Saturday, January 30, 2010

Keeping Faith in the White House



Whether you're a supporter of our President or not, it's clear from scripture that we need to be praying for him if we call ourselves Christians. It's worth remembering, too, that Barack Obama is himself a Christian. Read his own words:

I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful. I didn't 'fall out in church' as they say, but there was a very strong awakening in me of the importance of these issues in my life. I didn't want to walk alone on this journey. Accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct and my values and my ideals. (Christianity Today, 1/23/08)

I read an article tonight I thought was really interesting. It talks about the challenge that Obama faces in finding a church to call home and how he keeps his faith alive during what has to be an amazingly difficult and busy life. Check it out, and let's remember to pray for our brother.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Not Gonna Leave You Stranded



Buy the "Hope for Haiti Now" album - 20 tracks for only $7.99 on iTunes or Amazon. It's already raised over $33 Million. (And it's the first digital album to ever reach #1 on the Billboard charts!)

Remember, there are other ways we can help too. I read somewhere that giving money is still the best way we can help. Every dollar we donate translates to seven dollars on the ground in Haiti. Give through One Day's Wages or Covenant World Relief (which has raised almost $500,000 so far). Give through the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army or your local church. Just give.

This is my favorite track from the project. I could listen to this all day. My heart continues to be broken for Haiti.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Beautiful Struggle



I was asked to write a "word of witness" for the Covenant Connec10n that happened this past weekend in Denver. Their theme this year was "The Beautiful Struggle," and I guess my story of calling to Tulsa via Los Angeles, Seattle and Houston qualifies.

Ultimately my story was not used (I was very late turning it in!), but it was a good experience writing it and reflecting on the goodness of God in the midst of what has been a challenging season of life.

Here's what I submitted:

The Beautiful Struggle: Calling

Most of my life, I just kind of “fell into” ministry positions. I had a vague sense of calling to full-time ministry as a teenager growing up in Indiana, but I never really did much to pursue it. I majored in music ed and began my career as a teacher in southern California.

And then, to make ends meet, I took a part-time worship leader position at a small Baptist church. They called me.

A few years later, I found myself candidating to be the worship pastor at Peninsula Covenant in Redwood City, California. Again, I never pursued this job. My wife’s cousin was on the search committee, and again, they called me.

See what I mean? It was all so easy, a natural progression.

My eight years in the Bay Area were really wonderful. It was there that I was introduced to the Covenant and began my journey toward commissioning. It was there that I found, for the first time in my life, real community, real authenticity, real accountability, real transformation in my own walk with God and others. And it was there that I learned to be a pastor to people, not just a performer of music. My family lived on the campus, and in many ways, PCC was our world.

Of course, there were difficulties, but in almost every way, my time with PCC was like a dream job.

And then, in 2008, God called again. Only this time it was different. God was not calling us to anything solid. There was no church calling with a job, no friend of a friend who knew someone at some church. No, God was calling us to step out in faith, to leave what we knew behind and launch out into something completely different. It was scary, but thrilling at the same time. And with no animosity or weirdness, our beloved church “sent us out” like missionaries into a new venture, whatever it was that God was calling us to.

And then the beautiful struggle began. Emphasis on struggle. I don’t recommend leaving a church without another call, especially with a wife and four kids! We moved in with my wife’s parents in LA while I looked for what was next. I had some ideas in mind, but nothing solid. I was excited by words like church plant and multiethnic, arts and urban. I believed God was calling me to something totally new. I talked with and visited exciting churches and ministries in Sacramento and Boston and Houston. I knew I wanted to stay in the Covenant if possible, so I looked on the Covenant website for churches looking for worship pastors. I didn’t even look twice at Redeemer Covenant. Why in the world would I move to Tulsa, Oklahoma? Why would God need another pastor in the Buckle of the Bible Belt?

Through all this uncertainty, God provided. We moved from Simi Valley to Bellevue, Washington, right outside Seattle, where I served Newport Covenant as interim worship leader for the summer of 2008. It turned out to be a wonderfully refreshing time, with new friends and lots of time to rest.

During that summer, we accepted the call to what seemed like the perfect fit for us: Access, a new Covenant church in Houston, Texas. It fit all of my criteria: Church plant, check. Urban, check. Multi-ethnic, check. Arts, check. They were even starting a nonprofit arts/community development organization called Vox Culture. I was sold.

We moved our family again in August, 2008, and tried to settle into what we believed to be God’s call for us. And it was wonderful on many levels. But honestly, a few months into it we were beginning to have doubts. It just didn’t “feel” right. Financially it was a major struggle. We had troubles with our rental house and our landlord. Our older two kids were having trouble finding their place in a new church full of young adults and young families where there was no one else like them, no other middle-schoolers or high-schoolers. And perhaps most troubling of all, I was realizing that this “free form” church planting stuff didn’t fit my need for boundaries and structure. All that time and white space, which most artists love and crave, was starting to feel overwhelming to me. I needed lines so I could color.

And then came the season of crushing doubts and questions: Were these struggles signs that we were not supposed to be there long-term? Or were they Satan’s challenges… hard times to be overcome so that we could see blessing on the other side? We couldn’t leave a church plant after only a few months, could we? We had to dig in and give it our best shot for at least a few years, right? We didn’t want to disappoint and hurt people whom we had come to love and serve.

And then there was my pride. I had gone to Houston with much fanfare, leaving PCC with what I thought was a clear call. We had been raising support, emailing supporters, blogging, celebrating what God was doing in Houston. How could we leave it? What would people think?

Had we been wrong to leave California? Was it just wishful thinking? Those were painful times, as we consulted with friends, tried to work things through with Access leadership, talked and prayed. But in the end, we left Houston on May 31, 2009. We had been there only 9 months and 13 days.

Back with the in-laws in California, I felt like I had reached the end of my rope. With no income, no insurance and nobody lining up to interview me, I really wondered if I was supposed to be in ministry at all. I had many promising interviews, but nothing panned out. I couldn’t even get a job at Borders or Starbucks.

And throughout all of this second season without a call, Redeemer was still a possibility. This church that I hadn’t given a second thought was experiencing instability of its own, currently on its third interim worship pastor and heading into a season without a senior pastor as well.

After many phone interview and a few visits, we accepted the call to Redeemer in August 2009. I never thought I’d live in Tulsa. This mission field is so different from what I thought God was calling me to. I can’t believe that I drive by Oral Roberts University every day or that there are cow pastures within a mile of my house.

And I’m at peace. It’s not all wrapped up with a neat bow on top, but I am beginning to see God’s plans and purposes in all of this.

I never intended to move my family across the country five times within eighteen months, and I see how that has taken its toll on us. But I see God’s hand in that too, and how He is showing His faithfulness. He never changes, even though everything else around us does.

I never intended to work in a white, upper-middle class, multi-generational church again. But I see how God is using my unique gifts and abilities, and yes – my experiences and passions – to help Redeemer become the church that God is calling us to be here in Tulsa.

I still miss my friends in California and Seattle and Houston. I still feel conflicted sometimes about the journey God has me on. I still wonder about what it means to really hear the calling of God. But God is meeting me in my questions. And in the struggle, He is proving that He is enough, and that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Just like I always have been.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Connect10n



I'm writing from Denver, where I'm enjoying the Evangelical Covenant's Connect10n, a weekend focusing on Worship, Youth and Compassion, Mercy & Justice Ministries. Things kicked off yesterday morning at the Hard Rock Cafe for breakfast and an opening session. We've had great seminars (Andrew Thompson's was especially encouraging), and main sessions with Soong-Chan Rah (who is also acting as the host for the event), Kara Powell of the Fuller Youth Institure and Sunil Sardar of Truthseekers International.

Stephen Kelly and the University Ministries Worship Team from North Park are leading me to the throne of God in every session... They are an anointed, powerful group of musicians and leaders giving glory to God... There was a song this morning I have to get. I think Stephen wrote it... "Hear Our Prayer" - It was amazing.

I was having lunch with Denise McKinney, Ryan Myers and Evan Gundy from Redeemer yesterday, and I was telling them the story of how I was completely "converted" to an egalitarian perspective on women in ministry last year when Judy Peterson preached. (I blogged about it here.) Anyway, immediately after I finished telling this story, she walked into the restaurant. I was able to share that story with her, and I loved her response. She said she has never made "women in ministry" something that she focuses on or preaches about. She simply does what God has called her to and allows the fruit to speak for itself. It's working, as far as I'm concerned. The beautiful fruit of the Spirit that flows from her calling, giftedness and obedience is compelling evidence of God's plans and purposes.

I'm staying with my amazing friend Tony Gapastione, and I'm enjoying so much connecting with old friends and making new ones. My Redeemer friends have a new nickname for me that they, apparently, have been using behind my back... It was revealed to me this morning: "Captain Covenant." I love it.

More later!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Let's Not Go There...



Just a few simple questions today, but I hope they will stimulate discussion or, at the very least, some thought...
  • What thought or thoughts are you simply not willing to entertain?
  • Are there questions that your worldview will not allow you to ask?
  • Are you honest/brave enough to follow the questions to whatever answer you find, or is that too scary?
And if that's the case...
  • What are you afraid of?
Feel free to comment anonymously if it helps you to feel safer...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Brian McLaren's "New Kind of Christianty"

Brian McLaren's newest book, "A New Kind of Christianity," hits the shelves on February 9. Love him or hate him, this man has influenced countless young believers, and we cannot ignore him. Google his name and you'll find all kinds of people, from bloggers to pastors to Christian leaders, denouncing him as a heretic or praising him as a prophet.

His "New Kind of Christian" trilogy had a profound impact on me six or seven years ago when I first encountered it, and I've had the privilege of hearing Brian speak at a CCN satellite broadcast in 2003 and at the 2004 Covenant Midwinter conference.

I'll be receiving an advance copy of the book and reviewing here when I've read it. In the meantime, here's a little preview video from TheOoze.tv:



I have to admit I'm excited and hopeful for Brian to really spell out some of his theological beliefs. He's danced around a lot of these questions for a long time. We'll see if, as the video promises, he lays his cards out on the table this time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Finding An Unseen God: Reflections of a Former Atheist



Alicia Britt Chole's "Finding an Unseen God: Reflections of a Former Atheist" is an enjoyable, easy read. I truly liked her friendly, laid-back style of writing and her warmth, which practically bursts from the pages

What I did not find quite so compelling, unfortunately, are her arguments. She was eighteen years old when she became a Christian... Hardly a time in life when one's worldview is fully formed. She does a good job talking about her reasons for believing in God and, in particular, in Jesus. She uses four questions to evaluate one's worldview:

Is my belief system…consistent (at its core)?
Is my belief system…livable (and not just quotable)?
Is my belief system…sustainable (through life-size pain)?
Is my belief system…transferable (to others)?

I find her arguments to be weak, and I think she would get trounced in a debate with Hitchens or Dawkins. What I like, and what I think is always more powerful anyway, is her story. It is what Jesus has done in her life, how Jesus came into and transformed her life... That is what is compelling and attractive.

Check out Alicia's website here and her publisher's site here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

MLK

I thank God today for the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Eugene Cho just posted some great thoughts. I love this quote:

It’s way too easy to talk about MLK because so many people and groups of people want to own him as their own. But they often don’t want to take ALL of him. At the core of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. was a follower of Jesus Christ. His faith in Christ informed all that he sought to do as a civil rights leader.

I know he was just a man. I know he was sinful like I am. But God used this sinful man in mighty powerful ways. If you haven't watched it recently, today would be a great day to remember his most famous speech. And more importantly, to ask God how our faith in Jesus and following of Jesus make a difference for righteousness in this fallen world.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Here We Are To Worship



This morning in worship with Redeemer, we focused on Acts 2:42-47, the beautiful description of the fellowship of the Early Church:

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

As an illustration of the communal nature of our faith, we changed all of the lyrics of our worship songs this morning. Instead of I/me/my/mine language, we used we/us/our/ours language. (I should note that this was Mike King's idea... He led worship in our staff chapel last Tuesday and did this very thing.)

Some examples:

Light of the world, You stepped down into darkness
Opened our eyes, let us see
Beauty that made these hearts adore You
Hope of our lives spent with You

Awkward? Yes. After singing that song's original lyrics about a bazillion times, it was really hard to sing the "new" lyrics. But there was a sweetness to it. I loved singing together, as a family of faith:

Open the eyes of our heart, Lord… We want to see You…

We will sing to and worship the King who is worthy… You’re our Prince of Peace, and we will live our lives for You…

Rise up within us, Living Water, Spirit of God in us… You are welcome in this place…

And in the times when I would trip over the words, it only served as a reminder to me that it’s not always easy to do life together. But it’s worth it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

God Loves You, Haiti



As the news of the tragedy in Haiti continues to unfold hour by hour, I didn't think it was appropriate to have my blog focusing on something as trivial as a TV show.

In times like this, our first response must be to call on God. I appreciate this prayer, found on the Monastic Mumblings blog. Please join me in prayer for this nation and these people:

Litany for Haiti

Almighty and gracious God, we come to You with our hearts full of prayers both spoken and those that cannot be put into words. As the ancient psalmist wrote, You are our refuge and strength, even though the earth be moved and mountains cast into the sea. So with quiet confidence we offer our prayers to You for the people of Haiti stricken by violent earthquakes, terrifying entrapment in rubble, and devastation on a national scale. Gather them under Your wings, calm their fears and keep their faith strong.

Lord hear our prayers.

At a time like this we stand in awe of the power of nature - the earth itself - with its terrible capacity to destroy as well as to save and we are reminded of our vulnerability as human creatures who inhabit this vast planet. We bring to You in prayer our questions, our humility and also our trust in this hour of need.

Lord hear our prayers.

We pray for those who grieve the loss of family, friends and neighbors, for those who are injured, those separated and searching for family, and especially for those who have been trapped in the rubble, Lord be close to them in that horrifying darkness. We ask for Your continued presence with them and we commend to Your loving care all those who have died.

Lord hear our prayers.

We also commend to Your loving care all those who are involved in rescuing people and those caring for the injured in hospitals and clinics. Be with all the churches and people as they minister in Your name to the people. Sustain them through this time of tremendous loss and stress.

Lord hear our prayers.

We commend to Your care those who will be working in debris removal and cleaning up. We especially pray for those burdened by unimaginable losses and who have found themselves refugees in their own country. May shelter and clean water and food and medicines and comfort be supplied as quickly as possible.

Lord hear our prayers

We pray especially the poor, who live throughout Haiti and those whose livelihoods have been lost or impacted by this disaster and ask that You would raise them up and bless them. We pray for those whose workplaces have become unsafe and who face an uncertain future and ask that they may find the assistance they need

Lord hear our prayers.

We pray for communities that have been devastated that they may live and learn and support one another and have joy in their lives once again. May this disaster bring people together to rebuild their cities, and to fill their lives with justice, their plates with food and their streets with music. Bring them peace and healing from all evil.

Lord hear our prayers.

We pray for those traveling, who feel homesick and far away from loved ones and their homes at this time; those who are trying to get in contact with family and who are worried and frustrated and who long to embrace their families. Comfort families across the distance.

Lord hear our prayers.

We give thanks to God for the blessings in our lives, especially the gifts we so often take for granted until they are in danger of being taken away from us - the gift of family, friends, a home, our possessions. Most of all we praise God for the gift of life itself.

Lord hear our prayers.

We also pray for all people of the human family all around the world affected by other natural disasters. O God, Great Shepherd of the sheep, gather us all in Your arms and lead us safely within the one fold of Your love.

Lord hear us, Lord hear our prayer


Much has been said about Pat Robertson's inane, misinformed pronouncement of God's judgment on this "cursed" nation that, apparently, sold its soul to Satan. I denounce his words as well; he does not speak for me. Here's his website's response to the outcry.

I appreciate the balanced response to the crisis from some of my brothers: Peter Wehner, Donald Miller and Tony Campolo.

So now, having brought it to God in prayer and denounced the crazy dude, what shall we do? How can we respond? All of our efforts seem so limited.

But as Gary Walter (President of the ECC) says, "No life-changing, kingdom-changing impact ever happens that is not merely the accumulation of faithful people faithfully pursuing Christ’s priorities in the world. That is who we are at our best."

My little bit counts.

Two organizations that I support are helping meet immediate needs on the ground in Haiti. Check out One Day's Wages and Covenant World Relief.

Redeemer Covenant Church will be taking a special offering this weekend in our worship gatherings to send to Haiti through Covenant World Relief. If you're planning to be there, please consider prayerfully this opportunity to reach out beyond ourselves and our faith community into the lives of people who so desperately need our help right now. This afternoon I got to listen in on a conference call with the director of Covenant World Relief, Dave Husby. He says that money donations are essential right now. They are going toward purchasing aid kits that include blankets, water and food. We have aid workers on the ground now and can use money immediately.

Our offering will be taken at the end of the worship gathering this week as we sing a song that is becoming a rallying cry for our congregation. This song was written by Jon Stockstill and Israel Houghton as a response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. May its words inspire us all to be the Church - the loving, living, breathing, serving, giving Body of Jesus - to Haiti in their hour of need.



We are alive, filled with Your glorious light
Out of the dark into Your marvelous light
We are waiting with expectation
Spirit, raise us up with You

Let the church rise from the ashes
Let the church fall to her knees
Let us be light in the darkness
Let the church rise, let the church rise

Moving with power, bringing Your name to the earth
Singing Your praises, lifting up glorious songs
We are moving with His compassion
Spirit, raise us up with You

Let Your wind blow, let Your wind blow, let Your wind blow, revive us again Lord

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42... Countdown to LOST



Luanne, Josh and I cannot wait to get LOST again... Season 6 is right around the corner! Josh and I watched Seasons 1-5 this last summer in preparation, so we're excited to see what happens next. Is Juliet dead? (I'm thinking yes.) How about Locke? (Again, I'm thinking yes.) So many unanswered questions. Will they answer them all? What's the deal with the Smoke Monster? The numbers? Is Ben a good guy or a bad guy? (I'm thinking good. I believed in Snape too...)

I was afraid Obama's State of the Union address would preempt the premiere, but no... apparently he's got his priorities straight.

If you're looking for more ways to brush up on LOST before February 2, let me recommend my two favorite fan sites:

Long Live Locke.
- Erika Olson's blog is brilliant. I read her insightful recaps after every episode. It's been a little quiet lately, but it'll kick back into high gear real soon.

Lostpedia - This is the Wikipedia of LOST. Highly recommended for nearly anything related to the show.

In the meantime, thanks to the newly-revamped Booksneeze program, I'll be reading Chris Seay's (pastor of Houston's Ecclesia church) The Gospel According to LOST and reviewing it here when I'm done. Stay tuned.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Acedia & me: Kathleen Norris and the Power of Structure and Repetition



I'm reading Kathleen Norris's Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer's Life. It is "a study of acedia, the ancient word for the spiritual side of sloth. She examines the topic in the light of theology, psychology, monastic spirituality and her own experience." I stole that description from her agent's website, because it's a hard book to describe in a few words.

Acedia is a difficult concept to grasp. But I think I struggle with it. In fact, I think we all do. It's about a lot of things: boredom, the inability to care, lack of focus, distraction, depression, lack of motivation, feeling overwhelmed by choices and responsibilities...

And it's funny: As an artist, I often find myself wanting "free time." I think if I just could find a few hours with nothing to do, I could be productive. But in reality, I find that I am most tempted by acedia when I have unstructured time.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in my time as a church planter in Houston last year was that I do not do well with unstructured time. My mind wanders, I waste time, I procrastinate. I cannot summon up much desire to do anything at all. For me, it is only within fairly rigid boundaries that I find myself free to be create. Only when I eliminate choices can I choose to be productive.

I wish this were not so. I wish I loved nothing more than endless afternoons and empty whiteboards, blank paper and a lonely piano. But in reality, they scare me. There's simply too much possibility.

Ryan Adams, an amazingly prolific songwriter, says, “What I do and what all musicians do is easy. All we have to do is sit down for a couple hours a week and write a song or two. That simple task is all the world asks of me, so I do it. The other musicians who don’t are just lazy, because again, we aren’t being asked to tar rooftops or clean out dumpsters. We just have to write a couple songs!

I love his perspective, and it puts me to shame. He's right. When I do take the time to make myself write, I often find that the songs are there. It's just that I rarely make the time to write. Will 2010 be different? (See #7 & #8 here.)

Gary Gaddini used to tell me to plan my day once a day, my week once a week, my month once a month and my year once a year. His is a great example of a structured life that produces great results.

Annie Dillard said, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." Wow.

Structured time is powerful in my life. So is repetition.

I'm only about 2/3 of the way through, but in one of my favorite passages in her book so far, Norris talks about the power of repetition. I'm going to quote at length here because I think it's that good.

Could we regard repetition as a saving grace, one that keeps returning us to essential understandings that we can discover in no other way? The human need for routine is such that even homeless people establish it the best they can, walking the same streets, foraging in the same dumpsters, sleeping in the same spots, in an attempt to maintain basic relationships with people and places. For any of us, affluent or not, it is by means of repeating ordinary rituals and routines that we enhance the relationships that nourish and sustain us. A recent study that monitored the daily habits of couples in order to determine what produced good and stable marriages revealed that only one activity made a consistent difference, and that was the embracing of one's spouse at the beginning and the end of each day. Most surprising to Paul Bosch, who wrote the an article about the study, was that "it didn't seem to matter whether or not in that moment the partners were fully engaged or even sincere! Just a perfunctory peck on the cheek was enough to make a difference in the quality of the relationship." Bosch comments, wisely, that this "should not surprise churchgoers. Whatever you do repeatedly has the power to shape you, has the power to make you over into a different person - even if you're not totally 'engaged' in every minute."

So there. So much for control, or ever consciousness. let's hear it for insincere, hurried kisses, and prayers made with a yawn. I may be dwelling on the fact that my feet hurt, or nursing some petty slight. As for the words that I am dutifully saying - "Love you" or "Dear God" - I might as well be speaking in tongues, and maybe I am. And maybe that does not matter, for it is all working toward the good, despite myself and my most cherished intentions. Every day and every night, whether I "get it" or not, these "meaningless" words and actions signify more than I know. Repetition... helps us to be more honestly and fully human. It knows us better that we know ourselves.

I love that Bosch line - quoted by Norris - "Whatever you do repeatedly has the power to shape you, has the power to make you over into a different person."

Let it be, God... May my structured time and repetitive choices - reading the Word, journaling, prayer, good food choices, time with my wife and kids, ministry/home schedule - help me fight acedia and become the man You created me to be!

If you're interested, here's some more information on Kathleen Norris and her book. Good video interview.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Twelve

On January 10, 1998, at 9:34am, Jacob Connor was born to our family.

How does someone go from this:



to this:



so quickly? Hard to believe we've really had this great kid for twelve years. What a gift he is.

Father, thank you for Jacob's life. Thank you for entrusting him to Luanne and me for these formative years. Thank you for the great kid he is and the great man he's becoming.

I pray that Jake will continue to walk with you through his life, and that he will know and experience your great love for him and your great plans for his life. Convict him of sin, remind him of your forgiveness and grace, challenge and bless him.

Your kingdom come, Your will be done in Jacob's life... Amen.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Worship Service? Part 2



Here's Part 2 of a 2-month series of articles I wrote for Peninsula Covenant Church's The Bridge newsletter back in 2005. I posted Part 1 yesterday.

************************************

Hello, Church! I hope you’ve had a great month worshipping God in every area of your lives. Remember: Worship is NOT only what we do when we gather on Sundays!

If you haven’t read my Bridge article from last month, let me recap: I think our language needs to change, because sometimes the way we speak influences the way we think and live. In calling our Sunday meetings “services,” there is the possibility of treating them somehow as “services” or entertainment for you, the people in the pews.

I quoted from Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz. In his Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations, he writes:

I admit that I’m being somewhat sarcastic with the service station analogy. But I’m not joking when I say we need to recognize that going to a worship service is not about us, the worshipers. It is not about God’s service to us. It is purely an offering of service and worship to God – offering our lives, offering our prayers, offering our praise, offering our confessions, offering our finances, offering our service to others in the church body.

The description of a church gathering in 1 Corinthians 14: 26-27 says: “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”

This was not “come together to sit and receive” like at a gas station. This was everyone gathering to offer service to God and others in worship. The gathering was not primarily about meeting the needs of the individual, but centered on the worship of God and the strengthening of the whole church.

Kimball goes on to explain how in the New Testament, the English word “service” (as translated in the New International Version) is used to speak of an act of giving, not receiving. However, the “worship service,” has slowly and subtly come to focus more on our getting served than on our serving.

Because of the subtle misuse of the phrase “worship service,” I don’t use it anymore. I try to always say “worship gathering” instead. Theologically, this communicates what we are doing much better. Once again we can be the church gathering to worship God and bring our service to him and others, not individuals who come to a service to receive something.

Blessings to you, PCC. Let’s continue to press on in understanding what it means to be a worshipping church! See you in the worship gathering Sunday…

************************************

So what do you think? Does this language really matter? What other things do we say in the Church that are misleading?

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Worship Service? Part 1



I wrote this article in 2005, back when I was writing an article on worship every month for Peninsula Covenant Church's The Bridge newsletter. It's Part 1 of a 2-month series. Tomorrow I'll post the second half. What do you think?

************************************

I realized several months ago that my language needed to change. You see, I believe that the words we speak actually matter, that sometimes we subtly communicate the wrong message without meaning to. How often have we said that we loved (or didn’t!) the “worship,” when we were really referring to the music? (Remember, Romans 12:1 teaches us that worship is something we do in all aspects of our lives!) And how often do we find ourselves talking about “going to church,” when in reality, we ARE the Church? Language impacts the way we think about reality.

Dan Kimball is pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, a missional church designed for the emerging post-Christian culture (www.vintagefaith.com). He’s the author of two books that have profoundly impacted my thinking: The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, and Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations. I want to quote at length from that latter book, and maybe you’ll see what I’m talking about:

We usually call the weekend time when a church family gets together a “worship service.” Ironically, this term used to mean a time when the saints of God all meet to offer their service to God through worship and their service to others in the church. Over time, however, the title has slowly reversed. The weekend worship “service” has become the time of the week when we go to a church building much like a car goes to an automobile service station.

Most people view the weekend worship service as a place where we go to get service done to us by “getting our tanks filled up” at the service station. It’s a place where someone will give a sermon and serve us with our weekly sustenance. In automobile terms, you could say it is our weekly fill-up. We come to our service station to have a song leader serve us by leading us in singing songs. All so we can feel good when we emotionally connect through mass singing and feel secure that we did “worship.”

We go to the weekend worship service and drop off our kids – that way they too can get served by having their weekly fill-ups. We are especially glad that our weekend service station now serves coffee in the church lobby – it’s as convenient as our automobile service station’s little mini-mart.

Ouch! Those words hit a little too close to home when I read them for the first time. Unfortunately, I’ve reached the end of my word limit for this month’s article, so I’ll conclude my thoughts on the subject next month. Pray, think and wrestle through these thoughts, and let’s talk!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Glimpses of God: "Wonderful" by Gary Go

I love it when I see God at work in pop culture. I heard this song in a convenience store last summer and really liked the sound of it. Then it was a Free Song of the Week from iTunes so I downloaded it. The track is "Wonderful" by Gary Go from his self-titled debut.

I don't think Gary Go would call himself a Christian, but I sure see some truth in this song, and I believe firmly that all truth is God's truth. Who among us doesn't need to be reminded that we are miracles, wonderful creations of God? Check it out:

Amsterdam Acoustics - Gary Go : Wonderful from Mokummercials on Vimeo.

The person that you were has died
You’ve lost the sparkle in your eyes
You fell for life - into its traps
Now you wanna bridge the gaps
Now you wanna bridge the gaps
Now you want that person back

And all your ammunition’s gone
Run out of fuel to carry on
You don’t know what you wanna do
And you’ve got no pull to pull you through

Say “I am”
Say “I am”
Say “I am wonderful"
Say “I am”
Say “I am”
Say “I am wonderful"

If what you’ve lost cannot be found
And the weight of the world weighs you down
No longer with the will to fly
You stop to let it pass you by
Don’t stop to let it pass you by
You’ve gotta look yourself in the eye

Say “I am”
Say “I am”
Say “I am wonderful”
Oh you are
Say “I am”
Say “I am”
Say “I am wonderful”

Cause we are all miracles
wrapped up in chemicals
We are incredible
Don’t take it for granted, no
We are all miracles
Oh we are

Say “I am”
Say “I am”
Say “I am wonderful”
Oh you are

Don’t take it for granted, no
We are all miracles
wrapped up, yeah we’re wrapped up
Oh we are wonderful

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tweet Tweet



I'm addicted to Twitter. It's official. 2009 was the year I gave in. I installed TweetDeck on my MacBook Pro and my desktop at work. I bought Twee for my Palm Prē. I learned about #hashtags and @replies and D direct messages. I contributed to #FollowFriday and #MusicMonday. I started publishing my #SundaySets so people would know the songs we were going to do in worship.

I set it up so my tweets would import into Facebook as status updates, and people assumed I did nothing but play on Facebook, when in reality I rarely got on Facebook any more.

And my world expanded. (Follow me
here!)

N.T. Wright,
who I think is a great man and a great theologian, recently posted a video on the "Out of Ur" blog talking about how all this social media can be dangerous. He says it can make us isolated and withdrawn from reality. And I think he's got some really good points. Julie Clawson, over on the Sojourners Culture Watch blog, has a great rebuttal, though, and makes the point that all of this social media is actually making us more relational, more connected to other real, live people.

All I can say is that Twitter, although it can definitely be a time-waster, has kept me connected to friends all over the country, and even the world. And it's helped me make new friends and contacts. I've talked with authors and musicians through Twitter, and I've acquired cool things like CDs (from Erin McKeown) and concert tickets (for Wilco & "Three Girls and Their Buddy").


By using the "RT" (re-tweet) feature, you can help promote people and things that you think are worth checking out. I saw the power of this feature this afternoon when über-tweeter Demi Moore (
@mrskutcher) actually RT'd a tweet from a great charity I've profiled here, One Day's Wages (@OneDaysWages). I'm hoping that level of promotion really gives them a great boost.

How about you? What's your experience with social media? Facebook? Twitter? Do you use them? Do you love them? Hate them?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Principle of the Path



Happy Palindrome Day, Everyone! 01022010

A book review today:

Andy Stanley is the senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia.

His book, The Principle of the Path: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be is the ultimate self-help book. To be honest, I normally can't stand books like this. I just find them to be simplistic. I feel like the authors are talking down to me.

But there was something different about this book. Maybe it just hit me at the right time. His point is this: Good intentions are all well and good, but in the end it's the PATH you take that determines where you end up. Am I on the right path?

Am I following the right map? Are my fellow travelers going where I want to go? What changes in direction to I need to make in order to end up in the right place?

Proverbs 3:5-6 says it well: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

I've heard it said that my systems are perfectly tuned to get the results that I'm getting right now. I've also heard it said that insanity is doing the same things again and again and expecting different results.

Sounds like a simple concept, and it is. But I found it to be a challenging and encouraging read. It's the perfect thing to remember as we start a new year.

How about you? What road are you on? What changes in direction do you need to make?

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010



Happy New Year! 2010 will be a good one, I can feel it....

Annie Dillard wrote "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." I love that quote, and it challenges me to make my days count. Tomorrow will not be different if today isn't different. And today is all we have.

My goals for 2010? I think a nice, round TEN would be appropriate.
  1. Follow this bible reading plan for the New Year. Who wants to join me?
  2. Love my wife with all my heart... with words and with actions.
  3. Be the best father to my kids that I can.
  4. Eat well and make time for exercise. I've gone 31 days with no sugar... Can I continue that plan?
  5. Love, serve and lead Redeemer well.
  6. Daily time writing in my journal.
  7. Weekly time for creativity.
  8. Finish a song every month... whether it's brilliant or terrible. Just finish it.
  9. Get an A in my first seminary course.
  10. Live in one city for a whole year. :)
I'll let you know how I'm doing. What are your goals?
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