“Whom Shall I Fear”, Chris Tomlin, Worship Songs and Changing Circumstances

You hear me when I call, You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night, It cannot hide the light

Whom shall I fear

You crush the enemy, Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield, Though troubles linger still

Whom shall I fear

I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies, Is always by my side

The one who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies, Is always by my side

My strength is in Your name, For You alone can save
You will deliver me, Yours is the victory

Whom shall I fear

And nothing formed against me shall stand, You hold the whole world in Your hands
I’m holding on to Your promises

You are faithful
Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)
By Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash and Scott Cash, EMI

Tonight at church I sang a song I hadn’t sung in almost a year. I posted the lyrics above. A little over a year ago Chris Tomlin released a new record, and this was one of the songs from it that churches began to sing in worship. I liked it, catchy tune. Easy to sing.

Not too long after that my work world was rocked by the abrupt explosion of my main freelance gig. In one swoop I lost half my income. I was forced to dive into my corporate AV gig, working too many hours for not enough pay. As I watched my time with family shrink at the same time our savings dwindled, listening to this song was hard.

The one who goes before me? Who stands behind? Who walks beside me? Where was he when my employment took a dive? I take my responsibilities to provide for my family very seriously. I felt like I had been left open on this one.

I knew, of course, that things could be much worse. I had a home, food, and even full medical from my place of under-employment. But I still had some issues with the situation. This was a new experience for me. I was frustrated.

I knew that God was with us. I believed that he had plans for our good (Jer 29:11) and that all of this would somehow work together for our good (Rom 8:28). But I wasn’t feeling that at all. It was hard to see it in day to day life. The song would come on the radio or up in my playlist, and I would listen and feel frustrated.

Fast forward to tonight. In three days I travel to Texas to start the next chapter of my life. I’m going to be doing something I love at a great church. We really feel God brought us to this place, at the time. So when that song started tonight, I had a totally different experience.

If the events of last year never happened, the likelihood of us ever moving to Texas would have been greatly reduced. The things I have learned while trusting God to provide this past year… I’m not saying you should run out and take a job that pays half what you need to live, but you really learn to trust him in this kind of thing. God really was going before, behind, and beside us.

I’m always amazed at the way you experience worship based on where you are in life, and how God is dealing with you at that time.

How do your circumstances effect your worship experiences?

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New Job!

ID-100225146We are moving to Texas!

I have accepted the position of Video Content Creator at Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, TX. The job has three main areas: media volunteer development and training, live multi camera video, and video production.

I start at the end of the month. And we are super excited! it’s a big answer to prayer.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know God has been working for a while. For over a year I have been underemployed. That was after a year of doing freelance work while I worked on my TV show. So for 2 years we either didn’t have steady income or didn’t have enough income. I still vividly remember when my main freelance client evaporated in an ugly fashion. I remember when my car died, and we didn’t have money for a new one. I remember when we felt God wanted us to sell our home.

But God, Jehovah Jireh, provided. No bill was unpaid. No meal was missed. Every need we had was taken care of. In the meantime God began to work in our lives to bring us to Mobberly Baptist.

I can tell you, I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to move to east Texas. But if you look at what I have trained to do, what I have experience doing, and have been learning to do, this new position fits very well. And I really like the way they work, and the people I will be working with. Mandy and I feel this is God’s plan for us.

The very first project I will jump feet-first into is a major series of shoots for Christmas. Lots of locations and lots of cast.

Everyone is very excited about the move. Way too much to do to get ready for the transition.

Some of you may be wondering about the film projects I have been working on. I still have three short film scripts and a feature length one completed. I am still working on more feature length projects. I still expect to shoot those projects, but we will be based in east Texas now. One of the things I want to do there is what I was able to do here in Orlando: build a community of Christian filmmakers who want to create content with a biblical worldview.

Petition

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.  He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.  And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’  For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”  And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says.  And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:1-8 ESV

 

Praying-HandsI have to admit, I’ve struggled with the concept of prayers of petition. I’ve always fallen more toward the “God’s will” side of prayer than the “ask and receive” side.

Think about it. The God of all creation, maker of everything. The omniscient and omnipotent Lord of the universe is who we pray to. He knows what I need and want and will pray before I ever ask it. Why, then, do I need to ask anything? I always felt it was better to seek God’s will in decisions and circumstances than to ask for specific things. If God is good and just, and has a perfect plan for my life, ought I not seek that plan rather than try to figure out my own path and drop a couple prayers into some sort of divine vending machine?

But then you run into this parable. Right out front the reason it’s told is laid out: So you will always pray and not lose heart. It’s the story of a woman’s persistence over whelming a judge, who didn’t even fear God or respect men. But here is God, who loves us as opposed to a judge who tolerates us, will he not give justice? There is a similar story in Luke 11 about a sleeping neighbor’s bread.

It’s clear that prayers of petition are encouraged here.

Now, let’s not go crazy. Obviously God says no all the time. He won’t do something against his nature. He will often allow us to go through hard times for his purposes. He heals some, and allows others to die. He is God, we are not.

And many times when the Bible talks about asking and receiving, there is a second part of the concept that reminds us that this works not because God has to agree, but like John 14 says, we receive so “the Father may be glorified in the Son.” So don’t expect God to agree to give you a million dollars just because you add the words “in Jesus name” at the end of your request.

So let’s assume that you are asking something of God, something within the calling he has placed on you, something that could be within his will for your life. Something that will either bring him glory in itself or through some result of the request. Wouldn’t a prayer of petition like the widow’s be not just OK, be welcomed and encouraged?

But wait, If God knows my heart, and everything I will say before I say it, why do I need to pray?

It’s the act of praying, of asking for something that acknowledges that this thing is out of your power. You are bending your will to God’s. Prayers of petition aren’t about what God learns of our desires. They are about us learning to rely and depend on God for everything. Even if he says no.

So bow your head and bend your will. Do not be discouraged. Keep asking. Don’t lose heart.

This is my petition: I need a job that allows me to provide for my family and still do what You have called me to do. I am going to be as persistent as the widow. I believe that you can give this to us, and you will.

Life Update

update checksI wish I had more news to report. A few months ago we had 3 issues which needed to be resolved. They get more important as we progress.

1. Car. My car died. We needed one. God provided one through family.

2. House. We felt that it was time to sell our house. We put it on the market. Had a contract in 6 days. Then had a bad appraisal, but the buyer paid over the appraised amount so we could still get out without losing money. We didn’t make any money, but we didn’t lose any. Not bad in the Central FL housing market.

That’s stuff I have already written about.

3. Job. I am still under-employed. Meaning I have a job I am over qualified for that doesn’t pay enough to really live on. That, plus an unpredictable schedule (all days, any hours, some weeks overtime, some weeks just a couple days) make it difficult to plan any productions or even feel settled. Also, the unsteady nature of the hours will make it hard to get a new mortgage.

So I need a new job.

I’d take just about anything that paid more and had a regular schedule. But lately I’ve been looking into church work. I went through the interview process with one church a few months ago, but we just couldn’t get a peace about saying yes.

Frankly, it’s sometimes hard not to second guess that decision. But when I dig down to it, I still think it was the right one.

I left the Pastor of Media position at FBO because I felt I had to in order to follow God’s call on my life. I was recently asked if I regretted that. I told the person that I didn’t. I certainly miss somethings about the job, and I definitely miss the regular pay check. But I couldn’t do that work, with the required responsibility and hours, and produce Peculiar. Something would have suffered. Leaving was the right thing for me.

A couple years later, I still feel the call to produce religious media with life transforming messages. I believe I can do that with any job that has a semi normal schedule. I find that I miss quite a bit about working in ministry jobs. I really like doing freelance work for churches. I still volunteer some Saturday services at FBO, just because I like doing it.

I think my resume scares some people. You see a guy with over a decade of church media experience up and quit a couple years ago, you probably have questions. And you wonder why he’s applying for another church job.

Tell you what, just ask me. I’d be happy to sit down and talk about what God has been doing in my life. That’s just not going to be clear in a resume or cover letter.

In the mean time, we search, and pray, and wait. And I go to work at an imperfect job I have now because some money and health insurance is sure better than unemployment.

Next Steps

solfWe sold our house!

OK, we have a contract on it. But barring unforeseen circumstances, end of May we don’t have a home. Er, a house. Home is where the heart is, right? House is where the stuff is. Of course, Our stuff might be in a storage unit. But we have family nearby if there isn’t a more permanent plan in place.

That’s the weird part of this. There isn’t a plan in place. We felt that we should put the house on the market. Then, within 6 days, it gets a contract. OK, great. We should not only get out of the house clean, but even walk away with a small amount of cash. Last year we would have had to bring cash to close.

Now what?

A few days ago, before the house sold and before the car situation was figured out, Mandy and I were talking about the 3 biggest obstacles for us: Car, house, job. Then one after another the dominos fell. Car was taken care of. The house sold. Now we are wondering about the job.

I am like many Americans, underemployed. Unlike many Americans, I had a say in getting to this place. In order to do what God has called me to do, I need to have a day job. I took my current position to supplement my freelance work. Then my freelance work dried up. So now we are looking for something else. Maybe something in Central Florida, maybe something somewhere else. So we have put out feelers. It’s weird because I explored a position a while back and ended up not feeling like we were led to follow it. I’ve written about my dream job before. But my day job doesn’t have to be my dream job. Just needs to have benefits and pay enough to live on. I have no idea where we will end up.

Today I was reading in Joshua.

“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them… Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:2-6, 9

What’s the next step? I don’t know for sure, but wherever we go… God is with us.

Time to cross the river… Time to leave the wilderness.

Mid Life Calling – Year 2

It’s hard to say the exact date when I realized God’s call on my life had changed. Do you time such things by the moments you actually do something? Or the times you think something? Was it the first time I realized religious TV had to change in order to survive, in order to have an audience with younger generations? Was it when i came up with a show idea or 10? When I decided to create something different? It feels more like it should be from the times I decided to change my career.

I don’t remember the exact day my wife looked at me and said that maybe it was time to have the talk with my boss. Or the exact day I had that meeting. Or the week everything was agreed on. It must have been sometime around April/May. My last day in the office was the 21st of that June. So let’s say it was my birthday, April 4th. That’s as good a day as any.

So, today. 42 years old. 2 years into a mid life calling. It’s not a crisis. Not always. In fact, in the beginning, it never was. I didn’t get a new car. (although I would like a sporty convertible. What is up with that? So cliche, but still true.) I wish I could say that everything had been amazing and wonderful. It has been very interesting.

Sometimes people say that the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will. That’s bunk. Lots of times following God takes you through some scary, dangerous, hard pathways. I know. The biggest lesson we have learned is to trust God. Before this I always had a job with a steady paycheck, we always had security. And that was just fine. But during this time, every bill has been paid on time. God has been faithful.

There are days when I wonder when I will give up. When I will say, forget this dream, go back to something you know will pay the bills. What’s it worth?

But, we have accomplished a lot. 10 episodes of an award winning Christian sitcom completed and broadcast around the world for an amazingly low amount of money. Short film scripts and feature scripts done. Ideas of new shows. Contacts and relationships developed.

I recently went to a “meet up” with a group of fellow dreamers. I met them online through an author/speaker named Jon Acuff. He was in town, and one morning we gathered in the lobby of a local hotel. Here most of us are. At one point there was about 15 of us. I’m in the back row, middle, peering over a shoulder.

IMG_3521

In the conversation I asked how to overcome obstacles and not get discouraged. Jon told us that a lot of time we just don’t give our dreams enough time. We often expect things to happen on our own time table. But it takes a lot longer than we think.

So 2 years in… I’m not where I want to be. But I am a lot closer.

Year 1

caledarOne year ago I stopped being a media pastor.

I left my job. I left a steady paycheck with benefits in a bad economy. I left with just a mortgage, utilities, and some money in the bank. I left with a wife and 3 kids to provide for.

I left with a vision, a dream, that I still believe God has given me.

I wish I could say that everything has been awesome. I’ve dipped further into our savings than I expected. I’ve not had the number of freelance gigs I hoped.

But, that sitcom I’ve been working on, we just finished taping the 10th episode. It’s playing on 3 Christian networks this Summer. And the first 6 episodes hit DVD July 16th. One of the episodes even got chosen for screening at the Gideon Film Festival this Summer. Not bad for the first effort.

And working from home? Love it. I see my kids now. That last few months at the church, when God was nudging me pretty hard about making the move. I was working 60+ hours a week, every week. For about 5 months. Frankly, that’s too much. Once in a while there are busy seasons, but not 5 months straight. I won’t ever do that again. It’s not worth it.

I may still work 60+ hours, but their my hours on my project. And my family sees me. They can talk to me. I am not missing my children growing up anymore. I’m not leaving my wife to raise my kids by herself anymore.

I can’t believe how supportive my wife has been. She is amazing.

We just finished shooting 4 more episodes of the show. I’m in the middle of post production. Once these are done, I will likely put these on a DVD with some bonus features and see if we can get them released as well. If enough money comes in, we could revisit Peculiar again.

What’s next? I’ve got ideas for a documentary and a movie that could turn into a series… but I really want to shoot someone else’s script. I want to find a good script that I can produce. I’ve also got a couple ideas for general religious TV shows that could appeal to younger audiences.

And, still looking to add more freelance work. Gotta’ pay the bills. Camera, audio, video work.

One year in, this is what I know. God provides. Every bill has been paid. We have not gone hungry. We took a huge step of faith, and God provides.

Into the New Year: Without a Net

no netToday marks the first day I am completely self employed. There is no net anymore.

Back in June I wrote about the change in my employment. I left my position as Media Pastor at First Baptist Orlando to work on new TV and video projects that appeal to people under age 50. Specifically, I produced 5 more episodes of a series called “Peculiar“. And I took on contract/freelance work.

Sometimes I am asked why the church didn’t help me with my new ministry project? I always quickly reply that they did very much help me. They allowed me to remain employed at a significantly reduced pay doing even more significantly reduced work. I worked the equivalent of a part time job, and they still paid me a salary (Which included benefits). That “net” allowed my family to have some certainty about finances. It didn’t pay all of our bills, but knowing that those checks were coming every 2 weeks helped. Our arrangement, as was agreed back in June, expired at the end of the year. There was some conversation about extending it, but things didn’t work out.

I cannot express just how thankful I am for First Orlando and their support of my new venture. While they did not write a check to the actual show, they did write me many checks, which helped tremendously. Yes, I worked there, but they were very generous with compensation. Blessed doesn’t begin to describe it.

I must admit that when I found out for sure that things were not going to be extended at the church, I had a few moments of fear. I have a family of 5. We have bills. Health insurance is expensive.

That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of ways to make money with my skill set. And we have been preparing. We have eliminated almost all our debt, and even refinanced the house in preparation for this time. God blessed us with a good bit of freelance work on top of this, so we have a few months of expenses in the bank.

Still, it’s scary. There are lots of options out there, and knowing which to choose is hard.

The next day I was up early, reading the Bible, and I came across this passage in James:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8 (ESV)

That certainly applied to me in this situation. I lack much wisdom in self employment, generating enough revenue to pay my bills and accomplish the ministry God has set before me.

It’s easy to see how doubting that God will direct you can lead to instability and worry and generally, not being at peace.

So, I asked God to give me wisdom in this area. To show me what to do, who to talk to, and which direction to go.

I trust he will.

Next

After over a decade in full time work on a church staff doing media ministry, I’m moving on to something else. God has been working in my life, and I am convinced that now is the time to move forward. I am quitting my job at the church to produce episodic Christian TV/web shows to reach people under 50 years old.

God has been working on me for a couple of years now. It really started when I first got the demographics for the people who watch our church’s TV show. Based on what we can tell, we reach over 100,000 people every week with our 30-minute and 1-hour broadcasts. Over 75% of those are 50+. Most are well over 50 years old. And we are not the only TV ministry facing this.

I can go on and on about the looming crisis for Christian TV, but the bottom line is that those of us in religious broadcasting must do something now. That is what God has been calling me to do.

Many of you know that I am developing a Christian sitcom. We just released the pilot a few weeks ago. I’m not just doing that as a hobby. I will continue to produce Christian TV shows that reach younger viewers.

It will definitely be a change. Not only will I not have office hours, I won’t really have an office, unless you count a desk in my bedroom as an office. Even the subtitle of this blog “Thoughts from a media pastor” will need to change. Oddly the one thing that bothers me about the whole thing is that I’m pretty sure when SWBTS, the seminary I attended, surveys graduates they will clump me into the group who no longer serves in ministry, even though I’m still doing ministry. I just won’t be employed at a church or para-church organization.

My church has been incredibly supportive. In some places if you were to go to your boss and talk about a new direction God is calling you toward, they would say, “That is great. We’ll be praying for you. Now, let’s get some boxes for your office.” My experience has been the opposite of that. I will be transitioning out while they look for someone to replace me. So, while the capacity of my involvement will be immediately reduced, I will still be involved at First Orlando, working with them on broadcast content and weekend service execution. And the church is still committed to letting me use spaces for shoots, and use equipment when it’s available.

When I talk to people, they inevitably look at me like I’m crazy or courageous. I don’t feel that courageous. I do sometimes feel crazy. Yes, I understand that leaving a steady job that pays the bills to pursue what God has called me to do could be considered both crazy and brave.

So, how am I going to make a living?

I have almost five years worth of contacts in Central Florida. Even in a bad economy, I know several people who make a living doing freelance around here. The plan is to pick up freelance work while looking for support for the show. In many ways it’s like the tent making from Acts 18. In fact, my production company is called “Pup Tent Media” specifically because this kind of work will be a means to an end. I have a few ideas on how to use the whole range of skills I developed this past 10 years making “tents” so I can do what God has called me to do. I will put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads.

So if you need video production, social media, promotions, publicity, advertising, communications, event production help, let me know. If you know someone who would want to invest in or sponsor the show, send them my way.

In the mean time, I am moving forward. To be completely transparent, I had a pretty rough day last Sunday. It was time to tell a lot of people about this. Right in the middle of all of that, sharing my heart and passion, talking about the direction God was moving us, I had doubts. From out of nowhere this kind of thing would pop into my head: “Are you an idiot? You are not ready for this.”

If this was something my wife and I took lightly, that might have derailed us. But God has been clear. Scripture, prayer, circumstances and counsel have all been confirming what we know in our hearts we are called to do. I am called to create episodic Christian video content that appeals to viewers under age 50.

It’s not the first time I/we have made major changes because we knew God was telling us to. I quit my dream job to go into ministry. My wife and I moved across the country to attend seminary. We both left good jobs and our families to take a full time media ministry job in Louisiana. We have since moved twice to new ministries because we were led by God to.

Sometimes God asks people to do things that don’t make sense. That’s because he’s God, and we aren’t. Jeremiah 29:11 and Proverbs 3:5-6 come to mind. If I had leaned on my own understanding, I’d still be working in Nashville, wouldn’t have met my wife, had these kids, or been doing things that are are eternally significant in ministry. So, now that we are taking another step, I trust.

Frankly, it’s scary at times. But, I know this is right for us.

So that’s it. Pray for us. Please.