Tag Archives: worship

Blue Notes

photo by Greg Betza on flickr

photo by Greg Betza on flickr (CC)

“What you do doesn’t matter,” said that subtle, yet unnoticeably evil voice in my head one tragic Sunday morning last year. Most of the time, in my personal opinion, we give Satan far too much credit for many of the evils in our life that we are more than capable of creating ourselves (unfortunately, I know this all too well from experience). However, this morning was different, but I can only see that in hindsight now. At the time I didn’t know where it came from, but it was clear as a bell and I bought it–hook, line and sinker. Much of the back story of this day you can find in my post here (“When I Lost My Faith”).  You see, the day before this, a very dear friend (of the romantic kind) took her own life unexpectedly (having had a rare but recent relapse with the effects of PTSD). Not only was she a romantic interest, but she was a bright hope in what had been an otherwise very trying year for me. She was one of the kindest and most selfless people I have ever known. She loved Jesus and she loved her daughter at a depth that I have rarely seen. She was the poster child for inspiring. But she was gone. Even still, her sweet, precious teenage daughter was left without her mom. Needless to say, I was crushed to the core and so was my faith. Even still, the following day was Sunday, and the voice I heard came to me just as I was rolling into the parking lot to help facilitate the worship of hundreds of people that morning.

All I could think about in that moment was “You’re right. Some people will like what is presented today and some people won’t. They’ll all keep their scorecard in our upscale Atlanta suburb and pat themselves on the back for having done their religious duty, go home to their perfect suburban lives, and all the while my heart is shattered and a precious teenage daughter woke up this morning without her mom.” Of course that wasn’t true either, as some of the most devout believers I have ever known would be in that congregation that morning and most wouldn’t think that way, but some did and Satan always has a way of making ten sound like a thousand. Even in our upscale Atlanta suburb, wealth was no refuge to brokenness. Brokenness can exist in any socioeconomic environment and there were plenty of people hungry to see Jesus that day as well. But I bought it (the lie) that day like I never have before. That one lie started a downhill spiral for me that looked more like a negative “G” roller coaster than any hill I’ve ever seen. It stole my hope, my purpose and unfortunately, even my identity. I shouted questions at God louder and faster than any AK-47 ever could. You see, “sovereignty” sounds great in theory until it touches you or someone you love. “God has a plan…” yada, yada. Really? I wanted no part of that plan.

Fast Forward: God placed some of the best people in my life in the days and months following to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus to this hurting heart. Don’t get me wrong…it took a while and many repeated attempts (along with some really poor decisions), but slowly God opened my heart to seeing Him once again, but this time with new eyes, and better yet–a new heart. Please don’t misunderstand me. I still struggle with what happened that day. I may never completely understand the “why”. I’m still not convinced that it was “God’s plan” either. I believe a battle was lost that day, but I do know Who ultimately wins the war. I am more convinced of that than ever.

In the days following I found myself several times on “the other side” of the platform as just a regular, wounded child of God struggling for faith in a place where I needed to hear from Him like never before—and ironically, the lie that I believed that ultimately led to my downfall–it was its antithesis that ultimately led to my return. I was moved in worship in the most unexpected places. I discovered that brokenness doesn’t care about the style of music or what the worship team was wearing that day or even how cool the lights looked, but it does care about transparency, truth and grace.

There may have been people “keeping score” on those days too, but I was too broken to notice or care. Because some folks decided instead of “doing church” for the power brokers, and instead, being the church for the broken, my life was once again transformed. All I needed was Jesus, and in many cases, Jesus is exactly what I found. I didn’t need the latest from the “worship wars” or the “culture war”–I just needed Jesus.

In music there’s a term for sharps and flats that are not found naturally in the key of the music–they’re called “accidentals”.  In Jazz, sometimes these are referred to as “blue notes”. It’s what gives a lot of jazz and blues its characteristic sound. A great band leader knows how to use these “accidentals” to create and respond with something more rich and moving than the notes normally found within the key. In American history however, these “blue notes” often stemmed from pain and oppression. While none of us would wish for pain or oppression for anyone (especially ourselves or a loved one), take a moment and think about the beauty and colors that have come from these “accidentals”. What if God can take the blue notes of our lives and in return gives us something more colorful and deep from which to draw? Blue notes in the hands of amateurs can sound out of tune and off color, but in the hands of a Master, they can add a richness and depth to the music that wouldn’t have been there without them. Holding on to blue notes by themselves does nothing—they’re just notes with no context, but if looked at through the song of faith in the hands of the Master, they can have purpose and meaning that you otherwise would never see.

So, worship leader (or ministry leader), what you do does matter and it often is messy, but you are the ones who help people give their blue notes to the Master so He can create something better with them. Only, please do it with excellence and grace as if people’s lives depend on it–because they actually do. But you don’t bear that burden alone. Just show them Jesus and walk with them on the journey, no matter how messy—God will still make the music.

What “blue notes” is God making music with in your life? Share your story in the comments. Someone needs to hear it.

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If you or a loved one are battling with the thought of suicide, please seek immediate help. No matter how desperate you may feel, this is not the end of the road and God will use your story for your good and His glory. Hang on and please seek help. You can find help from a friend, a pastor or from one of the resources below.

*Resources for PTSD and suicide prevention:

1 (800) 273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Hotline

National Institute of Mental Health

The Samaritan Institute

Association of Certified Biblical Counselors

 

 

Blessings


With Thanksgiving approaching, you may find yourself in a place where you are wondering what in the world you’re going to be thankful for this year. For you, this year may look very different from last year–it certainly does for me. Maybe you find yourself on the mountaintop or maybe you are wondering what in the world you’re going to do next. Maybe you’ve lost a marriage, a family member, a love,  your job, your sanity or maybe all of the above.Thanksgiving Crossroads

You may have more to be thankful for than you know but it may look very different than you think. Don’t stop. Keep looking. I’m looking too.

 

Overflow

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May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. –Rom 15:13

Hope. It’s such a great word, isn’t it? It tells us that though all is not right in the world, things are not always now as they one day will be. You don’t have to look far, though, to notice that hope is something that’s desperately missing in the world we live in. Christ followers aren’t exempt from the hurts of this life either, but we do have a hope that only God can give and a future that only faith can see. It ’s these “intangible” truths that provide the fuel for us to keep going when the going is hard, to keep trusting when the circumstances seem to tell us otherwise, and to keep loving, because in the end, that’s all that matters and love, ultimately, is all that will last (1 Corinthians 13). Since these “intangibles” are the only things that truly last, whether in this life or the next, maybe they’re more tangible than we often think.

The beauty and gift of pain in this life is that it reminds us that this is not all there is. C. S. Lewis said that one of the plights of humanity is that we are far too easily pleased. He says we’re like the child content with making mud pies in the slums because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  When life is “good” we tend to settle. When life is painful, we tend to hope and long for what is better. Paul gives us this encouragement so that the miracle of hope would overflow and be visible to those around us. Hope implies something better is coming. The good news is that we don’t always have to wait for heaven to experience the “betterness” of God. He longs to give us so much of Himself even now. A favorite passage that is often quoted in reference to heaven actually speaks of the life that we can even now begin to experience through the Spirit of God. “However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’– the things God has prepared for those who love him– these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” [1Co 2:9-10]  What could possibly be more “deep” in this life than a peace that passes all understanding (can’t be explained–only experienced), and a hope that is secure? (Heb 6:19)

So let’s join together with expectation of an outpouring of His Spirit that we may all experience the Kingdom that is “now but not yet” in all of the fullness available to us today. We hope, we long, we yearn for that overflow.

Keep Showing Up

Lay it Down Before the Lord

Sometimes showing up for worship opens old wounds. Sometimes they have to be opened in order to be healed. Hannah’s story in the Bible indicates that she may have understood this even though no one around her did (1 Sam 1:1-28). She so longed for a child. She had no one that understood the battle that was going on inside her, but she kept showing up for worship. She even had to “worship” with those who misunderstood and taunted her. One time the pain became so great that she wept and prayed before the Lord so intensely that Eli the priest mistook her for being drunk! Not only was she misunderstood in her life and desires, but even in her worship—and by those who should have understood her the most!

There are times in life when the only one who understands you is God Himself. It is those times where we need Him most, even when we can’t feel him or see Him at work. Sometimes it is in those times that He can seem the most distant as well. Hannah knew one thing–though she struggled with faith and conflict at home–the only place for this burden was to place it before the Lord and leave it there.

Sometimes when life kicks your guts out and every motive and move you make are misunderstood (even your own worship), we can learn from Hannah in that we just keep showing up. God is waiting even when we can’t always feel Him or perceive what He’s doing (or NOT doing). He’s still there. Just keep showing up. You’ll eventually find Him because He’s never once lost you.

Allow this song (Never Once) from Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons album encourage your heart today.

Lenten Worship: Why?

Ash_Wednesday_std_t_ntI grew up in a church tradition that did not recognize much of the Christian calendar with the exception of Christmas and Easter. However, I did spend my childhood in the Northeast where Catholicism dominated the religious landscape. Coming from the “free church” tradition, most of the church calendar seasons were explained away as “empty rituals”, void of any real spiritual vitality, and for many, they were. I have discovered in recent years, however, that this does not necessarily have to be the case. Incredible spiritual vitality can be found in many aspects of the liturgical church calendar. 

I grew up Baptist, went to Baptist theological schools, did my graduate education at a Pentecostal school, and now serve in a Methodist church (and I continue to have many friends in all of those “camps”). You may look at this and think that I have no real theological convictions, or you may conclude that I will just be very happy in Heaven! Either way, having broadened my theological understanding and my denominational exposure, I have come to appreciate much of what has traditionally been referred to as the “Christian Calendar”.  Here’s why:

It helps me realize that my generation is not the only one to name the name of Christ. In an age of 24-hour news cycles, instant information and the realization that just about everything I use in my life begins with “i” and is nearly disposable (iPhone, iPad, iMac, etc.), it is healthy to realize that I am not the only one who has attempted to live this Christian life but that I am connected to a much greater “we” that has lived, died and often been martyred for Christ—those whom I will spend eternity with! The Church Calendar is a great reminder that there have been generations of faithful Christians who have gone before me.

It helps me identify and bring myself in unity with others who name Christ. Unity is vitally important both in our local congregations but also even throughout Christendom. Often we speak of unity, but yet dismiss any notion that we could or should join with other Christ followers in celebrating or honoring a holiday or period of time together that would actually both unify us and help us set our attention on Christ. Observing the Church Calendar is one way for us to have a shared experience with others who also identify with the Gospel and is a fulfillment (even if only partially) of Christ’s prayer that we would be “one” (John 17:21-22).

It helps reinforce the story of Christ into my daily life. Throughout much of Christian history we must remember that most believers did not have ready access to the printed Scriptures and illiteracy was the norm for much of the world up until relatively recent times when compared to over 2,000 years of Christian history.  The Church Calendar was developed over time to help reinforce the story of Christ into the rhythms of everyday living. When looked at fully, we realize that the calendar outlines the Gospel into specified times throughout the year. It begins with anticipating His arrival in Advent, celebrating His birth at Christmas, His revealing during Epiphany, humbling ourselves in repentance as we join His fasting in the wilderness during Lent, reflecting on His love and sacrifice during Holy Week, remembering our sin and the atonement that He provided on the cross on Good Friday, celebrating the resurrection of life at Easter, marveling at His giving of the Spirit during Pentecost, and trusting that the presence and power of that same Spirit is with us still during the rest of the year as well (Ordinary Time). While none of these aspects become more or less true during other times of the year, each season provides us an opportunity to revel in and be reminded of the vast privilege and responsibility we have in also being invited into God’s story of redemption.

So this brings us to Lent. What are the opportunities for worship during this season? First of all, in the church that I serve, we have crafted a guided time of prayer and service that will help us prepare our hearts and minds for the ultimate celebration of Christ’s triumph at Easter (you can find this by “liking” our Facebook page www.facebook.com/mountpisgahumc). Many will also join in a time of fasting. This may range from a complete fast of food to simply giving up a comfort, convenience, or repenting and seeking forgiveness of even what might have become a “weight” or besetting sin (Heb. 12:1).  There is also something very powerful in substituting something that may be harmless, harmful or destructive for something that is hopeful, heart-felt or constructive and developing new habits that will help us to more faithfully live out Christ’s story in our daily lives. This does not negate being yielded to the constant work of the Spirit in our lives, but allows us to form better habits that help shape us while being more conscious of His working within us at increasingly greater and deeper ways as we grow in Him.

As is the case at any time, worship is ALWAYS a matter of the heart.  Just as anything else, any ritual can become trite or be done out of selfish motivation. However, there are seasons of the year that lend themselves well to denying ourselves and forming new habits that can help form us more into the image of Christ. I have found that Lent can be such a season and I look forward to seeing Christ formed in me and others as we make a more concerted effort to focus ourselves on Him.

Do you plan to observe Lent this year?  Is it something you will do on your own or will you be joining a local community of faith in a shared experience?  What ways could churches from both the “free church” and liturgical traditions better enable their people to have more meaningful shared experiences outside of gathered worship? Click “Read More” to leave your comments below.

For more information about the church calendar or the Lenten season:

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/ash-wednesday

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-is-lent-and-why-does-it-last-forty-days

The United Methodist Book of Worship (link to Abingdon Press)

Discover the Mystery of Faith by Glenn Packiam (link to Amazon.com)

Worship: Old and New by Robert Webber (link to Amazon.com)

Experiencing the Prince of Peace

nativity“Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry, because I never undertake any more work than I can get through with perfect calmness of spirit.” – John Wesley

There may be no reminder more timely than the quote above especially during the holiday season. The next few weeks for most of us will be incredibly busy and will require intense discipline and focus to navigate it successfully. Because we know the Prince of Peace, we can be assured that His peace is still available for those who will claim it, no matter how much “in haste” we may seem during the holidays.

Paul, writing to the Philippians, reminds us to “…Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Notice that he doesn’t mention our bodies here. There are times where we will be physically exhausted but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have peace. This is one of the things that makes peace “supernatural”.

Anyone can experience tranquility sitting quietly beside the seashore, but peace can be experienced in the midst of a storm and yes, sometimes in a flurry of activity if our hearts and minds are focused on what is ultimate—God himself. Much like real joy, peace goes deeper into the soul. Peace is ultimately knowing that you matter to God and letting God matter to you. Happiness and tranquility are circumstantial, but peace and joy can be experienced regardless of the circumstances.

So, in the flurry of the season, much like Wesley, let’s not be afraid to be in haste, but let’s not be so hurried that we miss the nearness of God and the significance of the season.

North Atlanta Christmas Festival

If you are in the Atlanta area, make plans to join us for the North Atlanta Christmas festival December 13-15. Now in its 8th season, the North Atlanta Christmas Festival has become the must-see event of the Christmas season. The NACF is a spectacular musical and dramatic display featuring state-of-the-art technology, stage production and choreography along with a 150-voice choir and 40-piece live orchestra. It is sure to captivate the attention of all ages. Come join us this year on a musical journey of wonder and imagination as we experience the best of the Christmas season! For tickets and event times go to www.nacfonline.com and be sure to “like” us on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/nacfonline.

 

Orphans of God

Holy_spiritIn John chapter 13, Jesus had just finished unloading some heavy news to His disciples–His betrayal, Peter’s denial, and in chapter 12, He even tells of His own impending death! This would be heavy news, regardless of the recent surrounding circumstances, however, putting ourselves in the timeline of the disciples, this news also comes on the heals of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem! It only seemed like moments earlier that Jesus was about to take, what many thought should be His rightful place as King and overthrow the oppressive Roman government. We can see from the testimony of Scripture and the events that followed that this was difficult news to process, as nearly anyone could imagine.

Yet, on the heels of all of this, Jesus offers some incredible words to His followers in John 14. In verse 18, Jesus offers them this–”I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”  We can be certain that they did not fully grasp the significance of what all of that meant, but I have a feeling that they could hear and see Jesus’ heart as he says, “Let not your hearts be troubled” as He reminds them that this world is not all that there is. BUT, in the meantime, Jesus’ promise to them and to us is that He would be WITH us through the person of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus knew that there will be times in this world where we may feel alone, abused, beat up, not-measured-up, and simply forgotten. In the fallen world that we call “home” (for now), if we are fortunate to live long enough, we will likely be well acquainted with much of the unpleasantries of this life. Yet, Jesus’ promise to us is that He would not leave us as orphans. Our heavenly Father is the very definition of all that is good and His ultimate concern for us is unwavering. We can take that to the proverbial “bank”.

So, in this fallen world, let’s rest assured that no matter what this world dishes out and regardless of the self-destructive decisions and behaviors that so often betray us, we have a God who will never leave us nor forsake us and even dances over us with joy. He does not remember our past, but sees in us the infinite joy and purpose of the child that He created us to be. As the song made popular by Avalon so eloquently states, there really are “no orphans of God.”

Continuum: Engaging All Generations

LCI_2014Mount Pisgah is excited to be hosting the Continuum (LCI 2014) Conference on April 28 – 30, 2014. LCI (Large Church Initiative) is an assembly of church leaders and guests from around the nation who lead some of the largest and most influential churches in Methodism in an effort to share ideas and best practices as well as encourage and inspire one another in their respective ministries and callings. It has been my honor to serve on the steering committee of this great conference and carry on the tradition of equipping the next generation of leaders for Christ’s kingdom.

This year will feature keynote addresses from some of the most influential and innovative speakers and writers today. Among these are Mark Batterson, Chip Ingram, Jorge Acevedo, Steve Wood (my pastor), Sharma Lewis and Tim Tennent!  The music and corporate worship times are sure to be inspiring as we are led in worship by Natalie Grant, Jason Ingram and One Sonic Society, the Nelons and the 150 voice Mount Pisgah Worship Choir. We are really excited about the worship and songwriting round table luncheon that we will host with Jason Ingram, Natalie Grant, Jason Clark and more!  This will be a great time for worship leaders to get inside the hearts and minds of some of the leading songwriters of our generation. The conference will be a great time for pastors, their staff and key lay leaders to get refueled and equipped for maximum kingdom impact.

Mount Pisgah is rolling out the red carpet and hundreds of volunteers are already in preparation to make your experience at Mount Pisgah, LCI 2014 and the Atlanta area one that you will not quickly forget. We can’t wait to see you soon!

For more information and to register go to www.LCI2014.com.

Worshipping Through Grief

grief_small_bwWhen we first moved here to the Alpharetta area, one of our members described living here a little like “living in Disney World” and in many senses this is so true. We live in a great community surrounded by beautiful landscapes and the benefits of affluence, hard work and the American Dream. All of us know, however, that no matter where we live on planet earth, there are none of us that are immune to grief. We all suffer loss, whether that be the loss of a business due to a bad economy or the loss of our deepest relationships from disagreements, misunderstandings, or even death. Someone much wiser than I has said, “When times are good, they are rarely as good as we think they are, and when times are bad they are rarely as bad as we think they are.” I really believe that the Scripture would bear this out as well. Our worst of times and best of times will fade quickly compared to the glory that will one day be revealed in us (Rom 8:18). So, with this hope, we rejoice even though we live in a fallen world and even though we see suffering all around us.

Over the last couple of weeks, my heart has shared in the pain of two significant events. A couple of weeks ago, hearing of Rick Warren and family in the loss of their son Matthew to suicide (he suffered from mental illness his entire life)–my heart literally hurt. Rick has been a “pastor to pastors” and has been a pioneer and champion for reaching the unreached and adding value to millions through his books. For any family this would be painful and especially to such a public figure, I knew this would be a tragic loss and one that would meet it’s deal of “haters” from some in the media and mainstream culture. Yet, we have seen the hope of Christ and His Church shine through as many have lifted this family up in prayer and as we have witnessed the testimony of Rick, Kay and the family through social media and personal testimony.

Of course, we all have heard of the bombings in Boston over the last couple of days and our hearts go out to the many families and friends of those that were lost and injured during the blasts. It is so easy to become immune to this as it seems we hear of a bombing somewhere nearly every day. When these tragedies strike so close to home, it is a difficult reminder, however, of the evil that does exist in our world. How can anyone hate that much?

Yet, through the scriptures we also are given several examples of those who also worshipped in the midst of pain.

Job worshipped through grief. Job lived a righteous, God-fearing life. He was blessed by God with a dear family and much material wealth, yet he was allowed to be tested by Satan, who took nearly everything from him, yet Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Hannah worshipped through grief. Hannah was barren and wanted a child with every ounce of her being, yet this blessing was delayed and she was found weeping in the temple yet “They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:19).

Jeremiah worshipped through grief. So much so, in fact, he is often known as the “weeping prophet” probably due to a book in the Bible that he penned called “Lamentations”.  The theme of this book is developed as Jeremiah grieves over a wasted and desolate Jerusalem as a result of Israel’s exile. Yet in the midst of all of this he says, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:24).

Jesus, of course, knew grief. On the night before His crucifixion, we see Him praying in the garden of Gethsemane and weeping as it were “great drops of blood.”  Yet in the midst of this, he prays, “Not my will, but yours, be done,” and “Father, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (Luke 22:42, John 17:1). We also read in Hebrews where it give us insight into the “big picture” that Jesus was able to keep before Him even despite His great suffering and grief–”Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).

Like Jesus, may we see the “big picture” and worship through our grief. It doesn’t mean that grief won’t still hurt or that suffering won’t still sting, but it does mean that we know the One who somehow through it all will one day “make all things new”.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5

 

How have you worshipped through grief? What advice do you have for those who have suffered a great loss? Let us know by leaving your comments below.

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