This past weekend, I did two different things of which I’m proud: I played percussion on my worship team (for the first time), and I made a killer batch of Guinness beef stew. They are very different endeavors, to be certain, but they have something in common. If you take the time to understand and follow a prescribed set of steps, things will usually turn out pretty well.
I’ve been leading worship since I was about 15 years old. That’s more than thirty years of singing and playing guitar and trying to be as transparent as possible as I encourage a group of people to genuinely express their love and need for Jesus. I’m comfortable doing it. Not in a complacent way, but in that I know I can do a reasonably good job and play the right chords and sing the right notes most of the time. Stepping to the side and playing percussion, however, was a stretching experience for me. It forced me out of my comfort zone and into the unfamiliar.
If I’m being completely honest, I nearly bagged on my percussion gig following our rehearsal last Thursday evening. I felt like a near-complete failure, never quite finding the right groove…never fully becoming the rhythm the rest of the band needed. But, with prayer, practice, and the encouragement of my sweet best friend, I hung in there. I listened to the rest of the music with fresh, engaged ears and I played with all my heart.
And it wasn’t horrible.
The stew, on the other hand, was fantastic. I spent much of Sunday preparing the ingredients, mixing and watching and savoring aromas, and anticipating the full flavor of the finished pot of goodness. There is something very satisfying about taking raw elements, refining them, and making something of substance. I realize I wasn’t building a house or anything…but a pot of delicious stew is still a pretty great finished product.
So, what does all of this have to do with the bigger picture?
This weekend, one of my verses of the day was Philippians 4:8. It is a recipe for a healthy mind and a strong heart. It is a blueprint for how to build thoughts that glorify God and lead to my greater purpose.
When I focus my attention on truth, it strengthens me.
When I concentrate on things that are honorable and righteous, it builds me up.
When I regard things that are pure and lovely and excellent, there is shaped in me a reflection of Christ…and my life has substance and meaning. My rhythm is set right and the aroma of my existence is pleasing.
So, that’s my goal. That’s my desire. I want to understand and follow the path that my Maker has set before me. Whether that looks like doing my best playing percussion on the worship team, or cooking and sharing food with people I love, or looking beyond the troubles of the moment and seeing the pure hope of Christ…that’s what I aim to do.
This was my verse of the day in the Bible app I use. The reality that this God who breathed everything into existence…who has no beginning and no end…who holds all things together by His inexhaustible power…THIS God knows me.
THIS God loves me.
THIS God speaks into my life and reminds me that I am not alone and that He is at work in me.
And I have no choice but to worship Him.
Three things stand out in my mind right now…and I feel compelled to write them down.
This morning a friend of mine messaged me a challenge. “Put one hundred miles on your road bike before May 1.” When I told him I accept his challenge and voiced my appreciation (calling him a pushy bastard in the process), he returned, “I have your best interest in mine. And I know that you have an inclination toward complacency.”
I do. And it sickens me.
I try to pass it off as contentment, sometimes, but it’s a lie. I try to rebrand it as being long-suffering and patient, but it’s nowhere close to the truth.
I know what I should do…what I need to do…and I can talk about it for hours, but I just sit here in this space of inaction and indecision, and it accomplishes nothing. This…THIS…is not what I was created for.
Which leads me to the second point. I’ve been listening to a new Spotify playlist the past couple days, and so many songs have hit me in a place of need or vulnerability. This morning, it was Dirty and Left Out by The Almost.
There is a lyric that says:
I’ve been dirtier than you wanna know
I’ve left earlier than you’ll ever knowWhy do, you wanna be all listenin’ to me
Why do, you spread your arms and tell me I’m free
Why do, you wanna be in my life
In my life
That’s me in those words. The real me who messes things up so rampantly and screws up opportunities and breaks trust and disobeys and denies and disgraces… That’s me.
Hopelessly lost in my own sin and shortcomings.
Devastatingly inadequate in eternity.
Utterly in need of a Savior.
Last night, I had a beautiful opportunity given to me. One of my oldest friends is a pastor at a local church. He was giving the message for a Good Friday service and he asked me to lead worship. I’ve been leading worship on a regular basis at my church for the past year and a half, and it is a joy. But, taking that vulnerability to a new place with unfamiliar faces is a bit uncomfortable. I haven’t been walking through life and struggle with these people…they don’t know my story and I don’t know theirs.
But, ultimately, we have the same Author. So, we are in a common narrative.
I am so glad…so grateful…that I accepted the offer.
It spoke to my soul.
It reminded me of how unworthy I am, but how merciful Christ is.
And that brings me to my third truth…that somehow…some glorious, inexplicable how…Jesus loves me.
Tomorrow is Easter. The beautiful reminder that death and graves can’t hold back the Love of our Savior. The powerful proof that, as complacent and corrupt as I am prone to be, Jesus never fails in His love for me.
And I am so inexpressibly grateful for that.
Dirty and Left Out
when the long lines of sunset lay across the earth
and the birds begin their common routine of nesting for the night…
when the steam from my cup of tea rises slowly
and a delicate course of Oscar Peterson’s piano spills out from the speaker…
when the absence of hand in mine
when the silent void beside me
becomes too loud to ignore…
if this heart of mine will ever find its match.
when is it time, I wonder,
to walk away?
to accept rejection not as a challenge
but as defeat?
to understand the unreturned sweetness
the absence of affection
the subtly cool response
as my cue to exit?
is it a lack of ability or a lack of inclination?
a measure of uncertainty or a deficit of desire?
as much as i hope it isn’t,
is now the time?
is the waiting no longer an act of
courage and adoration,
but a portrait of desperation and
has my time
I’ve mentioned twice already that my church is working through the Old Testament book of Lamentations right now. It has been challenging for me. It has stirred up a lot of emotions and struggles. It has come at a good time…a time of me wrestling with who God is to me, how He is directing me, and what He is calling me to do.
Those aren’t easy questions with which to grapple. And they don’t come with easy answers.
I’m in a period of refining, I think, and I’m kicking and screaming and making all manner of shit-headed mistakes in the process. I want things to be clear, but God sometimes wraps Himself in uncertainty so I’m forced to trust. I want things to be right now, but God sometimes seems silent in making my prayers reality so I’m forced to recognize that HE is all I need.
I wrote a song this morning to remind myself that God’s faithfulness never ends…His love never changes…and, somehow, even with my despicable past and my laughable attempts at righteousness, He calls me his.
I am a champion when it comes to screwing things up.
I have an innate skill for overreacting, thinking too much, missing cues, and harboring ridiculous wounds. And it completely sucks.
Every time I find myself in the woefully familiar space of interpersonal derailment, I want to kick myself or run my head into a wall. I’m stubborn. And I feel too much. And it gets me into stupid spaces.
The text of this morning’s message at my church was Lamentations 3. The first twenty or so verses are an exhaustive list of the ways God has humbled and tormented the writer. Lines like “He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; He has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, He shuts out my prayer…” underscore the place of utter loss in which he has found himself.
The next twenty verses, however, look back at the faithfulness of the Father.
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…” he writes.
After all of the pain has been detailed. After all of the woes have been uttered. After a portrait of distance from God and suffering at the hand of the Creator has been vividly crafted…
The writer of Lamentations pauses to proclaim the faithfulness of his Maker.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in Him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
to the soul who seeks Him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
the yoke in his youth.
28 Let him sit alone in silence
when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
there may yet be hope;
30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
and let him be filled with insults.
31 For the Lord will not
cast off forever,
32 but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion
according to the abundance of His steadfast love;
33 for He does not afflict from His heart
or grieve the children of men.
I am a champion of stupidity. My skills of saying the wrong thing and reacting incorrectly are clear and evident. It would be ridiculous for me to claim that me putting my foot in my mouth even begins to compare with what the first part of Lamentations 3 describes…but the hope I find in God’s faithfulness is no less real.
God’s enduring love never ceases. I can’t exhaust it through foolishness or misguided moments. HIS love endures.
God’s mercy never comes to an end. I can’t escape it. Mercy is God’s very nature. And every new day offers a fresh opportunity to see it manifest in my life.
God’s faithfulness is great. I can’t fathom how true He is…how unchanging…how – even in my faithless, stubborn, rebellion – HIS faithfulness doesn’t diminish.
I am a champion when it comes to screwing things up. Today, I overreacted to a comment made in jest and derailed the rest of the afternoon. Whether there is legitimacy to my offense or not, I handled it wrong.
Tonight, I am thankful for second chances and third chances and…
Tonight, I am hopeful that the faithful mercy of God will pour into my relationships and bring restoration. Tonight, I am hopeful that my best friend will forgive me…again.
About a year ago, I recorded my own version of one of my favorite songs: You Never Need Nobody by The Lone Bellow. It’s a song that combines so many aspects of love and relationship into one narrative. There’s passion, irritation, adoration, pissiness, devotion, self-pity, and a fair amount of unrequited love. Like I said, it’s got it all. Their original is, of course, vastly superior to mine…but there are moments of my home-brewed rendition that I love.
I woke up singing it this morning, and it’s been my go-to car tune all day. So, with a fair amount of apologies, I’m posting it here.