Archive for category Jesus

Sanctus from Bach’s Mass in B Minor

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

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Diverse Worship Matters

I deeply appreciate these videos created by InterVarsity’s video production crew, twentyonehundred . They have re-framed the conversation about worship styles to emphasis something that I’ve always believed – that worship should be diverse in style out of love and mutual submission  that looks a lot like sharing a meal together.

These clips could function as a good conversation starter for a team of musicians, pastors, youth leaders, etc who are exploring the idea of diverse worship. It’s also a breath of fresh air in a time when the church is having hard and painful conversations about race and ethnicity. Brothers and sisters in Christ do need to have hard conversations, but they need to happen in the context of relationships that are fueled by gospel-based hospitality.

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Congratulations, Michelle

I’ve known Michelle Higgins for about 20 years. We were in the youth group together at New City Fellowship (PCA) in Chattanooga. We also attended Chattanooga Christian School together where we both sang in the choir and even performed in a stage adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” together. (I was Mr. Darcy and Michelle was the mother, “Mrs. Bennett.”) Later, in college, we were ministry interns at that same church for a summer where we had some crazy times learning about how to love and serve as church staff. Later, we were able to hang out again when she and her family relocated back to St Louis where I currently live. Michelle came here to get her MDiv from Covenant Theological Seminary, the denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America. Since then, we’ve been able to collaborate on a number of events and our churches, New City Fellowship in St Louis (PCA) and South City Church (PCA) have been able to grow together as sister congregations in our presbytery.

I finally got to watch her talk this morning (I’ve been chasing my kids around, gimme a break) and I want to say that I personally endorse and support everything she said. I know she’s getting flack about what was said about adoption/abortion, and I want to say a hearty “AMEN” about her comments. I am now an adoptive parent and I have been a foster parent of 10 other children. I believe that abortion is murder, but the church in America can’t shout about abortion legislation without putting foster care and adoption in that same conversation.

If you watch her message at Urbana 2015 and think that she’s “blaming white people” or promoting hate of some kind, then I’m sharing all this to let you know from my personal experience that Michelle Higgins loves White folks. Her life is a testimony of the reconciling power of the Holy Spirit to break down the walls of division. In my 20 years of knowing her, she has been a compassionate and prophetic voice to both White and Black folks (and more).

I deeply respect her for being willing to say things that will get criticized. I’m not too comfortable even writing this endorsement because of the flack that I might get! But we need prophetic voices to say these things and not flinch. So, Michelle, thank you and congratulations for how God is using you at such a time as this.

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How might Kingdom values reshape the music marketplace?

Musicians who are in the Kingdom of God are faced with two choices:

A) Make your living off of the benevolent patronage of other Christians (churches and other non-profit arts ministries)

B) Make your living off of the secular marketplace of music consumers (gigs, recordings, jingles, scoring, etc)

I would place the CCM, modern gospel music, and even the “worship” industry into category B. These musicians, even those who are making “worship” recordings, are vocationally producing a product that is designed to compete with other products in the secular market place. I’m not saying that it’s somehow “evil” or “sinful” to sell you product in the market. I am saying that the market place is not the church nor is it the Kingdom. The Kingdom can inhabit (become incarnate) in the market place, but the true worship of God, the fellowship of his people, and the restoration of creation is not achieved by floating in the current of the secular culture that has established the laws of market. This is true of any industry or vocation. We are not just citizens of this world who happen to prefer Jesus to other religious ideas (like I might prefer Star Wars to Star Trek). We are citizens of the Kingdom of God who happen to live and work in this world. Our citizenship in the Kingdom should determine everything else about how we live.

Instead of mastering the laws of the secular market in order to produce a competitive product, what would it look like for Kingdom musicians to actually reform the marketplace by offering an alternate set of laws?  Kingdom musicians could change the nature of how music is produced and consumed in order to restore the relationship of musicians and their communities. 

The church is one of the last places in our society where large groups of people meet together to sing songs. Despite trying to contextualize for the cultures we are trying to reach, we are still meeting together to sing songs which is one of the most bizarre, antiquated and irrelevant things we could be doing. If we wanted to be contextual in our culture, we should have done away with singing-church in favor of something like shopping-church or gaming-church. Aren’t those the activities practiced in our culture on a daily basis? (Shopping and gaming are cool. Don’t stress.)

Despite the push to be relevant, we haven’t let go of the practice of singing together because it’s a music expression that reflects the values of the Kingdom: healed relationships, shared abundance, and equal access to power. However, instead of taking these values into the marketplace in order to restore the creation, musicians of the Kingdom are often bringing the values of the secular marketplace into our worship spaces (or the “A” category of Christian music patronage).

So what should musicians of the Kingdom be working toward? A couple of changes off the top of my head would be:

Participation vs. elitism  – The Kingdom gives power and meaning to the whole community and not just the elite. This means the pyramid hierarchy of the music industry would be deconstructed in favor of more community and educational based music experiences that encourage as many people as possible to become music making participants.

Creation vs. consumption – Along the same lines, our relationship to music changes from being consumers to creators. We need a D.I.Y. revolution in music to come out of the application of Kingdom vlaues. Composers, educators, and performers should not be aiming at creating products for mass consumption but products for mass creation.

These ideas could start to shake the power structures that make music participation, creation and dissemination only available to the privileged and resourced communities.  New tech has already opened the doors to these changes but instead of embracing these new technologies, the music industry has been fighting them “tooth and nail.” They see these tech developments as a threat to their consolidated power.

More practical jumping off points:

  • New means of sharing and supporting music that are localized and community based
  • New performance venues that support participation and creation
  • Kingdom based paradigms for intellectual property
  • Educational practices that emphasis lifetime music participation and relationships

Share any thoughts you might have in the comments on how  Kingdom values might re-shape the music marketplace?

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What is the relationship between healing and worship?

“The Healing of the Nations” is the theme for New City Music’c #MusiCon15. This phrase comes from Revelation 22 in which John describes the new city of God where a river flows from the throne of the Lamb. Along the banks of the river are the trees of life and John tells us that the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.

If you don’t see a need for healing in our communities, our congregations, our families, or your own heart, then you are probably not paying attention. Worship is a time to listen to God’s voice and to be changed in the process. He is present in our worship and He is holy. Like the woman who only needed to touch the hem of His garment, we come into the presence of Jesus in worship, broken and desperate. The wonderful now/not-yet vision of the New City is that the tree of life grows like a weed. The church is the New City where Jesus glory dwells and where the nations stream up to the throne needing this healing.

Here are a few questions that I have for you to consider in preparation for our conference.

  • How have you personally experienced physical or emotional healing through worshiping Jesus?
  • How has music, whether in worship or not, brought you some form of healing?
  • How have you witnessed healing in whole communities through singing together in worship?
  • What does healing look like in music? To say it another way, what active steps do you take to experience healing?

I’d love to read your answers to one of more of these questions in the comments.

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How #Ferguson should affect our worship planning

Yesterday, my son was sick with a stomach bug. When our bodies get sick, there are symptoms that tell us something is wrong. The symptoms are painful and sometimes feel unbearable, but without them, we would not do what needs to happen to get well. If I didn’t get a fever or feel nauseous, then I would not know to lay down and rest in order to get well. Today, St Louis is experiencing the symptoms of an illness that has been infecting our community for a long time. We can chose to ignore these symptoms, but it would only be ensuring the diseases we suffer are going to continue. As a worship planner, I have a few thoughts on what our job looks like as we start to respond to the symptoms with the correct treatments. I have a few gospel based themes that I have been trying to emphasize in the midst of this crisis.

Fear vs. Love

Fear has been a major symptom of the community disease that has infected us. Fear is at the root of race-based discrimination and it is also at the root of self-righteous rants on social media. As Tony Myles shared last Sunday, we are prompted by fear to bow down to the “false narratives” of our culture in the same way that the 3 Israelite youths were threatened by the powers of Babylon with a trip “fiery furnace” if they did not bow to a golden image. How many Black men are killed by people filled with fear that is derived from false stereotypes and deep-seeded racist myths that American culture has perpetuated for centuries? In the days preceding the grand jury’s decision, our whole community was overwhelmed with fear. These fears were fueled by lies that that stand in opposition to God’s Word.

Standing against fear is Love. I’m not referring to “the age of Aquarius” love which was ultimately found to be impotent and self-serving. I’m talking about the love that we find in the power of the gospel. Love in the gospel is both unconditional and accountable. In Christ, I have love that is lavished on me despite being opposed to God in my sin. That same love creates a relationship of accountability to respond with unconditional love toward my enemy. Christ demonstrated this love on the cross and his resurrection empowers us through his Spirit to reject the lie of fear and to say to the powers of fear, “You can throw me in the furnace, but I will not bow to you. I will love the Lord and love my enemy without being afraid of the consequences.”

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pic of Mazaré Rogers by Sean Loftin (i think)

In worship services, we express this by affirming that all authority belongs to the Lord Jesus. No other power can stand in opposition to his glorious reign. We need not respond with violence to any perceived threat from someone who the culture tells me to fear. Because we are one with the Lord of heaven, we can say, “We would rather die than to give in to fear.” We can also boast in His victory over every power even as we grieve the realities of injustice. Sing with joy for the King reigns over all the earth. As Psalm 2 says, we serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling because He is the only power worthy of our reverent fear. His throne is established in Love and the submission to anything other than his authority and reign is a rejection of Love.

Death vs. Life

#BlackLivesMatter has been one of the phrases that has framed much of the frustrations of Americans in response to the deaths of several Black men this year at the hands of police. Even if you believe that the police officers were justified in their actions against these men, you have to affirm that life matters and death is the enemy. Any death is tragic. Even the most evil murderers in history were victims of the power of death both in their sinful acts against others and in the deaths that they themselves suffered. Death reigns in disease, in famine, in disasters, and even in the slow progress of time. Death was let loose on the earth by humans in the actions of Adam and Eve. All throughout history, the powerful have brought death to the weak in order to subjugate. In response, the weak have consolidated their power to bring a reign of terror to their oppressors ultimately becoming that which they have feared and despised. At the end of all that conflict, only one victor stands over the field of battle: Death.

However, we serve the Lord of Life. The whole of scriptures affirm over and over that the one true God is about Life and not Death. His whole plan from Genesis to Revelation is the renewal of eternal life to both individuals and to all of creation. Black lives and the lives of all people matter to God. His agenda is always for life and who ever has the power of life in their hands will have to give account for their actions to the God of Life. Jesus was never going to lead a bloody revolution to defeat Rome by the sword. He ultimately used death against itself, undoing it by the power of the resurrection.

In worship, we can respond to #BlackLivesMatter by affirming that Death has no victory or sting. We go back to the cross and the empty tomb over and over to remember that no matter how many lives are lost to oppression, the perishable will be raised again imperishable. This is not to deny the pain of grief and loss. Nor is it about brushing off the anger that comes from murder and other unjust deaths. Rather, the resurrection is a firm foundation in the midst of the shifting sands of history and culture. The resurrection has been the confidence for Christians throughout the ages to stand against violent oppression  from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr.  Sing with joy knowing that Death is ended! No power that holds death in its hand will ever win the victory over the God of Life.

Fear and Death are the ultimate diseases that produce the symptoms that we have in our community today: racism, violence, oppression, injustice, vengeance, vandalism, discrimination, etc. Protestors have been shutting down interstates and staging “die-ins” around our country to bring attention to these symptoms. If we respond to symptoms without the power of Love and Life found in the gospel, which are the antidote to Fear and Death, then we will only be treating the surface issues. As worship leaders or planners, we can lead songs, prayers, and creeds to reaffirm Love and Life in the church. May the Lord bring crowds of “sick” into our services in order to receive healing.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:1-5

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What does the song “Break Every Chain” really mean?

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.

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wpid-img_20140529_184624.jpgI 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/

WorshipMinistryPromo

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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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Rock of Ages

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