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Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 8 - ripening

In contrast to the frustrations of week 6, I saw much of the sabbatical fruit "ripen" this week. I pulled together the eight chapters of the devotional/study book on worship and sent off a draft to the printer. It is an approximately 100 pg. book based on eight sermons I delivered in the Winter of 2009. I have added some reflection/study questions and re-formatted it for personal or group study. It is tentatively titled The Breadth of Worship, and the proof has already come back to me for my proof-readers to review. I hope to be able to receive their comments and turn it back around pretty quickly, perhaps even to have a final copy ready in August. We'll see...

At any rate, it is very encouraging to see one of the major projects move tangibly toward completion.

On the music front, I realized one of the reasons that things seemed to be progressing so slowly is that I had so many songs going at once. It was hard to see progress when I was working through 12-15 songs adding guitar, then going back to add piano. But, having worked all week on these, most have enough recorded now to sound closer to "done" than to "just started" - and some time during the week it felt the accomplishment rather than the frustration.

I also think I'm going to simplify/reduce the goal in this area. I have two groups of songs: 1) contemporized hymns and worship songs; and 2) spiritual songs of relationship with God and others. I was going to try to create two different CDs along these themes (there are enough songs), but I think I'm going to do one CD with the 10-12 songs that are closest to completion. It will be more of a mixture of styles and content, but if/when I get to the rest of the songs, it can just be a continuation project. This is probably more than anyone cares to know... but it helps me to think through it "out loud" here.

Short version... I think the music project is also doable and completable by the end of sabbatical, which is also encouraging, particularly after the aforementioned week 6.

Finally, I had hit a plateau on weight at the beginning of sabbatical (after losing 25 lbs just prior to it). After gaining 5 lbs on vacation in week 7, I went back on Phase I of the South Beach Diet. Having shaken the cold/flu of week 6-7, I have also started riding my bike. So, I'm encouraged in this area and hoping to see some weight loss, hopefully through the plateau of the past two months.

Why share all this? One reason is so those who are interested can still feel in touch with me, at least through knowing what I'm up to (and hopefully praying for me). Another reason is my hope that through sharing frustrations, wrestling, and encouragements, others might find hope for the road they are on.

In God's grace....

Sunday, June 21, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 7 - vacation time

I called this post "vacation time" because time seems to elapse differently when one is on vacation (sometimes slower, sometimes faster!) and our family spent the week on vacation at Hilton Head Island, SC. We had a beautiful week and lots of great family time, which was a blessing all in itself.

Here's a big plug for not working on vacation (even if the work is sabbatical work!)

So, while there is not specific sabbatical fruit to talk about, I can talk about some vacation fruit. Our family are all big readers and each of us took a stack of books to read. Elizabeth set the record, getting through TEN of her 100 pg. "Babysitter's Club Little Sister" books.

I read two books that were excellent, and would recommend each one heartily. I'll include a short summary below.

Unfashionable - by Tullian Tchividjian

Tullian is a Presbyterian (EPC) pastor in Florida and is the grandson of Billy Graham (or perhaps more notably for Good Shepherd folks, the grand nephew of Melvin Graham!). I read Tullian's blog regularly and have corresponded with him briefly. He is doing wonderful ministry and has perceptive and biblical commentary on his blog. His new book is part autobiography and part pastoral exhortation to Christians. He gets right at that balance I've been preaching about and thinking so hard about this summer - being engaged with the culture around us without becoming swept away by it (or mimicking it with a Christian sub-culture). Tullian's title metaphor is apt - we are not to hide away in enclaves nor get out to impress the culture with our "fashionableness" - but get out there and look noticebly different - unfashionable... even foolish? - as we bear the imprint of Christ to the world around us. The book is set up with short chapters and study questions for each and would be ideal for class or small group setting as well as for personal study.

The Reason for God - by Timothy Keller

Tim Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan. Using examples and insights from his own ministry, Keller presents a very readable and engaging set of arguments against atheism and for belief in God through Jesus Christ. His pastoral and personal tone and qualities shine through. Let's put it this way - if I were an athiest or had been "burned by organized religion," I would want to talk to Tim Keller. He's been there, listens very well to those with questions, and offers thoughtful and non-pushy perspectives on some of the toughest questions of faith. If you struggle with the deep questions or know someone who has been put off of faith because of such questions, I'd recommend this book to you (not to just pass of to them, but to you). Or read it first and share bits and pieces and invite some conversation. This is also a book that might work well in a class or small group setting.

In addition to the broad purpose and content of the book, I would share two quotes that resonated personally with me. The first has to do with the character and style of Keller and worship life at Redeemer. It reminded me of myself and Good Shepherd - at least what I would aspire to!

To those who might visit Redeemer looking for the "dancing bears and other gimmics," Keller refers to some "downtown art types" who, having attended Redeemer for some time, described it as follows:

One person said that the difference between Redeemer and other churches was profound, and lay in "irony, charity, and humility." They said Redeemer lacked the pompous and highly sentimental language they found emotionally manipulative in other churches. Instead, Redeemer people addressed others with gentle, self-deprecating irony. Not only that, but beliefs were held here in charity and with humility, making Manhattanites feel included and welcomed, even if they disagreed with some of Redeemer's beliefs. Most of all, they said, teaching and communication at Redeemer was intelligent and nuanced, showing sensitivity where they were sensitive. (43-44)
The second quote has to do with teaching about God's grace. Keller shares one woman's response to his preaching after coming from thinking God accepts us only if we are good enough to a point of understanding grace.
If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with "rights" - I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by sheer grace - then there's nothing God cannot ask of me. (183)
Keller goes on to compare the relationship with God to that of marriage. This is the comparison I have tried to make in defining true worship: to worship God is to give God all we are and all we have, with all we've got! (cf. Deuteronomy 6!) This is such a key teaching in all of Scripture!

Finally, we visited Lake Forest Presbyterian Church (EPC) today. The pastor there, Mike Moses, is a friend of mine and a childhood friend of Heather's. Mike planted the church in 1998 and moved from a YMCA location to the present location on Gilead Road in Huntersville in 2006. The church is now over 1000 members with three Sunday morning services. Today they were concluding VBS week and the service was full of life and joy! There was a kids hip-hop dance troup, a middle-school worship band, and Mike preached on godly parenting and fatherhood, reminding us of the importance of loving physical touch, quality time with our children, and the power of speaking blessing into their lives. One of the great blessings to me during sabbatical has been the opportunity to listen to great preachers like Mike and worship side by side with my family.

If anyone is reading these, please keep me in prayer as I draw toward the end of the sabbatical. I still yearn to complete some of my own music recording, a short book on worship, and to reach a target weight. And I have a long way to go on each of those! Having said that, I am very excited to get back to Good Shepherd and re-engage in the work to which God has called me!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 6 - halfway jitters

As of today the sabbatical is halfway over. This past week was an interesting one in which I wrestled with discouragement, doubt, and a lot of questions.

Six weeks into what one neighbor keeps calling my "vacation" shouldn't I be as loose and relaxed as a well-cooked spaghetti noodle? Apparently not. Actually, I was not expecting the sabbatical to run smoothly from start to finish. It is a huge change of location and pace (my Dad saw some parallels to retirement) and, of course, nothing in life is smooth and easy.

What happened? Well, mid-week I found myself way behind related to the goals I had set for the sabbatical... every one of them. In fact, in some ways I felt like I hadn't accomplished anything. Now that's not true... just how I felt. I haven't managed my time as well as I should and have been frustrating myself and my family. What was probably most frustrating was the feeling that if I can't figure out how to pursue these life-long dreams (music, writing, health, etc...) with all this time on my hands, how will I ever manage it when I start back to the full-time+ schedule of ministry? (Did I mention that changing strings on an electric guitar with a Floyd-Rose floating tremolo is slightly more complicated than brain surgery?!)

But, something in my wiring always urges me to wait-and-see... if things get better, if my perspective will change, or something like that. And, indeed, the day after I was pondering whether to use eBay or Craig's List to sell all the music gear, I tried a new approach to organizing the day.

I realized, for one, that I really need about a four-hour block to be productive musically, particularly if I'm recording. It takes a good 30 minutes to get everything fired up, plugged in, and tuned. Then a good 30-60 minutes to create a part, particularly if it's from scratch. Then, I have to rehearse and play it to perfection. I might be 2-3 hours in and, if interrupted for a significant length of time, have to basically start over later. In four hours, I can do all that, wrap it up, and make plans for how to use the next block. And that is a time-block I can conceivably re-create once I start back... on a Friday morning or Friday late-night. That brings me great hope and joy for future creativity!

Not only did that four-hour approach work, it also allowed me to get a LOT done toward two of the sabbatical projects AND spend some good quality time with my family. Rather than an hour on and off all day between music and family and no one being completely satisfied, I had two great days all around.

Now the even more important point comes from reflection on this. I was charging ahead with worthy goals in mind but ending in obstacles and frustration. How often do we do this in many areas of life? We neglect family, health, and friends to get a few steps closer to a goal at work. Or we put God off because there's too much going on in our life. Sometimes we can't see around the situation to see a better way. And sometimes it takes coming full-on to a roadblock (and even banging our head against it a few or more times) to start looking for alternative routes.

No doubt it is God's providence that family vacation would fall in week 7. It gives me an opportunity to reflect a bit more on the whole sabbatical (even if it feels like more time is passing without moving toward my goals). And I have the two days of a new approach to appreciate... so I know it IS possible.

I do hope to make the most of the remaining five weeks when I get back. Hopefully, the combination of work, rest, and reflection will not only help me accomplish at least some of what I hoped to accomplish, but also help me experience exactly what the Lord wants to accomplish in me during this time.

What do you think the Lord is working to accomplish in you right now?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 5 - mixing it up

It took most of the week to shake the cold/flu I had last weekend. But, I'm finally back to 95% and just a few sniffles.

Besides some extra rest this week, I did write some new lyrics and worked on a new song of my own. I also went up to Boone, NC, Thursday afternoon and evening to hear my friend, Stephanie, sing at a coffeehouse. A Christian of deep faith, she is fully immersed in the secular arts world of that college town (and soon back to NY) to sing songs full of faith and life from the heart. People are drawn to her honesty and sincerity - it's not "Christian music," but is a Christian singing real music. It was a treat to hear her and see how she's grown musically and spiritually.

Mainly this week I worked on mixing Maddie's CD. Mixing is the task of making recorded music sound right. It involves sound volume, equalization (bass/treble/etc...), spatial placement (near/far/echo), and effects. The more sound sources or "tracks" one is working with, the more complex this becomes. It really is an art form just as much as music performance.

I have some training and experience in mixing recorded sound. I was a studio engineer in Nashville... back in '90-'92 (and have been recording music since I was a young teenager). I realized that was a loooong time ago and I was very rusty. I also don't do it day in and day out like I did when living there. So, I knew the sound I wanted, but with new speakers, new acoustic space, and rusty ears, it took a lot to get the sound I wanted. In some cases, I was mixing as many as 16-20 tracks between vocals, background vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, piano, organ, and a few other surprises.

A three minute song with all those instruments probably takes 8-10 hours to record, if each player knows their part well and can more or less record their part without error. Even then, there are often multiple "takes" to not just play without errors, but to play "in the groove." If there are 16-20 tracks to be mixed it probably takes another 3-4 hours to come up with the right mix of volume, EQ, space, and effects. (And then I have to try out the mix with multiple speakers - what sounds great in the studio must also sound good in the car and on the iPod!)

In some ways, mixing sound is similar to being a pastor. People often expect the pastor to be the "star," but the more biblical view of pastor is as engineer or equipper of others. In the church I see the many different sounds and textures of people's individual gifts and talents. And part of my job is to encourage, exhort, and "mix" these together as I shepherd one part of the body of Christ. It's easy to think a song is all about the vocals or the guitar solo, but each part plays an important part in the overall sound. So it is in the church. It's easy to point to very visible and outgoing contributions as more significant than others, but it takes each member of the body working together to produce the whole "mix" of a healthy church. And when it happens, it is as satisfying and pleasing as a well-mixed song from the heart!

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