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.

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Jehovah Jireh

Throughout scripture, many descriptive names are ascribed to God in order to portray the active role he plays in our (his creation’s) lives. One such name is “Jehovah Jireh” or “the Lord will provide”. It’s taken from Genesis 22 and the story of Abraham being told by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. At the last minute, after proving himself faithful, God stops Abraham and provides for him a ram to sacrifice instead. It was a test for Abraham to prove his faith and obedience. In response, Abraham names that location “Jehovah Jireh” to acknowledge God’s faithfulness in providing.

Over the weekend, I found out about a couple friends who are in need of jobs. Someone had been talking to them about “Jehovah Jireh”. This type of theology makes me shudder. God is faithful and God is just but I see the “Jehovah Jireh” theology, such as this one, taking firm roots in Evangelical America. The idea that your want is in actuality a need and that God is a magical genie waiting to grant your wishes if only you ask enough and/or are “good” enough.

That is not the Gospel of Christ. That is dangerous thinking. That is prosperity gospel.

I believe that God loves you and because He loves you, He wants to be in relationship with you. The problem is we live in a first-world society which seems set on the mentality that being in relationship with God means material blessings. It gets worse when we equate the amount of our material blessings to how much we love God and God loves us. What does this theology say to third-world missionaries? To starving children? To our atheistic neighbors?

I believe that God plays an active role in our daily lives. I believe He loves and cares for us. I also believe the opportunity to use my passion for leading worship as a career and the fact that I have money in my bank account is not because God loves me more than a friend who is serving as a missionary in Africa. He doesn’t love me more than the starving and homeless people my friend works with on a daily basis. He doesn’t love me less than Joel Osteen and his $50 million estimated worth.

God will provide. It just might not be in the way you expect.

Containing Worship

I’m not going to lie to you. Sometimes, it’s really frustrating being a worship leader. I love worshiping God, I love seeing others worship God, and I love music. When all three of those come together in a single moment, it’s absolutely glorious. It gives me goosebumps to feel God’s presence and worship alongside other people. Then there are those moments when the goosebumps fade and I get frustrated. You know the moments I’m talking about. Fast vs. Slow. Soft vs. Loud. Older Hymns vs. Newer Songs. Band vs. Choir. Lighting. Audio. Visual. Effects. Atmosphere. Quality. Acoustic. Electric. Presentation. “Traditional is more reverent.” “Contemporary is more relevant.”

I’ve been around ministry and music long enough that I’ve been involved in more discussions, read more articles, and heard more debates than I can hardly stand anymore. I have the background and have had unique opportunities to be heavily involved in both traditional settings and contemporary settings. Through my experiences, I’ve met a slew of people with a variety of opinions on the subject. The vast majority of them have the best of intentions in their heart. They don’t necessarily believe that one is wrong per se, they just truly believe that one or the other is on a greater spiritual level. They engage in passionate conversations about the depth of which their preferred style reaches beyond the other.

When did worship stop becoming about worshiping? What moment in time did people start having the mindset that “worship” could even be stylized? I think it was around the same time we started treating “worship” as only a noun instead of both a noun and a verb. Worship is supposed to be an expression. It is supposed to be a deep and emotional expression of reverence for something of which the worshiper has great adoration. If we are to believe that is the case (and I very much do believe it), how can we define what style is appropriate for worship? Why would we limit our own ability to worship by placing unnecessary parameters around something that is supposed to be beautiful and intimate?

Now beyond that, and far more importantly, at what moment did we decide worship had anything to do with us in the first place? “The worship just didn’t speak to me.” “The songs just didn’t move me.” “I couldn’t get into the music.” “I didn’t really like the worship leader’s voice.” I’ve heard all of these and have been guilty of saying a few of them. What do they all have in common? The focus is always the worshiper. But the problem is that worship isn’t supposed to be about the worshiper, it’s supposed to be about whatever is being worshiped. When we come together for our church services and the music starts, our thought process shouldn’t be “OMG IT’S THE NEW ONE FROM HILLSONG”. Our thought process should be focused on the one who gives us a reason to worship.

I once had the most incredible privilege of taking a church youth choir I directed into an inner-city church in Chicago. The overwhelming majority of the choir was made up of white, middle to upper-class, suburban high school kids from a United Methodist church in Texas. The independent gospel church we were visiting was in the center of a predominantly black and economically downtrodden neighborhood on the western side of Chicago. From the demographic and regional differences alone, you know that the stereotypical worship styles of the two groups are on vast opposite ends of the spectrum. That night we worshiped together and it was electric. We sang hymns, we sang contemporary songs, we sang gospel songs, there was spoken word, there were scriptures, and there was dancing. There was a cultural and spiritual exchange between these two groups and it transcended stylized worship. Our worship transcended our preferences and became what it should always be, a deep and emotional expression of reverence for God.

On that evening in Chicago, worship was a verb. What might it look like if worship became a verb in our every week worship? What might we be able to accomplish if we get over our preferences and allow worship to take over our hearts. We must stop containing worship as a simple noun, inserting our preferential adjectives and limiting it’s true purpose. Go and express emotional reverence for God. Go and worship.

(Insert Name Here)

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

Ernest Hemingway

I’ve never been exceptionally talented at any one thing. I have attained many average or “slightly above average” skills. Because of this average “jack-of-all-trades” life that I’ve led, I have oftentimes found myself in an almost constant state of comparing myself to others.  I was a decent baseball player but not on the same athletic level as my older brother. I was a pretty good public speaker but didn’t size up to my youth pastor’s ability to draw in his audiences. I am a good musician but can’t even begin to list the countless people I’ve met who are far more talented and hard-working than myself.

I admired these people for what they were able to do and what they were able to accomplish in their field of expertise. I admired them and I compared myself to them. I compared myself to them and I put myself down in my own mind for my inability to live up to them. In turn, I would find people less talented or less intelligent than myself and feed my own ego off their “inferiority”. I would tell myself that I might not be as good as (insert name here) but at least I’m better than (insert name here). I caught myself in this trap of feeling insufficient through comparison while also needing to gain self satisfaction through further comparison.

We live in a world of constant comparison. Competition is not only encouraged, it’s expected. Survival of the fittest is ingrained at an early age. Work harder, move faster, study more…be better. The error is when we step back and realize whom we are supposed to be better than. We’re told to be competitive with those around us which is not totally wrong, healthy competition is good, but are we really improving our lives by holding our heads higher from having defeated someone else? Isn’t true improvement, the truest “betterment” in character attained when we can look in the mirror and say, “Today, I am better than I was yesterday.”

I’m a remarkably competitive person and I won’t lie and say I have this completely figured out. Comparison and competitiveness is something with which I struggle on a daily basis. I have, however, come to a point in my life where most days, I can shut out the rest of the world, stop worrying about others achievements, look in the mirror, and know how I size up to the man I was the day before. Some days the man I see is better and some days, that man falls short. On the days where I have fallen short, I pick myself up and find ways to be better the next day. On the days where the man I see is better, I find ways to be even better the next. On this day and every day after, don’t concern yourself with being better than (insert name here). Concern yourself with simply being better than (insert your name here).

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)

Music Monday 10.06.14

“Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”

I think it would be impossible to have a blog series talking about worship music and not include this song. It’s easily one of the most popular worship songs out right now and I have yet to meet someone who isn’t moved by it’s lyrics or music.

This song is all about faith in dark times, something which obviously speaks to me more than usual right now. I love the whole theme of being called into dark places, being called into hard times yet taking comfort in the fact that we can rely on Him. Nothing from the lyrics stands out to me more than “You’ve never failed and you won’t start now”. It’s just so refreshing to hear and/or sing those words about God’s faithfulness.

Everyone knows the original version sung by Taya Smith of Hillsong. Because she sings it so powerfully, I’ve always thought of this song as “females only”…that was until a month ago when I discovered Shane and Shane’s cover. It’s got a totally different vibe to it, much more acoustic and male lead vocals, but it’s every bit as powerful. I’ve included both the original and the Shane and Shane cover below.

 

 

 

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

Music Monday 9.29.14

“You Make Me Brave” by Amanda Cook/Bethel Worship

This is one of those songs that really hits me hard right now in my life. It’s a rocky time in my life where I feel like I’m not really on settled ground. I’ve experienced a lot of change and it’s taken a lot of trust on my part. I read Psalm 16:1 almost every day right now especially because I know I couldn’t do most of what I do without knowing that God is right there making me brave.

 

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

Accepted

I was recently talking with my good friend, Becca Wilson, about the realization that college students aren’t staying connected to the church. In fact, research from the Fuller Youth Institute and College Transition Initiative has shown that approximately 50% of youth who grew up in the church are leaving their faith behind in their college years. As someone who is passionate about working with youth and young adults, this troubles me. As a college freshman and someone who is passionate about her faith, Becca wrote this recently and sent it to me. I loved it so much that I wanted to post it on my blog. After some convincing, she is letting me share it with you.

“I recently went through recruitment and was offered a bid to a sorority at TCU. At first it seemed cool, a fun social group to be a part of on campus. But I had a gut feeling and after some serious thinking, praying, and talking with several people on and off campus, I knew my gut just wasn’t going to shut up about this one. Now don’t get me wrong, the people are awesome; every single girl I met through the recruitment process and after bid day was so welcoming and really seemed to care about what I was going through. There was just something in my heart telling me that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, that I was meant to be somewhere else. I just realized that Greek life wasn’t for me. Since I made the decision to drop out, I have been happier and more confident in who I am and where I’m headed, and I am 100% sure I made the right choice. However, there has been one stressor that has come with my decision. Multiple people, including me, have worried about my decision because of one reason, and I’ve been thinking about it extensively the past couple days. As a college freshman, this little phrase is EVERYWHERE in my life right now and it has begun to bother me quite a bit:

“In college you’re going to want to have a group you can identify yourself with”

Why? Why do I need people to define me? Why do I have to be a part of a group just to feel important on campus, and why does that matter at all? Of course in the beginning, I was guilty of this mentality, for sure. In fact, I would go as far as to say it’s one of the main reasons I even decided to go through recruitment in the first place. Every girl in every house would ask me, “Why did you decide to rush?” And every time I answered, “I don’t really know many people here, so I just want an instant group of friends to associate with and to know I can count on.” I’m not saying this is WRONG, but I’m saying there is something to be said for the fact that we don’t NEED to find a group to define us. Having a group of people who genuinely love and care about you, who you can go to for advice, for accountability, and for guidance, now that’s something everyone needs. But the fact that we, as college freshman, or as anyone really, should feel that we HAVE to find some sort of group to call our own is simply false.

Instead of running towards people who will make us feel accepted, and make us feel like we are a part of something, we should be running to the one who will never fail us, Christ. Can’t I identify myself in God alone? Can’t I identify myself as a Christian, with the church, with the community of fellow believers? Fellowship is very important to me, so I’m not saying that Christ is the only thing I need in my life. I strongly believe that my faith would not grow without the help of others, but I’m talking about identification, not existence. All of this college stuff, all the sororities, the clubs, activities, parties, they’ll all go away. Christ won’t. So doesn’t it make more sense for me to identify myself in Him rather than a fleeting social group? Honestly, this concept scares me to no end. The fact that I may never find a social group to call my own, the fact that maybe I won’t fit in. But you know at the same time it’s awfully comforting. God will never go away. I wish I could bold that one hundred times and scream it because so many people just don’t live their lives in a way that exemplifies that.

I believe in Christ’s eternal and unfading love. Since I’ve been at TCU, my faith has been tested through the activities I’ve tried to put myself into. My life before now has been easy, I was in band, and I had a home church. My path was laid out for me. I had easy ways to make friends, and I felt I was somewhere I belonged. When that suddenly all ended and I had to start fresh, I was forced to put my faith and trust in Him to lead me where I’m meant to be and it’s been a hell of a lot more challenging than I ever thought. I’m not telling you that being in a sorority is bad. I’m not telling you that not being in a sorority is bad. I’m telling you that if we are to call ourselves believers, our identification in Christ alone should be enough. Worldly love, worldly acceptance, and worldly comfort are all essential to fulfill our social needs, but you don’t need a group to have a purpose. Our primary purpose is found in glorifying God and through our worship of and devotion to Him we are fulfilling that purpose.

If you’re like me, stop searching for a group. Stop stressing out over being accepted and fitting into a certain mold these groups have for you. If you find one that uplifts you and helps you grow spiritually, by all means do it. If you don’t, just know that you don’t need that to feel accepted. Christ has already accepted you and in the end, that’s the only “group” that is truly everlasting.”

Hope Out of Fear

I had PE during 1st period my freshman year of high school. I remember changing in the locker room, grabbing my bookbag, and making my way back into the gym with my friends to head towards 2nd period English. As we headed out, there was a group of girls that passed us and I heard them say, “It was some accident with a small plane…” I didn’t think anything of it at the moment and never would have remembered those words had it not been for what happened next. I walked into my English class and the teacher had the TV turned on to CNN. In the time I had walked from the gym to my English class, a plane had hit the second tower. Everyone walking into class was confronted with the image of billowing smoke coming from these two towers. We never pulled out our books, we never even thought about English, we just sat and watched.

I honestly don’t remember much of the events over the next few days. I remember feeling genuinely afraid of what might happen…the fear of what else could be done to America, the fear of what we might do in return, the fear of how this would affect everyone, and more than anything the fear of how it concerned our military. My brother was serving in the National Guard at the time and would later go on to fight in Afghanistan. I just remember there being confusion and fear from everyone.

A year later, there were, of course, several memorial services. Schools, churches, community organizations, news specials…everyone wanted to commemorate what had happened and make sure that we would never forget. I attended several of those services and was inspired by many of them but honestly, I couldn’t tell you a single thing about any of them now 12 years later, only that they happened.

Another year passed and with that came more memorial services, fewer in number but every bit as patriotic as the year before. Again I attended several but couldn’t tell you one detail about any of them. What I can tell you is what my AP U.S. History teacher Mrs. Smitherman said on that day. She spoke to our class on the exact importance of why we must never forget. She spoke of the hope that can come out of our fear…out of our pain. She spoke about using that hope as motivation to not just be a participant but an active creator of a brighter future…how we as the next generation can learn from the unfortunate events of the past to shape a better world for the generation after us.

I’m inspired by the fact that 13 years later people still talk about that day in 2001. They share posts with one another, talk about where they were, thank active and former members of the armed forces, and spend some time remembering those who died that day. And while it is so very important that we do all of these things to commemorate that day, it’s equally important that we spend some time thinking about hope. More than anything, a hope that we can put aside our differences and work together for a brighter and better future so that our children, our nieces and nephews, our grandkids will never have to experience something like this.

I had never visited New York before the twin towers fell so I never got to see them in person but on a recent trip to New York, I had the opportunity to see One World Trade Center. I had been to New York several times in between the time the twin towers fell and 1WTC’s recent completion so I had become accustomed to the typical skyline. This new building towered over everything else. I was reminded of the fear I felt that day and in the days after but I was also reminded of what Mrs. Smitherman told us. To me, this building stands as a beacon of hope…a symbol of what can be born out of tragedy and fear. I will never forget what happened and I will continue to hope for unity committed to a brighter and better future for us all.

world-trade-center