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.

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(Insert Name Here)

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

Ernest Hemingway

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

D’oh!

I met with an old friend the other day over a drink to catch up and reconnect. It had been a good while since we’d seen each other and even longer since we’d actually sat down and chatted. As we caught up, he began telling me this laundry list of things currently going wrong in his life. Now before I continue let me tell you, I have been avoiding listening to other peoples problems like the plague recently. I felt like I had too many of my own problems to be able to help anyone else with theirs.

As he started telling me about what was going on, I dreaded having to sit through it (which in and of itself is a terrible mindset to have). He wasn’t saying it in a whiny or complaining way, he was just presenting himself and what he was going through in an honest and vulnerable way. As he began wrapping up his recent history, he surprised me by ending it with “but I’m not going to let those things control my life”. It’s great that he had this mentality but it surprised me because for as long as I’ve known him, he’s been a major worrier. I mean stressed out all the time kind of personality.

Both of us having gone through some recent troubles, our troubles became the main topic of our conversation. You see, I’m a split personality when it comes to worrying. There are some things about which I’m very laid back and there are some things about which I worry until I stress myself right into a panic. When it came to my divorce, my relocation, and my job change this year, I panicked. A lot. Having experienced those things and having reacted the way I did, I found myself very impressed that my friend was having such a healthy attitude towards his problems.

A couple days after meeting with him, I was having some quiet time to just pour into scripture and I landed on the 6th chapter of Matthew. Matthew 6 is a part of the sermon on the mount and is probably best known for Jesus introducing what has become known as the Lord’s prayer. In the last few verses of the chapter however (Matthew 6:25-34), Jesus talks about worry and anxiety. None of the verses stand out to me more than verse 27:

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

As I thought about my friend’s reaction to his troubles and I thought about what Christ was saying here, I had a Homer Simpson “D’oh!” moment (currently watching the “Every Simpson’s Ever” Marathon). How much more simple can it be? We all get so wrapped up in our troubles and our concerns, the big and the small, and we think that stressing over it will somehow help the situation. Not only does it not add any hours to your life as the verse above tells us but there is significant medical research which suggests that worry is awful for your heart health.

I know it’s easy to get caught up in stress. It’s easy to let worry invade our thoughts and control our reactions…but because it’s so easy, it’s important that we spend even more time thinking on the wonderful stress relief our Savior provides. I’ll be the first to tell you that as much you as try, you can’t predict the future. Things will not go the way we want them to; people will change, places will change, situations will change. In this world that seems to be ever-changing, let’s learn to appreciate a God that is never-changing; a God that doesn’t want you to worry.