ef·fer·ves·cent

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
ef·fer·ves·cent19 years old, visiting with relatives for the weekend, I was seated within the sanctuary of a large church in Durham, NC. I was taking in the scene around me: men, women, boys, girls…most singing, many clapping and swaying…some running…some speaking in languages other than English…a large choir on stage with various musicians and other singers. In spite of the frantic energy in the room, I was feeling the seconds being slowly peeled away from the unknown remainder of the service.
As I sat pining for the lunch awaiting me (the only reason I attended here), I tried to distract my focus from waiting out the unyielding worship leader on the stage and began to note the elements of the environment that frustrated me, that shouted at me, “Look over here! No, look at this! Wow…have you noticed me yet? How could you have missed this one?”
The choir and musicians swelled into a key change, foreshadowing a second wind, and the congregation responded as if they were floating atop carbonated waves….”I want to be washed in the blood of the Lamb! I need a cleansing from the fountain!”
The heaviness of perfumes in the air underscored the loud garish colors shouting from the dresses and hair accessories of pious women intending to present themselves in modest dress while cajoling around the room in dramatic fashion. Men in stark white dress shirts tucked within shells of dark suits shouted and cheered. Pumping their hands and fists in the air. Shiny belts, polished shoes, awkward ties. The choir whipping up the room into a frenzy of steamy fabrics, misty perfumes, and billowing hair sculptures.
Sigh…such misguided people.
Internally, I was weighing it all harshly and with much frustration bordering on anger. Externally, I smiled and kept time with my foot patting dark carpet and one hand softly tapping a knee. This was my extent of my polite participation while my physical form sat anchored to a pew by a spirit in protest. I encouraged the steadiness of my bankrupt heart with images of chicken and cornbread and mashed potatoes.
I honestly cannot provide an explanation for what happened next. It was as if a television program’s broadcast signal was abruptly disrupted causing an entire scene from the show in progress to be lost…missed…unseen…and the signal suddenly returns, the show is restored, and nothing you’re seeing makes any sense now.
My awareness of sitting in judgement was truncated and suddenly, like a slight of hand magic trick, I find myself suddenly conscious of my body fully erect, both arms sticking up as rods towards the sky, my face turned to the ceiling, eyes pinched shut, hot tears pouring, and the sound of my voice jockeying for position among the congregation singing the words, “I want to be washed in the blood of the Lamb! I need a cleansing from the fountain! My soul is hungry, I’ve got this aching within! I wanna be washed in the blood of the Lamb!” And I knew that I meant them. I don’t know how, but I knew that these words were, and are, my deepest-to-date plea…my sudden and unexpected surrender to a Christ with Whose story I had been immersed in and fed all of my life.
Much of the remainder of that day’s events are now a blur. I can only recall being baptized at the conclusion of the service. I recall walking out of the church with new eyes, a new mind, an unfamiliar gnawing hunger, and a zealousness for pleasing the LORD that was ef·fer·ves·cent.
That was some 22 years ago. Looking back, I am amazed and humbled by my Jesus. I was attending a college I did not desire to attend. On a scholarship that I did not want. Newly majoring in a field of study that was awkward and causing me much distress. Living a life of scathingly enduring people.
Ironically, within a year’s time of that conversion, I was called into Christian ministry…worship of all things..working with people…an occasional and residing phobia. The one thing that I sat despising in the lives of others…God destined me for it.
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
‪#‎mytestimony‬ ‪#‎bornagain‬ ‪#‎spiritualrebirth‬ ‪#‎thensingsmysoul‬ ‪#‎surrender‬ ‪#‎confess‬ ‪#‎befree‬ ‪#‎loveofChrist‬ ‪#‎compassion‬

Constructing Worship Teams with Honor & Heart

Life Arts Worship Team

 

I find myself in a season of building & strengthening worship teams at my church. This task encompasses musicians, vocals, technicians, and various production roles. It is a delicate team task that requires honest prayer, purposeful decision-making, lots of patience, collaboration, & the willingness to take risks with & for people. If you’re a worship leader, music minister, worship pastor, and you’re in a similar season of ministry, here is a list that is helping me at the moment:

1) Choose honor over production quality.
Honor the Lord & honor His church in your decision-making. How? Pray for God’s team design to be clear to you. Pray for His discernment when seeking teammates. Then choose to build by His design from the “natural resources” around you…the LORD put them there! DON’T set out to build according to a video from Hillsong, Passion, or Jesus Culture, etc. I LOVE these videos…but they are not necessarily reflective of where you are, where God wants you to be, or who God has brought to your church. What is He doing where YOU are? I detest McChurch mentality in worship service and team design.


2) Choose heart AND talent.
Too often in our production driven culture, we overlook the absence of “heart”…that nearly undefinable ingredient that we know is a requirement of authenticity in worship. It is oft imitated through cleverly chosen words. It can be tricky to discern. Ask the right questions and learn to listen. Don’t pursue the WOW that doesn’t pursue God. Demand both. There are artistic believers out there that possess both heart and talent. Sometimes you may have to look past the present display of the talent and seek the potential for the talent…and then be willing to invest in it so that it reaches its potential.


3) Choose to partner in patience rather than to pester toward perfection.
When you’re building new teams, there are going to be bumps; mistakes, awkward moments, missed targets, etc. The teams are composed of members who are assigned specific roles. Of course there will be some bumps and misses as members learn their roles, then learn how their roles fit with other teammates and their roles. Be patient and learn/teach together. Do not succumb to a sense of defeat or exasperation that comes with setting uninformed expectations and failing to meet them. Additionally, be prepared to receive LOTS OF OPINIONS from others…informed and uninformed. Everyone’s a critic…including you and me. Take them in stride and remember 1 & 2. Partner with your teams and its members. Get to know them. The REAL them. This TAKES TIME. Do not allow yourself to feel rushed. Fast growth is not typically sustainable NOR good growth. Neither is “organic growth” good. Be intentional. Nurture. Invest. Be willing to inconvenience yourself with and for each other.


That’s all I have for now…the inspiration hit, thought I’d share it while it was on my mind and in my heart. If you have other tips, please share! I’d love to read them.

The Convenient Witness

Largest BuddhaRomans 12:1-3

“… offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1 NIV).

Convenience. Sacrifice. Convenience feeds the flesh. Sacrifice feeds transformation. Convenience is self-love. Sacrifice is love of something greater than self. Decisions of convenience and sacrifice are observable, tangible witnesses to whether one loves self or something greater than self.

I had the opportunity to visit a religious island in China while visiting my wife’s family. On this island, the largest Buddha statue in all the world has been erected.  It is so large that worshippers and visitors alike respond in awe.  It is HUGE!

My flesh was amazed at the sheer size and magnitude of this work.  But my spirit was deeply disturbed.  Why?  How could I be amazed on one hand and deeply pained on another?  Well, the obvious explanation could simply be that, thanks to the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ in my life, I was looking at this statue with “eyes that see” and knew it to be an idol and a gateway to eternal separation from the one true God.  However, I have a tendency to self-examine myself anytime I have an emotional or spiritual reaction to something.  I am not satisfied with the obvious explanation.  Though that explanation is fact…it was not the only reason the Holy Spirit was tugging at me in the moment.  After more observation and reflection, I realized that God wanted me to take note of the various acts of worship occurring around me.

For those individuals that were there for worship, this religious icon was real.  Their passion was nearly tangible.  Their worship of this statue and all that it represented to them provided visual evidence of their faith.  How did I know this? Because I witnessed these people intentionally sacrifice self for love of their god. Their acts of worship were most inconvenient.  And yet, here were thousands of men, women, boys, and girls intentionally participating in acts designed to express their faith and their devotion.

These worshipers commuted to this island on a series of buses, subways, and ferries. Upon arrival, there were literally thousands of people in line patiently waiting to pray, light incense, offer fruit, or to toss various amounts of money into wells. People were climbing hundreds of stone steps to ascend to a holy place. Most notable was that, in spite of all these inconveniences, they worshipped with observable determination and acceptance of the expected sacrifice.

In this setting, the Holy Spirit convicted me. Considering my worship is not tethered to a specific time or space and that my worship is composed of the daily decisions and actions of my life, was I an example of a LIVING sacrifice?  Was my worship a witness of passion for Christ or a witness of my passion for Christ when the externals met my personal preferences?

My worship lacked depth and transformational power, just like the worship occurring around me.  Why?  I was worshiping the true God…so why was my worship leaving me empty and unchanged?  It was on this island that I realized my acts of worship lacked intentional and purposeful sacrifice and my body was not being presented to God in holiness as a result. My worship was more a witness of self-convenience, of duty, of tradition; not an offering of my body, my self.  My worship of Christ, more often than not, occurred when external circumstances met my internal preferences.  This is not worship of some ONE larger than me…it was worship of things and of me.

There, in the midst of countless powerless prayers, I offered a repentant prayer to Christ and my Father took me in His arms and affirmed me as His son.

 

Ambition and hope

acorn1I have found that ambition and hope propel me forward in almost all situations. My ambition drives me to reach my fullest potential. My hope fuels that drive because I dare to believe the goal is possible and within my reach. Ambition and hope have brought me to a significant cross roads in my life. It is heavily impressed upon me that I must stop, ponder, and then choose how to proceed; forward, or to the left or right and create a new “forward”.

I am struggling with the decision. Back and forth, my mind weighs possibilities, my heart stretches and compresses with emotion, and my understanding of faith and God’s will is taxed. Information is sought, examined, weighed, and usually found wanting. It is a decision of faith that I must make. Is there enough information that can be gathered to make a decision like that? Faith is “hope in things unseen.” Maybe it can be done. At least in a calculated manner. I don’t know.

I admit that I find great inner-value in this struggle. It is through this type struggle that I receive insight into who I am and who I am meant to be in Christ. I am forced to ask myself the questions, “What do I really believe about ministry among God’s people? What do I believe about God’s will for my life and the community in which it exists? What or whom motivates me to strive, achieve, serve? What is my ambition and what would satisfy it?”.

So the praying, seeking, and weighing continues.

 

Just another day…

My beginning portion…

The alarm sounded at 6:00 AM. Another day had begun.

I stumbled to the bathroom, nearly blinded by sleep and darkness, and hit the on/off button on the white iPod/radio alarm clock set beside my sink. I considered my form in the mirror…hair messy, light stubble on my face (do I need to shave this morning? Maybe not.), that extra “10 pounds” that I loathe. I turned to head towards Ellis’ bedroom. It was time for him to begin his day, as well.

“Get up Ellis. It’s time to get ready for school. Go brush your teeth and put on your clothes. Okay? Okay?”

“Yes, sir.”, a groggy and unaware, yet obedient, reply.

“You’re a good boy.”

I head back to the bathroom I vacated earlier.

This morning routine is unattractive, devoid of reflection, and is tightly timed. There is no room for stray distractions. Get up, turn alarm clock off, get Ellis up, tell him he’s a good boy (why I do this every morning, I have no real insight nor the time to think about it), get a shower, dress for my morning workout, pack a gym bag with clothes that are appropriate for the day’s upcoming events, go downstairs, collect my office bag, get Ellis in the truck, head for the parking lot to catch the bus before 7. Monday through Friday with rare exception.

My office portion…

A vocalist is waiting for me to let her into the office so that she can download some worship music she will be learning for services. We exchange pleasant conversation.

I enter my office with gym bag and office bag in hand. I open my laptop lid, log into the network, quickly check email, look for ways to post our church’s worship songs on-line for singers and band members, and head to the gym.

I run 4-miles with a friend. We discuss church, politics, our wives, church, and the Second-coming of Christ. Wow, was I working out hard enough if I could discuss all that AND run 4 miles?

I head back to the office. There is a meeting on my schedule for 10:00 with my drama director and an actor from our drama team. I have about an hour before that meeting. I continue my on-line search for ways to make our songs available to our musicians through web.

The meeting hour arrives. The three of us meet in the WD conference room to discuss ways to improve our actors’ skills. It was a good meeting. Hopefully it will result in something good and useful.

From that meeting, I head to a meeting I was not expecting. In this meeting, I am less than hopeful. It is a meeting regarding the use of our drama and dance teams. Without going into detail, suffice it to say, I serve a conservative Southern Baptist church led by conservative Southern Baptist pastors. Dance + Drama + Southern Baptist Church = meeting(s).

The rest of the day has been uneventful. Lunch with a friend at Olive Garden. A meeting with the choir manager. All good.

My ending portion…

I have not executed this portion as of this writing. But I would guess that it will consist of helping Ellis with homework, watching a few episodes of “Frasier”, maybe posting some pictures on-line from my recent trip to Hong Kong, and then to bed as I await the 6:00 AM bell that signifies another day.

 

Happy Birthday to my wife…

Dear Vince,
I know you’re thinking, “Jason has lost his mind” as you read
this.  But after 13 years of serving (and surviving) the church and 11
years of marriage (plus 2 years dating), I feel led to take a moment
right now, stop serving the congregation for about 3 minutes, and give
thanks to and for you.
Today is the annual recognition of your first birth.  I thank God
for that.  I thank God for you.  I thank God that He placed you in my
life just shortly before calling me to serve His church.  I thank God
that I was present for your second birth in Boone, NC.  I thank God
for the lessons He has taught me through your patience, through your
tenacity, and through your strength.
While we have journeyed and served together through many and
varied circumstances in the church, in our home, in our community, and
in our families, you have been a faithful wife, an honest friend, and
a loving mother.  You have brought a richness to my mental, emotional,
and spiritual life.  You have served as a refuge to me when times were
tough and you have served as a motivating force when my inspiration
was low or my thinking off-center.
I personally do not believe that everyone in marriage ends up
selecting the spouse of God’s choosing.  However, for several reasons
none of which I will share in this note, but all of which you and I
are aware, I do believe He ordained our marriage.  My life and our
ministry would be entirely different without you as a part.  You
define “help mate”.
So, to a portion of the congregation that we serve, I wanted to
publicly say to the one that gets little to no recognition, “Happy
Birthday!  I love you!  I thank God for you!”.

Your biggest fan,
Jason