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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Midweek Music 03.16.16

My Song in the Night | Traditional American Folk Hymn

There is unequivocal beauty in the Passion story. The fact that God, because of the great love God had for us, descended from heaven, took on flesh in the form of the Son, and sacrificed himself for us. I find the world to be a dark place more often than not these days. Maybe that makes me pessimistic, maybe it just makes me realistic. Either way, that is how I view it. But I take comfort in words like the lyrics in this song. May it be a comfort to you as well.

O Jesus my Savior, my song in the night,
Come to us with Thy tender love,
my soul’s delight.
Unto Thee, O Lord, in affliction I call,
My comfort by day, and my song in the night.

O Jesus my Savior, my song in the night.
Come to us with Thy tender love,
my soul’s delight.
My comfort and joy, my soul’s delight,
O Jesus my Savior, my song in the night.

My Song in the Night (Arr. Mack Wilberg; performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir)

My Song in the Night (Arr. Paul Christiansen; performed by the Salt Lake Vocal Artists)


 

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

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 02.10.16

“Now and at the hour” | The Brilliance

Party primaries and caucuses are happening. The Super Bowl was a few days ago. Mardi Gras was yesterday. Beyonce stayed in an AirBNB house. Valentine’s Day is this weekend but more importantly (depending on who you ask) so is College Night. There’s a lot happening in the world right now, as if there is ever a time “a lot” isn’t happening.

You might not have noticed, unless you partook in the Mardi Gras (or Shrove Tuesday) celebrations but Ash Wednesday is today. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, which is my favorite liturgical season. Maybe we aren’t supposed to have favorites but I don’t care, Lent is my favorite. It might be odd that it’s my favorite because it’s such a solemn, almost melancholic at times, season but that’s precisely why it is my favorite. Forty days of solemnity and reflection on the life of a man, God in the flesh, born for the sole purpose of death. A death that would have unfathomable effects on the entirety of mankind. I can’t fully wrap my mind around it but then again, I don’t think I’m supposed to be able to do so, I’m just grateful for it.

This song by The Brilliance is a simple prayer. I like that it addresses God as the Spirit, the Father, and the Son. I like that it asks for peace, forgiveness, and our rescue. It’s simple and yet so meaningful. That’s Lent. Simple yet meaningful. Simple in that all it takes is us recognizing our own brokenness, our own need for a Savior and meaningful in the realization that Christ fills that brokenness as our Savior. He does it now, he does it at the hour of our death, and he does it during all the time in between.

Repent and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


 

 

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 01.20.16

“Lead Us Back” | Sojourn

I’ve had difficulty writing this blog post, not because I didn’t have anything to say about it, more because I have too much to say about this song. This song convicts me because I can pinpoint many specific times throughout my life that each verse reflects perfectly.

It makes me sad that I have found myself to be so broken so often in life but at the same time it gives me hope. Each verse ends with “Lead us back to life in You” and I find hope because that is what Christ does. I fail, He breathes life into me. I seek comfort, favor, and power over Christ until I realize those things are empty and meaningless, then Christ gently and lovingly shows me that there is wholeness and life in Him not in the world.

I feel lifeless, I experience spiritual hunger and thirst as a valley of dry bones. I become wrapped up in the logistics of ministry and worship as if it’s a talent show. I criticize, mutter insults and judgments under my breath, hurling heavy stones at others failing to see the boulder in my own eye. Then Christ gives me new life and love.

I recently finished reading Blue Like Jazz. I loved every second of the book especially chapter 11 and a specific quote about death and life. I can’t share the whole chapter but I highly recommend reading the book if you are at all serious about loving God and loving people. I’ll share the quote below with the song. Read the book, listen to the song, love people, and live a life filled with Christ.

 Dying for something is easy because it is associated with glory. Living for something is the hard thing. Living for something extends beyond fashion, glory, or recognition. We live for what we believe.


 

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

Crisis of Conscience

Disclaimer right off the bat: I’m not anti-lottery nor am I anti-gambling.

It seems like the Powerball jackpot is the big thing in the news (read: pop culture) right now. I’m going to buy a Powerball ticket. I’ve never bought one before and I have no real expectation of winning but I mean, come on, $800 million (after taxes) is a lot of money and the ticket is only $2. Why not?

Over the last week I’ve had a couple conversations with people about what I would do with that much money. I said the first thing I would do is pay off my student loans which isn’t an uncommon answer for many people. I would pay off all my family’s debts; mortgages, car loans, student loans, I’d take care of all of it because I would want my family to live a comfortable lifestyle. I was told my answers were boring.

I told them the first non-debt related, slightly impractical thing I would do is buy this house. I love Fort Morgan and I have always loved this house, both its beauty and its seclusion. Then I’d get really impractical and build a long private pier at which I would dock my private yacht. Then I would need an airstrip right by my house so my private plane could fly me to Auburn during the fall to enjoy all the games in my 50-yard line private suite. Oh, I have plans for that money…

I once read an interview with Bill Gates where he was asked if he had any real concept of the sheer amount of his wealth. He responded, “the only (he) could really grasp it was thinking that there was nothing in the world that (he couldn’t) buy.” After the interview, I thought for a few minutes about what that might be like. What would it be like if there was not a thing on Earth that I simply could not afford?

A few months ago, I wrote about an experience I had with a man named George. When I met George at a RaceTrac gas station, he hadn’t eaten and was hungry so I bought him some food. What I didn’t write about then was my desire to spend my money elsewhere.

For several years, I owned a beloved pair of polarized Rayban Wayfarer sunglasses. I’m notorious about losing sunglasses so for the longest time, I wouldn’t spend more than $15 on sunglasses. One day I decided that I really wanted those sunglasses so I would buy them and take extra precaution. I owned them for 4 years before I finally lost them one day by leaving them at the tennis court after a couple long matches. I was upset but proud of myself for owning them as long as I did.

I decided to reward myself for the longevity of my ownership by purchasing myself a new pair. I spent about a week shopping around, deciding if I wanted to stick with my tried and true Wayfarers or give something else a try. Once I made the decision to stick with those, I wanted the best deal, of course, so I looked a little longer. I met George the day before I was going to buy the sunglasses. The aftermath of my interaction with him left me feeling helpless and ashamed. In the midst of this man being unable to afford food, I was filled with excitement at the idea of owning my second pair of $200 sunglasses. I didn’t buy the glasses. I couldn’t buy the glasses.

I found myself feeling the same way in the aftermath of my lottery conversation. I first felt convicted upon realizing that none of my initial thoughts about spending the money involved giving money to the church. Tithe is important and I know some pretty awesome churches (namely the two I work with) and ministries out there that could do a lot of really great things with $80 million. That wasn’t even on my initial radar.

The conviction grew when I realized I hadn’t thought anything about helping people who needed it most…”most” being the essential word. Would my family benefit greatly from my paying off all their debts? Sure. Are any of them in danger of facing homelessness or starvation if I don’t? Not of which I am aware. But there are people who already face homelessness and starvation and they had nothing to do with my first thoughts on what I would do with all that money.

The conviction intensified to it’s maximum when this question popped in my head: “Why do I need $800 million to help people?” I didn’t have millions of dollars when I bought George food and I don’t tithe and give to certain charities each month out of some million-dollar paycheck I assure you. Why do I need to daydream about winning the Powerball to help people? The answer is I don’t.

I’m still going to spend my $2 on a ticket because how cool would it be if I got to write a check to feed every single homeless person in DFW. I think it would be way cooler than buying that beach house (which I would still buy). But I’m not going to sit around thinking about what I could buy with that money, I’m not going to sit around thinking about the ways I could help people with that kind of money. I’m not going to sit around thinking about what it would be like to literally be able to afford anything on planet Earth. I’m not going to sit around thinking about what I could buy with the money I have now and I’m not going to sit around thinking about the ways I could help people with the money I have now. I want to actually get out and help people. I think I will. I don’t need $800 million to help someone and you don’t either. Let’s do it.

Midweek Music 01.06.16

“Hey Jude” | The Beatles

This isn’t a worship song. If you didn’t know that, you don’t know who The Beatles are and if you don’t know who The Beatles are, I don’t know what to do for you.

A few weeks ago, Spotify released the complete discography of one my all-time favorite musical groups and one of the greatest bands of the 20th Century. I was ecstatic as it’s always been a disappointment that Spotify didn’t have but a handful of The Beatles’ songs available. It’s very uncommon that I listen to any music not related to Christmas during the month of December but I was very comfortable making this rare exception.

I spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s with family in Alabama. Every time I go home, I take my nephews, Korban (7) and Lawson (4), out for the day; just the three of us. I had the distinct privilege of introducing them to the wonder that is The Beatles. As we drove around town listening to various hits and a few deep tracks, we kept coming back to one of my all-time favorites, “Hey Jude”.

“Hey Jude” can be perceived spiritually in it’s own way, like much of The Beatles’ music. Paul McCartney said he wrote it for Julian Lennon while his parents, John and Cynthia, were going through a divorce and it’s message, at it’s most basic level, is essentially saying it gets better. I think that is very much a message that Christ wants the world to hear, it gets better.

We played “Hey Jude” several times and I belted it out in the car with Korban and Lawson half-mouthing words they didn’t know. I thought it was cute they were trying to amuse their uncle. I didn’t think much more about it past that.

A couple days after I was back in Texas, I get a text from my sister informing me that Korban insisted on downloading the song to his iPad. My sister was probably confused how he even knew the song but he insisted on having the song because we had listened to it and sang it together.

“I didn’t think much more about it past that.”

I think we sometimes overlook the little ways we impact people. I never would’ve thought my nephew would remember the song nonetheless want to download it. I didn’t truly realize in that moment that I was creating a memory with him, I was potentially shaping how he felt about music and more importantly, how he possibly felt about me. I just thought I was playing a fun song for him, I didn’t realize that the moment would have any effect on him whatsoever.

As we enter a new year that will be filled with ups and downs, steps forward and backward, big moments and small moments; I challenge myself, and you, to not overlook those small moments. Enjoy the small moments, then you can start to make it better.


 

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 12.09.15

“A Light” & “May You Find A Light” | The Brilliance

Lost and weary traveler
Searching for the way to go
Stranger, heavy-hearted
Longing for someone you know

A light shone down on us
A star of hope shines bright

May you find a light
To guide you home

Working in ministry, I typically begin to think about Advent and Christmas in August. It helps that this is my favorite time of year. I enjoy the decorations, the parades, the parties, the time with family and friends, and man do I love the music. It’s all wonderful but there is one thing that makes the season stand out to me, one thing that makes it something more than an enjoyable time of festivities. Hope. Advent is a time of expectation, it is a time of preparation, it is a time of celebration; Christmas is a time that our hopes are fulfilled in the form of a child, the picture of innocence, sent to save us from ourselves.

As I began to prepare the Advent music service for this Sunday, I found myself dwelling on the theme of light throughout scripture. I began to connect the beginning of light as God separated it from the darkness, the prophecies of a “new light” from Isaiah, Christ being personified as light in the Gospels, and finally the expectation that we should be reflections of that light into this world. John Arndt and David Gungor of The Brilliance wrote these two beautiful songs that perfectly captured my thoughts.

We are, all of us, searching for answers and we’re all on this journey together. We can rejoice that a star, a light, shone over Bethlehem signifying the birth of our God in the flesh, our Savior. This Sunday, December 13, we are having a special service of music in the morning services at University UMC. I hope you will join us during the 11:15am service where we will celebrate Advent, Christmas, and this light that is guiding each of us weary travelers home.


 

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 11.18.15

“Brother” | The Brilliance

This morning I was worried about how much traffic would back me up on my morning commute. This morning refugees from around the world were told “you’re not welcome here.”

It’s easy to ignore what isn’t right in front of you. Poverty, homelessness, persecution, genocide…these things are daily realities all across the world. Our version of persecution is being forced to hear “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas or a caterer being unwilling to bake a cake for a gay wedding. Our persecution is someone not thinking like us or bowing to our own wills.

It’s easy to forget (or ignore) what God commands of us. Commands, not suggests.

Love your neighbor as yourself 

It’s easier to hate than to love. Love takes effort. Love isn’t always convenient. Love might cost me something.

We condemn these refugees to poverty, homelessness, persecution, and genocide. We condemn them because otherwise it will take effort, it isn’t always convenient, and it might cost us something.

Herod sought to kill Christ. Mary and Joseph took their child and sought refuge in Egypt to save his life. Praise the Almighty that no one refused them as refugees.


 

 

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

An Open Letter: Starbucks and the ‘War on Christmas’

I’ll admit it: my first mistake was reading an article on Breitbart. I saw the headline and they got me, I fell for the clickbait.

“WAR ON CHRISTMAS: STARBUCKS RED CUPS ARE EMBLEMATIC OF THE CHRISTIAN CULTURE CLEANSING OF THE WEST”

For the record, I didn’t click on the article because I believed in any way that the headline would reflect truth nor did I continue to read the article thinking that I would have my opinion changed in any way. I dove in head first knowing that I was reading grade A bullcrap. I clicked and read because I am a person that tries (and sometimes fails) to follow the tenets and teachings of Christ and because, like Buddy the Elf:

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The article tries to disseminate the idea that because Starbucks’ annual red cups, which are meant to acknowledge and celebrate the holidays, aren’t festive enough; Starbucks is perpetuating, even advancing, the “War on Christmas”. Let’s just forget that Starbucks is an individual corporation free to market itself any way it pleases. Let’s forget that they don’t even have to make their cups red in the first place. Let’s overlook that they have a coffee roast that comes out every single year appropriately named, “Christmas Blend” or that they sell an Advent Calendar. Let’s ignore the idea that they are trying to be open minded and market to a wide demographic of people who prefer to celebrate other holidays this time of year or who choose not to celebrate any holidays at all. This is clearly a calculated attack on Christmas, and by association, Christianity itself.

The article itself is relentless. It’s unnecessarily critical of Starbucks products and the people who patronize the business. The author of the article openly mocks the baristas for misspelling an uncommon name in the Western world in an article demonizing the Eastern world (the part of the world in which Christ was born). He accuses Starbucks of “subliminally, (telling it’s customers) that this time of year is no longer about Christmas.” My favorite part is when he states “It’s a ‘holiday season'” with “holiday season” in quotes. Why is this my favorite part?

BECAUSE IT IS A HOLIDAY SEASON

Some Christians have this idea that December is exclusively our month and it’s been that way since (sarcasm alert) Jesus himself came over on the Mayflower and planted the first American flag straight into Plymouth Rock to commemorate the day of his birth (December 25) before founding Fox News to ensure Christmas would always have a righteous defender.

Forget that there is no evidence to suggest that Jesus Christ was ever actually born on December 25, there is simply no room for other holidays. There is no room to observe a holiday like Hanukkah with origins based long before the actual birth of Christ. I can’t believe that anyone would ever want to acknowledge a holiday that Jesus Christ himself celebrated in scripture.

I guess if we can’t call it a holiday season, there is no room for Kwanzaa which is cultural and doesn’t even conflict in ideology with Christmas. Forget Bodhi Day or Ramadan.

We can’t celebrate other holidays like the Feast of Saint Nicholas which is a Christian holiday on December 6. Don’t mention Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, or New Years Day which are completely secular in nature but recognized by Christians around the world.

Here’s the thing: tolerating someone’s ability to believe something different from you doesn’t mean you’re accepting their belief, it just means you’re not being a jerk about it.

Ask anyone, I’m a Christmas nut. I’m that annoying guy who starts listening to Christmas music in October and has a Christmas countdown on his phone so he always knows exactly how far away the most wonderful time of the year is. I tell people “Merry Christmas” every chance I get starting with the day after Thanksgiving. Sometimes they say it back, sometimes they say “Happy Holidays”, sometimes I’ll get a response related to another specific holiday, and sometimes they say nothing back at all. The response makes no difference to me. The intent is what matters. My intent is to spread a little cheer while acknowledging that my thoughts, my beliefs and I are not the only things existing on this planet, Christmas is not the only holiday in December, and Starbucks red cups are not a subliminal nor purposeful attack on anyone. If you think otherwise, you’re just kidding yourself.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!