Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When is disliking not really disliking?

Sometimes we are encouraged by friends in ways that surprise us. In past postings I have shared about my morning coffee days with my two very traditional friends. These two are very much into the traditional music scene in the Methodist church: choirs, robes, organs, the works. One of these friends will attend a contemporary worship service when the chance arises, but the other generally would not. He makes no bones about this: "I just don't like the music!" Given that I have been intimately involved with that music at that church for most of the last decade, I very much appreciated his honesty, if not his taste in music.

So, the other day, I heard that he had changed his position. He now liked praise music. He still didn't want to listen to it, but he liked it.


Well, it turns out he had a discussion with a mutual friend at church, a wonderful 60-something grandmother. He found out several things: first, that she really liked the music. Not a surprise there, since she had been attending the contemporary service for years. More importantly, she explained how the music facilitated and encouraged her worship. This is what struck my traditional friend. The last thing he thinks about while experiencing contemporary Christian music is enjoyment, much less worship. So this was quite a revelation.

So now we have a convert. Someone who values praise music as highly as traditional music. Values, but not enjoys. I love that! How many of us can claim to accept things in our lives that really get on our nerves, but we know are important to others. How much love for our fellow Christians that shows!

Can you name anything in this category? Specific examples?

I'd like to think of myself as tolerant and accepting, but there are definitely things that bug me. For me, when there is song playing behind the spoken pastoral prayer, I have a hard time focusing on the prayer. I've been told by others that such songs really help. I'm sure there are aspects of the worship service that don't do anything for me, yet I know are important to others. It's hard to just ignore things but I believe it is important and a very fundamental part of "Do unto others." I hope you agree.


Thursday, November 5, 2009


Literally, bibliolatry is the worship of a book. There a short but interesting Wikipedia article available. It touches on the bits related specifically to Christianity, where one worships the Holy Bible as opposed the the Holy One. I've witnessed the process of Bible study and Bible inerrancy leading to Bibliolatry. (I'll use upper case Bibliolatry to indicate the specific worship of the Christian Bible.) How does this happen? What would Jesus think about it?

So, this is a tricky road to walk. Yes, we want to fall back on the Bible as a guide and blueprint for this earthly life. But, strong the temptation is to quote scripture instead of prayer to consult the one who inspired the scripture. After all, much of the Bible requires interpretation. Putting things in historical context is one great service that trained pastors and teachers can do for the rest of us. Without this background and context, the road to Bibliolatry gets more slippery. This is when we risk quoting things, and potentially modifying our behavior in ways that the scripture was simply never intended. Nothing is worse than thinking you are on the path to salvation when Jesus just watches and shakes his head in sadness.

Can we spend too much time in the Bible? The obvious answer is no, but then to what level do we exclude other Biblically-mandated activities such as prayer and fellowship? Can we not learn as much about God from these activities as we can by academically studying the scripture?

I don't have the answer, but I am frequently frustrated. It is hard to hear very knowledgeable folks - with literal knowledge of Bible contents - quote scripture without even considering the meaning, or the specific application at hand. Even the Truth, when misapplied, does no service to the King.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

On With the Show

So at yesterday's coffee ** we got onto the topic of worship and leading worship. All three of us have spent plenty of time on the platform making music for various congregations. Their experience has been primarily in a traditional setting as choir members working for very classically-minded choir directors. You may have figured out I'm mostly into rock and roll church. The discussion was in principle a simple one: should those leading worship necessarily be worshiping?

Now, anyone who has ever done anything like this knows that some days you are just distracted, but I'm not talking about your bad days, I want to focus on the best case, when circumstances are ideal.

The conclusion from my traditional friends was that they virtually never worship during their musical presentation. They are too concerned with any number of things, such as the complexity of the piece (will they hit that difficult note in the 27th measure?) or their appearance (is their robe on straight?). Believe me, I wish I was making these up. But that sounds like a put-down, which it is not my goal. These are real, honest revelations of what goes on in their heads on Sunday morning.

All worship leaders (including those leading via music, speaking, or prayer) balance the need to be connected with God, to appear to be connected with God, and to facilitate the connection of others to God. My choir friends weight these in reverse order: the facilitation is most important, followed by the appearance. Actual personal connection is not on their radar Sunday morning. (To be fair, they will describe times of real worship, but they are not in the corporate setting Sundays.)

I guess I just don't see it that way, but maybe there are folks in the pews who need this. Since we can't read others' thoughts and hearts, I can't say what's really going on. Still it is difficult to hear words like "I couldn't worship this morning because they forgot to move that speaker to the side." Again, I wish I was making this up. Are the connections between people and God so tenuous that something so trivial (to me anyway) can interrupt the divine praise that is genuine worship? Or is there ever real corporate worship going on for these folks?

I have a lot more thinking to do on this one.


** you might have read past posts about morning coffee conversations. While most posts have related conversations with my very progressive pastor friend, this coffee was with two good friends who are from a church point of view very traditional.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Worship vs Outreach

Along the lines of the previous post, I do have a bunch of songs written, and up until now most of these have been worship songs. Lately I have been learning the difference, and more importantly, the value of the outreach song. Consider these two snippets of popular Christian songs:

  • "I Love You Lord, and I lift my voice, to worship you, oh my soul rejoice" (I Love You Lord)
  • "Everyone needs compassion, a love that's never failing" (Mighty to Save)
For a non-believer, which is more likely to get you to stick around and hear the whole song? It's not hard if you can put yourself in their shoes. Which is really where outreach has to start and end. If you aren't meeting the people where they are, physically and emotionally, how are you going to get them to pay any attention to you?

Now don't go thinking I want to sell the message of the outreach songs short here. There's no reason that the lyrics can't have a Christian message and retain the attention of a non-believer. In a recent Rob Bell message he described the philosophy of the Jewish story teller, where it was often their goal to embed multiple stories and themes within a single piece. This was done by careful and clever use of language and metaphor.

Please remember, I'm talking about outreach events here, like secular coffee shops and other public events not at a church building. There will always be a place for worship songs singing praise and love for God. Furthermore, there are outreach songs that are simply inappropriate for a worship setting, although that is less common than the other way around.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Statements from the Heart

Over the years, I have been blessed with with a handful of songs. At least a few of which people other than me have said they like. I guess I'd have to say I wrote them, but it is actually a little more surreal than that. Most of the time they just come out of me. Melody, verse, everything. I have been to some song writing seminars (at CMS and KingdomBound, among others) and the lessons sound like this: don't be disappointed with a good verse without a chorus; don't refuse to edit songs; keep all the fragments around, they might fit together someday; etc.

This advice has come from the top of the heap in Christian song writing circles, such as Paul Baloche. It turns out this is really very hard for me. When I get the whole song at one time as a unified chunk, it doesn't feel right to break it up. On the less frequent occasion that I do sit down and work hard to put lyrics together for a specific thought or message, I can do some erasing. More often, since I see these as gifts from God, I have this irrational need to leave them untouched. If they aren't suitable for recording, or even sharing with others, then so be it. I always learn something from every one of my songs.

It sounds strange, but there are several that have been around for years and no one, not even wifey, has heard them but me and God. It's not that I don't want to share, it's more like they are just personal statements that me and God share. Sometimes after months these surface into public view, sometimes they never do.

That's all for today. Shalom.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Kingdom Bound 09

One mid-summer highlight for the last several years has been Kingdom Bound. This is a large festival of Christian music at Darien Lake, an amusement park western New York. There are tons of bands of all sorts, workshops, great fellowship, and of course, roller coasters. Now that the kids are old enough to send into the park unattended, wifey and I get some time to choose our own activities for the week. Not a surprise that sometimes our musical interests differ from the 13 year old's.

So, we're off there for a few days. Stop by and get say hello.


Friday, July 31, 2009

Coffee Conversations

A couple mornings a week I get together for coffee with friends. We rarely plan an agenda of topics, and yet the 60-90 minutes always seems to fly by without pause. Often these conversations wind around to church, since in one way or another this set of friends are connected by faith. Today we ended up discussing some hard questions, and what people's reasonable reactions to those hard questions should be.

I have experienced an unfortunate response from folks in church leadership to tough questions: silence. I don't mean they beat around the bush and never get to actually answering the question. I mean no response whatsoever. Silence. Now, there are a few situation for which this is reasonable. "When did you stop beating your wife?" comes to mind. We zeroed in one this: "To what extent should a pastor bow to the wishes of big donors?"

OK, admit it: all of you have considered this before. Of course, the initial answer is something along the lines of "it depends." Ouch. Well, at least it is not silence. As is often the case, the first steps towards reconciling this issue is a discussion. I have a simple, and some would say naive, answer: remove the connection between the church budget and the pastor's salary. Or better yet, have pastors that do not draw a salary at all. I could go on all day about this one. When you start with the premise of a fully paid pastoral staff, and the goal being to foster Christian community in and out of the church walls, the pastoral salary assumption can quickly get you to places that will never continue on to Christian community. This is especially true when moving outside the walls, but still true even when we stay home.

You see, when we pay money, we have this expectation of getting something in return. I recognize this is not Christian giving, but a very earthly approach. Yet what can you say when folks withhold tithes (sometimes publicly) on the grounds that they disagree with some particular pastoral decision or leadership policy? If there was no connection between the tithing and the pastor, folks would not expect there to to have that particular type of control.

I guess it all comes down to this: is there any pastor who has the guts to say "no thanks" to the money that comes with strings attached? Even at the risk of their own livelihood? Not that I blame a pastor for this, yet this is their chosen field (God appointed field, most are quick to remind me) but they will often not have the faith to stick to their beliefs when pressed between Jesus and a car payment.

Next week's question for parishioners: what if you had to choose between Jesus and your local church?


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Revisiting Cussing...

OK, I have some more thoughts on cussing in church. Since the last post on the topic, I've had a few conversations with Tracy and others on this. The clarification I need to make is about being offensive. That was not the right word. Every preacher knows you can't talk on any subject for 30 minutes and not offend someone. So offending people by cussing is not really the issue.

What is the issue? Glad you asked. It comes down to what image you project, and what image is received. I can't say I never utter four letter words, but it is rare, and always in an appropriate context and setting. When I talk to someone who cannot get through a single sentence without an f-bomb, all I can think of is that this person is either really lazy or just plain ignorant. Too lazy to think of a reasonable English word, so they just toss in the universal noun, adjective, adverb, whatever, thinking they communicated. Or ignorant, because they don't seem to understand the message that our language choices send about ourselves.

In either case, is this really the message that we want people to receive? Not me. Now I know, some of you will say that you don't feel this way about folks who cuss all the time, or even for those who cuss some of the time. OK, but I refuse to believe that my opinion here is unique. I'd rather err on the side of civility and let them learn who I am by all the words I say rather than the chosen few of the four-letter variety.

Here's another take on the matter.

That's it for now. This is probably not dead yet.


Another outdoor festival

Last week was the second outdoor music festival, this time in North Syracuse. Given the long drive, and the fact that I was in charge of stage wiring, I spent the whole day there. A very good day indeed. The reports are just trickling in now, but the message was delivered, lives were touched, and hearts were changed.

Perhaps the best part of the day was when Light Blue, the final band, finished their sound check. First, some background. Light Blue warned us that whenever they play out it rains. At the last outdoor jam, they actually lost some of their equipment to water damage. No last week, weather.com called for rain, but we were spared for the whole day. Big puffy clouds, blue sky, and lots of sun. Until Light Blue started their first song. Even with white clouds and blue sky, the rain came down for just a minute or two. It was just a little joke between God and the band, but it was very funny.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Heading out into the world

So, tomorrow is my debut in world the outdoor Christian music festivals. At least from the sensitive end of the microphone. BAC2U will be one of eight bands playing at the Village Square Park in Lyons (NY). There is a short Craiglist posting with more details.

So, if you are the praying type, here's an opportunity. If you stumble here after June 20, don't worry, we are doing this every month until September, so whenever you are here, the prayer will be great. The further out into the world you get, the more opposition you will face. That's what I need your prayer for.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cussin' in Church

So, one of the things we pride ourselves on at 168 is authenticity. So where do you go when authenticity is also offensive, at least to some? I've been thinking about this for a while, but as usual someone beat me to the punch. The gang over at Out of Ur posted a blog entry thing morning: Preach Dirty to Me. I have a similar conundrum, in that Pastor Tracy has a tendency to occasionally use language I would not normally hear in my living room.

I'm trying really hard to not place a double standard here, in that I don't want to say that church has a higher threshold of acceptability than any place else for me. I mean, if cussin' is wrong, then it is wrong, right?

So I don't know where to head. I like the idea of Tracy being who he is. And that person, the one who preaches every week in my church, will sometimes use language that I don't. I want him to be authentic, and be who he is, but apparently on my terms.

If you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them. Talking to Tracy is not out of the question, and I will be doing that soon. Yet, I don't want to approach this as a demand, since I truly value the authenticity, in him and in me. Oh well.


Sunday, May 31, 2009

Godly enough...

So, today is Pentecost. At 168 we heard about some history behind the day, in particular the connection between Acts 2 and the Exodus 19 story when the Jews were on Mount Sinai after the escape from Egypt. Much of this came from Rob Bell's message of May 10. (If that link is stale, start here.) The Exodus story has a lot of similarities to Acts 2: fire, wind, and more. There is actually an even stronger connection than the similar events, in that Pentecost is actually celebrated on the same day as the Jewish holiday called Shavuot or the Festival of the Giving of the Torah. When did that holiday start? Yup, on the foot of Mout Sinai the day the winds came. The "Pente" (five) came from the fact that the trip from Egypt to Sinai took 49 days, and Shavuot was therefore the 50th day.

So, back to 168. At the end of the message/discussion, Tracy set out some bread, partly for communion elements, and partly because the celebration of Shavuot is tied to the beginning of the Jewish summer wheat season. There was also some juice to complete the elements. We put on a video of Revelation Song, by Kari Jobe. The idea was that we would get up and take communion when we felt so moved. What kind of spontaneously happened was folks started serving communion to each other. Very powerful stuff. We were pretty much all done as the song came to its dénouement. We've all had more and less meaningful communions in our times. This was most definitely a Good One.

Once that was completed, Steve lead us in In the Secret. And then I spontaneously played Meet With Me. I don't know why it didn't hit me Friday when I was putting the music together, but Meet With Me is about perfect for Pentecost. New and Old Testament connections, it's all there.

So, what about Godly enough...

That came about because this was another week when I ask Steve to play a song and it was already on his list of things to play. His email response started out "Oddly enough I already pulled that one." My response was "No, it was Godly enough." It is alway great to have confirmation that the song is the correct one for Him to hear.

That's all. I hope you have a Blessed Week. Shalom.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Coincident Paths

Last night wifey and I went out with another couple for a few hours without children. A rare opportunity for both families to find good alternatives simultaneously. We went to a nearby pub, mostly populated by much younger folks, and had some beer and bar food. We know these folks quite well, which means we can often have meaningful conversations without the risk of offense. Good thing, since I am not always known for social graces in lieu of honesty.

The conversation wandered through recent kids' sports activities, and ended up, as it often does, discussing theology and church. Specifically the acceptance of practicing homosexuals into the church body. It was interesting because one of those at the table took a very traditional approach, along the lines of "love the sinner hate the sin" although without actually using that tired - and nearly meaningless - cliche. Underneath though, there was the implication that this person was less than comfortable with the local church openly welcoming practicing homosexuals.** The idea, I think, was that by accepting these folks, loving these folks, we put an explicit stamp of approval on their behavior.

I'll admit, I'm not debating the correctness (or sinfulness) of homosexuality here. What I am hoping to point out is that until we can openly love everyone, openly accept everyone, we don't need to worry about what to do with them. What we are commanded to do is love our neighbors. If you really believe homosexuality is a sin, then what better way to convince a homosexual of this than to bring them to Christ, and let the Holy Spirit do the work? Leaving them outside until they change themselves is simply not an option.

In a recent Leadership Journal, John Ortberg wrote a great piece titled "The Sin Tamer." Here's a snippet:

The problem with what might be called the "victorious Christian living" mindset is not that it takes sin too seriously. The problem is it inevitably becomes selective about which sins God hates the most, and they always end up being somebody else's sin.
That quote kind of says it all. Unless you are going to preach against gluttony or sloth and reject the participation of overweight or lazy people, they why the major focus on homosexuality? I can imagine some reasons, for one, it's easy. (The same reason why we in New York continue to increase taxes on tobacco and alcohol. Who's going to argue?) We all know that we are not to judge, but this in practice is extremely difficult. Ditto for loving others, especially those unlike ourselves.

So, what's up with the title? My point on Coincident Paths is that regardless of what you or your church believes regarding homosexuality, we have many, many, struggles to overcome together before we need to nitpick about how bad a sin it is, or if it is a choice, or how fast they'll catch fire in hell. Wait until you can turn to the gay person in the pew next to you, look them in the eye and say "I love you." When together we get there, I think we will all find that the options and possibilities open to us will be quite different. Quite different indeed.

That's all for today. I could probably go on for hours, but the sun is shining.


** I keep saying "practicing homosexuals" because even most conservative sects have generally accepted the membership, and in some cases the leadership, of openly gay people committed to celibacy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hit the Road, Jack?

Everyone faces changes in life, including moving to a new church. So, how do you know when it is time to say goodbye? I can imagine a few indicators that may or may not work for you:

  1. You feel that your skills are not needed anymore. Maybe there are adequate replacements, or maybe you are just not being asked to help out in ways that you were before. In either case, perhaps there are other places where you can apply yourself productively.
  2. You feel your help is not as needed as in the past. Times change, and so does the utility of any given person within any given organization. Maybe the organization has evolved in ways that no longer suit what you successfully did before.
  3. Maybe your skills are no longer up to standards. Have you let yourself drift away, perhaps focusing on other things, and now what used to be easy is not so easy?
  4. What if you just know that God is calling you elsewhere? You can argue all you want, and all that does is cause real stress. And in the end He will win anyway.
There are different options for approaching each of the above. For #1 and #2, you can either stay in the organization and do something else, of find somewhere else to do your thing. For #3, you have some soul searching to do. Why did you let your skills deteriorate? Is something else more important now? Assuming you have developed other ways to have an impact, does your organization need this new you?

#4 is the tough one. What are you going to do?

Last, I guess you can just suck it up and hang around anyways. Assuming you're not fighting God on this one. We all go through phases of life, friends come and go, as do interests and abilities. To face these inevitable life changes is hard enough, to throw your life into an uproar every time can make things very difficult.

So after typing this, I'm back where I started. THanks for visiting.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

168, Church, and The Chapel

Well, again I've been away for a while. Things have been going well on Sundays at the 168 celebration times. Steve and I have been playing a tag-team with music since we are having such a hard time getting together for practice times. So far though it has been working. We have somewhat different styles, nothing better or worse here, just different. So, the practice thing will be really required before we can play together to any great degree of cohesiveness.

The rest of life is busy and sometimes confusing. I still have a foot in two churches, which is fine by me, but some folks still have a problem with it. I mean, if I or my family have to do certain activities elsewhere because they are simply not offered at a church, it wouldn't seem to be an issue, right? Apparently, wrong. Hence, I straddle organizations.

On a more positive note, the 168 music team went to the Christian Musician's Summit May 14 & 15 at The Chapel at Crosspoint. What an amazing experience, with amazing people, in an amazing facility. If you are involved in a modern worship team at any level (team leader, instrumentalist, vocalist, audio engineer, song writer) you will benefit from this conference. Lots of small breakout sessions where you get to pick the brains of experts in each respective field. Did I mention it was amazing? I sat in a room for about 90 minutes with 25 other folks asking Paul Baloche questions about song writing. Where are you going from there? And there are plenty of opportunities for plain old worship (with 1000 of your closest friends, lead by Paul Baloche & band every morning for an hour) or others worship leaders in the afternoon. And Friday closed with about two hours of Lincoln Brewster.

I'm still trying to process all the information.

That's all for now. Back to work.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Live 168 week 2

So, Live168 met at the new facility for the second time last Sunday. Patty and I had some time to rehearse during the week. Steve opened the service with "Glorified" and "Breathe" and I played along. After that Patty and I lead "Great is Your Love" and "Prepare the Way." These were very well received. It was more amazing than I ever imagined.

Tracy's message was continuing through Malachi, this week on 2:17-3:5. "That's not fair!" seemed to be the words of the day. Tracy lead us through an impromptu skit based on the parable of the workers in the field, when they all got paid the same amount even though some worked less than a full day. (That's not fair!) In the middle of the message Patty and I lead "Refiner's Fire." Also very well received.

After the message Steve lead "Built for Glory Made to Last" which is a very cool song, and right on message for the day.

I am so looking forward to growing into this position, and giving all I have for the group, and His glory! It is so humbling and frightening and fascinating and challenging and all kinds of other thoughts and emotions I cannot begin to type.