What Comes Next

I’m considering furthering my education. Just starting to think about it…

…I think I want a seminary degree. I want to study the Bible, seriously. But I don’t want to go to some rubber stamp let’s-make-a-minister joint. It’s tough to decide which direction to go.

Or maybe I could learn some new technology. Study graphic arts, seriously. I’d love that.

Or dig back into another music degree.

I don’t know.

I just know I’m approaching a season of life when I’ve poured a ton of energy into raising kids. I still have tons of work to do in that direction.

But I’m starting to think about the things I want to do in the time I have left. It’s feeling really precious to me. There’s a lot I don’t know. There’s a lot I’d love to learn.

While I’m thinking through this, I’m going to spend a lot of time hugging my kids. I’m thinking that by the time David’s 18, I’ll have figured out what I want to do next.

A Blog Post In Which I Compare The Bible To Lettuce Wraps

In the process of speaking with someone about their spiritual journey last week, I found our conversation to be quite – well, convicting is the buzz word we use in spiritual circles. We say we are “convicted” when our internal alarms go off, when we realize our hand is stuck in the cookie jar and someone knows. When hypocrisy is evident. When something we do fails to line up with what we say.

We were talking about what informs our faith, how we are living into the label of Christ-follower. And I found myself convicted.
My Bible-reading is hit or miss. Not a day goes by that I don’t refer to something I have read from the Bible. Much is hidden in my heart, in my memory. There is no doubt that my life and thoughts and deeds are informed and influenced by scripture. I’m a Christian; that’s what we do. It matters. My beliefs are based on what’s in the Bible.
But the day-to-day reading, holding the book in my hands? Hit or miss, honestly. No daily 5:45 AM appointment with my Bible. It’s not the last thing I read at night. Honestly, a good part of my Bible-reading these days comes from the internet; I faithfully read YouVersion and Bible Gateway, cross-checking translations and paraphrases. That doesn’t make it less relevant, or truthful, or powerful – but it’s different.
It’s like this: I snack all day long. I graze. Again, I believe it matters; I don’t discount the value of having the wisdom of the Bible close at hand via my computer or committed to memory via what’s hidden in my heart and memory. But it’s different than sitting down and just reading. Sort of “Bible Lite”.
Like picking up a box of lo mein at China Delight, versus sitting down at PF Chang’s for a sumptuous meal. Both are good, nutritious, relatively healthy and possibly made with the same ingredients. But the surroundings are different. Both feed me, but only one can be appreciated as a rich experience. (Sitting in the Food Lion parking lot gulping down a box of lo mein with a plastic fork is NOT a “rich experience”. I know. I’ve done it.)
Point is, when I do sit down and move aside all the things that clamor for my attention and just read, I’m always amazed. Refreshed. Invigorated. Educated. Inspired.
And left with a huge appreciation – again – of just how relevant the Bible is for life. So much of my daily efforts are focused towards the mission of our church – finding ways to communicate with folks who are far from God or outside the church. We rely on every tool we can utilize to demonstrate the grace and truth of God, the life that is found in following Christ, the open arms that characterize Jesus (but that have not always characterized the Church). All those things are good and necessary and I do not doubt that they matter, that they are integral to the mission God has given us.
Coupled with the sit-down, five-course meal that can be found in the Bible, I have found myself in the midst of a powerful and intimate time with God this morning. That’s been way cool. It’s a mystery, it’s supernatural – and yet it’s so completely, coherently part of the human experience. The way we were intended to be.
Way cool.
Here’s what I was reading this morning; the primary Bible I read is the New International Version. Romans 12.9 begins like this: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse….”

I read a good bit, up through chapter 14, and then I just started re-reading. So much of it I found applicable to some issues currently taking up space in my heart and head. Paul wrote Romans, and he had some great stuff to say about how we ought to live our lives. It matters.

Here’s the paraphrase from The Message – the parts that really got my attention:

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. Romans 12.9-21, The Message

And here’s chapter 14, as paraphrased in The Message. Yeah, it’s a lot of scripture. Yeah, you might just skip it.

But you know the lettuce wraps at PF Chang’s? Pure deliciousness.

Yeah. It’s that good.

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
“every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God.”
So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning!

God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.

So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you? I said it before and I’ll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.

Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong. Romans 14, The Message

Did Our Concert Dishonor God?

We had our annual Randy Lawson Memorial Concert last night at PCC.

There was fun along the way, (including some bearded bluegrass dudes singing “Man of Constant Sorrow”) some great original music (Seth Brooks and Mariah’s Bedroom), songs that celebrated the joys and challenges of simply being human (“Show Me What I’m Looking For” and most of the MB set) and a touching tribute to honor the life of Randy Lawson.
Towards the end, though, there was a subtle shift in focus. Lindsay spoke briefly about the reason why we were there. Very pointedly, she stated this fact: “We believe in Jesus.” And from that point forward, the songs we sang pointed directly towards heaven; songs based on scripture, filled with declarations of worship and reverence. At that moment, the evening ceased to be about mere entertainment and good music. It became something more. The crowd stood and together – both those on the stage and those on the floor – we were as one, letting the music carry our praise.
This was intentional.
There are some who argue for the separation of musical styles. Some folks say that there is no place in the church for music that does not talk clearly about Biblical themes, about Jesus and God and salvation. Some say that the song selection for a concert like we presented last night dishonors the gospel and our God.
I beg to differ. Actually, I strongly, vehemently disagree. I believe that all music can be redemptive. I believe that as humans cry out for clarity, salvation and purpose, the melody and rhythm of those cries are most easily communicated in art – specifically for us, in song. Consider these words:

“It’s too late tonight/to drag the past out into the light

We’re one but we’re not the same/we get to carry each other, carry each other…”

That statement is basic to all human existence and interaction. It reflects a common understanding that is also Biblical – we are better together, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. That lyric is not, by any definition, from a “worship song” – but it reflects our hearts and helps us to open up to our own condition. Music can soften us so that the Spirit can move, regardless of the genre or the label we choose – or even the intentions of the writer.
On a night like last night, the tenderizing genius of talented songwriters was evident – from bands like U2, Natalie Merchant, Carolina Liar and – closer to home – songwriters like Seth Brooks and Paul Myers. These artists who offer their stories and experiences to the world give us a gift, the ability to open our hearts. They sing about a life that we can relate to, experiences that are universal and everyone’s search for meaning and purpose. They acknowledge a power and force greater than ourselves. They allow us to journey with them.
At our concert, the various songs led us through celebration, smiles and even sheer entertainment to a place of transformation and redemption.
Last night, there were people on their knees in worship, overwhelmed by the inexplicable presence of God. I know – I was one of them. And I know that I was not the only one.
We did not celebrate ourselves last night. We did not celebrate a man. We celebrated the amazing, awesome, incomprehensible power of a God who did whatever it took to demonstrate his love for us. We thanked Him for it, and we felt His presence with us.
Your comments are welcome, especially if you attended the concert – on Facebook or at bethbrawley{dot}com.

Want Some Free Stuff?

Music can be so redemptive.

Tonight, I experienced a sweet sort of redemption.

We spent four hours prepping for tomorrow’s Randy Lawson Memorial Concert. We’ve done it every year since Randy passed; he was passionate about the building plans for PCC and the concert has been a major fundraiser for several years, in honor of Randy’s desire that the church keep moving forward to reach people.

It’s a huge challenge, both from a programming and technical perspective. We’ve always tried to manage a pretty big crowd of musicians; sometime we bring in special guests. It’s always a good bit of work.

And I’ll be honest – these past few weeks have been pretty overwhelming for me personally. The challenge of the concert felt really burdensome this year. Our team has been hard at work to make it a great experience, but I was struggling to find my adrenaline.

Well.

Our redemptive moment came tonight in the midst of a ton of hard work from Matias Seibert. Technically, things moved smoothly. We did our sound checks. And then we started to play.

A few opening songs from the PCC band, and we got warmed up. Then a group of bluegrass musicians from PCC did several songs – brilliant. Perfect timing, amazing harmonies – and Lance Seal, home from college, working some banjo magic.

A few more PCC songs, designed to remember the original point of the concert – to honor a good man and preserve his memory – and have a GREAT time!

Then Mariah’s Bedroom, a band made up of PCC folks doing all original material; straight up rock and roll with great, meaningful lyrics.

Then more PCC music, ending with a worship set.

I looked around tonight and saw some amazingly talented people on the stage. I looked back and saw some intelligent and talented folks created lighting effects and putting cables and instruments in place, running sound and setting up graphics. I saw musicians I have known for years singing their hearts out – in rehearsal – and obviously enjoying every second. I watched the musicians come down off the stage and set up all of the chairs – for you. Eventually, I sang and I played and I enjoyed the tremendous gift of making music with others, focused on not only what we are creating but Who we are creating it for. Tonight’s rehearsal redeemed a long week and a good bit of anxiety.

I cannot wait for tomorrow. I think it’s going to be the best concert we’ve done.

We’re working hard. We’re ready for you. And just in case you’re on the fence about coming, I want to offer you some free tickets. We still have some available – you can pick them up at the door or contact the office to get yours tomorrow. But if you want some FREE, you can do this:

Leave a comment here. Tell me why you want these tickets.

At noon tomorrow, we’ll draw two winners. Each one will receive TWO tickets to tomorrow’s show.

And if you don’t win? Dig deep – support the building fund and Randy’s vision for PCC – and come anyway. You won’t regret it.

Trust

“It pays to take life seriously; things work out when you trust in God.” Proverbs 16.20, The Message


Taking this with me today. Before the day began there were hints of crisis everywhere. People I love who are suffering, hurting, confused and broken. Worries and anxiety right here in my neighborhood. Phone calls and texts and emails and conversations.
And it’s not just one, or two. It is more and more, families and friends and neighbors. Some of you, my friends, need to know that you are not alone. Not only because you are loved and your friends and community are with you, but that you have not been singled out. There is suffering and stress all around us.
At times it seems that there is an oppressive force at work. It coats our souls with despair. It brings us to our knees.
There is only one thing I can do. Rendered helpless by the sheer pain that life sometimes brings, I can only pray for help.
And this I believe – help will come.
“God said this once and for all; how many times have I heard it repeated?
“Strength comes straight from God.” Psalm 62.11, The Message

Swagger

Just a few days ago I was thinking about how my family dynamic has changed since my oldest girls got their drivers’ licenses.  Used to be, we had to pile five kids into the Suburban together to go anywhere. We didn’t fit anywhere else. There were always heated arguments about who got to sit up front – they would run towards the car screaming, “SHOTGUN!!!” and subsequently debate whether or not the word itself trumped the physical possession of the front seat. We’ve argued and sung and laughed our way through many a mile in our big red Suburban.

No more. Now Sarah and Shannon have their own cars and the occasion for all of us to travel together is rare.

I remember the first van we bought; it wasn’t worth much, an old square GM van we purchased in Hico, Texas. It didn’t last long; it came with a bum transmission and within a few months we were trading it in for something that actually ran. With only two kids in the family, we weren’t quite mini-van material, but from that point forward we needed large vehicles to transport our crew.

I love my Suburban, but these days it’s used more as a shuttle for Sunday morning church services than it is for our family.

So this made me smile, and just a bit nostalgic. I’m thinking about all the folks I know with young children and swagger wagons. Those days passed way too quickly, it seems.

Enjoy – creative marketing and great filmmaking.

Sabbath

I am so bad at this.

I try to take a Sabbath and the massive amount of stuff in my life that needs to be managed begins to crowd my thoughts and I start to feel like I’m wrapped up in barbed wire.
When I consider “taking a day off”, my mind loosens up a bit, and the immediate result of the clarity seems to be a fresher approach to work-related stuff. After an hour of “sabbath”, I find myself itching to get back to work, to put to good use the fact that my brain seems to be able to think again.
I know better, of course. I try to run away from those thoughts, reminding myself that they’ll still be there tomorrow.
I have to remind myself, all the time, that He is God and I am not. Isn’t that pathetic, that I have to work to remind myself of that? Duh.
I thought I’d take some time for myself today, maybe use a generous birthday gift and treat myself to a pedicure. But then I remember that I’m wrestling with the idea of generosity and that $25 spent on my feet is ridiculous on so many levels. So maybe I should not do that. And by the way, don’t forget to pay the mortgage. And it’s my Sabbath/day off, so maybe I should clean the bathroom, but that’s not really a day off, is it? But then again, am I entitled to a day of indulgence? There are so many things I let slide in terms of taking care of my home. I should use this time to catch up, to honor my family.
But then again, there’s a difference between Sabbath and a day off.

Kevin Salyer was always so good at this. So – what would Kevin do?
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I have decided. Here is what I shall do:
1. Listen to Michael Gungor’s Beautiful Things as I clean myself up a bit – NOT the bathroom.
2. Take Elizabeth Berg’s most recent book; finish it as I do the pedicure thing. See if it feels like an indulgence.
3. Drive to RVA. Hit up the new version of the VMFA. Soak it up and see what happens.
4. Stop by Martins (my first time) on the way home. Gather groceries. Come home and cook a fabulous meal for my family.
5. Hopefully work out in the midst of all that…somewhere…though that might be a bit unrealistic.
I’m hoping that in the midst of it all, I’ll catch a glimpse of glory.