stealing is admirable.  I wish Christians weren’t known for this sort of thing. I wish Christian bookstores weren’t chock full of rip-off goods that tell people we should just copy culture and add a cheesy tagline. I know we can do better.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

September 12, 2011 - No Comments!

When You Hear God Speak

Last night, I stepped out of my comfort zone as a leader, and shared with the congregation during the gathering what I thought God was saying in that moment. This is something I do frequently with general concepts, but last night’s impression was very specific. So specific that I walked off stage to type it out, and then brought the page back on stage to recite. It’s an evidence of his grace that God included me in what He was trying to do in that moment. While nothing profound, it’s still a victory in combining faith with listening to the Spirit. Read below for what I heard/read aloud.

There are a thousand things we live for. Our problem is not lack of passion, but desperate passion for other things.

 Most of us are desperately waiting for something to save us from loneliness, exhaustion, and weakness.

 Some of us are desperate for a job.

Some of us are desperate fora promotion

Some of us are desperate for this semester to be over already.

Some of us are desperate for a person to reciprocate the feelings we have for them.

Some of us are desperate to get out of our current relationship.

Some of us are desperate for a spouse.

Some of us desperately want to finally get pregnant.

Some of us are desperate for our kid to straighten up.

Some of us are desperate for a little more money.

Some of us are desperate for a little more free time.

Some of us are desperate for a sickness to be healed.

Some of us are desperate for a little more attention.

 None of things are bad.

But none of these things are God.

If we place any of these things at the center of our life then we can not be satisfied in the one thing we have been hard wired to be satisfied in:

 The King, the Healer, the Provider, the Lover, the Warrior: Jesus Christ.

June 01, 2011 - No Comments!

Jonathan Edwards on Bodily Worship

I don’t suppose that any understanding men, of whatsoever sect or opinion, will say that God is really pleased with bodily worship as such, that is, that merely such and such gestures and motions of body are what delights him as a part of virtue; but only as they are helps to the exercise of real virtue and the worship of the mind. Now there is an indissoluble, unavoidable association, in the minds of the most rational and spiritual, between things spiritual and things bodily. Thus when we are joyful and express our joy, ’tis natural to do it with a lively voice; and when we express sorrow, to do it with what we call a mournful voice. This is natural to us, and the association becomes much stronger by use in other matters.

So we are necessitated to join some gestures to some habitudes of mind in common affairs, as uncovering the head, and some other gestures besides fitting with reverence. Thereby there grows a strong association, so that if one be restrained the other will unavoidably be restrained too. So that some bodily worship is necessary to give liberty to our own devotion; yea though in secret, so more when with others.

‘Tis necessary that there should be something bodily and visible in the worship of a congregation; otherwise, there can be no communion at all.

…So many as are thus necessary, we are allowed in gospel worship, and more [than that] are contrary to its nature; for the gospel supposes the church to be no longer an infant, but as come to the stature of a man. Wherefore the weak and beggarly elements are rejected, and the childish bodily ceremonies cashiered, as being fit only for children, and unworthy of those who are come to riper years; and the worship that is now required of [us] is only that which is manly, rational and spiritual.

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Love this. Really, really love this.