Archive for category Poverty

Behold Your King

I was reading in John 19 this morning where Pilate is interviewing Jesus. There was a phrase that struck me this time reading it. Pilate brings Jesus out to the crowd and sarcastically says, “Behold Your King.” All of a sudden I had “O Holy Night” in my head which uses that phrase in a much different way. It started me on the process of writing a song about the humiliation of Jesus, in his ministry, his trial and his death. He is our king and we follow him into that same process of humiliation.

Side note: I was using a thesaurus website at points to get different ideas and I found that Christians have a very different understanding of the words humble or meek. I often take it for granted that these are positive qualities even in our culture. However, the synonyms for these words reveal that our culture hates these qualities. No wonder this world despised and rejected Christ Jesus as well.

Here’s the song in the 1st draft form. No music for it yet.

Behold your king
Behold your king
Impoverished and despised
His kingdom is not recognized
By the Spirit’s power he’s led
With no place to lay his head
Born into our suffering
Behold your king

Behold your king
Behold your king
Arrested and abused
Now falsely he’s accused
He stands refugee from
A kingdom yet to come
But now stripped of everything
Behold your king

Behold your king
Behold your king
Tortured and alone
A suffering servant to atone
He exhales his final breath
The sun is shrouded in his death
His blood becomes our offering
Behold you king

Behold your king
Behold your king
Vindicated, glorified
He has risen! He’s alive!
His kingdom now reality
Death has lost it’s victory
Hear the nations stand to sing
Behold your king

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Musicians and artists meeting the needs of the poor

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

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The Apple Machine Skit

[On the stage there’s a box with someone inside that you can’t see who has a bag of apples and a bell. Christian is standing by the box]

Christian [with piety]: O Lord, thank you for this apple machine that you have graciously provided for me. I am not worthy of your good gifts but you have seen fit to bless me with it.

[After the prayer, he turns on the machine – the bell rings and an apple pops out of a small hole in the top of the box.]

Christian: Thank you Lord for my apple! You have blessed me SO MUCH!

Neighbor [entering]: Hello friend, I hate to bother you, but I have not had anything to eat all day and I have no money to buy food and no job to earn money. I’m so hungry that I can’t even look for work. Do you have any food to share with me?

Christian: Well, my friend, by God’s grace, I have been blessed with this apple, but in God’s sovereign providence, there’s only enough for me to eat. However, I have learned that prayer works, so why don’t I pray for you to have something to eat. [Closing his eyes] Dear Lord, please provide food for my neighbor.”

[Then the bell rings again and another apple pops out.]

Neighbor: Wow! That is one amazing machine. Now that you have two apples, do you think that you could share one with me?

Christian: [looking at the apple] Hmm, actually, I will need this apple for tomorrow. You see, friend, I can’t give away all my apples and not be ready for tomorrow. Why, if I didn’t have this apple for tomorrow then I might have to go around begging for food, too. That’s just good common sense and faithful stewardship, right?

Neighbor: I guess that makes sense, but I’m so hungry, what can I do?

Christian: Well, maybe you should try praying, that’s what worked for me.

Neighbor: [Closing his eyes] Dear Lord, please give me food for today so that I will have the strength to live and serve and work.

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Neighbor: [With joy] Praise the Lord, my prayer was answered! Now can you share an apple with me?

Christian: [with a patronizing tone] I’m sorry friend, but I need this apple to sell at the market so that I can use that money to make this apple machine a little more productive. See, that’s just good business sense. In fact, when my apple machine starts really producing, then I can have enough apples to share with the whole world! If I give you this apple instead of investing it into improving my apple machine, then I’m really just contributing to world hunger, right?

Neighbor: I guess that makes sense, but honestly I’m so hungry right now that my brain is a little foggy.

[The bell rings again and another apple pops out. With 3 apples, Christian is having trouble holding them all]

Christian [annoyed]: You keep bringing up your hunger and my apples. It’s really starting to become a little offensive to me. I mean, if you understood grace, you would know that I am free from the legal requirements of the law. God loves ME and your constant complaining about how I’m not sharing my food is really just legalism, you see? It’s just adding this burden of the law onto my shoulders.  Don’t you think you’re being a little Pharisaical?

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Neighbor: [starts to cry] I just don’t know what to do. I prayed to God for food and I know that he is good and he hears my prayer. I don’t know how much longer I can survive like this.

Christian: [sympathetically] Wow, you really are hungry. And you did pray, but it seems like God didn’t hear you.

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Christian: Or maybe God did hear, but he just doesn’t care

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Neighbor: Don’t say that. I know that God is good. I know that every day, I am able to find food somehow. I have never seen God fail.

Christian: I’m impressed with your faith. I wish I had faith like that. Lately, it’s hard to believe that God actually cares about the suffering in the world or… that he even exists.

[The bell rings 3 times and 3 more apples pop out of the machine]

Neighbor: Look at that! Of course God exists! How do you think that you got all those apples?

Christian: Well, friend, I have a more enlightened view of things then you do. I once shared your super-spiritual view of reality but you’ll soon learn that that way of thinking is just prosperity gospel. Name-it-and-claim-it! Clearly, there are physical laws in the universe that we can learn about, and use to our advantage to create wonderful things…things like…well, this apple machine for example.

Neighbor [looking more distressed]:  You mean this apple machine is something that you created by yourself?

Christian: [with pride] That’s right, good ol’ fashioned ingenuity, that’s the key to your hunger problem. Friend, the potential for you to have this many apples in your hands is within your grasp, too. You just have to believe in yourself and reach for the stars! That’s what I did, and look at me now. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if you didn’t get yourself into this whole apple-less predicament on your own because of your lack or self worth.

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Neighbor [grasping their gut, grimacing]: Please, I don’t mean to sound rude, but don’t you and I worship the same God and can’t you have a little compassion? Do you really need so many apples? I’m so hungry.

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Christian: Ah-ha! Now the truth comes out! You’re just jealous of my success. You are some kind of whiny, socialist who doesn’t know the meaning of hard work! I’m not going to enable your laziness or subsidize your selfish, materialistic, loser persona. Get a job and quit playing the victim.

Neighbor: Victim?

Christian: Yeah, you heard me. Beat it!

[Neighbor slinks off stage grasping their gut]

Christian: [closes his eyes] Lord, thank you for blessings. I am so glad that have shown your favor to me.  In fact, this whole “hunger” conversation has really made me appreciate what you have given to me. In fact, I think I’m going to tweet about this right now.

[Pulls out phone]

Christian: [dictating as they text] Feeling (hashtag)blessed. Anything is possible if you have (hastag)faith. God is good! LOL. (hastag)love (hashtag)grace (hastag)Jesusismycopilot

[The bell rings and another apple pops out of the machine]

Christian: Seriously? Is there any way to turn this thing off? I’m kind of in the middle of something.

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Fear of the City

One of the realities that we deal with in STL is the fear of the city. Many people who live in the greater St Louis metropolitan area are afraid of going into certain parts of the city. For some, the line is north of Delmar Ave. For others, it’s east of Skinker. One person I met in St Charles, once told me that they never cross “the bridge” into St Louis COUNTY!

There are several reasons for this fear being perpetuated in the community. Some of it is racism – this place that people fear is predominantly black (our neighborhood is 98% black). Some of it is class-ism – there’s not a lot of money in our part of town. Some of the fear comes from the myth of a violent and chaotic inner city perpetuated by the media – all the news stories that come from our community are about violence. Sometimes people read statistics about our neighborhood. Statics are not always truth, and they can be used to created fear combined with the false impression that these fears are ground in scientific facts. Its a mess and it breaks my heart to think that these fears are probably not going to go away for a long time.

Honestly, I’m a musician and so I can’t speak with authority on any of the causes of the fear of the city. However, I can tell you about my life in one of the most dangerous cities in America these past 4 years. Basically, it’s been kind of boring. Not that it hasn’t been fun; it’s just that there hasn’t been a lot of action. We’ve had some possessions stolen (pretty typical to living in close proximity to humans). We have some drugs and other illegal stuff on the block – just like I had back at my Christian high school. I haven’t been violently attacked (like I was during my freshman year at the University of Tennessee, on campus, by a white dude in a North Face vest – but that’s another story).

There are some fears that I still have. I’m not that thrilled about walking alone in my neighborhood. I don’t like to let my kids play outside of our fence without parental supervision (we have a lot of pedestrian traffic.) Sometimes, we call the police because of hearing or seeing strange activity (gun shots, loitering, trespassing, drunkenness). Some fears are no longer an issue for me. I have met my neighbors so that I see a lot less “suspicious strangers” and see more friendly smiles. Trust in our neighbors also means that we feel like there are people who are looking out for us and who would stand up to defend us if we were in a dangerous situation. We matter to our neighbors and so the city is no longer a mysterious place of crime and violence, but a home where we belong and we feel accepted.

My blog is called “Worship in the City”. For us, life in the city is an expression of worship just as much as the songs that I prepare every week. The kingdom of God is something that takes our whole lives into service as we live our resurrection life in Jesus. There is no fear of anything when we have the love of Christ who is our peace.  I want to emphasize that our life in the city is not some kind of holy martyrdom as if we are making some kind of grand sacrifice to “survive” in the big bad city.  Rather, we get to live the abundant life of the NEW CITY expressed in the love and community we share in simply living together as an expression of the gospel.  This passage from Romans 12: 9-21 sums up a lot of what I’m thinking and it’s been for Sarah and me a kind of mission statement for our family:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

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Death, Taxes and the Word of God

Last night, I was getting our federal and state taxes done. As an employee of NCF, I don’t make a ton of money. I’m not boasting about that; I’m just sharing to let you know that I usually expect a refund after taxes. However, the outlook is not pretty this year. It looks like we will have to pay a chunk to the tax man this year.

Doing the taxes was a process of reviewing the year of 2012 for my family. It was a sad reminder of some of the trials that we have had to go through. There were the medical bills from my son having his finger amputated. There were 3 trips that we made to attend the funerals of our grandparents. There was all the extra income that my wife and I earned which basically all went toward an adoption that failed (by the way, you don’t get to take the adoption tax credit for an adoption that never happened.)

Needless to say, I went to bed last night a little angry with God. In my anger, I was asking questions like, “why do we have to pay taxes out the nose when we’re down here doing the work you called us to?” “Paying taxes on income that was lost on  a failed adoption – why don’t you give me a nice paper-cut and pour lemon juice on it?” “When do we get a break, God?”

At the same time, I have these songs stuck in my head. I’m listening to a lot of new music that I’m planning to introduce in the next few months. I’m really excited about these songs, and I’ve had some of them on repeat in the office all day. So, last night, the songs keep floating up to the surface of my thoughts as I’m trying to be mad at God. One song, that we are going to sing this Sunday, is a Brenton Brown/Andi Rozier tune called “Word of God”.

Jesus, faithful Word of God
The anchor of my heart
You’re everything You say You are, Lord
Greater than my deepest needs
The ground beneath my feet
Your promises won’t fail me now

The line “Greater than my deepest need” started to work on my bitterness. Is this what I really believe? Can the Lord Jesus meet us in the places of our deepest need? When the reality of our lack of money smacks us in the face, can the Lord Jesus be greater to me than my deepest need. I can testify that the Word of God, communicated through these songs was “the anchor of my heart” when my trials, the storms of fear and weakness, threatened to dash my hopes against the rocks. The old Ben Franklin quote “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” is a lie. The Word of God is the only firm foundation. His promises stand forever, and they will never fail us.

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The Lost Verses of “Jesus Shall Reign”

The hymn “Jesus Shall Reign” was written by Isaac Watts based on Psalm 72 and  was published in 1719. Today most churches sing only 5 verses of what was originally 14. Here’s verses 9, 10 and 11.

Great God, whose universal sway
The known and unknown worlds obey,
Now give the kingdom to Thy Son,
Extend His power, exalt His throne.

The scepter well becomes His hands;
All Heav’n submits to His commands;
His justice shall avenge the poor,
And pride and rage prevail no more.

With power He vindicates the just,
And treads th’oppressor in the dust:
His worship and His fear shall last
Till hours, and years, and time be past.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to write about how we need to resume singing all 14 verses (or all the verses to every hymn). I am interested in looking at why some verses remain over other verses. Obviously, verses 9,10, and 11 emphasize the rule of Jesus as a kingdom of justice and righteousness for the poor. The verses that you would find in the Trinity Hymnal  that my denomination prefers, are 1, 4, 5, 6, 8. Most of these verses represent the spread of Jesus reign as being primarily about the confessional worship of people all over the world (Amen!). However, the focus of justice (one that is pretty clear in Psalm 72) doesn’t come through as strong. There is one verse that is in the Trinity Hymnal that retains the theme of justice:

Blessings abound wherever He reigns;
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blessed.

I realize that condensing 14 verses into 5 means that you might have to use one verse to convey the sentiment of several verses. But, do we often slant the language of this verse (chains, weary, sons of want) to reflect spiritual poverty instead of physical poverty. The psalmist does not limit his scope to the spiritual reign of the king. He is clearly speaking a blessing on the king to uphold justice for the oppressed.

“For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
    the afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy
    and save the needy from death.
He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
    for precious is their blood in his sight.” (Psalm 72:12-14)

So what should be done with Watts’ lost verses? Should we pick different verses each time we sing them? I might try to switch out one or two, but I love the 5 we sing currently. Maybe someone should write a new melody using some of the 9 left over verses of “Jesus Shall Reign”.

One this is for certain: there will never be an end to the songs that can be composed about the glory of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom!

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The Purpose of Suffering

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 peter 3:10


The body of Jesus Christ was dead, laid in the grave, sealed with a stone, rotted for a day, and then he was restored to become the first of the new creation.


Jesus Christ was accused, rejected, betrayed, and murdered. All that he said about himself and all the promised words of the Father appeared to be in questions until they were confirmed by the power of the resurrection.


Jesus Christ assumed a position of total dependence and humility with the Father. The fullness of his power was demonstrated by submission to being executed for crimes he did not commit. In the resurrection, his power was completely manifested over the curse, over death, and over every power in heaven and earth.


The finished work of Christ in his suffering on the cross and defeating death in the resurrection established a kingdom of light that will never pass away.


Suffering was the means by which Jesus became Lord and King. Now, as his sons and daughters, we participate in his suffering. The God of all grace has called us to his eternal glory in Christ, and so that these same qualities will be brought to expression in our lives, we are calling into suffering. His love for us and his purposes for us in his kingdom must include suffering.

Can you be restored without suffering?

Can you be confirmed without suffering?

Can you be strengthened without suffering?

Can you be established without suffering?

There is no short cut through Jesus words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”


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Watch this video

Watch this video.

Romans 5:1-10

5  Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but werejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved byhis life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

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I Wrote a Song Today: “This Is Not How It’s Supposed To Be”

Here’s a first draft demo of a tune I wrote today. It’s a white-dude reggae in the tradition of Bruce Cockburn, Elvis Costello and Eric Clapton. Reggae is an excellent genre for prophetic declarations against the systems of oppression. I think that if the prophet Jeremiah was around today he’d probably be a either into reggae or the blues (or both). As Christians we have a particular way of viewing evil and suffering: it’s not supposed to be like this. We reject the concepts of Karma or that God is powerless to address the problems in the world. Instead, we believe that evil is a result of sin that has taken root in the heart of every man. It’s the fruit of a foul tree that must be killed in order for righteousness to grow in it’s place. Kill the root, and you kill the tree. Christ didn’t die just to take a bunch of holy-rollers to a golden city in the sky. He died to kill the root of all evil so that he could establish a kingdom of righteousness in which evil and suffering would pass away. Not by eradicating the wicked, but by justifying the wicked. This song is designed to remind us of the redemption of created order and the failure of the church to respond to the cries of the oppressed.

This is not how it’s supposed to be
This is not how it’s supposed to be
Kill the root and you kill the tree
This is not how it’s supposed to be

The word we teach says that true religion
means to care for the widow and the orphan
but instead we have churches built on greed
serving themselves; ignoring the cries of those in need

Children soldiers fight for diamond mines
So that young brides can have ring that shines
See a child’s body being bought and sold
To try to fill the void in a broken soul

The disciples of gangsters follow the way of the gun
The seeds of mercy seem to die in the heat of the sun
Brothers kill brothers in the summer heat
A human sacrifice to the gods of the street

There’s a foul tree that’s planted in every human heart
It produces wicked fruit that tears the world apart
The blood of Christ can kill the root of sin
So the kingdom of righteousness can begin

We claim to love an invisible Savior
yet we struggle just  to love our next door neighbor
The idolatry of safety makes us blind and dumb
Yet Christ gave us power to overcome

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He raises the poor from the dust

Who is like the LORD our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,

who stoops down to look
on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

he seats them with princes,
with the princes of their people.

He settles the barren woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the LORD.

Psalm 113:5-9

I’m praising the Lord today for his character. He is not like anyone or any ‘god’ ever conceived. He is not absent and  impotent like so many deadbeat dads. He’s not deaf to the cries of the poor or the barren. He is a Father who is ever-present and who works to maintain justice. I’m thankful for how He has chosen and blessed me to be a servant in His kingdom. He has saved me from my idolatry in order to do good works by faith in Christ, works that have been prepared for me to accomplish in advance. I’m thankful for how He’s given children to my friends who were barren. I am thankful for how He’s rescuing the needy from the ash heap to set them up with princes.

Praise the LORD.
Praise, O servants of the LORD,
praise the name of the LORD.

Let the name of the LORD be praised,
both now and forevermore.

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the LORD is to be praised.

The LORD is exalted over all the nations,
his glory above the heavens.

Psalm 113:1-4

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