Social Media & the "Fear of Men" - Part 2

There have been a lot of thoughts churning around in this brain of mine that I've wanted to write on here for a while now (I won't even get into how long it's been since my last post). Here's one of them, and after reading my initial post on Social Media & the "Fear of Men," it seems that this is just an extension of what I wrote previously...

I've noticed a lot recently just how LOUD our culture is in promoting themselves. Maybe I sense this so much because I've come to realize - and be ok with - the fact that my personality both musically and personally is such that I'm more of a subtle, quiet kind of guy. But man, it sure feels like it's a giant game of "who can talk the loudest game."

I've spent the past couple months re-reading the Sermon on the Mount. God has used it to speak to me in fresh ways, and in this particular case, I just can't help but hear Jesus' words ringing in my head...

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:1-4)

The key part of this for me is when Jesus says that, when people go out of their way to make their good deeds known to other people, they've already received their reward. As to say, you've got what you came for - the attention and hype! But the reward Jesus really wants the people to be after is the one that comes from the Father. And notice: when he says "your Father who sees in secret will reward you," he doesn't say what he'll reward you with. I don't think this is an fact, I think it's the brilliance of Jesus, and I think it's Him ultimately saying to us "your reward will be God Himself." 

And so, Jesus is ultimately commending/giving approval to those whose heart is NOT to boast about all the great things they're doing. He's giving validity to NOT hyping yourself, so long as the reward you're seeking after is faithfulness and approval from God HimselfMy oh my, how this kind of heart is forgotten (and even shunned) in our culture. 

In recent weeks, God has used all these thoughts to teach me how to be content just to BE QUIET. To simply stop caring about what boasting about myself might get me, and to fix my eyes on the unseen (yet ever-so-precious) reward of God's delight and approval of me. And I can honestly say that it's made me infinitely happier.

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One more thought...jazz musicians have always been FIERCELY INDIVIDUAL, right? As I briefly mentioned above, I now know (and am really learning to embrace) who I am musically: I'm someone who's way more into subtlety, nuance, space, and beauty rather than power, pyrotechnics, playing lots of notes or getting "house." The connecting thought here is this: I'm already a more reserved, subtle kind of person. Why not treat my social media/promoting myself in the same way? Maybe the Lord is calling me to be fiercely individual by NOT boasting about myself like the rest of the world. Maybe that's one aspect of what's going to make me really be ME and stand out...and of course it would! That's what Jesus made sure his disciples knew when he told them, in essence, that their lives won't look like the world's. They'll be condemned and hated for it. But, oh how much greater their reward will be!!

Still lots to work out, and this became much longer than I originally anticipated (story of my life). But, it's exciting to me to know that these things I'm thinking about are putting me on a trajectory towards finding my reward in God. I'm all in for that.

Improvisation: God Revealing His Glory in the Creation Process

It's only March and I already haven't lived up to my personal goal of writing twice a month. To my defense, I think becoming a father is a pretty decent excuse :) However, in lieu, here's a couple posts over the next few days that I've had on my brain over the past couple months but couldn't write until now.

I've noticed something interesting as I've been in the shed lately, and that is that there are lots of really deep and fascinating things happening when we truly improvise. One of them I've been thinking about in particular is that we are getting to enjoy and experience a taste of what The Lord knows fully in the act of CREATING. Since He is the One who is the original creator and master improviser, the One who made the earth and the galaxies and everything in all existence (when none of that had ever existed before), improvising should remind us of how much greater of a creator God is than we are. He's infinitely more inspired, perfect in his execution, sovereignly knows and senses what will happen next in his creation like a master composer and improviser does, and even the smallest of his creations trumps our greatest or deepest improvisation that we could ever have. And so, the fact that God allows US to experience even just a bit of what it's like to CREATE like He does should humble us and produce serious awe and gratefulness in us.

God clearly wants us to know the delight and freedom He has in creating, but not so that we our enjoyment would end in the creating. This is idolatry. And unfortunately as musicians, there are a considerable more number of models of the idolatry of creation than there are of those that prize Him as the maker of creation. It's easy to see why...if you love to improvise you know the feelings of joy, childlikeness, and sheer ecstasy you have when you're truly creating. These are intense feelings we experience - ones that we want to experience over and over again - and so it's no wonder why so many musicians have, in their idolatry, forsaken everything to have them or keep them. 

What's humbling here though is that, if we do this, we end up missing out on the original intent God had for the process of creation in our lives. We will have exchanged the glory of the the Creator for the glory of the creation:

"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" - Romans 1:21-25

Yes it's true that the Father has ultimately made it so that we experience these thrilling feelings when we improvise. But isn't that first and foremost so that we would know His heart? If we experience these things, how much more intensely must God experience them! And so isn't this God giving us a window to know and see Him intimately, that our enjoyment ultimately find its end in how great HE is and not how great the process of "creation" is?

That we would get to experience just a hint of what God knows in creation is something we shouldn't take for granted. In fact, what more of a reminder do we improvising musicians have on a regular basis of how great God is, as well as the humble reality of how much more creative and artistic He is than we ever could be? This grounds us and roots us in at least part of what our creating was really meant to be about.

"My grace is sufficient for you" - God's power in MY weakness

Over the course of my career as a musician, there've been numerous times when I've realized something very humbling: that I don't have the capacity or ability on my own to do what I've been called to do. When I see this is happening, I often try to muster up whatever I need by my own strength. And every time I do this  - and consequently fail - I realize after the fact that it's precisely in these moments when the Lord wants me to honestly and humbly confess my needs to Him and then watch Him answer. 

It's such a hard thing to be honest with yourself and admit that you can't do something. After all, we have the whole world (and our own flesh) telling us otherwise..."you can do whatever you set your mind to" etc. In addition, it's easy to look at everyone around you and see them succeeding at the things you don't have the ability to do (not realizing that the whole time it's God who's granting them abilities or capacity to do what they do - "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" 1 Corinthians 4:7).

Frankly, it'd be embarrassing for me to share how many times I've tried to rely on my own abilities or strength - even after I see time and time again how it doesn't work. I know that I am God's workmanship and that He created me to do specific and good things (Eph 2:10). And I know that He promises to supply every need of mine according to His glory in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19). And yet I'm so slow to learn and run to Him when I need Him most!

My most vivid experiences of this have come out of the calling that I've felt for a long time now to be a jazz trumpet player and bandleader. At times I haven't been able to explain why or how I feel this way, but over the years I've seen so many signs to confirm this. And in the very moment I realize this, instantly my mind and heart bring all sorts of doubts to the table: "But I play too many mind games with myself that often paralyze me" or "I don't have the fearless strength that a trumpet player and/or bandleader needs," etc.

But it's in these moments when I sense the Lord quietly saying to me, "John, of course you don't have the ability to do what I've called you to on your own. It's because you don't! That's where I'm calling you to rely on me and seek me for what you need, and I'll provide abundance." And I can attest to the fact that every single time I've obeyed the Spirit in this He's done exactly as He promised to.

And in that moment, when I feel most weak and helpless and I've asked the Lord to move, I begin to feel a wonderful thing...that I've done what God has intended the trial to do in the first place - to make me run to Him (and running to Him is the safest and surest refuge). What's more is that I know for certain in that moment that God will answer that prayer. I know that He'll answer - in His timing and His own way of course, but He will answer. And O what a sweet feeling of assurance I feel in that moment! It's infinitely better than any self-satisfactory tease that my flesh longs for in wanting to do it on my own strength, that's for sure.

Social Media & the "Fear of Men"

I think it's a weekly, sometimes daily battle I fight. You log in to Facebook or Twitter and you see all these statuses of people posting about the great gigs they're doing, places they're touring, musicians they're playing with. And it starts to creep in…the motivation/thought of "I need to post things about myself to make my musicianship/artistry/career look as good as everyone else." Yes, the dreaded humble-brag.

The thing about humble bragging that I think we fail to see often is that it shows us what we really love, what our hearts are really craving: identity and approval from other people. Why, we wouldn't see a need to brag if we didn't think deep down that it would validate us in some way. And as a Christian, God has pointed things to say about where and how we should satisfy these cravings:

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)

"Let another praise you, and not your own mouth" (Proverbs 27:2a)

”For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10)

This is serious business here.

I'm grateful to have some good brothers in my life who, when they see me turning from the truth, lovingly correct me and set me straight. One of these who did so just a few months ago is Jason Harms - a gifted jazz singer and songwriter based in Minneapolis, MN (Jason also has a FANTASTIC book he's written called The Affections of the Heart in Art…very much worth reading). Thank you Jason…I needed that correction more than you know.

In Harms' book he writes this:

"Our pride whispers to us that our work’s value (and our pleasure) is proportional to its recognition or affirmation in the eyes of men. But if an artist would seek his satisfaction in that Sphere One fellowship with God, in being found faithful and obedient to God in his work, he can absolutely have his appetite for being accepted satisfied. We should seek to know God’s praises in our work and entrust to God whether or not the work ever gets shown, or what might be the artwork’s replication factor, or in which venue might it be displayed. Due to our pride, we often miss the port of satisfaction because we understand that port to be named “The Praises of Men” rather than “Faithfulness to God."

I couldn't say it better myself. And I need to remember this everyday. It's better to pursue faithfulness to the Lord - which will last for eternity - rather than fight tooth and nail for the praises of men, which ultimately mean nothing in the grand scheme of things.

“O fear the LORD, you His saints; for to those who fear Him there is no want.” (Psalm 34:9)

Back to the blogosphere

I made a list of New Year's Resolutions this year, just like I do every year. I'm impressed with myself that the list was shorter than last year…I'm all for being concise and doing a few things really well. What I'm not impressed with though is that one of my resolutions was the EXACT SAME as one I had last year…and I hadn't done anything in 2014 to show for it.

That's going to change this year.

This blog will be 100% devoted towards sharing thoughts and musings of mine as I walk out my life as Christian musician. For those who don’t know me well, my faith is the most integral part of my life. It informs everything I do and it’s what I treasure and love the most (or at least what I want to treasure and love the most – I don’t always keep my priorities straight). I’m no expert at how integrate my faith with my life as a musician. And I’m not a “seasoned vet” at this point either. However, there have been a few things I’ve learned over the years, as well as things that I’m currently learning, that I believe are worth sharing for those that are interested.

I'm hoping to write at least a couple times a month, so check back often and I'm sure there'll be something new up here.

Here's to being faithful in 2015.