Midweek Music 04.13.16

And So It Goes | Billy Joel

We’re in the midst of a sermon series at the church called “Vinyl Theology” that challenges us to see and hear God in all kinds of music. This is going to be a special series for me to experience for obvious reasons. In addition to that, I’ve been on the side of the road in experiencing bits of tragedy and pain here and there over the last week. I say “side of the road” because I’ve not been directly involved or affected by any it but I’ve been present as people have been grieving and sharing their stories and experiences. Of course even when we aren’t directly involved, we are affected when those with whom we “do life” experience unexpected changes, good or bad.

This week, we have two memorial services at the church; one for a 7-year old and one for a 4-year old. I can’t comprehend it. I have an 8-year old nephew and a 4-year old nephew that I adore. I’ve had moments of transference as my mind uncontrollably places them in those shoes and I weep. I don’t see them nearly as often as I would like and yet I can’t imagine life without them. I don’t want to imagine life without them.

It was in high school that I first felt a calling to ministry. Recognizing what I was feeling was helped and nurtured by my youth pastor at the time. I loved that guy and I loved that I was challenged to love God and share that love with others. I loved his wife too. I was on the worship team with both of them and I spent most of my high school years in awe of their talents, their passion for God, and their ability to love people. Jeremy was one of the first people I reached out to after my divorce; it was the first time we had spoken in at least 4 years. I found out that his wife had Huntington’s and I was heartbroken. This week, he started a blog and I read his first post. I wept after I read it.

Billy Joel wrote “And So It Goes” when he was going through a breakup with his girlfriend at the time. It seems like a such a small experience compared to the deaths of children or being forced to watch your significant other succumb to disease but if there is anything I’ve learned about pain, it’s really not our place to tell people about what they can and can’t grieve or how they are “allowed” to grieve. All I know is that when I hear this song; I see, hear, and feel God amidst pain.

So I would choose to be with you
That’s if the choice were mine to make
But you can make decisions too
And you can have this heart to break

And so it goes, and so it goes
And you’re the only one who knows


 

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

 

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2 Corinthians 12;9

It’s not a typo. The semicolon is supposed to be there but we’ll talk a little bit more about that later.

Two years ago, I made a series of bad decisions. Some of the worst decisions I’ve ever made all in one night. Those bad decisions were the product of a time in my life when I was experiencing deep depression. The last bad decision I made that night was to harm myself on my left forearm. It’s not in my nature but depression can make you do things that you never thought possible of yourself. I was ashamed. I had allowed my brokenness, my weakness to control me. I sank further into depression. I drank more.

It was about 3 months later that I read 2 Corinthians 12:9 in my personal devotion time. I’d read it before, it was familiar, but it was different this time. I can be a prideful person and with that pride comes difficulty in recognizing and admitting faults, or weaknesses. It was easy to read the words and think, “I’m good.”

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

“(Christ’s) grace is sufficient for (me)” “Power is perfected in weakness”

This time as I sat there depressed and broken reading this passage of scripture, the words sank in and I wept. How could Christ’s grace be sufficient for what I did? How could power come out of such a great weakness, nonetheless be perfected by it? It couldn’t in my mind yet there it was in black and white. Paul didn’t mince words, he wasn’t talking in coded circles, he was explicit.

It took me some time to accept it. It took me longer to even think about boasting. I wrote about it several months later for the first time. It was hard. It hurt some people, it helped some people. After that, the whole thing became taboo to me. I didn’t talk about it and I didn’t want new acquaintances and friends to know about it. It was as if it had never happened.

I’m not regularly depressed but I’m going to admit, I do get depressed sometimes. Every so often, I become overwhelmingly and inexplicably sad. But I’m a lot better now; in some ways I’m better than I’ve ever been before.

The turning point was what 2 Corinthians 12 did for my faith. Everyone always seems to have it all together in church, good on them if they actually do, but having it all together is not grace; that isn’t Christ’s power working in us. Christ’s power is never better displayed than in our weakness. It’s right there in verse 9. Why do we hide it? Why do we, in essence, flee the perfect, redemptive love and grace of our Creator and Savior? For me, it was pride. I couldn’t admit problems because that’s not who I was. I had it all together.

I don’t have it all together and that is okay. I want to boast about my Savior’s power to the world. I want to scream it even though I have found that screaming, “JESUS LOVES YOU” at people is one of the worst and most ineffective forms of evangelism. BUT HE DOES LOVE YOU AND I STILL WANT TO SCREAM IT.

I’m not going to scream it. I’m going to find ways to display Christ’s power through my weakness. One way I’m going to do it is through my newest tattoo. Project Semicolon was founded to be a way to spread hope and love for those who are or have struggled with depression, self-harm, suicide, mental illness, and addiction. You can read more about it by clicking above but the basis is to get a semicolon tattoo as a statement that my life isn’t over yet, the same way a semicolon works in a sentence.

I wanted a way to display this idea while honoring Christ and the work He has done in my life. I decided this was the best way to do so:

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Christ’s power is made perfect in my weaknesses. I will boast about my weaknesses so that His power may reside in me and give me the ability to show that power with others.

Midweek Music 10.28.15

“Breathe” | The Brilliance

I sigh a lot. I find it is the quickest and easiest way to deal with stress. Not that I lead an overly stressful life but while working in ministry brings its many rewards, it certainly brings its fair share of stress and frustration.

Sometimes I’ll be working around other people, none of us talking, just working. I’ll be working on worship planning or scheduling or designing or formatting or any of the other things that serve me a large dose of fulfillment with a side of frustration and I’ll take a deep, audible breath in, hold if for just a second or two and then audibly exhale out my stress. Sometimes in those moments where I am holding the breath, without actually uttering a word, I’ll think to myself, “Lord, restore me”.

I heard this song for the first time earlier this year. This song is the perfect representation of those little 5 second “sigh-moments” I have throughout the day. In those 5 seconds, I take all the built up stress and frustration, I inhale as much as I can, I dwell on God and His renewal, and exhale my problems. It’s my 5 second interaction with God asking Him to breathe life on me again.

I’ve gotten to where those moments don’t just happen, I need them. I depend on them. I would probably, in complete honesty, quit ministry without them. And it’s good that I have this dependency on those moments because in those moments, I abandon myself and re-learn just how in need of God’s renewal I am. I need God’s breath, God’s love, God’s life, God’s spirit to take over where I am unable. If I sigh around you, it’s okay. I’m not sad or upset, I’m just having a moment and lesson that I think all of us need every now and again.

Oh, Spirit of God
Here with us now, giving us life again
Breathe, breathe on us now
Fill us with Your love
Send us with Your power
Spirit of God


I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

Midweek Music 10.21.15

“You’re Beautiful” | Shane and Shane

When we arrive at eternity’s shore
Where death is just a memory and tears are no more
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring
Your bride will come together and we’ll sing
You’re beautiful


 

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

Midweek Music 09.03.15

“Come to the River” | Ronnie Freeman

It has been some kind of week. One of those weeks where every aspect of your life is invaded by stress and you feel like there is no escape. That kind of week.

I heard this song for the first time about 11 years ago. Ronnie was the worship leader for a time at the church in which I grew up. He left when I was still young to pursue a solo career and after a few years of success, he returned to the church for a homecoming concert at which he performed this song. It became one of those songs that I just fall into. I can listen to it over and over and it never grows old and always encourages me.

I’m doing this song on Sunday for communion, something I planned weeks ago.  I didn’t know when I planned it into worship that I would be having the week I’m having, I just felt led to put it on this Sunday. Being able to practice this song and listen to it over the last week has been a great source of comfort and rest for me. It’s in those moments where something falls into place, something I felt led by God to do in the first place, that bring me the greatest comfort. The idea that maybe, just maybe, God knew I was going to need this song this week. That maybe someone in the congregation needs to hear this song, this week. That maybe someone reading this right now needs to hear this song, this week. Rest in God and be comforted by His incredible peace.


I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

Unwanted? Perfect.

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“Unwanted”…that’s the word that stands out to me from this screenshot. That is the word that breaks me and makes me want to cry out. The unadulterated selfishness is daunting.

“Your life, your essence, your very existence…the mere thought of you is not worth me sacrificing my dreams because you are unwanted.” That’s what this comment is saying about a child…a human being.

I want answers for substandard education. I want improvements made to a broken healthcare system. I want opportunities for people to break out of their socioeconomic bindings. I want to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, shelter the homeless…but when did any of these become more important than someone’s most basic right to simply have a life in the first place?

“My college dreams are worth more than your life.” How can you put a measurable value on life? I can put a monetary value on a college education, healthcare, food, clothing, and shelter among other superficial things. But how is it even feasible for someone to place a monetary value on the life of a human being? I couldn’t even begin to care if any aborted baby ever cured aids or cancer. Why is that even an argument? The value of your life will never be determined by the remarkable things society thinks you have or have not done. There is value to be had in having a life.

“Perfect”. Not only is this total devaluation of life condoned, it’s celebrated. That’s not daunting, it’s disturbing. How can anyone think that there is anything perfect about an argument that would place going to college on a higher level than the life of a child.

I’m broken by this. It saddens me to new depths to see this screenshot circulating on social media. In the time it took me to write this short post, babies were aborted. Lives were ended…and there is nothing “perfect” about that.

Midweek Music 08.12.15

“Christ is Enough” | Hillsong Worship

We all “need” something from time to time. A new car, new clothes, certain foods, different job, more money, better social status, etc… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been guilty of “needing” something that, in actuality, I didn’t.

We play a game with God. “Give me (insert item) and I’ll do better about (insert spiritual attribute)”. We treat our relationship with Christ like a points-based reward system. I’m just curious when Christ stopped being good enough. When did his unjustified love and grace towards us stop being more than what we deserve.

It’s hard to live the words of this song. It’s hard living in a material world and not being a material girl (or guy) to reference a song with a different mindset. It’s hard but it’s worth it. Letting Christ be more than enough, let alone enough, is so worth it. Commit yourself to Christ, be encouraged by his unmitigated grace, and follow the direction toward which he is leading you. Let Christ be enough.


I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

Music Monday 03.02.15

“My Lighthouse” Rend Collective

There’s something special to me about the imagery of God as a lighthouse. I’ve had my share of shortcomings, grief, and dark times throughout my life but my faith in God has always been very important to me. He has yet to fail me.

This song, by one of my favorite worship bands, perfectly encapsulates that idea. No matter where we are, no what we are experiencing, no matter who is involved, there is a “lighthouse” that will lead us safely to shore. He doesn’t give up on us and He doesn’t fail. It might not always be the way we hope or imagine but it will always be what is best for us according to His glory.

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Music Monday, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

My Ecumenical Christmas

Yes, I know it’s January 27 and I’m posting about Christmas. I started writing this a while ago and had planned to finish it the week after Christmas. When that didn’t happen, I thought I’d just not write it but I just couldn’t make myself trash it. So here it is, one month and two days after Christmas.

Last year, as Christmas approached, I found myself without Christmas Eve plans for the first time in my life. Growing up, we always had a “big-family” Christmas party with the entire side of my dad’s family. It was always one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. As my siblings, my cousins, and I all got older, got married and had kids (myself not included on the kids), the party started becoming harder and harder to organize until it finally stopped.

It was during the same time (my college years) that I started working for churches as a paid musician so my plans switched from family Christmas parties to singing in Christmas Eve services. I enjoy church so it wasn’t anything I dreaded, actually I enjoyed it quite a bit. After college I started working my first “real” job in ministry at Christ UMC in Plano, TX. CUMC is a large church, large enough to warrant having seven services on Christmas Eve. So for the last three years, I spent my afternoon and late evening performing various tasks and participating in the services. I would also always take out a little time to attend a Christmas Eve party with some dear friends, a party that became very special to me.

This year however, I found myself with no plans. No Christmas Eve parties, no responsibilities to fulfill at the churches for which I now work, nothing at all. At first I didn’t know what to do. Then one day the week before Christmas, as I was looking at some old photos, I came across some pictures from a church performance during my old youth choir’s tour to Chicago. We sang at a predominantly African American inner-city church on the west side of Chicago and the atmosphere was electric. I remember thinking how awesome it was to watch two groups of people with very different socio-economic, political, and theological backgrounds come together to worship. That’s when I decided to have my ecumenical Christmas.

I decided to visit 4 churches around Birmingham representing a wide range of the theological and political spectrum. The night of Christmas Eve, I set out with my step-sister to visit Mountaintop Community Church (Non-denominational), Bluff Park United Methodist Church, Vestavia Hills Baptist Church, and Cathedral Church of the Advent (Episcopal). My goal was to experience various styles of worship…to gain an understanding of how different people choose to celebrate Christ’s birth. I thought it would be a nice evening filled with pleasantries associated with my favorite holiday. What I got was a renewed spirit.

There was something so sincere about each place I visited. Each church worshipped in different ways…some used guitars, some used organs, some used projection screens, some used hymnals, all had sermons and all had candles. What I found was that even though they chose different styles with which to worship, it all came down to the same thing: thankfulness for a God who chose to take on human flesh, bear our sins, and save each of us.

So much of the church’s energy is spent arguing things like who God loves or doesn’t love, how to get to heaven, how to avoid hell, what is a sin and what is morally appropriate, do we choose God or does He choose us, is it wrong that I used “He” to refer to God…the list goes on and on. But this one night I visited 4 very different churches and left each one feeling a renewed spirit about how the all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present Creator of all things and time itself took on human flesh for each person I worshipped with that evening. He took on human flesh for each person worshipping around the world that evening. And He took on human flesh for each person NOT worshipping around the world that evening.

I know that it’s January 27 and that this post has been mostly about Christmas but as I think ahead to the rest of this year, I find myself wanting to keep those feelings alive. As I prepare for Lent and Easter Sunday, I find myself thinking about the initial choice God made to come to Earth in human form. Christ knew His destiny was to end up on the cross. He knew his destiny was to take on all the suffering of this world in the most painful act of love ever displayed. Yet he made the choice to come anyway.

I think about all the different people I worshipped with that evening. I saw a wide variety of social, economic, professional, political, and theological backgrounds. I saw males, females, heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, blacks, whites, asians, hispanics, and ethnicities I would not have been able to identify without asking. I saw many different people coming together to glorify God for the greatest gift ever given and it gave me hope.

It gave me hope that the church universal would return to love. It gave me hope that the church universal would preach a gospel that is never contained by any parameters of a person’s identity. It gave me hope that the best is yet to come. It gave me hope that the church would, in the same way that the candles illuminated each building that Christmas Eve, do it’s job of shining the light and life of Christ to a dark and dying world.

 

“Christmas means you don’t have to be afraid of the dark ever again.” -Pastor Doug Ferguson (Mountaintop Community Church)

“The people most attracted to Jesus were those who could recognize their own inabilities best.” -Rev. Andrew Pearson (Cathedral Church of the Advent)

“We live in a world where everything is a problem needing to be solved when the real solution was laid in a manger 2000 years ago.” -Pastor Gary Furr (Vestavia Hills Baptist Church)

“Christmas is a time to trade in our pessimism and receive the life changing gift of joy everlasting.” -Rev. Mike Holly (Bluff Park United Methodist Church)

Not Alone

This morning, I panicked. It hit me that I move in a month and I freaked out. I’m leaving behind the past 4 years of my life. I’m leaving security, I’m leaving friends, I’m leaving a ministry, I’m leaving people who have become like family. What if I am making a huge mistake? What if I am just running away from something truly wonderful? What if I never find what I’m looking for? What if I never find someone else? What if I never get over my ex-wife? What if…?

The thoughts swirled through my mind all morning. I fixated on them. I retreated to my escape and ran for as long as my legs could stand it. It was hot, muggy and there was no breeze. It didn’t work. I returned home and began getting ready for work. I turned on music while I got ready and sang along. It didn’t work. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake it.

I got to my office and immersed myself in work. I longed for anything to distract me…to take my mind off all the panic and the surging pressure I was feeling on the inside of my body. I started going over details for my last tour with LPYC. It broke me. I lost it. I stopped everything I was doing and simply thought to myself “I can’t take this”. I said it aloud. “I can’t do this”. It was silent in my office for a brief moment. It was then that I heard a voice in my head say, “I know…but you don’t have to take this because I can. And remember that you’re not doing this alone.”

It’s that simple. This is undoubtedly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m leaving my life behind. I’m leaving what I thought was a great marriage. I’m leaving the job I thought I would have for a long time. I’m leaving what has become home. I’m leaving a planned future. I’m leaving what I thought was certainty.

What I am not leaving is God. And He isn’t leaving me. I can’t take this. I can’t do this…but this morning as I panicked, as I cried, and as I looked for every possible distraction rather than confront my emotion, I got a much needed reminder that I’m not doing this alone. And while I can’t handle this, God can. In fact, I Peter 5:7-10 directs us to not even attempt to handle our own worries and anxieties but to cast them on God.

It’s easy to get caught up in “what if’s” and it’s even easier to let the worry and bitterness from those questions control our minds. In a recent sermon series, Johnathan Pokluda said something that stuck with me, something I very much needed to hear. He said “Worrying is fear that God will get it wrong and bitterness is believing that He did.” All my thoughts this morning were based on fears that I was making a mistake. Even as I believe that I am following God’s direction for my life, I fear the uncertainty my future now holds and fear can be powerful. I won’t let the fear control me though. Don’t let it control you either. Trust in God and know that whatever comes your way, you’re not doing it alone.