Inspiration from a world-class guitar picker

Tommy Emmanuel is an awesome Aussie guitar player.

When the MC introduced him to the audience at Richmond’s Carpenter Center last night, he called Tommy “the best guitar player in the world.” And for the next three hours, Tommy proved why. (You’ll see why, too, if you watch this brief clip.)

He was amazing. With fingers flying and an appreciative audience jumping up to whistle and applaud his wizardry at the end of nearly every song, Tommy wowed us… and appeared to genuinely enjoy himself in the process.

Near the end of the evening, Tommy talked a few minutes about songwriting, inspiration, and his connection with guitarist Chet Atkins, whom he called a father figure to him.

He said as a teenager in Australia, he wrote Chet a fan letter. And Chet replied. That, he said, inspired and motivated him to work at his own guitar-playing craft. “I knew I had to make that same kind of music,” he said.

“I worked hard and saved up my money and went to Nashville, Tennessee.” He called up his hero, thinking Chet would say, “Who?” But, to his surprise, Chet said, “Come on over.” When he arrived, Chet invited Tommy to play for him.

As Tommy played, revealing his own unique style, Chet would comment every few minutes, “I didn’t do that. I didn’t do that.” It was a lesson in encouragement and affirmation.

Chet was saying, “You’re not just mimicking me. You’re going your own way.”

That helped launch Tommy Emmanuel on a nearly five-decade-long career and worldwide acclaim as a guitar virtuoso.

It’s a great lesson, no matter what field you’re in. We all have heroes and role models. We gain inspiration from them. But we neglect our own God-given talents if we stop there.

I’ve heard it said in several contexts: Many of the world’s greatest achievements were accomplished by innovators who didn’t know that what they were doing couldn’t be done.

So pick on, Tommy Emmanuel. I can’t wait to hear the generation of guitarists that you inspire.

Tommy Emmanuel’s concert was sponsored by Richmond Cultureworks, an organization that seeks to strengthen arts and culture organizations and independent cultural artists in the greater Richmond, Virginia area. My friend John Bryan is the organization’s president. Check out his blog.

Visit Tommy Emmanuel’s website.

Video streaming: a tool for ministry

Any church and organization can use video streaming as a communication tool.

Not too many years ago, the costs were so high that only larger churches and organizations could afford it. But the costs of equipment have come down. And access to the web has opened up to allow virtually everybody in.

It’s time for every church and organization to think about how they can use this powerful medium.

This is the first in a series of articles about video streaming. Other installments will cover live vs. on-demand, streaming server providers, hardware & software to get the job done, options for interacting with the audience, and how to promote it with your target audiences.

First, let’s talk about why and what.

YouTube, the ubiquitous purveyor of online video, says “48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, resulting in nearly 8 years of content uploaded every day.” YouTube claims to have hundreds of millions of users worldwide.

But I probably don’t need to tell you that. If you’re reading this article online, chances are you’ve seen your share of YouTube videos. They’re embedded on websites, used in sermons and classes, linked from Facebook, and emailed to friends and family. They’re everywhere.

I’ll not discuss the pros and cons of using “secular means for sacred purposes” right now… although that’s a good topic for later on. I will say that we’re burying our head in the sand if we don’t take advantage of the opportunities our culture and technology provide to communicate the gospel.

What, then, should we stream?

Many churches will stop with the obvious: the worship service. And many faith-based organizations will not go beyond the talking face of their CEO. How about some other options?

    • A live, interactive Sunday school class
    • A youth-produced video of their recent mission trip
    • Ordinary people telling their faith stories
    • Vignettes showing how people are living out the gospel in their lives
    • A daily devotional
    • A brief clip showing a need that volunteers or donors can meet
    • A promotional clip for an upcoming event

The list goes on. I invite you to comment below to add your ideas, or things you’ve seen.

Let’s use our God-given talents and the technology God has made possible to tell the Good News and help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.

Second Chances for Both Sons

Among the many messages in the parable of the Prodigal (Luke 15:11-32) is that God actually seeks out despicable people and gives them a second chance.

Over the past two and a half years, as I’ve been working on the Prodigal Project, I’ve gained such admiration for Jesus as a storyteller. In less than 500 words (in the NIV translation), Jesus dealt a one-two punch that drove home the truths of forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation for the “tax collectors and sinners” in his audience. And in the same stroke, Jesus challenged the Pharisees and the teachers of the law: “If God can forgive, why can’t you?”

Brett Younger drove the point home to me in a commentary he wrote a few years ago (Formations Commentary, May-August 2010, Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc.).

He was writing about the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25, but the point applies to the prodigal story, too. Younger asks, “Could it be that, according to Jesus, God seeks evil people who cause horrible tragedies and offers them grace? Could there be more joy in heaven over one terrorist repenting than over ninety-nine righteous people like us? That is hard to take.”

Forgiveness for terrorists?! Hard to take indeed.

Younger portrays Israel’s patriarch as a pretty despicable guy. He cheated his brother out of his inheritance, tricked his father out of a blessing, and never expressed a moment’s regret for any of it. Younger says, “In a world of indefensible wickedness, we should never excuse evil, but we should try to see more like God does, because the hard truth is that God loves people like Jacob.”

Not only does God love Jacob. He built a mighty nation from him. Jacob: one of the “big three” of the Hebrew narrative – Abraham, Issac and Jacob!

And then Younger’s point that hit me between the eyes: “Obviously, the thief has to stop stealing, the terrorist has to lay aside his or her bombs… and the sinners must repent. Yet the good news does not begin with our repentance. God’s love is the gospel.” (emphasis mine)

The prodigal’s father ran out to meet him. He interrupted his younger son in mid-confession to dress him in robe, ring & sandals, and to call for a party.

I’m afraid I’m more like the older son. I want to hear a full confession before I throw a party. And I want to sit at the head table, where my faithfulness and long years of service will be celebrated with equal gusto as the sinner’s repentance.

If I understand the parable correctly, there’s a second chance for me, too.

The father went out to bring his older son into the party. “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Thanks be to God.