Top-Down Imitation

My two-year-old son imitates me like crazy. Any silly little sound I make, he will repeat (as you see in this video). But he also imitates when we say “Amen” after praying for our food, or if I raise my voice, he raises his.

Seeing this imitation in him has really made me look into my actions and attitudes as I know I have a deep influence on him.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, the apostle Paul says, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”

Imitation flows from the top down. If I’m not imitating Christ, then who am I encouraging those in my sphere of influence to imitate?

I need to look more like Jesus than the world if I desire for my son and others in my sphere of influence to look like Jesus.

And this then begs the question, who am I imitating?

Lately, I’ve been imitating our new senior pastor because I see Him imitating Jesus. Recently, we were praying before a service we were leading. He had hardly slept the night before because he was caring for his sick kids. Yet, he was filled with joy in the Lord because he knew Jesus could give him the strength and whatever else he didn’t have that day. Where he was weak, Jesus was strong.

That is a man worth imitating because He is imitating Christ.

Who are we imitating and are they imitating Jesus?

Who is imitating us and do we look more like Jesus or the world?

Imitation flows from the top down – let’s make sure Jesus is at the top.

Behind the Album (Part 3: A Culmination of Life Thus Far)

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I sat in a living room with our entire worship team earlier this month for our “listening party.” We had gathered to listen to the album through for the first time as a group. I realized that night that this project is sort of a culmination of my life thus far – a product of growing up and walking daily with Christ. Below are five reflections on this realization:

1. This album began years ago in a small United Methodist Church.

I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home with amazing parents who took me to church every Sunday and encouraged church involvement. It was in this place that I developed a hunger for Jesus, fell in love with music (particularly the hymns we sang often), saw many examples of what walking with Christ for years looked like, and learned how to be apart of a church community. For me, this album began way back in those years as I experienced Christ and His body and the role church music plays in that.

2. This project came out of a relationship with Jesus based on faith and obedience.

I’m a sinner (shocking, I know – just ask my wife and mother!). I was attracted to Jesus at a young age, and throughout my life have had crisis moments where I was left to choose – Jesus, or this other thing? Countless times, I’ve felt Jesus drawing me to choose Him, and as I’ve done that, He has made me more and more like Him. This album is a result of a relationship with Him; I felt Him nudging me to do this project with this group of people at this specific time. During the recording process, my family’s home was broken into and I was faced with a choice of shrinking back and running, or being obedient to stay. Specific lines from this album, such as Jesus being “firm through the fiercest drought and storm” from In Christ Alone, and “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet” from This is My Father’s World, were words I was clinging to in obedience and trust as we were recording this record.

3. It took years of playing music to create this album. 

I’ve been playing music for over twenty years now, and could not have led a team of over twenty musicians through a project like this without that experience. I am proud of how the record sounds – not in an arrogant way, but because I’m grateful to God for the gift of music and ability to express myself in worship through it. I’m also grateful that God has put me around such talented musicians that collaborated on this project for His glory.

4. The leadership skills I had ten years ago would not have been sufficient for this project.

I went straight into vocational ministry right out of college at age 22. I made some stupid, idiotic mistakes. Yet, God (and our leadership!) was patient with me, and I began maturing in how to lead staff and volunteer teams. This project required a team of around 40 staff and volunteers. So many besides me contributed to it. God in His grace has allowed me to grow up in the way I lead; this project is evidence of God maturing me as a leader in His church (although my team will be the first to tell you that it was not without its ups and downs : )

5. A lifetime pursuit of truth was key to the heart of this project.

Walking with Christ, being in the church, and going through college and graduate school for theology has put in me a desire to sing truth. Our songs need to express God’s truth and not just our own ideas. This lifelong journey led me to selecting the hymns on this project. I’m convicted that what we sing ought to edify and teach our church so that we’ll be “mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

In conclusion, as we approached the album release during the third phase of the project, I realized that there were thousands of building blocks leading up to it getting into the hands of others. We need to think about what we can accomplish in ten years, not three months. Our culture wants everything so fast, but sometimes it takes a lifetime of doing something (in my case walking with Christ, writing and playing music, and leading in the church) to produce fruit that will last.

And let’s remember that we can only produce fruit that will last if we remain in Him – apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Remaining is not always easy, but it’s always the right choice.

Behind the Album (Part 2: Weakness and Warfare)

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While we were recording the hymns album throughout March and April, there was a little bit of tension in my heart; I really wanted to just lead worship, but I couldn’t turn off the part of my brain that was telling me it was all being captured and I needed to sound really good.

Due to some chronic sinus issues I’ve developed over the past couple years, I became extremely self conscious of how my voice was sounding during recording. Yet God kept reminding me that even if I didn’t sound perfect, He could still use what we were doing. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 (which became my heart’s cry in this season), Jesus responds to Paul’s request for a “thorn” in his flesh to be removed: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul continues, saying, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

It became my prayer in this season that Jesus would actually breathe His Spirit, His sufficient grace, onto this recording through my weakness – that Christ’s power would rest on me in my weakness. I truly believe Jesus allowed this struggle to occur, in part so that I would not become conceited and rely on my talent throughout this project. Rather, these health issues forced me to come back to Jesus and say, “I am weak. Without you I have nothing. May your power rest on me in this weakness and may You be glorified through it.”

The second thing I was learning about during the recording phase was that spiritual warfare is real. While Ephesians 6:12 makes it clear that there is a spiritual battle taking place, sometimes I still only attribute difficulties to simply living in a fallen world. However, during the six weeks we were recording, it became clear to me that many of our worship leaders and musicians were facing spiritual attack. Why would the enemy want a CD filled with hymns of Biblical truth to be released into this world?

We began meditating on 1 Peter 5:8-11. It acknowledges that: “the enemy is on the prowl,” that we should “resist him, standing firm in the faith,” and that “the God of all grace…will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (emphasis added).

What a beautiful promise for our team during this time! God Himself will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast.

We continued to persevere through the process, standing firm in Him rather than our own strength, and He has restored us.

In what ways is God calling you to let your weakness be where His power rests?

In what ways do you need to acknowledge that the enemy is on the prowl and Jesus is calling you to stand firm and resist him?

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.