Behind the Album (Part 1: Planning and People-Pleasing)

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On September 14th, our church is releasing a live hymns album called This is Our Story: Hymns of Our Faith. It’s been in the works for over a year, and between now and the release I’d like to share a series of posts on what God has been teaching me throughout the process of this project.

There were three basic phases to the project:

1) Planning and Preparation (July 2013 – January 2014)

2) Recording (March – April 2014)

3) Post-Production (April – September 2014)

This post will cover the first phase and two subsequent posts will cover the others.

Last summer I felt that God made it very clear to me to do this project with our entire team – about twenty people. Even though I heard this word from Him in July, I didn’t meet with my team to cast the vision for the project until November. Mostly, this was because I was worried about what they would think. Would they buy into the vision? Could we really pull this off? Will people be upset if they are on it less than others?

There was no way for me to please everyone. Yet, I had to move forward because I knew this would be good for our team, our congregation, and the Refuge of Hope (where all the profits from the album are going – click here for more info).

The primary thing I learned in the planning phase was that I’m a people-pleaser, and that I wasn’t going to be able to stay in that mode if this project was ever going to be finished. Someone was going to have to make some decisions along the way. Galatians 1:10 says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

While I tried my best to be conscious of others throughout the entire project, God made it clear from the get-go that I needed to do this project for Him first, and others second.

In hindsight, I’m so grateful for Him teaching me through this project; I really feel like I moved closer to being a servant of Christ above a servant of people.

In the end, my team and congregation were completely behind the project from the beginning. They were cooperative and selfless and immediately after casting the vision for it, I felt less alone and a sense that we could do this as a body. It’s as if God was saying, “See? Trust me and walk in faith.”

In what areas of your life is God asking you to trust Him, regardless of what others may think?

A New Golf Bag (And Why It’s Not a Major Brand)

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As I sat in church this Sunday, I was convicted. One of our pastors was preaching on Philippians 3 where Paul talks about how he could have put confidence in his flesh, but instead chose to consider those things “rubbish” in order to gain Christ.

What God was convicting me of was rather silly and insignificant – or was it?

My 14 year old golf bag recently bit the dust, and as I did some research in order to purchase  a new one I noticed that one of the off-brand bags was constructed quite well;  it was also 50% cheaper than the bags that display all the cool golf brands I love on the side of them.

I was sitting there in church thinking, “I can’t spend twice as much on a bag just because of the name on it. Do I really care that much about what others think of me? That extra money could be used for better things and I really need to die to my pride on this one.”

So, yesterday I did it. I bought a bag that was about 50% less (or more!) than the ones I would have chosen in my flesh. And it felt great.

Choosing a golf bag may seem insignificant, but in this case it wasn’t. God wanted me to let go of something that my flesh wanted to hold onto. Galatians 1:10 says, “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

My decision making can too often be motivated by what others think. And typically, those motivators are things that Jesus wants me to consider “rubbish” so that I can gain Him. It’s really an obedience issue.

While there is a time to buy the name brand item or rely on a certain skill, there are also times when God tells us to let go of our “confidence in the flesh.”

As we walk through this life and are faced with all sorts of decisions, both small and large, the old hymn rings true:

“Trust and obey / for there’s no other way / to be happy in Jesus / but to trust and obey.”

 

 

Communication = Dialogue, Not Monologue

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I’ve been convicted as of late that I’ve not been listening to others very well. First, it popped up in the book of James as I was reading a couple of weeks ago: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19). Wow. That statement is like an arrow that pierced my heart. Especially when I realized that I’ve been quicker to speak than listen recently.

Then,  about a week later I was reading a book on parenting and the author said this:

“When children are little, we often fail to engage them in significant conversation. When they try to engage us, we respond with uninterested “uh huh’s.” Eventually, they learn the ropes” (Tedd Tripp – Shepherding a Child’s Heart). Again, wow. Another arrow.

In that moment I realized that I desperately want to listen to my son better. I want to know what he’s thinking and feeling (and I want to establish this now so that as he grows, he desires to come to me knowing he’ll be heard by his father).

And then I thought, man, I really want to know what my wife is thinking and feeling. And my family and friends. And my worship team. And my church.

But am I listening to them?

I think, and often by accident, I get so excited when I’m with others that I just can’t wait to share with them what’s going on in my life. While that can be a good thing, recently I fear it has led to me being quicker to speak than listen.

I’ve been praying that God will help me to slow down in the moment, swallow my pride that desires to be heard, and truly listen to those God has placed me in community with.

I’m not sure whether it’s true that God gave us two ears and one mouth so we’d listen more than we speak, but I sure am aware that it’s easier to use my mouth than my ears.

Let’s ask God to help us be better listeners. Maybe, one conversation at a time, we can start to get outside of ourselves a little more often and make the world a better place.

Balancing Heart and Mind in Corporate Worship

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When we gather together as a body to worship God, both our heart and mind should be engaged. Paul would agree:

“So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind” (1 Cor. 14:15 – NIV84).

In this passage, Paul is trying to get across to the church in Corinth that worship ought to be orderly. His long conversation on tongues is largely a result of this desire. Just prior to the above verse, Paul says that interpretation of tongues is important because if one prays in a tongue, his “spirit” prays, but his “mind” is unfruitful.

His whole desire is for both parts to be engaged. When we are singing together corporately, Paul would expect us to sing with our whole “spirit” – this may include responding with some emotion because we love Jesus so much – including raising a hand, shouting, kneeling, crying, etc.

At the same time, I think Paul would say that as we sing with our whole heart or “spirit,” the mind should not disengage. This could lead to chaos in worship which is what Paul is trying to put an end to.

Thus, while singing with our “spirit,” we also sing with our “mind.” We think about the words we are singing, and respond to them with our whole heart. We don’t simply go on autopilot – this would lead to a fruitful “spirit” but an unfruitful “mind” as Paul discusses above. Yet, singing with just our “mind” and never letting our “spirit” respond is also an extreme that Paul wants to avoid.

There’s a couple of things we as worshippers and worship leaders can put into practice as a result of this passage:

  1. Song Selection that allows for a balance of both “spirit” and “mind.” Singing songs like “Forever Reign” that encourage us to run into the arms of our Father are great for singing with our “spirit.” It’s a theologically true song, yet allows for an emotional response as we are filled with joy thinking about God’s open arms towards us as wayward children. On the other hand, songs like “In Christ Alone” that are filled with straight up theology are great for engaging the mind.*
  2. Teaching and modeling this balance to your congregation. Both things should be happening simultaneously in every song you sing. Some folks are wired more as “feelers” while others are wired more as “thinkers.” Both are good and we need both in the body. Encourage the “feelers” to engage their mind when they sing and vice-versa. A mature believer will learn to exercise the area that they are not natural in. Since part of our goal is to help the body mature, we need to teach them to sing with both their “spirit” and their “mind” just as Paul did.

I hope that looking into this passage gives you freedom – from the extreme of pure emotionalism and the extreme of lifeless truth.

Let both your heart and mind be engaged in worship and teach your congregation this as well.

 

 

*Keep in mind that both things should be happening in every song we sing – don’t try to separate them in every song you pick – the song selection idea is an example to make you think about different types of songs. All in all, both spirit and mind should be engaged in every song.

A Simple Faith

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I’ve been reminded recently that when it comes to my relationship with Jesus, it’s best to keep it simple. Let me explain.

I can easily over-think things in life (and I’m guessing I’m not the only one), including in my relationship with God. While God speaks to us in a variety of ways, sometimes we can overcomplicate things as we set out to connect with Him.

Lately, God has been revealing Himself to me, and here’s all I’ve been doing:

  • I open up my Bible and ask God to speak to me through His word
  • I read the passage, underlining or highlighting whatever jumps out to me
  • I look back over what I’ve underlined and pray about whatever is on my heart in relation to that phrase or verse (sometimes it’s an attitude or behavior that God is wanting to change in me, sometimes it’s a word of comfort, sometimes it’s a word for someone else – in which case I’ll send the verse to them as soon as I can)

The primary way He speaks to us today is still through His word. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to understand it; the Holy Spirit will speak to you through God’s word.

If you’re struggling in your prayer life or desiring to be closer to God, try reading through a book of the Bible one chapter at a time (one chapter each day). Ask God to speak to you through it. The word is living and active – it will feed you, encourage you, shape you, and teach you exactly what you need.

Seek God with your whole heart.

Keep it simple.

Pray in faith.

Read.

Live in light of the living and active word in you.

A simple faith.

Help! We Don’t Have a Guitar Player

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Worship is our response to God for all that He is.

It’s not just singing; ultimately, as Romans tells us, it’s a lifestyle. In worship, we obey God, adore Him, confess our sins to Him, sit silently in awe of Him, express our thanks to Him, and so on. In fact, in the Old Testament, the most common word for worship is shachah, which literally means “to lie prostrate” before God. When the people of the Bible encountered God, they were typically so filled with fear and awe that all they could do was bow before Him in worship.

Our culture has made worship into singing songs of praise along with a U2-sounding rock band with great lights behind them. While I love this style of worship and there’s nothing wrong with it, there’s more to worship than just this.

Thus, I’ve compiled a packet of 50 ideas through which your missional community* can come into God’s presence (click here to download it, and it will also be permanently stored on my resources page).

My goal in putting this packet together is to provide you with some simple ideas to help your community cultivate a healthy worshipping life out where you live, work, and have friends. Healthy roots lead to healthy fruits; coming into God’s presence on a regular basis helps fuel and sustain the mission to which your community is called.

I realize that not every community will have a musician, so most of these ideas are geared toward coming into God’s presence without music.

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that these are just ideas. They weren’t all written to be taken literally—please tweak them and adjust them to fit your context. Feel free to add to, subtract from, and branch off of these ideas. In fact, if you come up with an idea that is sparked from this packet (or create a new one entirely), please let me know so I can keep adding to the list (many folks contributed to this packet, I’ve just compiled it)—I’d like to increase the number of ideas here!

My prayer is that many people will engage with God as a result of these ideas and that He will receive all the glory and honor.

 

*Please note that these ideas are also great for small groups, student ministries groups, sunday school, etc…they aren’t meant strictly for missional communities.

Affection for Daddy

IMG_0763 This is my son Atticus. He’s about 19 months old. Last week I was in Florida for a couple of days and when I returned I noticed a couple of things right away: 1) The temperature in Ohio was about half that of what it was in Florida, and 2) Atticus had really missed me. He gave me about 25 hugs my first day back (which I totally loved).

I’m not a perfect father, but I do attempt to really be there for my son. Whether he’s playing with his blocks, eating a meal (or throwing it all over the floor), or going to bed, I really try to be present with him. I’m not perfect, but I’m his father.

In the absence of his father, Atticus couldn’t help but show me affection when I returned.

As I reflected on this, I thought, do I show my heavenly father affection like this? Do I long to run up to Him, embrace Him and tell Him I love Him? Unfortunately, sometimes I view my heavenly father more as someone waiting to chastise me as opposed to embrace me.

The small amount of faithfulness I can show to Atticus as his earthly daddy pales in comparison to the faithfulness our heavenly father has shown us. Yet, sometimes we don’t long to show God affection because we feel unworthy and a need to keep our distance.

Yet,  if we have trusted in Him, the Bible tells us we can approach Him with confidence. Our Father is a perfect and loving Father waiting for us to run into His arms and call Him daddy.

I hope to have more affection for Him after this experience, as it has revealed a little more to me about who God truly is.