“I Got This” and other lies. (Revolution Annapolis, 9 Feb 2020)

Below is the manuscript for the message I gave at Revolution Annapolis on 9 Feb 2020. The audio will probably be up on their site sometime this week in case you want to hear where I deviate from my script.

Several years ago, when I was still working for Revolution, we owned a bounce house. We used it at block parties and other community events. At the same time, I lived in a little house just down the road from here near Cantler’s Inn. Best crab house in the area, just sayin’. The bounce house, for a season, was stored in the low-ceilinged basement of that house, and every once in a while, with the help of friends, I would bring it out into the backyard of the house and set it up for my kids and their friends to play in. Getting the bounce house out of the basement was pretty complicated. You see, when it was deflated and wrapped up like a burrito, it was about a five-and-a-half-foot long cylinder with an almost three-foot diameter and weighed about 300 pounds.

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One day, we were lending the bounce house to another church in Bowie, and I needed to get it out of my basement and into the back yard so a pastor from that church could pick it up. Before I gave it to them, though, I figured I would set it up in the yard for the kids to play on and so I could make sure it was super clean. I told my wife, Becky, that I would work on getting it out of the basement. She advised me to call a friend. I said, “I got this.”

 

Some of you probably have an idea of where this story is going. I was able to roll the rubber burrito to the staircase. After that, my plan was to flip it end over end up the narrow basement staircase. There was a landing three steps up followed by about 12 steps after a right turn. I got to the landing no problem. I was feeling like a champ. Becky yelled to see if I was okay. “Babe, I got this.”

 

First flip up the remaining stairs went okay, but when I went to shift my feet to higher steps, the burrito-ified bounce house started falling back toward me. Ever seen that picture of Atlas holding up the globe? It was like that except I don’t have much in the way of muscles and I was on a dusty staircase with a purple, teal, and black burrito to hold up. I started thinking, “Oh no,” but I didn’t call for help. I tried to figure out a new strategy, but because of the way the thing had fallen, I couldn’t go up or down. I was stuck, relegated to preventing this thing from crushing me.

Atlas_sculpture_on_collins_street_melbourne

Eventually, Becky became suspicious of my long absence and came to check on me. She found me, first laughed at me, then realized the seriousness of the situation and became concerned. The problem was she wasn’t strong enough to help the situation at all. We were laughing, but kind of that, “This really hurts and I don’t know what else to do,” type laugh. We were at the end of our rope, and that’s when Adam Leach showed up randomly. I don’t even know why he was there. He extracted me from the weight of the bounce house, laughed at me a little bit, and I was beyond grateful for him.

 

I could have just called him before I started and he would have helped. But no, “I got this.”

 

We really value “I got this” in our culture. The “American Dream” which is the idea that everyone has an equal opportunity to reach their highest aspirations is a hallmark of our cultural vocabulary. We make heroes out of “self-made” men and women who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Self-promotion, ambition and workaholism are celebrated. 

I don’t know about you, but my attempts to chase after the expectations of our culture have often led me to exhaustion, anxiety, confusion, and hopelessness. Even with success, it is never enough, and the cycle starts over again.

 

Jesus kicks off concentrated stretch of teaching called The Sermon on the Mount in the fifth chapter of Matthew with a section known as The Beatitudes. In The Beatitudes, Jesus says there is a better way, and if you defy the expectations of culture, the exhaustion, hopelessness, anxiety, and confusion can be replaced by blessing. I love the Merriam Webster definition of blessing: 

 

Blessing – A thing conducive to happiness or welfare 

 

The sayings of The Beatitudes are often taught separately, but I think there is something interesting about looking at them together. The Beatitudes give us a step by step guide for defying the expectations of our culture and replacing the fruit of, “I got this,” with blessing. I am going to go ahead an spoil the ending for you and tell you there are three basic steps. 

 

  1. Redefine your identity.
  2. Recognize your purpose.
  3. Anticipate the consequences.

 

I think a lot of these teachings are helpful whether you believe in Jesus or not. I think if you choose to admit that “I don’t got this” and recognize “it’s not all about me,” you’ll find some blessing, a thing conducive to happiness or welfare. I also think that you will start to see and feel what God’s Kingdom is like. 

 

18 years ago, admitting that “I don’t got this” and no matter how much success I could gather around myself, I was only encountering new exhaustion, anxiety and dissatisfaction, was my own first step to knowing Jesus and changing my life. 

 

So, whether you believe in Jesus or not, consider what defying the expectations of culture might look like in your life, and what the next steps might be for you.

 

Jesus starts by saying you’ll be blessed when you realize there is no way you can do it on your own. When you’re fighting with anxiety, comparison, exhaustion, and the feeling you’re not good enough, Jesus says,

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3 NIV)

 

I love the way The Message, a paraphrase of the Bible says this. It says, 

 

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.” (Matthew 5:3 MSG)

 

Being poor in spirit means recognizing you can’t do it on your own. Spiritually, it means saying, “God, I need you.” 

 

It also means being willing to admit that there are lots and lots of things you can’t do on your own, and you’re done with tugging at your bootstraps.

 

God is the author of love and hope, the ultimate source of blessing, but if you are trying to manufacture them on your own, He doesn’t have room to work. Until I admit that I’m at the end of my rope and defy cultural expectations by saying, “I don’t got this,” I will continue to try to manufacture my own hope and continue experiencing the frustration and loneliness that that pursuit brings with it. I will fail to experience the blessing, the good things, that God has.

 

Admitting you can’t do it on your own may mean giving up parts of yourself that you are proud of. 

 

I’m ambitious. My own identity is wrapped up my ability to advance at work as well as in relationships. I am often tempted to pat myself on the back for some of the accomplishments I have been able to achieve. I am the youngest executive at a large church planting organization. I have been in management since I was 23 (more on that later). 

 

Who I am is tied up in the pride of those accomplishments. But they don’t bring me joy. That pride brings an anxiety and fear for the future. What if something happens to my job? What if there are no more next steps up? What if no one likes me? What’s the next hill to climb? And then what’s after that?

 

This became crystal clear to me in 2017. I was invited to be a fly on the wall in a room with some amazing leaders and thought to myself, “I don’t deserve to be here.” I have a bachelors degree in Geology that I’ve never used. My history is peppered with failed bands, arguments with my wife, and chronic procrastination. I didn’t do this. God did. My work and my history, my pride and my identity, are problems. They are a liability. But God is the author of hope, and He’s been writing a different story, and that is how I found myself in this room.

 

It was like a bomb going off in the part of my brain that housed my identity, and I was sad and afraid. What does this mean for me?

 

When you give up things about yourself that are wildly important to you and replace them with God, you’re going to mourn that. And in that moment, Jesus says, 

 

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 NIV

 

I think this is often read as people who are mourning the loss of loved ones, and while I think that those mourning the loss of loved ones will absolutely be comforted by God, I think that in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, it is equally, if not more importantly about mourning the parts of our self that we surrender in order to follow God more closely. It is the sadness at losing all the bits of us that scream for attention saying, “I got this.”

 

It may be scary giving up self-reliance, ego, ambition, a habit, an addiction, a thought process, a relationship, or whatever it is, but Jesus says, “I got you.” He says you will be comforted. You will be blessed. I love what the Message says,

 

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” Matthew 5:4 MSG

 

Once I start to strip away my self-reliance and my “I got this” attitude and mourn the pieces of myself that are cast off in the process, I’m left with just who I am. Being content in that is hard, but rewarding. It means coming to terms with my new identity. An identity not shaped by my own drive but shaped by who God has made me to be. Again, I love how The Message paraphrases Jesus’ next words:

 

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.” Matthew 5:5 MSG

 

Our usual translation of the Bible says, 

 

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5 NIV

 

Jesus is talking about the base level of your identity and being content in it. The base level of our identity is that we are made in the image of God, and Jesus says THAT IS ENOUGH. We don’t need to feel the pressure of adding more titles to that. The extra titles we have are fine, but if we start to find our identity in being great mom, successful business person, or even lead pastor, we lose sight of what our identity really is: a person made in the image of God, and we start relying on ourselves again for peace, hope, love, and comfort, or as the Message puts it, “everything that can’t be bought,” which ultimately takes us back to anxiety, frustration, blind ambition…

 

So, the first three parts of The Beatitudes talk about resisting the expectations of our culture in terms of our identity and rediscovering and contenting ourselves with our true identities; people made in the image of God.

 

The next section of Jesus’ message talks about what we do with our new identity and how it should move us. Jesus calls us to recognize our true purpose.

 

Later on in the book of Matthew, Jesus says that all the laws in the Bible add up to two things. Jesus says,

 

“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-19 NIV)

 

Jesus foreshadows that teaching here.

 

Our culture expects us to use every opportunity to advance ourselves or protect ourselves.

 

Let me tell you another “I got this” story. Remember, I said we’d revisit me as a young manager? When I was 23, I worked at an inbound call center. Many of my funniest stories originate in that job. This isn’t one of them. Our call center had an accounts payable department run by a woman named Lu. Lu was much older than the average-aged employee at the Hotline and didn’t fit in. She also worked overnight, from midnight to eight AM. Lots of awful jokes were created about Lu, including jokes about her competency and memory due to her age. 

 

I said, “I got this.” But not in the good way. I saw an opportunity for promotion and more money. I told my boss I could do a better job than Lu. I relayed rumors of her mistakes to my boss without identifying them as rumors. Within a few months, I was in, and Lu was out. 

 

The catch is that I knew nothing about accounting software. I knew nothing about accounting at all. I was an average bass player in a regionally popular band with a bachelor’s degree in Geology taking hotline calls from people who hated their jobs. Lu was not perfect, but she was a CPA, but because of me and my opportunistic “I got this” attitude, she was unemployed.

 

I felt like a champion at the time. I was looking out for number one. It wasn’t until years later that the weight of my behavior shook me to my core and I realized that the expectations of culture just hurt other people and left me feeling empty.

 

When you are content with your identity as a child of God, not only do you escape the rat race of trying to be a self-made American Dream chaser, you start to realize that most, if not everything that goes on around you isn’t about you. Your true purpose isn’t enriching, empowering and glorifying yourself.

 

And if it isn’t about you, then you are freed up to make it about someone else. In terms of my arrogant “I got this” in the situation with Lu, if it’s not about me, then my response to the situation at the call center should have been, “I got this for you.” I would have/should have stood up for justice and truth and pushed back against rumor and malice.

 

Jesus says,

 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6 NIV)

 

This is equivalent to loving the Lord with all you are. This isn’t the type of hunger that you feel when you get home from work and there are still a few hours before dinner. It’s not even the hunger you feel if you skipped a meal or two. This is the hunger and thirst you feel after you’ve been stranded in the desert and you are desperate. This hunger and thirst is something you cling to for life itself. 

 

Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness, or do you just snack on it from time to time? 

 

What does the pursuit of righteousness do? Well, to use a biblical metaphor, it bears fruit. 

 

Jesus says,

 

“Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:7-9 NIV)

 

When you pursue righteousness, or in other words, rightness the way God defines it, you keep looking out for number one, BUT YOUR REDEFINE WHO NUMBER ONE IS. It’s not you anymore, but instead it is God. When number one is God, and you are filtering your choices though that lens, you start looking for ways to share that righteousness with others because you start seeing God in the world around you. When I pursue righteousness, I recognize my purpose is sharing the freedom I’ve found with others. 

 

In a culture that is always thinking about return on investment, the pursuit of righteousness redefines the beneficiary. Instead of expecting a return to ourselves, in pursuing righteousness, we bring mercy and peace to those around us, and in that, we bring glory to God.

 

And it’s hard, man. This is not something I’m consistently good at. I’m still that guy who got Lu fired 15 years ago. But I’m trying, and I’m surrounded by people who are trying.

 

This is why I attend a Local group. Becky and I have been at Revolution from the start. We have attended and/or led local groups the entire time because in those groups, we are surrounded by people who are trying to get better at pursuing righteousness, people we can lean on, learn from, and lean into.

 

 

So, to recap where we’ve been so far, Jesus is talking to his followers on the side of a hill adjacent to the Sea of Galillee, and he is telling us that when it comes to experiencing blessing (hope, love, purpose), we can’t do it on our own, and once we realize that, we can become more comfortable in who exactly we are, people made in the image of God. As people made in the image of God, Jesus calls us to the pursuit of righteousness, which bears fruit in the form of mercy, kindness and peace and putting the needs of others in front of our own.

 

But what does culture do when you defy their expectations.

 

Jesus says, 

 

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12 NIV)

 

In some parts of the world, persecution means torture and death, seriously. But by and large, in our culture, when you defy it’s expectations, people think you are weird. Once they decide you are weird, they treat you like you’re weird. You may not get invited to some places. You may feel left out. It’s really, really unlikely that you will be persecuted in the ways believers did in Jesus’ time and how they do in certain parts of the world now.

 

And you know what. I am totally down to be weird because:

 

I have redefined my identity!

 

  1. I can’t manufacture blessing on my own.
  2. I’m not number one.

 

And I have recognized my true purpose.

 

3. I want others to experience that freedom.

 

Let’s pray.

 

Songs I loved in 2019

Choosing the “best” songs of a year is an impossible task. Almost daily, I find new songs I love. This list is just a sampler of things I found myself soaking up throughout the year. I’m really excited that punk rock is becoming more and more present in the non-mainstream music scene, and this year’s list is chock full of songs that are straight up punk or obviously inspired by the genre.

You’ll notice that there is a pretty broad selection of styles here. On a seven-hour road trip with a friend/colleague earlier this year, my friend attempted to annoy me with songs in genres I don’t like. The attempt was unsuccessful. I like music of nearly all descriptions. So, what makes a song I love if it isn’t genre?

I love music that makes me feel something strongly. It doesn’t even really matter what the feeling is for the most part. The feeling can be awe, it can be commiseration, it can be an adrenaline rush, it can be contemplation, it can be the urge to dance or sing along. I just want to feel something strongly.

Check out the 2019 list on Spotify here. I’ll warn you in advance that there are a few bad words scattered throughout the list, and I don’t necessarily agree with all the ideas expressed in these songs…probably most particularly the Whitechapel song. That song made the list because it is super heavy, but lyrically, it is also a hilarious caricature of the metal genre. I don’t know if they meant for it to be funny, but I find it pretty funny.

If you don’t have Spotify, here is the list with links to YouTube videos. They appear in no particular order. I was tempted to write an explanation for how each ended up on the list, but I decided that would take too long and in truth, I want you to speculate.

Best listened to with headphones or a stereo and not through your iPhone (#bass).

 

Rightness and Righteousness (James 1:19-27)

This is my sermon from Revolution Annapolis on September 8, 2019. You can listen here.

Good morning! My name is Matt. If we haven’t met before, I’m often the bass player in the band here, and from 2010 until 2015, I was on staff at Revolution. I left Revolution’s staff to work for a church planting organization called Stadia, and a few months later, Revolution got a serious upgrade when they hired Kenny to fill the role I vacated.

How many people here are married or have been married or are in a long-term relationship of some kind? I bet all your relationships are totally awesome, and you never argue, right? Next month, my wife and I will celebrate our 15th anniversary. I (thankfully) haven’t been on a date with anyone other than Becky in over 17 years. We don’t argue a lot, but we definitely have arguments.

One of the most interesting times we argued was while Becky was pregnant with our almost 12-year-old daughter, Ariella. We’d gone on a date, and on the way home, we stopped at the newly opened Wegman’s in our town and picked out fancy, expensive cupcakes. Once home, we retreated from our roommate and went to our bedroom to talk and watch a movie and eat cupcakes. As I very quickly devoured my cupcake, we got into a conversation about something that I can’t remember now. While I don’t remember what sparked the argument, I’m sure it should have been an easy thing to resolve. I don’t remember what I was getting defensive about, but I do remember that I became defensive, and defensiveness led to my becoming a verbal machine gun, something I’m prone to when I get angry. I’m sure I just started talking out my points, laying out a framework of logic for why I was right and Becky was wrong.

MachineGun

Anyone else had an argument like that?

Becky and I don’t really raise our voices when we argue. We don’t call one another names or ever turn physical. Well, except on that night, as I paced near the foot of our bed arguing my point, and a barely eaten, fancy, expensive, cupcake came flying at me, grazed my cheek and exploded against the wall. And I mean EXPLODED!

Cupcake2

I was shocked. I stopped talking. I knew Becky was serious. She LOVES cupcakes. You know how some people know all kinds of stuff about the flavor profiles of coffee, or wine, or craft beer? Becky’s kind of like that with cupcakes. If that cupcake was used as a projectile, it means she was mad. Really mad. I retreated, and we resolved things later.

I’ve noticed over the last few years that, really, we only have one basic argument.Lots of things have sparked our arguments over the last almost two decades, but the spark is often forgotten as we tread headlong into familiar argument territory. Here’s how our one basic argument goes: One person gets defensive;the other person doesn’t feel heard.Not feeling heard leads to feeling unappreciated and unloved.Feeling unappreciated and unloved leads to more defensiveness,and that leads to the original defensive person feeling unheard, which leads to feeling unappreciated and unloved, which leads to defensiveness. And ‘round and ‘round we go.

 

Over the years, we’ve had that same argument many times, often swapping roles, but if I’m honest, I’m usually the one who gets defensive first, and I’m working on this, but I’m obsessed with being right. The problem is this: Where does my desire to be the one who is right get me?

Well, cupcake icing on my face and several minutes cleaning exploded cupcake off the closet door and vacuuming cupcake shrapnel from the bedroom carpet.

And this isn’t just a thing with my marriage.My quest for rightness impacts every relationship I have.It creates conflict with the people I oversee at work, and the people that oversee me. It creates conflict in my friendships.

It sucks up time and energy and makes me lose out on opportunities to do things that really are good. I miss out on good things because I can’t risk not being right. Is any of that familiar? Some of you may be thinking, “Man, Matt is just like my spouse or my boss or my friend. They always need to be right.” If you are really honest with yourself, though, I bet you’d concede that people sometimes think the exact same thing about you. You may be better at loving people than I am, but all of usmiss out on good things because we want to be right.

But, we can get better.

Jesus’ half-brother James wrote a book that’s found in the Bible. Later, scholars gave that book the name James. I love the book of James, and I think if it had a better title, more people would love it like I do. I think if I was going to title James’ letter, I would call it, “What faith looks like.”

Throughout the letter, James lays out “if this, then that” models for the reader. If faith, then _______. It’s a super practical, almost “how to” type book with lots of easy to remember turns of phrase. We’re going to check outfive practicesfrom James’ letter that will help us find our way to doing good things (and avoid some flying cupcakes in the process) rather than missing out because we are committed to our own rightness, and it kicks off with one of James’ signature, easy-to-remember turns of phrase.

Before we jump in though, I want to point out that this text is golden whether you believe in Jesus or not. If you implement 60% of these practices, I guarantee your relationships will improve, your thought-life will get less bitter and defensive, and you’ll have more energy to do and experience good things. So, regardless of where you are on your faith journey, please don’t check out on this.

Okay, let’s go!

Practice 1

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen…” James 1:19

What does “quick to listen” mean? Being quick to listen means having humility. It means actually listening, and not just nodding while you formulate your response (guilty). It means that in those situations where someone is sharing something with you and you have an opinion, solution, or disagreement and want to stop them mid-sentence and blurt it out, you don’t.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a single time where speaking what’s on my mind quickly has worked out 100% well. Has blurting out an opinion or solution ever really helped someone? Have you ever solved a problem in your marriage by being the dominant voice? Has it ever been effective when you immediately fired back when someone corrected you? When you’re at work, does it make people more productive when you shoot down their ideas?

Dr. Stephen Covey wrote a fantastic book called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and in that book, Habit 5 is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Dr. Covey says, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” I get it. I’m that way, and I bet most of you are, too. We are eager to get our point across. But here’s the thing. This practice means we’re often pretending to listen, selectively hearing certain things, and coming to conclusions without knowing the meaning.  Our actions say, “I don’t care about what you’re saying, and therefore, I don’t care how you feel.” The thing is, I think I actually really do care what Becky is feeling. I care about my coworkers’ feelings. I just don’t act that way.

Being quick to listen means not interrupting, giving them time to finish. It means thinking about our reply AFTER they’ve finished speaking rather than while they are speaking. It means thanking them for being willing to talk to us. It means we make an effort to genuinely understand what the other person is saying, and that even if we disagree, there are things we can learn by listening to them.

Okay. Quick to listen. Then what?

 

Practice 2

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” James 1:19

I admit that this is the obvious follow-up to being quick to listen, and perhaps it should be Practice 1a, but alas, it’s not. Ignoring the risk of confectionery cannonballs, my instinct is often to become defensive, start making excuses, and laying out my logic. If you are slow to speak, you take the time to consider what the other person is saying. Your body has a moment to let any initial adrenaline dissipate. Because here’s the deal, and I learned this from a preacher named Andy Stanley: everything that someone says makes sense to them.Everything someone does makes sense to them. Everything someone believes makes sense to them. If we are slow to speak, we give ourselves the time to relate to them and try to understand what makes sense to them and why. Relating to them shows that we value them.

Kenny spoke in the second week of this series about how we should think of the value of other people. I highly recommend you give it a listen.

If people feel valued instead of attacked, you are much more likely to accomplish the second part of that Dr. Covey quote,“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

But what if you’re not understood? Then what?

Practice 3 – Be slow to anger.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent…” James 1:19 – 21

It’s interesting that the first two practices are simply stated with no elaboration, but being slow to anger isn’t so simple. James adds stuff about the effects of human anger: moral filth and evil. He doesn’t just say to do it, like he does with listening and speaking. He gives you specific instructions on how. Anger is easy. You can be pretty good at the first 2 practices, listening well and keeping your mouth shut, and it’s still hard to keep your thoughts from steaming. It’s so natural for most of us when confronted with something that challenges us or may require us to change. James knew that if these five principles were key to us experiencing and doing good things and avoiding the cycle of defensiveness and desire for rightness, then this anger instruction is going to require some more specific steps.

First, God isn’t interested in our desire to be right or even being right when we engage others. He wants us to DO right.He wants us to define our “rightness” or our “righteousness” His way.

And His definition of righteousness is defined by Jesus.

In the 22nd chapter of the first book collected in the New Testament of the Bible–Matthew–Jesus sums up hundreds of rules codified by the Jews and the Ten Commandments, a set of rules given to Moses by God, like this:

 “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

That is righteousness. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Then, once you do that, love your neighbor as yourself. Loving the Lord your God means understanding and appreciating that this life you live isn’t all about you. It’s about understanding and appreciating that there is a God who made you, is there for you, loves you and wants good things for you even when you don’t want them from Him. And when I understand and appreciate that, I can start to act on the knowledge that this life isn’t all about me. I can start being there for my neighbors, loving them and wanting good things for them even when they don’t want the same for me.

When you DO these things; love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself, they have very specific outcomes, they bear particular fruit. Loving the Lord God with all that you are is a fundamental part of the belief aspect of faith. Loving others as yourself is an action that pours forth from that belief and is the litmus test for faith.

Anger gets in the way of that. Anger says, “I’m right, and I demand my rights.”

That is what James is talking about when he says “get rid of all moral filth.” Moral filth is us making our being right and our rights (our morality) more important than someone else. And what about evil? Here, that word means malice or ill will. It means we want something bad to happen to the other person.

We don’t do “violence” in our house. We don’t watch much violent television. I don’t play any

first-person shooter games (largely because they make me feel seasick). I was last in a fight when I was in Middle School, and at that time, I had my butt kicked. Believe me, I’d still much rather take a cupcake to the face that an eighth grader’s clenched fist. Even so, when my son Rex was about four, he was playing with a friend, and I heard him starting to get upset and say, “I’m going to kill you.”

Whoa. What?

No, I didn’t actually think he was going to kill his friend, but I was shocked. I was flabbergasted. How did this sweet little boy even conceive of such a threat? I was going to have to pay a lot more attention to Paw Patrol.

And what about me? How many times have I been driving up Chinquapin Round Rd. in the Revolution van, pulling one of Revolution’s trailers, listening to the playlist I’ve made of the morning’s worship set, when someone cuts me off trying to pull onto West St. and I’ve thought to myself, “Man, I hope that person gets into a fiery car accident today.” I didn’t pull the trailer this morning, but something like that has happened before; perhaps a few times.

But you can see how those thoughts, those phrases born out of anger are incompatible with loving our neighbor as ourselves. I don’t love you if I’m wishing a car wreck upon you. I don’t love my boss if I think his plan is stupid and get mad about it. Becky doesn’t love me when she’s throwing food at me.

And if we don’t love, we cycle ourselves right back to our own rightness instead of the righteousness that God desires. We settle for broken relationships. We are content with apathy and inaction because we lack the energy or bravery to act and risk being wrong. We get used to loneliness because we see it as the price of “justice” or rightness.

I don’t want that. I don’t want my definition of rightness if it means loneliness, broken relationships, paranoia, stress, anxiety. I don’t want to miss out on good things because I had to be right. Are you here this morning struggling because of some broken relationships? Fighting paranoia, stress anxiety? What do we do?

Practice 4

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” James 1:19-21

Here, James is talking about pursuing Jesus. He is talking about the Bible, the Word of God. He wants us to replace pursuing our own rightness and indulging in malice, petty or otherwise, with a pursuit of righteousness the way God defines it: loving Him with all your soul, all your mind, all your heart, and loving others as yourself.

Pursuing Jesus redefines rightness. It stops being about our rightness and our comfort. It becomes His righteousness. Right and wrong simply breaks down to whether you are aligned with Christ or not. Is His love being played out in your life? Would Jesus say that in your life (on your ballot, in your job, with your spouse or kids or friends), you stand for or against the things that matter to Him? Do you love as He loved?”

People flocked to Jesus. He spoke to over five thousand people on by the sea of Galilee. People that were nothing like him (prostitutes, tax collectors, a Roman centurion) came to him because they liked him and felt liked by him.

Here’s a really big, and I think really important question for you; one I hope sticks with you this week; one I hope you talk about with your friends or family at lunch today:Do people who are different from you like you?Do people with different beliefs about God, different beliefs about sexuality, different beliefs about politics like you? Do you like them? Do you value them? Do you Love them? 

If you love others as yourself, putting them first, it will save you, James says. And while I wholeheartedly believe that’s true in the eternal sense, it’s equally as true in the here and now. If you pursue loving others as yourself, you will radically change your present. Relationships will heal. Friendships will blossom. Sick people will be cared for.

Which brings us to practice 5,which is encompassed in the rest of the chapter, but I’m just going to summarize. You should go home and read it. Six short verses, 22 to 27 of the first chapter of James are amongst the biggest gut punch verses in the whole Bible. Plus, every time I read them, I think about Michael Jackson’s song “Man in the Mirror.” That’s a little teaser; now go read it so you know why.

Here is the summary. Don’t just hear the word planted in you. Don’t just hear this message. Don’t just say, “I believe.” That’s only one part of faith. True, vibrant faith DOES. Verse 22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do it.”

Just do it.

How would your marriage be different if you loved your spouse as yourself? If you were quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger? How would your relationship with your boss be? How would your street change if you loved your neighbor as yourself? Would you be so quick to be frustrated by that neighbor whose fence is rotting out and it makes the whole street look bad?

How would Annapolis or Anne Arundel County be different? James finishes the first chapter saying that real faith, real religion, real loving God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength, all your soul, and real loving your neighbor as yourself is “to look after orphans and widows and to keep yourself from being polluted by the world.”

Jesus wasn’t about proving the rightness of the religious scholars of his day. He was about demonstratingrighteousness, God’s way. He didn’t come to start a religion, but righteousness God’s way producesreligion His way; church His way. 

Did you know that in Anne Arundel county there are about 124 kids in the foster care system, half of which are teenagers, and 100% of which have experienced some sort of trauma?

Did you know that there are more than 100 churches in Anne Arundel county, but if you look up widow support services or groups on Google in Anne Arundel County, not one church pops up?

How could Revolution, working together to take off moral filth and evil and to bear the fruit of the word planted in us, change that if we actually DID what the Bible says? If you’re still trying to figure out what you believe about Jesus or faith, you can still implement these practices and I believe you will see change. I’d love to talk with you about how these practices and loving God with all you are and loving others as yourself could look in your life.

Here’s another something I got from Andy Stanley. It’s amazing, and I’ll end with it. God Himself implemented these same practices through Jesus.

God sent His son as a baby, a baby who could not speak. Jesus experienced life for 30 years. He learned and he listened. He sought to understand. He saw births (James, the author of this letter is his younger half-brother) and he saw deaths and even watched as Romans invaded and subjugated his people. And when he did begin to speak, people flocked to him.

Matthew 7 says that people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching and felt that he did not speak like teachers of the law but instead like someone who had a different kind of authority. They felt understood.

Like I mentioned earlier, people that were nothing like him liked him because they felt liked by Him. He told them about God and showed them righteousness God’s way. And then, he invited all of them to follow him, and it changed the world. And that invitation still stands.

 

 

 

I’m tired of cynicism and jadedness

I think cynicism and jadedness are some of the biggest threats to my faith and my community. Cynicism is an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest. To be jaded is to be tired, bored, or lacking enthusiasm, typically after having had too much of something.

The root of cynicism in my life and I suspect in my friends’ lives is, ironically, selfishness. I expect people to pay attention to me, love me, laugh with me, support me, and perhaps most significantly, agree with me. I find myself drawn to low-conflict relationships where we agree on politics, music, parenting, church, movies, and TV shows. I find myself upset or frustrated when I haven’t been invited to hang out with my like-minded friends. When we are together, it is easy to celebrate our homogeneity and criticize the self-interest of the people we disagree with. We flirt with gossip and sometimes even reach second base with that so very tempting mistress (I’m still talking about gossip). Our social media and 24-hour news cycle world makes this worse. It is so easy to block THEM or never watch THEM and grow increasingly cynical (at best) and disparaging (at worst).

At the same time, it is so easy to have a, “So What?” attitude. It’s so easy to do things out of a sense of duty. The routine becomes the centerpiece and the reason for the routine is lost to a sketchy long-term memory. We set up church because we have to. We clean the bathroom before small group because someone needs to. We rehearse on Thursdays as quickly as possible because we just want to know the songs. We maintain records in Salesforce because someone tells us to.

I’m tired of cynicism stealing my joy and your joy. I’m sick of my jadedness stealing my sense of purpose. I want to fight back against my own attitudes that my joy is dependent on other people. My joy should be rooted in my purpose, and to realize my purpose, I have to abandon my jadedness. It’s time to stop doing things out of a sense of duty and instead do them out of a sense of purpose. It’s time to stop criticizing and condemning others because I’ve made my joy dependent on them agreeing with me.

When we start consistently lacking joy and purpose, our faith erodes. We start to see God as a taskmaster insistent on us fulfilling our empty, rote duties. We start to wonder why God is distant. What we fail to see is that by indulging in cynicism, we blind ourselves to joy God has for us. We live in a static (one might say boring), safe bubble where our sense of joy is dependent on input from other people rather than fulfilling the purpose we have in God. When we become jaded, we may even go through the motions of things God has put before us, but without purpose, we are blind to the joy in those motions. This is most notable for me when I am playing bass in the worship band and feel nothing. We neglect the truth that joy is rooted in purpose, and purpose is kept stoked by striving for goals and celebrating wins.

It’s time to stop focusing on tasks and burdens and start focusing on goals and wins. Some of my overarching personal goals are to grow closer to God, increase in compassion, and grow as a person. And I want that for other people, too. Yes, there are people I should be spending time with that are not easy to spend time with, but the win is seeing them and myself grow closer to God, get challenged in our understanding, and mature as people.

While I erroneously attempt to guard my joy with cynicism and avoidance, I fail in my purpose and fail to recognize the humanity of the people around me. The kicker is that they just want to feel joy, too. Even if they are dead wrong (in your estimation), their motivations are the same as yours: joy, purpose. Think on that long enough and you’ll hopefully conclude (like I have) that that means you may be dead wrong on some things.

Will you allow your cynicism to rob you of opportunities to fulfill your purpose? I’m tired of that route.

Will you allow your jadedness to replace purpose with duty and steal your joy? I’m tired of that route, too.

I am ready to fight hard to see relationships with fresh eyes, focused on goals and my own purpose instead of rote behavior and a need for agreement and affirmation. I’m ready to battle my cynicism and jadedness so that my joy is obvious and evident and dependent on my purpose-filled outputs rather than dependent on inputs from others.

I’m ready to clean the bathroom not because someone has to buy because someone might be at my house on Wednesday and experience God for the first time and I don’t want them to be grossed out by the caked toothpaste my kids leave in the sink.

My Philosophy of Christian Music in Church

Earlier this week, I did an e-mail-based interview for a friend writing an article about music and specifically music in the church. My opinion is just one of the opinions she was seeking, and I’m really excited to see the finished product. After the interview, I was professing my undying love of music to my friend and Revolution Annapolis founding pastor, Josh Burnett, and it occurred to me that some of this information might be interesting to some of you. So, I made some adjustments and additions to my original answers and have posted it below. The questions I was asked are in bold. My answers are in regular type. Warning: this is probably the longest post I’ve ever made. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on my thoughts. Enjoy!

1. Where does music fit into the foundations of Christianity?

Music has been a part of Judeo-Christian worship since long before Jesus came. The Psalms have many references to singing and playing instruments. The word Psalm itself comes from a Greek word meaning to sing and/or strike a lyre. Even before that, primitive Hebrew cultures would have interacted with other cultures known to have had rich musical expressions. Musical instruments or artistic evidence of musical instruments have been found in Egypt, Sumer, Babylonia, Phoenicia, Assyria and Greece; all cultures Israelites would have interacted with. Music was rooted in the act of worship from long before Jesus. I love the description from 2 Samuel 6 of celebration and worship when the ark of God is brought into Jerusalem: “David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.”

When Jesus came, music would have already been a part of the culture. There is not abundant reference to music in the New Testament, but the mentions that exist are rich. In Ephesians 5, Paul says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I love that music and singing are alternatives to the temptation of drunkenness. Instead of numbing ourselves with intoxicants, Paul says to encourage ourselves and one another with songs. I know that abandoning myself to meaningful music is intoxicating in its own way; a certainly more productive and healthy way than drunkenness.

The intrinsic nature of music to effect people emotionally has always been a part of religion. In my view, music is described in the Bible as the outpouring of emotion to God. It is the natural response in moments of awe and rejoicing (Mary’s Song in Luke 1) as well as in moments of desperation (Psalm 40). Music creates and demonstrates an emotional connection to the Lord. That type connection is essential and foundational to wholly surrendering to God (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength). There are ways to accomplish that connection without music, but music has always been a dominant (and easy) way to accomplish that connection.

2. How important is music when it comes to a typical Christian service or ceremony?

In many churches, across many denominations, music plays a central role to most services and ceremonies. In terms of time, music typically consumes approximately the same amount of time in a service or slightly less than the teaching time or sermon.

Philosophically, singing provides an expression of the emotional and spiritual connection to Jesus. Practically, putting Biblical quotes and concepts to music also provides a memory touchstone for people in the service. How many times have you heard a song and walked away whistling the melody or singing the words of the chorus to yourself, maybe for a week or more after hearing it? By putting Biblical quotes and concepts to music, it becomes easier for the people in the service or ceremony to remember them, associate them with the teaching for the day, and ultimately act upon how God is speaking to them through His Word.

Additionally, it is important to recognize that different people connect with the Holy Spirit more readily in different circumstances. Some people feel closest to God when they are deep-dive studying on their own. Some people feel closest to God when they are serving others. Some people feel closest to God when they are praying. Some people feel closest to God when they are out in nature. Some people feel closest to God when they are alone with their thoughts. Some people feel closest to God when they are listening to a great teacher. Some people feel closest to God when they are doing some physical activity. And some people feel closest to God when they are singing or experiencing music. Recognizing and engaging these differences is the challenge and mission for many people in pastoral roles. Excellent churches will facilitate all of these throughout the year, but on a Sunday morning, some are difficult or impossible. That said, during a typical service or ceremony, you will see evidence of many of these connection styles, but especially teaching and music.

3. What would the Christian experience be like if music was absent?

When I was a kid, I went to church with my dad’s dad a couple times. He attended a church that had a Saturday service where there was no music and no singing, and that was his favorite service. I can’t ever remember music playing in his house. I believe the Holy Spirit was alive and present in that service. It appealed to people who experienced closeness with God through teaching, quiet contemplation, intentional prayer, and ritual practices. I know church experiences can still be vibrant and powerful without music, but it requires an intentionality with other elements of the service to recreate the visceral, feel-it-in-your-bones emotional-spiritual connection that music facilitates and demonstrates.

Many (perhaps most) people are hardwired to feel something when they listen to (not just hear) music. As I stated in the previous question, music triggers memories, implants memories, and moves us to action. It is not surprising that people are spontaneously moved to dance or lift their hands or just tap their feet when certain songs play. That is a natural response to music. When you combine these natural reactions to music with the call and desire to worship and praise Jesus, it can be a wonderful moment of synergy that draws us close to the Lord.

A Christian experience without music would be different. I hesitate to compare the experience or suggest that an experience without music would be lacking. It would be different, though, and special care would have to be taken to accomplish the praising of God in a holistic way that includes all your heart.

4. You sometimes play songs in a genre other than the one they were written in. Why do you do that and how does it fit with your primary mission?

All music fits into a genre. A genre is a style of music. “Christian” is not a style of music per se. “Christian” has more to do with the content than the style. A genre would be rock and roll, electronic, bluegrass, punk, hip hop, gospel, heavy metal and so on and so forth. Something I have always felt passionate about is taking a song that was originally written in a particular genre, uprooting it, rearranging it, and playing it in a new genre and/or with a modified melody.

A downside of music and the way it imprints in our brains is it can often become rote. We can sing a song or a melody without thinking. For example, I can sing every word and hum every guitar solo on Metallica’s Master of Puppets album while it is playing, but if I was challenged to write the words down without it playing, it would be very difficult. If I was asked to explain the heart and spirit of the words, I’d be straight outta luck.

In the Christian setting, this is problematic because the words are a vital piece of the expression of praise, hope, desperation, etc. in most of the songs we have at church. As a musician on stage, you can actually see on people’s faces when they go into autopilot because even though they sing and raise their hands or whatever, there is a lack of emotional and spiritual engagement. They are just singing. The words may as well be Fa-la-la-la-la. The words might be coming out of their mouths, but their minds are wandering to what they are going to have for lunch or how they are going to get their kids to the next lacrosse game.

My job as a music leader in church is not simply to lead a band in playing music in an excellent way (more on excellence later). My job as a music leader in church is to lead people in an experience of worship, praise, supplication, thanksgiving and confession through song. If people are effectively singing Fa-la-la-la-la because the song has become rote, then I am failing at my job. If people fail to connect to the full experience of the song, which almost always includes thoughtful, intentional lyrics, then people are not actually praising or do anything above. They are just participating in a social ritual of singing because it is part of the culture. They are just like a speaker in your car, reproducing music because that is what they are supposed to do and not making any spiritual or emotional connection to it or through it. As stated in previous questions, singing and songs in church are not just cultural, they are meant to be spiritual expressions, the outflowing of our feeling and experiences with God as we seek to love the Lord our God with all of our heart.

In order to combat the threat of rote behavior, I started rearranging songs into different genres in order to break up the routine of singing those songs. Most of my music-in-church experience has been playing variations of rock and roll genre worship music from bands like David Crowder, Bethel, Hillsong United, Elevation Worship, and on and on and on and on. With intentional thought, teams I led would sometimes take those songs and rearrange them in order to play them in a different genre. The first time we did this, we moved several of these songs to play them in the genre of bluegrass. Subsequently, we have had electronic renditions, punk rock renditions, jazz renditions, A Capella renditions, marimba renditions, hip hop additions, and probably others I can’t even remember.

By doing this, we draw people’s attention back to the song as an expression rather than a routine. People read the words again and reacquaint themselves with what they are expressing. People move away from the rote behavior of singing as a social norm in that environment back to the meaningful expression intended by the song. Instead of humming along to the music because it is imprinted in their mind, they re-engage with the music and experience anew the feelings the different chords and melodies carry.

Then, the next time the song is played in its original format, listeners re-engage again with the meaning and recall the altered version of the song. I’m no psychologist, but it seems that when we change things from the routine like this, it creates new memory pathways that for a time obliterate the pre-existing ones that led people to sing by rote instead of from a place of passion.

5. How do you choose the songs, style of instruments, and music to use in your weekly worship practices?

There are a lot of factors that go into choosing songs, types of instruments and genre of music in a weekly worship service. In general, I have tried to be scheduled several weeks in advance so that the musicians can arrange their schedule to include a during-the-week practice as well as extended involvement on Sunday mornings. Scheduling far in advance also allows more opportunity for the band leader to connect with the teacher (preacher) for that week in order to develop thematic cohesiveness between the songs and teaching.

When scheduling, I will often pick a week that will be “out of the ordinary” and work with the lead pastor and perhaps a few other leaders to determine what we will do differently that week. Sometimes, it is a whole themed week (i.e. bluegrass Sunday) and other times it may be shifting the way the room is arranged (i.e. in the round vs. theater style). Once that week is determined and the style of music for that week is determined, I will reach out to the musicians in the church (or sometimes from outside the church) who have particular expertise or potential in that particular style. For example, if I plan a bluegrass Sunday, then I need to schedule someone proficient on banjo, and if I want to plan a punk rock Sunday, then I need musicians proficient at playing fast.

For regular Sundays, the musicians and types of instruments are often based on the availability of band members. I always try to have at least one guitar, bass, drums and obviously, vocals. Sometimes we have a second guitar, a keyboard, and/or another instrumentalist (violin or flute, historically).

When picking songs there are a lot of factors at play. First, I want to bring the congregation on a journey thematically and musically that engages the story of the Gospel. I like to think of this as Creation Fall/Redemption Action Praise. This doesn’t happen perfectly every service, but it is a rubric I try to stick to.

Practically, this means that I try to start service with a song of praise that recognizes who God is. These are songs that focus on God’s glory, power and majesty. When possible, I try to use songs that don’t even have a human element and exclusively focus on the character of God.

The next movement of the service is into songs that illustrate our relationship to God. These are songs that focus on the fact that without Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, we are dead in our sin. Often, these songs are more down-tempo, minor sounding with lyrics that express desperation for God and relief at receiving His grace.

As recipients of grace, we should feel moved to action, which brings us to the next movement of the service. Action songs have some expression of gratitude for receiving grace and when possible will also contain lyrics of action or asking God to work in us in a specific way.

Finally, I like to end services with songs of joy and praise. My hope is that when people leave a church service, they carry the energy of that final movement out into their week, and it fuels them to act, reminds them to be grateful for the grace they’ve received, and spurs them to worship God in his glory and awesomeness.

Another factor that goes into selecting songs (and sometimes makes the rubric above impossible) is working with the teacher for a Sunday to select songs that reinforce the message. On rare occasion, songs will be selected first and the message will be written to support that, but in my experience, that has been very rare, so I won’t go into that. I always try to select songs that will reinforce the message because of the way emotion spurs us to action and songs influence and guide emotions. Also, as I said before, music is a trigger for memory, and by having songs that are consistent with the message, you make the takeaways from the message more memorable for the listener as they head out of the service and hopefully act on the things the Holy Spirit prompted them to act on throughout the message.

When it comes to picking the style of the music outside of those Sundays where we have intentionally changed the style of the whole set, there are a few factors that come into play. First, we generally start with the original version of the song or if not the original, a particular, professional version. We then modify that based on the instrumentation we have at hand. Sometimes this in and of itself changes the genre. For example, if the perfect song lyrically and “feel” is something that is very electronic and we only have acoustic instruments avaialble, we by necessity change the genre of the song to something more toward folk or roots rock.

The next factor that could change the genre of music is the talent level of the musicians in the band. Some members have different talent levels or may have types of music that they just aren’t as good at. Therefore, we may change a style or genre to match the talents of the band playing.

The third factor that could change the genre of music is the raw creativity of the band. Some of the best moments of mid-week band practice are when someone raises their hand and stops a song midway through, and says, “What if we did this instead?”

One last factor that could change the genre of a song is trying to have songs fit in the emotional and spiritual rubric above. It’s pretty powerful when you rearrange a song that was originally written in a major key and play it in a minor key or vice versa. It forces you to rethink the song and also sometimes imparts new meaning to the lyrics. Sometimes songs that were originally written as songs about taking action become songs of confession or vice versa.

The ultimate goal in everything we do as musicians leading a congregation in worship is to be excellent. “Excellent” is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but it is rarely defined, which means people make up their own definitions for what they think it means. I have been the bassist for way more than a dozen band line-ups and nearly every different band leader I’ve worked with has a different definition of excellent. Often, and especially in church, my experience has been that the word “excellent” is defined as playing all the right notes in the right places at the right volume. With the proliferation of tracked instruments, autotune and click tracks via in-ear monitors, this definition has been gaining serious momentum in the last decade.

Sadly, I think this is horribly incomplete. Sometimes the rawness of a note out of place expresses ten times the emotion a precisely placed note does. When I lead, I take into account all the factors above that lead to the generation of a song and run it through my formula for excellence which is Vision + Inspiration + Preparation + Passion = Excellence. Simplified, when you are intentional and passionate, you can’t help but be excellent. This may mean playing to a click track. I personally love writing and performing with pre-programmed tracks. But sometimes, this means the guitarist Kenny pounding a barely in tune acoustic guitar and stomping his feet to something close to the rhythm while raw, minimally reverbed harmonies sing the lyrics.

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Here is Kenny. His guitar is almost definitely in tune.

6. Does Christian music have a place in normal daily life or should it be reserved for worship only?

Christian music definitely has a place in normal daily life. It can and should serve as a reminder of our relationship to God, how awesome God is and so on. It can provide us a voice when we are having a hard time expressing ourselves. Most of the time, I do not listen to Christian music, but I almost always find it refreshing when I listen to it. I can’t emphasize enough how tied music is or can be to memory and emotion for many people. Christian music throughout the week for someone really engaged with how the Lord is working in them can be an incredible encouragement, timely reminder, or an indirect confronter. Sometimes, it is just a way to find the words or feelings you’ve been searching for ways to express.

I love Christmas Music (and a new playlist)

The holidays are upon us, which means the radio in my car is often tuned to 97.1 Wash FM. It is saved in my car’s radio memory solely for the month of December. I love the Christmas season because of what it could be, what it should be. I love that right now, I’m sitting in my living room with Becky sitting across from me and a Christmas tree obstructing my view out the window. I am really looking forward to my favorite Christmas traditions: 8th Annual Little Drummer Boy at Revolution (Dec 17!), Presents with the kids on Christmas morning, driving to Pittsburgh (yes, I’m even looking forward to that), and spending time with my grandmother, my parents and my brother.

I also love the nostalgia of Christmas time. For me, there is something about the aesthetic of Christmas that hearkens to good times gone by. It conjures false memories of anachronistic settings with Bing Crosby singing songs by a fire while How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) plays on a nearby TV surrounded by children in matching pajamas. Lights twinkle on outdoor bushes and a plastic Santa Claus and reindeer sit upon the apex of the roof. These are places I’ve never been but the nostalgic pieces of my brain can readily craft.

I don’t have anything against people who start listening to Christmas music around Halloween or even all-year round. For some people, like me, Christmas music, even bad Christmas music, is as comforting as a warm blanket. I personally don’t start listening to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving because I am a pleasure delayer. Forcing myself to wait makes those first few chords of Frank Sinatra’s Jingle Bells so very much sweeter.

So, raise your mug of egg nog or mulled wine. Here’s to Christmas! Cheers!

Here’s a Merry Christmas playlist for you with songs I love and why I love them.

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2016 – The Murphys at Green Street Gardens
  1. August Burns Red – O Come O Come Emmanuel – Holy smoke. Everything about this is awesome, but I particularly love the timing and the bass tones.
  2. The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping – Listen to that bass line!!
  3. Straight No Chaser – 12 Days of Christmas – It makes me laugh. Anyone incorporating Toto into their music is okay by me.
  4. Elvis – Blue Christmas – First, his voice is amazing. Second, the background vocals are awesome.
  5. Bad Religion – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – Punk rock, sort of irreverent, but still some great harmonies
  6. Louis Armstrong – Christmas in New Orleans – I’ve never been in New Orleans during Christmas, but this song makes e want to see at Dixieland Santa Claus leading a band to a good old creole beat.
  7. Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis – This line: “Rhymes so loud and proud you hear it. It’s Christmas time and we got the spirit.”
  8. Ludacris – Ludacrismas – Because I love Ludacris.
  9. Elmo & Patsy – Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer – Catchy, funny and honky tonk. What’s not to like?
  10. David DeBoy – Crabs for Christmas – Because Baltimore! My Christmas Wish’ll Come True

I also love Mele Kalikimaka and basically anything by Bing Crosby. Really, I love tons of Christmas songs. These are just some fun ones to give you something to listen to. I hope they bring you joy.

What is your favorite Christmas song?

How do you get the garbage out? (early 90s playlist)

In 1995, I was a high school freshman, and my mom and dad did something that would end up being a defining moment in my life. They bought me a black, pointy, Washburn Lyon bass with a ten-inch Park practice amp. I’d fallen head over heels in love with music in the preceding couple years, and the trombone I had been playing just wasn’t cutting it when it came to satisfying the visceral need to rock out I had started feeling.

 

Now, 22 years later, “bassist” is one of my favorite titles. I have played with a lot of different bands, but my favorites have been: Here Today, This Boy’s Trouble, Sweet Old Etc., The Good Old-Fashioned Rodeo, Tanager, and the to-be-named Susanne Leach/Pat Myers/Matt Murphy project. A few weeks ago, I played a show with Tanager and left every ounce of energy, pent-up frustration, manic excitement on that stage in a swinging, jumping, sweaty, bloody performance.

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The two main ways I get out the things that pollute my psyche are playing and creating music and running, and now that it’s getting colder, it is harder and harder to motivate myself to go for a run. I hate being cold. So, music it is. I think it is important that people know how to get the garbage self-doubt, toxic unwarranted shame, painful anxiety out. Otherwise, we end up walking around with greasy jars filled with them and they weigh us down, slow us down, and it gets harder and harder to get out of bed, harder and harder to be the person you know you’re supposed to be.

 

Sometimes, when I forget about how to clear my own garbage out, I go back and listen to the music that first inspired me to become a bassist.

 

Check out this playlist:

 

  1. Nirvana – Sappy (1993)
  2. Nine Inch Nails – March of the Pigs (1994)
  3. Rollins Band – Liar (1995)
  4. Stone Temple Pilots – Silvergun Superman (1994)
  5. Smashing Pumpkins – Jellybelly (1995)
  6. Metallica – My Friend of Misery (1991) – Seriously, the bass tone on this one!!
  7. Primus – Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers (1991)
  8. Rancid – Salvation (1994)
  9. NOFX – Dying Degree (1993)
  10. Alice in Chains – Dam that River (1992)

 

Honorable Mention:

 

  1. Faith No More – Epic (1989)
  2. Offspring – Killboy Powerhead (1994)
  3. Jane’s Addiction – Mountain Song (1988)
  4. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Mellowship Slinky in B Major (1991)
  5. Pearl Jam – Animal (1993)
  6. Silverchair – Israel’s Son (1995) – Seriously mean bass tones on this one!
  7. Rage Against the Machine – Take the Power Back  (1995) – All the tone!
  8. The Cure – Burn (1994)
  9. Pantera – Walk (1992)
  10. Megadeth – Angry Again (1993)

 

I could go on and on, but I won’t.

 

Here are all the basses I have owned (or still own) ranked from my favorite to least favorite.

 

  1. 1994 G&L ASAT with hipshot tuner (still own)
  2. 1964 Fender Precision Bass (stolen)
  3. 1999 Music Man Sterling Bass (returned to person who let me use for a few years)
  4. 2014 Epiphone Jack Casady (still own)
  5. 2016 Kala U-Bass (still own)
  6. 1991 MIM Fender Jazz Bass (still own)
  7. 2003 Schecter Diamond 5 String (sold)
  8. 2016 Squier Jaguar 5 string (still own)
  9. 2010 Squier Bronco bass (returned to person who let me use for a few years)
  10. 1994 Washburn Lyon (destroyed rock star style on my parents’ driveway)

 

 

Happy Birthday to Ariella! (Plus a Playlist)

Today, Ariella turns ten years old. She is my first child, my beautiful daughter, my life-altering love, the one I affectionately and increasingly inaccurately call, “Little.” Inspired by a sermon, Becky and I chose to have children earlier than we had originally planned, and I couldn’t be happier that we made that decision. Now, a full two-thirds of the time Becky and I have been together (13 years of marriage and 2 years of dating) has been spent as parents. More than 25% of my life has been as “Daddy.”

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It’s difficult to wrap my head around what the last decade of my life, the first decade of Ariella’s life, has meant. It has been a decade of laughter, exhaustion, celebration, frustration, excitement, and fear. It has been a decade of learning and relearning what it means to not be selfish. It has been a decade learning, usually from Ariella, what heartfelt conscientiousness really looks like. My Little has been the most impactful, demanding and rewarding teacher I have ever had.

 

When Ariella was born, in 2007, I was working at a call center, hating my job but feeling like (maybe fearing?) I was going to be there forever. I had no role model in my life for changing jobs. Fortunately, God stepped in, and I ended up with a new job, in a new state. Now, I’m working for my fourth employer since she was born, and I’ve had Lord knows how many titles. And yet, all that accomplishment is nothing in comparison to watching Ariella develop into a respectful, funny, smart and deeply caring person.

 

She is more resilient and has greater perseverance than either her mother or myself. We are on our sixth home since she was born. Ariella, a fourth-grader, is in her third elementary school and is constantly, easily making new friends. It is inspiring. Ariella has had straight A’s nearly every quarter and sets specific goals with intentional action steps to reach those goals and earn the rewards that come with her accomplishments. She is competitive, but more interested in ensuring fun, fair play than winning. She is ambitious, but she wants to see others come along with her rather than using them to advance. She is patient, but eager. She is confident but servant-hearted.

 

Somehow, at this point in life, the positive traits that she has inherited from her mother and I are untainted by their negative cousins: Ambition/Manipulation, Competition/Selfishness, Eagerness/Impatience. Being around her shines a bright light on the dark spots of those traits in my life and how they impact my relationships. Knowing Ariella helps me to develop better relationships.

 

She is not good at keeping her room clean. Like, really not good at that. That’s probably something she inherited from me along with a penchant for irrational fears and over concern with safety and rule-following. I hope these sometimes-negative inherited traits are overcome by rational evaluation and more than anything a joyous passion for living life to its fullest. I know that I am confronting  my irrational fears because I want her to see a life freed from being afraid.

 

Baptizing Ariella two weeks ago was an amazing moment of reflection for me as her father, and today, celebrating a decade of her life has amplified that reflection. I thank God for how I am learning from her. I thank God that it’s me and no one else that gets to be called “Daddy” by her here on Earth. I, probably inappropriately, feel like you should be envious of such an amazing kid being MY daughter and not yours. That’s a joke, I think.

 

I pray that God will continue to make His presence known in Ariella’s life and that the Holy Spirit works in her in powerful ways that will change the lives of the people who come to know Ariella like it has changed and is changing my life.

 

Here are ten songs that make me think of Ariella because she loves them:

 

  1. Katy Perry – Roar
  2. Britt Nicole – Gold
  3. Stellar Kart – Be Our Guest
  4. Kirsten Arian – Invincible
  5. Chris Tomlin – Good, Good Father
  6. Sylvan Esso – HSKT
  7. Paramore – Ain’t it Fun
  8. Hollyn – Alone
  9. Beckah Shae – I’ll Be Alright
  10. Taylor Swift – Welcome to New York

And one song that makes me think of Ariella because she hates it:

Frozen – Let it Go

Songs to Ruin Your Makeup (Playlist 4 – 18Sept2017)

I’ve never been a person who pauses for a “good cry.” I’ve cried a little more since Ariella was born almost ten years ago, but in those years, I’ve only had a handful of cries. Quick aside: the first time I can remember crying after Ariella was born was watching a commercial during a Ravens game that featured a dad and his grown daughter. I don’t remember what it was for, but I remember wiping away tears and thinking, “What in the world is going on?!?”

I just don’t shed many tears, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get moved deeply. I often feel the welling of deep emotions that feel like they should lead to tears even though none come.

I think it is important to be moved deeply. I think we should strive to feel the heights and depths of our emotions. Sometimes that means being sad. Having a “good cry” or whatever that looks like for you will help you feel the heights of joy more acutely. I believe it will help you enjoy the high points more thoroughly.

When I feel a little down, I tend to medicate myself by watching funny YouTube clips and snippets from the Graham Norton show, but eventually, I get numb to them and they don’t make me laugh anymore. That’s when I know I need to let myself feel without interference even if it means feeling sad. Those are the times, I turn on certain playlists or albums, get my pen and notebook and experience thoroughly…

It works. And science agrees. http://www.sciencealert.com/new-research-reveals-the-pain-and-pleasure-of-listening-to-sad-music

I’ve been working on this playlist for three weeks because sometimes I listen to these songs over and over again and get distracted from completing the list. This list isn’t even close to exhaustive, but these are songs that help me get to that raw, vulnerable place where I can have my version of a good cry. 

What makes you cry? What songs should I add to this list?

Glen Campbell – I’m Not Gonna Miss You (written after being diagnosed with Alzheimers)

Citizens & Saints – Oh God

Johnny Cash – Help Me (and basically his last two records)

Brilliance – Lord Please Save Me

Nirvana – Pennyroyal Tea (Unplugged)

Eric Clapton – Tears in Heaven

Alice and Chains – Nutshell (Unplugged)

mewithoutYou – The Angel of Death Came to David’s Room

Brand New – Jesus Christ

Dolly Parton – Jolene

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

What you don’t always see (Playlist 4 – 30Aug2017)

What you see and hear is only the final product. When a new church is planted, there are so many hands, ideas that go into it. When a new album is released, there are so many people bleeding, sweating and crying during its creation. You see Justin Timberlake, but there are lots of fingerprints on what you hear (and what you see if you’re really honest). You see Revolution with Josh preaching, but there are lots of fingerprints on what you are seeing. Justin Timberlake is brilliant and talented for sure. Josh is an amazing visionary leader, absolutely. But before their talents get to the “stage,” there are a lot of other people engaging their presentation.

My must-do is to maximize church planting by leading and bringing clarity (and strategy) to the leaders I serve. I may not be the front or tip top person, but I am still a leader, not a cog. When I don’t feel like an essential, unique piece of the machine, I don’t feel like I’ve tried hard enough. When I can’t see my fingerprints on the finished product, I know I haven’t done what I was designed to do.

This second-chair, behind-the-scenes, but no less hardcore leadership has always been fascinating to me. I think that is why I have always loved learning about producers of records. I lament that my kids won’t be able to sit in their bedrooms with the doors closed, music up loud enough for the whole house to hear, reading through the liner notes of their music. I did that, and like I said in my first playlist a month ago, I learned.

If I heard a record I liked, I would find what else the producer did. I consumed Rick Rubin. I consumed Bob Rock. I consumed Butch Vig. I consumed George Martin, Phil Spector, Timbaland, Dr. Dre, Aaron Sprinkle… You get the point. Producers’ fingerprints are all over the finished product. You can tell when bands change producers. Listen to Metallica’s …And Justice For All, Load, and Death Magnetic. Three producers, three radically different sounds.

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The infrastructure of all good things extends below what you see on the surface. Knowing where you fit and leading in that place without jealousy or envy and with a spirit of cooperation and excitement for the product is a joy. I hope to continue to serve and lead like this for the rest of my life. I hope that I can do this in the church planting community forever and make beautiful “music” with a great team.

As Napster and digital music got more popular, I read less liner notes, so I haven’t been great in recent years following producers. One producer though, I followed inadvertently and only learned after the fact that it was his fingerprints on a ton of records I love (including my favorite all time: …And Out Come the Wolves by Rancid). Jerry Finn was behind so much music from the late 90s and early to mid 2000s that I absolutely love. His fingerprints are magical. I can hear him as a thin line connecting all these songs I love. I hope to have a fraction of his legacy and recognizability in my field.

Here is a Jerry Finn playlist (the link is from Amazon because one of the essential songs on this list isn’t available on Apple Music). I limited it to songs he has producing credits. There is no way I could narrow it down if I include every album he worked on. There are too many amazing records on that list.

Who is behind the things you love most? If you don’t know, you have room to love it even more, and that is exciting!