Lebanon – One Year Later

It’s coming up on one year since I went to Beirut, Lebanon and I realized I haven’t done a proper wrap-up post. It’s actually kind of nice to have some time and perspective on the trip. So much has happened since last summer and so much had happened leading up to it. It is really amazing.

I had just left the church in Peoria after a dizzying chain of events that I still can’t quite explain. We saw God do amazing things most notably by selling our two-month-old house in four days for more than we paid for it. He really wanted us out of there! But we didn’t know where to go. No job, no house, no prospects, really. So Olivia’s Dad, Keith Curlee, felt like the Lord wanted him to take me to Beirut on his next trip. He has a ministry there (Triumphant Mercy Lebanon) that partners with local believers. In 2007 they opened a prayer and worship center in a mall called the Tent of Praise, or TOP. We went for a month and stayed with the family that leads the TOP and ministered with the precious people there.

It was great to just be a part of what God is doing in the Middle East. I played bass in the worship times (I had never done that before — they were short a bass player), I spoke at the youth meetings, and conducted some music clinics on songwriting, playing, etc. I was even honored to lead worship one night at the TOP (in English, of course :). I got to experience a lot of the Lebanese culture (you can look back at the older posts for stories).

What struck me the most was the power of the Holy Spirit to make vast cultural differences so insignificant. When it came down to it, we were brothers and sisters in the Lord and that made us fast friends. We still keep up with each other on Facebook and I hope I get the opportunity to go back. When I think about Lebanon, I get a strange feeling that I’ve struggled to define. Like any “mission trip,” there is great spiritual fire that happens and you long to be back in that place of seeing God use you and seeing people’s live changed in amazing ways. But this is deeper – the Cedars have a strong effect on you.

New Songs, Nations, Young People

I wrote these down before I left. I felt that these words summed up what God had shown me in Lebanon. In fact, I’ve already seen the fruit of them here in NYC.

Nations – There is no other city in the world that has so many nations represented and living together. The nations are truly represented here. I believe that’s one of the things God has placed on my heart – to reach out to the nations; to minister His power in different cultures. To not only help bring change to the nations, but to be changed by the nations.

New Songs – Since I’ve come to New York I’ve written more songs in a short time than at any other time since I started writing songs. I’ve probably written twenty or thirty this year. Not all of them are keepers, of course, but I have been overwhelmed by the inspiration. Many are spiritual/worship in nature, but many are just about life and relationships. In Lebanon, I feel the Lord cemented the fact that I am a writer of songs by allowing me to teach others how to do it.

Young People – I remember a prophecy I received at IHOP back in 2007. The guy said that the Lord was fascinated at how I loved young people. This struck a chord with me because I do. I feel God has given me a heart for the young. To see them go further in their gifts and further in their relationship with Him. I haven’t seen as much fruition of that yet, but my awareness is surely up. I’m waiting for God to bring opportunities to work with and encourage young people.

So, that’s just a few of the impressions and insights the Lord gave me in Lebanon and since. I’m even more thankful than last year that Triumphant Mercy paid for me to go (not an inexpensive endeavor) and that I got to be a part of something much larger than me: God moving in the Middle East.

John Mark McMillan – The Medicine

I first read about John Mark McMillan after I googled the writer of “How He Loves.”  I heard it on the Jesus Culture (Kim Walker) album We Cry Out. It is such a powerful song and even though I’ve never been quite able to get cozy with the “sloppy wet kiss” line, the song still moves me.  There’s no doubt the Spirit is all over it.  I also read his blog and enjoy his views on all sorts of things from songwriting to sleeping in on Easter (not to mention his appreciation of Springsteen, which I’ve been known to share :).

So I was excited to download his newest album, The Medicine, a couple months ago.  If I was going to make a comparison voice/soundwise it would be to Shawn Mullins.  The writing is original and intricate; full of striking imagery and evocative sounds.  The production is intricate and you truly get an album born in the studio with a soundscape of layers that reveal themselves in new ways with each listen.

“Carbon Ribs” exemplifies this with its plucked strings and layers of electric guitars.  There is a definite moodiness to the track as it explores the wonder of being dead but yet alive.

My favorite track, “Dress Us Up,” contains a lyric that took my breath away (literally) when I first heard it.  It begins, “Dress us up in your righteousness/Bring us in with a ring and a kiss/When you walk into the room you know we can’t resist/Every bottle of perfume always ends up on the floor in a mess.”  I don’t think I’ve heard a more original description of what happens when Jesus comes in a room: we have to worship.  If there’s perfume (as with Mary in John 12) the bottles come out and we pour it on His feet.  We give Him the very best of what we have — it’s automatic.  He elicits this kind of response when we see Him for who He really is.

There are many other standouts like “Skeleton Bones” and “Philadelphia,” but I recommend digesting it as a whole album.  Turn off the shuffle and enjoy a well thought-out and imagined work of art.

Gifts and Kindness

So I’m almost done with the second of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, Blink. I have thoroughly enjoyed this one as well as the first: The Tipping Point. This morning on the train I found myself getting emotional in some passages that aren’t really meant to be emotional. I was trying to figure out what in the world it was that was affecting me and I have a hunch. The passages in question are quoting experts in their field. A military expert, a police expert, a psychological expert, and so on (Blink is about rapid cognition — the two second decisions we make with our unconscious mind). My theory is that people using their gifts to their full potential moves me.

I know that’s kind of odd (I’ve been accused of that before :). But it does. Most people like to see an athlete be the best in the world. We even celebrate the exceptional high school football player that will most assuredly play college ball. But I have this soft spot for all kinds of disciplines: science, medicine, government, and, of course, music. There’s something about seeing a talent, an ability, a gift come to fruition in someone’s life. Proverbs 18:16 says, “A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.” That’s what I feel happening when I read (or watch, or hear) about people who are using their gifts. Their gift is making a way for them.

Romans talks about the kindness of God and how it leads us to Him. The gifts God gives people are evidence of His kindness and it draws me to Him. How kind is He that he gave me the gift of playing music, of writing songs, of leading His people in worshiping Him? How kind is He?

This is for unbelievers as well. Romans 11:29 declares, “For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.” Even if someone is far away from Him, he gave them abilities and He does not take them away. This is why I disagree with Christians who say we shouldn’t listen to “secular” music, movies, or other entertainment. God gave the gift and I’m celebrating Him by enjoying it in another person – believer or not!

What is even more amazing is that God set us up to seek out our gifts, to discover our calling. We all want to know what we were created for. You see surveys all the time that illustrate the sky-high percentages of people who are dissatisfied with their job and want to do something else. If only they could make a living from their passion. I believe God put that desire deep down in us so we would seek out our gifts and how to use them. In that process we would discover Him – the Giver of gifts, creator of kindness.

So I Have This Theory

So I have this theory.  The simplest way to begin to explain it by using songwriting.  I feel like songs are “in the air.”  I, as a songwriter, reach up into the air, retrieve and assemble them, and voila: you have a song.  That’s not to say it’s easy.  But it is to say that the song is there — waiting to be written. (One of my all-time favorite lines from a song is by Darrell Scott: “A good song never comes to those who chase / it comes to those who listen)

That’s the start of my theory, but it expands to other areas.  Prophetic words, for example.  One line of thinking says that God gives a word to a person to give to another person.  If that person doesn’t deliver it, then the message is not given — at least in that manner.  My feeling (totally mine, I don’t know of Scripture that explains it) is that the word was “in the air” (more specifically “in the Spirit”) around that person.  What it needed was a person with a prophetic bent to pick it out of the air and deliver it.  It may even be possible that more than one person could hear the word.  God may just be looking for someone to hear it and have the guts to deliver it.  I think of Jesus with the woman at the well in the Gospel of John.  He had a word of knowledge about her (she had had five husbands) and it radically changed her life.  I imagine that knowledge, that word was there in the Spirit as a revelation from the Father because he knew it would be a sign to the Samaritan woman.  Jesus heard it in the Spirit and delivered it.

I believe that God, at the appointed time, releases things into the Spirit.  These can be creative (songs, books, dance, art, etc.), spiritual (prophetic words, theological understanding, apologetics, etc.) or scientific (inventions, cures, discoveries, etc.).  Even business and political realms are wide open.

This is just a little idea that God has been sparking in me, but I was quite surprised to come across this article from New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell recently.  He argues that the geniuses we herald so much (Einstein, Bell, Edison, etc.) were actually geniuses at deciphering what was “in the air.”  Almost every major discovery of the modern era was simultaneously made by several people (the telephone, calculus, oxygen).  Gladwell goes into detail about the scientific / cultural / educational reasons for this, but I was struck by the spiritual implications.  This is exactly what I had been sensing!

So, once again, it’s just a theory, but I will be listening like crazy to hear what the Lord is saying.  I want to hear.  I want to discover.  Help me deliver.

Jeremiah 33:3 (New International Version)

3 ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’

Proverbs 8:12 (King James Version)

12I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.

(I was turned on the Malcolm Gladwell’s writing by Bob Lefsetz.  I read a few New Yorker articles and was hooked.  So I got his first book, The Tipping Point and must say it was great.  He’s written three books and I’m working my way through all of them.

What strikes me the most about Tipping Point is the discussion of teen suicide in Micronesia and how it became the cool thing to do after a particularly charismatic teenager took his own life.  Gladwell argues that there’s a tipping point because the teens that follow suit have been given social permission for the behavior they’ve only fleetingly considered.  I would add a spiritual dimension to it: it’s the Satanic imitation of God.  Satan is releasing evil in the spiritual realm and there are people who are susceptible to that particular influence.  They grabbed it “out of the air” and acted on it.)

Update

It’s been forever…I know!!  Lots going on here in NYC.  Just following the Lord and doing a lot of waiting and listening.  I’ve been reminded lately of a great word from “My Utmost for His Highest” where Oswald Chambers talks about the “glorious uncertainty” of being in the Lord.  I am not certain of what today will bring, but I am certain of Him.  I am still searching for that place He has for me to lead worship, but I’m more content everyday just doing what He has set before me and waiting for Him to move how He wills and surprise me.  I did get a great new long term temp job at the NFL in their charities department.  It’s cool to come through the doors and see the original Vince Lombardi trophy in the the reception area.   I’m thankful God has given me something to do while I’m waiting :).

Been writing a ton and just enjoying the city.  I’m excited to see what’s coming up in this “glorious uncertainty.”