We Shall Be Changed

Switzerland.jpg

"I tell you a mystery. . . we shall be changed"

 

1 Corinthians 15:51-52

2012 was a big year for me. Many things happened that shaped my life for years to come. Five years ago I graduated from college, got married, traveled across the U.K. and Europe, and then moved to Austin, Texas. Christmas was spent together with my family in East Texas. There was snow on the ground. Lots of it, and my mother was confined to her bed with cancer spreading throughout her body. The next month she passed away.

2012 was a big year for me. 

I took the photo above while my wife Dusty and I were exploring part of Switzerland in the fall of 2012. This photo resembles an image that is etched into my mind: I am standing on earth, with my narrow view of life, but I'm gazing up, up, and up. I can see a small glimpse of eternity - that there is more to my existence than I can grasp from my narrow perspective. I am unable to understand why there is hate in the world or why death is part of life, but I can see there is hope. There is hope that exists beyond me. This image reflects the hope that I have, the hope that is freely given to all of humanity. The hope that "we shall be changed."  Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Corinthians:

Christmas 2012. Mom, Sam, and Dusty.

"Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed."          1 Corinthians 15:51-52

Have you ever wondered why God created us? What keeps the earth beneath our feet? What holds all things together?

I think we have all asked questions along these lines at some point. Somewhere between the busyness of meeting work deadlines and changing diapers. Somewhere between the overgrown lawn and the burnt coffee. But at some point the human race got so busy we lost sight of the the ground we stand on. We lost sight of what matters most - we lost sight of the hope that is an anchor for our soul

I share all of this not in despair but hopeful for what is to come. I share this that we may not lie still in darkness, but that we may all be changed! Paul's admonition after describing how we shall be changed is this:

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."  1 Corinthians 15:58

The hope offered in God's word is mystery and it is victory. It is the battle cry of the hopeful Christian.

Called By Name

This morning I was reading to Sawyer in The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. He kept asking me to read the one “where Jesus dies on the cross.” We sat down to read it and continued a few stories past. In the story titled “God’s wonderful surprise,” Mary is searching for Jesus. She has gone to the tomb with the other women but has found the tomb empty. Instead of returning home with the others, she continues to search for Him. Jesus, of course, is there, but she does not recognize Him. She mistakes Him for the gardener and asks where he has put Jesus’ body so that she may go and get Him.

“‘I don’t know where Jesus is!’ Mary said urgently. ‘I can’t find him.’
But it was all right. Jesus knew where she was. And he had found her.
‘Mary!’
Only one person said her name like that. She could hear her heart thumping.”

This reading gets me every single time. And we have read it a lot. And we have watched it a lot. But every single time, tears well up in my eyes.

I read a list of “What Love Means” to little kids while I was in undergrad many years ago. On that list, there was this: “When you love someone, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

I think Mary felt like this. As soon as Jesus said her name, she knew it was Him, that she was safe forever. So many other people called her by her name that day, I can imagine. But none of them said her name like He did. And no one says our names like He does. He has formed us, He has created us, He has called us by name. It is written in the first verse of Isaiah 43,

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

What is so great about our God is that He also calls us by His name. We are His. We are not just something He created. As believers, we are adopted into His family. When we are born or adopted into our families here on Earth, we are given a last name. This holds weight. It gives us belonging into a clan, so to speak. We are associated with those people in our family who hold this same last name, for good or bad. Growing up in a small town in Florida, almost everyone knew who my family was by our last name. My grandfather had, and still has, left a great legacy. I am thankful to be a part of this family. It was honestly hard for me to move to a place where people did not know my family, my last name; I was missing my identity as a member of my family. But the great news is, wherever I go, I am always called by my Father’s name, the name of God:

                           "everyone who is called by my name,                                                           whom I created for my glory,                                  whom I formed and made.”

It does not matter where I go, I am never out of the family of God. I am associated with the Creator of the Universe, with God Himself, always. Now, that name is a safe name. That is a name I want to be called by. I so look forward to the day when I hear Jesus say, “Dusty.” I think my heart, too, will thump so loudly. Or it may even stop all together.

Come Thou Fount

Come Thou Fount is one of my all time favorite hymns. The content is a heart cry for God to remind us of His blessings, His love, and how though we are "prone to wander" God has "sealed us for His courts above." This hymn heralds the truth of the gospel. When we were far from God and by nature "children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3) He sent His son, and He "sought us when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God". I know this is true in my own life. If it were up to me, I would not choose to follow God. My heart is prone to wander. My heart does not naturally want to obey God. Even on a good day, when Sawyer is screaming for more "gummies", I don't naturally want to love him and teach him how to communicate. Despite the state of my heart, which the bible says is "deceitful above all things" God, who is rich in mercy, sent His son to earth to make a way for us! That is why the words in scripture (and this song) are so profound. As the songwriter so eloquently writes in the second verse, "He rescue(d) me from danger, interposed his precious blood." Singing the words of this song are a beautiful reminder of what God has done for us!

I love how the last line in this song is a request for God to "take our hearts, and seal them for His courts above".  That is my prayer, that God would seal my heart, and the hearts of my children for His courts above. 

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved."  Ephesians 2:4-5

What I Learned From Sawyer

This past Wednesday was a typical day. I was working on the song list for Sunday, and Dusty had just pulled into our driveway after picking Sawyer up from school. But something was up. "Sawyer had a very rough day!" Dusty said quickly, as I heard Sawyer crying uncontrollably from the garage. "What happend?" I asked. I found out that Sawyer had been bothering his classmates during nap time and would not obey his teacher. It turns out Sawyer spit on his teacher while she was trying to talk with him. This had indeed been his roughest day.  This reminded me of some of my rough days growing up. Like the time I punched my brother in the forehead. Ouch! It turns out it wasn't as rewarding as I thought it would be.

Dusty and I have been humbled and challenged by the gift of parenting. Because of the apparent sin in our sweet little boy's heart the importance of training him up in the way he should go is ever before us. This morning it struck me how in much the same way God is training and disciplining me as a son. In fact it says just that in scripture!

". . .we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness."  Hebrews 12:8-10

God disciplines his children because he loves us! How unloving would it be if I ignored Sawyer's actions when he pushes the stroller into his sister to knock her down or pokes her with his fork? In the same way, God disciplines me because He calls me His son! It would be unloving for my heavenly Father to do anything less! It says in Hebrews 12:6 

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”   

Development, growth, training, and discipline aren't comfortable. It isn't always fun. (Not really ever.) But the result is freedom and the ability to share in the Lord's "holiness".

". . . but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."  Hebrews 12:10b-11.

I have realized that the Lord is training and disciplining me in a myriad of ways during this residency. I am challenged by the leadership around me to answer God's calling on my life with fervor. Not for goodness sake, but for the sake of the call. Because that is what being a disciple of Christ means!

Side note: discipline and disciple share the same root word!

 

The Shadow of His Hand

Right now I'm wearing a Finding Dory bandaid and Sawyer is hollering "mommy!" from his room. (He is supposed to be taking a nap!) I guess that's a sure indication that I'm a Dad and I am totally OK with that! These past two weeks have been a great opportunity to work hard and play hard. Last week was spring break. So we took the opportunity to visit some of our family in East Texas. We got to see my great grandmother (Nana Grace who is almost 103!), and introduce her to Jahnabell! Then on the way back we saw my siblings and cousins in Arlington. We celebrated my youngest sister and brother's (Sarah Anne and Matthew) birthdays as well. 

This week I was blessed with several great opportunities to learn and grow. I lead worship at the Men and Women's Development program on Wednesday night and on Thursday night at a College Night of Worship in San Marcos, TX. I also helped with a Worship Intensive that our Church hosted Wednesday and Thursday. Several worship leaders from around the country came to Austin for a couple days so that we could serve them by sharing what God has been teaching us as a worship ministry. This time is always extremely fruitful. On Thursday I took the Worship Intensive attendees to lunch with the rest of the residents. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about their ministries and also sharing my experiences with them as a worship resident.

This week I was reading in Isaiah and it struck me how incredible it is that the same hand that stirs up the sea "so that its waves roar" also covers us "in the shadow of his hand." The same God who put his words in our mouths and called us "my people" laid the foundations of the earth! I hope this is an encouragement to you all this week as you run errands, as you wash dishes and clean up after toddlers. As you go about your day and weekend doing all those small things that add up to big things. Let us remember that "the Lord of hosts" has "laid the foundations of earth" and "put words in our mouth(s)" and breath in our lungs when we had none.

"I am the Lord your God,
    who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
    the Lord of hosts is his name.
And I have put my words in your mouth
    and covered you in the shadow of my hand,
establishing the heavens
    and laying the foundations of the earth,                           and saying to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”                                                                                                                                                                                 Isaiah 51:15-16

O Praise The Name

Today I am posting a short video of myself covering the song "O Praise The Name" on piano. The content of this song is rich. It tells the story of Christ's love for us. These words are at the core of what it means to believe and follow Jesus. I am reminded every time I sing this song of what Jesus did on the cross and how He defeated the power of sin and death. It is true that to follow Christ means we have nothing to fear, because of this we need a constant reminder of what He has done. And when we are reminded of His sacrifice for all sin, we cannot help but sing praise to His name!

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering."  Romans 8:1-3

Prayer On The Run

Prayer. It is something all Believers are called to do. But why is it so hard to do most days? I find myself thinking "I have a good prayer life!" I pray short prayers throughout the day. My prayers are sent up quickly through the business of our day. Prayers like: Please make the kids sleep, please let me find a parking spot, thank you he/she didn't get hurt worse. I have to ask myself though, "Am I really praying? Am I really trusting in God with these requests? And are these even sincere prayers?"

As Christians, we have the greatest opportunity to be in the presence of God. This is through prayer. We're able to come to Him and just be. Prayer is our most powerful weapon against the enemy. So why don't I pray more? 

Y'all, I do not have this whole "stay at home mom" thing down. Our house is in constant disarray, I usually forget about meal prepping so meals are usually late, and we probably watch (way) too much tv. I feel like I am already grasping for more time in my day. How can I sit for another 30 minutes to an hour? Where would this fit into our "schedule?" (And I put schedule in quotations because, let's be honest, it is very loosely followed.) But y'all, I NEED prayer time. I need time with The Lord - praising Him, learning from Him, being with Him. I have to fight for this time everyday because I am not going to want to pause and truly pray on my own strength. I have to seek Him for help. And He does help. 

I was recently sharing with a sweet friend all of the steps we are taking in our lives to better our health (Whole 30 for NINETY days, vitamins/supplements, etc.), and she brought up prayer. "How is your prayer life?" The question hit me hard. Honestly, my prayer life is essentially non-existent.  We literally have been spending hours a day in the kitchen making Whole30 compliant meals. We're reducing stressors left and right and decluttering our house on the weekends. These things are good. But not when compared to the amount of time I am spending praying, which is hardly any time at all. I am not spending time each day sitting in quiet, reading the Word, meditating on Scripture, and praising God. Praying should be such an integral part of my day. I usually only come to Him with quick requests throughout the day. He wants me to ask of Him, that isn't wrong, but my heart isn't wanting to actually be in His presence. Y'all, my prayer life isn't as healthy as my actual physical body is. 

In the class Sam and I are taking, I have learned some practical steps in helping me with this Spiritual Discipline, because we do have to discipline ourselves to pray. We are prone to not want to do the very thing that we were made to do, be in God's presence. There is a very good interview with Tim Keller you can read at DesiringGod.org. He answers questions about prayerlessness and the importance of prayer. He also gives some very practical advice for helping develop a prayerful life. Additionally, the speaker who taught on Prayer during our development class shared with us that he uses a prayer schedule - each day of the week he has set aside a specific time to be in God's Word and in prayer for specific people. This does not mean he cannot or will not pray for something or someone else on a day not "designated" to them, but it gives structure and helps him stay disciplined. I have been trying to adopt the same practice.

I want my life to be marked by prayer. I want my kids to know that Mommy prays - for them and for others. I want prayer to be the most important part of our day. 

Drinking From A Fire Hydrant

Brett.jpg

This week has been information rich and inspiring. I was also given several great opportunities to grow musically. I wanted to share the grace given me to grow in vocational ministry, and express my thankfulness to the Lord for making these opportunities possible through your support!

Monday: I took a sabbath and rested from my normal activities. I spent time with Dusty, Sawyer and Jahnabell. I went to the grocery store and did the shopping for the week with Jahnabell. While JB and I were at the store, and Sawyer was at his Mother's-Day-Out program, Dusty got some time to study for the development class. Later that day I took the kids on a walk down the nature trail near our house. Sawyer decided to try out his new shades.

Tuesday: I attended the South campus meeting and learned more about what it means to work as a team. I also heard pastor Matt Blackwell's teaching on "The Heart of The Pastor" where he described how he and the rest of the teaching staff work together to decide what passages or books of the Bible to preach from. As a worship leader, this was incredibly insightful as I will be aspiring to work in unity and understanding with a teaching pastor in the near future. Tuesday afternoon I also took a vocal lesson from an excellent vocal teacher recommended by another resident. The lesson was a big break-though personally because I'm learning to correct some bad vocal techniques that severely limit my range, tone, and everything else to do with singing.

Wednesday: I met with my mentor, Daniel, and talked about the progress made with the Student worship team and next steps. We also decided to read "The Cost of Discipleship" as our next learning material. I am extremely excited to read this book. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the author and was a theologian, pastor, and martyr in Germany during WW II. Wednesday night Dusty, Sawyer, Jahnabell, and I went to our weekly development class where we learned about "The Discipleship of The Whole Person."  There is a video that was part of our homework which spoke to me on so many levels. Pastor Dhati Lewis teaches on how we should display the love of Christ through hospitality. This is something my Mom was passionate about and did throughout my childhood. In the same way, I want to open the home that God has graciously provided for us and use it to love and disciple those in our life! Wednesday evening I also helped another resident lead worship before the lecture.  I really enjoyed this opportunity and was also challenged by having to learn the songs in different keys.

Thursday: I went to our weekly worship meeting where 4 worship leaders on staff, Logan, Brett, Jaleesa, and Jimmy, gave 4 Ted-style talks on worship leading practicals. The topics where: Crafting A Setlist, Stewarding Prayer and Scripture in Liturgies, How To Approach Conflict, and Knowing Your Congregation. Each talk was extremely encouraging and gave all of us practical tools and knowledge in shepherding the people we serve in a way that glorifies God. In addition, I also helped another resident lead worship before the teaching began. Which again, gave me another opportunity to learn songs quickly and in different keys.

Friday: Today, I began reading The Cost of Discipleship, set up a band practice to prepare for Sunday, and now I'm going to work on my call to worship and rehearse the songs I will be leading. Next week I'm helping with a College Worship Night at Texas State and Worship Collective on Saturday. 

So yes, when I started this residency I was told that I would be taking in a lot of information and that it would be a little like drinking from a fire hydrant.

Indeed it is, and I love every minute of it! Thank you all again for your support and for being a part of my development. 

Vlog on the Blog

This week I decided to say hello on-camera and let you see just how cute these kiddos are. Also I thought it would be helpful to share some of my experiences in the residency verbally. We tried including the kids, but they lasted about 20 seconds. We are very blessed and thankful by all who read this blog and by all of our supporters!

- Sam, Dusty, Sawyer, and Jahnabell 

Excellence + Character

Last week was the first Worship Collective of the year. The Worship Collective is a gathering with the purpose of encouraging and equipping the church for ministry. God has called us to do this! (1 Thessalonians 2:9-12) My goal in writing this blog is that by sharing what God is teaching me, you may be uplifted and encouraged in the work of the Lord.

Pastor of worship, Aaron Ivey spoke on excellence and brought much clarity to how the bible views excellence and how our culture and our world view excellence in a much different way. God put in us an innate desire to create things and excel at what we do. All of us want to be great, to do great things, to be successful, and to rise to the top. Every voice in life screams: “be the best you can be”! “Rise to the top”!

During Aaron’s short teaching he referenced the definition of “excellence” as described in the American Heritage Dictionary where it says:

 ex·cel·lence  1. The state, quality, or condition of excelling; superiority. 2. Something in which one excels. 3. Excellence Excellency.

According to this, the definition involves ‘superiority’. The aim is superiority, achievement and competition. We are taught that being excellent is being better than someone else in skill, strength, work, or thought.

Worldly excellence always ends with winning.

So what does scripture say? In 2 Corinthians Paul lays it out clearly:

“But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.”  2 Corinthians 8:7

Scripture teaches us that excellence is always combined with character and skill. God calls us to “do all to the glory of God”. We cannot work to the glory of God if we don’t put forth our whole effort. In the same way, these actions cannot glorify a holy God if our character (our heart) is not seeking the glory of God. Our character absolutely cannot grow if our goal is rooted in self-empowerment. If we rise to the top, if we acquire all success and riches, what then? Excellence for the sake of excellence is a poor goal in the end. What blows my mind is that Paul actually teaches that we should grow in love and character so that we may then be excellent for Christ. Paul says it even better in Philippians:

"And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ."  Philippians 1:9-10

We strive for excellence in an ongoing journey involving the transformation of our character. On of the things that Aaron Ivey said that has stuck with me is how the development of skill and character should be on-going. The development of character and skill are not things that occur overnight, and they shouldn’t be.

"One of the worst things that can happen as an artist is arriving. There occurs a loss of passion and humility" – Aaron Ivey

To close I’d like to leave you with a few reminders that Aaron taught us last Thursday which have been extremely challenging and life-giving to me personally.

  • Don't focus on the next big thing or the last big thing, but grow in skill and character today!
  • Don't confuse visibility with significance, they are rarely the same.
  • Don't forget that you don't labor for yourselves, but for a greater purpose.
  • Our ongoing pursuit of Jesus fuels the fire and keeps us vibrant

As Christ followers it is helpful to remember these things. The church should constantly be asking itself, are we marked by our love and faithfulness, and togetherness as the church in Acts 2 was? The world says what matters is being superior to others, but the gospel’s picture of excellence is counter-cultural! Scripture calls us to be excellent in both character and skill because are hope is not in what we can build or achieve here on earth but in eternal life with Christ. Our refinement is on going. God-glorifying excellence should produce on going passion, creativity and character.

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."  1 Corinthians 15:58

Thursday's Worship Collective teaching can be watched below.

Mud Pies Over Dishes

On this chilly winter morning, which will quickly turn into a most beautiful warm Texan day, we donned our boots and coats and hit the garden. Right now our garden is a bunch of thick clay-mud full of weeds and worms. Sawyer was so excited to hunt for worms this morning he could barely stand it. He was equipped: bucket, rake, shovel, spoon, knife. The only thing that stood in his way was the glass door. When I finally opened it, he was out like a flash. Jahnabell was quickly on his heels waddle-running as fast as she could. She then plopped down right in the dirt, no hesitation of getting her cute outfit dirty at all. Sawyer quickly took to making me a mud pie while he looked for worms.

As a mom who tries to stay orderly so that I can keep my sanity most days, I have been trying to embrace the mess of childhood. The mud pies, the paint all over the place, the blocks that extend across the living room and kitchen (and stairs and dining room). Sawyer said to me the other day: “I love you Mommy!” I replied: “I love you too!” He followed with: “I love you! Especially when you play with me.” That hit my heart in a way I cannot even explain. They do not care if the kitchen is clean or the carpets are vacuumed; they care if I am down on the floor pretending to be lions with them or seeing how tall we can build a tower. They love going on walks in nature together and pointing out every single flower, rock, and pile of poop that we see. They love coloring on the sidewalk with chalk and playing hide-and-seek behind the trees. And they love their Mama spending time with them.

I know I cannot throw the chore chart out the window. But I can be more mindful of how much of my day is consumed with getting what I think needs to be done accomplished and how much is consumed with the two cutest kids on the planet (seriously, they are). I have the most amazing opportunity to cultivate a love for life in these two. And that is by showing them the unconditional love of God. Even though we disobey Him, He chose us, and called us His children!

 Lately Jahnabell will point to The Jesus Storybook Bible and ask to read it. She then flips through the pages saying “Jee-sus.” My heart melts absolutely every single time. She also likes pointing at Goliath and say “ha-ha-ha” in the most adorable voice. (In the story of David & Goliath, Goliath has a terrible laugh that we try to make sound terrifying, but I end up sounding like an ogre.)

The greatest gift I can give my babies is my time and my un-distracted attention. What is incredible is this parallels what we see in scripture. God sent his son Jesus so that could spend eternity with him.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."  John 3:16

I want Sawyer and Jahnabell to know this and to treasure His gift above all else.

** We have been exploring the mud a little more lately. Eventually I hope to make a Mud Kitchen. Check out this great website on homeschooling and amazing activities for children. It’s by a sweet mama friend from Denton: TheHummingRoom.com **

- Dusty

When Diligence Becomes Haste

I work hard. I am not afraid of long hours or difficult tasks. When something needs doing, I'm going to do it well and efficiently. You know, it's the "do it right the first time" mentality. So naturally I take pride in my diligence.

It happens in an instant. One second, I'm working with "diligence," the next I am hastily disregarding key relationships and putting a higher priority on getting where I'm going than how I'm getting there. It's like I'm wearing blinders, and in doing so, I miss out on the beauty of life. This is when diligence becomes haste. For instance, I often work so fast that I don't listen to ideas that other people have, and I make everything I do intent on completing a task instead of caring for people and developing relationships. This hit home one morning as I read this simple verse from Proverbs:

"The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
 but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty."  
Proverbs 21:5

According to this verse, diligence and haste have opposite effects. As I began processing this concept, I thought, "OK, I get it, I need to slow down. No more rushing around. No more crammed schedules. It's just not worth it."

The next day I got a speeding ticket.

I was trying to beat traffic so I could save time, so that I could get to the coffee shop to finish emails, so I could get home. But, I missed my turn, so I had to go the back way, and in doing so, I was speeding and I went straight in a turn-only lane. Hence the traffic ticket. But God is rich in mercy. He allowed me to learn from my folly, to see that what I attempt to do in my own strength, in haste, is meaningless. God used this event to show me the importance of trusting Him completely with my time. It's not something I can master by reading a bible verse and then thinking, "I've got this." It is surrender, complete and whole-hearted abandon. Let us surrender our plans to the maker of all things.

"All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established."
Proverbs 16:2-3

 

From Glue Bottle To Guitar

There is something that traps me. It hems me in from all corners. It’s called, perfectionism. It doesn’t allow for mistakes, and takes no prisoners.

I remember quite clearly one of my first experiences with this foe when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I was helping my dad build drawer boxes in a small shed out behind the garage. What stands out in my memory is that the shed was actually in the cow pasture, and it was hot, very hot. It was the middle of the summer in Southlake, Texas. I was given the job of running the glue bottle down the drawer dado in a straight line. No beading allowed. A consistent line of thin glue was needed so that there would be no evidence of squeeze-out on the inside of the drawer. But I couldn’t do it. Not after the first try, or second or third try. It was all wrong. I wanted to please my Dad. I wanted to achieve that perfect line of glue, and also it was hot out there! No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the angle of the glue bottle set right. Tears began to stream down my face. I kept trying, again and again with the same result: glue showed up every time on the inside of the drawer box. As you might guess, I eventually got it. Fast forward a couple years, and I was the drawer boxing pro. I could put down that glue and slap together the sides, ends, and bottom in 20 seconds flat.

My brother James and I getting ready to set cabinets sometime in 2003.

Throughout my life I have struggled with perfectionism. It has always trailed along disguised as excellence and beauty, but sabotaging my efforts in the end. First a filmmaker, and now as a worship leader and musician, it is critical to recognize this tendency.

Here’s what I’ve learned. God asks for excellence, He asks for our best. I am the one expecting perfection, not God. In my own personal strength I am trying to be what God already is. Perfect.

Job’s friend Elihu says this in the book of Job:  

“. . . stop and consider the wondrous works of God. Do you know how God lays his command upon them and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine? Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge. . .”  
 Job 37: 15-16

So if God is perfect (and even much more) why do I attempt perfectionism? I can speculate, but deep down I know it is because of sin. I want to be great. I want to be known, respected and admired by men. I am trying to be my own god. And I can tell you from experience that perfectionism makes a terrible god. God does not ask us to be perfect but God does value skill and excellence. These are important to God. We see this in the book of Exodus where five chapters are used just to describe the crafting of the temple. In chapter 35, it says this:

 “Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship,  
Exodus 35:30-31

God called and created these men to help build his temple with “skill” and with “intelligence”. It is incredibly freeing to understand that my worth is not tied up in how good I am at something. Any skill I posses is by the grace of a perfect and righteous God. It is liberating to realize that I should not endlessly strive to be perfect. God has designed me with certain skills and knowledge to glorify Him, not to hopelessly exalt myself. God has called me to sing to Him and to “play skillfully on the strings (Psalm 33:3).

It is evident that skill is important to God. The issue arises when the focus shifts from using the skills God has given me for His glory to using my God-given skills in pursuit of perfection. In Worship Matters Bob Kauflin makes this abundantly clear:

“Valuing skill too highly can yield some ugly fruit. It becomes an idol. We arrogantly think our church’s worship is better then the church down the street. We over-rehearse and get impatient when others make mistakes”  (Kauflin, 36).

Sadly, I have does this all to often. I have thought my music is better than someone else’s. I have practiced in pursuit of perfection. In other words, I have practiced and played in pursuit of an endlessly hopeless idol: the idol of perfection. This is utterly exhausting and draining. Just as God created Noah to build the ark, and the men in Exodus to build the temple “with all craftsmanship”, God has created me and gifted me with certain skills to worship Him. Through His glorious grace I am set free from the pursuit of perfection.

It's A Wonderful Life

It's A Wonderful Life is the title of my favorite Christmas movie and one of my all-time favorite films. 

Growing up it was a family tradition to watch the Frank Capra film, It's A Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart. (If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it!) Every year, around Christmastime we would gather as a family and watch the film - and the funny thing is, I never grow tired of seeing it because I can relate to it, and I'm pretty sure most anyone can relate to its narrative.

The story goes something like this: small town man marries small town girl. He always dreams of "shaking the dust of this crummy little town" and making it big, but he never does. His friends do, but George Bailey stays in Bedford Falls. He gets married, starts a family, settles down, and takes over his Dad's business. Like many of us he becomes burdened with the responsibilities of life. At some point down the road, after 4 kids and a "dead end job," George Bailey's life doesn't seem worth living. The narrative of the film really puts the viewer in a place to empathize with his plight. It's not until Mr. Bailey is paid a visit by his guardian angel that he realizes he's missing out on what really matters in life. It’s not until he's given an eternal perspective that he is able to see that his life is truly wonderful.

I fee like I’m basically a real-life George Bailey most every day. In fact, while we were in Florida for Christmas, Jahnabell and Dusty came down with a pretty bad bug which they then passed to their cousin, and when our flight landed back in Austin, Sawyer threw up all in Dusty’s lap. Sometime’s it’s just hard to make sense of life. There are good days and there are bad days. If it’s up to me to create a “good life” for myself and my family, then my life would be pretty bleak. And I would eventually break under the burden. Much like George Bailey. He was living a wonderful life, but he did not see it that way. I am thankful, even beyond my own comprehension, that God sent his son to earth to pay the price for my sins and to give every person on earth a true hope. This hope is what helps me see that life is indeed wonderful.

Before the dawn of a new year, let us give thanks and pray that God gives us eyes to see the hope that He has given us. As sons and daughters this hope is an anchor for our soul. It is not futile because it is not built upon what human hands can achieve. This hope is a free gift from the Creator of the universe through his son Jesus.

"And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." Romans 8:23-25

Much love to all! I look forward to new beginnings and new adventures in 2017!

When I Don't Want a Reminder

Those obvious Reminders. If I'm honest, I really dislike being reminded. My wife Dusty, reminds me often: "did you lock the car? Did you remember to get the milk? Did you set the alarm?" and so on, but I need these reminders. The reality is I don't want to be reminded because of my pride. In my head my thoughts go something like: 

"Don't remind me babe, I got this!" 

It turns out I do need to be reminded. Scripture tells us that out of the abundance of our heart the mouth speaks, so there's that. . .  also, I would have to admit that in every part of life I need those seemingly obvious reminders that God is God. Also, it turns out, I do forget the milk, oh, and to lock the car. 

This whole idea of being reminded, no matter how obvious, has a direct effect when I lead others in worship through song. I need the constant reminder that Christ saved me from sin and that worship is something I get to do by the grace of God. It is not something I do because of how good I can play the guitar or sing or anything else. I need this constant reminder. I need to be consistently reminded of why I'm doing what I'm doing. Recently, a book I have been reading has helped me realize this. In Worship Matters, Bob Kauflin, puts it bluntly:

"Most of the time when we we think about worship, we start with what we do. Our intentions are noble; we come with our songs, our prayers, our offerings, and our lives to tell God how great he is. But we assume that acceptable worship ultimately depends on our efforts, sincerity, or gifts. It doesn't. It never will (Worship Matters, Pg 176)."

Talk about a shot to the heart. Kauflin goes on to explain that the human condition looks for acclamation in everything. Why else do books, movies, screenplays, (anything for that matter) seek awards? Everything in this world is built upon praise, but God is the only one worthy of worship! The Lord of all the earth sent his son to suffer and die for us on a cross and to save us from the burden of sin and death. This is the gospel of which I so easily forget. I need this reminder every hour of every day! I must remember that: 

"Worship is God's gift of grace to us before it's our offering to God (Worship Matters, Pg 177)."

This perspective, this reminder, takes the focus off of myself and allows worship to flow from the heart! I must constantly dwell on the words of truth found in scripture and remind my heart of the reason I breathe and the reason I lift my voice and sing. Kauflin says it best: 

"...leading worship can become self-motivated and self-exalting. We can become burdened by the responsibility to lead others and can think that we might not be able to deliver the goods. We subtly take pride in our worship, our singing, our playing, our planning, our performance, our leadership. Ultimately we separate ourselves from the God who drew us to worship him in the first place (Worship Matters, Pg 177)."

Oh the irony!

The very God I am trying to worship, I have quickly turned into a personal idol of my own making. This is true of me when I become stressed about what songs I'm going to play or how people are going to respond to said songs or to my leadership capabilities. The only thing that keeps me anchored is the gravity of the gospel. That consistent reminder. The reminder of the gospel is like the sunset and the sunrise. It's what makes the world spin - the beginning and the end. And that's who God is. His word is true, every bit of it, and the reminder of the law of the Lord and the love of Christ is as beautiful as the setting sun. 

"Blessed be the name of the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised!"
Psalms 113:2-3

The Best Is Yet To Come

I knew what was coming. I could have prevented it, but it was all a blur. Everything moved in slow motion, yet it happened in an instant. It is really surprising how fast a 1-year-old can knock their entire bowl of food off the tray, onto the floor. Last night it happened in dramatic fashion. Jahnabell swiped her bowl right off her tray and it exploded when it hit the floor. It was on the wall, floor, chair, table, and it also somehow hit me in the shoulder. Spaghetti does that you know. Mealtime is war. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, every one is a battle. It's the good fight. The good war. But, let me say this: The best is yet to come.

The best is yet to come.

Here's why I believe this: We can cherish every moment God has given us: the attempted cleaning of tomato sauce from my light-gray hoodie and the typing of a sentence. We can take joy in these things because of the eternal hope we are promised through Jesus. Hope is what we all long for. In Romans Paul talks about this hope: 

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 
Romans 5:1-4

Cleaning spaghetti off the floor is not suffering, (I guess) but the promise of an eternal hope in Christ Jesus makes every-day menial tasks, like cleaning up after toddlers or writing emails, a joyful activity. Throughout the day, these little things seem to get in the way of other (more important) activities, but these little events in life are actually the conduit through which flow perseverance, character, and then hope. I am thankful this Christmas that we can be reminded of this hope through Christ. God sent His son to save us from endless wandering and searching. He brought us from darkness to light and gave us hope eternal.

The best is yet to come.

Fully Human

We gathered in a circle, as a family gathers around a table. We lifted our voices and sang praise to the Creator of the universe for sending his son to earth as a baby. Fully human.

This passage from Hebrews has been stuck in the corner of my brain for the last few months. I think it's because in the past I never really considered that Jesus was fully human in the flesh. Sure, he's God, so he can do whatever he wants. Right? Suffering on a cross, not a huge deal if you're God right? No, actually this perspective dilutes the gospel in a profound way.

As I consider what scripture says and the gospel message itself, I realize that understanding that Jesus is fully human, and fully God puts his sacrifice and love for us in a whole new light. In Hebrews it says:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 2:14-18 (NIV)

There are so many questions that come to mind when I read this passage. Why would the God of the universe, send His son to earth to become fully human and then suffer on a cross for the sins of all humanity? According to Hebrews He also did this to free us from the fear of death and to "help those who are being tempted". My fully human heart is in awe. It is amazing how clear the gospel is! Not only did Jesus suffer on a cross to atone for our sins, but He also did so to free us from the anxieties that come with our mortality and so that He could understand our sufferings. To "become a merciful and faithful high priest". The fact that an all-powerful God did this humbles my heart in a profound way.

This Thursday was the last Worship Collective of the year. I spent the day working alongside friends who have become family. That night we joined together: we shared a meal together, spent time praying for our families, our church and for missionaries overseas, and joined together in worship of our King Jesus. Because of the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, those who believe in Him, are all part of the family of God. Family is one of the most meaningful parts of my life. You may have noticed this - I post a lot of pictures of my kids. Also, because I'm the oldest of 7 kids, throughout my life family has been everything. It is amazing that this is part of God's design for his Church. We see this in scripture in passages like in John, where Jesus is praying to His Father:

"I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
John 17:22-23

How incredible it is that we are unified by Jesus, God in the flesh!

The residency at The Austin Stone, has been challenging in all the right ways! Spiritually I am challenged to read God's word and to apply what I'm learning to how I worship and how I relate to others. I am challenged by the fact that people can tell if I'm fighting to believe, or if I'm simply complacent in my understanding of the gospel. If what I'm speaking doesn't come from deep within, people can tell. I am also being challenged to serve the body of Christ well with the skills I've been given. This means spending time memorizing songs and lyrics and working on song arrangements, dynamics, and transitions. I am incredibly blessed, humbled and excited to be able to do this!  On Tuesday I had the opportunity to record a couple songs in the studio! Fernando, Zach, and Logan helped me out on drums, keys, and audio production. It was so much fun and really added to my development as a musician and worship leader. The full picture of these experiences is summed up by the fact that I am gaining an understanding of how the Church can and should operate in a healthy way, as a family, in unity, as one! 

I would like to thank everyone who is supporting our family through prayer and monetary means during this season of development. This residency is preparing not only me, but my wife and my two young children for vocational ministry longterm. As we continue learning and growing I would like to ask for your prayers and financial support. Please consider this prayerfully. And click below if God lays this on your heart. Thank you! 

This Christmas, as we gathered in a circle, as we gather as a family, let us remember why we gather. Let us remember that God sent his son, in the flesh, as a baby to earth to save all humanity, so that we could believe and be part of His eternal family. Jesus, the son of God came to earth fully God and fully human.

Fruit of the Spirit

Sawyer loved playing the grand piano at Pawpa's during Thanksgiving!

During the Development Program this week we studied the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. What powerful stuff! I (Dusty) often forget that the Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity just as the Father and the Son are. To me, God the Father and God the Son are much more tangible - we see the Father moving throughout the Old Testament, even showing up on the scene in various forms, and we clearly see God the Son in Jesus's ministry on Earth in the New Testament. I forget to take note of God the Holy Spirit. But as our speaker told us through the message Wednesday, the Holy Spirit is the Person of our time. The Old Testament had The Father, the New Testament had Jesus, and presently we have the Holy Spirit. We have Him because of Jesus's work here on Earth. When His work was done, He told us it is to our advantage for Him to go so that we would have the Holy Spirit. How could it be better for Him to go? He was God in flesh walking amongst us.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. John 16:7

So if it was to our advantage for Him to go, then man, the Holy Spirit is pretty incredible. I mean, He is God, but do we remember that? Do I remember that? Is my day marked by what the Holy Spirit is doing in my life? Because guess what: The SAME spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (THE DEAD) is living inside of me, is guiding me, interceding for me, loving me, fighting for me. 

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11

I know that this can be a weighty topic, and Sam and I would love to sit down and talk to whoever has any questions or comments. It's hard sometimes to write blogs because a topic cannot fully be covered on paper. However, I wanted to share what we learned this week. And I wanted to share a practical application of remembering the Holy Spirit that we talked about in our discussion group: When thinking about our day, whether throughout or at the end, we can ask ourselves, "Was my day filled with the fruit of Spirit?" 

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."
Galatians 5:22-23

During my day, is this fruit evident? Am I patient when the kids spill food on the floor for the hundredth time after I told them a million times to sit on their bottoms? Am I loving when someone says something that hurts my feelings? Am I showing kindness to strangers I cross in the grocery store? Every action of our day should be overflowing with these things. Granted, we are going to fail; we are not perfect. But if we know Jesus Christ and believe in the work He did in His ministry and in His death, then we have the Holy Spirit. And if we have the Holy Spirit, then He will help us when we are weak, when we want to be angry instead of peaceful, when we want to indulge instead of being self-controlled. My prayer is that this Fruit be evident in my life. Like I joked with my discussion group, I may need to tattoo these verses on my arm as a reminder. 

- Dusty

Strength

Good Evening, Y'all! Happy Fall! It's finally getting cool here in Texas. As I sit with my honey on the couch, listening to the wind blow as a cool front comes in, I can't help but get excited for next week and Thanksgiving. But I won't jump ahead to next week. Let me tell you about this week. 

Our beautiful darling children have been struggling with the end of Daylight Savings Time. I mean, personally, I am ready to write whoever is in charge and petition to just get rid of this whole Springing Forward an hour and Falling Back an hour. Seriously. Is anyone else with me? We have seen way too many 5:00ams. Like this week, they were up between 5:00 - 5:30am almost every morning.

On Tuesday, the kids woke up super early. We had a full day ahead of us too. I laid JB down for her morning nap a little early and was trying to get some Bible reading in before tackling the busy day ahead. I was sitting on the couch, letting Sawyer play on the ground and watching a movie. I had my pen in hand and my Bible in my lap. Sawyer noticed I had a pen and came over, "Can I have that pencil?" "Sure," I said and handed it (he loves writing). He then crawled up on the couch with me and said, "I need a Bible too." Melt. My. Heart. I handed him a stack of sticky notes that were in my bag and asked him if he could write me notes about the Bible as I read it out loud to him. So he did. JB was fighting her nap, so I decided we would go out for our errands earlier than expected. I got her loaded in the car and came back in to get Sawyer. He had taken every sticky note, "wrote" on it, and had placed them all over the pillows on the couch. He was so proud. And so was I. I love seeing these little blossoms of fruit in his life.

On Wednesday, there was no getting them to stay in bed. We were up at 5:00am. In a way this was a blessing in disguise because I had forgotten that I was in charge of bringing grapes for Sawyer's school Thanksgiving feast. I loaded the kids up in their pajamas and off to the store we went. As we drove up with it still dark out, Sawyer reads happily "H-E-B." I think it is great he is recognizing letters and words, but seriously, at 6:00am I would have been just as happy to be sleeping. Well, we made it through the grocery store, still bleary eyed and barely cognizant. We had donuts for breakfast, and I got all the grapes cut up before school started. Wednesday was off to a great start! Later that day, we were headed North for our weekly class. The kids had fallen asleep in the car, so I ended up driving around a small little neighborhood for two hours listening to Systematic Theology. Thank you podcasts. 

So you can see a small glimpse of how our weeks have been lately. The funny thing: I have been trying to trust God more with my time, especially with my sleep (as you probably remember from previous posts, I love sleep). I have a tendency to say, "OK God, I trust you with my sleep tonight" with the idea that He will help keep the kids asleep. I am putting contingencies on my trust in Him. Just these past few days have I really realized that I must trust Him when I get sleep and when I don't get sleep. He will carry me through my day either way - completely rested or utterly exhausted. 

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
 Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)

So easily I can pass over the above passage because I hear it so often. But it is Truth. I love how God never grows tired or weary. Oh, how I long for a day to not be tired or weary. May my hope be in the Lord as I trust Him with my time, my sleep, and with my children's sleep.  

- Dusty


Sam here: I just need to say how amazing it is to see my wife Dusty pouring into our kids and supporting me and our family every step of the way. For instance, It's currently 11:30pm. Sawyer has been coughing for several minutes, but now Jahanabell is awake because she wet the bed. So now they are both awake crying. So I'm signing off on my way to help with "operation: get-the-kids-to-sleep". And Dusty is a rockstar.

God is good. God is our strength.

Portrait of The Creator

I had never seen Sawyer quite so content. He sat playing with his wooden castle from G-ma putting pieces together and placing the little soldier men inside the walls.

Just a few minutes before, Sawyer was hollering, "Daddy!! Let's play music together!" and Jahnabell was crying uncontrollably. Fast forward five minutes and Jahnabell is sound asleep for a nap and Sawyer and I are playing guitars together. It wasn't long before I look up and Sawyer is playing all by himself with the most content look on his face. I was reminded of how incredible it is that God created Sawyer and knew him even before he was thought of by any human on earth. I began reading in Psalm 77 and working on writing a song. Verses 16-20 grabbed my attention. How spectacular it is that the waters, the earth, the skies and the depths respond with trembling to the Lord of all creation!

The waters saw You, O God;
The waters saw You, they were afraid;
The depths also trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
The skies sent out a sound;
Your arrows also flashed about.
The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind;
The lightnings lit up the world;
The earth trembled and shook.
Your way was in the sea,
Your path in the great waters,
And Your footsteps were not known.
You led Your people like a flock
By the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Psalm 77: 16-20

Sawyer decided he wanted to dress up as Aaron Ivey for a friends birthday party and he wanted Jahnabell to be "Jaleesa". It was super cute. Aaron and Jaleesa are worship leaders at our church. Sawyer is very observant and somehow decided he wanted to look like someone he knew and admired. I'm ok with that :) What a kid. What a blessing he is. What a blessing they both are!