One thing that made Worship God ’08 unique from many worship conferences is the content of the main sessions.  Apart from the fact that the Psalms are the Old Testament hymn-book, none of the sessions were necessarily directly related to worship as it is commonly understood: corporate singing.  Likewise, only one of the sessions was taught by an individual others would consider a “worship leader”, and that was Bob Kauflin, the organizer of the whole event.  Instead, the speakers were  primarily Bible teachers, Pastors, & even Seminary professors, all of whom were solidly evangelical, and who took their time applying serious scholarship to the text before reaching into the various areas of application.  It was like a 4 day seminary for worship pastors, and much akin to drinking from a fire hydrant.  In fact, I will likely be going over my notes for several weeks in order to process it all.

The Wednesday night main session was KNOWING GOD WITH THE PSALMIST by Craig Cabaniss, a pastor in Frisco, TX.  “Where do we get our ideas about God?” Craig asked at the outset, noting that “…our perception of God will shape our response to God.”  Focusing his attention on Psalm 33, he drew attention to the WHY of worship, and challenged us to “…respond to GOD, who He IS and what He has DONE, and not to whether or not we are familiar with or like a song“.  Craig taught with great passion, and began the conference on the right step.

Thursday morning’s session was EXPRESSING EMOTION WITH THE PSALMIST by Thabiti Anyabwile, a jovial yet passionate pastor currently serving in the Grand Camman Islands, and the author of the excellent new book “What is a Healthy Church Member?” in the IX Marks series.  Taking apart Psalm 73, and teaching through it piece by piece, Thabiti pointed out that “…we as humans are terrible at predicting the source of joy…“, later adding that all “man-centered emotions ultimately lead to despair“.  The 73rd Psalm, it turns out, is a helpful reminder that believers may be experiencing a wide range of emotions.  Thabiti challenged us “too often we lead from ‘happy’ to ‘great joy’“, not addressing the fact that much of our congregation are simply not there.  Emotions are real, and important, but we – as pastors and worship leaders – need to address our congregations, and lead worship, in a way that directs our emotions God-ward, and guides and trains people’s hearts to respond to the right things.  Emotions for emotions’ sake will lead to despair, but “when I see Him, I will be satisfied“.  I found Thabiti’s applications particularly helpful, as he encouraged us to:
1.) Avoid shallow ways of triggering emotions
2.) Address the full range of emotions in our corporate worship
3.) Teach about and address suffereing
4.) Help our people see God in  way that draws them from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.

In many ways what I drew from these first two main sessions is quite similar: to lead passionately, doing all I can to put together worship sets, and lead in a way, that meets our people where they are, and merely where I think they should be.  I was also challenged to better address our congregation in a way that leads them to see God, and aspects of God, and leading songs that give them an opportunity to respond to revelation genuinely, rather than merely encouraging emotion and excitement for the sake of emotion itself.  Though it may be exciting for me to see a whole room ‘stirred up’, doing so when the emotion isn’t genuine may actually be training our people to lead the ‘train by the caboose’ to use the old Campus Crusade for Christ illustration of FACT (the engine), FAITH (the cars), & FEELING (caboose).  These were helpful reminders, indeed.

Next up, Mark Dever, & David Powlison’s main sessions…

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Anyone who’s been following me on Twitter, BeenUp2, or Facebook is likely well aware that I have been in Gaithersburg, MD at the Worship God ’08 Conference hosted by Covenant Life Church/Sovereign Grace Ministries, and what an experience it has been so far!

I’ve been blessed to hook up face-to-face and get to know some fellow TheWorshipCommunity members, like Brad & Lowell from Clear Creek Community Church (who have taken me in like a member of their own church family), and other gifted and friendly worship leaders like Nate from Grace Church in Chapel Hill, Tim & Joel from Mars Hill Seattle, and Ryan & Jonathan from West Coast Revival, as well as the whole Sovereign Grace Music crew, who are incredibly friendly (when Bob Kauflin glanced at my name-tag and recognized my name he proclaimed “I AM SO GLAD YOU COULD MAKE IT!” then gave me a monster bear-hug… that definitely made me feel more than welcome).

One thing that really stands out about this conference is that, in spite of the foremention list of folks, this has really been a conference for the ‘average’ worship leader: very little ‘flash & bang’ or big production.  Worship has been led by real worship teams that lead on Sundays at various churches, leading mostly original songs written in-house at their specific church.  We’ve also been exposed to a WIDE variety of musical forms: bluegrass, jazz, rock, gospel, and combinations I don’t dare label, but which worked wonderfully (one team consisted of a Coldplay-esque rock worship band, accompanied by a violin & viola, drum-loops, record scratching, a black gospel singer, and a soulful blue harmonica player – oh, and they led almost soley old hymns… and for some reason, it wasn’t even that weird, in the moment).

I’ve got a great deal of content to share, but that will have to come later.  Needless to say, this conference has already been of great benefit to me, and I encourage any who have a chance to go in the future to do so.  More to come…

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!

(originally delivered to WDA campus ministry at the University of Georgia)

“Lucky mud?” Is that all we are? Many of you, as college student, have likely encountered the innumerable unbiblical opinions expressed concerning who we are and what we are doing here. Richard Pratt, in his book Designed for Dignity tells the true story of a young woman who had left her husband and two children for another lover. The lover had recently thrown her out of his place, so alone in a hotel room, despairing the events that had led her to where she now was, she shot herself in the head with a .38 caliber pistol. The note she left on the nightstand simply stated, “Don’t cry for me – I’m not even human anymore. Ironically, just two floors down in that very hotel was a New Age convention. The gunshot couldn’t even be heard above the din of the crowd, who were all chanting, “I am God! …I am God! …I am God!

Sometimes we hear such rhetoric from the very same individual, such as when a non-Christian professor pokes fun of traditional religion and proclaims us masters of our own fate, yet at the same time believes that we are no more than the product of chance and law, so called “lucky mud.”

Even as Christians many of us have accepted the subtle lies of the culture around us, rather than the words of the very God who created us. We believe that we are entirely sovereign over our own destiny. We believe that work is merely a chore to be put up with and is only for the sake of sustenance. We believe that sensuality is the end all of everything, and that a marriage relationship that doesn’t bring us happiness is one to be abandoned, for surely our own happiness is God’s highest priority. In some cases, Christians even believe that we can abandon the Biblical story of Adam and Eve altogether, the very story that serves as a corrective of the many things we tempted to believe concerning who we are and what we are here for, and on which Christ’s very work as our redeemer, the second Adam, stands. Read the rest of this entry »

I first preached the following sermon at a WDA Campus Ministry meeting at the University of Georgia in 2002. I have been hoping to edit it into essay form to blog for some time now. My interest was rekindled after reading Fred’s fascinating blog on Sickness yesterday, hoping to balance some of the other writing I’ve been doing on the subject in my lengthy dialogue with the text of SUFFERING & THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD over at my other blog. It is a healthy reminder to myself, and hopefully many others, that all-to-often we ask the wrong questions. I hope this blesses, challenges, and encourages you…

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Let me set the stage. You’re in the backyard of a single-story brick home on a hilly eight acres of spring-green grass. One acre is a garden, freshly planted, and needing rain. Downhill, East of the house is a small creek-bed lined with maple, white oak, and buckeye trees that seem to form a wall protecting a patch of newly planted evergreens nearly hidden behind them. All around edge the yard are log fence-posts, with fields of wheat, tobacco, and corn crops on the other side. This particular day was dark, and it looked as though it may storm. In the backyard among all that beauty stood an 8 year-old boy who was lonely, angry, and alienated, and just wanted a friend. He had been teased a lot at school for being weird, and many of his “friends” only kept him around as a scapegoat. Though his parents were not believers, his mom had taken him to Vacation Bible School at a local church to help teach him “right and wrong.” There he learned enough about God to come to the conclusion that it was God who was to blame for all his pain. That day, as a storm was fast approaching, that young boy held a pocketknife to the sky and screamed, “Come down here because I’m going to kill you. He waited around for a few minutes, in tears, and when he decided God wasn’t going to show he returned inside. That day he lost what little faith he might have had and began to live his life as though God did not exist. Read the rest of this entry »

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and GO ON TO MATURITY, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 5:12-6:3

Lastly, from this passage, the mature should be beyond the following: 1.) dead works (trying to earn one’s salvation through works rather than by faith), 2.) instruction about washings (the mature should already be baptized and have a clear understanding of the nature of baptism, both physical and spiritual), 3.) laying on of hands (the mature should understand the transference of gifts and authority within the church), 4.) resurrection (Jesus was raised bodily, and we will be too), and 5.) eternal life. Basically, these should no longer be stumbling blocks or issues for the mature – they should be beyond these 5 issues, and if they are not, they should be addressed now, so they may move on to more important matters of discipling and laying these foundational truths and practices in other’s lives. We should, as believers seeking to ‘grow up’ in Christ, solidify what we believe on these matters – seeking the Scriptures, and Godly counsel – in order to move beyond these basics, so we don’t feel the need to continually ‘debate’ or ‘discuss’ them again. These are simple teachings – things that are foundational to the Christian life, according the Bible. Read the rest of this entry »

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and GO ON TO MATURITY, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 5:12-6:3

The mature practice discernment. Notice; they don’t merely HAVE it – they put it into practice, and this discernment is sharpened by being continually put to good use. The discernment spoken of here is no spiritual gift, but simply something every mature believer, by encountering and knowing and growing up into Christ-like-ness, should have. And what does discernment in practice look like? Godly wisdom – nothing less. What is Godly wisdom? Applying the truth that we discover by “rightly handling the Word”.

It’s easy to let other’s consciences guide us, as seems to be the practice for far too many Evangelical Christians, which results in us, when trying to be ‘Biblical’ on secondary matters, teaching as truth – as law – things that the Scriptures are not actually clear on. Though many think they’re doing other believers a service, too often this acts as an ‘adding to the Gospel’, and usually results in ultimately enslaving genuine believers to the law – emphasizing law over grace, a grave error for believers, which ultimately leads to death, rather than eternal life.

We need to each approach the Word to discern for ourselves how God wants us to apply His Word, and be careful to not bind other believer’s by our own consciences on secondary matters. As each of us matures, we will discern how God is leading.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and GO ON TO MATURITY, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 5:12-6:3

I see my calling as not only that of a ‘worship leader’, but rather a ‘worship discipler’.  In fact, I think the call of every believer is to ‘make disciples’, but it’s a hard road for many because we don’t understand what we’re working towards.  This current series of blogs will examine the 3 primary goals which amount to Maturity in Christ: Character, Attitude, & Lifestyle.  I hope you stick with me for the long-haul, and be encouraged to discuss!

There is a time by which a believer is no longer in need of discipleship, but should be given responsibility to disciple others – a time where he or she is no longer a student, but a teacher. This does not mean we/they stop learning, just as an adult does not stop eating food when he or she is no longer a child. If any of us stopped eating we would die, but an adult does – under normal circumstances – no longer need to be spoon fed like a child. He is equipped to feed himself. Biblically, we should each grow up to feed ourselves – to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). This doesn’t mean we’re encouraged to separate ourselves from fellowship with other believers (Hebrews 10:25), but only that there is a point at which we should no longer need the spiritual attention of a newborn – when we should then be giving, rather than merely receiving. We need to seek Biblical relationships which can encourage this growth to happen – to put ourselves in situations and environments where we can become self-feeders.

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 »

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 »

For those of you who enjoy deep thinking and in-depth Bible study on tough theological issues, I’ve been engaging the excellent book (one of my favorites) over at my other blog, SUFFERING & THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD, a collection of challenging essays by solid Christian thinkers who have each suffered uniquely, who came together to speak to the Desiring God National Conference in 2005.  I’m finding my own thoughts on these subjects challenged, and deepened, and hope to continue ‘reflecting’ on this book chapter-by-chapter all the way to the end.

If you’d like to dive in, here are the posts to date:

INTRO & CHAPTER 1 (10 aspects of God’s Sovereignty over Suffering & Satan’s hand in It)

CHAPTER 2, PART 1 (All the Good that is ours in Christ)

CHAPTER 2, PART 2 (All the Good that is ours in Christ continued)

Be encouraged to discuss…

blessings!

Having been raised an Atheist, I understand the power of unbelief – it can act as a religion unto itself, and can be as much a world-view shaping belief system as the most controlling cult. Now, as a Christian, and a worship leader, I have recently recognized one of the hindrances to passionate, full-personed (heart, mind, soul, & strength) worship: unbelief. All too often our personal faith is based merely on experience, and though our personal experiences can supplement a deep, intellectual wrestling with facts to find the truth, even the Bible is FULL of individuals who had radical experiences of God, who later – sometimes quickly – turned from that very God whom they experienced. To truly worship God, we must KNOW HIM (experience) with our Heart, KNOW ABOUT HIM (apologetics/theology/doctrine) with our Minds, HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM ON A SPIRITUAL LEVEL (it is not enough just to have a spiritual experience once, and to like the IDEA of God – we must have a soul-level on-going spiritual relationship with Him), and actively WALK WITH HIM (walking out what we know is true). We must love the One we know about in an on-going relationship that results in living differently – that is loving God with your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And we can only do this if our mind is on board, which is why there are such a thing as ‘apologetics’.

I once told a former house-mate of mine that I was speaking at an apologetics conference – he said that he was very sorry. Maybe that’s you – but seriously, since I’m going to start this on-going series on apologetics I feel it only right that I should AT LEAST touch upon what apologetics are and why we should even bother, before attempting to DO apologetics. William Lane Craig, author of Reasonable Faith, defines apologetics as “that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide a rational justification of the truth claims of the Christian faith.” So, for the uninitiated among us, “apologetics” is basically a “Case for Christ” – giving a “Reason for God”. Apologetics makes us ask the question, “How can I rationally defend my faith?” Though there are many passages we could look at concerning this, I’d like to glance quickly at just a few verses that I believe should encourage every one of us to recognize the importance of a having a good, personal apologetic, not primarily for the sake of sharing your faith, but MAINLY in order to make you a better worshiper.

2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Notice that at first this verse seems to encourage argument, which seems to be in conflict with much of the wisdom of the Old Testament Proverbs – after a closer look I believe the second half of this verse clarifies it’s intended meaning – the arguments and pretensions that we are to demolish are ‘thoughts’ – ideas that take root in our minds, planted there by life in this fallen world. This verse encourages us to develop our critical thinking skills, so we can grapple with the ideas we encounter, and sift them like wheat – literally demolishing anything that acts to hinder our faith. This is truly what it means to “love the Lord with all of your mind” – giving all your thoughts to Him, and seeing which stand true — studying that we might know the truth, and seeking to think more “Christian-ly” about the world in which we live.

Secondly, let’s look at a handful of passages from Luke’s sequel; the book of Acts 17:2, 17, 18:4, 19 say as follows; “Paul…reasoned with them from the Scriptures”, “…he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day…”, “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks”, and lastly, “He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.” In every one of these verses, Paul is recorded as not giving just a simplistic Gospel message followed by an alter-call. Instead Paul put great time and effort into REASONING with non-believers. In Athens, in fact, he even uses a local “alter to an unknown god” to make a case for the truth of the Christian God. Another significant thing to note, however, is the centrality of the Bible to good apologetics; Paul didn’t just use fancy philosophy to convince people of the truth of Christ, but “he reasoned from the Scriptures.” It is important to remember that, even in apologetics, the Scriptures are central to what we do – if it is indeed true that “the word does not return void”, then we’d be foolish to begin elsewhere. Often, one of the things that leads us to doubt is that we are not in the Scriptures regularly, and when we are there, we do it merely as a chore – not expecting to meet God within its pages.

If God requires of us as believers to love Him with all of our “heart, mind, soul, and strength”, we should recognize the true Gospel appeals to the whole person AS A PERSON – not as merely a ‘sales pitch’, which is what has too often occurred. Though the Scriptures require of us to “always be prepared to give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15)our intent is not to merely win arguments – even with our own doubts – it is to lead ourselves and others to further see the greatness (and TRUTH) of God, so we can better worship Him, and be better ‘worship leaders’ (in the broadest sense of the word) to a world that grows continually more skeptical by the minute.

Thinking back to not only my own walk, but looking around at the spiritual walks of so many others, I think of the fire that so many of us had when we first met Jesus, which grows dim as personal tragedy and heartbreak hit, and we let ourselves grow skeptical. How can I expect to be used of God to set a room of worshipers aflame with passion for Him, if I, myself, am not on fire for Him? For that reason – both for my own soul, for other worship leaders with whom I have contact, and for the sake of those I am blessed to lead, I am going to begin a weekly blog entitled “Unbelief: roadblock to true worship”, which I hope to publish every Tuesday. I hope that in the process of your mind growing more convinced, that our hearts with grow more passionate, our spiritual lives will flourish, and that the reality of Christ will be undeniable in our lives – which IS worship lived out.

I hope you will go on this journey with me.

So be it.

Friday Blog Love

February 22, 2008

Happy Friday! Just thought I’d spread some blog-love around before the weekend.

My friend (and one of my ‘bosses’, though that sounds so harsh & authoritarian), Fred McKinnon, has posted a pic of our new auditorium. It doesn’t represent the full room, but you can get a feel for it. I’m EXCITED!

I just discovered a very cool older post over at Fundamentally Reformed called THE RISE OF THE MODERN HYMN MOVEMENT, as well as a newer follow up post; MODERN HYMN WRITERS. Mandy, you should enjoy this. Being in a songwriting kick, myself, I found it fascinating.

One of my few living heroes, Tim Keller, has finished his new book THE REASON FOR GOD. Along with N.T. Wright‘s SIMPLY CHRISTIAN, this may be one of the best apologetics for the Biblical faith for post-moderns written to date. Good stuff.

Rich Kirkpatrick recently posted a very though provoking blog in his ‘Worship Mythbusters’ series entitled WORSHIP IS NOT ENTERTAINMENT.

I’ll be taking a much-needed blogging break until March 3rd.  Until we meet again!

Amen…and OUT.

Given how many ‘secular’ (I don’t actually BELIEVE in a Christian/Secular distinction, but I sometimes use it for the sake of simplicity) artists I talk about here, you may wonder why I mention them so often on a ‘Worship Blog’. Two words:

1. EXCELLENCE

2. CREATIVITY

God is great. He deserves our best – the ‘first fruit’. That is worship: giving God our best. Worship music – and all music made by Christians, which should be an act of bringing glory to God – should be original, inspiring, and – at least in some sense – cutting edge. This is one of the reasons I have been so convicted as of late to write new songs for worship, and to develop my craft as a writer: God deserves it.

God is also the creator, which is to say, He is the most creative being in the universe. We’re created in His image. Jesus is restoring us to that perfect image of God – our creator God: the creative God. Though there has been great headway made in this are the past few years, it should be the NORM, not the exception, that Christian be leading the pack in making music that is both excellent & creative, rather than creating more mediocre rip-offs of musical genres that are long passe to the culture at large.

Believe it or not, I listen to about 90% music that would be considered ‘Christian’ (as in, the artists either profess faith, and/or are on a ‘Christian label’ – whatever that means, and/or sing songs with messages primarily about Christian things – don’t fool yourself into thinking that all 3 of those must be in place in order for an artist to be labeled ‘Christian’ for marketing purposes, though), most of which is what would be called ‘worship music.’ Artists like Matt Redman, Eoghan Heaslip, Steve Jones, Jeremy Riddle, & the Sovereign Grace team encourage and inspire me: their songs are fresh, Biblical, challenging, and frankly I NEED that – I need to drink from that well. But they have their influences, and I only receive those musical influences distilled – watered-down – when I step into the stream at it’s end. I find it FAR more helpful, and far more challenging for me as a musician and a writer, to wander up-stream to it’s sources.

For instance, if you want to be the next Delirious stop sitting in your room trying to play “My Glorious”, and don’t even bother thinking you’re cutting edge by learning a U2 song – pick up My Bloody Valentine‘s LOVELESS (yes, those are GUITARS). Learn “Only Shallow” or “Loomer”, which inspired U2 to make their classic “Achtung Baby”, which then inspired 1,000s of clones in both Christian and Secular markets, even many ‘worship artists’. Besides, if you can work your effects and manipulate your guitar to sound like My Bloody Valentine, you will have no problems pulling off tunes that could tie Delirious in knots if you worked at it.

Similarly, if you want to explore the dreamier side of Brit-pop as a songwriter or musician, you may want to pick up “Serene Velocity” – an anthology by Stereolab, even though you’ll understand less than half the words (much of it is in France), and what little you’ll understand will primarily be political pro-socialism garbage. Yes, ahh – the music: a blend of Hip-Hop, Funk, Jazz, Chamber Pop, 50’s Lounge, Vintage Electronica, and ‘Krautrock’ – I THINK it fits somewhere in the ‘Rock’ category, but that’s debatable. I personally discovered a few of their early EPs as I was discovering the whole 4AD & Shoegazer music scenes in the 90s, and they had a long-term influence on my use of counter-melody and syncopation in many of my own songs. Here’s a good, balanced compilation of their tunes from the beginning until now. It might not be your cup of tea, but if you’re looking to expand your palette, here’s a good place to start.

And please, let’s not be derivative – good music should open our mind to the almost endless possibilities we have as songwriters and musicians…push yourselves. Remember: He deserves our BEST.

Atonement

February 18, 2008

One of the most powerful clips from Television I have ever seen. It says a lot, but I’ll let it speak for itself.

thanks to Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds for the link.

Confession: this will be no surprise to most of you, but I – though a card-holding Bible-believing Evangelical Christian – have a few contentions with the American church at large, at least as the Christian faith is often imagined/understood/expressed here (I can’t speak as clearly to European Christianity as I not only don’t find myself in that scene, but haven’t even yet visited – it is possible that my contention may be even more universal in nature, I suppose). That’s not to say that I necessarily believe that Christians who disagree with me are ‘lost’ – only that, at this point, I think they’re mistaken. Read the rest of this entry »