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What I’m Learning About Sharing My Story

109452829_e4288fa899_oYesterday, I posted about my journey through this last year. I told the story that had led to a crisis of faith for me and my journey back (I have by no means “arrived”). The response toward it was overwhelming. I’ve been thinking about if, how, or when I would share my story for a while, but the timing never seemed right and I wasn’t convinced it was anything anyone wanted to hear it. For a long time for me, when I would write, I would mostly share what I thought people wanted to hear and that often would lead to the typical “Sunday School” answers you would expect from a ministry leader. Yesterday, I said to h*^% with it and shared my heart. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot right about “Sunday School” answers and if I would have paid better attention in Sunday School (or actually acted upon what I already knew), maybe my story would look different. The problem with “Sunday School” answers is not so much with the answers themselves but in their timing and how they are delivered from other “class mates”. If there is any bitterness I may still harbor about this last year, it’s probably in that. For example, when a 15 year old girl is mourning over her mother’s tragic and untimely death, it’s not the time to tell her that “heaven has received another angel” (which really shouldn’t be a Sunday School answer either, but I digress). Or when you’ve lost everything and have nothing, it’s not the time to hear “Oh, you’ll bounce back” when you don’t even know how you’re going to pay for your next meal. I’ve received lots of “advice” over the past several months, but the best “advice” I received was from a former pastor’s wife who really offered no advice at all, but simply shared her own story. She said,

I can’t imagine what you are going through because my pain is very different from yours, but I do understand pain (and she does). All I can tell you is that there will come a day when you are tired of being hurt and you will pick yourself up and move on. I can’t tell you when that will be or what your process will be for getting there, but if you’ll hold on, that time will come.

I listened to her because I knew enough about her story to know she was speaking from experience and if she could do it, maybe I could too. So I just want to share a few brief thoughts about what I’m learning about having shared my own story and hopefully, it will encourage you to share yours, no matter how ugly you might think it is.

People are more gracious than you might think.

That’s probably the biggest fear I had about sharing my story–“what will people think?”.  That fear alone has probably hindered more love, innovation and progress than any other fear on the planet. Will Smith (that great theologian and rap recording artist) has said “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me danger is very real but fear is a choice.”  He also said “We spend money that we do not have, on things we do not need, to impress people who do not care.” For most church people, our currency is not money but pride, but it works the same way. Sure, even yesterday I had a few “unfriend” me on Facebook or change my status, but that pales in comparison to the overwhelming amount of people who actually resonated with my story. Your story is different, but needs to be told just the same. Don’t worry about what people think and just be yourself, because everyone else is already taken. Which leads me to my next thought:

No one else can tell your story for you.

Your story is unique. So are you. No one else can tell your story for you, especially if you’ve never shared it. One day you might be quoted in books or blogs, or maybe you’ll just help your child see you’re human after all and help them through a difficult time. Either way, your story is worth sharing and someone, somewhere needs to hear it. Can you imagine where we would be if we never knew the whole story of Peter or David from the Bible? (That may be a bit unfair, because most of the “bad” stuff was written by someone else, but that’s what you get for having it recorded FOREVER in the Bible). Why do their stories inspire us so? Because more of us identify with them than we often care to admit. Failure is part of life. We all have failed or will fail (most of us in big ways at some point). Don’t rob your world of a story that could make sure someone else’s continues (suicide and complacency are all too common in our culture–both are nearly as tragic). I’ve been too close to both myself, and it’s the stories I’ve heard from those not afraid to share it that have literally kept me alive.

Telling your story helps reinforce your own values.

By telling my story out loud (and on the intrawebs), I help to solidify those things that I truly hold dear. As much as I wanted to run both from my story and my values, my values kept coming to the surface. Not the exterior ones that can shape and change with time, but the ones you know deep down inside are really you. The non-negotiables. For me, as much as I wanted to give up on God and run and see “how the other half lives”, I couldn’t–well, not for long. The whole time I was running, I knew I wasn’t being true to myself and who God created me to be. BUT, I also found that for too long, I had confused my values with those things that I thought others also wanted to see. Tragedy and trauma have a way of stripping you down to nothing but who you really are. Regardless of how successful or tragic your life has been, you are not your job, your title, your knowledge, your bank account, or even your relationships (or the lack of any of those things). You are you. Nothing more, nothing less. And believe it or not, it’s actually you that people want to know. Regardless of your position in life (or lack thereof), that’s what people really want and need. They really don’t care about your image–really. But you’ll have to find that out for yourself.

Your story can be more helpful than you realize.

I had no idea what kind of response I would get from telling my story (and for the first time in my life, I really didn’t care). You see, at the time, it was more of a selfish endeavor. I shared it more for me than for anyone else–or so I thought. While I have a very small platform, relatively speaking, the response that I have received has been more encouraging than I could have ever dreamed. I mean, who is really going to find inspiration from a self-avowed hypocrite who has turned his back on all he claimed to believe and still is not completely sure of where he is now? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. I guess we all identify with failure, though, but we don’t really like to think about it (and definitely not write about it!). All I can hope is that in sharing my story, I have encouraged others to share their story too. Go ahead and put it out there. Whether it’s a casual conversation with a friend or a spouse, or published for the world to see, somebody, somewhere needs to hear it, and even if not–you need to tell it. Telling my story has probably been more helpful for me than for anyone else. Go ahead–the people you’re trying to impress by keeping it to yourself don’t really care anyway, but if you tell it, you may be surprised by the audience.

What scares you most about your own story? What do you think it would take for you to share it?

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” – Rudyard Kipling

When I Lost My Faith

broken_glass_colored

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him (God)…”. You may have heard this before. I’ve recently been soberly contemplating this verse as it seems my faith has largely vanished. Being brought face to face with the ugliness of this life and seeing the general condition of the world around us, I’ve found myself where many others have been: “How can a good God allow these things?”.

For some perspective, I’ve spent the last 16 years as a worship leader in local churches (the last several of which at what many would refer to as “mega” churches). But this past year I’ve seen the disintegration of my family as I have known it through a divorce. I experienced the loss of my father and caring for a mother whose health is deteriorating. I have mourned the untimely and tragic death of a new found love and witnessed the tidal wave of sorrow and confusion for those left behind. I have seen the resulting poor decisions, loss of career, finances and the broken hearts that I have hurt while trying to pick up the pieces. I don’t say this to garner pity or justify any of my poor decisions but to give some perspective of where this comes from. This is not the story I wanted to write.

My faith has been shaken to the core. I have honestly and intently looked elsewhere for meaning, fulfillment and some sense of purpose in the wake of it all. I have perused, pursued and participated in (too) many “alternatives” and have come up just as empty as I went in. Nothing brought relief and nothing seemed to satisfy. Have you ever stood before a congregation leading them in songs that you aren’t sure you even believed yourself? I have. Have you posted inspirational scriptures to social media hoping to find the faith to one day believe them? I have. Have you ever led “worship” while living completely opposed to the values that you claim to share? I have. Have you ever used others that you claimed to love in an attempt to drown out your own pain? Yep, that too. What I have found, though, is my story is not all that rare. Through my trials and poor decisions, I have found far more people that identify with the story I never intended to write. If there ever was an ivory tower, it has been torn down to its foundation. For too long, all I could see was the rubble, but now I’m beginning to see how those pieces could be used to build something of even greater significance (who actually lives in an ivory tower, anyway?), and someplace I hope to one day call “home”–a place that’s honest, and yes, at times uncomfortable, but always real and relevant to me, my family and to anyone who cares to share in the journey.

So why do I write today? Obviously, my audience (both of you), may have changed. I used to write mostly about issues in the “church world” from the perspective of a pastor engulfed in worship and the arts. While those are still of high interest to me, I doubt my current job in sales gives me much credibility in the “arts” world and my past year has pretty much determined that the word “pastor” not be used as a title in my name at least for some time. So, with that in mind, I write here today as simply someone learning how to be a child of God–a beloved child of God. It’s not easy. It feels like it should be. But it’s not. I don’t write as someone who has the answers and I don’t write from a place of healing and victory (yet). I do write from a changing perspective that though I may not have the answers, there are questions still worth pursuing.  It’s these questions that I hope to ask and share with you as I journey on this path of being “beloved” of God and rediscover with my heart some really important things I’ve known in my head for a long time.  Some will think less of me (yes, I am a hypocrite and a pretty big one at that), but maybe some may find my story redemptive enough to join me on the journey. I still have doubts. Many. BUT I am also finding that if you’ve never doubted, I doubt that you’ve ever truly believed.

So, what has brought me to this place?

I cannot ignore the rational evidence of God.

When I had no faith, I was forced to look at alternatives. I also realized that all self-conscious creatures have to exercise “faith” in something. If there was truly no God, then where did everything come from? I am familiar with many of the alternatives, but honestly, I don’t have enough faith to believe in those either. I’ve always known this intellectually, but now I know this from experience. You see, either way, daily life is a matter of faith or willing ignorance. I’ve never been a fan of willing ignorance (it’s just the way I’m wired), though I’ve participated in it plenty. So, that left me with either putting my “faith” in some form of chance or in an intelligent designer. Personally, I have to choose design. I cannot “prove” God but I also cannot deny the evidence.

I cannot ignore my past experiences with God

If we’re honest, many of us church folks have had “questionable” religious experiences–you know that time the hair on your arms stood up during the key change of your favorite worship song that “spoke” to you during that horrible time in your life only to find out it happened again at the Journey concert with your girlfriend while listening to the intro of “Faithfully” (which is also, no doubt, goosebump worthy–thank you Jonathan Cain). BUT, also if I’m honest, I cannot deny several times that were undeniably “God moments”.  It was those moments (mostly during quiet prayer or passionate private worship) that kept coming back to me. Sure, some may explain them away as internally constructed “promptings” of my own creation, but my experience tells me different. Again, I cannot prove them to you, but I also can’t deny them.

I cannot ignore what I know about the Bible

The Bible is an incredibly complex collection of “books” written by over 40 authors over more than 1,500 years amid varying cultural contexts. Most reasonable people (based on many years of archaeological research) won’t deny that. It’s what you believe following these facts that dictates how you respond. I will also be the first to tell you that anyone who tells you they have ALL the answers to the difficult parts of the Bible–you need to be the first to run like the wind. No one does, no matter what they say. There are difficult parts of the Bible–there is no doubt about that. Some appear at a surface glance as a result of differing cultural and religious contexts (should we really stone disobedient children? should women really be silent in church?), and some from seeing what seems to be competing ideas about who God is (like God’s judgment vs. His love, or how can a loving God allow such evil in the world, or what is the Trinity, really?). There are many who have written much about these difficult topics with varying levels of success, but if most of us are honest, we probably identify more with Mark Twain who said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.” What I have found about the Bible can probably be summed up in the answers to 2 questions–and herein lies the difficulty:

1) Am I really as bad as the Bible says that I am? Yes.

2) Am I really as loved by God as the Bible says that I am? Yes.

Religion (based on my performance) can’t fix that.

I can’t ignore what I know about Jesus

In John chapter 5 in the New Testament, Jesus sees a crippled man and asks a question we all need to answer: “Do you want to be made well?”  If you are a human being and have lived any length of time on this earth and believe that you have absolutely no need of being made well, you can feel free to move along and stop reading now. I can’t help you. You don’t need it. BUT, if we’re truly honest, we know we’re all broken to some degree or another. Most of us deep down inside know we need to be fixed and we all want to be loved unconditionally. But I’ve discovered religion can’t fix me. Turning a new leaf can’t fix me. Living by a set of “theories” about love or anything else can’t fix me either (regardless of what a well-meaning, charming, yet ridiculously moralistic “Christian” movie may say–sorry “Old Fashioned”). But being transformed by a living relationship with God made possible by Jesus can. I need to be reminded of this.

If you want to know what God is like–look at Jesus (John 14:9 – “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…). Study the gospels, look at the life of Jesus and see the passion (and the failures) of His followers and His beloved in the days following his resurrection. We are not all that different. I resonate with C. S. Lewis (once an agnostic) who said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”²  It’s the only “filter” that really works for me. Are you free to reject Christ’s claims and go wherever you want? Sure you are. I have. But I had to stumble over a Savior with out-stretched hands on a cross to get there and you will too.  At the end of the day, the Bible isn’t about rules, but about revealing a relationship with God. In nearly every belief system and civilization in history, citizens died to make someone king, but in Christianity, a King died so we could be citizens. I’m finding a love like that to be more and more undeniable even despite my many doubts.

I can’t ignore the power of genuine community

When my faith has been at it’s lowest points, it seems that often at just the “right” times, God sends the “right” people into my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still struggling with those times where I felt completely isolated and alone and those times still come. Bot too often to deny, my faith has been strengthened by someone or a group of “someones” who were there for me. It takes some brutal honesty to get the greatest benefit (at great vulnerability and risk–they might really judge you despite what they tell you), but when you’ve hit rock bottom, what do you have to lose?  Over 15 years of “making church people happy” (the unwritten job description most pastors have of their worship and music leaders but will deny to their grave) can wear on you. BUT with all that said, while many churches don’t “get it”, many Christians do and churches everywhere are full of people who do actually “get it”. You just have to work a little to find them sometimes, but they’re there. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (look it up if you’re under 30). If you’ve been burned by a church before, I challenge you to give it another shot. Just quit looking for the perfect church, because they’re filled with people like me. But if you find the right one, they just might point you to Jesus.

Have you ever been in a place where you doubted your faith? What brought you to that place? How did you get back or have you?  I’d love to hear your story and I think others would too. 

“The story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us.” – Donald Miller from Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy.

 

 

Church Life Recap

On Tuesday of this week we concluded our first Church Life Conference here on the campus of Trinity Baptist Church and Trinity Baptist College. It was a great time of fellowship, worship, and networking with other ministry leaders from across the country. I want to take a few moments and reflect on some of my take-a-ways from the conference.

It was a great honor to have Charles Billingsley with us for our Sunday night “kick-off” along with his pastor, Jonathan Falwell, Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist in Lynchburg, VA. Charles joined with our Celebration Choir and Orchestra and led us into a wonderful time in God’s presence. Charles is a masterful communicator, a phenomenal talent and most of all, an authentic worshipper and follower of Christ.

On Monday, Charles led worship in our morning sessions as well as an afternoon session for worship leaders and other church musicians. He dealt with the idea of “Transitioning Your Worship without Starting a Worship War”.  This is a very relevant topic for most of us who find ourselves in transitionary ministry of some kind. Actually, like Charles said, if you’re alive, whether you like it or not, you’re in transition.

On Tuesday, I led corporate worship along with the Trinity Baptist College worship team, Lifesong. This is a talented group with a heart for worship and they did a fantastic job. If you are interested in having them in your church you can get more information by clicking here. It was also great to have the Nelons leading us in worship and providing special music. The Nelons (pronounced “Nee-lons”) serve as Artists in Residence here at Trinity Baptist College. They are a multi Dove award-winning group that has tremendous talent and a heart for the local church. You can find more about their ministry by clicking here.

We also introduced a couple new songs written by Trinity alumni, Joel Carney and Shannon Foldy, as well as a custom hymn arrangement of “Our Great Savior” entitled “What a Savior You Are”.  It was a privilege to share these with the attendees and many of them purchased music to take these songs to their churches. “Isaiah 53″ really connected well and is an incredible description of the sacrifice of Christ as well as an opportunity for us to respond to Him in worship. If you are interested in sheet music and demo tracks of these songs, you can contact music@tbc.org and we will be happy to take care of that for you.

On Tuesday afternoon, Lindsey Terry, author and worship ministry leader for many years, spoke into our lives and gave us a great perspective on worship ministry as seen from over four decades of leadership. I am delighted as I recall his stories of conversations with song writers over the years. I encourage you to check out his website here and check out the many resources that he has available to help educate us and help bring greater depth and understanding to so many of the songs that we sing.

I was thrilled to be able to speak with several old and new friends. It’s amazing that, though we have such variety and diversity in our ministries, we have so many of the same challenges and opportunities before us. I am grateful for the opportunity to exchange ideas and sharpen each other as “iron sharpens iron”.

One of the topics that kept coming up during several conversations was the idea of “balanced vs. blended” as well as how we can have a comprehensive ministry that is biblically sound as well as culturally engaging. I will be discussing this idea in my next post and look forward to continuing this conversation.

I am already looking forward to next year’s conference. We will be continuing the conversation of many facets of church life at www.churchlifeconference.com and keep checking back for updates and video posts of the conference sessions. For those of you in music and worship ministry, we will be continuing the conversation right here as well. I look forward to your comments and continuing our discussion on how we can make our worship ministries as effective and God-honoring as they can be.

Worship: the head or the heart?

We are so good at making God into our own image. If you’ve been a believer for any length of time, just look around–better yet, look within. If you happen to be a person that is in touch with your emotions, then you probably believe that God is a God of mercy, compassion and second chances. If you are a person who naturally thinks very left-brained and you go through life making very rational, logical choices, then you are more apt to believe that God is a God of principle, righteousness, and judgment. These just simply come easier for us, because they’re consistent with our personalities. I’ll admit, these are very sweeping generalizations, but if we look within and look around, by and large, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that it is largely the case.

Leading corporate worship on a weekly basis allows me the opportunity to witness this first-hand. I see people throughout our auditorium responding to God in various ways: some acknowledging the truth and doctrine of a song with a gentle head-nod; some acknowledging with reckless abandon, their brokenness before God with great outward demonstration; and some in vehement protest to the response of others. Most of the time, this is very consistent with our own personalities. I do not necessarily believe this is a bad thing. However, I believe that in the body of Christ, we have a lot to learn from one another, and more importantly, from God Himself.

The truth is that God is all of those things. He is merciful, compassionate, holy, and righteous. Take the apostle Paul, for instance. Before his conversion, Paul (Saul) was a zealot against Christianity. He had people killed and thrown into prison for their beliefs. He was “principled” in his disdain for Christianity. After his conversion, Paul was still a zealot but with a different focus and direction. Take Peter and Barnabas, on the other hand, who were more in touch with their emotions and the thoughts and feelings of those around them. Paul said (Galatians 2) that Peter even led Barnabas astray in his fear of what people thought. Paul, consistent with his personality, withstood them “to the face” concerning their hypocrisy toward the Gentiles (for fear of what the Jews thought).  In this story, Paul, acting consistent with his personality AND the Scripture was right. Peter and Barnabas were living hypocritically. Score: Paul 1 – Barnabas 0.

Now take a look at the other side of the coin. Barnabas and Paul in Acts 15, had a disagreement so sharp concerning the “worthiness” of one of their companions (John Mark) that it caused them to go their separate ways for a time. Barnabas, acting consistent with his personality, saw something in John Mark that Paul did not see (or didn’t want to see). John Mark had abandoned them before and Paul didn’t want anything to do with him. Barnabas, acting in compassion and grace, saw John Mark’s potential and determined to give him a second chance. In time, Paul later recognizes John Mark’s value by his own admition, no thanks to him (2 Tim. 4:11). Score now: Paul 1 – Barnabas 1.

What does this all have to do with worship? We often respond to God’s truth in ways that are consistent with our own personality. This is not necessarily wrong. However, in the Spirit-led life, none of us get “off the hook”. Brokenness does not get off with a “head nod”. Nor does an outward demonstration get off with inconsistent living and poor choices. Throughout Scripture God is always demonstrating the balance of the head and the heart. Take John chapter four–Spirit and truth; Philippians 4–hearts and minds; 2 Tim. 1 – love and a sound mind. The list could go on and on. 2 Timothy chapter 2 summarizes this well–“I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” Don’t be angry (heart) or unbelieving (mind). Also, don’t be judgmental of the worship of others. When God’s people come together in spirit and truth, without wrath and doubting, something very powerful happens. That is what God desires from his people.

We are all different. God wants to use all of us and created us with a specific purpose and plan. We all have a lot to learn from God by walking daily in His truth and being led by His Spirit. We also have a lot to learn from each other. That is the beauty of the Body of Christ. The fact is, God wants ALL of us–our head and our heart. Let’s remember that we are ALL made in God’s image, but let’s be careful not to make God into our image.

I am Blessed: (it’s better than being bitter).

Choices in life are interesting. Most of the time the choices we make occur long before what can be observed as the “point of decision”. Often decisions begin as a statement that is embraced by our attitude and then fleshed out in our daily living. Such as the statement: “I am blessed”. What a powerful affirmation! That statement alone, if fully embraced, can radically change our lives and the lives of those around us.

It is impossible to be bitter if you believe that you are blessed. This weekend at Trinity, one of our soloists (go get ’em Kristin!) will be singing a powerful song of affirmation entitled (you guessed it!), “Blessed”. I have included the lyrics below for you to ponder as you approach the weekend (or tune in online if you’re reading this after July 12). The remarkable thing about this song is that it was co-authored by Ginny Owens, who is blind and has an interesting story.

She grew up as the oldest of two kids in Jackson, Miss., where she started playing the piano when she was 2. She lost her sight to a congenital eye disease around the same time. For Ginny, music was always a hobby. In many ways it was a relief because it was such a great way to express many of the thoughts and feelings she had trouble articulating. In fact, She wrote her first song when she was only 7 or 8 years old. When she moved to Nashville to major in music education at Belmont University, she had every intention of teaching high school music after graduation. Instead, she found herself getting discovered by a friend who took an interest in her songwriting. Since then she has released 4 albums and has traveled extensively throughout the U. S. and the world though she is a self-confessed “homebody” and introvert.

As you reflect on the lyrics below, remind yourself of how blessed you are. You may or may not have your eyesight, health, or a lot of material wealth, but know that you are loved by the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Get this song on iTunes. Rachael Lampa - Blessed: The Best of Rachael Lampa

BLESSED
Cindy Morgan | Ginny Owens

Verse 1
I may never climb a mountain
So I can see the world from there
I may never ride the waves
And taste the salty ocean air
Or build a bridge
That will last a hundred years
But no matter where the road leads
One thing is always clear

Chorus
I am blessed
I am blessed
From when I rise up in the morning
‘Til I lay my head to rest
I feel You near me
You soothe me when I’m weary
Oh Lord, for all the worst and all the best
I am blessed

Verse 2
All along the road less travelled
I have crawled and I have run
I have wandered through the wind and rain
Until I found the sun
The watching eyes ask me why
I walk this narrow way
I will gladly give the reason
For the hope I have today

Bridge
You’ve given me joy
You’ve given me love
You give me strength
When I want to give up
You came from heaven to rescue my soul
And this is the reason I know
I know

CCLI Song No. 3120381
© 2000 Word Music, LLC | Above the Rim Music | BMG Songs, Inc. (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.) | (Admin. by BMG Music Publishing). All rights reserved. Used by permission.
CCLI License # 287059

Key Thoughts on Corporate Worship

Corporate worship is based first and foremost on our common relationship in Christ. At first glance, this sounds pretty elementary and foundational to Christian doctrine. However, if you’ve ever tried to unify a diverse and multi-generational body in worship lately, you might find that it is easier said than done. Does that negate the truth of our unity in Christ? Not at all. However, the unnecessary conflict (some conflict is both healthy and necessary) exposes the fact that we enter into corporate worship with motives and expectations that aren’t based on our unity in Christ. Also, how we deal with that conflict is a tell-tale sign of where we are in our own relationship with God as well as an indicator of our love for our fellow believer.

So, what are the principles that should guide corporate worship in the church? Are we left to the whims of culture or are we confined solely to the traditions of man as they’ve been handed down to us? Is there middle ground, or is that simply compromise? These are questions that I have asked over the years.

As a leader, I want my actions and decisions to be founded on practical principles that won’t change through the passing of time. Does that mean that I lock myself in a cultural time-bubble, stick my head in the sand and decide right now THIS is the way it should be? I think not. I don’t want to make blanket statements today that I have to retract 20 years from now simply because I succumb to pressure or because I realize that my past decisions were based more on comfort and convenience than on what is biblical, practical, and effective.

Below, I have lined out some key thoughts that help guide me in my decisions for corporate worship. I pray that as we seek the Lord and learn to love people, our churches will once again experience the joy and unity of our common relationship with Christ.

Principle #1: Though Christianity is supracultural in its origin and truth, it is cultural in its application—this includes the arts when used as medium to the gospel message. (Acts 2; Acts 17:26-30; 1 Cor 9:19-22)

Principle #2: Through Christ, the church has experienced the redemption of articles and practices that may have at one time been considered common or undesirable for believers (Acts 10:9-15; 1 Tim 4:1-5; 1 Cor. 10:29-31; Titus 1:15).

Principle #3: God is both transcendent and immanent in His relationship with His people and the nature of this relationship will be evident in a balanced view of this truth as it relates to corporate worship. The fear of God is our foundation for our friendship with Him (Acts 17:24-27; Psalm 25:14).

Principle #4: Recognition should be made that sola Scriptura requires consistent reevaluation of even the most revered human traditions (Matt 15:3-6; Mark 7:9-13; Col 2:8; 1 Peter 1:18-19).

Principle #5: Clear communication is vital to corporate worship, and communication must be contemporary, at least in the sense of being familiar to the hearers. Anything that varies greatly from common forms and styles will do more to detract from the message rather than contribute to its communication (1 Cor 14:7-9).

Principle #6: Sensitivity to the potential presence of unbelievers in corporate worship gatherings should influence, at least to some degree, the elements of public worship events (1 Cor 14:23-25).

Principle #7: The Great Commission requires us to engage with the culture of people outside the church (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 17; Romans 15:20; 1 Cor 9:19-23).

Principle #8: Maintaining unity among the diversity of the church’s membership requires that we defer to one another in love, being willing to submit one another’s preferences to that which is most edifying to the church body as a whole (John 13:35; 1 Thes 3:12; Gal 5:13; Eph 5:21).

Principle #9: Expressions of art have no inherent power other than what the creators and interpreters of the art willingly give to it (Isaiah 2:8; 2 Tim 1:7; 1 Cor 8:1-13). This has two main implications concerning corporate worship music: (1 Cor 6:12).

  1. There is no music that is unlawful for Christian expression in and of itself. However, not all music may be appropriate for all cultural contexts. (1 Cor 10:23)
  2. There is no particular music and/or artistic expression that is necessary for corporate worship. However, certain expressions/styles will be more appropriate for particular cultural contexts. (Psalm 34:18; John 4:20-24)

Principle #10: God accepts and desires the worship of people from every race, nation, and tribe. (Psalm 66:4; Rev. 14:6-7;  Rev. 5:9-10; John 4). These distinctions are largely cultural and the Scripture does not prohibit the free expression of worship based on cultural grounds only, unless the heart of the one who offers is not authentic (spirit and truth), or the expression is expressly forbidden in Scripture. (Mark 7:7; Gen. 4:4-7).

Let me know your thoughts.

Exposure, Experience and (ah…) Vacation.

I am writing this sitting on the Gulf Coast of Alabama at Orange Beach. (I know, I live in Florida but am vacationing in Alabama…what’s up with that??? It’s a long story, but we’re here with some good friends). I have had the time to think, process, and simply relax. It has been so timely and Randi and I have enjoyed the time away. This has also given me the opportunity to “catch up” on a few things that I’ve wanted to do for several weeks/months.

I am often asked for the resources and materials that we use at Trinity to aid and influence our corporate worship. Here I hope that you will find this site both informational and inspiring. You will notice that to the right there are links to several resources that we use regularly. I’ve also included some posts from another blog site that I have posted several weeks/months ago that are relevant to this site. These resources, hopefully, will be helpful to you whether you find yourself in a new church plant or in an existing meg-church or somewhere in between.

One of the greatest lessons that I have learned is that there is nothing new “under the sun” (if it was true for Solomon several thousand years ago, I’m sure it’s true for me). Chances are, if I need it, someone else has as well. Usually someone a lot more intelligent and experienced than myself has already come up with a solution to my problem long before I was even aware I had one.

I hope you will find these resources helpful to your ministry. If you have any that you would recommend, please send them my way. I’m always looking for new  ideas and resources to help our congregation experience God corporately in a fresh way.

I’ve found that there are two vital elements to successful leadership: 1) Exposure and 2) Experience. I hope that this site will be informative enough to help expose all of us to new ideas as well as inspirational enough to motivate us to use them. Without exposure we simply are bound to the hamster wheel of what we already know (which usually isn’t much). I’ve met people in ministry for 30 years who have claimed to have 30 years experience. Often, I have found that they have had one year of experience repeated 29 times.

With exposure, we have the ability to experience and process new ideas as they relate to ministry. However, it is actually getting out there and using these ideas that gives us the experience and fortitude to be effective. Otherwise, we become highly theoretical and idealistic with little to show for it.

I’ll close with this quote that I came across the other day “We must think like a man of action and act like a man of thought.” (even though the author, Henri Bergson, was not a believer, I believe this is a truism–see James chapter two and the entire book of Acts).  If we will be diligent in both our thinking and our actions, we can change this world for Christ.

The Holy Spirit and the Federal Reserve

What we believe is fundamental to and acts as the primary influence on our behavior. As I contemplate on my own life and the lives of those that I lead (family, church, and other influences), I can’t help but observe behavior that I find contrary to what I/we say that we believe. Why is that?

I now turn to the current state of the economy to help us flesh this out. I am not an economist (nor am I the son of an economist), however, there are some basic principles of our current financial system that most of us understand (I often wonder about our politicians, however).

Until the U.S. effectively went off of the Gold Standard in 1933, any printed money was simply a “promise to pay”, or promissory note. That meant that you could exchange that printed money for a predetermined amount of gold or “real money”. Prior to 1933, if someone were to hand you a $100 bill, you might say it was “good as gold”. Possessing that $100 bill (especially prior to 1933), could effectively cause your behavior to change, and rightfully so, even though you have never, and probably never planned on seeing any gold. Today, it is significantly more complicated and much more “hi-tech”, but I still dare to say that possession of a $100 bill could still substantially change your behavior.

You see, a true promissory note differs from an IOU in that the lender can effectively call the “note” due at any time and it has no maturity period. It is not necessarily an acknowledgment of a debt but in fact a true promise to pay at any time (at the choosing of the one who holds the “note” or promise). You see, God does not “owe” us anything, but in fact has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness through His Spirit (2 Peter 1:3). His promises to us are spiritual certainties (2 Cor. 1:20), though in our flesh we may not have full understanding or “sight” right now (Heb. 11). He is simply waiting for us in faith to “cash in” on what He has already promised.

I say all this to make a point. Of course any promise of God is far more trustworthy than any denomination of money. However, often we don’t behave that way. The Scripture tells us that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh, and that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. If we truly believed this, our lives would be much more extraordinary. We would exhibit a freedom and power that this world would find contagious. All that is required is that we have faith enough to “cash in” on God’s promises and put a little more faith in the Scripture than we do in good ‘ole “Uncle Sam”. Our lives and the lives of those around us will be radically changed if we do.

Rescued People Sing Better

We (Trinity Baptist Church) are preparing for our Tuesday Thanksgiving service which has typically highlighted the ministry of the Trinity Rescue Mission and Rehabilitation Farm. This afforded me the opportunity to go down to “the farm”, as it is so affectionately called, and “lead” my brothers there in worship. However, what I received was far more than I could have ever given. My soul was refreshed from the authentic worship that flowed out of these men (though my body is exhausted from constant Christmas preparations, oh and did I mention their chapel is at 7am!).

I’ve made an observation before, having worked with other urban and rescue ministries in the past, that rescued people simply sing better. Of course, it’s not necessarily about the singing (and I didn’t even say they sound better), but it is about their worship. What most of us often fail to realize is that we have all been rescued. No matter what your background may have been before you met Christ, you have been rescued (Ps 40:2; Titus 3:5).

You see, this morning, the style of the music wasn’t an issue at all. We poured our hearts out to God together singing everything from “old” camp-meeting style songs to what many would consider a more “cutting edge” styling. All that mattered to these men was singing, speaking, and listening to the “Voice of Truth” that would keep them on solid ground so that they might live in obedience today. All was sung with the same conviction and strength.

Much like when a fireman is on the ladder and in the fire pulling people from the flames, it is not the time to debate on whether or not the ladder being used was a good choice. All that matters is that the people are rescued. When the debate does come, it is usually from those standing in safety and comfort, far from the front lines, who take the time to criticize those that care enough to take the risks–to get their hands a little dirty (Mark 7:1-15).

As you go about this day, take the time to remember how Jesus has rescued you and remember the “risks” that He has taken to call you His own. I don’t know about you, but I often remember the times that I have failed, and how that God, even knowing this, chose to rescue me anyway. When I take the time to listen to “the Voice of Truth” and remember where and how God rescued me…I sing better, too.

What the church can learn from Disney

Our family had the privilege of going to Disney World in Orlando, Florida on vacation a couple weeks ago. As I was there, I couldn’t help contemplating some of the things that Disney has done probably better than any other institution in modern times. It was my first visit in almost 17 years. I was amazed at how much had changed as well as how much had stayed the same, but all the while with the same level of excellence. Below are just a few thoughts that I had while there.

1. Music that touches the masses still touches the masses (I saw every possible generation having a great time and no one was complaining about the music).
2. Family atmosphere is still a major attraction
3. Excellence matters
4. People will pay good money just to see someone’s creativity (there are bigger and better roller coasters, but no one attracts more visitors than Disney World).
5. Nothing is more important to people than their kids (I was amazed at how long people will stand in line for a 4-minute experience and pay $5 for a hotdog!).
6. An incredible tradition coupled with great innovation bring the same people back year after year (or month after month…that’s for you, Melissa!).
7. Disney has created a culture of “yes” and “why not?”. (when guarded with biblical truth, this isn’t a bad idea for most churches–many in our culture have associated the church with “no” or “smite” (that’s for you, Paul), and we wonder why people don’t come).
8. People don’t merely want to “attend”, “see”, or “observe”, but they want to experience.
9. Everyone there has been taught how to make everybody esle feel like a million bucks (I guess that’s because they convinced me to leave mine at the gate…ouch!).
10. While they do everything thoroughly with excellence, they still allow room for the individual’s own sense of wonder and imagination.

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