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.

The Patience of Job

I started a new series of posts yesterday called “Music Monday”. The premise is that I will post a musical selection every Monday and talk a little bit about the lyrics and the meaning of the song from my perspective, basically how it edifies me and how I hope it might edify you. I have two problems, one is that I love music and can’t get enough of it; the other is that when I start something new I have a tendency to be really excited about it and get impatient waiting to see it come to fruition. Since yesterday, I have written 15 Music Monday posts that are now just sitting in my drafts taunting me.

Patience is an annoying thing. I bet you thought I was going to say that it’s a virtue…well it’s that too but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a pain in the butt when you have to practice it. I have found myself being confronted with several opportunities to increase my patience lately…test after test coming my way allowing me to understand patience better. Even in the times I fail the test, I always find myself learning a lesson after the fact so either way I’m growing from the experience.

I’ve always admired Job. How can this guy watch everything he knows, everything he loves be taken away from him and still have faith? The best answer I can come up with is wisdom and patience. Extreme patience. In spite of his friends mocking him and telling him to turn from God, he continues his devotion. He waits on God.

Job’s patience pays off. He remains faithful for many years despite his suffering and God rewards that faithfulness. The thing is, I think Job would have remained faithful to his dying day regardless of what happened. It’s hard for me to imagine losing everything like Job did. It’s even harder for me to imagine that I would have the wisdom and patience like Job did to respond in the same manner. I’d like to hope I would; I’d like to think I would but there is the cold hard reality that I am broken and probably could not even begin to touch the edge of Job’s integrity.

So, in the meantime, I’ll continue to work on it. Patience is annoying at times but it is also a virtue and we’re made better for practicing it. In retrospect, think about how patient God is with us. I know that I fail Him on a daily basis but He doesn’t spite me for that. He loves me and forgives me. Doesn’t He deserve the same from me? At the very least an attempt to reciprocate?

I’m not going to post all those Music Monday posts at once like I’m so very tempted to do…I’ll be patient and save them (you may not even care as much as I do about them anyway). I’ll continue to admire Job and pray that I can even begin to glimpse, in my own life, the wisdom and patience he displayed. I’ll continue to lean on God for understanding in my every day life and learn more to wait on Him.