March 20 Devotional

While there are no passages of Scripture that specifically address COVID19, there are some passages that give us great comfort and strength no matter where we find ourselves! We’ll begin our devotional looking at Philippians 4:4-7:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 
Joy is one of the unique markers of Christians. It’s even included in the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5! Let’s think about where Paul was when he was writing this exhortation. He wasn’t (as I am!) sitting in a comfortable chair at his house drinking a delicious cup of freshly brewed coffee. No! He was under threat of persecution, not knowing if or when he’s be killed for his Christian faith. Yet in the midst of that, he exhorts Christians throughout the centuries to be JOYFUL! How joyful are you right now? As you perhaps wrestle with your kids at home 24/7 now, or with trying to figure out what “social distancing” looking like, or worrying if you’ve got enough toilet paper stocked up, are you able to rejoice in God’s goodness?
 
Paul goes on though, and his second exhortation is “let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” Another way of translating that is gentleness. This is another marker of Christians! Being gentle no matter how people may malign you! What do you think being gentle looks like right now? Maybe it’s bringing your extra toilet paper over to a neighbor. Maybe today it’s shoveling their driveway or sidewalk! (Yes, I realize it’s heavy!) But look for ways that you can be gentle today!
 
Next, we see a pretty short phrase that I don’t want you to miss! Paul said “The Lord is at hand” God NEVER has to practice social distancing! We’ve seen that a couple times as we’ve been studying the Gospel of Luke together on Sundays. Jesus didn’t have to distance himself from anyone, his cleanliness abolished the uncleanliness of those he came into contact with. Now, I’m not advocating we then run into places where the COVID19 is known to be affecting people, that would be foolish! But we trust a God who is sovereign even over viruses, so while we’re being careful, wise, and obeying the governing authorities God has placed over us, let’s pray that God will bring an end to this current global crisis. 
 
So with these three things in place, we then can read the rest of these verses. We’re commanded to not be anxious. If there ever was a time I’ve lived in to start being anxious, this is it! My retirement accounts are NOT doing well. I can’t find paper towels anywhere (I’ve looked at 4 stores so far!). People are holding toilet paper, some states are even forcing people to stay in their homes! Yet in the midst of that, we don’t need to be anxious! Instead we can pray! God is with you and will continue guiding you.
 
Then, the outworking of that is a sense of peace that the world will never know. We have peace because God has saved us from spiritual death, which means death no longer holds power over us! The Lord has numbered our days from before we were born, thus we can trust Him implicitly! 
 
An almost brand new song I’ve been listening to gets to this hope we have in Christ. It’s called ‘Christ Our Hope in Life and Death’ and you can listen to it HERE.
And if you’d like to hear the story behind the writing of this song, you can listen to it HERE.
I’ve been posting songs regularly on Facebook and Instagram as a way to encourage people during this time, I’ve been compiling them into a playlist on Spotify that you can listen to HERE if you’d like!

Mist and Fog

Howard Hendricks, quipped, “If there is a mist in the pulpit, there will be a fog in the pew.” As far as I know, this wasn’t a comment about flatulence from the pastor, but instead is referring to unclear teaching. If the pastor is uncertain about what he’s teaching, and thus unclear in his delivery of the message, the congregation will completely miss the point of message. But this applies not only to the sermon, but also to the music and liturgy of the day. So how can we be sure our services are clear and communicating what we want them to communicate? Here are 3 ways we can ensure we’re not creating a fog in the pews.

  • Be Clear

I had a professor in seminary who said of preaching there’s four rules: be clear, be clear, be clear, above all else be clear. Walk your congregation through what you’re doing and why. This allows you opportunities to teach the importance of regular habits and disciplines in the Christian life, and also gives you an opportunity to model how other believers can carry out some of their own practices at home. We get to demonstrate to our entire body how we pray, how we think about God, how we sing about God, how we taste God (through the celebration of communion), and how we worship God through our whole lives. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:1 ring true here “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Is your example clear enough that people can imitate the right things?

  • Explain What You’re Doing

We celebrate communion differently at our different campuses, so we get to explain them a little differently each time, but each way gives us an opportunity to explain the importance of communion, why we practice communion, and a time to encourage everyone to examine themselves before taking of the body and blood of our Lord. Bob Kauflin encourages music leaders to think through their services and explain what needs to be explained. So do you need to explain why you’ve chosen a specific song that day? Or how one song ties into the next song you’re about to sing? Or how a specific passage of Scripture is illuminated through a refrain you’ve just song? Or maybe how multiple songs point us to the main theme of the sermon or passage of Scripture that has just been sung? All of these things are opportunities to demonstrate to the congregation what we’re doing and why.

  • Don’t Assume

I had very influential Sunday school teacher teach me the value of never assuming, because it will make an a– out of you and me! When we’re the ones planning our services it can often be easy for us to assume everyone will see what we’ve worked so hard to communicate! We’re also often very closely attached to what we’ve carefully curated so it can be difficult to see areas that may need some clear communication. I’ve found that it’s far better to OVER communicate than to UNDER communicate. This way we can know that people are making the correct connections and understandings of the various aspects of our service.

So how do you make sure there isn’t a fog in your pews during your service? Have you ever thought through more specific ways we can explain why we do what we do on a Sunday or is just the way it’s always been done?

Passively Engaging with God

One of the most difficult aspects for me during a worship service is to be actively engaged with what is happening. Someone moving down the row from me, or someone coming in late, or a child crying or a funny joke all distract me from the primary purpose I’m there: to commune with the family of God and to spend time in awe of who God is. It takes a concerted effort to be engaging with people and with everything that happens during the service. This is the difference between being an active participant and being a passive participant.

Being a passive participant means I expect everything to go my way, for the music to be my favorites that I enjoy, for the sermon to be perfectly applicable to me and relate to me. This leads to both an entertainment model of church and a me-centric model of church. Church is all about me and what I get and want from the weekly services.

Being an active participant means I look for opportunities to serve those around me. Instead of wanting the music to be my favorites, I look for the ways these songs can serve us as a whole. I actively listen to the sermon and think through ways I can encourage the pastor for being faithful to the Word, ways I can grow as a believer, and support those around me.

This is part of the reason I ask for people to stand when we sing. By standing people are forced to be more engaged in what they are doing. Not to mention, it’s much easier to sing with correct posture, like you have when you stand.

Instead of looking for ways that we can get something, I hope we as a church can look for ways that we can engage with the Word of God and allow that to change our lives and the ways we interact with each other.

Worship in Adversity

We began a new series this week at Grace on the life of Elijah titled ‘Adversity.’ As I confessed during the beginning of the corporate singing, it was pretty tough to find songs that we know that deal with this important issue. This week I found a blog by a pastor at New Life Downtown in Colorado Springs who asked the question: how many minor keys are we singing at church? Looking at the 104 top CCLI songs from the past 25 years, there were 7.

Paul in Romans 12:15 tells believers, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” In my experience, we tend to do a great job rejoicing with those who rejoice (at least outwardly, even if inwardly we’re jealous) while a poor job at mourning with those who are mourning. It seems that we want people to mourn for a short time and then move on to being happy. Instead of actually mourning we offer poor platitudes, while not actually relating to any seen or felt needs.

This is also true of some songs that deal with our response to difficult situations. In trying to find songs that related to this theme, one of the first that came to mind was Matt Redman’s ‘Blessed Be Your Name.’ He wrote that right after 9/11 when he realized that many of the songs the church sings don’t have any aspect to dealing with difficulties. Yet that song is still in a major key and resolves in a hopeful statement.

I introduced a new song to the church this week, ‘Give Me Faith’ by Elevation Worship that hopefully helps put words to how we as believers can deal with difficult situations that arise: through faith. Hebrews 11 talks about the faith that many people have demonstrated throughout history. My hope and prayer as we go through this sermon series is that we can  pray for the faith to trust God even when our lives feel like a mess.

Singing Through Generational Trends

One of the most difficult things of leading congregational worship through singing is the wide range of opinions people bring to church. Some listen to only top-40 radio, some blast KLOVE all day, others don’t listen to any music, and others only listen to classical. How do we bring all of those together on a Sunday morning? This is an area I have struggled to work through since I began serving in the church.

First, remember that no one will enjoy the same thing. The point and purpose of our corporate gatherings are not to appeal to the masses, but to encourage better pursuit of God. Every week it seems that there are some people that like every song I do, and other people that hate every song I do. And there’s weeks where I feel the same! Ultimately this isn’t about us, but about God.

Second, listen to various genres of music. All genres have some music merit that people can learn from. This is a great reminder that it isn’t just about an individuals preferences. God was a creative God who made things as seemingly mundane as ants all the way up to the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. If God finds pleasure in everything he made, I think we can find pleasure in various forms of music.

Third, learn to speak the language of difference generations. Many of the complaints lobbed at me about newer songs it that they “lack the depth of the old hymns.” I think this may have been true 10-15 years ago when “worship music” was just gaining traction, but I don’t think this same complaint hold weight today when there are such rich and deep songs that have been written over the past 5 years. At the same time, there is a rich history that is connected to the hymns of centuries ago, and refusing to do any hymns loses our sense of connectedness to our history. In my interactions with many people who prefer hymns, I ask them to think through the words we sing in the newer songs. Are any of them biblically erroneous or leading people to not think rightly of God? Or is it merely a preference for a specific style of music?

Fourth, have a long-term view and plan in mind. Looking at the day-to-day doesn’t give a good perspective of how people are growing. Instead of being discouraged, think of specific ways you can help the congregation to grow over the next month. We have eternity to look forward to getting this down right, so don’t be discouraged by what seems to be a lack of growth on earth.

Finally, love and pray for your congregation. You have been tasked with the great honor to point people to Christ through your singing. Do your best to be honoring and loving toward those who may malign you. And remember that the reason we gather together is for God, not for us.

 

Transitioning Out

Over the past month, I have been in the process of transitioning out of the current church I serve and preparing to move and begin a new season of ministry in Longmont, Colorado focusing exclusively on worship through music. This process began last fall when I was talking to the youth pastor at this new church who has been a friend for a few years, and told my that my name had been brought up when the church decided it was time to hire a worship pastor. I officially applied for the position this past February, candidated last month and got called to the position a week later. Thus I have been wrestling through how to transition out of one church and into another without (hopefully!) dropping the ball at either place. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the past few weeks.

It’s going to be hard.

I should have known this from the beginning, but I didn’t expect it to be as emotional as it was. I’ve enjoyed serving here for almost 4 years and have grown close to many people in the church. It’s been a joy to serve and I’ve had many opportunities to serve in so many different areas than I expected and have grown in my ability to lead people through music, pouring everything I could into the ministry here. Thinking that I won’t get to serve with them anymore isn’t easy to think through!

-Make Instruction Books

I quickly realized that my weekly to do list is bigger than I realized! Not as far as time, but as far as the steps it takes to get the music “stuff” ready each week! I need to pick songs that correlate to the sermon, think through any special events that week (missions moments, special announcements), Scripture readings, getting all the computers ready with the loops, lyrics and other slides, and then making sure planning center is right and everyone has the music in the right keys! During my time here I didn’t think through any of these processes but just do them! I took screen shots of each step of the process and included instructions about how to use all the main programs (for us here it’s Proclaim, Planning Center and Mainstage).

-Think Through All Your Subscriptions

Most music related things today seem to be subscription based, like Planning Center. Everything we’ve done here is currently tied to my account and church credit card which will soon be deactivated! I think I’ve transitioned them all to a different person and card, but I’m really hoping I didn’t miss anything!

-Ministry Is Relationships

Make sure you spend time with the people you’ve invested in. If this means setting up a meal for the ministries you’ve been most involved in, get it done. I was able to have a reception in between services this past Sunday to connect with a number of people, but it was very quick and I only was able to talk to people briefly. I did a music team meal, and a youth leader meal as both a way to say thank you for our time together, but also to just hang out with those people I’ve gotten close to over my years here.

-The Ministry Is Not Yours

This time has been a good reminder to me that this church isn’t all about me. Sure, I’ve left my mark on the areas I’m involved in and (again, hopefully!) positively in people’s lives, but the ministry will go on without me. This is hard to admit and even now hard to see how sometimes, but I know that God is in control. I hope we all have a mindset similar to John the Baptist who viewed his ministry as one of preparation (Mark 1:7-8).

Using Music From People With Wack Theology

There have been a few articles I’ve read recently about why people will not sing songs at church from specific groups, the most often quoted are Hillsong, Elevation Worship, and Jesus Culture. They do not want to endorse any kind of theology that may be questionable or lead people to study more about specific churches. But what if the words of many of the songs they write are biblically true, or a resurrection of an old hymn? Personally, I have chosen to do songs from almost all these churches. They have written many songs that are very catchy, easy to sing (sometimes! if you lower it a lot!), memorable, and theologically rich. I’m grateful for these people who have been gifted with combining biblical truths with good music that won’t put me to sleep! The main reason I use music from these churches is because if we were going to ban music from anyone or any group with a questionable past or questionable theological bent, we wouldn’t sing any songs. Moses was a murderer, David was a murderer and an adulterer, Paul was a murderer (there was a lot of death in the Bible) and Jesus saved all of them, and used them for his good. The disciples even wanted Jesus to lead a revolt against the Romans, I think their theology was completely off at that point! I also know that at times my theology has been completely off. If I think I have it all figured out I’m still off! Thankfully God is still God and can and will work despite me and my completely wack theology. Yet in the midst of that, we will still do our best to worship God and equip the saints to better understand God through the gift of music.

Singing to Teach

Whenever I’m asked why we spend so much time singing during a church service, there are two passages I cite. The first is Ephesians 5:18-21 where Paul says,

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The second is also by Paul in Colossians 3:15-17 where he says,

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

In the first passage, Paul writes about one of the purposes of singing “addressing one another.” He words it similarly in Colossians when he says, “teaching and admonishing one another.” That means that we need to spend time singing to each other, and also means that the congregation needs to be able to hear each other! Mike Cosper, a worship pastor in Louisville, KY says, “we sing so that we can teach and admonish one another.” (Rhythms of Grace, 156)  Harold Best, a music professor at Wheaton college, words this even more strongly in his book Music Through the Eyes of Faith where he writes, “a congregation is just as responsible to sing the gospel as the preachers are to preach it.” (192)

The common thought among many Christians today is that the church is run by the pastors and leaders, which leads to a passive approach to church. People come to church to be fed instead of coming to serve those around them. This also is manifested when people refuse to sing during our corporate times of worship. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul writes that the job of the teachers is “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” (4:12) This also applies to music as it is done to equip those in the church to carry out the mission and ministry of Jesus. Therefore, singing plays an essential part to the ministry of the church. We must not neglect singing together, as some are in the habit of doing, instead let us continue to sing to build one another up and help teach each other the richness of the gospel message through the power of God to the ends of the earth.

Holy Week Services

This past week was the celebration of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. This is one of those holidays that both Protestants and Romans Catholics celebrate together. I always look forward to this week and enjoy the opportunity to try some new things throughout the week. Last year we did our first ever Maundy Thursday service and continued that tradition this year. This year’s service was focused on the communal nature of our faith. I set up 12 tables in our sanctuary and had people gather sit around those tables. The service itself was divided up as following:

Greeting

What is Maundy Thursday? (John 15:12-17, Luke 22)

SING: Jesus Paid It All

Celebrate

The Passover (Exodus 12)

SING: In Christ Alone

Remember

SING: Mercy

The Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

At each table was: Matzah, bitter herbs, hoaroset, and grape juice.

This was the longest time of the service, and each table had instructions to guide them through the various elements, as well as Scripture readings and explanations of what each element stood for.

Go

Love One Another (John 14:15-31, 1 John 4:7-21)

SING: Give Us Clean Hands

Each of the 4 parts also had a responsive reading and all 3 of the pastors on staff shared speaking responsibilities. Our time together was helpful in thinking through how the Passover applies to today, as well as being able to slow down and reflect more deeply about the Lord’s Supper.

On Friday night I divided the night into 5 parts and focused on the individualistic part of our faith. We are called into a community, but we are still still individually members of that community. Since February, we had been going through a series titled “Christ in the Psalms” so I carried that idea into our Good Friday service. It was divided into 5 sections with a Gospel passage being read aloud, followed by a Psalm displayed on the screen for people to pray through, and a station for people to participate in. As people were walking in there was a half sheet of paper with instructions, a nail and a pen to grab and take in to the service. It was divided as follows:

Remember

Luke 22:14-23

Psalm  105:1-11

Think back to when the cross and the Gospel message first began making sense to you. Write out that story in the space below, if there is not enough room, use the back of your paper.

SING: The Wonderful Cross

Betrayal

John 18:1-32

Psalm 55

IMG_2814

On each side of the front of the sanctuary is a cross painted on a canvas, when you’ve had enough time to reflect, walk down the middle aisles to paint the canvas red. There are wipes for your fingers once you’re done. Please walk back to your seat on the farthest outside aisles.

Suffered

John 19:1-16a

Psalm 73

In the front middle of the sanctuary is a bucket for you to drop the nails you picked up when you entered. Whenever you have had enough time to reflect, please walk down the middle aisles and then return to your seat on the outside aisles.

SING: Were You There

Crucified

John 19:16b-30

Psalm 22

At the bottom of this paper is a space for you to write out why Jesus had to die for YOU. Write out as few or as many sins in that space as God lays on your heart.

It Is Finished

John 19:38-42

SING: Once Again

Psalm 25

On your way out the door, tear off the paper below where you wrote your sins and place them at the foot of the cross at the back of the sanctuary.

If you would like to “borrow” any of these ideas for your services, please do! They were enjoyable to plan and hopefully encouraging to the congregation.

Worship Wars

After a week away in Chicago and some time with other EFCA pastors, I got to come back home on Friday night and prepare for meeting with the body on Sunday. Some of my discussions with friends at the conference lead to thinking through some issues related to music and church on Sunday (someone mentioned the book “When the Church Was a Family” which lead to a discussion on this issue). As an introduction to this issue, think through the question: when was the last time you viewed your family through a consumeristic lens? Does your family exist to serve you or to be served by you?

1. We live in a consumeristic world. 

The “i-everything” mindset has permeated into all our thinking. We’re able to enjoy whatever we want with a touch of our finger. We don’t like being inconvenienced or to have anything but our perfect ideas served to us. I can listen to whatever type of music I want on my phone or listen to whomever I want to listen to preach a sermon. This all leads us to draw into ourselves instead of looking for ways we can serve our brothers and sisters around us.

Unfortunately, so many people look for a church to see where they can “be fed” or where they enjoy the music or where they have their friends. There’s no looking around to see how you can serve or get involved and pour out your life for those around you. However, when everyone is looking to see what they can get out of church no one is going to grow or be made more like Christ. The pastor’s job isn’t to feed you, it’s to grow you. Growing sometimes hurts. Growing sometimes means being pushed outside your comfort zone and being forced to wrestle with deep seeded issues that take a lot of time and energy to work through.

This mentality isn’t just for the younger generation. I see many retired people who are convinced church should be all about them. They’ve put in their time and energies during their younger years to give up when they’re getting close to the finish line. Instead of continuing to pour into those younger than themselves, they draw into their own groups and similar ages friends to remember the “good old days” and wish things were the way they used to be. I need and am so grateful for older people who aren’t giving up, but are continuing to faithfully serve the church and equip the next generation to rise up and lead the charge for the next generation. My best youth worker is a retired high school principal who teaches the youth group Sunday School class and checks up on me to help me better pour into the students that attend the youth group. That’s how older Christians are to live with the next generation.

2. We are too focused on ourselves.

This is often done at the expense of those in the church we’ve been called to serve. Because we’re some consumer minded we don’t encourage those around us like we’re called to in Ephesians 5. Yes, Ephesians 5 tells us a number of different types of songs we’re to sing (psalms, hymns and spiritual songs) but at the end, Paul says as we do it we are, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That means we must look beyond ourselves to the betterment of the body laying down our interests and passions so the church can grow.

I also think this is the primary reason people don’t sing in church. They’re either too embarrassed by their “bad voice” or they don’t want others to know how their voice sounds. It’s still too focused on yourself instead of encouraging those around you by praising God with your voice.

3. We all have unique and individual preferences.

We are all called to be a part of a body. That means we all have unique contributions to give to the church and all have a job to contribute to the betterment of the body. This means that we need to sacrifice our own wants and desires for the better growth of the gospel in our lives and the lives of those around us. I have a unique style of music I enjoy listening to and a specific style of preaching I best relate to, and I have yet to find a church that has everything I like, including the one I currently serve in. What I’ve looked for in a church is a place that I can serve. As I’ve heard said before (and I don’t remember where, so I’m sorry for not giving the credit where credit is due), “worship is a war, but it’s a war against myself.” Any time I come to worship God I need to fight against my fleshly impulses and selfish desires and wants for the good of the church I’m in.

4. We don’t love.

Francis Schaeffer wrote a book titled, “The Mark of the Christian.” What is that mark? Jesus in John 13 says it’s love. Not our definition of love where there is no calling out for wrongs, but God’s definition as laid out in 1 Corinthians 13. We’re called a family, a new family that runs deeper than just flesh and blood.

I naively thought that the “worship wars” that I’d read so much about were done and gone, and it so often to me feels like some people in the church have missed the memo that worship is about so much more than a style of music and is about God. It’s almost like the story of people who lived for decades without hearing that WWII had ended, and had been living in fear most of their lives. I pray that the church can move beyond individualistic preference and on to a family mindset.