Beautiful Eulogy (LIVE)

I’ve posted about the resurgence of artistry and theology in “Christian” music before but I’m increasingly in awe of the fact that there is a movement, most notably in hip hop. Yes, hip hop. That surprised me at first, but it actually makes perfect sense. In the opposite corners of the pacific northwest and the southeast we have collectives like humble beast and Reach Records/116 Clique which are more theologically rich than most preachers’ sermons, let alone most songwriters.

This LIVE video is from a new album I’ve been wearing out…

Beautiful Eulogy (artist)
“Beautiful Eulogy” (track)
Satellite Kite (album… and also the name of another track)

Go get the whole album.

The Power of Music

This speaks for itself…. There is something powerful about music. It connects on a deep level and brings us to life in ways nothing else can. How are we using the power of music to connect and stir people to life?

Masters FTW – Use Your Platform


“The Shot”


“The Jacket”

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, tgiving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17 (ESV)

Gotta love Bubba Watson. Fellow Bulldog. More significantly, fellow brother in Christ. This guy can’t stop talking about His Savior (insert Masters cliché here). I read a great article on BillyGraham.org about his faith. I won’t recap it here – click the link and read it. The main thing that struck me, was how he is seeking to be true to his personality and his platform to share the gospel with anyone and everyone he can. He’s a twitter evangelist and he jumped at the opportunity, tearfully, to remind the world that Sunday was bigger than golf and green jackets – it was the celebration of our risen Lord. My favorite tweet was this: Most important things in my life- 1. God 2. Wife 3. Family 4. Helping others 5. Golf

That’s a man with his priorities in line. How does your list look? Where are your priorities…. not just what do you say are your priorities, but what does your lifestyle reveal to be your priorities?

Bubba also realized that he had to get his own attitude and emotional outbursts in check if he was going to be successful in his career or his witness. Gut-check.

And what about your platform? How are you using your gifts to glorify God? What is your circle of influence and the ripples of your testimony?

Follow @BubbaWatson (Christian, Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer. Owner of General Lee 1.) or just check out his twitter feed and personal website.

Murdered Son

Here’s a new song off of John Mark McMillan’s latest album Economy. We first heard this song at Vinyl, a small bar in Atlanta… although some guy in the audience turned the chorus into the song that never ends at the set’s close… That over-zealous fan almost ruined this song for me, to be honest. But it’s a great one for reflection this week, in keeping with last year. Check out his own blog (here) for a friend’s theological unpacking of the song’s lyrics.

I love what John says: “At the end of the day, I’m a songwriter who dabbles in theology. I don’t sing about Jesus because I want to spread a message. I don’t sing about Jesus because it’s the Christian thing to do. If I sing about Jesus, it’s for one simple reason, and that’s because I believe he’s worth singing about. While it’s never been my intention to communicate theology through my music, my heart’s fascination with certain subjects have carved out a good bit of space for it in my songs over the years.”

Here are last year’s videos and blog posts:
Maundy Thursday – How He Loves
Good Friday – Death in His Grave
Saturday – Closer
Easter Sunday – Skeleton Bones

The Foolishness of God

When you really think about it – the gospel story of Jesus is the most unthinkable reality. It flies in the face of both philosophy and religion. It is beyond reason and silences all efforts of man to reach an unreachable God. The gospel reveals the all-powerful Creator, becoming human, living among and dying at the hands of His creation, in order to make possible a relationship between a rebellious creature – humanity – and a perfectly holy and just Creator – God. And it didn’t stop there. This God-in-the-flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, was raised from the dead. Not even His own disciples could believe this at first (see Mark 16:9-14 and John 20:24-29) – it was all just too much to grasp. Paul put the foolishness of the gospel this way:

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 1:20-31 ESV)

We’re all fools. None of us have it all figured out – not even the beautiful mystery of the cross. We can’t wrap our finite minds around an infinite God. This week, as we remember the final days of Jesus’ walking this planet that He created (See John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:16). Be in awe. Be overwhelmed. Allow the foolishness of the cross and this gospel to overwhelm you. Let it drop you to your knees where the only response is worship of the Holy One.

How to talk about your faith… and make people WANT to know more

This guy continues to floor me with his passion, depth, and humility. Being deeply entrenched in the Bible Belt and Mega-churches for most of my life (with a brief stint as a sort of hippie) the way most people talk about faith, gets hung up on using the “right” words or checking off a list of theological truths… and honestly, there’s a bit of pressure to “win” or “convince” the other person that you are correct and they too want to be on the right side of belief and theology (and church membership and tithing).

But when I watched this short clip of Josh Garrels’ IN:5 interview, I just sat here thinking… yes.. Yes… YES… I can imagine being any random person Josh encounters as he skates through Portland, pops in and out of small coffee shops with his guitar, or as he plays with his kids and the neighbors…

He speaks in a way that draws you in. He chooses his words carefully. Speaks conversationally but confidently. There is an eagerness and healthy fear in his eyes that makes you want to know what it is he’s talking about.

I’ve been on this thought again for a while, and I’m not at all suggesting that sound theology isn’t important, BUT what I do believe is that if we truly believe and are following Christ and being changed by Him, then we’ll have more than theological formulas to sell someone or cliché Christianese… Granted, Josh is a poet and songwriter, so he has a way with words. But can we share, in our own words (and a barely containable enthusiasm in our body language) what we say is the single most important thing in our lives?

Josh Garrels IN:5 // Believe from IN:5 on Vimeo.

God as He really is… Eric Metaxas at the National Prayer Breakfast

Eric Metaxas wrote some of my girls’ favorite books and thick biographies on Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer. (You can easily find his best-selling works here on Amazon) Here he gets bold, funny, and honest about the difference true prayer, true faith, and true relationship with Jesus makes… it changes everything about your life, the way you see others, and the action you must take in response to the Amazing Grace that has transformed you. (30 minutes well spent) Whether he’s speaking to the President, writing VeggieTales rhymes, or New York Times best selling Biographies, this guy is “not ashamed of the gospel.” What an incredible influence through his God-given gifts, talents, and platform. Grateful for his obedience.

Listener – A True Original

I was excited to finally receive a late Christmas gift in the mail… Listener’s Wooden Heart album on vinyl + digital download… (if you like these videos, pick up a copy of this album). I admit, I wasn’t on board when I first heard this guy years ago on a rickety wooden stage on a field beside a lake. My friend and I were first introduced to Listener at PAPA Fest (People Against Poverty and Apathy) but his style has matured significantly since that first encounter. (And I’m in a different place too.)

His unique “Talk Music” is best described as Hardcore Spoken Word Poetry backed by sparse Indie Rock. He’s not hip-hop (He used to be). What used to stress me out is suddenly restful. This album just clicked one day near the end of 2011… There is an incredible empathy as Dan Smith confesses and relates stories in a brutally honest and emotional style that is like nothing else you will ever hear. There is a grace and hope that is as unexpected as the Christ he follows. After finally dialing into where he was coming from, I felt not only encouraged personally, but motivated in community. (be sure to check out Building Better Bridges and House On Fire and Seatbelt Hands… Save Up Your Hopes Friends is an urgent reminder of the truth in The Book of Revelation) The album is below to stream in its entirety. Skip around. Listen through. Just do yourself a favor and give it a chance.

Small Things With Great Love

[post from my wife, Amanda, reflecting upon her recent trip to India]

Christmas feels a little different for me this year. Before now, I don’t think I fully appreciated Jesus humbling Himself and becoming poor. Last Christmas, I hadn’t really witnessed poverty. God graciously allowed me to see something that changed me forever.

I’m a stay-at-home mom of three little girls. My day usually goes something like this: wake up, get some one-on-one time with God in the Word, get the kids up, feed them and get them off to school, do some housework, start thinking about dinner, pick kids up from school, prepare dinner, get kids to bed, spend some time with my husband, and, lastly, put myself to bed. All simple things, making my world seem rather small.

Up until a few weeks ago, when my world got a whole lot bigger. I had the opportunity to go, almost literally, to the opposite side of the world. I traveled to East India with some pretty amazing people as part of a Compassion International trip. Much was done in the way of preparing: shots were received, checks were written, a 10 page “survival guide” drafted and printed out for my dear husband as he braved life with the Shenanigans (our girls 5, 3, and 2) and then we were boarding a plane for almost a day and half of travel to finally land in Kolkata.

So, it’s obviously very different from my small town in Alabama (or the Atlanta suburb I grew up in ☺). The smell of burning trash, the inability to see the actual sky because of the smog, the garbage everywhere, the horns constantly honking as cars, rickshaws, bicyclists, pedestrians, dogs, and cows all share the same un-laned streets. People selling all types of meat (usually surrounded by swarms of flies), fruits, and wares all over the place. People making their homes out of a lean-to positioned on the sidewalk.

But, honestly, I expected these things. I knew India, and especially Kolkata, was one of the most impoverished places in the world. So, I had an idea of what comes with that. But, I found something unexpected during much of my trip. And it became clear to me what that “something” was during one of the home visits.

During home visits, we traveled with Compassion representatives to the homes of participants in the project – either a mom that was part of the Child Survival Program or a student that was part of the Child Development Sponsorship Program. The first day, walking over a stagnant stream and a mountain of trash, we visited the home of Tumpa. She has a toddler and is a participant in the CSP. We were all sitting there, along with many of her curious neighbors, in her tiny home, trying to make conversation. Tumpa had come to trust in Christ through her participation in the Compassion project and He was so evident in the Hope in her eyes and the smile on her face.

So, I asked a simple question, “Tumpa, can you describe for us your typical day?” Sam, our East India Compassion office rep. translated the question into Bengali and then relayed the answer back to us in English, “she wakes up, reads her bible, feeds her baby and other family members, sees her husband off to work, does some housework, and then starts thinking about what she’s going to cook for dinner.” And that’s when God showed me the sameness that became the common thread for me throughout this trip. Tumpa’s daily routine was strikingly similar to mine. God has the same love for her as He does for me. The difference is in the things we have no control over – the part of the world and the circumstances we were born in.

Before I went to India I knew that Christ commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. I knew that He commanded us to take care of the poor. But, God used a stay-at-home mom in Kolkata to show this stay-at-home mom from Birmingham what it means to love my neighbor and take care of the poor. God made it very easy for me to see my neighbor as myself. And it’s pretty impossible to ignore yourself.

I’ll admit, the needs seem so vast and overwhelming. The temptation to be paralyzed by that thought is very real. But, I’m reminded of a quote that I read while visiting the home of Mother Teresa, just a short walk from the place we stayed in Kolkata… “We can do no great things,
only small things with great love.”

And this is where I find an avenue to do a small thing – to love my neighbor and take care of the poor – Compassion. I went into this trip with great respect for Compassion, but that respect was strengthened even more when I saw the integrity of their ministry and the selflessness of the staff for the purpose of releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. We were able to see the holistic approach taken by Compassion in action during our time in East India. Something that was very profound to me was that several of the staff members at the projects had grown up as participants in the Compassion project and were now serving as teachers. They’re the real deal. Read more here www.compassion.com. And ask me about it. I would love to share more of what God taught me in India.

We also learned that India is a rather under-served area – there were around 300 applicants for the Leadership Development Program last year, but only funding for 80. There are lots of children who need sponsors – sponsors to not only help provide resources, but to love them and maintain a relationship with them. I did not realize until this trip just how much those kids love their sponsors. They all asked us to pray for their sponsors. They all wanted their sponsors to come visit them. And they cherished their letters from their sponsors.

So, this Christmas is different. I got a tiny glimpse into someone else’s world. And I’m praying that God would be glorified in the small things that I can do because of His great love.

Memorable, Creative, Low-Budget Sermon Ideas

PROOF that effective communication and creativity don’t require huge budgets – just great ideas. Don’t think these are great? Ask yourself this: How many sermon illustrations do you remember? How many do you remember from 5 or 10 years ago? How many do you know from a church you’ve probably never visited or maybe even heard of? How many could you not wait to share with a friend (or someone couldn’t wait to share with you)? Years later… we’re still talking about these.

Here’s all 4 classic “Jesus Videos” from Vintage 21 Church – These came up in our small group last night as we began studying the Gospel of Mark – the discussion and these videos (from a 2003 sermon series) dealt with our misconceptions of Jesus and what it means to be a disciple…

If these offend you, you’re either missing the point or simply not the intended audience, the rest of us can laugh at the creativity in shedding light on our own issues (the joke is not on Jesus – it is on our own hang-ups) These still own me.

And one more video – after thinking about the “stickiness” of the Jesus Videos, the only other sermon illustration as memorable (but more powerful and worshipful) was also a super-low-budget idea in creative communication. Unlike Vintage 21’s Jesus Videos, this idea was copied by countless churches.

I’m also honored to say that Pastor Tommy Politz and his wife, Donna, are old friends of the family. I remember getting to the end of this video several years ago (2008), teary eyed, and then saying “That’s Tommy!” I hadn’t seen him since he moved to Texas to pastor Hillside. (Also the worship band sang John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” – a song which changed the worship “scene”)

An Impossible Challenge: $1 for 1 Day

Today is World Poverty Day. Surely you’ve heard by now statistics like “Over 1.25 BILLION people in the world live on less than $1 a day.” Yes… that’s Billion, with a “B.”

I wanted to challenge myself and friends to get through the day on only $1 per day… to try and identify with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world suffering extreme poverty… But it’s impossible. It is simply impossible to even force yourself into that kind of poverty as an experiment in empathy…

Here’s what I mean: Have you ever let yourself identify with that harsh reality? Not just in a “poor them” kind of sympathy, but really try to imagine that bare bones existence?

  • To be honest, if you happen to see this via twitter, tumblr, or facebook, then you’ve probably already exceeded your daily allowance – what we spend on the cheapest data plan for cell phones or internet service at home is close to, if not more than, $1 per day…
  • Imagine all of your utilities are free – electricity, water, sewer (forget about TV, netflix, DVR, etc)…
  • Imagine the cost to get to work or school is free – car payment, gas money, insurance, tag fees, transportation fees…
  • While we’re at it and since we’ve mentioned a place to live, work, and get an education, imagine all of those things are free too – mortgage or rent, tuition and fees, any qualifications or even basic wardrobe and hygiene needed to be employable (let alone successful)…
  • Imagine your health needs – insurance, medications, vitamins, even something as simple as clean water… not just branded and from a bottle, but from the tap… that’s all free too…
  • And we haven’t even mentioned FOOD…not just $1 item on a “value meal” but food for the whole day every day.

We can’t even pick ONE of those things and try to manage $1 a day in ONE category! And even if all of those things were “free,” (which is the best we can imagine, since we can’t escape these obligations to banks, service providers, and employers for the day… we can’t unlearn our education or undo the physical and mental development resulting from a lifetime of proper nutrition and basic healthcare.) we still can barely stretch our imaginations to picture only $1 a day left to live on for everything else…

So, again, It’s only 8am and as I drink my second cup of coffee, finish a quick blog post on my laptop after reflecting on my daily reading I downloaded from my church’s website and a tweet about #WorldPovertyDay from my smart phone… I realize I CAN’T imagine life on $1 a day… I can’t even fake it…

It’s simply impossible to fathom… it’s a tragic injustice… in light of all the buzz lately about “Occupy Wall Street” and everywhere else… people bent out of shape about the obscene gap between the 1% and the 99%… Let’s stop focusing on ourselves “deserving more” and remember that well over a Billion people live on less that $1 a day and that pretty much anyone in the U.S. already has more than 80-90% of the world’s population – an obscene gap exists between our daily reality, no matter how budget-conscious, and the struggle for survival of Billions of people on this planet who happened to be born at a different latitude and longitude than we did…

This isn’t about feeling guilty about what we have – it’s about doing something about the fact that so many people DON’T have. It’s not about “UNDOING” something temporarily in our lives – it’s about DOING something for the sake of eternity in other people’s lives.

I can’t even imagine…

But I know something has to be done.

Being Right. (an iota of difference?)

I haven’t blogged in quite a while… I’ll be turning this site into a portfolio and future blog posts will be on my new tumblr (you can comment on this post here, since I can’t get my wordpress comments working…

2 Tweets this morning finally pushed me over the edge in something I’ve been rolling around in my heart and mind lately…

1. Rob Bell is moving to LA to write a new show for ABC with LOST’s exec-producer (link from @jonacuff http://www.jonacuff.com/stuffchristianslike/2011/09/sclq-new-show-from-rob-bell-exec-producer-of-lost/ )

2. T.D. Jakes was invited to the next Elephant Room (link from @challies http://www.challies.com/articles/macdonald-jakes-the-elephant-in-the-room )

Now I’m NOT saying I do not personally hold the orthodox view on Heaven, Hell, or the Trinity… I do. And I’m NOT saying the church shouldn’t guard orthodoxy and hold Christian leaders, especially Pastors, to a higher standard…

BUT my question is: WHAT MUST A PERSON BELIEVE TO BE A CHRISTIAN? TO BE SAVED? TO BE PART OF THE CHURCH AND FELLOWSHIP AS A BROTHER OR SISTER IN CHRIST?

Now, I can certainly see biblical arguments for the above hot topics, but is there a biblical justification for not being sure about eternal hell or how the mystery of the trinity works being worthy of declaring someone “not a Christian”? (Again, I am fully aware of Church history, creeds and councils, and these things making “an iota of difference”… a little seminary trivia… homo- vs homoi- )

I grew up a mega-church staff kid and realized that without being told so, per se, my understanding was that a person must be “right” about certain things in order to go to heaven and really love Jesus, otherwise being wrong meant you were going to hell and didn’t really love Jesus. (and being “right” naturally meant being in agreement with me/my denomination/church) The kicker was that those non-negotiables were NOT directly about faith in Jesus… they were things like baptism, maybe even communion, and the end times/eternity, for example…

This has been especially difficult, even in my own church, as my 5 yr-old daughter voluntarily prayed a beautiful prayer of repentance and lordship and desperately wants a personal relationship with Jesus, but I was plagued by doubts of whether she would be deemed “legit” and worthy of the baptism she also desires… This is heartbreaking and tragic. Like I felt pressure to not allow my daughter to follow Christ, falling in love with Him because I was worried that even though she could answer all the questions “right”, maybe she didn’t REALLY understand everything “right.”

Has “being right” been elevated over “being in love” and “having faith”?

Love & War & The Sea In Between (FREE ALBUM)

You. Want. This. Album.

Josh Garrels has blessed the world with another free gift (click here for a previous post linking to his other freebies) – He felt lead by God to give the new album away for FREE for a full year! It is his act of faith, a personal year of Jubilee of sorts…

So, how do you give away one of the best albums of the year, especially in “Christian music” (sorry, but we all know that Christian music is just now starting to rise to the level of transcendence it rightfully deserves). Somehow he makes his eclectic sound not only natural, but spiritual – as if anything less wouldn’t do justice in expressing his thoughts and feelings for the Lord of all Creation. Josh Garrels is the real deal. Yes, talented, but gifted wold be a better description. Because His ability is clearly a spiritual gift that he, in turn, uses as his offering of praise back to God. Plus he freely gives it as his gift to us as well. Did I mention that it is completely FREE? Read about it all in his own words.

Listen here and download it in just about any format you want (I’m a nerd so I grabbed the FLAC for listening while I work and lossless for my truck, phone, iPod).

So, what do you do? What are your gifts? How are you sharing them with the world to the glory of God?

Thank you Josh, not just for the great album, integrity and creativity in Christian music, but for your living example of walking by faith and your unspoken challenge to trust and glorify God in all we do.

So GET it. SHARE it. BE encouraged. WORSHIP God. FOLLOW The Spirit. REST in Him. STEP OUT in faith.

Expose’ on Teen Sex & Dating (Free Kindle & Nook)

A couple of weeks ago I was able to meet a few people deep in the trenches of ministry with teenagers while attending a meeting for TH1NK, the student line of books from NavPress. Andy Braner was one of those passionate servant leaders. In addition to being a writer, Andy runs Camp Kivu, an intensely focused time of outdoor adventure designed to instill a passionate Christian worldview in teenagers. Andy has devoted his life to next-generation discipleship.

His new book “An Expose on Teen Sex and Dating: What’s Really Going On and How to Talk About It” (NavPress) is intended to give parents and youth workers a glimpse behind closed doors, so to speak. Download a free copy to your Kindle or Nook this week only (ends May 22). As a parent of three little girls and former youth pastor, I’d say this is a must read – or at least check it out. I haven’t finished it yet, (I’m reading it in bits on my phone’s Kindle App) but I appreciate the urgency of Braner’s straightforward approach AND that from page one he does two things:

1. He admits that there is no specific biblical model for dating, because dating didn’t exist! He then proceeds to speak to biblical truths that are present, primarily that God is sovereign over every tiny detail of our lives – this is the central reality even in dating.

2. He humorously confesses that he’s not going to “Kiss Dating Goodbye” as the only or best God-honoring solution for young Christian teenagers… and neither are most teenagers!

This isn’t just his personal musing either. Two years of research went into this book (In addition to the daily interaction already mentioned). So grab your free copy on Kindle or Nook and spread the word while it’s still free to other parents and youth workers (feel free to purchase physical copies of the book too). This is a conversation that we need to be equipped to recognize and address from a biblical perspective – whether or not anyone agrees with every point in this book (or any Christian book, for that matter) is not the primary issue. The great thing is that Andy is seeking to open the eyes of our generation to what is happening in the next generation and how to guide young men and women through this ever-present issue in a way that honors Christ. (It’s a conversation, that quite frankly, parents and churches just aren’t very good at having).

Thoughts? Comments? Other recommendations? @JRMaxfield

Seryn… WOW.

Seryn. Think Anathallo from Texas. …Sufjan, Sigur Ros, The Low Anthem, Mumford & Sons, even Guster… BUT, here’s the kicker, all in worship. Seryn is hands down the best thing to come out of the Texas Indie scene since Explosions In The Sky. The closest comparisons would be hints of Josh Garrels or Gungor’s eclectic and atmospheric folk/worship. I can’t get over the creative resurgence in Christian Indie music. It’s like a second Renaissance. Creatively and theologically, there is a sweeping trend through our culture… the Church is seeking truth and beauty and expressing awe with integrity. No more shirking spiritual labels, yet still refusing to be pigeonholed by any genre. Unapologetic in faith and artistry, the result is wholly inspiring.

Can’t wrap your mind around that? Listen here. (Click on the arrow in the music layer for a free MP3 download of “We Will All Be Changed.”) Snag the 180gm white vinyl and digital copy of the whole album…

Free e-Publishing (issuu & Tony Morgan)

At the turn of the year, I was able to help develop a website for LAUNCH, a new church-planting and leadership development network. Check out my earlier post here. Tony Morgan is part of the leadership team for LAUNCH and Pastor of Ministries at West Ridge Church (out of which LAUNCH was birthed). But you may know him best as a consultant and guru of all things practical in church-world. If you follow Tony Morgan Live, you know that this week he released another free eBook (short, practical, biblical resource). You can preview it right here, or jump over to issuu to download Big Churches Getting Bigger along with his other eBooks (The New Traditional Church, and Developing a Theology of Leadership) and a virtually endless world of eBooks, eMags, etc. If you want to share resources, publications, or information, issuu is an unparallelled tool/community. So if you’re not familiar with issuu.com, drop what you’re doing and explore it now. (I, for one, am in love with the possibilities…)