Music Monday 07.06.15

“People of God” Gungor

There is too much division in this country and even more division in the church. It’s disheartening, frustrating, and exhausting. Let’s stop fighting and let’s work together.

Tear down the walls that divide us
Let love rebuild and unite us
All we need is
All we need is love

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

I’m So Very Hungry

I was ready to be home. I’d been in my office all morning and afternoon and I followed that with a long band practice that night. As I left the church, I debated making my customary stop at the nearby RaceTrac to take advantage of my free Sodapalooza refill. I decided to splurge and get a Dr. Pepper. As I walked out of the gas station indulging in my favorite soda, I caught sight of a disheveled man looking at the ATM. He was just standing there looking at it…no attempt to grab a wallet or reach into his pockets.

He noticed that I had noticed him and began patting the outsides of his pants and jacket as if he was searching for something. I immediately recognized it for the act that it was. I walked past him toward my car when I heard him speak up from behind me.

“Excuse me, sir.”

I stopped.

“Excuse me.”

I turned around. He stumbled over his words as he began informing me he had forgotten his wallet at his house down the street. He spoke of his embarrassment. I mentally prepared myself to inform him that I didn’t carry cash.

“Sir, I’m so very hungry. I haven’t been able to find any food today. Would you mind if I asked you to buy me a sandwich?”

I was pretty shocked. I have a standing rule that I don’t give cash to strangers approaching me in parking lots. Both because I have no idea what their real intent is for the cash and also because it is genuinely a rare occurrence that I carry cash. I typically offer to purchase them some food, something to drink, put gas in their car…help them in the way they say they need help. Sometimes, people accept. Sometimes, people decline. Sometimes, people get angry. This was the first time someone had just asked me for food.

His eyes were sunken. He look tired and hungry. I couldn’t tell if he was as old as he looked or if a rough life had just taken its toll on his physical body. I asked him his name.

“George, sir.”

I laughed a little on the inside at his insistence on calling me, someone so very much younger, “sir”.

I took George inside. We stopped at the sandwiches in the cooler and I told him to pick one. He asked which one he could have and I told him whichever one he wanted. He looked for a second before settling on a simple ham and cheese on wheat.

“George, I don’t know about you but I don’t like sandwiches without chips. Why don’t you pick out a bag?”

He looked surprised but didn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity. He talked about his love of BBQ chips as he grabbed a bag.

“You’re going to need to wash that down with something. Let’s grab you a drink.”

We walked over to the fountain drinks and I grabbed the biggest cup they had. “What’s your favorite?”

He looked at me and hesitantly responded, “Coke, no ice please, sir.” I filled his cup up and we walked to the counter.

“What’s your favorite candy bar?”

He stood for a moment staring at me like I was about to drop everything and walk out on him. He didn’t respond.

“Do you have a favorite candy bar? I can recommend a couple if you don’t.”

“It’s been an awful long time since I had a candy bar. I do like a Hershey Bar.”

I walked over to grab a Hershey bar.

“With almonds.”

I grabbed the Hershey bar and put it on the counter with everything else we had accumulated. I paid the cashier and asked her for a pen and a slip of paper. I wrote my name and number on the paper, handed it to George, and told him about the church right up the road that had breakfast on Sunday mornings and dinner on Wednesday nights. I told him to call me if he was hungry or if he needed a ride. He promised he would as he thanked me.

I didn’t buy that food for George because I’m a Christian. I didn’t buy that food for George because I consider myself to be morally superior. I didn’t buy that food because of any inherent “goodness” I have. I bought that food for George because he was a human being who approached me broken and hungry.

I didn’t ask George his thoughts on gay marriage. I didn’t ask George what his opinions were concerning the Confederate flag. I didn’t ask him how he intended to pay me back. I didn’t ask him his thoughts on the welfare system. I didn’t ask him when was the last time he held a job. I didn’t ask him if he was or ever was on drugs, when was the last time he possibly used drugs, or if he planned to use them in the future. I didn’t ask him who he voted for or if he could vote at all based on any criminal record. I didn’t ask him about any of his political or religious views. He didn’t seem concerned with mine either.

You see, while we were arguing about who has the right to marry who or which flag should be flown where…while we argued about whether or not a baker should be forced to make a cake for a wedding they don’t support, George wasn’t eating. I’m sure George would have eaten any cake he was offered.

I would give up my right to marry if it meant George didn’t have to go hungry again. I would stop flying any flag if it meant that everyone would not have to experience the deep pain of malnourishment. I have a feeling there are a lot of people who wouldn’t. The sense of selfish entitlement in this country, both amongst liberals and conservatives alike, is deeply embarrassing. It’s shameful.

Conservative Christians, you keep arguing that a man shouldn’t be allowed to marry another man. LGBTQ people, you keep suing those bakers who won’t bake you a cake. Northern liberals, you keep trying to outlaw a flag and southern conservatives, you keep daring to defend your right to fly it.

You do you. I’m going to go buy George a sandwich.

Music Monday 05.18.15

“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” Stuart Townsend

Yesterday in church, our worship set was centered around the constant theme of love in Scripture. I spoke about the idea that God doesn’t simply love us unconditionally, God is love. It’s not just an emotion displayed, it’s not mere affection, God is the essence of love, the very being of it. Love exists because God exists.

Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are ransomed. We don’t deserve it. We’ve done nothing, nor can we do anything, to earn it. But because God is love, and because love is so deep, so wide, so vast beyond all measure, we are allowed to gain from His reward. To God alone be the glory.

 

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 04.27.15

“Simplicity” Rend Collective

I recently wrote about the church’s habit of containing worship to a certain style. There is a well known struggle between traditionalists and modernists as to what is the appropriate kind of worship to use in services. I am very vocal about my middle-ground stance. I try to pull both ends of the spectrum to a place where we can appreciate the idea that worship isn’t about us, its about our desire (and responsibility) to glorify God with our talents. That brings me to this week’s Music Monday song.

I’ve used Rend Collective in this series before. They’re a great band who combines excellent music with a great depth of theologically complex and challenging subject matter. One of the lines from their song Simplicity actually serves as the namesake for this entire blog. I’ve written about the song before (not in this series) and it’s humble plea to be overtaken by Christ. It’s a plea from the singer that they would be stripped completely of themselves until the only thing left inhabiting their spirit is Christ.

Lord strip it all away, ’til only You remain

The song encapsulates everything I think worship should be. We need to step back from our pride, strip ourselves bare of ambition and insecurities, and lift up a broken song to the only One worthy of our worship. Our first and foremost love.

 

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

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.

To Love and To Serve

“…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:28

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

John 15:13

I couldn’t sleep last night. I’m not sure why I couldn’t as I had a full day going to Six Flags and a Rangers game. By the time I got home and in bed, I was exhausted and fell asleep quickly, but I woke up multiple times. I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated. I needed to get several things done at the church today in anticipation of our Saturday evening and Sunday morning services (it’s kind of a busy weekend), plus I’m leading worship for another church on Sunday morning. To top that off, I signed up to participate in the prayer vigil at the church early this morning.

I woke up early, grumbling, got ready, and headed into my office. I was already behind schedule and I was thinking about everything I needed to do. I considered skipping the prayer vigil but decided against it. I went into the room and turned on music because it is virtually impossible for me to focus in dead silence and opened up my Bible. I read through some typical passages for Holy week, said a few prayers, went through the provided church prayer list, etc.

I hadn’t planned on reading John 15 but it is a chapter I like to read often so I decided to read through it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read John 15:13. It’s a popular verse and I’ve sung pieces using the John 15 text, taught devotionals on this verse and this chapter, based sermons on it, and discussed it with friends. I read it and was reminded of Matthew 20, which I read a few days ago in my quiet time, specifically verse 28. The two verses just stuck together.

There is a complicated political, social, and religious climate across the country right now. There are many laws being passed and statements being made using the name of Christ. Imagine how the church might appear if we lived Matthew 20:28 and John 15:13. Imagine for a second, the idea that we, as followers of Christ and His teachings, live a life determined to serve others and not ourselves. Imagine if we loved so zealously that we were willing to throw down our lives for love and service of others all in the name of the one who loved and served beyond comprehension.

The problem is not politics and laws, the problem is the heart of the matter. I didn’t wake up this morning thinking about how my efforts today would better serve others or how my prays might intercede to be effective for others. My heart was not in the right place. It was not a heart of love and service, it was a heart yearning to serve myself.

When Christ took the cross on Himself, He wasn’t doing so just for the purposes of substitutionary atonement, He was also displaying the single greatest act of both love and service in the history of mankind. He was giving us a visual display of the deepest levels of love and service.

I would challenge those who call themselves “followers of Christ”, as I challenged myself this morning, to reflect on this act. I’ll have other nights where I can’t sleep followed by early mornings geared towards service. I pray that I wake up dwelling on the life of Jesus Christ. I pray that I wake up dwelling on how far He was willing to go to show me what loving and serving others is supposed to look like.

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 01.26.15

“Sinking Deep” Hillsong Young and Free

Over MLK Day weekend, I took my middle school youth on a ski retreat up to Lake Junaluska in North Carolina. It’s hosted by the UMC camp and conference center up there with a guest speaker, a worship band, games, and, of course, skiing. We closed each day with a corporate worship service for the entire group. The guest band leading worship for the weekend ended the service every night with this song.

When I heard it the first night, I thought it might an original song of theirs as I had never heard it before and I consider myself reasonably knowledgable about worship music. I did a little research care of Google and Spotify and found out that it was actually written and recorded by Hillsong Young and Free a little over a year ago.

I was enamored with the song. I couldn’t stop playing it. I looped it over and over taking in every word and every note. I dwelled on the lyrics.

“Sinking deep in mercy’s seas”

“Your love so deep is washing over me”

I like the allusion that God’s grace/mercy/love is so vast, so overwhelming, that we can’t possibly contain it. It’s such a force that we can do nothing but sink deeply into it, be completely overtaken by it. It’s immovable, it’s immeasurable, it’s incredible, and it’s yours for the taking.

 

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 01.12.15

“Future/Past” John Mark McMillan

I traveled quite a bit during the holidays so I decided to take a break from the Music Monday posts as I focused on visiting with friends and family. The holidays are now over and 2015 is well underway. As I was deciding on which song I felt led to begin the year in this series, I found myself reflecting on another blog I’m working on right now. Thinking about that led me to this song that was introduced to me late last year. I love most of John Mark McMillan’s worship songs (“How He Loves” is my favorite) and this one was no exception. To me, the lyrics are a simple way of praising the beauty of how intertwined God is with our lives. Everything that happened/is happening/will happen to me last year, the year before, this year, next year, etc… it’s all connected to my relationship with Christ. He is my most powerful yet loving and tender relationship. He is my friend, He is my first, He is my last. Here is to a 2015 where I allow Him to be my future and my past.

 

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