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)

Happy Thanksgiving

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I Thessalonians 5:18

 

Being thankful is not always easy. It’s something I try to practice on a daily basis as I pray and think on the blessings I’ve received but not something I always accomplish. Of course, there is usually an emphasis on it around this time of year as Thanksgiving approaches. However, it seems this year there is more emphasis on what is wrong with the world. There has been a harsh focus for the past week on political and social differences with little focus on what is good and right with the world. I wanted to share with you some things for which I am thankful. I hope it encourages you to spend some time considering all you’ve been given.

Christ, Mom, Dad, Denise, Tori, Griff, Brittany, Addison, Logan, Jordyn, Korban, Lawson, Becca, Bradley, Maria, Goggy, Grandad, Kay, Scott, Ashlyn, Natalie, Lauren, Nathan, Clark, Jeff, CUMC, Matt, Zach, Pat, Joan, Berk, Michael, LPYC, Jim, Amy, Sarah, FUMC-Trussville Youth, Bluff Park UMC, ministry opportunities given to me, mercy, grace, the cross, music, and Advent Conspiracy.

This is just a small list of things currently on my mind but there are so many other people and things that I could share with you. I have lived a blessed life, even when I maybe wasn’t able to see it or realize it.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving Day.

Reset Button

I used to love playing Pokemon on my GameBoy Color. And I’m lying when I say “used to” because a friend recently showed me how to get the game on my iPhone and now 2-3 times a week, 12 year old Trey reawakens for some mind-numbing Pokemon action. When I was really into it, I would research and use all these different strategies to get better and better (let’s all take a moment for how incredibly nerdy I was)…One of the strategies was pretty basic, right before something big or important was about to happen, you save your spot in the game, that way if it doesn’t go the way you want, you can reset by turning the game off and then on again to start over from your saved point. I used it often.

I can think of several times that being able to use this strategy in real life would have been really nice. I’ve made plenty of bad decisions in my life, who hasn’t right? Sometimes it would’ve been great to have my place right before that decision “saved” and then I could just magically go back to that exact moment if things didn’t go how I liked. It doesn’t even have to be the big moments or decisions in life either. There are some days that just don’t go the way I’d like, things I can’t even control, that would be awesome to reset.

That’s, at least, how I always feel in the moment. See, when we are facing adversity, indecision, complications, etc., it’s understandably hard not to focus on what is wrong. It’s easy to forget Romans 8:28 and forget that God is working for us while we are working for His will. As I look back at all the times I made decisions that turned out bad or those days where everything that could go wrong went wrong, I see a negative and frustrated person who wanted that reset button. Then as I take time to reflect on the aftermath of those bad decisions and terrible days, I see a person who is covered by the mercy and grace of a God who loves him enough to work for his good.

I’m glad that life doesn’t have a “reset” button. Not figuratively, I mean literally. Anyone can change their path in life at any point if they want to bad enough, I get that…I mean that I’m glad life doesn’t have a literal “reset” button or “on/off switch”. Some choices I’ve made that seemed “bad” in the moment have even led me to bigger and greater things than I ever could have possibly imagined happening in the first place. We serve a great, big, loving God. The next time you find yourself searching for that save and reset button right before you face the elite 4 (Pokemon reference), spend some time searching for the One who is always working for your good.

Sandbars and Faith

Every summer growing up, my family would vacation in Florida. We always went to Navarre Beach on Santa Rosa Island because of its beautiful and secluded beaches and because it was right in the middle of Pensacola and Destin which provided several “touristy” opportunities nearby. The best part was definitely the beaches. There were miles of virtually undisturbed powdery, sugar-white shoreline which gave us great access to the warm gulf coast waters. (Can you tell I love the Alabama/Florida gulf coast?)

I remember one of my older brother’s favorite parts was swimming out to the sandbars. They’re very common all along the gulf coast and because of Santa Rosa Island’s location, we could always count on a few being along Navarre Beach. My older brother loved them, I hated them. You see, you almost always had to swim over a trench-like part of the seabed to get to the sandbar and that terrified me. Being much younger and much smaller than my brother, I couldn’t touch and therefore had no concept of what was below me…to top that off, I’d seen Jaws and was terrified of sharks.

The summer that I was 8, my brother and his friends wanted to swim out to the sandbar as they usually did. My brother asked me if I wanted to go out to the sandbar with them and I wasn’t about to have anything to do with that. My brother told me that I could “ride” on his back meaning that I could hold on and he would swim. I was still hesitant to do this but I trusted my brother.

I held onto my brother as he and his friends began to swim out. Let me tell you, at the time that felt like the longest minute of my short life. In my head, I’d made a huge mistake and there was nothing anybody could say to me in that moment that was going to calm me down. I just knew I was going to die.

I see the same thing happening in life sometimes. We are confronted with some opportunity that is scary because it’s new and different. It may even be that we’ve seen someone else venture out in a similar fashion and have a terrible experience. We hesitantly step out in faith because ultimately we trust in God but the second we hit any sort of speed bump, we lose that trust. We forget about the faith on which we leaned from the beginning and we refuse to be calmed by any scriptures, any words of affirmation.

Why? Why do we constantly question Him? Hasn’t God proved Himself to be faithful time and time again? Yet, as often as He proves Himself to us, we revert back to the the questions and complaints. It’s because of our human nature to expect failure. It seems unreasonable to expect someone to be completely and totally dependable 100% of the time. I know that I am terribly guilty of this. It’s often hard for me to give complete trust to anyone including God Himself…but I also recognize the fault in this. I recognize that I continually receive opportunities that I simply don’t deserve; I haven’t “earned” them and never could. They are simply reflections of God’s faithfulness to me.

Spoiler Alert: I didn’t die swimming to the sandbar. I made it out there with my brother and actually had a blast with him and his friends. After some time we swam back and, while I was still nervous, I felt better having experienced the swim once before. We made it to the sandbar and the shore unscathed despite my fear and lack of trust, much like how it has worked time and time again in my life with my fear and lack of trust in God. It’s not always easy to have faith but take assurance that God is looking out for you. The end result may not always be what you expected but it’s always going to work for your good and His glory and ultimately, that’s all that really matters.

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.”

Weird Kid

I was a weird kid. The only reason I use “was” is while I’m definitely still weird, I’m no longer a kid. When you’re a kid, everyone always asks you what you want to be when you grow up. All of the typical answers are baseball player, ballerina, doctor, astronaut…you know, all those jobs that seem really cool to little kids. In first grade, I remember my teacher at Creek View Elementary School, Mrs. Lovelady, asking everyone in class that very question. As she cycled around the class, everyone was giving those typical answers that you’d expect, then she got to me. I proudly proclaimed my desire, at the age of 6, to be a district attorney. I was a weird kid.

I always wanted to be a lawyer. I liked arguing, I liked talking, I had a keen interest in history and politics (yes, at 6) but, more than anything, I liked attention. And I didn’t just like having some attention, I liked being the center of attention. I loved the idea of standing in front of a courtroom and everyone watching me as I talked and argued about legal matters. As I got older, I would actually daydream occasionally about winning court cases. Let me reiterate, I was weird.

Obviously that’s not at all how my life turned out. I did spend the next several years with the same desire to be an attorney, all the way up until my senior year of high school. It was then that, with some nudging from my dad and my high school choir director, I reluctantly decided to give music a shot. In college, I fell in love with the idea of working in music and knew that’s what I supposed to do. Unfortunately, it was with the same mentality as wanting to be a lawyer…I fell in love with the idea of being the center of attention on the stage instead of in the courtroom.

By my junior year of college, I realized that I enjoyed performing and I liked having the attention, but I didn’t feel passionate about performing. I don’t typically like doing things “half-way” but I found myself perfectly content with it when it came to the stage. With some guidance from a couple of my professors, I came to realize my love for conducting. It was the end of my junior year and I didn’t really have any interest in doing music education so changing my major wasn’t an option at that point. Fortunately, I did land the opportunity to serve as an assistant conductor for one of the choirs.

I entered the field of conducting with the mentality of how much I was going to enjoy being, quite literally, the center of attention. I was going to get to make music with other people while being the focus of the rehearsal and the concert. In hindsight, I now see how I had slowly evolved from being a weird kid to being a weird jerk.

I entered graduate school with the same mentality; however, it was during graduate school that things began to change for me. For the first time, I started to truly appreciate working with others in a way that would give all of us glory. Don’t get me wrong, I still wanted plenty of the attention, I was just more willing to share it with others. While this new appreciation began to develop inside of me, I got my first job as a church music director in Texas.

I don’t recall any “lightbulb moment” or epiphanies. There was just this steady evolution inside me over time as I worked with my choirs at school and worked with the minister and musicians at my church. Eventually I got to a place where I realized, “Hey, this isn’t about me.” What a concept to grasp.

I left that first church and got a job as the youth choir director at a church in Plano, TX. It was here that I really and truly learned what it meant to be a servant leader. I fell in love with the youth of that church. They helped me to discover this passion inside myself for seeing them grow closer to Christ. They helped me realize that it really isn’t about me, it isn’t even about them, it’s really all about our ability to glorify the One who created us, gave us life, and gives us breath.

It was during this time that I received what I consider to be the greatest compliment I could ever receive. One of the youth wrote me a letter and shared that they had struggled with their belief in God, even considering becoming an atheist at one point. They went on to tell me that during one of our nightly devotionals on choir tour, they were able to begin the reconciliation of their faith because they “could see and feel Christ through (my) teaching”. As I read the letter, it became one of THOSE moments. I was alone in my office as I read the letter and I was overcome with emotion and just began crying. It wasn’t about glorifying me, it wasn’t about praising me; I was just the vessel through which the message was being delivered, I became emotional because I realized the powerful effect we can have when we get out of God’s way and let Him use us and speak through us.

I’m not one for definitions. I like things being a little ambiguous, I like gray areas, and I love playing devils advocate. Despite all that, I have decided to define, from this point forward, what success is to me. You can take it or leave it. I have decided that as long as people see or feel Christ through interaction with me, my life can be counted as successful. It’s not how much money I make, what possessions I have, it’s not even about bringing hoards of people into the church or making people happy. If I can shine the light and life of Christ into this dark and dying world, then I have done what I am supposed to have done.

It’s a process. Don’t think that I have this all figured out and that I am now completely able to set my own ambitions, cares, concerns, etc. aside and always have that mindset. Some days are easier than others and some days I find myself unbelievably impatient and frustrated with God. Then there are the days where I stop and remember that it’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s about Him and what He has done for us. Soli Deo Gloria.