As it won’t be long before this blog moves over to SaintLewisMusic.com (in development), I thought I’d do a quick overview of some of the more popular, and more important blogs I’ve posted here over the past couple of years. Dig around, comment, link, and just have an all-around great time. Unquestionably, my number one blog has consistently been the text of a sermon I preached last year at our Youth Group, Inside Out. It’s called A GOD WORTHY OF WORSHIP, which has now been shortened into an article called WORTHY, featured at TheWorshipCommunity.com. More recently, I have added to this ‘series’ of worship sermons; WORSHIP [IS NOT ABOUT SINGING] part 1, & WORSHIP [IS ALL ABOUT SINGING] part 2.

My second most popular post here is related to the first – another message to Inside Out. It’s called THE MEANING OF LIFE, and is a teaching on our created-in-the-image-of-God-ness. Yes, that’s a word – I just said it, so it has to be!

Next in line were a few posts that are also some of my personal favorites. MISSING THE MARK addresses how one’s spiritual gifts can change the way in which they fulfill certain ministry responsibilities, in particular how one event re-shaped how I think of my own. LOOKING FOR POTENTIAL is a reminder to keep an open eye for certain signs of giftedness within your circles of ministry, and to encourage those gifts. Lastly, a few posts which, though they are not yet in the ‘top 5′ as far as popularity goes, mean a great deal to me. A FEW LESSONS LEARNED is a collection of things I’ve learned about leading worship over the past few years. DOING WHAT I WAS MADE TO DO is my reflection on a nearly perfect day. Lastly, ON BEING A WORSHIP CRITIC touches upon the temptation to trash those who don’t do it the way we do. In short, we should avoid that temptation. In long…well, you should read the blog! I also did a series on Apologetics as Worship, which began with UNBELIEF: ROADBLOCK TO TRUE WORSHIP. I address the faux CHRISTIAN VS. SECULAR MUSIC distinction, a phrase I find heartbreaking (THAT’S NOT WORSHIP), and EXCELLENCE & CREATIVITY.  Some more recent favorites include WELCOMED INTO HIS JOY, FINDING YOUR VOICE, and THE MAN BORN BLIND: GOD, EVIL & SUFFERING, which seems a very appropriate read, given recent events.

If you’ve missed any of those, be encouraged to play catch up, and jump in on the discussions – comments are still open. Let’s sharpen one another.

So be it!

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In all seriousness, it’ s been a strange week. Though I never knew her personally (I had seen her before, but I don’t believe we’d ever met), we had a number of friends in common, and as it has many others, her music moved me deeply. Having followed her battle against cancer this past year or so, it really hit me hard yesterday to learn of the loss of Katie Reider. Apparently, there were many others her life and music touched as well, for it was the highest number of blog readers I’ve had since I started publishing my thoughts online several years ago (on Xanga – does anyone use Xanga anymore?). My prayers go out to her closest friends and family.

On the other side of the coin, I guess you’d call yesterday “bittersweet” – the source of my new-found “fame” (though I hope, in fact, that it expresses God’s fame): I’m excited to announce that my article “WORTHY” is being featured at TheWorshipCommunity.com, an new online Worship ‘magazine’ which facilitates discussion and community among worship leaders & worship musicians who are “in the trenches”, as some have said – those who are leading their congregations in worship in churches around the world every Sunday. I’ve made some wonderful connections, and new friends, during the time that TWC was merely an online forum, and I’m excited to see it grow, and take the obvious next step into a full-blown online publication. I’m also honored to have the featured article this week. Please swing by, read it, and be encouraged to comment!

Lastly, it was a good evening because I can see the release of Saint Lewis’ “Songs from the Hope Farm” e.p. immediately on the horizon. Very late last night my wife & I were putting the finishing touches on one of her originals, and it just excites me to see this small sampler (all of these songs – albeit more professionally mixed versions – will also be featured on our full-length c.d. expected early next year) of original worship material come together, and I’ve been really blessed by the positive feedback we’ve received on many of our songs these past few months. A very limited edition printing of the e.p. will be ready very soon, but until then please stop by our website-in-the-making: Saint Lewis Music.

May God’s blessings be evident, & His Spirit be near…

My Bloody Valentine have reunited, are playing live, and working on releasing another c.d. Though they may not openly recognize God as the source, the depth of creativity with which they work almost single-handedly reshaped the rock scene in the late ’80s & early ’90s. I wonder if they’re up for trying that again? I hope so!

Here’s a sample of them in the ‘olden days’:

Now, to be entirely honest and fair, I must mention that neither Matt Redman nor Eoghan Heaslip (my two  favorite songwriters) have released new c.d.’s yet this year, so the playing field is pretty much wide open.  However, if I were pressured to pick my favorite CD of new music produced for use as corporate worship so far this year, it would be Sovereign Grace Music‘s COME WEARY SAINTS, hands down.

After their powerful 2006 release, VALLEY OF VISION (from which I used no less than 4 songs in various corporate venues), I had truly resolved that they could surely do no better.  Apparently I was wrong.

It’s not that the production hits me square between the eyes – in fact, there are even a few moments where a synth sound strikes me as a bit ‘cheesy’.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good sounding c.d., but I would have done things differently in several places, given my personal tastes.  And it’s not so much that the performances stand out, though everyone on the disc performs to the top of their ability, and I’m more than happy to hear Jonathan Baird of West Coast Revival take the lead more often here.  It’s not the edgiest worship release of the year, nor the catchiest (though, there are a few tunes that indeed have the hooks), nor the loudest, or even the hippest.

What sets Come Weary Saints apart is the lyrics.  And oh, what lyrics!  Here’s the deal, this is an entire worship c.d. written to a very good and sovereign God from various depths and experiences of brokenness and pain.  How does that settle with you?  The lyrics are doctrinally precise, yet still felt rather than thought – which is an accomplishment, indeed!  Some songs are cries of the heart – psalm-like it their honesty – and others are songs of rejoicing, even from the depths near despair, where trusting God is the only option left.  Even as I write this tears are welling up in my eyes – my mind grabbing themes which have given me much comfort in the passing months since I first listened to this disc.

Sure, not every song will connect with every listener.  The musical styles are varied, and there are one or two that I still have not connected with.  That said, this is not only an important c.d. for 2008, but in my book, an essential one.  Please pick it up, for your own sake.

For a good cross-section of what’s in store, check out the following samples on iTunes:
Hide Away in the Love of Jesus
Every Day
Through the Precious Blood
Healing in Your Wings

Finding your Voice…

June 25, 2008

I can sing.  I’ve always been able to sing.  I know it sounds cocky, but I’m just saying – I can’t remember a time when I’ve heard a song I liked and not been able to pick out most every part.  My mom has a beautiful voice – she used to walk the house while cleaning up in the late Summer afternoon singing “The wind they call Muriah” – my dad sang along to the oldies on long vacations, and late nights driving home from playing cards at our cousins nearly every weekend.  Even my grandmother, I discovered after she died, used to play autoharp in her family’s mountain bluegrass band growing up.  It’s in my blood, and though I have worked on it (any muscle needs to be exercised, ya know?), it’s came fairly naturally to me.

I’m very close to someone, however, for whom it has not been so easy.  Imagine your biggest dream being to sing – sometimes your ONLY dream – yet the voice just wasn’t there, and being reminded of it at every turn?  Whenever you sing, those present afterward compliment everyone on stage but you.  Some aren’t even so kind, commenting that so-n-so “sings so much better than you do“, and you wonder if they even have a clue.  So take every opportunity to improve yourself, but it comes in slow, small increments.  You take lessons, and you learn more about your inner life – your heart – than you do about how to command your voice to do what you hear inside your head.  Then one day, you give up – you pray: “God, teach me to sing.”  And not immediately, but almost immediately, something ‘cracks’ when you are worshiping – volume swells up, and faith rises up in you saying “SING!”  It’s a voice you only barely recognize, and though not yet polished, it’s the voice you’ve always heard in your heart – raw, and in need of ‘shaping’, but it’s the voice, none-the-less:  YOUR VOICE.

It’s been a beautiful story for me to see beginning to unfold, but it goes one step further to convince me of something I’ve always known deep in my soul.  EVERYONE CAN SING.  God made us for it, and though your voice may not win on American Idol, you have one – it’s strong, it changes a room when you open it, it says things that were made only for your mouth, expressing ideas that can come only from your heart.  God gave you that voice – it is especially for you: IT IS YOURS.

Never give up – USE IT.  I’ve absolutely no doubt about it: that is what you must do!

amen.

I have been reading though Bob Kauflin‘s excellent book, WORSHIP MATTERS: LEADING OTHERS TO ENCOUNTER THE GREATNESS OF GOD, and though I don’t have the book on hand immediately to quote from directly, one idea in particular has hung with me for weeks now and I simply have to share it.

Worship is an invitation to enter into the joy that the Trinity has experienced from eternity past.

It’s Edwards-ian in it’s depth and profundity, meaning that I may never entirely understand the concept, but it rings true on so many levels: it’s as though an idea comes at my feeble mind in so many directions at once that I can’t possibly see it from enough angles to wrap myself around it.

It all goes back to the Biblical truth that God did not create us out of loneliness or want, but out of an overflow of joy. God needs nothing, particularly relationally, as God is a perfect community – an unbroken fellowship – three who are actually one. When we are converted, we are adopted as His child through Jesus, and filled with God’s Spirit, and likewise when we LIVE worship, we are living in our Creator’s presence, through our Savior’s work, drawn in by the indwelling Counselor within, and we are stepping in the midst of that perfect eternal relationship – participating in the fellowship between Father, Son, & Spirit – which overflowed into the creation itself, and from which our own life-story flows. And even our bit in this grand story is all about Him, as I’ve written in my song ‘All in All‘; “You made me – sustained me. You saved and showed mercy to me. You called me, and sent me, but all in all it’s been all about You.

And that’s the wonder of it all: we benefit from the love God has for God – we find eternal security because the Father loves the Son, and the Son eternally stands to intercede for us – because we are filled with the good deposit of the Holy Spirit, and God can never be ‘against’ God. We can experience deep joy walking a life of worship, because when we do we – albeit in some limited, imperfect sense – feel the love a perfect eternal Father has for His Son (whom we are ‘in’) and His Spirit (whom is ‘in’ us).

Lord, let me grow deeper in that eternal joy!

So be it!

In part one, I explained in detail how worship was, ultimately, not about singing, but about a whole life – heart, mind, soul, and strength – given over to God. I explained how, in the most important sense, I was not a worship leader – that at least I was unable to actually lead anyone into the presence of God, for that is Christ’s job, and was accomplished by his work on the cross on our behalf. Lastly, our personal response to what Christ has done is simple: draw near.

However, If you are ‘in Christ’, you are in God’s presence, and part of God’s kingdom. And if that’s you, I’ve got an important, but possibly confusing message for you, if you’ll allow me a direct contradiction from my last teaching: Worship is all about Singing. Give me a few paragraphs to explain.

Last Sunday morning I led worship for the 11 AM service at church. Oddly enough, I was no where on stage. I had no microphone, never address the congregation verbally from stage, and played no instrument. I didn’t pick songs. I didn’t rehearse the band. I did absolutely nothing that would make you think that I was leading worship, but I was a worship leader, none-the-less.

Who of you is a ‘worship leader’? Not in the sense that Jesus is, by bringing us into the Holy of Holies, but in the sense in which we usually use the word? Which of you are called to lead others in corporately worshiping God? Read the rest of this entry »

Recently on one of the ‘lists’ I subscribe to online a fellow subscriber forwarded yet another email (this one from one of her personal friends) on the evils of secular music, and the blessings of Christian music. Though I admit that the heart behind her message was good, to draw such a line in the sand is nothing short of legalism.

You see, there is really no Christian/Secular distinction – at least I have yet to see a valid way for one to make such a distinction. For one, there is no Scriptural definition by which one can define music as ‘Christian’. A song can’t be ‘saved’, just because it’s written by a Christian doesn’t mean it’s content is necessarily Biblical, just because the content of a song is Biblical doesn’t mean it was necessarily written and/or performed by a Christian – the list goes on & on & on. Honestly, over the years I have known a good number of CCM musicians – and I know people who know a lot more than I do. Some of the ones who sing the most blatantly Jesus-centered middle-of-the-road ‘dear God please don’t offend a single soul‘ bland CCM, that mention Jesus every other line, and clone melodies and styles of music that were popular no more recently than 20 years ago, are – when not on stage – the most cursing, partying, and absolutely un-Jesus-like people you could ever meet. Likewise, some who don’t sing about Jesus WHATSOEVER (I have one in mind who’s released about 15 c.d.’s yet have never mentioned Jesus once in the lyrics, and has no openly Biblical themes), and rock so loud they’d scare your older siblings, let alone you grandma, are humble, Bible-believing, family men/women who are faithful believers in Christ.
So tell me, WHAT is a ‘Christian song’? Does Bach’s classical work count, particularly the stuff with no lyrics?
The only valid dinstinction I can think of is between music written explicitly for the Glory of the Biblical God, and that written for the Glory of another. Yet, with the former, sometimes an individual intent may be to glorify the Biblical God, but their theology is so askew that the results is actually the worship of a false God (since the song sings to Jesus, but not a Jesus that is actually written about in the Bible), and when considering the latter, which may have been intended to glorify someone other than God, such songs still glorify God in some sense as all creative acts point back to the creator. In fact, even something written explicitly to glorify God may not work to uplift my spirits and draw me closer to him, so in that case, it may be best that I avoid it.
What it really comes down to is “What do I personally feel edified by?“, which is an almost entirely subjective question, about which there are few very clear rules. Yeah, you PROBABLY shouldn’t listen to music with excessive cursing (though – to be honest – I have very rarely heard very powerful songs written by Christians, and about Biblical themes that have contained language some might find offensive, in order to drive home their point), and you PROBABLY shouldn’t listen to too much music written by people who’s overt intent is to undermine your faith through music. Other than that, I think the decision is yours…
What this means for me personally, as someone who deeply loves music, is that I need to stay in touch with my thoughts and emotions.  If I’ve had a rough day at work, and am tempted to be angry with God, I will likely need to ‘conform my mind’ by listening to explicitly God-glorifying corporate worship music, even though I may not want to.  However, if it’s a wonderful summer day, and all is well, I may just as easily worship God in my heart & mind while listening to some non-believers rockin’ out in French (okay, so I’m thinking particularly of Stereolab’s excellent song “Metronomic Underground”, which has accompanied me during many a wonderful Summer day).  There may be days that I need to mourn a loss, and I put on Vigilantes of Love’s Resplendent, but I need to remember not to stay there, for there is also a time to rejoice!
So, that’s it folks – there is no ‘Christian music’. Likewise, there is no ‘Secular music’. That said, be careful of what you take in, because music is powerful, and has the power to change your mind and move your heart. I suggest you make of point of evaluating where you mind and heart go when listening to music, and choose to listen to what moves you towards Christ.

What makes you feel valued – of worth? Gifts? A phone call? Has anyone ever sung a song for you (Happy Birthday, per chance)? Better yet, has anyone ever WRITTEN a song for you? Music is powerful – SINGING IS POWERFUL. I’m serious: guys, if you know you are ugly, and you want to get married one day, buy an instrument NOW! But, music – and singing – is not enough. What if someone wrote you a song, but then hit on your best friend? Wouldn’t be quite as cool, would it? In fact, you’d probably despise that song, and turn the radio station any time it came on. There is more to feeling loved – to being praised- than simply being sung about, or to. This is an important point: WORSHIP IS NOT – at least not in any ‘ultimate’ sense – ABOUT SINGING, and, in the most important sense of the term, I am not your “worship leader”.

Sure, I may lead people in song, and on my best days (or, hopefully, MOST days) I encourage then to sing to God, but that’s not necessarily ‘worship’, and at best that makes me a ‘lead worshiper’ or a ‘song-leader’, not a worship leader. My ‘official title’ here at the church, at least the one on my job description, says “Associate Music Director”, which is very appropriate, I think, and Biblical.

I know what some people THINK we worship leaders are trying to do. I’ve heard it. Haven’t you ever heard someone who was really into a corporate worship service say of the so-called ‘worship leader’; “he really led me into the presence of God”? Or were you the one who said it? Now, I think I understand their heart, and what they’re TRYING to convey, but they were absolutely wrong because NO worship leader today can do that! I can’t do that – I was never MEANT to do that! But, someone else was, and DID! Read the rest of this entry »

And now introducing…

December 4, 2007

Samuel Tucker Haddon Lewis, born 4:59 A.M. on Sunday morning, December 2nd, 2007. Stretching out a full 21 inches long, and weighing in at 8 lbs 5 oz, he’s very healthy, peaceful, a great eater, and let’s just say that his plumbing works, and often.

In the Bible, names are important – they means something, often acting almost like a prophecy over the individual named. Like his older brother, Daniel Kenimer Augustus, Tucker has a big name, and God-willing, that name represents his calling.

“Samuel”, at first was chosen to honor a pastor/author/Bible teacher who’s balance between the ‘Word of God’ and the ‘Spirit of God’ I find ideal: C. Samuel Storms. Sam has authored many of my favorite books, and his teaching has sent me back to the Scriptures again and again. However, after I’d already decided on that name, God led me to begin re-reading the Biblical book of 1st Samuel, and I was given a 2nd reason to give him the name: “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.” (1st Samuel 3:19) When Tucker speaks, I want his words to have purpose and impact people, and not be like so many of mine have been – fruitless, and without impact. In both of these ways I hope that Tucker is indeed a “Samuel”.

“Tucker”, my wife’s maiden name, and the last name of her Father as well – a man respected by many, who seeks to worship and serve God to the best of his ability, whom we respect and love deeply. I believe that re-using maiden names as a first name gives a person a sense of history – a constant reminder of those who have gone before him.

“Haddon”, the middle name of the incredible pastor-teacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, more commonly known as “C. H. Spurgeon” – “the prince of preachers”. In the mid-1800s, long before sounds systems or, for that matter, ‘mega-churches’, at the age of just 22, Spurgeon pastored a church which sometimes numbered over 10,000 a Sunday! To this day his influence is second to possibly only Jonathan Edwards, another of my long-dead heros.

And “Lewis” is his direct connection to me and my mess of a history – the good and bad which I hope God will use to both glorify Himself, and to teach others, like my young Tucker, of his goodness and faithfulness, in spite of our short-comings.

I thank God for this glorious weekend…welcome to the world, and my family, young Tucker!

Amen!

John Piper on God’s Glory

November 26, 2007

This short essay – or rather, compilation of Scriptures – is so important that I chose not only to cross-post this to both of my blogs, but also to re-print it in it’s entirety here. If you’ve never read these passages back-to-back, or if you are unfamiliar with the “Christian Hedonism” espoused by such folks as Piper, Sam Storms, and even Jonathan Edwards, these verses may very well turn your world on it’s head. I know they did mine.
_____________________________________________________ Read the rest of this entry »

I do admit it: I have odd taste in movies. That’s not to say that there aren’t ‘popular’ films that I enjoy, but my very favorite are almost all foreign or ‘art-house’/’indie’ films. Why do they move me so? I think it’s because not only are their creators passionate about what they have to say, but due to low budgets they are unable to lean upon special effects to make their film work, so the story has to be compelling enough to hold a viewer’s attention. These films, my friends, are POWERFUL. Each and every one has challenged me, moved my emotions, and caused me to THINK – sometimes for weeks – in ways I hadn’t considered before. That is the power of a truly good film: a story that can shape it’s hearer. Read the rest of this entry »

I was really challenged by a letter I received recently from Desiring God Ministries entitled “Remember Why You Sold Everything.”

In it, Desiring God director, Jon Bloom, referenced Matthew 13:44; The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Read the rest of this entry »

A God worthy of Worship

August 24, 2007

“Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.”
– Albert Einstein

Hubble pic

(a collection of photographs by the Hubble telescope covering less than 1/2 square inch of night sky)

I realize that quote may be beyond some of you. Try this paraphrase – quite possibly the most brilliant Genius of the last century said, ‘I know science, and every theory or natural law that proves true ultimately points to the inescapable idea that SOMETHING is behind it all.’

Now, I admit it; Einstein was not a Christian – maybe not even a ‘theist’ – but even as a genius he was able to recognize that there MUST be something beyond this amazing universe.

Have you ever thought about awe and beauty? What about a mountain makes us stand in awe – or a beautiful sunset – a newborn baby – or even, for some of the serious geeks among us, a new Myst game (I proudly own my geek-dom, thank you very much)? How many of you have ever stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon and actually felt BIG and, pretty significant in comparison? If you’re like me, you arrogantly marched to the canyon’s edge, and then dropped to your knees to cling to the earth in response. It is beauty on that magnitude that just inspires awe.

Read the rest of this entry »

I absolutely love podcasts – it’s an excellent way to access great Bible teaching without having to read continually, or travel extensively to conferences around the country. Here are a few incredible teachings on ‘worship’ that I’ve found very challenging/encouraging over the past few months…

DEDICATION AND DELIGHT (Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Seattle)

WHY DO WE SING? (Bob Kauflin, ChristChurch UK)

WORSHIP: THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES (Mike Plewniak, Cornerstone Church of Knoxville)
this is an excellent resource, an overview of ‘worship’ – though I have a copy on my computer, I can’t currently find it on the web – check back soon, as I’m going to keep looking…and if any of you know the folks over at Cornerstone Church, tell them to put it back up!

CHRIST, OUR ACCESS (Mark Mullery, Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax)