Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

“Fight fire with fire!”

I’ve always thought that was such a stupid statement.  Adding fire to fire only creates an inferno that’s even harder to put out.  No, you fight fire with water.  You fight with fire’s opposite.  You find fire’s neutralizer.  Water douses the flame.

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Several years ago, back in my college days, I had several friends who attended a campus ministry at a local church where it was discovered that the college/high school minister had been sleeping with students in his college ministry.  Seriously.  He would lead these vulnerable girls to Christ, then have sex with them.  As certain key leaders in the ministries of other organizations (myself included) found out about this, they went to the pastor of the church to inform him of his staffer’s sin and plead with him to take action.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the pastor said he already knew.  His college minister had already “confessed” the whole thing to him, and pledged to stop.  What was even more surprising is that the college minister would remain on the staff, as if the whole thing had never happened.  “We need to show him grace,” the pastor said.  Then he scolded those confronting him that they were Pharisees merely intent on spreading gossip and that even the girls involved had been instructed to remain silent and not become “divisive.”

Now, I am all for forgiveness of sins.  I’m all for the restoration of fallen leaders, whenever it’s possible.  The way that many “Christians” treat people caught in sin sickens me more often than not.  I say that to make it clear that I’m not approaching this from a point of legalism, nor do I find any solace in seeing people face the consequences of their sins.  But to see this pastor treat his college minister’s sin like it was…nothing – I was floored.  There was no discipline, no counseling, no meetings with the church’s committees or deacons, no counseling to help these now spiritually-wounded young girls.  This pastor simply allowed the guy to remain in staff position, where he would still be leading girls he had had sex with.  In short, it was a cover-up – a scandal this pastor and this minister tried to keep out of the view of their congregation, too afraid that knowledge of it would destroy their church.  The pastor continued preaching.  The college minister continued teaching/leading crowds of students – as if nothing had ever happened.

This is the point that you might be tempted to argue, “What’s the problem?  He confessed to his pastor, and he was forgiven.  Now you really ARE being a Pharisee.”  Honestly, I’d love to be able to say everything worked out, in spite of our fears.  But the truth is, there was no repentance.  There was no discipline.  The college minister committed a sin – maybe even a crime – and had to face ZERO consequences.  So what do you think happened next?

Sadly, the college minister did not cease his sin, but continued to pursue girls in his group sexually, eventually sleeping with several more.  Once more the pastor and his minister were confronted, only this time the pastor become angry enough that he practically began screaming at these community “Pharisees” to get out of his office.  “You Pharisees don’t know how to forgive people!”

Eventually – as is normally the case with any scandal – these girls whom the minister had been sleeping with (and then told to keep quiet) broke their silence and started talking about what had happened to them.  The church found out about the scandal, and overnight, a thriving community of about 300+ people dwindled to a small church of less than 20.  The reputations and future hopes of two ministers lay in ruins.  And girls who had been led to Christ – then led into a bedroom – ran away from this whole “Christianity” thing, bitterly wounded and doubting anything that had ever been told to them about Christ and what it means to be a Christ-follower.

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You can’t fight fire with fire, and you cannot fight sin with sin.  But too often I see people try.  People sin, and rather than fall on their knees in repentance, they run straight into more sin.  In the above-mentioned church, they tried to fight sin with cover-ups and angry accusations of legalism, as if by doing so the problem would eventually just disappear.  Instead, the very thing they were trying to avoid happened, and the church and their careers lay in ruins.

People who fight sin with more sin often fall into a sickening spiral, usually becoming either (1) isolated or (2) accompanied by a bunch of “yes-people” who validate their position.  There is a lesser chance of repentance.  There is often more and more cover-up and denial of wrongdoing.  Hearts become increasingly hardened.

And the scariest part?  I think it’s epidemic:

  • I’ve seen many people lie to help keep a previous lie from being exposed?
  • I’ve seen pastors and other church leaders living in adultery who, rather than face their sin, attempt the impossible task of trying to live two lives – one open, and one secret.
  • I’ve seen people privately (and publicly) bash their friends or family members (or even their church leaders) then go to an open forum like Facebook or blogs like this one and talk about how great their walk with God is that day.
  • I’ve seen people in leadership fail to be good stewards of their ministry, then blame everyone around them for their failure.
  • I’ve seen more “Christian” marriages than I can even count at this point spiral towards divorce wrapped around weird justifications like “God wants me to be with another man” or “this is the only way I can be closer to God.”
  • I’ve seen more and more Christian young people run into pre-marital sex, but instead of repenting, justify their behavior behind countless excuses like “it’s normal in today’s culture” or “but we love each other.”
  • Scariest of all:  I’ve seen Christians get so wrapped up in the web of their sin, that they begin to question – or even re-write – their entire belief system about God and scripture just so they can find a way to keep their sin a justifiable part of their lives.
And the one thing I’ve seen in virtually ALL of these circumstances is that things always get worse for the people involved.  Fighting sin with sin never ends well.  I’ve seen it divide churches, destroy leaders, wreck marriages, tarnish reputations, and tear apart friendships previously believed to be able to withstand anything.
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Let me be clear about why this troubles me so much.  Basically, it comes down to this:  When we attempt to “fix” sin through our own means – a means OTHER than repentance (the confession and turning away from our sin) – we actually deny ourselves the very real power of restoration that God’s grace provides.  Don’t miss how important this is:  In our attempt to AVOID the consequences of our sins, we are – in reality – DENYING ourselves the very power which could heal us.  Instead, we inexplicably place our faith in our own “ability” to cover and hide and justify our sin, rather than put our faith in a God who promises to forgive us if we confess our sins to him:
 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.   – 1 John 1:8-10.
You fight sin with repentance.  You’re going one direction (sin), then you choose to turn around and go in another (not sin).  There is no other way, because only the grace that comes with repentance heals the damage sin has done in our lives.  Bam!  That’s it.  Don’t be deceived by our Enemy into believing that another sin is ever the answer.  We have to hate sin as much as God hates it.  We have to confess from it, turn from it.
For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.   – 2 Corinthians 7:10.
Worldly sorrow gets us nowhere.  A lack of repentance leads to spiritual death.  You cannot sin, remain unrepentant, and then go around talking about how great your walk with God is, thinking you’re just basking in his love and his “overlooking” of your sin.  That is nothing short of being delusional.  Yes, God loves you (absolutely!) – BUT have no doubt that God is weeping over unrepentant sin (after all his own Son died for it).  He wants us broken, on our knees, desperate to purge ourselves of the sin in our lives:
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.   –  Psalm 51:17
I believe He is desperate to see His people quit putting our faith in ourselves and religious platitudes and truly get on our knees and repent, so HE can restore us.  Why would we deny ourselves that kind of a restoration?!  Why would we trade the power of God that can transform us for the idol of our own power?
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One more thing:  If we want to see repentance, then we – as Christians, as leaders, as churches – need to get better at making this easier for people to do.  Throughout history, we have perverted this call for people to repent into a license to abuse them spiritually over everything from homosexuality to the consumption of alcohol to whether it’s appropriate to wear jeans to church.  No, we need to be the first people in line rejoicing when people truly repent and the first people to pick them up when they fall to help them get going again:
  “If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive.”      – Luke 17:3
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Repentance is not an optional component of our faith.  It is the water with which we douse the fire of sin in our lives.  It is not the act of saving ourselves.  Rather, it is the means by which we allow the saving power of God’s grace and the transforming power of His Spirit to transform us into the kinds of people he wants us to be.  Why would we settle for anything else?

One of the things I think God has been hammering into my brain lately is the difference between a worship leader and song leader.  While this may be oversimplified and maybe “song leader” isn’t an adequate concept, it’s a least a starting point to think about the differences:

  • A song leader leads from the stage.  A worship leader leads both onstage and off.
  • A song leader tries to get the crowd to sing.  A worship leader tries to get a crowd to worship.
  • A song leader presumes the crowd should “get into it.”  A worship leader realizes it is his/her job to engage the crowd and lead them into what worship is.
  • A song leader attends.  A worship leader serves.
  • A song leader is the star of the show.  A worship leader attempts to be transparent, so only Christ is visible.
I think the heart of this is that anyone with a modicum of talent can stand in front of a crowd, play a song, and attempt to get a crowd to respond.  But leading must be so much more than that.

First, your life offstage MUST reflect what you are attempting to convince people to do when you are onstage.  People can always spot a fake, especially if they encounter you outside of the church walls and realize that your life – your convictions, your behavior – do not line up with what you claim to believe.

Second, you have to know your crowd – personally and spiritually.  If they are not lifting their hands, if they’re not clapping, if they’re not singing along – ask the question:  Are you LEADING them to do so?  Do you ask them to?  Do you let them know what freedom to worship means?  Better yet, do YOU, as a leader, look excited to be engaged in the act of worship?  It’s too easy to blame the crowd.  It’s much harder to examine how you lead.

Finally, how is your own walk with God?  If it’s lousy, then your effectiveness as a leader often wanes because what your claiming to celebrate is actually elusive to you.

    “These people say they are mine.
   They honor me with their lips,
      but their hearts are far from me.” – Isaiah 29:13

We must begin leading in our own lives by leading ourselves into the act of worship.  If we do not make time  – on our own – to worship and pray and read the word of God, then we not only are suffering spiritually, but we are also denying ourselves the power that drives worship.

And anything less than worship is merely singing.

Timeless…

Posted: November 5, 2008 in Crosspoint, Music, Perspective, Worship

These words were written in 1865, and appeared in hymnals in 1868.  We’re doing it this Sunday (2008).

I hear the Savior say
Thy strength indeed is small
Child of weakness….watch and pray
Find in me….thine all in all

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin hath left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

Lord, now indeed I find
Thy power and Thine alone
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone

For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calvary’s Lamb

And when before thy throne
I stand in Him complete
Jesus died my soul to save
My lips shall still repeat

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin hath left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

As a worship leader in a contemporary church, I find that I have to take deliberate caution when moving forward with “new” music in a way that does not neglect the past.  If we merely write off all that has come before us as “ancient” or “out-dated,” we risk refusing to acknowledge the inspiration God visited upon artists and poets of times past.

Though the language is more “King James” than is commonly spoken today, the truth of these words is timeless.  Jesus DID pay it all.  All to him I owe.  Sin left on me a blood-soaked stain that only Jesus could wash away.

I heard an arrangement of this song by Kristian Stanfill this week, and I was deeply moved.  Sunday, I hope God stirs in you the same way he stirred in me when I listened to these words penned over 140 years ago.

Sunday Songset

Posted: November 3, 2008 in Crosspoint, Worship
  1. Awesome is the Lord Most High – Chris Tomlin (Passion, Everything Glorious CD)
  2. We Won’t Be Quiet – David Crowder Band (Remedy CD)
  3. Yearn – Shane and Shane (Pages CD)
  4. Jesus Messiah – Chris Tomlin (off new “Hello Love” CD)
  • After the adrenaline rush that IS Sunday for me, I feel wiped out today.
  • On top of that, I’ve come down with the “itis.”  My throat hurts pretty bad.  I can barely talk, and it hurts when I do.
  • Both my kids are home with fevers, too.
  • Stacey still has an incredible pain in her right arm due to a portuding disk in her neck.  But she still had to go to work today.
  • Yes…we have lots of reasons to be miserable today, but we’re not.  God is good.  Yesterday was awesome.  And the best is still to come.
  • Though much has been said about the live goat illustration in church yesterday, that was not the highlight of the service.  Jesus was.  There were just moments in the program where you could definitely tell he was moving in the lives of people.
  • Read that Gary Lamb (pastor of Revolution in Canton, GA, and friend of Dave’s) almost got arrested yesterday because the music at their youth service was too loud and the neighbors were complaining.  Why can’t cool stuff like that happen to Dave?  No, he has to blow out a colon or something and have a near-death experience.  Heh.
  • Still have a lot to do this week – both for church and for my yard – so I hope this “-itis” isn’t a major thing.

The goat ate it

Posted: November 2, 2008 in Church, Happenings, Worship

Seriously, a goat DID eat Tony’s (our guitarist) music this morning.  Here’s the proof:

Hungry?

Hungry?

Yes, that’s Tony’s chord chart to “We Won’t Be Quiet,” by David Crowder, in the goat’s mouth. 

The goat, which was simply there as an illustration as Dave discussed the books of the Law in the Old Testament, munched on the music after we had rehearsed and were waiting on the start of the service.  Then it pooped on the stage – FORTUNATELY, not on the POD XTlive which was a mere 2 feet away, or anything else electronic and would actually want to keep.

But the best part was having to tell Tony what had happened, since he was unaware that there would be a goat involved in the service.  I say, “Tony…a goat just ate your chord chart.”  He just stares at me, thinking I’m kidding, until… he sees the goat, and he’s all, “What?  How?  Where?”  The look on his face was truly priceless.  Only at Crosspoint would a goat be there to eat sheet music right before the service.  Tony’s disbelief was truly funny.

Fortunately, Tony is a talented guitarist, and he was able to play through the 3-chord song without missing a beat (or any notes!).

Church-speak

Posted: September 23, 2008 in Music, Perspective, Worship

Church language is amazing.  I can think of few other places on earth where people gather on a weekly basis to sing/speak words and phrase that NO ONE UNDERSTANDS.  Okay, maybe some people do.  Still, I think it is a dangerous thing to assume that people understand our Christian-speak.

This past Sunday, we sang the song “Hosanna.”  Now, I grew up in church.  I was involved in countless youth ministries and college ministries.  I even went to seminary.  But Sunday, as I first spoke this word, my mind went blank.  I’m thinking, “What the heck does this even mean?”  At the end of the service (when Dave was praying), Dave implied that it meant “God in the highest,” but even he confessed that he was just guessing.  He also said that is a reason he has disliked this song in the past because it has a “churchy” word which most people simply do not understand in 2008.

Think about all the things that we, as church people, say.  In the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” there are lots of confusing phrases (as if “Thou” and “Fount” in the title already weren’t headscratchers to the unitiated).  There’s the line, “let angels prostrate fall.”  Okay, prostrate is a posture of being on one’s knees.  But do people use the word “prostrate” in talking today?  “Hey, I’m prostrate looking for something under my bed.”  Hmmm… Doesn’t quite fit.  Sadly, the closest sounding word used much more commonly today is “prostate.”  I think as a kid, I was shocked by this phrase.  Angels…dropping…prostates…Huh????

Then there’s the line, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer.”  Raise…what?  The only Ebenezer I know is that creepy guy in “A Christmas Carol.”

But my favorite hymn of all time was Hymn #20 in the old hymnals they had in the church were I grew up:  “God of Earth and Outer Space.”  I kid you not…there’s a line in that hymn that says, “Bless the astronauts who fly in their rockets across the sky.”  Oh, man, that is just FUNNY!  Worse even, there was another space-related hymn that referred to stars and planets as flaming balls or something…  I have to say – “hymn request night” on Sunday evenings was riotously funny when some of the youth would raise their hands recommending these things (Oh, not me…never… 😉 ).

If I haven’t stepped on your toes yet, I probably will now.  The King James Bible – great, eloquent translation.  I love it for reading the Psalms.  But some of what it says just makes you laugh…unintentionally.  1 Kings 21:21:  “I will cut off him from Ahab, he who pisseth against the wall.”  First, the passage actually uses the word “pisseth.”  That’s just funny (in an “I’m being childish” sort of way) – especially when as a youth leader I’d get sleepy teenagers to read this verse out loud first thing in the morning on retreats.  They’d read, get to that word, and just stop.  They’d have this look on their face that communicated, “Can I read that word out loud???”  Second, what does that passage mean???  Why is God going to cut off from Ahab people who urinate on walls?

Even our language with one another changes when we’re at church.  We start calling everyone “brother.”  We say “Amen” when we hear something we agree with.  (Think, do you say “Amen” when a politician speaks?  Do you say “Amen” when your favorite football team scores?  No, only at church…).  Dave pointed out a few weeks ago that even when we pray, we suddenly become King James English pros.

***

Okay, I laugh at this stuff.  I must admit that.  But let me be clear.  I do not laugh at the meaning behind this stuff AT ALL.  Angels being on their knees before God is a powerful image.  I know an Ebenezer is a type of altar.  I know that in 1969 singing about astronauts was probably “cutting edge” in its own way (I guess).  I know that the imagery of people urinating on walls paints a picture of people who were deep in sin and drunkenness.  I know that the way we sometimes talk at church, to some degree, elevates the church experience beyond the everyday.  I even know (now) that Hosanna is cry of praise to Jesus.

But many of the people we want to reach do not know these things.  To them, it’s alien.  It’s strange.  Because – good or bad – people do not talk this way anymore.  Ony us.  And being as blunt as I can, if we use these phrases – without taking the time to pause and explain them – people might not “get it.”

We have a rich heritage of music and language we can revere and draw upon in reaching people where it works and can be explained.  We’d be foolish to ignore the contributions of the past.  So we will continue to sing songs like “Hosanna,” but only after pausing long enough to teach people what it means.  Heck, we have sung “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” at Crosspoint – but only after we took the time to dive into the depth and meaning of the song.

My thinking in all of this is that Jesus didn’t speak in religious language to the Gentiles of the non-religious.  He spoke in parables.  He told stories about planting seeds and shepherding.  He spoke in the language of the people, using examples/stories they understood.

And I believe Jesus just might be a good example to follow.  Don’t you?