chapter twelve: PLATFORM VS. STAGE

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chapter twelve:

PLATFORM VS. STAGE

 

A platform is a tool God gives us humans to use for making Him famous. The size, shape and nature of the platform varies based on our individual calling. A fast food drive-thru window, a corporate board room, a meal wagon serving the homeless, a major league sports field, or an arena concert for twenty thousand people can all serve the same purpose of spreading the Gospel of Jesus. What we do with the platform is a huge responsibility. Unfortunately, the monster recognizes the power of the platform and desires to control it. The larger the platform, the harder the monster will fight to own it.

I recently ran into a former pastor, mentor and friend of mine. Dave served as an accountability pastor for several artists and musicians over the years. As we were talking, he mentioned a successful Christian artist recently came to him concerned she had become a diva as a result of her music success. She was seeking advice on how to change. He, of course, told her she needed to ask forgiveness from anyone she had wronged, but then he gave her a huge nugget of wisdom every artist should hear. Dave explained to this artist how a platform becomes a stage the second an artist allows the focus to be on themselves. If an artist finds themselves overly concerned about how well they controlled the audience, how cool or beautiful they looked on stage or how many screaming fans they have, it might be a good time to pause and examine their purpose. When the platform becomes a stage for a Christian, they have most likely stepped out of God’s purpose for their life. Wow! That’s simple truth for anyone, no matter what platform they have been given, but so appropriate for those in the entertainment field. There is an intentional art to striving for excellence while maintaining God’s purpose. Staying connected to God through prayer and studying His Word is a great way to maintain that purpose.

While the sound equipment, lights and backdrop may look like a stage, they are merely tools God provides some to use for their platform. Artists, musicians and worship leaders can use the tools to draw in an audience, but where they take the audience once they draw them in is key. Therein lies the tension for an artist manager—how to balance helping the artist strive for excellence without helping them turn the platform into a self-gratifying stage. Platforms come in all shapes and sizes, and God does provide bigger platforms for some. No matter the size of the platform, an artist must create an environment that draws an audience in to listen. In order to maximize larger platforms, artists must operate at a high level of excellence on par with the top entertainers in the world.

As we develop artists and help them create a “drawing people in” environment, I often find myself using words like performance, stage presence and production quality. Those words can be extremely dangerous when used or taken in the wrong context. For me, praying for wisdom in coaching artists is vital. It is also important to be equally yoked with artists who are spiritually likeminded. Discerning whether an artist is seeking platform or stage in their heart can be tricky, as most learn to articulate with “Christianese” early in their career. I have found that actions reveal the true desire of the heart. When I hear an artist complain about having the opening slot or not having as much time for their set as other artists are given, I take their words as a good indicator that they are focused primarily on the stage. We are all human, so it would be silly to expect artists to never have thoughts of stage in their mind, which is the very reason artists should surround themselves with accountability and stay in God’s Word.

Over the years, I have heard artists say they are a “Christian entertainer,” not a minister. While I partly understand what they are trying to say, the distinction doesn’t exist within God’s Word. They may not be great speakers, but they can still minister as entertainers. Jesus calls all of us, not some of us, to be ministers who carry out the Great Commission.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

(Matthew 28:19, ESV)

If those are Jesus’ instructions, doesn’t it make sense that He would want us to use the platform He gives us to carry out the Great Commission? When it’s misused to promote “me,” the platform, instead, transforms into an obstacle for leading others to Christ.

Another interesting observation are those artists who are so adamant about not being labeled a “Christian artist.” When interviewed by media, they say everything possible to get the interviewer off the subject of Christianity. In my opinion, that’s monster talk at its best! I can certainly understand not wanting to be quarantined to the small Christian music genre section in mainstream retail stores, but why would any Christian ever avoid being associated with Jesus? Haven’t they read how Peter felt when he heard the rooster crow a third time? I have heard the argument that it’s the association with the sub-par produced Christian music they wish to avoid. Others avoid talking about their Christian faith in an effort to have world appeal, allowing them to reach a larger audience. Imagine a loud buzzer sound as I throw the penalty flag here! I don’t recall Jesus cloaking His Messiah-ness in order to attract the attention of a crowd. Masses were drawn to His heavenly aroma and amazing teaching.

What does Jesus say about denying Him?

And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.

(Luke 12:8-9, ESV)

Those words read pretty clear to me. I know I don’t want to be denied by God.

Over the years, I have heard many Christian artists cite U2 as the artist they wish to emulate. U2 has indeed made great music and impacted the world immensely. The band didn’t use the Christian music industry as a back door to mainstream success, as I see so many artists attempt to do. Instead, they went about playing music, and God gave them a large platform, which they choose to use to spread His message of love. Bono has been quite wise in the way he uses the platform to share the Gospel. Yes, he dropped the F-bomb on national TV, which I’m not endorsing, but the fruit he bears in everyday life with humanitarian efforts speaks volumes to the world. His love for God and other humans appears to be genuine and is obviously a major priority in his life. He also uses his songwriting gift to craft a Christian message throughout many of his lyrics. Unfortunately, many young artists who wish to emulate U2, lock in on the F-bombs but overlook the God-loving, humanitarian story. We then end up with a bunch of self-professed “cool” Christian musicians in search of the stage, running around dropping F-bombs and claiming it’s their clandestine way of sharing Jesus with the world. The platforms of artists who are lost in that way crumble as their stage is erected.

Imagine the possibilities when one focuses on the platform God gives them instead of the platform He gives someone else. While God does call us to excellence in whatever we do, attempting to deliver huge worldly audiences is taking over God’s role. When He desires an artist to have a massive audience, He will deliver the massive audience. Ask Bart Millard from MercyMe what God did with his blatant song about Jesus a few years back. Through God’s orchestration, “I Can Only Imagine” found its way into heavy rotation on mainstream radio stations around the country. The Texas mainstream radio station’s decision to play the song for the first time wasn’t planned by any record company. A listener called in and requested the song during a request show. Listener response was great and grabbed the radio station’s attention. God then gave MercyMe’s record company the vision, wisdom and tools to work His plan from there. The success of “I Can Only Imagine” was so far outside the normal lanes of working a Christian single that it can’t be classified as anything other than God’s divine plan.

We are currently working with an artist who has the ability to craft lyrics with a biblical message in a way that doesn’t offend most mainstream audiences. This particular artist is signed to a record label who chose to work him to mainstream radio before working his music to Christian radio. Unlike many Christian artists with mainstream stars in their eyes, this artist’s primary goal is to honor God through music. We have worked carefully to help him craft a message for the media that allows him to speak to the world in a way that encourages them to open their hearts and minds to the message of Jesus. The task comes with a huge responsibility, and if done wrong, could easily alienate believers and non-believers. Although his mainstream publicist gets a bit nervous when he refers to God, I’m thankful the artist isn’t willing to deny his faith in order to deliver the message. Ironically, his music is being played on mainstream stations in major markets across the U.S. allowing him to share his faith on worldly platforms. It’s amazing how right that feels and how honored I am to be a part of his team.

When I see artists avoiding association with Jesus or seeking the spotlight on stage, it is apparent the monster is alive and well. Pursuit of fame, success and money is not of God. His purpose for all believers is that we use whatever platform He gives us to make Him famous.

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chapter eleven: MONSTERS OF WORSHIP

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chapter eleven:

MONSTERS OF WORSHIP

 

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the
Father is seeking such people to worship him.
(John 4:23, ESV)

That verse makes it pretty clear that God is looking for worshippers. Most Christians have their own opinions on what it means to worship. Some think singing reverent hymns is the only true way to worship God, while others think shouting worship songs from a big stage or a frenzy of interpretive dancing is the only true way. Funny thing is, most of our ideas of worship are centered around “me” and what makes “me” feel good. Just as guilty as others, I have found myself driving away from a church service critiquing the worship. “I just didn’t feel it today” has rolled off my tongue more often than I care to admit.

Many of us modern worshippers were captivated when we first heard Martin Smith of Delirious sing “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” or Darlene Zschech’s “Shout To The Lord.” Without intending to dismiss anyone’s true experience with worshipping God, I wonder if what we feel is sometimes confused with the emotion that an incredibly written song naturally stirs. I definitely felt an overwhelming swell of emotion the first hundred times I sang “Shout To the Lord” in church, but I feel a similar emotion when I hear Celine Dion belt out “My Heart Will Go On.” I truly believe God breathes great songs through people, but is the emotion we seek from singing them about “me” and how it makes “me” feel, or is it about how it makes God feel? The monster desires to control our worship in an effort to divert it away from its intended purpose of glorifying God.

The demanding worship experience that many modern-day Christians have adopted gave birth to the modern-day “worship leader”—not just some person on stage leading songs, but a “true worship leader.” You know, the guy in skinny jeans with a cool guitar, hip hairstyle and endearing prayer voice. We once had a worship leader at my church who added a slight British accent to his singing and talking voice. It sounds cool to some and gives that Delirious/ Hillsong vibe, but I can’t help but laugh inside every time I hear it, wondering what a British person might think if they heard it. Personally, I enjoy being led by a hip modern worship leader with lyrics projected on a screen much more than some staunch guy in a suit waving his hand around like a symphony conductor. Am I wrong to allow personal preference to determine the way I worship, or should I put more emphasis on who I am called to worship? If my desires are to worship the Creator, shouldn’t I still be able to do that with whatever style of worship leader I encounter?

The Christian music industry and demanding worshippers have contributed greatly to the creation of the Monsters of Worship. Rock star worship leaders with large egos abound. I often hear stories of the battles that go on behind the scenes of churches over who gets selected to sing on the worship team each week. While there are plenty of incredible churches with authentic, godly worship leaders and worship teams, I also know many worship leaders and musicians struggle with the monster gene. Yep. Thanks to Adam and Eve and the fall, the monster gene is in every single one of us.

Nashville is full of super talented musicians, so one can attend any church in the area and expect a high caliber of musicianship. There is one church in Nashville well known for its incredible choir. That particular church had to install a policy a few years back requiring one to be a member of the church for a year before being allowed to join their choir. Apparently, vocalists were attending the church and joining the choir in an effort to showcase their voice to the music industry professionals who attend the church. I often wonder what it would be like if the super talented singers and musicians were filled with the desire to spread out across the nation, blessing churches in rural towns with their gifts, as opposed to cocooning in Nashville in hopes of being discovered by the music industry? We have several worship leaders at our church and, recently, our favorite moved to South Carolina. My initial emotion upon hearing the news of his move was extreme sadness. But then I realized how great it is that such a talented musician would leave the comforts of Music City and share his gift in South Carolina. It won’t be easy for him to co-write and record from South Carolina, but what a huge blessing for his new church family!

Hopefully, my worship leader friends don’t think I am attempting to paint them in a bad light. My intentions are to point out the pressures we worshippers create with our demanding needs. Many worship leaders have a self-imposed measurement of how effective they are at leading worship. If they don’t feel the energy coming back from the audience through loud singing and hands lifted high in the air, they feel like a failure. Fear of failure is a weapon the enemy uses to take out worship leaders. What a difficult balancing act for worship leaders. I don’t think most of us who sit in churches on Sunday realize how difficult of a task it is for our worship leaders. The monster is always lurking in the shadows, hoping to be fed. Often times, the demanding congregations are the ones picking out the food to serve the monster. It’s disheartening to hear stories from worship leaders about the negative notes and feedback they receive on Monday mornings regarding their “performance” on Sunday. I don’t think God intends it to be a performance. Isn’t worship supposed to be a beautiful celebration of glorifying Him?

During my time working in the international department at Word Entertainment, I had the opportunity to visit Hillsong Church in Australia. Hillsong Music was topping the CCLI chart, the worship music chart that measures songs being sung in the churches every Sunday across the U.S. Being a self-proclaimed “modern worshipper,” I was super excited to visit the church at the center of the modern movement. Upon arrival, there was a V.I.P. seat reserved for me. My special seat was located near the president of Hillsong Music with a perfect view of the worship platform. The thought, I must be a special worshipper this morning actually ran through my mind as the monster of worship began to stir inside. What I would experience that day was a little different than expected, but it would change my view of worship forever.

The Hillsong campus was amazingly beautiful, and the worship center was arena size, but what I experienced there was something incredibly genuine. No fake accents (of course they didn’t need them), no fog machines or laser light show, just genuine worshippers. I instantly realized how Americans had taken something so genuine and turned it into a rock show. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of energy on the stage, but something felt so pure. Darlene Zschech didn’t overtake the platform as some kind of rock star. Instead, it was a worship team experience. I think it was actually her sister who took the worship leader role that morning. On the long plane ride back to the U.S., I pondered the thought of how we Americans took something God birthed in Australia and super-sized it into “monster worship” for America. It’s obvious God had big plans for “Shout To The Lord” and the Hillsong movement around the world, but it manifested itself so differently in the U.S. What I saw in the U.S. was more about how much emotion the worship leader could create with the song. If we, the church audience, didn’t get to sing “Shout To the Lord” during the worship service, it was a disappointing Sunday. I would actually hear people complain when the song wasn’t sung in a service. God has definitely used and continues to use “Shout To the Lord” in a mighty way around the globe. However, I can’t help but think how many monsters of worship used it for self-gratification as opposed to glorifying God.

God created us to worship in ways that may seem crazy to others. He wants our unabashed worship poured out toward Him. David exemplified just that when he danced with all his might in celebration and worship to God. So much so that his wife was embarrassed and displeased.

And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn. As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart.
(2 Samuel 6:14-16, ESV)

And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will celebrate before the Lord. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.
(2 Samuel 6:20-23, ESV)

Looking at those verses, I determined that it really isn’t my place to judge anyone’s style of worship. The story gives us a picture of genuine, spontaneous worship. David’s worship was so pure that the monster reared its head through Michal, his wife, as she attempted to condemn him. Reading the last verse of the story (“And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.”) leads me to believe that God was displeased with Michal’s desire to control David’s worship. So much so, that He prevented her from receiving the honor of bearing a child with David. Genuine worship squashed the monster that so badly wanted to control David’s style of worship.

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chapter ten: Parental Monsters

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chapter ten:

PARENTAL MONSTERS

 

When babies are born, parents begin to dream. Immediately upon birth, fantasies of their child accomplishing great things begin swirling around in their minds. Could we have just given birth to the future President of the United States? Maybe the next Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning or Derek Jeter? What if our child discovers the cure for cancer? Realizing our shortcomings as humans, we want our children to find the greatness we failed to achieve. I remember sitting around with our kids, as grandchild number one was on the way, and trying to help them find the perfect name. Our litmus test was how the name would sound when the announcers read the starting lineup for any sporting or entertainment event over the PA. Next batter up… “insert potential name” Ladies and gentlemen… “insert potential name.” It was quite the fun name picking exercise, but deep down inside, we really hoped our grandchildren would find greatness in life. Finding greatness is a valid wish for anyone, but is greatness measured by fame, wealth or accomplishments? Doesn’t God think every single human being is great at birth? Yet most of us still feel the need to break out the measuring stick of success to create our own scale of greatness. The monster desires to drive the success agenda.

When I first met Diana, I was a bit intimidated. She was mother to a teenage celebrity who happened to be one of the top selling artists at the record company I worked for. I don’t know how or why God brought us together to become husband and wife, but He did, and I’m eternally grateful. The beautiful thing is how I had an opportunity to watch Diana in action as a mother years before there was any romantic interest. Maybe watching her operate as a beautiful, loving mother and seeing Jesus work through her stirred my attraction to her. She possesses a heart of gold like no other human I’ve met.

Shortly after we were married, I ran across an article written by a misinformed writer. He had only seen Diana from afar and totally misread her as he compared her to other celebrity stage moms the press likes to write about. I had worked extensively with Diana, witnessing the exact opposite of this writer’s description of her. Naturally, I took it upon myself to contact the writer and share with him the truth about how Diana beautifully carried out her role as a celebrity’s mother. Diana took on the role of protector and mentor for her daughter. She was always present with her daughter during the teenage years, in an effort to walk out her role as mother. Diana traveled with her daughter, as she didn’t think it was wise to allow a teenage girl to travel alone or to travel on promotional trips with adult men. Often, you would find Diana in the background behind-the-scenes just being Mom. Never once did I see her trying to grab the spotlight or pushing her daughter to get on stage. For years, I have tried to get Diana to write a book about her life as a celebrity’s mom, but to this day, she doesn’t want to take the risk of moving into the spotlight.

In the early days of our management company, we were presented with an opportunity to work with a young artist. There was a mom involved, and I thought Diana would be the perfect mentor to help the mom walk out her motherly role in a healthy way. After all, Diana had walked with her daughter through a career of Platinum-selling records, major movie roles and large tours. She had seen the good, the bad and the impact a career on stage can have on a young person. Unfortunately, the mom we encountered felt she was already equipped for the journey. She was ready to bully the world into making her child a star. We encountered Super Stage Mom! Interestingly, Jesus encountered what may have been one of the first stage moms, but He quickly shut her down.

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Matthew 20:20-28, ESV)

Sadly, the mom we worked with blew an opportunity to have Diana, mother of an international celebrity, help her navigate her child’s music career in a beautiful way. Instead, the mom’s desire for the spotlight and success fed the monster.

As we embarked on our journey with the young artist, we saw early on that the mom wanted success as much as her child. Every show, she was front and center ensuring that every person in the venue knew she was the artist’s mother. Even as the artist entered their twenties, we couldn’t have a call without Mom lurking in the background listening to every word. I would often hear her whispering on our calls, telling the artist what to say. She would monitor and answer e-mails from us and others as if she was the artist. Mom controlled every move, rendering the artist powerless over their own life and career. The situation was one of the unhealthiest parent/child relationships I’ve experienced in the music business. Her actions were disguised under smiles in public, but behind the scenes, it was not a pretty picture. We spent some time on the road with the mom and her husband, and truth was revealed to us in a big way. Most mornings, she would begin the day belittling her husband. He was a kind man and passively excused her behavior. Both Diana and I were extremely uncomfortable and embarrassed for her husband as we drove down the road listening to his wife put him down. We wanted out of the car, and we actually almost asked to be dropped off during one of the episodes. Those actions go against everything God’s Word teaches regarding how wives are called to treat and respect their husbands. Life in their home had to be miserable at times for both her husband and child. I would speculate there are deep insecurity issues from the mom’s childhood that caused that behavior to surface. Regardless, the way she treats her family and others is extremely unhealthy and the perfect recipe for feeding the monster.

The artist’s mom portrayed her child as tough, but as soon as her child walked ostage, she was there to tell him everything he did wrong. We would see the disappointment in the young artist’s face as he listened to Mom roll through a list of mistakes. The mom actually wanted us to do the same by critiquing the show immediately after the performance, but we refused. She claimed her child welcomed the criticism, but I don’t think there is a parenting expert in the world who would agree those methods are healthy parenting. We prayed regularly for God to reveal the unhealthy practices to the mom and the artist. The mom eventually attempted to treat us like she treated her child and husband, constantly complaining about what was not happening in her child’s career in an effort to make us feel as though we didn’t measure up. Ironically, we had delivered a nice platform for her child through securing a record deal, a booking agent and big tour opportunities. It apparently wasn’t enough. This mom’s insatiable appetite for the stage and success was impossible to satisfy. My desire to please allowed me to get pulled into her craziness at times, but I quickly realized the negative effects. After spending hours of the day trying to assuage the artist’s mom, I would find myself treating Diana unkindly in the evenings. Once I recognized the negative effect this unhealthy mom was having on me, I refused to allow it to continue.

When parents act in toxic ways, like the mom we encountered, it’s obvious the monster is present. Once the monster controls Mom, controlling the child is an easy task. Unfortunately, residual effects can often surface later in life causing problems with the child’s career, future marriage and other key relationships. Living life on a stage presents enough problems to a young artist as it is, but mixing in an unhealthy parental relationship creates fertile conditions for the monster to thrive.

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chapter nine: MONSTERS OF ROCK

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chapter nine:

MONSTERS OF ROCK

 

The eighties ushered in one of the biggest egos the world had ever seen. David Lee Roth took the world by storm. With the success of Van Halen, the band he fronted, Roth was elevated to the top of the celebrity food chain. He referred to his persona as “Dave’s World.” Flamboyant pop rock ruled the radio airwaves while MTV offered an inside look at the extreme decadence surrounding it. Possessing a bigger than life ego became acceptable in American society for the first time. The days of polite entertainers with proper etiquette were tossed aside in leu of the new “me” society. A foundation of self-worship was laid for future rock stars, professional athletes and reality TV stars. Hence, the Monsters of Rock were born!

Working with celebrities in mainstream music was interesting, but it presented many challenges. Some handled fame well and were quite pleasant to be around, but many of the artists I worked with were difficult. At Capitol Records, we were instructed to keep the artists happy at all costs. Many of the artists were humble at the beginning of their career but would quickly turn into demanding jerks with the slightest bit of success. We all complained and despised working with them once they became jerks, but ironically, we helped create the jerks.

I had the opportunity to work with Garth Brooks in the early days of his career and through the explosion of success that put him on arena stages making him the top artist in the world. He was an extremely kind man in the early years. Garth’s success was a major contributor to Capitol’s bottom line, and utilizing his business savvy, he leveraged that contribution to the max. Shortly after his huge hit, “Friends in Low Places,” Garth aggressively renegotiated his record deal. The aggressive negotiations became a catalyst for discourse with the record label’s upper management, leading Garth to distance himself from all label employees. He was never unkind to me, but there was definitely a change in his personality. Upper management at the label suggested he had developed a dark side, but in reality, I think he probably felt misunderstood. Garth’s desire was to break every sales, radio and touring record in music history. He planned events that had never been done in the entertainment business and pulled most of them off with great success. I couldn’t help but wonder how tough it must have been for him to battle the monster gene. Millions of people around the world worshipped the man. All he had to do was walk on stage, touch his hat, and 100,000 people would go nuts! How can the human mind even begin to process that level of adoration in a non-“me” way? Britney Spears, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus have given us front row seats to witness the damaging effects worshipping young humans can have. Ironically, most of us are guilty of feeding the celebrities’ monsters as we pour out our worship toward them—a worship that God tells us should be reserved for Him.

After my career move to the Christian side of music, I expected artists to be different. There were indeed many godly artists I worked with, but some of the artists expected to be given preferential treatment, much like mainstream artists I had worked with. While their demands and expectations were coated with a smile and a godly-laced delivery, they no doubt wanted special treatment. If those artists found unsatisfactory representation in retail stores, label employees would catch grief from the artist’s camp. While the messenger was usually the artist manager, it was apparent the artists were driving the complaints. The Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Tower Records and Lifeway stores in Nashville were high-profile stores, as they were located in the artists’ back- yards. For some reason, those same stores were the toughest places to maintain satisfactory inventory levels. If one of our artists walked into Target and didn’t find their record, we would most certainly hear about it. So much so that we began visiting those stores daily, taking in free product to insert into the shelves and end caps in an effort to guarantee our titles were in stock.

Our shelf stocking practice kept the artists happy, even though they ultimately lost money on the sales of CDs, which were never purchased by the retail store. It probably wasn’t one of the wisest financial decisions for our company, but it kept the artists’ egos and management off our backs. Everyone was happy except our competitor labels who couldn’t figure out how we were able to get certain titles in Target or Best Buy. While it isn’t one of my proudest career moments, I have to chuckle when I picture a cashier at Target trying to ring up a CD that Target’s corporate office never purchased or set up in their system. In a similar fashion, we would regularly visit the Wal-Mart stores and move our titles to big end caps in the music section. One day while playing the Wal-Mart end cap title switch game, I was confronted by an employee who managed the Wal-Mart music section. In an effort to let me know he was on to our shenanigans, he informed me that the reps from our competitors would be in the next day to do the same with their titles, hence negating my efforts. Extremely embarrassed and convicted, it hit me how silly my actions were. Here I was, a vice president for a Christian record company, using ridiculous extreme measures to feed the monster.

When we started our management company, I knew we didn’t want any “monsters of rock” on our roster. Even with close examination, a few of those artists somehow slipped through. The monster will manifest quickly as the artist experiences any success. One particular artist we worked with ended up on a large tour. Even though their record company paid a large sum of money to buy their way onto the tour, they quickly adopted an attitude of entitlement. We spent a great deal of time before the tour preparing the artist for the reality they would face when the big tour ended and they had to return to the norm of playing for smaller audiences. Leaping from playing for 100 people a night to playing for arena-size audiences of 10,000-15,000 can seriously mess with an artist’s mind if they don’t remain humble and deeply rooted in God’s Word. We examined earlier what the Bible says about pride in Proverbs 16 and how it leads to destruction. Proverbs 11 reiterates the results of pride but also tells us the benefit of humbleness.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

(Proverbs 11:2, ESV)

Wisdom is one of the greatest gifts God gives us, as it keeps us in step with His plan and gives us the ability to navigate difficult encounters in life. Unfortunately for all involved, that particular artist was unsuccessful at remaining humble and keeping the monster in the closet. The monster manifested itself in such a way that our relationship was strained. As I struggled with disappointment, thinking we failed in teaching them humbleness, God reminded me that I am only an instrument He uses. While He may use us to plant seeds, He is ultimately in control, and it is His job to take it from there.

Another artist we worked with was blessed with a huge opportunity to play a high-profile festival in London with Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and The Dave Matthews Band. I must admit that weekend was one of my most memorable weekends in the music business. We were treated like rock stars and hung out with an elite list of celebrity artists. I was having a hard enough time keeping my own monster in the closet, but my job for the weekend was to look after this particular artist. The artist and I shared a beautiful room in a luxury hotel overlooking Hyde Park. I stepped out for a few minutes, and when I returned to the room, there was a nice little shocking surprise waiting for me. This artist had taken every square inch of space in our room for his clothes. Every closet, chair and dresser drawer were full of his things. I honestly don’t know how he managed to pack all of those clothes into one bag. As I entered the room and noticed he had even taken over the night stand on my side of the room and had clothes draped on my bed, I realized we might have a problem. His words? “Sorry man, I know I took up all the space in the room, but I have a lot of stuff. I am the artist, you know.” There was no offer to move anything. In that moment, I knew we had a rock star on our hands and our business relationship would probably be challenging.

Over the years, Diana and I have put a rock star litmus test in place. Although it’s not totally fool proof, it definitely gives us a quick insight into how an artist manages the monster. When we are looking at new artists, we have them stay a night or two with us in our home. During their stay, we closely examine a few things. The most important thing we want to know is whether or not they are looking to be served or looking to serve. That’s easy to assess fairly quickly. Do they grab their plates and offer to help with dishes after a meal? Do they treat the room they are staying in like a hotel room, leaving a mess for someone else to clean? Not that we expect guests in our home to clean, but it certainly shows a lot about person’s character if they offer to help. Some artists have been extremely grateful for the stay, while others treat our home as if it were a hotel with maids and room service.

I can remember one particular artist who was extremely narcissistic. Diana had been slaving in the kitchen cooking and cleaning for him for several days. One evening, we looked out on the porch and had to chuckle with amazement. This artist was stretched out on the chaise lounge on our porch, relaxing as if he were in paradise waiting for someone to serve his every need. All he needed was someone fanning him with a giant palm branch to complete the paradisal scene. That seemed like a pretty good sign that he would be trouble down the road. On the other hand, some artists have shown up with gift baskets or left thank you notes showing extreme gratitude. When we see those traits, we are encouraged.

What does God think about those who seek to be rock stars in Christian music? While I can’t speak for God, Jesus’ words teach us about seeking high places of honor.

When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, “Give your place to this person,” and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
(Luke 14:8-11, ESV)

Jesus himself modeled His words when He washed the disciples’ feet. The most deserving rock star of all time lowered Himself to wash the dirt off people’s feet. As He was washing their feet, He offered some great wisdom:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments
and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”
(John 13:12-16, ESV)

Reading those words should lead believers to conclude that rock star attitudes have no place in Christian music if the music indeed exists to honor and glorify God. Jesus’ words “for I have given you an example” don’t appear to be shrouded in mystery. If we are to follow His example, why would any Christian artist adopt a rock star attitude? He also gives us very poignant words in Proverbs.

Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.
(Proverbs 16:5, ESV)

Why do Christian managers, booking agents and record labels create environments that foster rock star attitudes? Why does the Christian music industry create, promote and support award shows and red carpet events that emulate the mainstream industry by rewarding people for human achievements in record sales, airplay and popularity? I believe the answer lies in the existence of the monster gene or what the Bible calls “the flesh.” The monster seeks money, power and fame and is quite clever at making even Christians feel good about themselves as they feed it. Conversely, if we cease to feed the monster, the rock star attitude will not survive.

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chapter eight: MONSTERS IN THE CLOSET

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chapter eight:

MONSTERS IN THE CLOSET

 

As our management company grew, so did our artist roster. When choosing artists, we look at talent, but more importantly, we take a close look at their heart for any signs of a monster. Thanks to the fall of Adam and Eve, we all have the monster gene; but the good news is the monster can be tamed through faith in Jesus and a heart for God. One of God’s favorite people mentioned in the Old Testament was David. David’s monster gene manifested itself through coveting, adultery and even murder; but his heart for God squelched the monster inside as he cried out to God for forgiveness.

Some people find a way to stuff the monster in a closet. If we then walk through life feeding the monster, the closet quickly becomes too small to contain it. One of the monster’s favorite foods is jealousy. In the world of entertainment, jealousy surfaces quite often. We see success happening for others and can’t help but wonder, why isn’t that happening to me? Not only do artists deal with jealousy, but managers deal with it in a similar way. I often find myself feeding the monster with jealousy. Why do other management companies get the big breaks for their artists? Why can’t we have that No.1 hit? Isn’t our song better than the ones finding success at radio?

One monster filled day, I decided to spend some time with God asking Him to bring success to our company. He led me to Proverbs 14:30.

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.

(Proverbs 14:30, ESV)

The word rot stood out significantly and left me feeling a bit yucky with all the monster slime dripping off my body. What I heard from God would change my life forever. God confirmed His love for me and our company, but the Holy Spirit began to nudge me in a crazy direction. Suddenly, I felt the need to pray for success for our competition. When I recognize jealousy creeping in, I now stop and pray for success for those I’m jealous of. Yep. Praying for competitors’ success is a difficult thing for us humans to do, but it purges the envy out of one’s self fairly quickly. As the envy is purged out, something amazing happens. A peace like no other fills my soul. The tranquil heart God speaks of in Proverbs 14 feels so much better than rotting bones. In my new found excitement, I even sent a few text messages out to those I felt jealousy toward to let them know I was praying for God to increase their territory and bless them. I’m sure some found it odd and wondered why I would be praying the prayer of Jabez for them, but I didn’t care, as it felt exhilarating.

One artist I have the opportunity to work with has an incredible heart for God. Her heart for God is so evident through her relentless studying of His Word and her attentive listening to His voice. What’s interesting is she still struggles with the monster gene just like the rest of us. Her monster is stuffed in the closet and often tries extremely hard to bust out. At times, I can hear the struggle with the monster in her voice; however, she allows God to take control, and He helps her slam the closet door shut with incredible force. When I see an artist dealing with the monster in this way, I’m encouraged that it is possible to use celebrity status to be an example for others.

After spending time contemplating ways to deal with the monster in the closet, a thought crossed my mind. What if tours, festivals and conferences added a monster closet to the backstage area? Something so opposite of the “green room,” which is normally designed to pamper an artist. The monster closet would be a space where artists could spend time with God, cleaning off the monster slime. Feeling upset about what little time you were given for soundcheck or how much of the stage the other artists took up with their gear? Why not spend a few minutes in the monster closet? Maybe there’s a box in the closet where artists could leave anonymous complimentary and encouraging notes for other artists on the show or for the sound and production crew? No need to feel embarrassed for entering the closet, because exiting the closet and leaving the monster behind would be celebrated by all! The notes of encouragement could be read to everyone on the tour during the devotion time that some Christian tours include on their daily schedule. Imagine the potentially positive effects a monster closet could have on a tour or festival. Imagine what effects a monster closet at home could have on ordinary families as they navigate life.

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chapter seven: MONSTERS OF MORE

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chapter seven:

MONSTERS

Of MORE

 

We all deserve something, right? I know I find myself thinking the words “I deserve” quite often. When those words roll off my tongue, my sweet Diana quickly reminds me that we don’t deserve a thing except death, according to what God tells us in Romans 6.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 6:23, ESV)

I am so incredibly thankful for the second half of that verse: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!”  Wow! We deserve death, but God offers us eternal life with Him for free! Unfortunately, the world we live in doesn’t always recognize the value of eternal life with Jesus as the ultimate gift. Marketers convince us we deserve more. Society tries to convince us success will bring more great things we deserve. Parents teach their children they deserve more and encourage them to chase it. Thousands of books and conferences offer us the secrets to unlocking what we deserve.

One of the biggest ad campaigns ever launched was the campaign responsible for catapulting the McDonald’s brand to great success forty-plus years ago with the slogan, “You Deserve a Break Today!” The motto has followed me through life well beyond the walls of McDonald’s. Every time I feel exhausted or overwhelmed, “You Deserve A Break Today!” pops into my head. While I’m more inclined to head to Starbucks or Dairy Queen, I still feel like I deserve something. As much as I try to purge the words “I deserve” from my vocabulary, they continue to pop up. Thankfully, Diana’s frequent reminders of what God teaches us also pop up seconds after the words leave my mouth. I’m then convicted, repent and remember Romans 6:23.

We have the sweetest grandchildren, and I am filled with a desire to protect them from developing a desire for more. Unfortunately, the sin nature they inherited from Adam and Eve and the consumer marketing wizards battle us hard for control of their minds. Our grandsons recently reached the age where the idea of receiving gifts for birthdays and Christmas becomes a big deal. I, of course, like to mess with their little minds through creative teaching moments. This past Christmas was a pivotal one for the boys. We put our Christmas tree up, and it really concerned the boys that there were no gifts under the tree. I had shopped early for Diana, so I intentionally made a huge deal out of placing two wrapped gifts for her under the tree. The boys went crazy with excitement thinking the gifts were for them. When they discovered their miscalculation, they were a bit disappointed. One of the boys became really upset stating with a devastating cry, “But we need presents!” Aha! The perfect teaching moment had just been laid in my lap. I sat the boys down to explain the true meaning of Christmas and gift giving. It seemed to sink in a bit, until we went on a trip to visit family in Atlanta and took some gifts to put under our Atlanta family’s tree. Once again, we were hit with the devastating cry, “But we need presents!” So much for the wonderfully crafted teaching!

Diana and I discussed ideas on ways we could help assuage the boys’ new insatiable desire for gifts. We decided to get them more involved in the gift-giving process. I had another gift for Diana I hadn’t wrapped, so I called the boys to a secret meeting without Diana. I showed them the gift, let them help wrap it and made a big deal about how they couldn’t tell Diana what was in the box. My plan was to help foster the spirit of giving. They took the wrapped gift to Diana, regularly teasing her, and telling her she had to wait till Christmas to open it. Our plan seemed to help the “but we need presents” attitude subside, and there was a new excitement for giving to someone else. Amazingly, on Christmas Day, the boys awoke and ran swiftly to the pile of gifts. As they were about to tear into an opening frenzy, out grandsons began frantically looking for the gift we had wrapped together for Diana. Before they opened one gift, they delivered the gift to Diana for her to open and summoned everyone in the room to watch. Seeing Diana open her gift was their priority for Christmas morning. My heart filled with joy to see our grandsons experience the exhilaration of giving to others.

I’m often surprised by the rampant attitude of “deserving more” amongst believers. Of all people, we should know we are undeserving of anything, as the Bible tells us so. Why then do we feel so deserving? I work with some godly artists, but I have also worked with others who were quickly led astray by the desire for more. I am amazed at how much time I have spent pacifying artists who think they deserve to be on a big tour or deserve to have great radio success.

I feel strongly we should strive to be excellent at the task God lays before us, but He is very capable of taking it from there. If we listen to God and give it our best, He will work His plan. After all, He is God, right? God’s plan may not include a No. 1 radio single or an arena tour. His plan may be for an artist’s song to reach only one person. It may sound crazy to spend $3,000- $4,000 recording a song and another $6,000 to work it to radio and only pick up one radio station, but isn’t it worth $10,000 to help one person find Jesus?

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chapter six: MONSTERS OF ENTITLEMENT

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chapter six:

MONSTERS OF ENTITLEMENT

 

Entitlement is rampant throughout the world but especially prevalent in American society. Many, including myself, believe entitlement is destroying the value system we once held dear in the U.S.A. So where was entitlement birthed? I have a theory as to the possible roots of entitlement in America. In the sixties and seventies there was quite a division between wealthy and middle class families. The wealthy families were the only ones who owned swimming pools, trampolines, nice cars and large homes. The middle class children growing up during that time had a strong desire to have things they saw wealthy families owning and, therefore, adopted a “whatever it takes to get it” attitude as they became adults and began having children of their own.

The middle class parents of the eighties made sure their children had access to material things once reserved for the wealthy. Swimming pools and trampolines began to pop up in middle class yards; designer clothes filled their closets, and large mortgages were taken on to buy bigger homes than families could actually afford. Debt became the norm. Children of the eighties developed a demanding attitude as expectations for material possessions increased. Families became double-income families with both mom and dad working in order to compete with those who had more. Americans began taking on more debt than could have ever been imagined. As we rolled into the nineties, the attitudes of children were noticeably different than those of the seventies. They expected Mom and Dad to provide them expensive clothes, cars and TVs for their bedrooms. In the next decade, some of the same behavior began to spill over into the lower class. Credit was easier to secure than ever before as credit card companies preyed on lower and middle income families. Most every kid in America had a mobile phone, the latest Nike shoes and cash in their pocket. Automobiles and homes could be financed for longer terms, making it possible to live way above one’s means. The children who were given so much in the eighties were becoming adults and, now more than ever, expecting others to fund their lives. The Internet was created ushering in the philosophy of “anything, anywhere, anytime.” American attitudes became “I want it here, now and immediately!” The idea of “no want should be impossible” was paraded in front of us by corporate marketers. Unfortunately, access to money often appears to be the panacea for “want” as it provides the means to turn “want” into “have.” God addresses money throughout the Bible, warning us of its power. His instructions in Hebrews encourage us to stay away from the love of money.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content
with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “ The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
(Hebrews 13:5-6, ESV)

We all know what happened after 9/11 when the American financial bliss party came to a screeching halt. Reality of the enormous debt that Americans had accumulated quickly set in. Jobs were lost, houses and cars were repossessed by creditors and Americans found themselves in the middle of a huge recession. Entitlement was so deeply engrained that even the recession couldn’t assuage it. Many Americans expected and demanded the government to bail them out of debt.

Entitlement and “me” are the heart and soul of the monster. Without those two things, the monster will find it difficult to survive. What we feed the monster in the early years will determine how big it becomes later in life.

While we can’t remove the spirit of “me” that exists due to Adam and Eve’s mistake, God tells us we can teach our children ways to squash it when it rears it’s little head. Helping children understand the negative impact focusing on “me” brings to themselves and others is vital in their learning process. Creating scenarios for opportunities to experience the exhilarating feeling of giving is a great way to introduce them to focusing on others.

Every Christmas our church puts focusing on others into application. Our pastors encourage members to take a portion of what families would spend on Christmas for each other and, instead, give it away to others through our global mission fund. The motto is “Less under our tree means more for the world” It’s really amazing to hear some of the stories parents share when they allow their children to decide what gift they will give up in order to send money to those in need. In addition to helping others around the world, the exercise of giving is sure to have an impact on the children in our church, which they’ll carry on into adulthood.

I believe we can break the cycle of entitlement. In order to break the cycle, adults must change their attitude and expunge the emphasis we put on material possessions. I am encouraged when I see the younger generation getting more involved with social awareness campaigns and working on projects to help those in need. It is apparent good resides in the hearts of many. Unfortunately, I also see signs of the monster attempting to control the growing social awareness movement. Corporate marketers have discovered how attaching social awareness campaigns to their products is the new way into our pockets. TOMS is a great example. The company makes consumers feel good about purchasing its products because it’s for a good cause; but ironically, it’s also become a fashion statement. I’m not saying TOMS is evil, as I’m sure the company has good intentions, but the primary focus for most is on the fashion statement they make while wearing the fashionable shoes.

If we are diligent in teaching our children biblical truth on how God tells us to view treasures and giving, I believe we can starve the monster.

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chapter five: THE MONSTER EGO

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chapter five:

THE MONSTER EGO

 

God knows we all struggle with egos, which is why I think He is so specific about the subject in the Bible.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.
(Proverbs 16:18-19, ESV)

I also like the way this passage is translated in the Message, which reads:

First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall. It’s better to live humbly among the poor than to live it
up among the rich and famous.
( The Message)

When examining the verse, I notice the words pride, haughty and ego are viewed with high disdain by God. He warns those who don’t live humbly that they are setting themselves up for destruction. I haven’t met a single Christian artist who desires destruction or a fall, so I am compelled to wonder why so many willingly allow pride and ego to play a dominant role in their life. Are they reading His instructions and warnings? I find that in order for me to remain humble I must make reading the Bible a part of my daily regiment. Most new artists can tell you what Katy Perry eats for breakfast or what Chris Martin, Coldplay’s front man, named his child; but they miss this giant warning from God? Ironically, this verse is found in Proverbs—one of the most popular books of the Bible—which makes it even harder to understand how a believer could miss it.

My beautiful wife, Diana, has an acronym she uses for ego: “Easing God Out.” If that rings true, why would any Christian ever desire to have their ego boosted? In artist management, we deal with people full of insecurities. Most artists have some level of insecurity, and when they perform, they desire a affirmation. Did the audience like me? Did I do a good job? Did anyone notice that I sang a wrong lyric or note? I often feel my role is to make them feel confident about their performance, so I pour on a bit of flattery. Before I even realize what I’m doing, I find myself in another territory the Bible warns about.

A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.   

      (Proverbs 29:5, ESV)

The phrase “spreads a net for his feet” is interpreted by many Bible scholars as “setting a trap for one’s self.” Every time I tell an artist how great they performed, I am offering food to the monster lurking inside and setting a trap for both the artist and myself. Unfortunately, I have found myself caught in that trap a few times and found it quite difficult to set myself free. Pouring on flattery can quickly make an artist difficult to work with, as they begin to think of themselves more highly than one should. Proverbs 29:5 presents a huge dilemma for a Christian artist manager, like myself. God calls me to act one way, but my desire to serve the artist pulls me in an opposing direction. God’s way is clearly the right choice but one that could result in an extremely small artist roster. Thankfully, God has brought artists our way who also desire to walk under His instruction, and He weeds out those who prefer to serve their ego. While the artist roster pruning process may be painful at times, I rejoice in the final result as I know God is at work.

One artist came to us saying they wanted out of their management contract, because they had outgrown our company and our vision. At the time, they had sold very few records and had virtually no radio play. I found their statement, “We have outgrown your company and vision,” to be an invalid assessment. My vision lines up with God’s desire. Through helping artists get their music exposed to others, God can use it to change lives and draw people to Him. I don’t think one can outgrow that. What I think they were actually saying was, “We want to be rock stars, and we don’t think you have the desire to help us accomplish that.” Their monster had been fed so well that it was roaring to take control. Sadly, once the monster is out, it has an insatiable appetite that will never be met. Regretfully, I helped feed that particular artist’s monster by helping them land a record deal and an opening slot on a major tour. The tour was a “buy on” slot, which means their record label paid a large sum of cash to have them added to the tour. As a result of the tour, they picked up a few female fans, and their egos grew out of control. So much so that they began to believe they deserved a permanent and prominent position on a large-scale tour. Instead of being thankful for the slot they were blessed with, they began complaining about the extra time and opportunities other artists were given on the tour. Ironically, they had seen no radio success at that time, which normally drives the bids and slots from the larger tours. Putting the cart before the horse perfectly described their scenario, but they were convinced of a deserving greatness. The Apostle Paul has some poignant words for those who find themselves in that position.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which
is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

(Romans 12:1-3, ESV)

Recently, I had a conversation with an artist whom I worked with during my record company days. This particular artist earned multiple Gold and Platinum records over the years and was one of the top artists in Christian music for the better part of a decade. I was sharing with him some of the ideas I was exploring for this book, and he brought up the idea of creative people being different and misunderstood. He explained how artists have insecurities others don’t have to deal with, and they need affirmation in order to feel good about themselves. As I listened to what he had to say, part of me agreed, as I know many creative people who are insecure. Then I thought about what a misguided philosophy some have about creatives. Yes, God does create us all unique, and a creative person’s thought process may be different than a more analytical person’s. However, creatives are no more different or special than anyone else in God’s eyes. Many non-creatives have similar insecurities and also need affirmation to feel good about themselves. This need can be present in both creatives and non-creatives and is nothing more than a hungry ego. News flash: creatives don’t get a free pass from God to be absorbed in the selfish need of ego stroking! I’m imagining a deafening gasp in the room as creatives read those words.. Yes, God made you with a creative mind, but He didn’t intend for you to use it as an excuse to be consumed with self. Conversely, Jesus instructs us in Luke 9 to die to self.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
(Luke 9:23-25, ESV)

There are multiple passages in the Bible encouraging believers to die to self. Here are a few more verses speaking directly about dying to self:

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  

(Galatians 5:24, ESV)

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

(Philippians 1:21, ESV)

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
(Mark 8:35, ESV)

Even the Old Testament psalmist prays for help with “dying to self ” in Psalm 119 when he prays:

Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!

(Psalm 119:36, ESV)

Unfortunately, self absorption is not going to easily disappear thanks to our ancestors, Adam and Eve, and that enticing fruit they couldn’t resist. What we can do though is recognize signs of ego and refuse to feed it. Resisting is impossible without God’s help, but spending time in His Word gives one the strength to overcome. One of my favorite verses in the Bible reminds me of the strength Jesus gives.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

(Philippians 4:13, ESV)

That verse confirms creatives can flourish without affirmation from humans. God is the only source of affirmation one needs, and He gives it freely. Artists aren’t the only ones who battle with ego. I happen to know an artist manager who deals with ego daily. My need for approval and affirmation can be overwhelming at times. Even though I feel well balanced as an analytical creative, I like to know I’m rocking the world with accomplishment. When someone recognizes my accomplishments, I’m on a high, but I find it difficult to find peace when no one is acknowledging my work. Human desire to be known is visualized early in the Old Testament where it was the catalyst for the building of the Tower of Babel.

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

(Genesis 11:1-5, ESV)

My daily routine is similar to those who worked on the Tower of Babel, as I make myself busy gathering bricks and mortar in an attempt to build something large. My human desire is to be known as the greatest artist manager in the world, but I would be wise to note that a key phrase in the Tower of Babel story is “let us make a name for ourselves.” God apparently didn’t like their mantra and, therefore, decided to confuse them.

And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down there and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

(Genesis 11:5-9, ESV)

While building artist careers and management companies may seem different than building a tower, the underlying intention can be the same. Our human desire to be celebrated for reaching greatness on our own is actually an attempt to Ease God Out. I think God included the story of the Tower of Babel in the Bible to help us understand how He views ego and the flawed human desire to be known.

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chapter four: LITTLE MONSTERS

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chapter four:

LITTLE MONSTERS

 

Our company e-mail inbox is filled daily with submissions from people looking for management. We recently received the following e-mail with misspelled words and all:

Hi my name is trevor and I really want to be a famous christain singer and im only 13 but I sing really nice. You can reach me at my phone at ###-###-#### hope to talk to you soon

sincerly, trevor

As I read the e-mail, my heart became sad. Trevor doesn’t just want to be a Christian singer. He wants to be a famous Christian singer. Somewhere in Trevor’s life and his exposure to Christianity, he missed an important part of the message. God doesn’t instruct us to seek fame. In fact, He tells us just the opposite when He says to go and tell all nations about Jesus to help make Him famous. I pray that God uses someone in Trevor’s life to help him understand who God desires to become famous.

Our world has become a crazy place thanks to “me.” Well illustrated in a song by Downhere titled “ The Problem,” the songwriter poetically explains how the problems in our world are a direct result of selfishness. What I love about the song is how it doesn’t just preach at others. The songwriter recognizes the “me” in himself is also the problem. Wow! Wouldn’t it be great if we started every day listening to the lyrics of that song? Recognizing “me” is the problem is a major step toward understanding why we need the grace and mercy God offers us.

“Me” is referred to as “the flesh” in the Bible. So what is the origin of “me”? Unfortunately, many years ago in the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Eve with the fruit God had forbidden her and Adam to eat. He convinced Eve that eating the fruit would give her knowledge and, therefore, make her equal to God. The creator of the universe had given Adam and Eve life, placed them in paradise and given them dominion over every creature on earth; but it apparently wasn’t enough. Adam, being the first “not so smart” man, also took a bite of the fruit, and the rest is history. Sadly, “me” was born.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?’” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed g leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3:1-7, ESV)

One of the early words a baby masters is “mine,” which is actually a derivative of the word “me.” What we help children understand about the word “mine” during the early thought development years helps determine how they will manage the monster gene. Those little babies are definitely cute, and it’s quite fun to play the “mine” game with them, but imagine what could happen if we taught our children to associate the word “mine” with “yours”? Instead of teaching them to hold something tight saying, “mine,” what if we taught them the meaning of the word “mine” was actually giving it to someone else? What if we changed the meaning of the word “mine” to “yours” and didn’t replace the old word so the current meaning ceased to exist. Sadly, even if we changed the meaning of the word “mine,” the monster gene and the spirit of “me” would still exist, thanks to the fall and this thing the Bible calls “the flesh.” I think it’s safe to assume God knows the spirit of “me” exists as He gives us wonderful instruction in the Bible on how to recognize and manage it.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
(Galatians 5:16-17, ESV)

Do children really need a surprise every time they enter a store? Should we allow them to dictate what we serve them for dinner or what time they go to bed? How do we handle a child when they become demanding? Don’t get me wrong. This grandfather’s heart melts when I have the opportunity to give my grandchildren something they desire. Who knew the joy I would feel through buying a box of Lucky Charms for my grandson, because it’s his favorite cereal? What happens though is when we give special things to children too often it becomes expected, and the specialness disappears. What was once intended as a special treat can quickly turn into expectation with an attitude of entitlement.

Our grandchildren became particular eaters due to us giving into food demands a bit too often. My wife’s desire is to serve them whatever they want out of concern they won’t eat. She is also “Super Nana,” and spreading joy is knitted into her DNA. I subscribe more to the philosophy of “they will eat anything we serve them if they become hungry enough.” While I may sound a bit mean, I’m also fairly quick to pull out ice cream if they eat the meal we put in front of them. When they are looking for snacks, Diana offers them healthy choices (like fruit), but I offer cookies and brownies. I say this not to judge or plead a case for which one of us is handling our grandchildren’s desires the correct way, but instead to expose the tension adults deal with while teaching our little ones. However we approach the responsibility God bestows on us, we must teach them the dangers of “me” and the implications of feeding the monster.

While little monsters may be cute, we all know what happens when they grow up. They become big monsters, and the cuteness quickly disappears. They can make life very unpleasant for those around them, and even worse, is what they do to themselves through fostering a separation from God. While we can’t make someone into who we want them to be, we can certainly give them biblical training in their early years. Teaching young children how to starve the monster is one of the greatest gifts we can pass along. Proverbs 22 sums that idea up in a single sentence.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6, ESV)

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chapter three: MONSTER ACADEMY

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chapter three:

MONSTER ACADEMY

 

If you ask most children these days who they want to be when they grow up, they will pick a celebrity. Peyton Manning, Lebron James, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, the President of the United States, the Kardashians and David Beckham currently top the list. Similarly, if you ask a young Christian musician who they would like to be, they might say Newsboys, Lecrae, Britt Nicole, Jamie Grace, Switchfoot, Chris Tomlin or Skillet. Why? Because many want to be adored and worshipped by others. They view being a celebrity as a glorious life. Play a little music or professional sports, receive adoration and worship from the masses, make tons of money, live in a big house, drive expensive cars and life is good! There’s only one problem. God didn’t design us to be worshipped. He instructs us on how we are to live our lives in Philippians 2.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  (Philippians 2:3-8, ESV)

Looking closely at those instructions, it appears God wants us humans to remain humble. So much so He sent His son Jesus to earth to give us a model of what it’s like to remain humble. Jesus, the biggest celebrity to ever walk the earth, exemplified humbleness.

Let’s face it, whether we’re willing to admit it out loud or not, our culture has become Monster Academy, a worldly-accredited school beginning at birth and continuing for life. While many parents have great intentions of raising model citizens, what many actually create are little monsters. I must admit I am far from being an expert on parenting. However, I do spend time studying God’s Word and what He has to say about raising children. My step-children were already adults living on their own when Diana and I married, but I now have three lovely grandchildren who spend a great deal of time in our home. I take my role as grandfather very seriously and consider it a gift from God to have the opportunity to speak into their little lives and experience a small portion of what it is like to parent. Diana and I try our best to avoid letting our grandchildren visit the campus of Monster Academy, but the campus life has a powerful draw and can easily fool even the wise into enrolling their children.

The world tells us giving material processions to our children is the best way to show love. Parents want children to have the cool toys marketers convince us they desperately need. Toys“R”Us hypnotizes parents early on with the toy gifting habit, which later turns into smartphones, designer clothes and cars. It’s crazy how many young children are walking around with the latest iPhone. When I was a child, gifts were reserved for special occasions. Now I see some parents racing to the toy store weekly as if buying their children a new toy is a necessity for survival. Jesus warned us about collecting material possessions.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth
and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(Matthew 6:19-21, ESV)

What God says about treasures compared to what many parents teach children is quite opposite. While we want the best for those precious young ones, many parents mistakenly give them everything they desire. Therefore, the spirit of Dr. Frankenstein is alive and well as parents train their children to desire an over abundance of things. Ironically, what they are actually doing is feeding the monster.

My close friend, Pete Orta, runs a ministry for displaced troubled teens and young adults called In Triumph. Similar to the majority of millennials in the U.S., many of the young folks who enter the In Triumph program possess an over abundance of entitlement. Pete shared with me how his personal research and experience led to discovering a key culprit to creating entitlement is the parental practice of over-rewarding children in their younger years. Many parents make the mistake of enticing children with gifts in order to motivate them to do things. Children eventually become performers in an effort to reap rewards. While rewarding a child to help potty train them may be effective and harmless, offering rewards for not mis-behaving can send the wrong message. Many children will learn to act badly in an effort to simply get the parent to offer a reward for good behavior. As a child attempts to maximize the receiving of rewards, the skill of manipulation is perfected. This reward and manipulation cycle is the foundation for creating a strong sense of entitlement in a child.

Another area where I see many parents struggling is with discipline. I’m probably opening a can of worms here, but I can’t help but wonder what happened to spankings? While many politically correct parents will scream abuse, God tells us the following in Proverbs:

Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Proverbs 13:24, ESV)

No, it doesn’t say, “beat your children to a pulp,” but it does read like God is instructing us to use spankings to discipline. I have yet to meet a child who fears “time out” like I feared spankings as a kid. My parents didn’t beat me, but the thought of getting a spanking filled me with fear and respect. Looking back, I don’t think it was the pain of a spanking instilling fear, as my parents didn’t spank very hard. Instead, I think it was more the humiliation of knowing I had let my parents down. Spankings normally took place immediately, shaking up my distorted thought process and bringing me back in line quickly. Conversely, using “time out” in place of spankings gives the child time to plan how they will outsmart the parent in the future. It’s funny how society took “time out,” which is used as a practice in sports for “taking a break to regroup, rest and plan in order to prevent a mistake from happening at a crucial point in a football, basketball or baseball game” and redirected its use for disciplining a child after a mistake has already happened. “Time out” may be a good tool to use when we see a child moving in the direction of misbehaving, but I would argue it’s useless after the misbehavior has taken place.

My search for “reward your children” in the Bible came up empty. I did find the word reward throughout the Bible, but it is always associated with God giving out the rewards. I can’t help but wonder if we humans try to take over God’s role of “rewarding” and use it for our own self-gratifying purposes? Unfortunately, the way many parents now reward actually serves the purpose of feeding the ego. In an effort to make others feel good about themselves, we feel it necessary to reward. When the ego is fed, the person being rewarded appears to be happy and full of joy. Isn’t that why every child gets a trophy in Little League whether they win or lose? That reward technique creates a temporary and false sense of joy. When the meaningless reward wears out , the child expects another even bigger reward for doing absolutely nothing.

Often times I fall into a similar reward trap with the artists we manage. In an effort to keep them happy, I feel the need to deliver some great news every time we talk. My personality is one that wants to please artists in order to receive affirmation that I’m a great manager. The potential danger is that I am actually enforcing an attitude of entitlement in the artists as I feed their egos. In fact, there was one particular artist we worked with whose sense of entitlement grew out of control. At the beginning of our relationship, I set up a weekly call to talk about what was going on in their personal life. They were young, and I felt a responsibility to mentor them as we developed their artist side. A few times, I made the mistake of delivering good news from the business side during a call originally designed to mentor. Our weekly mentoring call quickly morphed into a call where the artist expected good news about their career. Never had I felt more deserving of the Dr. Frankenstein title. A monster was being created on my watch.

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