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About 8 years ago I was contacted by Vicky Beeching about designing a logo for her women in worship network blog. I was super excited to work with her because I was a huge fan of her work since her vineyard days. I had just seen her open for delirious and Rebecca St. James and this just became a monumental business relationship for me. I had the pleasure of doing logos, photo editing, and design-work for her websites and in the mean time learned more about her via her blog.  I loved doing the work for her because I had a real connection to her worship songs that she wrote. They were not the typical 3 chord, made for radio, theologically drivel songs that were all around me. They were rich, expressed anguish, poured out lament and joy at the same time. Honestly her albums always reminded me of the Psalms.

Somewhere along the years we lost touch on the business end, but I still followed her life thanks to social media and the internet. Then in 2014 Vicky announced that she was gay on an article on the independent in UK. Of course the world… her world…. blew up that night as every christian that admired her or agency that signed her had to decide how to personally handle the situation or reconcile singing/promoting her songs.

I woke up that morning, saw the article, saw the people that I respect in Christian world respond and was floored by it all. There is a moment for those of us who have been in the church a long time when we realize that there is a lot of UGLY in the beautiful thing we call the Church. I saw a lot of ugly that day and felt I needed to respond, if not for my own self, but also so vicky and others could see that there are those of us out there that don’t fly high the banner of condemnation and hate.

This was that post.

I still stand by every word I wrote in that post because I truly believe Love has no strings. Grace has no prejudice and BOTH look like Jesus.

Ever since the announcement I knew that she would have to write a book to tell her story. Maybe one day I will follow suit. In the mean time I could not wait to get this book for a few reasons. First is because I knew I shared a similar church journey being in the same kinds of fellowships and being brought up with a dogmatic and sometimes extra-biblical theology. I’m still processing much that in my own life and I was hoping her book would help me remember things as odd as that seems. Second because in the journey I have had theologically and in my faith over the past 5 years I have tried to unlearn so much in order to make Jesus my theology. This has forced me to be editable and allow the Lord to speak into 40 years of noise. My hope in reading this was that the Lord would speak through her story in a way that would challenge me.

When the book finally arrived I opened it up, began reading, and could not put it down. Within 2 days I had devoured it. She is a brilliant writer and that makes for an easy yet compelling read. It was everything I had hoped this book would be and more. It was raw, honest, earthshaking, heaven drawing, emotional, theological, heartbreaking, and joyful all in one read. To be honest, this book reminded me why I love Vicky’s music.

I want to keep my review as to the content as simple as possible because I’m pretty sure I could go on for days discussing it. I will sum up my review with a bullet point list because that is what all the cool kids are doing.

  • Vicky’s story broke my heart for her and for those dealing with the same story
  • I am ashamed once again by how the church can wield the beautiful work of Jesus as an whip and abuse people with it. I remember being in those kinds of churches. I remember being in similar prayer meetings in the 80’s and 90’s. It gutted me knowing I stood in those rooms and wasn’t fully aware of how dangerous those meetings were to those who just needed to know the true love of God and that they were not a mistake.
  • I found myself repenting, maybe not as a contributor to that vitriol but as a bandwagon youth group person who had no room for grey and who was convinced God was black and white and fit neatly into the box I stuffed Him into.
  • There is a quote in the book where she said “I love the church, and I consider it my family. It’s extremely painful when families inflict damage on one another, but I’m choosing not to walk away…” – I think I read that line about 10 times as I have felt that in my own relationship with the church. Vicky goes on to share that it is her hope that one day LGBT equality would be the norm much like other things in the bible which were debated over an over again in regards to their acceptance.
  • One of the reasons Jesus spoke in parables or stories was to give context, make theology more accessible, and to simplify. Of course people hearing and reading those stories have dissected them and gutted them to the point that every single little thing had meaning, even though that was not Jesus’ intent, and then they subsequently missed the TRUE meaning entirely. I think you have to read this book much in the same way. Don’t pick it apart because it’s a lifetime crammed into a few hundred pages. Instead take a deep breath, exhale your dogma, and try and see the meaning behind her story.
  • In the last 3 years specifically, the Lord has had the LGBTQ community on my heart to pray for, love, and speak to as often as possible about God’s love for his creation. I’m actually not sure why God has made this a reoccurring theme in my brain and prayers, but because of it I have spent time in discussion, listening, and reading anything I can on the topics vicky addresses in her book. I knew I was not going to pick up 300 pages of answers, but I did know that vicky studied and knew the word, science, and other areas and I would for sure find insight through this story. What I was not prepared for was more unlearning. The age old phrase when anything doesn’t match our paradigm is “you can make the bible say anything you want” and the hardline fundies would say “IT’S VERY CLEAR”. I’m not sure how to express my opinion on the topics in the book other than I’m open to anything God would show me and I’m willing to be wrong about everything but Jesus. I have been called a heretic many times this last year or so ironically because I choose to make Jesus my theology so If my openness to God on this topic makes me fit that category again then hand me my nametag.
  • I found myself trapped in the time between times reading her heart-wrenching story. I wrestled with her words and heartbreak and I found myself in the end cheering for Jesus the healer and God who loves without strings.
  • The good news is this book is dripping with THE GOOD NEWS even in the midst of the rubble.

Vicky mentions in her book Kintsugi which I have heard of before. It is a japanese art that repairs broken ceramics with precious metals like gold and silver. It is literally the art of precious scars. It makes the pottery more valuable and amazingly enough more durable. The “scars” become a feature that gets exhibited instead being hidden. I have always found that art beautiful and it’s meaning even more so. After reading This book it has taken on a new meaning and I pray that the Church becomes a place safe enough for people who are broken to display the precious mending of God. Maybe we aren’t right about what wholeness “Looks” like. Maybe there are people who we have determined have a grace expiration date that could be embraced by Jesus if we weren’t see dead set on standing in the way.

God is LOVE
(God) is patient, (God) is kind. (God) does not envy, (God) does not boast, (God) is not proud. (God) is not rude, (God) is not self-seeking, (God) is not easily angered, (God) keeps no record of wrongs. (God) does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (God) always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (God) never fails. JESUS is God. Jesus has always been God. God has always looked like Jesus. there never was a time when God didn’t look like or act like Jesus…

So if we intend to be more like Jesus we should be less concerned about being perfect and instead allow him to perfect us.
We should be willing to be editable, full of grace, recklessly loving, and willing to do whatever it takes to show people that the LOVE of God is far deeper and wider than even our own hearts allow.

Yes I’m preaching because regardless of your thoughts on LGBTQ in regards to your “stance”, you have been given ONE mandate… It’s not to do conversion therapy, it’s not to do exorcisms, it’s not to condemn, it’s not to cut off and remove…..

It’s simply to love

I think this book is a critical book for our time. It is a must read and I am convinced every church leader should read this in order to understand the damage that comes from us NOT loving God’s creation.

lent2

The Lenten season began last week. Lent leads up to Easter in a similar way that Advent leads to Christmas only with a different perspective. The idea around advent is an Expectation of the coming of Jesus on Christmas day. Lent however is a time of self-assessment and surrender to prepare our hearts for the death and resurrection of the King of Kings

There is a reason why Lent begins with ash Wednesday. The ashes that are put on a persons head are a symbolic representation of mourning our sin, a reminder of our mortality, and is usually in the shape of a cross showing we are marked by jesus and share in his resurrection.

We know that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, but starting lent with an understanding of lament and mourning of our sin is critical. We need to begin this lenten season recognizing that we are dust that God breathed life into. We are little mud men and women who have been given the opportunity of having eternal life because of God’s mercy, kindness and sacrifice.. And in the same way we were formed out of dust we will eventually return to dust. Life is short and Ash Wednesday reminds us of that.

I love the way the NLT says it in:
James 4:14
 New Living Translation
How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone

What we do with our short time on this earth matters. What or who we devote our days to shapes who we are.

Last week 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians were martyred or in other words killed because they were followers of Jesus. It is noted that some of their last words before they died was “Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus, Help me”.

My heart was heavy when I heard this news. It is important to note I want you to know that this kind of thing happens ALL the time. Since Jesus walked this earth Followers of Jesus have been persecuted. If you go to Voice of the Martyrs you can read about men and women who are Marked by Jesus and are persecuted or even killed for their faith. 

I am not saying this to get anybody down or cause any fear. I am saying it because with every great move of the church there is Great prayer and Great persecution. I am so thankful we have not been persecuted or threatened like these followers of Jesus.

Our blessings have also made us comfortable about our faith. Because we aren’t concerned for our lives, we feel that God doesn’t need the full control.

Lets now look at Genesis 2:15-17 (ESV)
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat[a] of it you shall surely die.”

God gave Adam simple instructions… you guys get everything here, but you should not eat from this tree..

Genesis 3:1-7 (ESV)
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You[a] shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,[b] she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

So in this scripture a few things happen that lead all of humanity towards a need of reconciliation with God. Adam and Eve not only disobey God but they are tempted and succumb to the temptations of Pride and control. They were told that if they ate of this tree they would be able to see what God could see and they didn’t trust the Creator.

Adam and Eve were given a choice to surrender their control. God says “You shall not” which means it is their choice. He doesn’t say “you can’t”. In those beginning statements We see God’s desire for us to not be robots but to have free will. And we see His grace because not only did they not die after they ate it, but God had a plan to fix this mess by sending Jesus.

We are given this same choice that adam and eve were given every day.

The question is: Will you surrender control to God?

Continue Reading…

50shades2There are 5 million posts on 50 shades of grey coming out with people who are for it and others who are against it. When the trailer came out I wrote a post all about my concerns. Over the time period between the trailer release and maybe a month ago there just didn’t seem to be too much media on it encroaching on my space. Then February began and I could not watch tv without seeing the commercial. Everybody on the planet wrote a blog post on it. Every commercial on hulu had an advertisement and every late night host wanted to chat with the actors.

I didn’t necessarily want to flood the internet with more chatter, but I do have a few things to say on this topic as a Pastor, Man, Husband and father… so here we go.

In the last week I have seen discussion on twitter, facebook and other social media from friends and acquaintances about their excitement over the release tomorrow night of this film. I have seen people setting up ladies nights for valentines day to go see the movie instead of staying home with their husband. Most of these woman are Christians and It makes me sad.

As a pastor: I have had the pleasure of doing a bunch of marriage counseling. Marriage is hard and worth fighting for. Porn of course is our new addiction of choice. In the old days guys would hide their playboy under their bed. Porn was underground and secret. Somewhere along the way it became almost an expected norm that Guys would be into pornography. In recent years we have noticed a recognition that this addiction is not gender specific and women are also becoming addicted to erotica and pornography.  Whole ministries are dedicated to working on healing of the minds and hearts of these women, like Whole Women Ministries and Dirty Girl Ministries.  Study after study has been done that porn and erotica doesn’t “spice up” a marriage, but instead it destroys it. It creates in a mans brain a photoshop image that can’t be erased and in the woman’s thoughts a fantasy that can never be duplicated. I have seen this tear apart homes. I have seen it lead to affairs and divorce. Getting wrapped in it, is a perversion of love and an invitation of that perversion into your marriage bed!

I don’t care if the movie/book is good or not good. Arguing over it’s literary quality or cinematography is worthless. It is a twisted view of sex and relationships. Most importantly it is a perversion of LOVE. – From “50 Shade is Black and white

In addition to all of this is the sick and perverted increase of people who are searching for the abusive, submissive and violent world. You can call it what you want, but it all boils down to something commonly known as intimate partner violence. I have friends on the front lines of trying to take down sex trafficking. I have worked with bringing hope to hookers. I have pastored people who have been beaten, abused and almost killed under the guise of love.
This movie does NOT represent 1 Cor 13 and how God describes love. 

This is not a statement that all movies with nudity and violence are evil. It is a statement that 50 shades is designed to normalize smut. I have met with too many couples who’s marriage is on the rocks from issue after issue… Don’t add another one to it! I truly believe the precedence that this movie with make with it’s record breaking ticket sales and normalizing the erotic/porn culture will make the marriage counselors have more appointments this next year than they will know what to do with.

As a man: The word says “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28 and if most of us are honest we have committed that sin.
1 Corinthians 10:13 says “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
Simply put that I know I will be tempted, but it’s my choice to take the “way of escape” that has been provided for me.

It is a man’s choice, knowing he is a visual creature, to remind himself to run from things that will be burned into his memory.

A man should be in pursuit of real intimacy and a healthy sexual relationship instead of a selfish, abusive cheap thrill.

“Guard your mind and your body. God has a plan for you and it does not include selfish Love. It is a sex-saturated society… Like David and Bathsheba, Stop looking out at woman bathing on rooftops! RUN!” – From “50 shades is black and white

As a Husband: One of the many favorite slams from the “pro 50 shades people” is that those who are against it are prudes. Let me go on the record here and say that sex is awesome! There is no reason to dance around that statement. Sex is great! God didn’t create something so good that he would also keep it from us. He wants us to enjoy it, but He also gave us boundaries for our sake. Sex is not just physical. It is emotional and spiritual. The Bible says that when a man and woman come together they become one. Most people who have had sex and broke up with their partner will also say that they lost something of themselves because it. God knew what He was doing, but our society has taken this amazing thing and made it common and of little value.
If a woman knows their husband is looking at porn, thinking about other women while having sex with his spouse, or going out to strip clubs… most of them would be pretty upset because they know it has destroyed intimacy. It has brought another “woman” into the marriage bed.
Erotica for women is no different.
As a husband if you found out your wife was reading erotica and pre-ordering tickets to see this movie you would be pretty hurt. What has surprised me about this movie is that scenario isn’t happening. Instead, many men are standing by idly while their wives make plans to see a movie the will add a visual to the fantasy they have already created in their minds from reading the book. This is a fantasy that breaks trust and creates a sexual longing for somebody other than their husband.
Men… Why are you ok with this? 

Men…Pursue your wife today.. make sure they know how amazing they are. If you haven’t told your wife she is beautiful lately, GO NOW! The bible says to treat your wife like Christ treats the church. We are to be willing to give up everything for her. Not treat them as a slave for OUR selfish needs. Love her. Cherish her. Be intimate with her. Pray for her. Protect her. – From “50 shades is black and white

As a Father: I am a proud father of 4 kids. 3 boys and 1 girl. I want my kids to know how great sex is. I want to make sure they never feel weird about it or ashamed in a world where much of the church still treats the word “sex” like it’s taboo.
I also want to make sure that they understand why sex in a marriage was God’s plan for us because that’s where it’s best. I want them to know that intimacy with your spouse is the most amazing thing you can have.
When my boys talk back to their mom sometimes I pull them aside and say “I never want to hear you speak to your mom… or ANY woman like that again”. The reason why is not just because they need to respect their mom, but also because they need to learn that women are a gift. My boys need to learn that women are to be treasured and not lorded over. I want my boys to know and admire beauty without being in the trap of the disease of lust… And I pray for them daily and for their future wives.
Then there is my daughter. I want her to know how valuable she is. She is a jewel and the fingerprint of God! I want her to be strong, powerful, giving and beautiful inside and out. I pray daily that she will never ever seek her self worth in some jerk of a man who treats her like she is disposable. I pray daily for her future husband that he will love her, cherish her, applaud her and protect her.

If my daughter ever gets caught up with a man who is like grey in that he is a stalker, abuser, selfish, domineering, controlling, and violent then he needs to know that I will create my own red room of pain and KICK HIS SELF ABSORBED #$@!

Let me conclude this long and final post on this issue. Well… at least until 50 shades book 2 comes out.

I want to plead with you dear reader:

This is not art.
This is not a romantic chick flick.
IT is warped, twisted, photoshopped and scripted.

DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE. Do not fall into the trap that this will be harmless fun. Do not bring this into your marriage bed!

Church Leaders: STAND UP and Don’t be afraid to tell your congregations that NOTHING about this film fits into what God wants in our minds and hearts according to Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Women: Valentines is this week and instead of going to see 50 shades with the ladies, stay home and have sex with your husband. Your marriage is worth more than $9.25! If you aren’t married…

How you choose to live in Christ NOW maatters. God has a plan for you. You are holy and pure because HE IS! Song of Solomon 4:1 Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! – From “50 Shades is black and white

Men: actions speak loud…Pursue your wife! PROTECT her and your home. Chase after intimacy and love.

If you aren’t married…

Like David and Bathsheba, Stop looking out at woman bathing on rooftops! RUN!

Parents: Teens are going to see this movie. Please teach them that what they see and feel won’t leave their minds. If your kid does go.. Pray and talk to them about it no matter how awkward it is.

 

A few links worth a read on this:

Glenn Packiam –http://mysteryoffaithblog.com/2015/02/10/better-sex-the-subjugation-of-women-and-shades-of-the-real-thing/

Challies – http://www.challies.com/a-la-carte/7-lessons-from-50-shades-of-grey

A real 50 shades relationship – http://endsexualexploitation.org/articles/the-reality-of-a-fifty-shades-relationship/

50 Problems with grey – http://www.garythomas.com/50shades/

Crystal Renaud and Dirty Girl Ministries – http://dirtygirlsministries.com/

 

 

shaken_bethel

It seems that every time Bethel music announces a new project I find myself giddy with anticipation. (In the most manly bearded way of course) They have been churning out new music at a rate that rivals the machine we call Hillsong, but it has been refreshingly different as well as being worship that pierces the spirit.

When I heard about “We will not be shaken” and started seeing the promo images of a large crowd on a mountain I was expecting a melding of a “Loft sessions part Duex” with “Tides Live and uncensored”.  I sat on this album for a few weeks now trying to think of the best way to review it because I have, for the most part, walked away from each listen pretty unsatisfied. I am going to try to explain why.

I have said it many times on my blog before but the thing that I am always looking for in a worship album is that feeling of the groan of the Holy Spirit. It is not something that is based on tempo and it is not based on the perfect worship pattern/swell to manipulate the emotions. It is intangible, but you know it when you listen and are wrecked by God and every hair stands up on your body.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” – Romans 8:26

I know much of music is personal and so is this review because what I feel, you might not so please dig in for yourself. I remember when I put in the Jeremy riddle album “furious” and I was hit with songs that seemed to go into my ears and directly into my spirit. The same the first time I heard Steffany-Frizzel Gretzinger sing “closer”. I heard it before it came out because they led it at a service at Bethel and it was put on youtube. I had that video on repeat for what seemed to be 3 days. There was such a desperation, amazing awe, and praise that sprung from the deep.

I am not sure why, but I feel like this album is lacking in this area.

“We will not be Shaken” is sung beautifully, but the lyrics call for a sound that is a war cry. We WILL NOT!!!! I do like this song and It reminds me so much of brian and Jenn’s “we believe” album, but I feel the lyrical content doesn’t match the sound.

“Ever Be” Is a nice track that feels like two distinct songs somehow mashed together, but the chorus unites it nicely. This one I can see many churches doing and the hook gets stuck in your head.

The McClures have a nice track with “Jesus, We Love You”.

“Nearness” with Jenn Johnson has a nice feel and gets really awesome musically in the chorus. I love the unique driving section to it. The lyrics are great even though “Comforter You are to me” would sound really funny saying it to somebody.

There is, what can be best described as a modern hymn, in “Seas of Crimson” by Johnson and Bashta. At first it was hard to like this one even though I am a huge fan of hymns, but this one is growing on me quickly.

The HUGE standout is “No Longer Slaves” by Jonathan Helser. As a matter of fact I started leading this one in my church a week ago. I think the Helsers are a brilliant addition to the Bethel family and this song oozes of authenticity and passion. This is what I wish the rest of the album felt like. Again I am not talking tempo. Steffany Gretzinger’s “undoing” was crazy slow, but still felt like this because it was raw and drew you in.

So here is the deal: Should you buy this album? Because I am a fanboy and also because I don’t buy singles I would have bought this one for sure, but there are only a few tracks on here I like and the rest I’m lukewarm to. When I look at the videos and see the photos of the large crowd on the mountain it makes me wonder why that wasn’t more prevalent in the audio. There are a few moments when you can hear the mass of people, but in most cases this feels like a studio album. What I think is interesting is the visuals seem to represent a declaration over their city and a breathing life into dry bones. The music however seems so much more introspective and personal. There is a disconnect for me there and it’s possibly because of my artistic side.

I think you need to listen to this with no preconceived notions. Walking into this with expectations that it would be a Loft Sessions meets Tides concoction of amazingness was most likely not the best plan.

My personal requests for the next two albums:
1. Record an album with Jenn Johnson, Jonathan Helser, and amanda cook. I think this mix would bring power, brilliant lyrical content, and a prophetic edge
2. Record a double CD of Jeremy Riddle and Steffany Gretzinger together. Maybe some new tracks and some old and the rest no plan other than letting those two take us to church!

8th blogiversarry

August 5, 2014 — 2 Comments

My blogiversarry came and went; I started blogging in June 2006, about the time my family moved to RI. It’s been 8 years now as a blogger. Yesterday I posted my 800th blog post. There has been close to 6,000 comments and a few hundred thousand hits (fb and twitter changed those things for the worse).

I am amazed at the insights that have come from blogging. As I look back at my digital journal I can see all the places that God moved in my life. I can see the months where I walked away from my site to focus on a newborn child that was now in my home. I am in awe of the connections God has given me and opportunities He has blessed me with because this site existed. I have stood back as I watched God heal others through my writing and pouring out what he was speaking to me. Even more importantly I am floored at the friendships I have that were born out of a digital world and made tangible and irreplaceable.

I started the blog to equip church leaders… God had a much better plan for it. I can see 8 years of personal growth. It’s in black and white the times where I doubted and failed. And now it is documented proof of a gracious God who in his great mercy gave me some of the most priceless memories, friends and treasures anybody could ask for.