Posted in Spoken Word

Ephesians 2:11-22

A member of uncircumcision
I was not first aware of Your plans
Yet You have made me one of Your own
By the scars in Your feet and Your hands

One humanity You’ve knit together
One tribe of the two or the many
Yet we often declare our differences
When You have said “there aren’t any”

We are all in need of Your healing
Of Your mercy and Grace we desire
With hearts that are wounded and hardened
We come needing Your Spirits’ fire

You have melted down all our hostility
Any reason for shame is destroyed
Your presence is now something we can pursue
Instead of needing to avoid

We pursue as One body together
Discovering You already here
I pray that Your Lordship and presence
Through my life today are made clear

Use all that I am for my neighbors
Those feeling like aliens and stranger
Fill me with Your reconciling Love
As revealed when You came in a manger

Posted in Different Moments, Different Scriptures

awe-full freedom…

I have vague memories from my childhood of sitting on a blanket on the rooftop of a vehicle, in the midst of a large crowd of people facing the sky. There were antique cars patterned on the blanket, and it smelled like a combination of my grandparents and a summer field. The collective “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” of the people around me, along with the giant “BOOM” from the sky compelled me to join their upward stares, and enjoy the show as well. It was beautiful. It was loud. It was explosive. All of the chaos, anxieties, and individual issues faced by each person melted away by the tiny colorful fires blooming across the evening sky. We were united in that moment by the shared experience. The commonality of awe, wonder, and even humility as we felt each “BOOM” with a reverb that shook us to our bones.

As we (in the US) approach the Holiday weekend, there are some who are so grateful for particular Freedoms today, they’d throw the celebrations without wanting to get stuck in the mire of humility or contemplation.  There may be others, repentant of our country’s’ difficult and painful past, who feel there is little cause for celebration.  Still others, focusing on our present need to continually reform and heal, who want to trumpet their particular cause in the direction of healing.  There are important reasons to listen to and value each of these voices.  We are thankful for the freedoms many of us are able to enjoy.  We confess they didn’t come easily, but in many ways painfully on the backs of previous generations.  We also confess that we struggle to distribute the enjoyment of such freedoms equally even today.

As a pastor in a denomination with “FREE” in our title (Free Methodist), I have definitely come to appreciate the word.  We have been liberated from patterns and penalties of sin, and made New Creations, which sets us free from the sources of anxiety and division that threaten to chain us down/apart.  But as someone who has served in a post-communist country, I’ve also been reminded that the word “Freedom” carries a variety of meanings – not all of them positive.  When a conquered country is told they should be grateful for the “freedom” they now have – to not need self-governing – this is no great gift of freedom at all.

With these things in mind, I find it important to pause briefly and reflect on the Freedom I am most thankful for.  A freedom shared globally across every culture and nation.  A freedom that offers to shape & impact our policies at home and abroad.  A freedom I pray is found and experienced by every individual and community.  It’s the merciful freedom we’ve been given to be aware and moved/drawn in by the present and active Love of God, revealed by Jesus Christ, empowered by His Spirit.

There is something about watching fireworks that reveals our experience as a humanity gathered in awe of the wonder and divine power of God.  We can easily get distracted by the smaller details in our environment, but there are moments that compel us all to look collectively at the wonder and beauty of God’s creation, His powerful authority, His gracious Love, or simply His abiding presence.  When we look toward Him together, united in such a moment of wonder, we converge in our reflection of His light in ways that offer to illumine our lives anew.  It is beautiful.  It can speak powerfully to those who are willing to listen. It can transform and provide explosive catalyst for something New.  Abiding with our attention directed toward the fullness of God together can melt away (or give proper perspective) to all of the chaos, anxieties, and individual issues faced by each of us, as we gather together.  We are united (and sent) by such a shared experience.  It has the potential even to humble us, with reverbs we feel in the very core of our being – offering us a New identity…

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

And as we climb down from the rooftops of automobiles, heading back into the world with eyes still impacted by the dazzling flashes of His Love, we notice that as we freely join such Love – the moments of awe continue…

Posted in Different Thoughts, Uncategorized

on worship & music.

Growing up, I remember standing and enjoying a good extended refrain of “Victory in Jesus” with our old Nazarene worship pastor Calvin Kring.  His joyful countenance, and excitement to lift the name of Jesus were infectious.  I didn’t know everything God wanted to do in my life, but I knew if I could infect others with a love for God like his, that’d be a good start.

Throughout high school and into college, worship in song happened both in church through hymns and worship chorus, and in concert-type atmospheres of “youth gathering” type events.  In college, my love for music and gifts for singing gave me privilege to lead thousands in worship, travelling the Midwest in a couple different bands.  I loved the sounds of music that could fill a room, and creatively express God’s beauty in increasingly new ways.  But even in the midst of this, I encountered many who equated “new ways” with “better/more genuine ways”.  I’ll admit, there were even moments where I believed them.

Fast forward many years.  I’m serving as a pastor of a church in an area with hundreds of churches.   There are as many musical styles in our various “sanctuaries” as there are musicians.  Even within a congregation, there will be seasons of styles, based on who or what instruments are available to assist in the music that week.  I’ve seen people drawn to the love of Christ as they’ve connected with music in His presence.  I know it can be a powerful draw to new attenders, and some pastors feel the urge to put a large emphasis on it for that reason.  I also know many of us are returning from “COVID-induced” breaks from in-person gatherings with singing – and we’ve missed it.  I believe we are shaped in important ways, as we join in song together.

In his book, “Life Together”, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives us his 2 cents on singing:  “Why do Christians sing when they are together?  The reason is, quite simply, because in singing together it is possible for them to speak and pray the same Word at the same time; in other words, because here they can unite in the Word.  All devotion, all attention should be concentrated upon the Word in the hymn.  The fact that we do not speak it but sing it only expresses the fact that our spoken words are inadequate to express what we want to say, that the burden of the song goes far beyond all human words…..

..The purity of unison singing, unaffected by alien motives of musical techniques, the clarity, unspoiled by the attempt to give musical art an autonomy of its own apart from the words, the simplicity and frugality, the humaneness and warmth of this way of singing is the essence of all congregational singing…..

..There are some destroyers of unison singing in the fellowship that must be rigorously eliminated.  There is no place in the service of worship where vanity and bad taste can so intrude as in the singing.  There is, first, the improvised second part which one hears almost everywhere.  It attempts to give the necessary background, the missing fullness to the soaring unison tone, and thus kills both the word and tone.  There is the bass or the alto who must call everybody’s attention to his astonishing range and therefore sings every hymn an octave lower.  There is the solo voice that goes swaggering, swelling, blaring, and tremulant from a full chest and drowns out everything else for the glory of its own fine organ.  There are less dangerous foes of congregational singing, the “unmusical”, who cannot sing, of whom there are far fewer than we are led to believe, and finally, there are often those also who because of some mood will not join in the singing and thus disturb the fellowship.”

Long ago, I would’ve considered Bonhoeffer’s words here ancient.   Obviously he was limited, and way too conservative with his views on worship through music.  Even still today, I’d counter that there are some beautiful things that a gifted instrumentalist or vocalist can add to the experience of a song.  But I can’t help but find some important truths in what he’s saying there.  He had been raised in an aristocratic family with a deep love for music.  They would spend a large portion of their family time learning or performing instruments, and offering these gifts in honor of God.  Dietrich himself was a highly skilled pianist and lute player, and his family thought he might go into music performance as a profession.

All of this to say, I’d much rather join in genuine unison singing on a Sunday morning with no-part-harmony, and no instruments playing with my family of believers wanting to praise the name of God in words beyond words, than a world-renowned worship band that was focused more on presentation and polished emotional manipulation.  Thankfully, I think many of our “normal churches” have something pretty genuine going on.  I pray we never get so amazing at worship that people begin the pack the pews because of our talented musicians (or great preaching, for that matter).  But I also pray we never get so comfortable in our humbly sung Words that we stop allowing them to impact our heart and life.

May we continue to be a people who worship “..in Spirit and in Truth.”