Enough To Let Me Go

I’ve been thinking about some of this stuff a lot lately. It has a lot to do with
God and how He loves us and how we try to love Him and each other.

I think a lot of our unhealthy ways of relating to each other have a lot to do with our unhealthy ways of views of God and how those views inform how we relate to Him. We then relate to other people how we think God relates to us. At least it often works that way.

This was honestly going to be a post on Facebook but it got too long.

Fear and guilt really are poor motivators. I can sometimes use them to change behaviors, but crushing people’s spirits into the shape I want, makes both them and me less human. Even worse, I take on part of the enemy’s work: accusing.

As long as sin has been around most people have known there’s something wrong with them.

I know. I know it well.

But simply being aware of my depravity did nothing to change my heart. That awareness only increased my burden, as I tried and mostly failed to do what I was supposed to do.

It took a force much bigger than laws and guilt to change me: it took Love incarnate.

Yes. It took relentless, terrifying, scandalous, humble, servant, sacrificial, love to break and began to remake me.

God loved me before I loved Him and that’s what actually started conforming me to Christ’s image, not me knowing I was a bad person. I want to give that to people. Free love.

No stipulations.

Because love with stipulations isn’t love. It’s manipulation.

Love is instead, much more like breathing, as Jon Foreman, frontman of Switchfoot, and my songwriting hero, wrote in this song.

You breathe it in and let it go.
Every breath you take is not yours to own.
It’s not yours to hold.

Do you love me enough to let me go?

-switchfoot

If you suck in two lungs full of air and hold your breath for long enough, you’ll soon discover that while you may have taken a breath, it doesn’t mean you’re breathing. It’s only when you engage in the whole process of taking and releasing breaths that you actually get to experience the good that breathing does for you.

It’s the same way with love. You might receive love from those around you, but trying to hold all of it inside you doesn’t work. You either release it to others or you start losing your ability to receive the life that comes from breathing.

And furthermore, trying to love someone while attaching stipulations to it is a bit like trying to survive only on shallow breaths. It’s like lacking the faith to believe that if you completely release a breath, there won’t be more air for you to inhale.

You can sort of survive on it, and it kind of looks and feels like the real thing, and it might feel safer, but eventually you’ll notice it wearing you down. It’s just not healthy. And the people around you notice it, and feel ill at ease, hoping you’ll learn to breathe properly and get the oxygen you need.

Clearly “loving” people this way, has similar effects. It goes through some of the same motions, but the longer this “strings attached” love goes on, the clearer it becomes to everyone involved, that the relationship isn’t thriving. It’s taking short shallow breaths and showing some signs of life, but it’s far from thriving.

I think God knew all of this stuff when He made us and that’s why He gives us the choice to love Him. He doesn’t manipulate us to scare us, or play mind games with us to try to get us to love Him. He just loves us. For free.

He sent Jesus to show us that and put into motion a Kingdom where that and other beautiful things are the reality, instead of things like fear and control that the devil’s been suggesting to us for a long time now.

When we use those old tactics to “love” people and “make them behave,” people around us are sometimes duped into it thinking it’s tough love. More likely though, they shake their heads and leave, thinking that God’s people too, are in the same business as everyone else, and using the same old methods. “What’s different about them anyway?”

Yes indeed. What is, if we resort to that?

But when we love people with the love God showed us, we show others a new reality and a little taste of the perfection that will one day be when our King returns to set up His kingdom and make all things new.

I’m relieved and grateful that God’s been patient with me because I find it really hard to love like He does. I like to make sure my love isn’t being wasted on ungrateful jerks. But He keeps showing me that I’m no better than anyone else, and I think my heart is slowly becoming softer and more
like His.

I hope that’s a reality for all of because apparently that’s a big way God plans to establish His kingdom in the here and now:

through us channeling His love to others who are thirsty for something different.

Something that doesn’t add to an already heavy yoke of sin and guilt, but instead gives the abundant life it promises.

Something that works a lot like breathing.

Something called love.

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The Painting of Life

I’m learning more about painting and such from Rebecca than I ever have, or ever thought I would, in my life. We’ve been to a few art museums now, and the great thing about knowing as little as I do, is the several times we’ve been, it feels like I gain a lot of knowledge on the subject. So, yes. Though they be few, there are benefits of ignorance.

A couple months ago, Rebecca and I were visiting an art museum in the small town of Lindsborg. As we neared the end of the exhibits, on one wall was a giant painting that covered three different canvasses, all side by side. Each canvass was several feet across and at least as tall as we were. Up close, the colors were brilliant and we could see individual shapes and textures in great detail. We admired it up close for a little while, then stepped back closer to the middle of the room, and were a bit surprised by what we saw. It was a massively complex nighttime scene of a forest using both abstract and realism to depict little night creatures, along with bushes and trees.

It took a bit for me to grasp what sort of time and effort it probably took to simply imagine, let alone paint something like this. To get it right the artist would have had to spend a lot of time moving in close to add the detail and texture to each part, but stepping back (I would think) quite often to make sure it looked like it should from the distance at which you’d want to view the whole painting–a tremendous amount of thought and work, to say the least.

It’s been a while since we admiringly stood there in that little art gallery talking for quite some time about that painting and I’ve
thought about it numerous times since then. The more I’ve thought about it, and paintings in general, the more I realized that…

Up close, some of them look kind of random.

Up close, you can see what some of us would call imperfections.

And up close, sometimes, you can also see quite a lot of beauty that you’d miss from farther away.

To me, it actually feels like life a lot of the time.

The parallels really could go on for a longer time than I’d like to talk about all at once, or likely than you’d like to hear, but I had to think of it like this:

First, God in His grand painting of the narrative we see, beginning long ago, and being continued in the present, sees things in the zoomed out view. He sees where it began, and also where it’s ending. The interesting and beautiful thing about this particular painting is that, certain pieces of this painting aren’t static. But here’s something else:

They don’t just move.

They’re actually allowed to paint their own colors.

They’re even allowed to paint strokes that mess up the painting.

Amazingly, these living parts of the painting (by now I’m sure you’ve guessed that they are us, people) aren’t left to wonder about the painting, blindly waving their little paint brushes in frustration, randomly splattering colors around, and hoping they’re not messing things up. Even though the Master Artist has a far away view of the painting, there’s a portion of painting where He actually became a part of the painting just like those in it, and His spirit continues to guide the strokes of those who want Him and his colors to be the colors they paint in their little parts of the painting.

He doesn’t nearly always tell them precisely what to paint, and sometimes it’s really confusing, but if they listen to Him closely and spend more time knowing Him and His style of painting, their colors and strokes become surprisingly similar to His. But maybe it’s not so surprising after all, because He did originally paint these people to be small representations of Him, and in small ways, to create like He does.

Another strangely beautiful thing about the Master Painter, is that He can take the messed up, the trashy parts, the ugly, the bad color combinations, and make beautiful things from them. Redemption. Wow. Go figure. The more I think about this part, the more amazing and baffling and impossible it seems, and less like it could be completely real. But I know it is, because I’ve seen it.

And also, once again, if His people take cues from Him, they too can help make beauty and redemption of the bad colors, and the ignorant strokes. But to do that, they can’t just paint pretty things around themselves and ignore what’s wrong with the rest of the painting. To truly serve this work of art, they have to engage the dissonance around them, and work to help it blend with rest of the painting. And they don’t do this by merely flinging some bad colors of their own onto the canvass to help the stumbling painters feel better, but they, like the Artist who entered the painting, should follow His example by helping the painters around them know what it means to paint well.

Also, I think He’s allowing us, for the most part to only see the painting from close up. We can see a lot of what’s already been painted in the past, and occasionally, a few get small bits of the future. It’s merciful this way, I think. Most of us would have a hard time enjoying the beauty in the strokes right in front of us and engaging the ugly splatters around us if we’d see all that was coming to us in the parts we will paint, and in the parts that will be painted long after our portion is complete.

This is where I’ll stop, but I love to think of life this way. I think it’s really incredible to serve an infinite, all-knowing God, Who is also heartbreakingly loving, and wants to walk with us each step of our lives. He wants us to walk none of it alone, but He still lets us decide and doesn’t force Himself on any of us, even when we’re pretty intent on messing things up by lumbering about and painting our own world. And He still loves us and wants us to join Him through all of it.

Unbelievable.

But I’m pretty sure it’s true. Usually I’m sure. But sometimes my faith is puny. I sometimes don’t act like I believe it at all. And it takes some unpleasant blundering to remind me where I belong.

I’ve gradually been accepting this: every few years I’ll look back and wonder how I lived like I did, or viewed God like I did, or looked at the world like I did. I’m becoming more at peace with the idea though: that I can never remove myself completely enough from the part of life I’m in, to get a third person view of it.

I guess what I’m trying to say to myself and anyone who will listen is this: don’t be so focused on what’s coming or what you think is coming that you refuse to dip your brush into the colors that are put right in front of you, and you neglect the painters around you (both in what you can teach them and in what you can learn from them). Your portion of the painting is far too short to spend it waiting for better colors or worrying about what you’re going to do when you’re given new colors to use, and new painters to work beside.

Use what’s given to you and use it well. Put as much love, as much joy, as much peace, as much hope as the Master Painter gives you, into each stroke, and enjoy each one for what it is. That’s how He painted, and in little ways, He’ll teach you to paint like Him if you’re willing to learn.

Playlist:

“Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore” – The High Kings

“Gran Partita” – Mozart

“Daniel” – Joshua James

“Paranoia in B Major” – The Avett Brothers

“Concerto In C for 2 Trumpets” – Vivaldi

“The Holly & the Ivy – Wayfarer

“Ave Maria” – Chanticleer

“Politik” – Coldplay

“Sing It Out” – Switchfoot

“Let Your Love Be Strong” – Switchfoot

“Griselda” – Vivaldi

“Lesser Things” – Jars of Clay

“There Is No Rose” – Chanticleer & Robert H. Young

“From Finner” – Of Monsters and Men

“Her Sacred Spirit Soars” – Eric Whitacre

“The House of God Forever” – Jon Foreman

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” -The King’s Singers

“Cottonfield” -The Vespers

Failure, Wonder, and the Joy of Being Beloved

This evening I failed. I set out to accomplish something by the end of the evening and I didn’t get it done. I was planning to have a productive evening working on my music stuff and it just didn’t go well.

And here, I feel I should throw myself down the gauntlet so I have no choice, but to follow through. I’m working on a small solo project of my own: an EP of several songs I’ve written that are inspired by Kansas while our band takes a short recording hiatus, because, frankly, it’s summer, and summer is the time to be busy.

I felt like I should use the time off to sharpen my skills and this seemed like a good option.

To say it’s a lot of hard work is an understatement. It’s mentally, emotionally, and even physically draining. But I love it. Most of the time.

Things just went badly this evening.

I made a list of things I was going to get done.

I worked hard.

I played the parts again, and again, trying to perfect them.

I got frustrated.

I calmed myself, and told myself it was okay.

It wasn’t okay.

I repeated the process.

After several hours of standing and eventually, sitting, in front of a mic with my guitar, it became clear I wasn’t going to be productive anymore that evening. It was a discouraging revelation. Tangible progress was what I wanted this evening. Tangible progress–not a forlorn little clump of soundbites on my my computer screen that I probably wouldn’t be able to use.

My girlfriend, Rebecca, texted me and asked me how it was going.

I told her how it was going.

She was very encouraging and told me some things I wanted to hear and a few more things I needed to hear.

Feeling a bit better, I surrendered and put my things away, turning my studio back into a bedroom.
I trudged up the stairs, feeling pretty defeated, walked to the front door to see what it was like outside. I opened the door and stepped onto the porch.

What greeted me was a fabulous Kansas sunset.

Pink and orange were the dominant colors this evening. The sun, a lazy orange halo of fire, was at that magical moment when it’s just starting to slip away. That time where it sinks so quickly, you can almost see it moving. That moment that if you’re not paying attention for a bit, you miss it.

The instant I walked out, I knew this was what I needed. Not perfectly recorded tracks. Not a list of crossed off items to make me feel proud and self important.

I just stood there for a while, taking it in, then walked across the porch to the edge, and I slowly realized what had happened to me this evening.

I’d truly lost the joy during the earlier part of this evening. Lost the wonder. In pursuit of perfection, I forgot why I like to play music: because I love it; because it’s fun.

I pulled out my phone to take a picture. To chronicle the sunset’s splendor. It was out of room for pictures. So what.

When my phone had no room for pictures, it didn’t build on the frustration of the rest of the evening. I didn’t delete things to make room so I could show everyone what an awesome sunset I got to see.

I let go. I released. I didn’t care. I felt God saying, “Just enjoy it.” So I did.

It was then that my soul gave a sigh of relief. I sat down on the edge of the porch with my feet in the soft grass, and I stared at the colors as they played with each other.

I felt the weight of an evening of frustrations dissipate as I was reminded that we humans were never made strictly to perform. We were never made to just carry out tasks, mindless of the wonderful world around us.

We were made to feel the love of the Creator, and to let the beauty and wonder of that love spill into the things around us: our work, our people, our art.

And living in wonder is not the byproduct of a certain occupation, a certain locale, (or even a certain level of perfection). It’s when we’ve allowed ourselves to see the wonder of life as it is, not, as we wish it were.

This doesn’t mean we don’t hope for anything better. But when we hope for something better at the expense of the things we already have, it’s not hope anymore. It’s discontentment.

This also doesn’t mean I don’t hope for better, more productive times of working on music. What it does mean, however, is that this evening was not an evening wasted.

Not by a long shot.

Don’t You Want To Thank Someone

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Andrew Peterson live for the first time. Even before the time I began writing my own songs, he was a writing hero to me. Jason Gray was there as well on what was known as The Storytellers Tour–and with good reason.

We spent the evening listening to their stories and music, and being filled full, and overflowing with the beautiful and profound, whether spoken or sung. Both men are incredibly vibrant and this vibrance can’t help but spill out in their songs and stories. But the purpose of this introduction is not so much to give a concert review, but to give you a preface to the man’s work I’ll be allowing you to sample.

Andrew Peterson: what to say properly without saying what’s been said before? The depths of life, of philosophy, of pain, of hope, of theology, that this man can plumb in a four or five minute song never cease to amaze me. He rarely uses filler content to finish out a song. Never succumbs to the simple, pat answer. He speaks eloquently about the mystery, but allows the mystery to remain. Everything syllable seems to be there for a good reason. Every word serves a purpose in the story he’s telling.

Like his smooth, unassuming, folk-type voice or not, you’d be hard pressed to refute the eloquence, the beauty, the reality of the words he sings. I was driving to town a while ago and was planning to listen a little Paper Route. I really was.

But I decided to finish a song I started earlier, from his new album Light for the Lost Boy. I finished that one and the next song began. I couldn’t stop because the mystery of the music pulled me in. A beautiful song of perseverance and hope. I skipped one and landed on the album closer: Don’t You Want To Thank Someone.

For some reason I don’t believe I’d ever heard it before. The title was simple enough. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t expecting that much… I assumed a nice, simple closer. It started out well enough: a slow wash of soft synth and percussive echoing guitar that was more than a bit reminiscent of The Joshua Tree era U2.

The part I wasn’t prepared for was an epic nearly 10 minute song filled with beautiful poetry and imagery. This songso marvelously explores the tension between faith and doubt, beauty and pain, sin and redemption, it’s hard to fathom it all. I spent most of the song with goosebumps and at some spots had to fight back a few tears as I drove.

More of my own words really won’t do justice to this piece of art. I have nothing more to say about it but to offer you his poetry and a link to the song. Wait until you can pay attention to it, maybe put on a pair of headphones, enjoy, and reflect.

Don’t You Want To Thank Someone

Can’t you feel it in your bones
Something isn’t right here
Something that you’ve always known
But you don’t know why

‘Cause every time the sun goes down
We face another night here
Waiting for the world to spin around
Just to survive

But when you see the morning sun
Burning through a silver mist
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Don’t you ever wonder why
In spite of all that’s wrong here
There’s still so much that goes so right
And beauty abounds?

‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside
The air is full of song here
The thunder rolls and the baby sighs
And the rain comes down

And when you see the spring has come
And it warms you like a mother’s kiss
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

I used to be a little boy
As golden as a sunrise
Breaking over Illinois
When the corn was tall

Yeah, but every little boy grows up
And he’s haunted by the heart that died
Longing for the world that was
Before the Fall

Oh, but then forgiveness comes
A grace that I cannot resist
And I just want to thank someone
I just want to thank someone for this

Now I can see the world is charged
It’s glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
Dripping from the prophets’ lips

But still, my thirst is never slaked
I am hounded by a restlessness
I am eaten by this endless ache
But still I will give thanks for this

‘Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat
I can feel it when the horses run
It’s howling in the snowy peaks
It’s blazing in the midnight sun

Just behind a veil of wind
A million angels waiting in the wings
A swirling storm of cherubim
Making ready for the Reckoning

Oh, how long, how long?
Oh, sing on, sing on

And when the world is new again
And the children of the King
Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it’s a better thing
A better thing

To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it’s waking up
And I’m waking up

‘Cause I can hear the voice of one
He’s crying in the wilderness
“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallalujah! Hallelujah!
Come back soon
Come back soon

Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/andrew-peterson/don-t-you-want-to-thank-someone-lyrics/#0IPLos46SF1C7p8X.99

The Adjustment

I like mornings pretty well. I might even be a morning person, if that’s what you want to call it. These days I have it pretty nice, because I don’t have to be at work until ten o’clock. But I usually function pretty well in the morning, even if I have to get up earlier.

I have a few reasons for getting up two hours before work. I really like to have some time to sit around and drink coffee. Coffee is actually one of my favorite morning things, but I also like to get caught up on the news and maybe listen to a little music. But my primary reason, or at least what I like to tell myself, is to spend some time with God.

I know, maybe it sounds cliche to say it that way. But it’s true.

I’m embarrassed, frankly, at how often the time I had mentally designated for God, gets cut short by news, social media, or just lack of time management. So as I dash out the door for work, my hands and arms full of the day’s essentials, I’m ashamed by my lack of discipline . . . again.

It doesn’t always happen this way, thank God. But I can’t help but get really peeved at how human I am sometimes.

See, part of me says, “You’re strong and awesome.” It’s probably that part of me that overrides the part that says “No, you are actually are puny and weak without God.”

I forget that the times I feel all terrific about life, are only possible because of God’s goodness in spite of my mistakes. And I don’t remember to thank Him for it often enough. Then I start to feel all incredible about myself. Then God humbles me. And I’m glad He does, even though it reminds me of how small I am.

I too often underestimate the importance of that daily adjustment of my perspective. My best days are days I start with God. Now before I’m accused of being unrealistic and a proponent of “do the right things and the Holy Vending Machine will dispense wealth and awesomeness into your life” theology, let me explain myself.

By saying what I did earlier, I didn’t mean that days I start with God are full of material blessings, ease, and stress-free relationships. Not at all. Days I start with God are actually full of the same events: much like days I kind of forget about Him.

The difference is this. On days I start with God, I glimpse the world through His eyes. He shows me a sliver of the grand masterpiece from his point of view. He pulls his hand back a bit and lets me read a small bit of the epic He’s writing–from His own perspective, not mine.

And the beautiful thing is, when I allow Him to adjust my perspective first thing in the morning, I really tend to view the events of the day from that perspective. The everyday turns into the unusual, the mundane into the extraordinary. Other people’s perspectives are worth more, mine worth less.

By saying all this, I’m not pretending that these “time with God in the morning days” turn me into some unbelievably radiant person. I’m not even sure other people notice all the time. I think people often will notice whether or not you’re taking cues from God, but that’s not even the point. The point is that it’s easier for communion with God to exist throughout the day when I start it with Him.

And the more it happens, transformation slowly takes place. It’s rarely an impressive explosion, like fireworks. It’s a lot more like the slow growth of a plant. And while fireworks are fun, they’re not particularly useful and last for seconds. Plants make so we don’t die, and tend to stick around.

The interesting thing is, I don’t always notice this while it’s happening, and that’s fine. Because there’s a good chance I’m not paying attention to myself anymore, and I’m paying attention to God.

So I’m going to keep trying to discipline myself. It’s a lot easier to keep up with news and check Facebook, then to maintain a relationship with God. But it’s also less rewarding. In fact, even comparing the two of them on paper like this is lame.

You’d think with all the neat things God has shown me about Himself, I would keep coming back for more as often as possible. But I continue the struggle against my deceitful heart, which, only by the grace of God, is slowly growing into something more beautiful.