In Praise Of Free Fallin’ As A Worship Song

tom-pettynyWhen the news came in yesterday about the sudden heart attack and death of Tom Petty I was deeply saddened. His songs like “Learning To Fly” and “I Won’t Back Down” have been great inspirations to me. His albums – whether solo, with The Heartbreakers, or of course with The Traveling Wilbury’s – have been the soundtracks to so many car rides and road trips.

Not to mention the fact that his iconic hit “Free Fallin'” one of my favorite worship songs.

No, I’m not talking about the line about the good girl who loves Jesus (and America too). I don’t think “Free Fallin” is a Christian song by any means.

But I do believe – from firsthand experience – that “Free Fallin'” is a song that’s paved the way for the gospel of Christ to be shared to countless students across the country.

You see “Free Fallin'” is one of the most popular Young Life club songs of all time. Young Life clubs (of which I led my fair share) focus on sharing the gospel to unchurched teenagers.

Their model takes the shape of a student worship service and blends it with crazy games, goofy skits and secular music.

Instead of confusing or scaring off unchurched students with unrecognizable worship songs, at Young Life club we would typically play 3-4 secular songs to sing along together and make these students feel comfortable before playing one simple worship song and sharing a brief story about Jesus. It’s meant to be a starting point for these students – a way to share the gospel by meeting them where they are.

The idea is to forge relationships and common bonds over the shared enjoyment of these popular songs and goofy games so that leaders can earn the right to be heard about the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

I can’t count the number of times “Free Fallin'” was one of those secular songs we used at Young Life club. It was such an easy song to learn. And such a simple and fun song to sing along with.

3040_527750826645_2660631_nThe song was nearly 20 years old by the time I was a Young Life leader. Yet kids still responded to it. (John Mayer had a pretty popular and pretty great cover of it that came out around this time too which probably helped.)

They knew the words. They knew the melody. They had a blast screaming it at the top of their lungs alongside their Young Life leaders.

Our students particularly liked to goof around with the lyrics, chanting the “living in Reseda” line over and over again during every verse.

After club I’d often drive students back home. We’d talk for a few minutes about the Bible story shared at club, what was going on at school, and life at home. Then I’d crank some Tom Petty up on my iPod and we’d continue the sing along as we rode around town in my truck.

Now I don’t think any of the students at our club or at the countless other Young Life clubs who sang “Free Fallin'” came to know Jesus simply because of the power of a Tom Petty song.

But I do believe songs like “Free Fallin'”, along with other classics like “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Don’t Stop Believing'”,  and “Sweet Caroline”, have been used by Young Life leaders for years to play a small role in leading high school students to the cross of Jesus.

Singing these classic songs together, leaders and students with arms wrapped around each other and bouncing to the melody, set the tone for many a great night together with students. It created an atmosphere of joy and inclusion that allowed the message of Jesus to be presented to open hearts.

I believe Jesus can use a completely secular song to connect generations and pave the way for His message to be communicated effectively. I have seen it work. I have lived it. I can testify to the power of it.

Because the gospel is meant to be shared relationally. Ministry happens and lives are changed not when people are shouted out on the street by a stranger but when people form bonds by doing life together.

Sometimes sharing life together is about explicitly preaching the word and communicating what the Bible says about sin and the cross.

And sometimes sharing life together is driving around town with the windows down listening to Tom Petty.

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Love Spontaneously

16722505_10100714193158675_1469869872725083082_oI really didn’t want a dog.

It was January 2011. My friend Ed showed up to watch wrestling at my house with a spunky little stray miniature pinscher named Roc. I’d been living on my own for a couple of years and I was enjoying the carefree bachelor life. I knew how much work would go into having a dog. I knew the financial and the time commitment it would take. I loved dogs but I wasn’t really ready to jump into all that.

I especially didn’t want a dog like this one. A min pin – this dog was maybe 15 pounds soaking wet. I’d never seen the appeal of small dogs like that. They just seemed like overgrown rodents.

Then I heard about the dog’s story. My had gone for work to help clean up a house that a couple had recently been evicted from. Inside the house underneath some dirty blankets was Roc. The couple had abandoned him, left him to die cold and alone.

Ok. I’m not heartless. My heart broke. It wasn’t in my plans to get a dog – especially not this dog – so I told my friend to keep looking for someone to take this dog in. But if he couldn’t find anyone after a week to let me know and the dog could stay with me.

As the week went on I kept thinking about Roc. I just couldn’t believe someone would abandon a pet like that. My heart broke for him and how scared he must have been, wondering where his people were. Secretly I was hoping my friend wouldn’t find a home for him and that he’d end up with me.

So about a week after meeting Roc he officially moved in. Since he was starting a new life I decided he needed a new addition to his name. He deserved better than just being Roc. From now on he would be The Roc.

As it turns out The Roc and I would spend the next 6 years together. He would be one of the best things to ever happen to me.

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When I first adopted Roc I was in a bit of a funk in my life. I wasn’t having much luck in the dating department. I enjoyed my job as Youth Pastor but wasn’t sure where my future was headed. There were a lot of days where I didn’t really feel motivated to get out of bed.

Having Roc in my life gave me a reason to get out of bed every morning. He was a hyperactive dog with a hyperactive bladder who needed to be walked 3 or 4 times a day. So whether I wanted to or not I got out of bed every morning and walked him. Getting a few minutes of fresh air first thing in the morning really helped me get my mind in the right perspective for the day. Our walks were routine but carried a lot of meaning.

Our morning (and afternoon and evening) walks turned into many more adventures along the way. I quickly learned that small dogs could be just as fun and adventurous as big dogs.

I also quickly learned Roc was not as young as he appeared.

At first I thought Roc was 4 or 5 years old because of his energy and athleticism. He would bounce off the furniture, leaping from the floor to the couch to the chair and everywhere in between. He could jump freely up and down off my bed, an impressive task considering his minuscule stature.

I was shocked to learn when I took him to the vet for his first checkup that Roc was actually at least 10 or 11 years old. The vet could tell from the condition of his teeth and the beginning signs of cataracts in his eyes. My new puppy all of the sudden became a senior dog.

The vet said dogs of The Roc’s size can often live to their late teens, which meant we’d hopefully get 5 or 6 years together. Still, I knew our time together would be limited. So ever since I learned his true age I began preparing to say goodbye to Roc.

59e42f01-32d2-42cf-bad5-b9a5fc8da32dI made a point that we would live deliberately – that we would make the most of every opportunity before us. I took Roc with me everywhere I could. We went to the beach, the mountains, the grocery store, restaurants, and everywhere in between.

Over the years he lost a toe, faced the cone of shame, and faced a few other scares and surgeries. He even endured a new dog coming into the picture. Yet he was so resilient and strong. He kept recovering, kept fighting, kept cuddling, kept living.

He was just a dog, but he taught me a lot over the years about persevering. He didn’t let his infirmities overcome his desire to explore.

Unfortunately The Roc, just as we all eventually do, faced one last battle he could not overcome. The final days of his life were sad and hard on him and us. He became unable to walk. He was still able to move all his limbs and was still eating and drinking well so we continued to hope he would push through. It finally became clear last weekend that he would not. Kate and I tearfully made the painful decision to say goodbye.

We took The Roc to a park over by our old apartment where we’d had some good picnics and good walks at over the years. We sat. We smiled. We cried.

img_0667-2The next day I stayed home from work. I sat with The Roc snuggled up in a blanket on my lap until it was time to head to the vet. We stopped at Starbucks on the way to get him a “pup cup” – a tiny cup filled with whipped cream. Roc gobbled it right up – those were always his favorite treats.

We didn’t spend more than 10 minutes at the vet. The whole process was a blur. I sobbed as I bent down and looked at my little buddy on the operating table in his final few moments. He was weak, barely breathing, but he did what he always did when he saw me crying. He licked my face and took the tears away.


 

In my favorite devotional from “My Utmost For His Highest”, Oswald Chambers writes about a concept called loving spontaneously:

The evidence of our love for Him is the absolute spontaneity of our love, which flows naturally from His nature within us. And when we look back, we will not be able to determine why we did certain things, but we can know that we did them according to the spontaneous nature of His love in us. The life of God exhibits itself in this spontaneous way because the fountains of His love are in the Holy Spirit.

I think The Roc was pretty good at loving spontaneously. He was the definitive lap dog. All he really wanted was a friend to snuggle up with. He’d cozy up to just about anyone he met. He really didn’t discriminate. He’d drop whatever he was doing to cuddle up with someone.

His appearance in my life 6 years ago taught me how to love spontaneously. It would have been far easier to say no when my friend asked me to take Roc in. It would have saved me a lot of pain and heartache and money. But I also would have missed out on the walks, the car rides, the adventures, the nights on the couch. The moments of joy far surpassed the ones of pain.

Yes, it is far easier to walk away when God puts an opportunity to show spontaneous love before us. We want to plan out our lives. We don’t like the random interruptions.

That’s the thing though. We don’t always get to plan out the people we’ll come in contact with. We don’t get to plan out the strays who wander into our living rooms.

True love is spontaneous. It is not premeditated. It responds with a selfless heart to all the creatures God places before us. 

It’s still weird to think Roc is not here anymore. I miss him the most in the littlest moments. I miss taking him out on my lunch breaks and when I come home from church. I miss bringing him up into our bed at night. I even miss cleaning up his messes.

The past few weeks, months really, haven’t been easy. Taking care of The Roc became an exhausting task for Kate and I. Yet I would give anything to have him back again, even in that state.

I really didn’t want a dog. And now I can’t imagine my life without him.

I’m so thankful for the 6 years I got to spend with The Roc. And I’m at peace that he is no longer with us. I believe he’s no longer in pain and that he’s running free. And I hope I’ll get to have him in my lap again someday.

Until then I’m going to make the most of my time here. I’m going to make the most of my time with my wife, with my family, with our other dog Rosalita.

I’m going to live deliberately and love spontaneously. For The Roc. 

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I wrote about The Roc a few times over the years on Pop God. Click here to check out some of the many lessons I learned from him. And if you feel like loving spontaneously and adopting a dog or donating to your local shelter, click here to find one near you

 

Remember The Rumble

santino-rumbleThis Sunday is the 30th anniversary of the Royal Rumble, the WWE’s most exciting hour of action every year.

30 Superstars compete in one match – each man drawing a random number and entering the ring in order every 2 minutes. The only way to be eliminated is to be thrown over the top rope and have BOTH feet hit the floor. The last man standing after all 30 men have entered wins a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania, the grandest stage of them all.

I love the Royal Rumble because it’s always full of surprises including debuts, returns of injured wrestlers, and one-off appearances by retired hall-of-famers. There’s a great sense of unpredictability in the air. For at least 60 minutes there’s wall-to-wall action and entertainment.

I also love the Royal Rumble because at its essence it is a grace-filled affair. Continue reading

My 15 Seconds With Springsteen

img_0130It’s a little ironic that I ended up meeting Bruce Springsteen at a used record store. 

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to attend a meet-and-greet with The Boss at a store outside of Atlanta called 2nd and Charles – a place where you trade in used cds, records, books, movies and games for a fraction of their original value. 

I’ve been a Springsteen fanatic for close to 8 years now. But it wasn’t always that way. When I was in high school I went through a phase of trying to expand my musical tastes. In doing so I purchased a copy of “Born In The U.S.A.” to dive into the world of the E Street Band.

I listened to it for about a week before I decided Bruce Springsteen wasn’t for me. I traded in the cd for some spare change at a store just like 2nd and Charles. 

I had no idea that one day years in the future I’d be so obsessed with the New Jersey rocker that I’d be willing to stand in line for nearly 4 hours simply to shake his hand and take a picture with him.

Even though I paid $40 to only get about 15 seconds with my idol (more on that later) I thought the experience was worth so much more than I paid for it.  Continue reading

Finding Dory and The Importance Of Being Forgetful

thumbnail_24066By the end of “Finding Dory”, the latest wildly successful, hilarious, and heartbreaking Pixar movie, it starts to become clear that the forgetful blue tang’s memory is stronger than she realizes.

Throughout the film Dory is sparked by flashbacks of her childhood and the brief time she spent with her loving parents before she was fatefully separated from them.

It’s not clear exactly what type of condition causes Dory’s forgetfulness. She claims to have short-term memory loss, but I’m not sure a marine biologist or any other underwater doctor would diagnose the problem quite like this.

I think Dory’s problem is actually more like one many of us can relate with. Her issue isn’t with her ability to remember; it’s with what she chooses to remember. Continue reading

The Beautiful Compassion Of The Record Store (A Post For Record Store Day 2016)

View More: http://jbltphotography.pass.us/alexandkateA trip to the record store these days is an act of compassion. 

Sure there are plenty of new releases out on vinyl. In fact vinyl records are the fastest growing sales segment in the music industry.

But most record stores fill the majority of their shelves with vintage LPs. These are the records that get traded in by people who have no use for them anymore.

Maybe they inherited a collection from their parents or grandparents and they’re just not that into music. Or maybe they’ve played the records a million times and just aren’t into the bands anymore. Or maybe they thought vinyl died out 30 years ago.

For whatever reason they don’t see any use for the old Cat Stevens or Doobie Brothers albums. They look at vinyl records as an outdated format just taking up space in their attic.

Yet when I and other collectors come in to a record store we see the value in the classic pieces of wax. Continue reading

The Master’s Invitation

masters invite

CBS Sports

I think the most beautiful thing about The Masters tournament is that once you win, you’re in for life.

One of the coolest aspects of the tournament is seeing all of the past winners come back and compete year after year. It doesn’t matter how old they are or how competitive they’ve been in other tournaments. If you’ve won a Masters Tournament before then you’re allowed to come back and compete in every Masters Tournament after that.

Not every golf tournament works this way. For most other tournaments you must qualify to be able to compete. You have to be playing at a top level to be extended an invitation to play.

But there is no expiration date on the rewards of a Masters victory.

This too is The Master’s Invitation to us – once you win, you’re in for eternity. Continue reading