Archive for category General
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/
Josiah, age 11
This weekend, I was approached by one of the STUPID members of our congregation. They loved the number of VIOLENT style songs we sing but they wished that there were more HAPPY style songs. This made me feel MAD despite the fact that the worship that Sunday made me feel MAD.
When I came in to work that week, the pastor told me that music was really HORRIBLE and the Spirit really DESTROYED but he received an email from a BUBBLY person who thought that the music was too SHORT. I DEADILY thanked him for this feedback and then when he left the office I VIOLENTLY closed the door and said,”BUTTER!”
At rehearsal that Saturday, most of the volunteers were GLOOMY but some were ANNOYING. This made me feel JOYFUL and I GRATEFULLY reminded them that rehearsal was NOTHING. When I went home to my PUNK family that afternoon, I felt very SICK and was not very PRETTY to them as a result.
By the time Sunday morning came back around, I was ready to FLIP and couldn’t contain my HAPPINESS. If you had asked me that morning, I would have said that my church is SMALL and that Jesus is BUTTERY.
Eden, age 8
This weekend, I was approached by one of the OLD members of our congregation. They loved the number of WEIRD style songs we sing but they wished that there were more SLOW songs. This made me feel FUNNY despite the fact that the worship that Sunday made me feel PRETTY.
When I came in to work that week, the pastor told me that music was really LUMPY and the Spirit really BARFED, but he received an email from a TINY person who thought that the music was too GRUMPY. I BUBBILY thanked him for this feedback and then when he left the office I SADLY closed the door and said, ” TACO,”
At rehearsal that Saturday, most of the volunteers were ANNOYING but some were LUMPY. This made me feel HUNGRY and I GRACEFULLY reminded them that rehearsal was OLD. When I went home to my UGLY family that afternoon, I felt very MAD and was not very BEAUTIFUL to them as a result.
By the time Sunday morning came back around, I was ready to THROW UP and couldn’t contain my SADNESS. If you had asked me that morning, I would have said that my church is MEAN and that Jesus is SALTY.
Here’s a preview of the T-Shirt that the guys at Danger Schmanger have put together for ncfmusic.com. We plan to have them on hand at the New City Music Conference this weekend. If you are going to be there, bring the check book and buy a shirt.
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.
I hated being at the hospital. All I wanted to do was take the baby home and get on with our lives. In the hospital, we were forced to look that woman in the eye as we took her newborn son in our arms. At first, I wanted to find a place where we could be with the baby that was far away from his birth-mother. I hated to be a participant in her pain. But then it dawned on me that she wanted to see us hold him. She needed to see our love being expressed so that she could know that we would be his family. I accepted the fact that I had to give up my desire to anesthetize this brutal and tragic event. I needed to suck it up and be this little guy’s father there in the room with her. She loved her son so much that she needed to know that at least he would not be alone, even if she didn’t have any hope for herself.
Eventually, we took him home and she suffered for nine days. The papers would have been signed after one day, and she would have been able to put the matter to rest. That was the plan. But instead, nine days passed with no conclusion. She had nine days of the gravity of regret and shame pulling her back toward a decision that was left open. Imagine the strength of will exerted to fight that pull for nine days. I’m amazed that she held out so long before we got that call.
Adoption is not what God intended. It is not an equally valid alternative to God’s created order. Women were not intended to take the baby from their womb and give it away to other family. Mothers were not supposed to be abandoned without any recourse but to become separated forever from their offspring. Fathers were not supposed to be a silent shadow in the lives of the children they were given as a blessing. No child was supposed to be born into relationships which would immediately become defined by their brokenness. It’s tragic, brutal and grotesque.
In the same way, Christ on the cross was tragic, brutal and grotesque. This was not the way it should be, that God’s perfect child should be beaten, cursed, and slaughtered. However, like the cross, adoption is the means by which God takes the utterly corrupted reality of an impossible circumstance and reverses the outcome into something utterly beautiful and sacred.
Adoption is resurrection.
I’m too busy to blog, but I want to share some cool stuff briefly:
The Freedom School Spring Program is tonight at my church. It’s going to be very good. It’s going to be a good time. I’m not just saying that because my kids are singing in it, or because I’m playing in it, or because I’m paid to do this kind of stuff, or because one of my songs is featured prominently in the program. I’m saying it will be good because of Mandy Koch’s hard work and the addition of Marty Keys on the piano (one of the best piano players I have ever worked with).
Everlasting God is a new song that I’m introducing to our church this weekend. I know that a lot of churches have already played this tune to death, but it will be new to us. I settled on the Lincoln Brewster arrangement because I like the more driving tempo. However, I’m tempted to swing the tune like Arcade Fire’s tune “Suburbs“.
I just returned from the funeral celebration for the passing of my grandfather, Rev. Samuel Smith Ward. It was good to see all my cousins and aunts&uncles. It was good to remember the grace that God demonstrated in the lives of my grandparents. Grandpa was 99 years old when he died.
I’m excited to share with you about an opportunity that I have to go to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. My church, New City Fellowship sends a team to Kinshasa every year to maintain relationships with pastors there as we work on building health clinics and caring for orphans. These relationships developed as Congolese immigrants became part of our church family in St Louis, and we began to share their concern for the welfare of the DRC. Our vision is to partner with churches in Kinshasa to encourage each other in the gospel of Jesus Christ to walk in the light of the kingdom and to produce good works of love and mercy.
Whenever we hear about the D.R. Congo in the States, we usually hear about the violent civil wars or the widespread poverty. However, despite its hardships, the D.R. Congo produces unique and exciting forms of music known as Soukous and Rhumba. The Congolese style of virtuosic guitar playing has garnered fans all over the world, and is a technique that I aspire to master. Every year, when the New City Fellowship team returns from Kinshasa, they share with me stories of amazing musicians and passionate worship that defies the suffering in which it is born.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to meet with Athoms Mbuma, a pastor and musician from Kinshasa. Athoms and his wife are members of Le Groupe Adorons L’Éternel or G.A.E.L., a band of musicians who produce the best known worship music from the Congo. Athoms led songs in our worship service, gave a special concert, taught a clinic on Congolese music, and even gave me a guitar lesson. I was very blessed to meet Athoms for his skill, his faith, and his encouragement. Before he returned to Kinshasa, Athoms invited me to come visit him and to experience Congolese worship at its source.
The door has opened for me to accept that invitation by traveling to Kinshasa with the New City Fellowship team from May 25-June 6. In addition to pastors and medical professionals, we will have two other musicians on the team, Tony Myles and Suzanne Bates. We hope to both learn more about Congolese music and to share some about American music at a 3 day pastor’s conference. Pastor Athoms plans to return with us at the conclusion of our visit in order to have a special concert and worship clinic in St Louis.
Obviously, we need your prayers for safe travel and for spiritual fruit, but we also need financial help. This trip will cost $3000 for each member to travel. My family and I will use $1000 of our personal funds toward the costs, but we need your help to cover the additional $2000 which would be possible if 40 families gave $50 each. If you would like to contribute, please write a check to “NEW CITY FELLOWSHIP” with “WARD-CONGO” in the memo and send it to New City Fellowship, 1142 Hodiamont, St Louis MO 63112.
We sang “A Living Sacrifice” on Sunday and everybody in the band was talking about how they saw this video of Redeemer Church doing the song on youtube. This song had meant a lot to me this year especially as my family and I have been through a very stressful trial as we pursued a calling from the Lord that brought us into a lot of mess. The Lord has never promised us an easy life. In fact, we have a more certain promise that we will experience trials in order to have the power of Christ revealed in us and that trials work to purify our hearts. The cry “make me holy” is not disconnected from the offering of our lives as a sacrifice. I know that my friends at Redeemer are embracing this call in their community, and it makes me so glad to see them worshiping with my song.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDePrdzW-Eo&feature=colike%5D
By the way, please pray that the Lord would provide the means for me to make another recording. We have made a lot of financial sacrifices in order to be faithful to God’s calling for us as a family. I can’t wait to be able to record this tune which was written shortly after Guardian Grace was completed.