Monday, November 27, 2006

Voice Lesson Day

Mondays are special days because that is the day I have my voice lesson. You see, since I was a very small child, I always wanted to sing. Because I wasn’t very good, I was discouraged from singing by my teachers, parents, relatives…well, I guess about anybody who heard me sing.

After I became a Christian and the subject of spiritual gifts came up, I always wished that I had been gifted as a singer. I even silently prayed that God would give me my desire to be able to sing.

Finally, after fifty years of quietly wishing I had the ability to sing, I decided to start singing. I am not sure why I started, other than just fifty years of desire finally broke through.

At first, I was pretty tentative, but eventually I gained confidence. My wife suggested that I take singing lessons. I decided to take that as encouragement rather than discouragement. This summer I began taking voice lessons from Ronni Ward. I now singing regularly with my band and at church.

I have been getting a lot of compliments, most of which start with the phrase, “I didn’t know you could sing.”

Here are the questions: Did God answer my prayer and suddenly give me a singing voice? Did I always have the ability and just needed to develop it? Or is singing a learned skill that just about anybody can learn with enough desire and a good teacher?

The fact that music is never mentioned in the Bible in the context of giftedness, leads me to believe that singing or playing an instrument, are skills, a craft if you will, that just about anybody can learn, given enough time, motivation, and teaching. If there is giftedness involved, the gift is the desire to spend the time and energy required to develop the skill.

Let me know what you think.

Ronni Ward's response...

Thank you Jim. I think your'e onto something there about developing and learning. I would have to disagree about giftedness. There are some people who have a certain amount of ability and can work at it and increase their skill. These people may not be especially "gifted" in that particular area; whatever it may be, but there is value and purpose in it. For instance, take my guitar playing ability. I have to work extremely hard just to accompany myself to an acceptable level. Then there are guitarists like David George, Brian Ruskin, David Smart or Bonnie Raitte (not your cat). While it's true that becoming that good is a lot of disipline and hard work, I would say they are "gifted" in that area. Bob Dylan is known more for his songs than for his voice. His voice is important, but his songwriting is his gifting and he will never be what Elvis or Reba are (or were) to the world... vocally speaking. Musical giftings are never more important than the gift of being an encourager or a leader or a manager etc., only more coveted and perhaps more noticed.

I just wanted to get in my two cents. I would have responded with a blog message if I knew how to set up an account. I guess blogging's not my "gifting" I may have to work at it.
Feel free to share this with whomever you wish.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Changing Times

I was just watching John Fogerty performing during the half time of the Chiefs/Broncos game. A few minutes in a stadium hardly gives a hint of this man’s talents, but it was fun to be reminded of the great Creedence Clearwater Revival music.

While watching Fogerty, I was also looking through some old photo magazines. Reading reviews of products that have long since come and gone, I couldn’t help but think about change. Only ten years ago, I was considered a master at a craft that is now obsolete. For over twenty years, I was as good as anybody in the world at making black and white photographs. Film, chemicals, and photographic paper were my livelihood and life. It has now been years since I was in a darkroom, and I am not sure why anybody would want to be. Digital cameras, computers, and ink jet printers can easily surpass film in quality.

The world has changed. Creedence Clearwater Revival is history and Tri-X, Plus-X and D-76 are heading for museums. Resisting change is not only futile but dangerous. John Fogerty does some nostalgic shows, but he is also doing new music, always looking ahead. Somebody has wisely said that those who resist change will inevitable be affected negatively by that resistance.

In business, we risk being left behind. In college economics we talked about buggy whip manufactures. Today we could be talking about film processors, video tape editors, carburetor mechanics, or mainframe computer programmers. Businesses have to constantly be looking down the road to stay ahead of fast moving technologies.

In ministry, it is not so obvious. Because the bottom line is not easily measured, we can be years behind without even knowing it. Peter Drucker said that if you are doing anything the same way you did it 5 years, it is probably wrong. I know of many ministries, churches, and other not-for-profits that are still following the same model set up by the founders in the 1930’s, 40’s, or 50’s.

As Christians, we cannot afford to ignore the changing cultures. We must be relevant, flexible, and proactive if we want to bring Christ’s message of love and reconciliation to a hurting world.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Squandering Resources

It seems that those of us who consider ourselves evangelical Christians have come to the environmental debate a little late. In the book of Genesis we are a given the task of managing the resources of the planet. It is probably because we don’t want to be associated with those who would worship the creation and ignore the creator, but that is not a very good excuse. In many areas we have squandered resources and largely made a mess of things. Jesus was particularly critical of those people who wasted resources and opportunities.

I don’t believe that we can be better stewards by just trying harder and recycling newspapers and aluminum cans. There is a need for total culture change. A recently heard about a couple who built what may be the “greenest” house in the nation. It uses all sorts of technical gee-whiz such as active solar and ground affects. It was not mentioned that the house is 30 miles out in the country and that they work downtown. Between the two of them they likely commute 100 miles a day or more. Clearly, this was an academic exercise with no intention of saving fossil fuel.

In the past twenty years the average new home has more than doubled in size. The average fuel economy of all the cars on the road has not changed, in spite of the fact that there has been much technical advancement. Obviously gasoline prices, natural gas, or electric prices have not had an effect on our lifestyles or how we choose to spend our money.

A large coffeehouse chain makes a big deal out of their recycling efforts but offers only single-use cups and utensils. Using glass cups and stainless steel utensils would save millions of tons of paper and disposable plastic and reduce waste dramatically. Most goods we buy are over-packaged, wasting much paper and plastic and filling our land-fills.

Our culture tells us that it is good to build a “McMansion” in the suburbs and commute 30 miles in a large vehicle that barely makes twenty-miles to the gallon. At the same time, those who share a few walls with their neighbors, reducing utilities cost by 80 – 90 %, and walk or bicycle to work, are considered weird or somehow under-privileged.

In a free society, most choices come down to economics. As long as we have relatively cheap fuel, people will continue to buy huge houses and drive inefficient vehicles too far to work.

In countries with no domestic petroleum resources, where gasoline regularly runs $5.00 per gallon or more, most people walk, or ride bicycles or scooters to work; apartments or townhouses clustered together to save energy and build community are the norm; and automobiles get 40-50 miles per gallon.

I believe that we will make great strides in improving the environment and saving resources, not from complicated technologies like hybrid cars, but from simply deciding that spending an hour a day in the car driving to our 5,000 square foot house is not the way we want to spend our time and money.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bonnie & Me

My cat and I adore each other. I carry her around on my shoulder. She has me all figured out. She knows if she scratches her post she gets a treat. If she rolls over on her back, I rub her tummy. But she has no idea what I am writing about. She certainly doesn’t know what I do all day. Even though she tries, her singing and playing guitar leave a lot to be desired. My relationship with God is a lot like that. His realty is so much beyond mine that I can only understand a small amount and attempt to show my affection for Him through worship and obedience.

When I was about 10 years old, a Sunday School teacher sat me down and went through God’s “Plan of Salvation.” I don’t remember the exact details, but it was something like: 1. God has a plan for my life; 2. All have sinned; 3. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life; 4. If you believe in your heart and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved.

This seemed pretty straight-forward and I had no trouble understanding that all had sinned. The problem was that if it was that clear, why wasn’t this in the first four verses of Genesis, or the last four verses of Revelations. Why didn’t Jesus spell this out in the Sermon and the Mount, or at least, Luke should have highlighted it with bullet points. Why do we have to look through pages of scripture and pull out selected verses to find truths that should be so clear. Furthermore, a person could say just about anything using this technique.

Fifty years later, I am very familiar with tracts such as “The Four Spiritual Laws” and “Steps to Peace With God.” These booklets easily explain eternal truths in 10 pages including illustrations, but they open up tons of questions. Questions like, how about the person who has never heard about Jesus? Or what about all the wonderful people in churches who suffer from nothing worse than bad theology?

The problem is that this simplification is like saying that a sandwich is a piece of dead animal between two slices of bread. It is true, but there is more to know. Anyone who has ever talked to a baker about bread or a barbeque expert about sauces and meats knows that a sandwich is never just a sandwich. As I enjoy my PB&J or a veggie-burger, I realize that even my definition of a sandwich is not exactly right.

It is tempting to put God in a box and say we have Him figured out. But God is much bigger than we think or can know. His ways are beyond our widest understanding. Fortunately, we don’t have to understand God’s whole plan. It is not our place to judge or condemn others, but God’s. Our job is to respond to what we DO know - live our lives in such a way that we bring glory to Him.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I’ve been doing some traveling lately and have therefore been subject to airport security. Of course, everybody is for better security, but the scene at most airport security check points could be something right out of Seinfeld.

Responding to the latest threat, we are now limited to liquids in bottles of less than 3 ounces enclosed in a quart size zip-lock bag. All you have is a fold over sandwich bag? Too bad, your shampoo will be confiscated. A half-full 4-once tube of toothpaste – not good enough. The rules are weird and virtually every checker interprets them differently. One time a sealed bottle of water is OK, the next time it is gone. An empty bottle? It depends on who is doing the checking. What started as a response to a real threat has turned into real silliness.

This is the type of situation Jesus faced. What started as following God’s laws had, by first century Palestine, turned into to a fiasco led by a political party called the Pharisees. A basic idea like honoring the Sabbath had turned into detailed rules about how much a person could lift or how far they could walk. Jesus preached against this idea of following rules to the “T” without thinking, or understanding the intent. Much of His ministry involved attacking the silly rules that were being inflicted on the people. Instead, He brought a message of grace and forgiveness. He gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us in making choices based on knowing right from wrong, not a long list of complicated rules.

Today we call following a set of rules, to the exclusion of thinking, legalism. For example, if many lives have been ruined by gambling, it could be a sin to own a deck of cards. If dancing seems too sensuous, let’s ban dancing. In the book of Galatians, chapter 5, Paul spoke passionately against this kind of thinking. “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

As individuals, we can’t do much about confusing and conflicting airport security, building codes, or other bureaucratic red tape. But we can be careful how we live; embracing the freedom we have in Christ as citizens of the Kingdom of God, and the freedoms we do have as citizens of the USA.