This past weekend, I led worship with my brothers and sisters at the New City South worship site to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. It was a good time. I especially enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and reminiscing about God’s faithfulness in the midst of some pretty severe trials. It is a miracle that this congregation survived but I suppose the same can be said of any Spirit-filled congregation. The power of God is not the most evident reason for the existence of any congregation. If it isn’t, then we’re nothing more than a social organization.
This upcoming weekend, I get to leave my life in St Louis for a resort in West Palm Beach, Florida in order to lead worship at a fundraiser weekend for Serge. Unfortunately, I can’t bring my wife with me. However, my dad will be there and I’m looking forward to quality time with him as we play music together and get one last taste of warm weather before ol’ Jack Frost gets to work nipping at noses in the Midwest.
Meanwhile, we’re wrestling once again with volunteer participation in the music ministry. The Choir has averaged less than 10 people at rehearsals for the past few weeks. For some reason, available sopranos are hard to find in the praise team and choir. I’ve lost a couple of musician/leader this fall to other churches and some musicians have been even absent from worship services in general. What causes the eb and flow of available servants? It might just be the natural effects of overbooked schedules, cold and flu season, midterm school work and post-season sports, the list goes on and on… It’s a wonder we get anything done in the church. At this time in the choir season, we ask for renewed commitments, we evaluate logistical barriers to participation, we pray and worry, and worry and pray. And when there’s nothing else left to do, we take a deep breath and plunge into the holidays, holding our breath till January when we’ll exhale just long enough to get ready for the conferences and concerts that come up in the 1st quarter.
It’s a miracle that we ever survive this mess. That’s the thing about God’s power, it takes a mess and makes it a miracle.
I was thinking about a new guitar for a long time because I needed an acoustic guitar that would be easy to travel with and still be useful in my church applications. I already had a Gibson J-200 with a basic piezo bridge pick up. This is a beautiful guitar and it sounds great, but it’s huge! I have a gig case for it and it feels like carrying a cello around. In college, I custom ordered a ATA flight case for it and that case is huge as well. The flight case also began to show wear even after only flying with it a few times. I also came to prefer carrying my instrument onto the plane for obvious reasons.
So, I looked into selling my J-200. I looked up the serial number and “blue book” value. It’s not a cheap guitar. In fact, the process made me realize that I love this instrument and I don’t want to sell it. I want to pass it on to my children’s children.
I started to look into dreadnaughts and the Taylor “concert” style guitars. These all looked like great instruments, but I was not convinced that they would be any better to fly with or would be that different from my current instrument to really justify the purchase. I was also looking at Godin guitars which I had always been interested in. I especially began to notice them after I saw Jaime Valle play one in a club in San Diego. Godin’s have a thin body shape like an electric guitar. They are instruments designed for stage performance and not recording or “unplugged” performance.
Then I came across the Gidin A6 Ultra. It’s basically an acoustic guitar with that thin chambered body of the Godin. But they added a humbucker pickup so that it’s basically capable of both electric or acoustic sounds. It’s not the first guitar to ever do this, but it’s pretty affordable and it also looks great. Honestly, I’m not a fan of sci-fi look of the Parker Fly guitar. It’s also more like an acoustic guitar that can do electric, so in that sense, it sounds like an arch-top electric.
I was able to really try it out this weekend and there are a few things I need to work out. One is that the piezo lacks gain. Even though there is a battery powered preamp in the guitar, my sound guy was saying that he had to crank the gain up on the acoustic sound. We might try an active DI next time and see how that helps. I’m also temped to get one of these, except it means another $200.
This song kind of blew up at our church this past summer and it’s really struck a chord especially as we’ve been processing the Ferguson mess. We first sung it at the end of “Jesus at the Center” and we didn’t have to explain much after singing the last verse of that song “Jesus at the center of your church…every knee will bow and every tongue shall confess you, Jesus”
A friend of mine recently wrote to me asking if we sing the song and what I thought about it having a “Word of Faith” kind of vibe to it. That whole, “speak the name of Jesus and your dreams will become manifest” sort of thing. Still, there’s plenty of biblical examples of the role of the Messiah in breaking the chains of the prisoner and the captive. In addition, you can find this stuff in many of “the good old hymns” too:
You can find it in Wesley:
“Jesus the name that charms our fears
That bids our sorrows cease
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears
‘Tis life and health and peace
He breaks the pow’r of canceled sin
He sets the pris’ner free
His blood can make the foulest clean
His blood availed for me”
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off my heart was free
I rose went forth and followed Thee”
And you can find it in Watts:
“Blessings abound wherever He reigns
The prisoner leaps to loose His chains
The weary come home and find their rest
And all the sons of want are blessed”
I think that this song works best if we maintain that “the name of Jesus” is not some kind of incantation, but rather a confession. A confession in particular that “Jesus” is the only name by which we are saved and the only name that we call Lord. His name stands forever as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in an eternal kingdom where all forms of slavery have been defeated. Through that confession and the praise of his name, Paul and Silas had their chains literally fall off. In the name of Jesus, we are no-longer slaves to sin but sons and daughters and fellow heirs with Christ.
I’m not going to say every church should sing it, but it especially struck a chord with my church. We followed the song with prayers for the chains of sin to be broken in our lives as well as the chains of injustice and addiction that hold our communities in bondage. The name of Jesus is the only power by which racism, violence, drugs, hate, fear, etc can be overcome. If you still are concerned about the meaning of the song being misunderstood, you could pair the song with a hymn like “And Can It Be” to drive home that there is power in the name of Jesus because of the work that Jesus accomplished in the cross and the resurrection.
I’m re-blogging this as well – It’s a post by my wife, Sarah.
Originally posted on Life on Maple:
It’s my first day alone…in so long. I had four kids all summer. I love and delight in all of them but it was hard work negotiating the appointments of two new foster placements (back to back) and daily life with 4 kids. School started this week and I have so much work to catch up on. But I find myself scrolling through facebook and my mind wandering. My brain hasn’t had time to process for the past several months, it’s going crazy with all the silence in my house.
This week is a mix of emotions. Saturday night a teenage boy in St. Louis was shot by a cop. The details of what happened are contradictory. One side says the boy attacked the cop. The other side says the cop harassed the boy and shot him repeatedly as he tried to run away. I don’t know the truth, I…
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I’m sharing this with a hearty “amen”!
Originally posted on Sean & Michelle in STL:
Prayer and Fellowship in the St. Louis Metro Area
Wednesday, 10am at First Baptist Church in Ferguson: 333 N Florissant Rd.
prayer, fellowship and clean up in the community
Wednesday, 6:30pm at First Baptist Church in Ferguson: 333 N Florissant Rd.
Wednesday, 7pm at New City Fellowship in University City: 1483 82nd Blvd.
Thursday, 5:30pm at South City Church: 2109 S. Spring Ave.
prayer, worship, and Q&A with Dawn Jones and Mike Higgins. Childcare provided
I will update this list as I hear of more. Please give me dates and times as you hear of them! firstname.lastname@example.org
Maranatha, Lord Jesus
Overwhelmed and frustrated with so many recent events in our world, and specifically in our city, I sent a text message to my bright lights and dear family in Tennessee, affectionately dubbed “Team Ellis”. Among other things, I wrote: “St. Louis, y’all. St. Louis”
Karen replied: “Girl, our whole…
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This week, I read an email from a colleague who was wrestling with the role of artists in a church that is actively ministering to the poor. He felt uncomfortable with his role of preparing songs while there were families coming into the church off the street who were looking for food and clothes. I felt compelled to respond to his wrestle because it’s a wrestle that I’ve had to deal with also.
Sometimes, I start to wonder how my salary is actually justified when that money could be added to meeting the basic felt needs of the poor in my community. Wouldn’t it be better for me to give up my salary to the other ministries to the poor and then get a job teaching music and tithe some more of my cash to the meeting felt needs? We all know that art and beauty are important and valuable, but if we do art when our neighbor is starving, we have to seriously consider the verses like 1 John 3:17 “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”
With that being said, here are some of the things that I have learned to give me the right perspective on this stuff.
1. Development vs. Relief.
There’s a difference between meeting the immediate felt need (a meal for today) and working to end the systems that create that need. Worship musicians in the church (and all artists) fit into the place of development and not into relief when it comes to doing justice. We point the poor and the rich alike to the gospel and the kingdom in a way that will heal the broken parts of the community which are the root causes of poverty. Find the purpose and value in your role and don’t be ashamed that you are not doing relief – especially because development is the more difficult and long-term process of doing justice. (I learned this from reading the book “When Helping Hurts” but it’s also classic John Perkins stuff. Read more about that process here.)
2. Stay involved in meeting felt needs outside of music.
My wife and I are foster parents. It’s a very practical way that we can love kids and their families when they are in deep crisis. This ministry has helped my music and worship planning because it keeps me out of the ivory tower of arts appreciation and in the mess of real broken situations. I don’t think that an artist who is part of the kingdom can pursue the vision of romantic genius who creates art in a vacuum. I’m not saying art needs a moral justification, but rather that artists (like everyone else) are image-bearing humans who have to stay in community – connected to the needs of the poor.
3. Do justice in your music ministry practices
Are the poor welcome in your church to participate, lead and share gifts in your ministry? Are you using just practices in how you spend the churches resources to equip the ministry? Are you actually inviting the poor and powerless or are you just singing about it? Are the songs and styles representing the voices of the poor in your community or just the powerful?
Some practical suggestions:
1. Invite a deacon to come to rehearsals
If this happens every time you have a rehearsal, maybe the folks with needs are just being drawn in like a moth to a flame by the sounds of your worship. You could have a deacon or someone who is on site during your practice to connect with them as they come in.
2. Lock the doors
Post hours when the mercy ministry representatives are available. Maybe include some emergency numbers. Don’t be ashamed of getting your work done – you have a job and a responsibility that has been delegated to you to fulfill.
Some books I’d recommend:
Evangelism – Doing Justice and Preaching Grace by Harvie Conn
Beyond Charity – John Perkins
The Dangerous Act of Worship – Mark Labberton
I just got back from Chattanooga and while I was relaxing with my family, I also had time to take care of some long over due meetings. I met with some of the team that curates ncfmusic.com and we are hoping to fix some of the glitches on the website as well as tweak the content to make it more useful. In addition, we were able to talk some about a music conference for 2015! If you are a church musician (volunteer or pro), you should make a general plan to travel next summer to our conference to be inspired, encouraged, empowered, etc. in the struggle to produce cross-cultural music for worship.
By the way – if you are a musician in St Louis and you haven’t done it yet, please register for the Worship Music Workshop on August 8 & 9.
I just posted a bunch of my songs to ncfmusic.com. Here’s what I added today:
I wrote Your Presence is Here early in the morning on Easter Sunday in 2008. I remember that because my son was born a few days later, and I had a million contingency plans in place if my wife went into labor at any point during Passion week. The song is about the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus in our regular worship practices. He is risen, and he is present in every worship service. It was kind of a response to the gospel hit that was popular at the time, “The Presence of the Lord is Here.” The song as well as almost all the others on this list are included on my recording, “Guardian Grace”.
Restore Us was written when I was in college and listening to Coldplay’s first CD a lot. It’s based on Psalm 80. This was one of the first songs that I wrote that really seemed to click with people in worship. We’ve only sung it once at my church even though we have a ministry called “Restore St Louis.”
Rejoice In The Lord comes from my jazz performance days in college. I was interested in what it would be like to use “Rhythm Changes” to create a song for worship. The verses were inspired by the Steely Dan tune, “Peg” The text is from Philippians 4. It’s a real harmonic work out for all you music nerds out there. I had so much fun arranging the horn parts for the pros I hired on the recording.
New Creation was written after I was living in St Louis for a while. Our church had a large group of Liberian immigrants who were struggling with some pretty serious sin issues in their community that called into question their understanding of what it means to be changed by the gospel. So, I had the idea of writing a song in an African style using the text from 2 Corinthians 5:17. The bridge is composed in the typical African worship fashion where the group repeats a short idea over and over and the leader embellishes/preaches over top.
Walk the Talk was the theme of the 2002 Urban Camp at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga. It was composed for that purpose and a team of African American high schoolers (including NCF-Chatt musician Nikki Ellis) helped sell it to the kids. Among the other things that were created at that camp were the “Afro Man” videos and friendship with a certain counselor that would turn into an engagement a year later. Good times.
Greater Is He Who Is In Us was also composed as a song for kids in our ministries at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga. There was another song we were singing by the same title that I was really tired of, so I composed a new one.
To check out all the songs that I have on ncfmusic.com you can hover over the “My Songs” tab at the top of the page.
This weekend at New City Fellowship, I’m introducing a new tune called “You Are My God and King” which I learned last year at the LDR Conference thanks to Michelle Higgins. The song is performed by Donnie McClurkin and it features verses in Spanish and French. How could we pass up on that?
I might be entering into a phase of life when the basic work of living life takes up all my time such that there’s no time left for contemplative activities like writing. Living life right now consists of some fun new developments that are part of my calling to follow Jesus. He has invited us into some scary places, but His rod and staff are a comfort and the yoke He has placed on our shoulders is both “the cross” in that it costs everything and yet it is also “the empty tomb” because it gives everlasting life.
Currently, my family is hosting two foster children. One is a 3 year old boy who is a non-stop flow of questions and energy. He has been with us for 6 months now and he is still wrestling with both the trials of his formal home as well as the loss of his former life. The other foster placement which we just received last week is a 4 week old infant who is still a little bit in shock that the womb-home of her mother has been replaced with a loud and crazy home of big kids, dog barking and strange caregivers. Currently, she needs to be held and rocked and swaddled almost constantly when she is awake.
Fostering is a strange life. It’s hard to describe it to people who haven’t lived it. It’s both intensely personal as you become “Daddy” overnight to a stranger and yet it’s intensely impersonal as you are treated with cold, professional indifference by the vast bureaucratic web that these kids are caught up in. Foster parents are asked to love and nurture a child in their home as one of their own all the while knowing that at any moment a phone call could bring an abrupt end to your relationship with this child.
The other thing that I have going on this summer is a little project in the works that a few of my colleagues and I are cooking up. We have called it the “Worship Ministry Workshop” and it’s a kind of low-key conference to encourage and equip our volunteers. I’m working together with Michelle Higgins and Mary Higgins from South City Community Church and Jules Gikundiro and Adina O’Neal from New City Fellowship – South to put this together. The plan is that we will give our volunteers an time to draw near in intimacy with Christ without rehearsal agendas, to receive gospel-refreshment directed at our particular struggles as worship musicians, and then to share some of our vision for what God can accomplish through our teams.
At this time, I am filled with anticipation for what God is doing in his musician servants in St Louis right now. The ground is tilled and the season is approaching for a Spirit-filled movement in this city to see a new thing come into being, a new wine-skin of songs and expressions for a new generation of saints. I mean something bigger than the next flavor-of-the-month music trend. I’m talking about a revival of the Holy Spirit working to heal and restore this broken, fractured city into the family of Christ. Of course, he’s always at work, but I just feel like his Spirit is opening the eyes of my heart to see how vast his love is for this community.
You can learn more and register for the Worship Ministry Workshop here: http://wmw.ticketleap.com/worshipstl/