Yesterday, I wrote about my journey of writing (almost) daily for the last 100 days or so. Today I want to take a minute and address how Jesus frees us to be truly creative.
Before I get too deep into the subject, though, let me be clear. I’m not what you typically think of when you think of an artist. I write. And for a long time because there were no “beautiful works of art” out there that I had produced, I could never relate to a conversation about being an artist.
But you may not even write. You may be a business owner or a construction worker or a house church planter or a housewife. And in each of those fields where God has called you, you produce art, you just don’t see it that way. Your art is the effect that you leave on those who view your work. And so whatever field you are in, no matter how artistic it feels, you are an artist. The key is accepting that fact.
For me, it was Seth Godin, a practicing Buddhist, who pushed me into the work of art*. His book, The Icarus Deception, pushed me to a place where I realized that I had been created to write. Art, according to Seth, is what happens when we get beyond our fears. My biggest problem was getting over the fear–not necessarily the fear of being rejected, that was there–but also the fear of having nothing to say. Maybe the biggest fear of all was that I would show up and pour out my heart and it would be met with a resounding yawn. Those of you who would be traditionally known as artists know what I mean.
This is where Jesus frees us to be an artist. Jesus comes to us in our lives and His goal is pour out the love of God in our hearts to such a degree that we are free from fear (1 John 4:18). Can you imagine what you would create if you were free from fear? Not just from the fear of rejection but also the fear of the yawn? The fear of no one caring? Jesus can even free us from the fear of not making an impact. In Jesus, none of these fears can keep us from creating, because our goal is not to please a man or a crowd–our goal is to love Jesus and obey Him. This is more rewarding than click counts and awards.
I’m still learning in this process. I still get that feeling in my gut–you know the one–this might not work…this will probably start a fight on the internet…my audience might hate this and this will be the one post that gets no traffic ever**…but I’m learning that as much as that feeling is designed to stop me from creating, it’s also an indicator. It’s an indicator that I may be onto something that no one else has been able to write because of fear. And so lately, as I’ve been feeling that fear, I’ve been taking it to the Lord. And He frees me from the need to be relevant and popular, from the need to make an impact, and from the need to be right. He loves me and that is enough.
So I want to invite you–whether you call yourself an artist or not–to join me on this journey. You don’t have to be a writer. You don’t have to write everyday if you are. You don’t even have to follow my path. But Jesus can free you–yes you–from the fear of what will happen once you hit “publish” in whatever world you are in. And that freedom releases you to be the creative agent you were designed to be.
*The irony of a Buddhist marketer inspiring me to create for the Glory of Jesus is not lost on me. Christians through the last few centuries have had a name for this phenomenon–Common Grace.
**Ironically, that last feeling is how I feel about this very post.
And with those simple words, Seth Godin blew my mind. God used his book, The Icarus Deception, to provoke me on the journey of writing publicly daily. Tuesday will be the 100th day since starting and I thought it would be a good time to look back at what I’ve learned.
First a confession: I haven’t written every day. Looking back since November, I’ve missed about 15 days total. Most of those days were misses because life or the churches were consuming all the time I had. Second confession: Some of my posts were better than others. In fact, on a few rare occasions I wrote simply because I said I would, not because I felt like I had a lot to say. But for the most part, it has been a lot easier to write from my heart than I thought.
Now, some things I’ve learned from writing daily:
- Less but better is important. This was something I’d been musing over for a bit, but it really became true the more I wrote. There certainly isn’t the time for lengthy, detailed articles, but the short bursts I’m able to get out when inspiration hits have connected with my audience.
- Fear is over-rated. I’ve shared this with a few friends, but prior to writing every day my posts were primarily shared on Twitter. But once I started writing every day, I decided that fear shouldn’t have a place in my writing. So I started posting these blogs on Facebook where friends and family who haven’t read my blog got a chance to read. Embracing writing and not being bound by fear of what others think has been helpful. It turns out, my fear was what was holding me back. And guess what? Facebook has become the place the vast majority of my readers have come from and I’ve had lots of great conversations with people about different thoughts I’ve gotten to share there.
- Unexpected posts travel farther than expected. Sometimes I’ll write a post thinking I’m going to be the only one interested in a topic. Men and Becoming Missional by the Power of the Holy Spirit were like that. Each of these were just posts near and dear to my heart but I wasn’t expecting them to touch people. But I’ve had several people reach out to me sharing how they were inspired by them. I wrote I Want You…to Plant a House Church as a simple post making readers aware of my intent. But it got shared all over the place and has become the fourth highest read post this year.
- This has been about us, not about me. Along the way it’s become clear that me being able to write has been about a community. Writing every day has helped me figure out exactly who is in that community. Felicity, Gunnar, Aroea, John, Dan, David, and countless others have been cheering me on along the way. Without you and your experiences, comments, and sharing, I could never have kept writing. If anything, I’m able to write daily because I know there is an audience waiting for the content.
In a way, this post is both a “lessons” learned post and a giant thank you. The fact that you’ve all allowed me to have some of your day the last 100 days means the world. I hope that these posts continue to encourage you and that by the time we hit 365 daily posts, we’re all better for it.
I really like reading. But over the last few years as my kids have gotten older and needed more attention, I’ve spent considerably less time reading than I’d like. This year, that changed, mainly because I invested in an Audible account through Amazon. At this point in the year I’ve completed 16 books. This is significant, because I probably haven’t read that many books since the first year of my marriage.
So because no one asked me but I have a sneaking suspicion some of you may be interested, here are the ten best books I read this year. None of them are brand new, they just end up being what I was interested in this year. I also tried to branch out some this year, so you’ll find a mix of Christian non-fiction, fiction, productivity, and business. The list is presented in order of highest impact to my life. I hope you’ll enjoy.
The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken
I loved this book. There were some things about it that were very difficult for me. The first half of the book told the story of “Nik,” a missionary that paid a high price during an unfruitful time of ministry in Somolia. After a terrible tragedy causes Nik and his family to return to America, he and his wife begin a journey around the world to find out how believers in persecution thrive under the threat of death. First in Russia, then China, and finally in Islamic countries, Nik encounters stories that stun us about the power of God and His ability to sustain those who are being persecuted.
If I were to recommend one book off of this list to believers, this would be the one. This book is full of stories that reverberate with overtones of apostolic Christianity. It’s full of lessons that Nik and his wife have learned as they’ve sat at the feet of believers who have stood strong when the stakes were the highest. I warn you though: this book will challenge an easy-believing, Americanized Christianity. Read it at your own risk.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
I read this book three times this year. Three times! This book is about focusing in on the things that allow you to achieve your greatest level of contribution in life. It takes the phrase “Less, but better” and applies it to every area of your life, challenging you to become more focused in the area you are called to have greatest impact. If there is one book I wanted to buy multiple copies of and hand out around my office, this book was it. It’s a short read, but it will challenge you.
Living a Life of Fire by Reinhardt Bonkke
This book was the autobiography of German evangelist, Reinhardt Bonkke. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Bonkke, he is an itinerant evangelist in Africa who at one time had the largest open-air tent in the world. He has led a million people to Christ in one crusade in Nigeria and his ministry is known to be accompanied by dramatic healings.
This book traces his life from his time as a young boy inside a post-World War II prison camp for Germans to his current life. It was really interesting for me to see the early days of Bonkke’s ministry since most of us know him as an evangelist that is larger than life. Bonkke’s passion for the Gospel going forth and his continuing reliance on the power of God are infectious. It was hard for me to read this and not want to share the Gospel or pray for the sick and I need more influences like this in my life.
The Shack by William P. Young
I hardly ever read Christian fiction. I can barely stand it most of the time. But two things motivated me to pick this book up: 1) A friend who is an evangelist told me about how his secular progressive uncle became a believer after reading it and 2) It’s slated to be a motion picture next year in March. When this book first came out there was some controversy over it, so I thought I’d check the book out and see what it was all about.
You can firmly count me among those who love this book. The whole book is based around the murder of a father’s youngest daughter and the father’s journey to come to peace with God after this event. That makes it sound like this book is your standard piece of fiction. In fact, most of this book starts when God sends the father an invitation to meet Him in the shack where the dress of his daughter was found several years earlier.
IMHO, the controversy over this book is hugely overdone. This book was written to engage the heart, not to teach theology, much in the same way that Jesus’ parables were told. I heartily recommend the book and if you can read it with an open heart, I think you’ll find yourself closer to God by the end of the story. I know I did.
The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin
This book was an inspiration. Seth basically spends an entire book encouraging the artist (that’s you and I) to dream big, push boundaries, and be daring. This book is a manifesto of sorts that is bent on provoking us to do the art that only we can do and pursue greatness at it. Based on the story from Greek mythology of Icarus, Godin encourages not only to not fly too high, but more importantly to not fly too low, to really let our light shine where it should.
Do not read this book if you are against becoming an artist.
Saturate by Jeff Vanderstelt
For those of you who haven’t had the privilege of hearing Jeff preach, you’re missing out. Jeff gives leadership to a network of churches that are focused on missional communities, so there’s always been a lot of synergy between what he does and what we do as a house church network. The message of this book is the gospel has power to touch every human being through our ordinary lives.
What I particularly love about this book and Jeff’s approach in general is his commitment to practices that are rooted in the theology of the gospel. These methods also happen to be incredibly effective. Jeff leads people to Jesus, but he does it in a process that is birthed out of his understanding of the gospel. The critical piece of this book that was helpful to me was the section on acquiring a missional identity that comes from the different roles of the persons of the Trinity. Those four chapters are worth the cost of the book alone.
So Beautiful by Leonard Sweet
It seems cliche to say it, but this book was beautiful. It is a poet’s look into the missional DNA of God’s church. If you’re looking for 3 practical how-to steps to become more missional, I would direct you other places. But if you’re looking for your heart to be awed by the way that God builds His church to reach the world, Sweet’s book is for you.
Yes, I read atheist Sci-Fi. And if you can read it and not get caught up in the backhanded attempt to poke fun at theists, this is an enjoyable book. This is a space opera with a huge comedic twist. It follows the adventures of Arthur Dent and his (unbeknownst to him) alien friend Ford Prefect as they escape Earth just before it is destroyed to make way for an interplanetary bypass. The rest of the book follows them as they get swept up into a drama bigger than they could ever imagine. I don’t know that I’ve laughed out loud so many times reading any other book. Of the three books that I’ve read in this series so far, this one is clearly the best.
The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom
The Starfish and the Spider should be required reading for any and every person interested in house churches and discipleship movements. It is a book written to look at the advantages of organizations that have no leaders. It examines history and business culture to find examples of movements and organizations that thrive with no centralized form of leadership. The parallels between these organizations and house churches are many and we would do well to learn from the authors’ research. One day I hope to do a series of blogs on what this book can tell us about how the Lord leads His church.
The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee
This is Watchman Nee’s seminal book. I’ve yet to meet anyone who knows Nee who hasn’t read this book and most who read it rave over its content. This books is the compilation of Nee’s thoughts on Romans 6-8. There was much to challenge me and grow here and anyone who needs to understand the position in Christ they have by virtue of their repentance and belief in Jesus can benefit from reading this book.
Honorable Mentions: The Insanity of Obedience, AntiFragile, The Confessions of St. Patrick, Jesus: A Theography, Endurance: Shakelton’s Incredible Voyage, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and Life, The Universe, and Everything.
Note: Most of the links to the books described in this post are part of Amazon’s referral program and I do get paid a slim referral fee if you purchase a book based on my recommendation. However, it should be noted, I never recommend a book to buy unless its great. Also, feel free to buy the book or not based on your own sampling of the book.