The stones will cry out

The nineteenth chapter of Luke tells of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. People everywhere were shouting and singing “Hosanna” and waving palm branches in excitement and adoration of their Messiah. In verse 39, some of the Pharisees demanded that Jesus rebuke these people for making such a fuss. In verse 40, Jesus responds that if they were silent, the stones themselves would cry out.

Wouldn’t that just be utterly terrifying? You’re going through life, minding your own business, never praising God, and all of a sudden, the rocks on the ground starting yelling and singing. Not only are they yelling and singing but they’re shouting praises to God.

As a worship leader, it can be hard to remove my ego and realize how truly irrelevant I am in praising God. Yes, it is my responsibility as a follower of Christ to glorify God and yes, it is my responsibility as a worship leader to utilize music to worship and lead others in worshiping God. But it’s plain right there in verse 40, if I don’t do it, someone else will, and if they don’t do it, the rocks themselves will cry out in praise and adoration of our great God.

God will be praised. God will be glorified.

The fact of the matter is: I’m replaceable, and that is a good and wonderful thing. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to use music to glorify God and lead others in worship but the realization that I’m easily replaceable, that God will be praised regardless of what I do, helps me to keep the most important aspect of worship in check: it is completely and entirely never about me or you. Ever.

Does ego get in the way sometimes? Absolutely it does. Even worship leaders and Pastors are fallible. But if I can’t work past that ego, then I’m in this for all the wrong reasons and need to get out of God’s way. We reach a dangerous point when we let ego step in and make worship more about our desires and our preferences than the reason we are worshiping in the first place. We reach an equally dangerous point when we constantly criticize another person’s preference of worship just because it doesn’t fit into the mold of what we think is best. When we allow that to happen, the only rocks that won’t be praising God are the rocks that were once the hearts beating in our chest.

God is expansive and beautiful and worthy of all the types of praise and worship that we can muster. Praise God with all you can. Don’t let ego get in the way and don’t let the rocks do your job.

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Midweek Music 03.03.16

Child of God | Mark Miller

I was introduced to the music of Mark Miller 5 years ago. I was immediately captivated by his way of capturing powerful text and setting it so simply and beautifully to music. I had the privilege of meeting and working with him a little over 2 years ago for the first time. Since then, I’ve been able to work with and correspond with him on occasion. In that time, he and his music have shaped my philosophy on ministry and music as well as the church’s responsibility in regards to social justice.

Last year at a conference that I was attending and Mark was leading worship, I had the opportunity to hear him lead one of his most recently published songs. “Child of God” is the simplest yet most underrated message to and for the church. That next weekend, I took it back to my church and played and sang it for the congregation. It was a message that I felt needed to be heard immediately. The political climate in this country is terribly divisive right now. There are certain politicians claiming Christianity while standing on a platform that tears down people of varying cultures, genders, faiths, and creeds. That is not love. That is not the message of Christ. This is:

No matter what people say, say or think about me
I am a child, I am a child of God

No matter what people say, say or think about you
You are a child, you are a child of God

You can listen to a better recording here but there is no video.


 

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.

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!

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.