obedience

Other Shores

For the last 8 years Karen and I have lived in the place where this country plunges into the Pacific.

We have perched here, sometimes precariously, through brush fires and earthquakes. We've made friends and made a life. We've seen God move powerfully in our lives and through our lives. We have been far from family, but have learned how the church is an expression of family far greater than we ever imagined. And we have added Finnden and Ellis to our own little roster, raising them in a place that is far removed from our midwestern roots but a place we have come to call home, the only one they've ever known.

But a new shore awaits, albeit a very different one. Lake Michigan is a far cry from the Pacific.

I have recently been invited to join the team at Willow Creek Community Church as a creative director, so January's blank slate will bring for us a new adventure on the outskirts of Chicago.

I haven't been sure how to capture this journey, and I've had no shortage of internal frustration over that. (Words are kind of my thing.) But words have been both too tiny and too tangible to get at what has been going on. A friend of mine just phrased this frustration beautifully when she said, "You can't type out tears."

We have heard God's voice and experienced his intimacy in this season unlike any other time in our lives. Our story over the last several months has been one where we have been bowled over by God's kindness, his generosity, and his deep interest in both the mundane and the momentous parts of our lives. Countless times in my life I have lifted my face to my Father and, rather bluntly, asked, "Can you just tell me what to do? I mean, can you just lay it out for me?" I've always thought that would make things easier, taking the weight of decision-making and the weight of the consequences off of my plate.

Well, I got what I've been asking for. He's made it abundantly clear. But I have come to realize that the clarity of a call does not always equal ease in our obedience. In fact, taking steps of obedience rarely, if ever, means taking them lightly.

I have been thinking a lot about Abraham lately, but particularly about back when he was Abram. In Genesis 12 he gets a call to go. The call is laid out in verses 1-3. Go read it. It's pretty clear.

And then he goes. He does it. Verse 4: So Abram went. He obeys. And I think I've always read it in a pretty straightforward way. He gets a call, and he goes. Cause and effect. But was Abram at all like me? Hmm.

In my translation there's this little break between verses 3 and 4—a new line, the beginning of a new paragraph. And I wonder if there isn't a significant human drama tucked between the paragraph break. Because that little space is where we've been living the last several months, and ours has been full. Full with the wringing of hands and long waits on phone calls. With hard conversations and epiphanies. With the repeated question, "Are you sure?" With happy tears and sad tears and inexplicable tears. (Lots of tears.)

Into the little space between God's call and our going, God has poured out a torrent of his grace and love that is so much greater than my words can do justice. In that space—a moment that in the span of life and the story of God is less than a breath or a blink—occurred the gentle and gradual reposturing of our hearts toward God's desires, so that we now enjoy the gift of obeying out of delight rather than out of wrote servitude.

We could not be more excited for what lies ahead. We are thrilled to make new people a part of our lives. We are eager to get going. But we are also heartbroken in our goodbyes, anxious about not knowing what we don't know, and fearful of the many challenges that surely lie ahead.

So we obey. But not lightly. Not blindly. We are simply determined to be brave.

And I am thankful for a God who bastions my bravery with his unassailable sovereignty. So bring on new shores. Bring on the unknown. Bring on the adventure. Bring on growing pains and new-found dependence. And bring on the snow.

Much More Than We Realize

If we are painters we must paint. If we are dancers we must dance. If we are writers we must write. If we are artists we must create. Creation is our imperative.

Two years ago I sat down at my computer to write. I had forty minutes before I had to be in a meeting to plan the weekend's services. For the last month or so I had been dry; there hadn't been a creative spark much less a fire.

As a creative director, walking into a meeting week after week without having anything to offer begins to make you wonder why you're there at all.

But that day something was brewing. And I was a little angry about it. We were teaching on God's holiness, and words had started coming to me out of the blue. I spent about twenty minutes fighting an inner battle as to whether or not I would actually follow through and write.

"I only have an hour. What good is that going to do? I'd rather go into the meeting empty-handed than have some half-written, barely thought through...something or other."

But something told me I needed to write. I needed to get this one out. And so, forty minutes before the meeting I began to write. And the words just flowed. They had rhythm and rhyme, and I was surprised by them. As I walked into the meeting a few minutes later I knew that what I had was less than a third of the completed piece, and I didn't even know what it was.

I'd decided to keep it to myself. Lay low for one more meeting, and let the opportunity, and the topic, and the piece disappear in the rush of the week ahead. But throughout the meeting, as I tried to keep quiet ,my palms started sweating, and my heart started pounding.

Finally, just before we wrapped up, I blurted out, "I might have something."

All eyes turned to me. And waited.

"I don't even know what it is, exactly," I said. "I guess it's a…" I didn't know how to label it. "I think it's…a spoken word."

All eyes were still on me. A couple eyebrows raised, waiting.

So I started reading. My mouth was dry, and I think my throat closed off once, but I read. Then I waited, without breathing, my face hot and my gaze boring into the screen of my laptop, not wanting to meet the eyes of anyone in the room. And it was silent.

And then someone spoke. "Wow."

And someone else. "We have to do that this weekend."

And another. "I can't wait to hear the rest."

That day, that meeting, that small act of obedience started me on a whole new trajectory of creativity that I could not have engineered. Again and again I have had words tumble into me, and I have chosen to be obedient and allow them to flow out of me. I have seen these words move people and change people. I have seen them speak truth and shout the gospel in places where it had not previously been welcome.

I have been used. In tiny decisions–small acts of obedience–I have seen the Holy Spirit move in the hearts and minds of people. Through spoken word I have realized that I am a mouthpiece for God. That as an artist I can be a pastor, a teacher, a prophet and an evangelist.

And I saw this confirmed in the most incredible way a few days ago.

Monday morning I was reading 2 Chronicles. Skimming, really. I'd been in 1 Chronicles and lost interest in the genealogies and city names. My mind had begun to wander, so I started flipping pages. I stopped in 2 Chronicles 2 where Solomon prepares to build the temple of the Lord.

I hate to admit it, but I have only very rarely read any of 2 Chronicles. I've certainly never taken any special note of it, studied it, or memorized it. But as I came to verse 6 I saw these words:

...heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him...

I stopped. My mouth opened in surprise. Here, nearly word-for-word, was a line from God Is Holy, my very first spoken word, written two years earlier.

And heaven, Highest heaven, Cannot contain him Cannot attain him Cannot explain him.

And it was that phrase "highest heaven" that really struck me. I remembered writing those words. I remembered feeling confused by having written them. The phrase had looked wrong. How could there be a heaven higher than heaven? I had crossed it out and almost immediately written it again just underneath. I didn't understand it, but it was right somehow.

And as I stared at those words in 2 Chronicles the affirmation of God came crashing down on me.

God had spoken his word through me. HIS VERY WORDS. I'd always believed (or hoped) this was true in some abstract way, but here it was confirmed. His immutable word had been put in my heart, my mind and my mouth.

This is the power of art. Our God speaks to us. Our God speaks through us. Friends, the work that we do is so much more than we realize. We need only be obedient.