When Fame Begins With a Piece of Paper and a Pen

They say the heart of rock and roll is in Cleveland. I recently had the chance to feel that heart beat when I visited the city and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of the highlights for me was to see artifacts from one of my all-time favorite bands: Electric Light Orchestra. I got to see highlights of their induction which happened earlier this year. In addition, there were guitars, clothes, and other artifacts from the band that brought back memories and fascinated my creativity. It was fun to see how fame often has humble beginnings.

I was most fascinated by the numerous handwritten artifacts. Most of them were the original manuscripts of famous songs. The songwriters took pen to paper and scratched out lyrics that are now on the hearts, mouths, and minds of millions. It speaks to the power of simple paper and pen.

Jeff Lynne, the founder and front man of ELO, talked about the encouragement he received from his father. He picked up a used guitar and started writing songs. His dad saw Jeff’s potential, bought him a new (used) guitar, and told him to keep on writing. That encouragement led to a lifetime career in music, working with former members of the Beatles, and being part of a “supergroup” named the Traveling Wilburys.

Certainly not everyone needs, or even wants, fame. But we all need a certain kind of fame if we want effectiveness in our work or vocation. Every leader needs to be known well at least by those one leads. What better way to become known than by writing?

While we were in Cleveland I ran into a good friend who wants to do just that. Their kids are now all out of the house and she wants to start a blog. So she asked me about how to get started, logistics, and content. She has a great idea for her blog. I’m certain that she will attain the kind of fame she desires. She has the passion and the ability. She’s about to use her newfound fame for the benefit of others.

All it takes is putting pen to paper. Who knows where it might lead? There are all kinds of people in my life that I wish would write and put their musings out into the world. It would make this world a far richer place.

Why not you? You might even end up in some kind of hall of fame, even if it’s your own family hall of fame.

What can you write today?

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Hemingway and the Simply Complicated Way to Creativity

Ernest Hemingway may be the 20th century literary creative icon that stands above all others. He wrote such masterpieces as The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms. When it comes to creativity you could do worse than to look to him. In 1934 a young man named Arnold Samuelson hitched a ride on a coal car from Minnesota all the way to Key West. His goal was to spend at least an hour with Hemingway trying to learn something about the craft of writing. He ended up spending a year with the master.

Amongst the many other things Samuelson learned, this was one that stood out. Hemingway said:

The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time… Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work.

I’ve heard it said (though haven’t tracked down a reliable source) that Hemingway would use a simple technique to keep his writing moving. He would apparently write half a sentence at the end of the day. He knew how it would end. So he’d be able to pick right up the next day where he left off. It sounds easy. But it’s really not.

The hard work of writing came as Hemingway would write and rewrite. It came as he would the morning hours writing what he had researched and dreamed up in his mind. Hemingway claimed that he rewrote A Farewell to Arms over fifty times. Nothing complicated about it. Write. And then rewrite. Not complicated, but very difficult and very hard work.

Two lessons from Hemingway:

  1. Quit when you know where you’re going next. Use your own trick to “stop in the middle of the sentence” and pick up where you left off.
  2. You won’t have a masterpiece on your first try. Don’t be afraid to tweak, rewrite, re-work, and do whatever you can to refine your work. It will be all that much better.

What tricks do you use to inspire your creativity?

This is part of an occasional series of lessons in creativity from creative masters.

5 Reasons We Miss You When You’re Not In Church

One single issue in the church has become increasingly prominent in this still new 21st century. It’s the issue of regular weekend worship. For the purposes of this post we’ll define “regular worship” as attending a church service three to four times per month. In my very limited experience (the viewpoint of one congregation), the number of people living up to this definition is fewer and further between. But it appears that my experience isn’t unique.

Here’s one opinion. When you are a member of a congregation, and you miss church, it’s not just about you. There are people who need you and miss you.

There are at least five reasons we miss you when you’re not in church:

  1. Our church family is not complete. Church is a family that is not connected by human blood, but by the blood of Jesus. In some ways, we are closer than our human family. We are a forever family. When one or more of us are missing we are, in a very real way, incomplete.
  2. Our song isn’t quite as strong. Music is an integral part of worship. Even in heaven. But on earth our song isn’t quite as strong when voices are missing. What should be full-throated praise ends up sounding much more like a whimper.
  3. Our financial stewardship is weakened. It’s been shown that when people don’t attend church they aren’t likely to make their regular donation. When people are in church they are far more likely to make a donation of some kind. They are moved to give by the preaching and power of God’s Word. When churches struggle with their bills there is ministry that fails to be accomplished.
  4. Our pews and seats are empty. You might wonder why this matters. “OK…so there are some empty seats.” But think of the guest who walks into the church and wonders where everyone is. There’s a good chance they might not return. People like to be a part of things that are on the upward swing.
  5. Our gifts and talents fall short. When we don’t all join together for weekend worship we don’t have all of our gifts and talents in one place. Just think of the opportunities that might be missed. It might go something like this: You’re an idea person and I work well with my hands. You come up with an idea to build a brand new baptismal font. I have the ability to build it. But if we aren’t together in church to make a connection between the two of us this beautiful piece of art will never happen.

See what we miss when you’re not there? We miss you. And you are an important part of who we are as God’s people.

We’ll see you in church this Sunday, OK?

When a Fire Takes Away Everything You Own

Two of my high school classmates recently lost their homes to fires. The same thing nearly happened to us this past Saturday. I was away at church. Tammy was home with our son, Ben, and his wife Emily. Tammy broiled something in the oven. She looked away just a bit too long. Next thing she knew she looked into the oven and it was filled with flames.

Tammy yelled to Ben to call 911. Of all times for him to be away from his phone this was it. He is never away from his phone. It’s attached to his hand. But this one time he didn’t have it. So she grabbed our fire extinguisher, pulled the pin, aimed it into the oven, and shot. Just like that the fire was out. And just like that there was extinguisher residue all over the house.

By the time I came home it was all cleaned up. Tammy was still shaken up. It could have been much, much worse. We could be homeless today.

But we’re not. When Tammy told me what happened, the first thing I thought about is what I would miss if our house burned down. I honestly couldn’t think of too many things that simply couldn’t be replaced. But this event reminded me:

  • There are plenty of things I should get rid of. If I wouldn’t miss it if it were lost in a fire, maybe I should give it away, donate it, or recycle it.
  • The most important things in life aren’t things. There’s nothing more important than faith and family. I would never want to lose either of them. Thankfully neither have been taken away.
  • Even though I wouldn’t miss much of my “stuff,” it would be horrible if I lost it. I’m certainly not wishing I would lose my earthly possessions. They do mean something, or I wouldn’t have them. But I had better remember that their lasting value is limited.
  • A home in which to live ought not be taken for granted. It’s so nice to come home at the end of a day and find a place that is comfortable and filled with the people and the things that are significant to us.
  • A fire extinguisher is a mighty important thing to have. You never know when you’ll need it.

How do you take stock of your priorities?

How to Love Like Christ Loves His Church

St. Paul said it. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25). Impossible, right? Yes. It is. Christ gave Himself for the church by hanging dead on a cross. You or I could never fully live that kind of love. That’s utter and complete sacrifice. But there is a sense in which we can live a fraction of that kind of love. I’ve seen it.

If you have a son-in-law I can only wish for you that he would live up to the standards of mine. We liked Josh from the minute we met him. But we love him even more now that we have seen the way he treats our daughter. Even more so throughout the course of her recent pregnancy and delivery of our first grandchild.

I can’t even count the number of times he said to her over the last nine months: “Are you OK?” He made sure a healthy, picture perfect dinner was ready for her every night when she came home from work. Josh oversaw her diet. He cautioned her about what to eat and what not to eat (or drink). Josh accompanied her to every doctor visit and did what he could for her when she experienced the pain of contractions. The decorations in the corner of their little apartment have just as many of Josh’s fingerprints as Ashlyn’s.

In the 48 hours before the delivery Josh took Ashlyn to the Labor and Delivery Triage at the hospital no less than three times. He was with her through every contraction and push. Now that little Crosby has been born his care for our daughter and his new son has been ramped up even more. He’s more involved in feeding, and care, and newborn tactics than I ever was. Josh is serving them hand and foot…literally.

He has not hung on a cross for them, but I’m pretty sure he would if he had to. It doesn’t mean he’s any more saintly than you or I. It just means that he loves in the way that he has been called to by Christ Himself. He is giving of himself in nearly every possible way. He sacrifices self for the sake of those he loves.

I couldn’t ask for more for the ones I love so much.

When have you seen this kind of love?

The Blue Hue of Christmas

Merry Christmas! He Qi is one of my favorite artists. His Nativity speaks to me so much so, that I can’t help but contemplate it each year at this time. He Qi brings the Nativity into his own Japanese culture. It’s a reminder that no matter our culture, our Christ comes to us. What strikes me about this work more than anything is the piece of fruit in Jesus’ little hand. I believe it’s significant. Read on to find out why.

Nativity, by He Qi. Used by permission. Click here to view and purchase prints and posters.

A few years ago I wrote a meditation on this piece of art. I’d like to share it with you again for this Christmas of 2016:

The hue is blue, but the mood is not. Into the pale, dark depths of a broken and fragmented world, a Star falls and lands into the waiting arms of a young lady, pink and pure.

Faceless angels spread their arms in blessing, while sheep and goats bow their heads in praise. A father’s lantern wants to lend some light, but the Star provides a beam that will not be overcome.

Lost in wonder, rag-topped men can do nothing else but crane their necks and gaze into the sky. From whence this light? From whence this love? From whence this Beaming Babe?

A Star has fallen into the waiting arms of a young lady, pink and pure. And in His tiny hands, Eden’s fruit that, this time, will not be consumed.

Spread your arms in blessing. Bow your head in praise. Bask in the light that will not be overcome. Lose yourself in wonder and crane your neck in eager expectation.

The hue is blue, but the mood is not! The Morning Star has come to bring His beaming brightness into the pale, dark depths of a broken and fragmented world. The hue is blue, but the mood is not.

How does this version of the Nativity speak to you?

It’s the Time Machine Time of the Year

We have a little photo album we get out only at this time of the year. It’s a time machine. The photo album contains pictures of our family. They go back to the very first Christmas that Tammy and I celebrated together as a married couple. We can page through the book and relive the memories that go back more than thirty years.

But it doesn’t take a picture book to do that. Do you find, like I do, that every Christmas season brings back a flood of memories that go back to your earliest years? It’s like a time machine. Every year I think about our little house on Tacoma Street in Milwaukee. The tree sat in front of the big picture window. I remember the year there was a red wagon sitting under that tree.

My memory goes back to those years we lived in Wauwatosa. The tree sat right next to the wonderful fireplace that roared with flames each Christmas morning. My dad would set up the logs the night before so that all we had to do was strike the match. One of my favorite gifts ever came under that tree. Some way, some how, my mom knew I wanted some hip, black, high top shoes. More than that, when I put them on they fit perfectly. I’ll never forget what a perfect gift that was. It completely surprised me.

I can still remember almost every single year our own little family lived on 58th Street. No matter how old they were, our kids came running upstairs on Christmas morning. Even in their high school years they jumped on our bed and riled us from deep sleep. But they couldn’t enter the living room until we started the Christmas music.

But the ultimate time machine comes from Luke chapter 2. And it came to pass… Mary gave birth to a son. She placed Him in a manger. Angels sang. Shepherds ran. Many wondered. Mary treasured.

We hear it every single year. There is no Christmas without it. It compacts every Christmas together. The gifts mean nothing without The Gift. From the time I was less than a year old I have heard the story. I’m certain that at my last Christmas I will hear the story once again.

It transcends time. Luke 2 is like a time machine. It takes the sin of Eden and wipes it away. It throws forward to the end times and brings hope. And it takes your time, all of it, the good and the bad, and redeems it once and for all.

A Baby was born 2000 years ago. He entered time and space to bring you the gift of grace.

Celebrate.

How is Luke 2 a time machine for you?

How Taking a Risk Can Help You Live a Better Life

Last Friday my wife, Tammy, took a huge risk. She put notice in at her workplace that she will be leaving at Christmas. Tammy’s been a teacher for more than twenty-five years. That run is about to come to an end. For a number of years now she has dreamed of taking a risk and trying something else with her life.

risk

The reasons are numerous. Teachers are encumbered with enormous amounts of paperwork these days. They are threatened by regulation that is way too strict. And the pay is far, far below what it ought to be for the people who are training up our children. Not to mention the fact that we will soon be grandparents.

More than that, Tammy is a creative person. Her sights are set on turning her creativity into an income. So she started a decorative pillow company that is already seeing income and growth.

All of this came to a head when she watched a Tedx TalkIt’s a talk entitled, “Risk Forward.” The speaker recounts how she studied with world renowned mime, Marcel Marceau. In his class he taught his students a basic move. The move calls for you to put one foot forward, slightly off balance, with your heart out. Risk forward. (I can’t recommend this Tedx Talk video highly enough. Go watch it now. Really…go watch it now.)

This mime move is a metaphor for those who don’t know what they want to do with their life. Or those who are contemplating a risk, like Tammy. One foot forward. Slightly off balance. Heart out.

When you take a risk and step out like that, you will be able to see around the corner. Right now you can’t see around the corner of the unknown. But when you take a risky step forward you will be able to see things that were previously unseen. You will be able to encounter the unknown and respond with things that you do know.

Blogger and entrepreneur, Michael Hyatt, says in a post: “Leap and the net will appear.”  His point is that people with big dreams aren’t willing to take a plunge until they are absolutely certain. But that time never comes. So they never leap. “Leap,” he says, “and the resources will appear.” It’s not recklessness. It’s faith in its purest form.

It’s a scary time for us. Tammy and I don’t yet know what kind of income this will all produce. We certainly need an extra stream of money. But we are confident that when she leaps, the net will appear. And life will be better for her in numerous ways: more freedom, creative expression, less restrictive work hours, and an opportunity to take her business as far as she can or wants to.

So…if you’re looking for some really nice pillows… 😉

Although risk is scary, it produces growth. Both success and failure are an education in and of themselves.

What risk are you ready to take?

How to Be Heroic Like the Hot Dog Princess

The internet is making everyday people celebrities and heroes. First we had “Chewbacca Mom.” Now we have the Hot Dog Princess. You can read about her “heroic” effort here. As Mashable puts it:

It was recently princess week at five-year-old Ainsley’s dance studio, so, naturally, Ainsley dressed as her favorite princess: a hot dog.

Princess (Black and White)

People loved it because Ainsley expressed her individuality rather than conforming with the crowd. If you look at the photos taken that day all the other girls are dressed in the traditional way you would expect a little to dress as a princess. But not Ainsley. She’s dressed as a hot dog. She has become internet famous. Her dad says it was all her idea.

Let’s just admit for a moment that using the word “heroic” for a little girl dressed as a hot dog is a bit of hyperbole. The word “heroic” ought to be saved for people who risk their lives in our defense. But in terms of expressing her originality, Ainsley might just be a minor hero. She knows who she is and she’s not afraid to express it.

One of the things that I’ve enjoyed about spending time in Nashville, where our son lives, is that it is filled with people who aren’t afraid to express their individuality and originality. It’s a city filled with artists. Folks there have come to expect unique tattoos, eccentric styles of dress, and an artsy flair in the people they encounter. I have always respected and admired people courageous enough to be themselves.

I appreciate it when people wear their creativity on their sleeve…sometimes literally. That might mean dressing like a hot dog during princess week, or it might mean wearing skinny jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball hat.

Being heroic like the Hot Dog Princess means not being afraid to express who you are. Life is too short to conform only because you’re concerned about what other people think.

So here’s how to be heroic like the Hot Dog Princess:

  • Have a little flair
  • Buy that hat
  • Take a leap into an endeavor you’ve always longed for
  • Try something new
  • Take a selfie doing something fun
  • Join Snap Chat and make some creative videos
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Be in touch with who you really are
  • Express it
  • Get a (gulp) tattoo

It’s OK to be who you are. Don’t be afraid to show it. People might even call you “heroic.”

How will you express your individuality today?

The Simple Key to Starting Something Brand New

There is a simple key to starting something brand new. Just ask an entrepreneur. Better yet, ask someone who’s in the business of planting a church. I learned just that as I had the opportunity to interview four pastors who are in various stages of planting brand new churches. You won’t find more dedicated, hard working individuals than pastors who give their heart and soul to making something that had never existed before. They have a love for God and a heart for people.

Key 2

I’m working on a project with a fellow pastor who wanted to put together some case studies of local church plants. One by one I interviewed these pastors and learned that they all held in their hand the key to starting something new. It was an eye-opening experience to see the seedlings of young churches that meet together in old warehouses, storefronts, and remodeled rooms. But each of them knew for certain the way to starting something new…in their case, a new church.

I asked each of the pastors, “What was the one key to planting this church that was unique to this community?” Here are their responses:

  • “Intentionally reaching the young family, because there was a hole in the ministry demographic here in our town.”
  • “Our mission statement is: ‘giving people a place to belong.’ We are a bedroom community, so we really wanted to make our worship space feel like home. We spent time intentionally choosing the decor so it has the feel of a home.”
  • “There is an opportunity here in this part of town because the people here are more available. The chief value here in our church is ‘authenticity.’ Everything else needs to move out of the way. You won’t impress these people with show or production. They make movies for Disney. They’ve worked at all the churches. They’ve seen behind the curtain. We created something for them that felt honest and intimate.”
  • “Our demographic is all about relationships. We don’t even put a sign up because people find us through other people. We’ve given up the pressure to grow big and want our church to be a place of refuge and healing. We’re always reminded of Andrew bringing Peter to Jesus. This is a place where people bring folks to a place where they get to meet Jesus.”

So, what’s the key? The key is to find a hole, an opening, a need, or a niche, and fill that hole, opening, need, or niche by delivering the universal message of the Gospel of Jesus’ love and forgiveness in the way that speaks to the particular people you are attempting to reach. In every case, these pastors have started something new by using this simple key.

In every case, these pastors have brought about something viable (with the help of the Holy Spirit) by reaching people who had previously been unreached. For one it was young families. For another it was those seeking a sense of home. For yet another it was people who needed authenticity in their lives outside of work. For the final pastor it was people who desperately needed genuine relationship in their lives.

There is most certainly a strong theology behind what each of these pastors are doing. They are preaching and teaching. But to do that effectively, they had to determine who it was to whom they would preach and teach.

Want to start something new? Determine a hole, an opening, a need, or a niche and fill it with something you know, with your passion, with your particular skill or talent. That’s the key.

What have you learned by starting something new?