Posts Tagged Jesus

Song for Advent: Come Again Lord Jesus

“Advent” is the time of the church calendar when we look for the coming of the Lord Jesus. It has elements of past, present, and future longing for the coming of the Messiah. We read the Messianic passages from the prophets that long for a suffering servant to come, a child who will bring light from darkness. Then we celebrate that Jesus did come as a baby in the time of Caesar Augustus.

In the present, we look for the Messiah to come now in the present into the hearts and lives of broken people, structures, and communities. We cry to the Lord for his Spirit to fill us and to be present in all our thoughts and give us purpose and vision. Then we celebrate that his promise is fulfilled over and over to be the living and ever-present Emmanuel, God with us.

For the future, we look to the coming of the Lord in the full consummation of the story of redemption. All the saints from the past, present, and future, along with the whole universe of creation groans with anticipation that the Lord Jesus will be forever present as the King of Kings in the glorious New City of God. We celebration in Advent that he has always been faithful to his promises and he will not fail to come again.

I wrote this song for Advent that doesn’t have any stable, shepherds, angels, star, or even mention sweet little baby Jesus. However, it does get to the heart of the longing for the Lord Jesus to come again and be our King in the past, present and future.

Come Again Lord Jesus

Come again Lord Jesus
All creation join and sing
Come again Lord Jesus
Come again and be our King
Come again and be our King

To the poor and the forsaken
brokenhearted and alone
Come again and bring us hope
The one true Son of David
Worthy Lamb upon the throne
Come again and bring us peace

As you came before, Jesus come again
Oh, we need you Lord, please come again

To the victim and the prisoner
with no power and no name
Come again and bring us joy
Be the one true Righteous Shepherd
Calling lost sheep to reclaim
Come again and bring us love

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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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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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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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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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Everything is Broken

I’m going to do a psalmist thing and complain for a minute.

Everything is broken. I’m surrounded by malfunctions, glitches, short circuits, cracks, wear, tear, and all-consuming entropy.  Can I just give you a brief list? My dishwasher leaks, my clothes-washer is making a loud grinding noise, there’s a gutter falling off the side of my house, the front storm door is warped and can only stay closed by being locked, the power locks in my van’s door don’t work, the CD player in my car is broken, the speedometer/odometer in my car is broken, my acoustic guitar neck is warped and it’s “fretting out”, our laptop runs too slow, our home stereo speaker has a short and cuts in and out, even my dog has a malfunctioning pancreas and he has to have enzymes in his food or he would get “the runs” so bad that he would starve to death…you get the picture. I bet you have a similar list in your head that you can review of everything that’s broken in your life.

Of course, people are broken as well. We have fears, anxiety, pet peeves, grudges, prejudices, blind-spots, disorders, dysfunctions, and disagreements. Our hearts seem to constantly go back to the same sins and the same idols. We can’t ever seem to get over these persistent dysfunctions and move on with our lives.

Our culture also has systemic brokenness that we live with everyday and take for granted. The problem of racism, the system of prejudice and inequality based on race, comes to mind as a brokenness that many of us passively endorse without doing anything to fix it. We let the brokenness remain and throw up our hands in defeat as if to say, “I didn’t break this, so why should I have to fix it?”

This morning, my complaint about the little things that are broken in my life (the locks, appliances, etc.) made me think about why we allow brokenness like racism to persist, year after year, without doing anything to fix it.

  • It’s too expensive to fix. My family has a lot of broken stuff but the most frequent response to the problem is that it would cost way too much to fix. The solution is there but we don’t have the resources to put the solution into action.
  • It’s permanently broken. Usually, this is a cheap toy that happens to become one of our kid’s favorite things to play with. Then inevitably, it breaks so bad that no super-glue or tape or whatever could fix it. It has to go in the trash forever because it’s just too far gone. Just get over it!
  • It doesn’t bother me, so why should I fix it. We have a light switch in our bathroom that is wired wrong. It turns on when it’s down and off when it’s up. Of course, this is not really a problem to me at all.  Why risk electrocuting myself when it’s not really an issue?
  • If I’m honest, I prefer the brokenness. My CD player is broken in my car and that really was a bother at first. I couldn’t stand rolling around town in silence listening to the weird engine noises (probably more brokenness). Then I started listening to podcasts with an iPod and little portable speaker. I found that I much preferred this to listening to the radio or my CD collection. Let the CD player stay broken because now I have “This American Life” whenever I desire.

These excuses for brokenness are also at the root of why I allow sin to persist in my heart or we allow oppression to persist in our culture.

Now, it’s time to stop complaining. I can stop complaining because in Christ, all things are being made new. The brokenness will not become LORD over all because there is already a LORD over all who is in the business of restoration and redemption. The promises in scripture are the antidote to all our excuses to allow brokenness to persist.

  • There is nothing that is too expensive. I can’t change this because I don’t have the resources. I can’t even stop my own sin, so how can I ever expect to bring cultural change. However, we have in the riches of Christ all that we need for life and godliness. He has paid the full price, and in him, we have access to resurrection power. We have an overflowing bank account of grace and peace that we can access at anytime. We might have to give up our life in the process but even in that, to die is gain because of the riches of Christ.
  • There is nothing that is permanently broken. I want to give up on the brokenness. Many times, I would rather throw away a broken relationship rather than do what is necessary to fix it. But, Christ will never give up on any brokenness. We have a promise that there will one day be a new heavens and a new earth. There is nothing in this world that Christ cannot redeem by the power of the gospel. The kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ. Jesus is the ultimate in “green” living. There’s nothing broken that he won’t recycle into a new creation. There’s no trash in the kingdom.
  • There is nothing that I can ignore because it doesn’t bother me. I might be able to close myself off from oppression or down-play my sin through denial. But, the Lord promises to discipline those that he loves. He has promised that though injustice seems to go unchecked, there is a righteous judge in heaven who will bring vindication to the meek and reckoning to the wicked. The Lord is committed enough to righteousness and loves me enough as his child that he will not allow me to remain comfortable with my sin or comfortable with oppression. Any branches that do not produce fruit will be pruned and thrown into the fire.
  • There is no brokenness that will actually benefit me. I can’t always say that I despise my sin. There are times when it feels so easy and right to give my heart over to sin. Also, I can’t always say that I despise oppression. In fact, as a white person in the US, I receive many benefits that I didn’t even work for as a result of racism. This brokenness appears to benefit, protect, and advance my personal well-being. However, I can trust that the Lord Jesus has promised that his Spirit will transform and renew my mind to be able to discern his perfect and pleasing will. He has promised that he will lead me into paths of righteous for his names sake. In the light of His word, I will know all truth and wisdom and the scales will fall from eyes to behold the wretched vanity of sin and glorious beauty of grace and peace.

Everything is broken, but in Christ all things are made new.

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Rock of Ages

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Foster parenting and the polar vortex

It was interesting to see all our friends posting pics of their families out sledding, making blueberry waffles and snuggling in front of a movie during their snow-cations this week. In our home, we had a little bit different scenario. Sledding was not an option mainly because our 2 year old foster son is a toddler and not quite able to hang with his foster siblings physically mostly because he is extremely small for his age. Blueberry waffles might have been nice, but in general, our toddler FS is locked into a daily routine which involves a series of predictable events beginning with picking out a packet of instant oatmeal for breakfast. He doesn’t respond well to a suggestion like, “Instead of picking out your oatmeal like you do every morning, why not delay eating for about 45 minutes while we fire up the waffle iron?” What about sitting on the couch and watching a movie? Toddler FS is not able to quietly focus on something for that long. He can watch about 10 minutes of Sesame Street before he’s roaming around the room looking for something to do. More often then not, he’s climbing in my wife’s lap or my lap and grabbing our faces to get our attention. A lazy morning of TV is not an option. 

However, there were some really good times in our home during the polar vortex event of 2014. We made doughnuts from scratch and let the kids help (a few meltdowns and timeouts here and there). We had home made hot chocolate with made from scratch marshmallows (my wife is a real “homemade” geek as you can tell.) We painted our kitchen wall with chalkboard paint (after the kids were in bed) and then let them decorate it the next morning. We had dance parties, hootenannies, wrestling matches and other gross motor skill outlets. The snow storm has also forced us to be fully present in our kids lives for 5 days instead of dropping them off with someone else or escaping to our screens all the time. Even though the storm outside was often matched with a storm of  conflict and discipline inside, I am thankful that we were considered worthy to become like Jesus in his suffering for the opportunity to live-out incarnate love.

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