Worship “Satisfaction”

I read this post last week…

At first—because I’m slightly neurotic—I was really convicted by it, if for no other reason than I, um, often play guitar solos during worship songs.

Forgive me.

But the more I read it, I actually got a little tweaked (full disclosure: if it’s not obvious already, I’m a worship pastor, so as my southern friends would say, I have at least a few “dogs in this hunt”).

As usual, I think of reality more in terms of a tension to be lived in, between the truth of what Bill says and another perspective.

Here are some thoughts from another perspective. Warning: possible frumpiness to follow.

  • I love me some hymns. Love ‘em. Believe in them. But the church I serve in is not a hymn-heavy church. We do 3 or 4 a month. There are hymn-heavy churches in town, however, and there are also churches who worship through liturgy, through silence, through choirs.The point is practically all of our churches exist in the flow of a tradition, and this is a good thing. My non-denominational, evangelical church is not going to become high church Anglican. We will not become full gospel AME. While we do our best to learn from other traditions and to give people a wide(r) glimpse of the church, I think that when we constantly question our own tradition we cultivate a sort of eccesiological multiple personality disorder.

    I think there’s a certain amount of wisdom to looking at your church tradition and culture and acknowledging the truth of where it’s been and what it is. Now culture isn’t frozen; we are meant to grow and change, but God created culture. It is a gift, at least a partial recognition that humanity is so diverse. There’s no point in freezing or elevating one form of worship culture and saying, this is what we need to do. 

  • Sometimes, worship participation is simply a matter of discipleship, of the heart.There I said it.

    Now, I realize that I may need to cut my guitar solos short. I accept that chastisement. But I think responsibility needs to be spread evenly. If an individual isn’t willing to sing, “Holy is the Lord,” then I really can’t make them. Ultimately, I am not the worship leader, the Holy Spirit is, and if a person is unwilling to follow the Spirit to God, then so be it. It’s a reality of my call, but I accept it.

    A word about “seekers” (whoever they are): I once heard Erwin McManus say, “if your church doesn’t have problems of heresy and immorality, than you’re probably not missional enough.”

    If we are engaging the world, there will be a certain percentage of people who simply “aren’t there yet.” As I just mentioned, I acknowledge that’s a reality of my job. There will be people in our gathering space who actually don’t have a clue who Jesus is, much less what worship is, and I need to respect their journey.

    But for those of us who are “in the know,” I think there comes a time when we have to simply say, “I’m here to meet with God; I will open my mouth and worship—not only to remind myself of who He is and what He has done, but so that I can be an example to other folks who are at a different part of their journey.” My church is primarily young people: young(ish) families and some post-college and college kids. But we have some older folks as well. One day, an older gentleman (in his 70s) said to me, “You know, I really don’t like the music at all. But God is at work here, so I’m just happy to be here and be a part of something.”

  • Which leads me to my last point…It’s not about you.

    I once led worship in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic church; our Sunday set lists included modern gospel, songs in spanish, rock stuff (and an occasional hymn lol). Our pastor once said, “Hey guess what you guys: no one here is going to be completely satisfied with worship. THAT’S NOT THE POINT. We don’t come here to just get. We come here to give.” Because that church was clearly diverse, it was easy to grasp the idea that we all need to give up something to worship cross-culturally, but I think the principal holds true for us in mono-cultural worship settings as well:

    worship is first for God, then for us. Worship often overflows into love back from Him to us, but that’s not the point.

    We worship first because of who He is and what He has done for us, not because of what we may get out of it right now.

When I have the rare opportunity to sit under someone else’s leadership, I have the same feelings:

  • “Man, I don’t like this song…”
  • “She’s repeating that chorus too many times…”
  • “The mix is HORRIBLE…”
  • “He’s going to kick that water bottle over…”

In other words, I’m not immune. But I remind myself in those times that this moment is what I’ve been given, and it’s up to me to direct my heart, soul, mind, and strength towards my Creator and Savior.

It’s my choice.

In closing, I’d say this: you don’t sing at my church because you don’t want to sing at my church. It’s really that simple. In a sense that’s okay. And also, I hear the corrections—I don’t want to be a rock star worship leader—and I realize that we need to create an environment that facilitates people meeting with God and tells the story of our faith.

But it’s never gonna be perfect.

Take it away, Mick…

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A Disruptive Gospel

I stumbled across this video this week.

Though that instrument is undeniably weird (and cool), a couple ideas sprang into my mind.

“Random” isn’t really random. The proprietors of the festival proclaim that the attenders had just witnessed a “random act of culture”, but it actually was only random for those who didn’t know that “art” was about to happen. For those “on the inside”, the act was actually intentional and really well thought out. Wu Tong is wearing a mic. The audio guys needed to know when he was going to play. There had to be some sort of signal for him to come in. A few people really knew what was going on.

What it you substituted the word “gospel” for “art”?Do that, and you have a very interesting idea. Great art disrupts people’s lives; it interrupts the “flow” of the world. It makes people sit up and take notice. In fact, in some instances art can change the world forever. Shouldn’t the gospel be just as disruptive (in a good way, of course)? Couldn’t the gospel make us sit up and take notice, and change our world forever?

To disrupt the world—to get the word’s attention—you need more than “random acts” of art (or gospel). You actually need “artists” who are willing to plan and execute an interruption in a very intentional, strategic way. If the gospel is the ultimate culture-disruption, what are you planning? How can you get the world’s attention in an intentional, compelling way?

Quick Thoughts on Blue Like Jazz

from bluelikejazzthemovie.com

Tonight, my church sponsored a showing of Blue Like Jazz. Amazon describes the book this way:

In Donald Miller’s early years, he was vaguely familiar with a distant God. But when he came to know Jesus Christ, he pursued the Christian life with great zeal. Within a few years he had a successful ministry that ultimately left him feeling empty, burned out, and, once again, far away from God. In this intimate, soul-searching account, Miller describes his remarkable journey back to a culturally relevant, infinitely loving God.

For anyone wondering if the Christian faith is still relevant in a postmodern culture.

For anyone thirsting for a genuine encounter with a God who is real.

For anyone yearning for a renewed sense of passion in  life.

Blue Like Jazz is a fresh and original perspective on life, love, and redemption.

The movie was really well-done, but to be honest, the book never held the power for me that it had for others (I have my suspicions why, but I’ll keep those to myself for now).

As Miller re-embraces his faith, a few things struck me as important in his (and maybe your) journey:

  • Be wary of overly-neat categories. As Miller enrolls in Reed college, his mother is aware (and obviously terrified) that he is “leaving the tribe.” But the catch is that oftentimes the tribe has become the problem. Though God’s tool on earth is the church, we need to be careful about so identifying the church with God that we come to believe anything outside of the confines of our local faith communities is outside of God’s activity. As Jacob discovered, you can find God in the most unexpected places. Some of the places I’ve see His hand at work include: Elbow (the band), Andrew Goldsworthy, Flannery O’Connor, and my family.
  • Embrace people as, well, people. In the movie, Miller hides his faith from his friends at Reed, and actually comes to almost reject it. Though this caused its share of problems, the gift that it gave him (and can give us) is time, and also the ability to get to know people as human beings (that, incidentally, God created), and not evangelism projects or (even worse), “pagans” who aren’t worth are time, or love. He just comes to accept them as people who are as loving—and as broken—as he is.
  • Lastly, I was struck with how willing the characters are in the movie to simply be themselves. There is a temptation to believe that, as believers, we can only be part of who we are; that God doesn’t love the darker, doubting parts of us. That’s simply not true. God desires fully integrated, holistically loving human beings. The greatest gift we can give God and the world that He loves is a life that is fully owned, fully inhabited, and in the process of being redeemed and healed.

Good movie. Go see it.

Wonder, Craft, and My Secret Love of Electronica

I’ve been really blessed this week to see and hangout with some really gifted artists like DJ Promote and Propaganda, a really great hip hop artist. Tuesday night DJ Promote was doing a set before a big rock band played, and the kids were just going crazy. Propaganda was talking to me and another guy and said, “You know, I’ve been all around the world with this guy (the DJ), and no matter where he goes, within ten minutes the room is just going crazy. He always wins.”

I replied, “I think I know why; it’s because I can feel the joy in his mixing. I can sense the emotion behind what he does.”

Ever met someone who somehow was giving and generous the moment they shook your hand?

I’d met Promote backstage before I even knew what he did, and even then he was gushing with joy and wonder.

Ever felt blessed by just being introduced to someone? You don’t even know how it worked, but you turned away and felt richer and better for just having said “Hello” to them?

That’s the way it was with both Promote and Propaganda. (He did some spoken word stuff that was just so legit, it was amazing.)

Though I have no doubt that they both put in their “10,000 hours”, the thing that set them both apart was the joy and wonder that they put into their art.

Have you ever considered the fact that joy and wonder can be translated by technology? That emotion comes through bits and bytes, electricity and wires? I have not idea how it’s even possible, but I am blown away that repeatedly this is the case. You can hear it. You can feel it.

Great art is, in fact, a gift, but the gift that’s being given in these cases are emotional and spiritual, not merely musical. It transcends craft.

… I would almost venture to say that joy precedes craft.

Keeping in mind that “our art” may involve the crafting of our gospel-shaped lives, or a specific artistic endeavor; remembering that “calling” exists at the intersection of our deepest needs and the world’s deepest joy…

What kind of joy are you putting into your art today? What wonder are you bringing to your calling?

In the meantime… enjoy some great mixing and spoken word.

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Guest Blogger :: “creativity is spirituality is creativity is spirituality is creativity (and other run-on sentences)”

This week I’m playing guitar with some friends at a youth conference, so I’ve asked a friend to write a piece regarding creativity and spirituality. 

David is a “slash guy”, meaning: singer/songwriter/guitar player/Jesus follower/creative guy. He is a dear friend and one of the best people that I know. Please follow him, and buy, lots, and lots of music from him.

But enough from me… Dave?

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confession time: i’m a creative type (whatever that means). it’s likely that the handful of  stereotypes that just went through your head are true about me. it’s a fact that i don’t have what we’d call “a steady job.” it’s been scientifically verified that i’m running no less than 30 minutes behind schedule precisely 97% of the time. you’ll find (over the course of reading this blog post, maybe) that i most certainly lack the tools to maintain a linear conversation. it’s all true. and even though it greatly resembles chaos, i’ve found myself thriving in it.

i’m of the belief that creativity isn’t a state of mind, but more a state of being. in other words, it’s not the way in which i’ve been made as much as it’s the way i’ve made my life work: in choosing to allow as much room as possible for that unpredictable and mysterious friend called inspiration–a friend who almost always shows up unannounced, at the most inconvenient times. the only predictable thing about inspiration, as far as i can tell, is that, if one gets comfortable ignoring it, it’ll return the favor by showing up less frequently until infrequently becomes not at all.

the main outlet of creativity for me these days is writing songs. in this pursuit, i’ve learned to make sure inspiration feels welcome at all times, which means i’m regularly waking up in the middle of the night to hum a melody into my iphone or sketch a design for the next album cover (two examples from this week). making inspiration feel welcome also means i may pull over on my way to an appointment because, while en route, a journal-worthy idea finds me, resulting in an inspired me showing up late to get his teeth cleaned.

it’s certainly not more convenient to be a creative type. i’ll even admit that, at times, it borders on inconsideracy to those around me–especially my wife (sorry, hon). and it’s not the road to stability, that’s for sure. that’s why every poet has parents telling them to get a business degree to fall back on. okay. truth be told, a creative life, in and of itself, is at best a foolish pursuit, and more often just a huge narcissistic “look-at-me”  spectacle… but what if a creative life is necessarily bundled with eternity? wouldn’t that make it all worth while?

(aaaand the point…)

creativity has been the entry point to my life’s most spiritual and holy moments. i think that’s because God, who in just being, poured out the very idea of creativity and lavished it on His masterpiece (that’s you and me, friends). He’s waiting to meet us through beauty that doesn’t exist yet–at least not until we breathe life into it. God, who spoke the word, “sunset” and saw that it was good, reflects His magnificent beauty in each of us (regardless of whether we credit Him or not, i believe) whenever we choose to imitate that characteristic to make something beautiful out of a blank canvas or an empty stage or wood and strings or an adobe program or some spices and a particular cut of meat or…. (and the list goes on).

so, you wanna meet with God? create something beautiful. wanna worship God? notice and give credit to beauty’s inventor. wanna make space for that? allow yourself to be late to a meeting every now and again because you didn’t dismiss inspiration when it found you.

david greco is not a licensed blogger. he doesn’t even really read any blogs. wait. does 30 rock count as a blog? well, he doesn’t technically read that anyway. he just watches. mindlessly watches.

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THE Prayer, Pt 6 :: “Forgiving Sins”

Infinity Design from Mosborne01on Creative Commons

Our Father, who lives in the heavens,
May Your name be kept holy.
May Your Kingdom come,
May Your will be done,
On earth just like it’s done in Your presence.

Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Don’t bring us to the times of trial,
But deliver us from the evil one.
Amen.

It’s easy to read this part of the prayer and remind ourselves that God is a forgiving god, and His forgiveness stretches “as far as from the east is from the west” (Psalm 103).

But buried inside this phrase is a much more subversive reality, encapsulated in the the word, “as.”

The way we live our lives, we much better suited to the idea of “forgive our sins, and we will forgive others…”

Or, “forgive our sins, so we will forgive others…”

In other words, we think of it as a sequential, or maybe even an unrelated, reality: God please forgive my sins. I understand there are other people who I need to forgive, but I’ll get to them another day…

… Maybe.

What a difference a couple letters makes.

Because the word is, in fact, “as”.

The two acts of seeking and offering forgiveness are intrinsically and intimately related. As Jesus makes it clear in other places of the Gospels (Matthew 18:21-35 and Luke 6:27-36, for starters), his followers should be marked by a willingness to forgive. 

You might even say that we are supposed to engage in a constant cycle of forgiveness. Maybe it looks like this:

As we take responsibility for our own brokenness and receive forgiveness from our heavenly Father, it become easier to recognize the brokenness in others, not so that we can clobber them, but so that we can offer the same forgiveness to them.

  • Take responsibility means to own our brokenness; to step out of a victim mentality and to say, “regardless of how this happened, I am responsible for my life.”
  • To receive forgiveness is to go to God in humility and seek His grace. It means acknowledging that all human beings—including you—stand in need of forgiveness.
  • To recognize this in others means to release them from the motives we often give them—”They are intending to harm me”—and instead to understand that they are broken too, and perhaps operating out of the same fear and uncertainty that you do.
  • To offer them forgiveness is to be willing to see them as your equal, and to relinquish the right to “take revenge” in some way.

* An aside: Forgiveness can be a difficult process that is more complicated than four bullet points. Other folks have unpacked forgiveness in thorough and compelling ways. 

So how “open” is your cycle of forgiveness? Is it flowing freely through you?

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Voices

She asked, “When do the voices stop?”

I don’t know if we all have them—I suspect that we all do, these whispers that seek to hamstring and cripple us. They know the worst words, words that trigger all sorts of negative feelings and reactions inside us…

“Liar.”

“Failure.”

“Whore.”

“Alcoholic.”

“Adulterer.”

The voices always like to walk right alongside us in life, seemingly choosing moments of glory and grace to sneak around our defenses and do their dirty work. Their agenda is to see us shamed, nullified, defeated, and inactive in the service of God’s Kingdom.

What do we do about the voices?

When do they stop?

The leaders of the first church—our “apostles” (and New Testament authors)—knew a lot about “voices”. Paul had blood on his hands, presiding over the arrests, torture, and executions of early Christians. James never believed in his brother Jesus’ messianic claims. His rejection of Jesus was so thorough that at the cross, Jesus entrusted his mother Mary to his disciple John. I was struck, however, with Peter’s voices, because, well, in a sense he repeated failed—at times spectacularly—fora long time.

  • Peter so thoroughly misunderstood the ultimate nature of Jesus’ ministry that his friend, rabbi, and Messiah called him, “Satan” and gave him a verbal beat-down in front of the rest of the Twelve.
  • He drew his sword in Gethesemane, betraying his understanding of the nature of Jesus’ “Kingdom”.
  • While Jesus was on trial, being beaten and humiliated, Peter denied knowing him.

Those are the big ones. And if you know the gospel stories, you know that in spite of this Jesus has said that he will build his church through Peter, and that at the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus restores Peter and forgives him symbolically for his betrayal. At this point, Peter has become PETER. Apostle Superman. The First Pope. Eventual martyr for Jesus.

… But there’s more.

In Galatians 1, Paul relates a disagreement he’s having with Peter:

But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

When did this occur? Paul says in Galatians that is at least 15 years after his conversion. If Paul was converted between 31 and 36, then this confrontation—this complete screwup by Peter—happened between 46 and 51AD.

Jesus had been dead for almost 20 years. Twenty years later, Peter is still misreading and misunderstanding the nature of Jesus’ kingdom.

When does Peter stop screwing up?

What are the voices saying to Peter?

“Failure!”

“You NEVER get it do you?”

“When will you ever learn?”

Obviously, I don’t know what the voices said to Peter. No one does. But the thing is, there was another voice that whispered to Peter as well, and it says very different things:

“Get out of the boat; I believe in you!”

“I forgive you, Peter.”

“Feed my sheep; take care of my people.”

“You can do it!”

“Trust in me, and in my Spirit.”

“My peace I give to you.”

“God loves you.”

Here’s the deal: the voices never stop. They never stopped for Peter, or James, or Paul. But every one of them chose to listen to the deeper, truer voice that also doesn’t stop. The voice that rejects shame, and that calls you on to keep. on. running.

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”[o]37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[p]neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Keep running.

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Four Suggestions for Navigating Vocational Change

What do you do when you feel like you’re being called to embrace a new identity, a new call on your life? How do you embrace a new role?

I was talking to a friend of mine this week who believes she is going through a change in her calling. She is leaving behind the familiar rhythms and demands of what she’s known for a while, and choosing to embrace the mystery of this new thing that God is doing in her life.

She asked me the other day for some practical ways to embrace this new thing in her life.

  1. Adjust your schedule. When my call was wrapped up solely in music and songwriting, a portion of my week—usually on Wednesday—was dedicated to songwriting. In 2009/2010, my call began to change to teaching; in response a portion of my week became dedicated to study. When your call begins to change, you need to dedicate time to reflect this new call.
  2. Adjust your information. While I am the pastor of musical worship at my church, it’s my responsibility to seek out new music and new sounds. I need to challenge myself with new sounds and new approaches. However, because I take my call to teach seriously, I’ve begun making sure that I’m consuming information and ideas that push me forward as a thinker and communicator. If you are moving into a new area of vocation and/or ministry, you need to first label that new area (“teaching”, “leading”, “writing”, “leading worship”, etc.), and then go seek information (one of the most valuable resources for me with this is Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature).
  3. Adjust your conversations. As you are able to identify and name/label your new identity and call, seek people who (you think) are already in that role to have lunch or coffee. These meetings do not always need to involve direct, “Tell me how to live this out” questions. Often, they can begin with simply, “Tell me your story.”
  4. Be open to a disruptive experience. Don’t discount the fact that your new call may need to be reinforced or confirmed by an experience that is disruptive or different. Spiritually and emotionally, place yourself in a position of openness, and watch and listen. Often, we receive confirmation and earth-shaking revelations through conferences, prayers, or even concerts and films. Allocate resources (time, money, etc.) to put yourself in a position to have a disruptive experience that might just be a game changer for you.
  • Have you ever had to navigate a major vocational or identity change? What helped you move into this new area of calling?

Burden-Bearing and the Cross

“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

It’s so easy to separate loving God from loving others. It’s easy to think that one must come before the other; that one is an “add-on” to the Gospel.

But that’s not the way the Gospel works at all. God loves to join together things that don’t seem to belong together. I believe He loves to constantly reveal the astonishing way that things are all interconnected.

The cross of Jesus is a overwhelming commentary on the unity of loving God and loving others.

When Paul writes in Galatians to “share each other’s burdens” (some of us know this phrase as “bear each other’s burdens”) in order to obey the law of Christ, our ears ought to stand up.

What is the law of Christ? 

Simply put, the law of Christ can be found in Mark 12:28-34 (also in Matthew 22:34-40 and Luke 10:25-25 [in Luke read through verse 37 to show how wide Jesus’ understanding is of the word, “neighbor”]). A religious leader asks Jesus what the most commandment is. Jesus responds, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

In a sense, Jesus does nothing new here: all of Israel knew the first phrase. Every Jew was to pray the she’ma—the affirmation that God is one, and you must love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength—multiple times a day. It was a bedrock statement for all Jews. However, with the second statement, Jesus does make a bit of a leap, for he connects Leviticus 19 (the command to love your neighbor as yourself) intrinsically with the she’ma. 

Much of Jesus’ ministry united these two realities. But it all culminated powerfully in the work of cross.

At the cross, fulfilled his own commandment from Mark 12 by bearing our burdens: of sin, of shame, of rejection. He took upon himself all of these things in order to take them off of us. It wasn’t just a “spiritual act” between himself and God the Father; it was a profoundly communal act as well.

So when Paul (or any preacher worth his salt) tells us in turn, “bear each other’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ,” we can be reminded of a few things:

  • “Burden-bearing” is a way in which we can embrace the cross in our lives. When we take on the burden of suffering of someone in God’s family, we are following the model of the cross of Jesus. It is not “merely” a friendly act; it’s much more than being “neighborly”; it is, in fact, Gospel—”Good news”—to the world.
  • Relatedly, the cross is our model for burden-bearing. It involves suffering, and a weakening. Rather than seek to triumph in the eyes of the world, Jesus chose to empty himself and suffer, eventually dying a criminal’s death on the cross.
  • The cross and the church are intrinsically related. You can’t separate our salvation from our attitudes towards each other. If you try to tear them apart, you end up with a truncated, compartmentalized gospel.