Music & Me: Vanishing Point Vol. 1

Vanishing Point Vol 1 Cover.jpgSince I picked up my first Sigma guitar in downtown Richmond, VA at the age of 16, I started writing songs. It was my way of journaling my relationship with God – talking about frustrations and doubts … rejoicing in spiritual breakthroughs. From the James Madison University Baptist Student Union (BSU) … to worship leading in New England and rural Virginia … to Seminary life in Fort Worth, TX, song writing has been my favorite way of communicating with God.

Then I became a senior pastor. And I put my guitar away. Stopped writing music. For some reason, I felt like I finally needed to grow up and grow out of writing music. After all, God was calling me to do more important stuff – like preaching, visitation and Wednesday night prayer meetings.

In reality, music felt like a missing phantom limb.

Then came an unexpected heart attack … A brush with mortality … A change in ministry accompanied by a change in scenery. And that’s when I started writing songs again. From June 2016 to October 2016, I wrote 21 songs.

My new album of songs, Vanishing Point, is my last will and testament. Let me be clear: I don’t really plan on dying anytime soon … My cardiologist gave me a clean bill of health two months ago. But our life could end in the blink of an eye … And who can plan on death really?!?

So Vanishing Point is what I want to say in the face of death. It’s a declaration of the hope that I have in Christ. It’s my last words to my family. It’s the songs I want played at my funeral. Honestly, it’s 18 happy little songs about the prospect of death and eternal life.

Since 18 songs is a lot to digest, I’m releasing Vanishing Point in two volumes. And since streaming music services pay essentially nothing to artists (i.e. I’m currently earning a vast fortune at $.0001 / play for my older music on Spotify), I’m releasing them both for FREE on Noisetrade. You can download the album for FREE here: VANISHING POINT VOLUME 1

So here’s some insight into the 1st nine songs composing Volume 1 of Vanishing Point:

  1. And The Black Rider Won’t Catch Me Now“: In the graphic novel East of West, death is portrayed as a haggard gunslinger that crisscrosses the country chasing down his quarry. It’s a powerful image of death hunting us down. So here’s my opening shot of the album: Death can chase me … But he’ll never REALLY catch me. All because of the work of Christ.
  2. Let’s Destroy Thomas“: Back in 2000, I wrote a song proclaiming the virtues of doubt called “Thomas.” That song was theological garbage. So “Let’s Destroy Thomas” is a way to reinterpret and correct my own wrongheaded song. Ultimately, I don’t want to race to the finish line with increasing doubts and unfinished business. While the Biblical Thomas’ doubts are identifiable, they are also not a virtue to be emulated. I want God to cast out my doubts and strengthen my faith. Instead of Thomas, I think we do well to emulate the father of the sick child in Mark 9:21: “I believe; help my unbelief.”
  3. Vanishing Point“: A few years ago, a good friend and fellow pastor from High School died. By chance (or God’s providence, really), I bumped into him again in adulthood in a fast food joint in rural Virginia. A few months after that meeting, a terminal illness quickly took his life. While I wasn’t there at the end, my friends told me that he rejoiced and sang from his hospital bed at the prospect of heaven. He told everyone within earshot Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” I wish that I could say that I’ve always had attitude … I’ve wasted so much time making marks for my own glory. Building monuments and making names for ourselves during our short journey on Earth are pointless. Christ is all. To quote  missionary Count Zinzendorf: “Preach the Gospel, die and be forgotten.” May our glory vanish away and may His glory be clearly seen.
  4. Black Hearse“: Death is a grotesque financial racket. The average cost of a funeral in the US is now between $7,000-$10,000. During the course of preaching a funeral in central Indiana, I hitched a ride to the cemetery in the local funeral director’s new hearse. Before we arrived, the local funeral director flatly threw out the astronomically absurd amount of money that a new hearse costs. My jaw hit the floor. I kept thinking: “How many people have to die to pay for this car?” It’s a good thing that death won’t last forever. I’m so looking forward to taking my “How To Direct A Funeral” book and starting a bonfire.
  5. Drowning With Land In Sight“: Matthew 7:21-23 are the scariest verses of the Bible. Those verses keep me awake at night. The prospect of serving God but not knowing God is frightening. It’s like a pilot seeing the landing strip but crashing. Or drowning with land in sight. God help us.
  6. When I’m Gone“: C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce is an amazing book musing on the nature of Heaven.  When I’m gone from this life, I desperately want to leave the old grey town behind and catch the bus to eternal life. So read the book … The song will make much more sense.
  7. Homecoming Day“: I think there’s one thing we get consistently right about Heaven: It’s a celebration. Luke 15 reflects that message. The Father rejoices as we come home and dine at His table. So let’s gather round and crank up the praise … It’s homecoming day.
  8. Closer To Closure“: Time is a funny thing. One moment, we’re in line at the DMV and the clock is dragging along. Another moment, we’re watching the kids that swung outside on the swings graduate from High School. One moment, we’re retreading the same old selfish sins. Another moment, we don’t recognize the holier person God is turning us into. Through it all, those that believe are inching closer and closer to our final resting place. Every day that passes is one step closer to home.
  9. “Restless / Endless”: Constantly dreaming of eternal shores where pain is no more.

Again, you can download Volume 1 of Vanishing Point for FREE here: VANISHING POINT VOLUME 1.

Volume 2 coming shortly.

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You Are Not The Gardener (On Parenting & John 15)

I am a terrible gardener … A complete brown thumb.

One spring in Virginia, I tried my hand at planting a garden. After all, how hard could it be?!? I mean, they practically give away the seeds at the end-caps of the local hardware store, beckoning amateur gardeners to get their hands dirty. Well … It was mind-numbingly horrific on so many levels. We couldn’t keep the weeds from choking out from most of the plants. The squirrels had a daily feast underneath of our noses. Only afterward did we find out vital information about tilling the garden and proper planting techniques. The only thing that we managed to grow that spring was jalapeño peppers … And a local beaver devoured all of them. Totally not kidding … Who knew that beavers were into spicy food? I watched from my back porch every day as that beaver tauntingly feasted on my future salsa.

I was thinking about being a terrible gardener while studying Jesus’ parable of the vine and the branches in John 15 for some parenting material that I’m putting together for my local church. The main thrust of John 15 is about abiding in Christ … Believers must stay connected to the power and the nourishment that comes from Christ to produce anything worthwhile in this life. Any spiritual fruit – love, joy, pace, patience and the like – ultimately stems from a relationship with Christ. Growth comes from God. His people are wholly dependent upon Him.

As parents, it helps to know our role in Jesus’ parable. God is the gardener, pruning the plant to produce whatever shape and fruit He desires. Christ is the true vine, who is the source of all power and growth in our lives. As Christian parents, we are branches. We are works in progress. Like stubborn rose bushes, we are being pruned back by the gardener of sin and other dead weights to produce spiritually vibrant blooms and fruit.

If our kids are followers of Christ, they are branches too. Rebellious, poorly misshapen, rough around the edges and often quite annoying, but branches nonetheless. As mature Christians, parents might be more visually appealing, well-worked branches … But both parent and child are branches in the hands of a loving gardener.

So here’s the important reminder: Parents, you are not the gardener.

Our job as parents is to introduce our kids to the gardener – not to attempt to usurp the gardener’s job. Our sinful natures and inflated egos desperately desire to be the agents of change in our kids lives where Scripture tells us we cannot. Only in Christ are we new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). Only in Christ are our sins erased (Titus 3:4-7). As much as we trust in the most-shared, most-“liked” parenting articles on social media, we must understand that timeouts, spankings, schooling decisions, breast feeding choices or whatever else fad is trending on twitter doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans in the scope of eternity. And that’s Biblical, baby (see the aforementioned 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Titus 3:4-7 again). Apart from God, our kids are spiritually blind (2 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 3:12-13) and spiritually foolish (1 Corinthians 2:6-16) and will continue to act that way until God breaks through.

On one level, it’s tremendously freeing to have the weight of responsibility for change in our kids lifted off our shoulders. Many of you reading this article – particularly ones with hard headed teens who steal gas money out of your wallet and routinely break curfews – have pulled your last hair out with various scattershot attempts at changing your kids awful behavior. You’ve asked everyone from your pastor to your hairdresser for advice on how to make your kids better. You may have gotten to the point of hiring a professional counselor. You might not even like the teenage alien strangers living in your house who are vague facsimiles of once-pliable children anymore. Above all, you feel like you’ve failed with shaping your kids. Well, it’s really not surprising … We are terrible gardeners, who lack the ability and skill to water and prune our kids. Broken people are pretty crummy at modifying the behavior of other broken people. We need divine intervention … For reals, y’all.

So it’s so oddly illogical that Christians spout out “only God changes people” when dealing with their rude, annoying co-worker but feel so unbearably guilty about producing their rude, annoying children. Stop with the guilt non-sense. God is in the gardening business and you are just a lowly branch. The real sin is believing that you can accomplish what only God can.

On another level, our control freak natures scream out in the anguish of our inability to change others. We want to show off our well-polished kids with straight A report cards, baseball participation trophies and starring roles in the school play, because we feel that our kids demonstrate what awesome gardeners we are. And we hide our kids under a virtual mattress when they experiment with oral sex and wreck the family station wagon, because it shows we’re bad gardeners. We want to compare our lame attempts at gardening – from “honor roll student” bumper stickers to prideful Facebook posts – with other parents. We want our friends and enemies alike to pour accolades on us and bask in the glow of hearing: “Your kids turned out so well!” The best spiritual thing we can do is repent of our control issues and move on. Let’s let our inability to change our kids drive us to our knees to pray to the one who has the power to change our kids. And if God changes our kids, give Him the credit and stop giving ourselves pats on the back.

Most importantly, our focus must remain on Christ. The big question is: Are you really taking advantage of every opportunity to introduce your kids to the true gardener? If we’re just introducing our kids to Christ for one hour on Sunday, it just won’t cut it. If we’re handing off our kids to the “specialists” (like student, kids and family ministers) to introduce them to Christ, that won’t cut it either. We might not be the gardener but we can introduce our kids to the gardener regularly. We can’t neglect our kids of the privilege of knowing the life altering presence of Christ.

Thank God that we serve a God who knows our kids and their needs far better than we do.

And thank God that He is willing to lovingly prune our kids to beautifully bloom.

Let’s step aside and let the better gardener do His work.