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.

Look At His Glorious Cross

Look at His Glorious Cross
Here is the gateway to Heaven
Opened at last for the lost;
See such a price for the sins of mankind,
And His love is paying the cost.
Towering over history
Look at His Glorious Cross.

When the storms had swept the crowds away
And each left with their own fears,
The truth could not be seen through hate
Or through the disciples tears
For who could know redemption’s plan
Had just been realized?
And soon He would be risen,
And men would turn their eyes.

To Look at His Glorious Cross,
Oh, Look at His Glorious Cross,
Here is the gateway to Heaven
Opened at last for the lost;
See such a price for the sins of mankind,
And His love is paying the cost.
Towering over history
Look at His Glorious Cross.

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have my Jesus
Than anything this world affords today.

Jesus the price for the sins of mankind,
And His love is paying the cost.
Towering over history,
Look at His Glorious cross

Where Have All the Choirs Gone? (Part I)

traditional choirFor as far back as I can recall, I have sung in choirs; more specifically, church choirs.  From childhood to today, I have many distinct and pleasant memories of my participation in these structured musical communities organized around some form of transcendent purpose within the framework of Christian corporate worship or community enlightenment.  I would go as far as to say that in many ways, it was through these experiences with choirs and  church choirs that I formed my paradigm of worship, ministry, and choral conductorship today.

As a child attending Bolivia Baptist Church, I clearly remember standing before a gathering of adults, singing with other children and pantomiming the words, “If I were a fuzzy wuzzy bear, I’d thank You, Lord, for my fuzzy wuzzy hair.  But I just thank You, Father, for making me…me!”.  I loved it!  Thank you, Mrs. Sandra Johnson, for teaching and directing us so that we could have that opportunity!  It is one of the few memories that I have from my days at Bolivia Baptist.

children choirAs a youth attending Faith Baptist Church, a split from Bolivia Baptist (gotta love my Baptist roots!), I remember enjoying a variety of musical styles and relationships while singing in both the youth and adult choirs.  Thankfully, I had received an exception from the adult choir director, Rev. L.V. Walton, that allowed me to participate in the adult choir in spite of my age.  (I was about 14 years of age and most members in that choir were probably 40+ years old.  To this day, I will occasionally make the very same exception for other young singers simply because of the exception that I received.)  After being granted the exception, I began attending Wednesday evening service at Faith Baptist simply for the pleasure of attending the adult choir rehearsal that followed it each evening at 8PM.  Thank you, L.V., for providing light to a dark season of my life!  I can still remember singing on the back row between Mr. Willetts and Henry Crisco.  I also still remember Mrs. Margaret pulling me to the side in one of the small rooms just off the stage (that always smelled like old sheet music and hymnals) to share with me her secret for singing when sick:  suck on a lemon wedge.  She had one with her that morning, already cut, and wrapped in a paper towel.

When visiting my grandparents’ church, Town Creek Christian Church, I was allowed to sing in their choir on the rare occasion that they would have one.  The church was Pentecostal and their visible and verbal expressions of worship were always so exhilarating.  I loved singing the song, african choir“Get all excited, go tell everybody that, “Jesus Christ is King!””, while seeing and feeling the congregation’s and choir’s combined excitement.  And when the tambourine came off the shelf inside the pulpit where the preacher, my Uncle, stored it…watch out!  That was a sure sign that we were on the cusp of a Holy Spirit inspired frenzy! 🙂

Throughout my days in college, and serving at Howard’s Creek Baptist, Christ Community Church, Hickory Grove Baptist Church, and Lee Park Church, I have participated in, developed, and maintained strong choral ensembles.  They transcended style and/or demographic and always enriched any non-church event or corporate worship experience.

So, where have all the church choirs gone?  Why do they seem to be disappearing from our church culture, a culture that once found them plentiful and prominent?  As in most searches for answers to problems, there is probably not a singular reason.  In fact, the disappearance of church choirs may not even be the actual problem or, for some of you reading this, an actual problem at all.  What if this shift is simply a symptom of the problem rather than the problem.

What if the question is posed this way:

What has occurred within our understanding and practice of corporate worship services that has contributed to a general diminishing or absence of a once prominent element of participative congregational worship?

What!?!  You’d rather answer “Where have all the choirs gone?” 🙂  Stay tuned for “Where Have All the Choirs Gone? (Part II)”.

No Matter the Circumstance, Focus on the Goal

While reading 1 Samuel 16: 1-13, I began to ponder ministry and goals. There are times that my attempts to adhere to God’s instruction while working to accomplish the work that He has given me to do feels a lot like what Samuel’s experiences may have been in this chapter.

Long story short; Samuel receives an assignment from God, goes to Bethlehem as instructed, gets excited about the first son that he lays eyes on (though God did not name him as He said he would) and then proceeds to go through each remaining son, one by one, taking who knows how long, until at last he asks the question, “Is there anyone else?” Ah…there is. And finally, “mission accomplished”.

It is interesting to me that God chose not to dramatically shorten Samuel’s process to accomplish the goal. God could have said,”Go to Bethlehem. You will find David in a specific location. Anoint him.” Why did He not do that?

Instead, Samuel goes to Bethlehem, invites Jesse and his sons to a religious service, gets hyped by the first son he sees, learns that he’s wrong in his choice while getting a lesson in allowing human characteristics to cloud Kingdom-vision, proceeds to evaluate all remaining sons, and then has to ask if there are any others remaining before he finally arrives at the correct son, David.

I don’t know the answer to the question, “why?”. I am positive that there is an answer. Maybe Jesse needed to see all his sons reviewed prior to David being selected. Maybe Samuel needed his own heart checked since he was recently seen mourning God’s rejection of Saul. Maybe the leaders at the service needed to learn something by their presence at this event. Maybe all of these things and more are the reason. Again, I don’t know. What I do know is this: Samuel did not stop until the work was completed. He knew what he was there to do. He did not know how long it would take. He did not know how the work would take shape. He DID know what the end result was supposed to be. So he went son, after son, after son, after son, after son, after son, etc. He endured the awkwardness of “No, it’s not you. No it’s not you. No it’s not you. No it’s not you.”, etc. He received instruction. He asked questions. He gave instruction. Whatever it took to accomplish the goal, he did it. Once it was done, he was onto the next thing.

So what mission are you on for God? Are you enduring the process while keeping your eye on the goal? Are you strategizing as you encounter circumstances that appear to thwart the goal? Will you remain committed though you may not always see the answer right away? Will you endure though the experience in the moment may not appear to be achieving anything tangible?

While doing His work we are being instructed, tested, developed. We are having an impact on others (seen or not, understood or not).

1) KNOW the goal.
2) Be INTENTIONAL.
3) Be FAITHFUL.
4) Do not allow EMOTION to dictate when the DIRECTIVE is clear.

God knows what He is doing.

Some quick thoughts on Art, Pleasure, and Purpose

I’m, by a nature, an outdoors person.  Whether I’m walking, running, kayaking, hiking, canoeing, or SITTING, I love communing with my mind, my God, and my heart within the sanctuary of nature.  It is not so much an escape as it is a cleansing and filtering of the day; conscious and subconscious.
While walking the nature preserve next to my neighborhood, enjoying its vibrant and teeming ecosystem, my mind wandered to the subject of art, pleasure, and purpose.  So, as I am prone to do…I meandered.

Please note, these thoughts address the arts from a Christian perspective.  They are the opinions of an individual who serves his Christian community with and through artists and the arts.

Art, generally speaking, provides an emotional and/or reflective experience for an observer because it is typically birthed from a bed of emotion and/or thought within the creator.  The work of creating an artistic expression is an inner collaborative process of the maker’s psyche; mental, emotional, and spiritual, partnering with the maker’s physical efforts to create a tangible and/or experiential product.  Simply put, an artist is compelled to get the idea(s) out of their inner selves and put it outside of themselves for someone else to receive.

The act of intentionally presenting art for public consumption should be compelled by a desire to promote and/or achieve a higher purpose within the individuals or the community; either an elevation of thought or the illumination of understanding.  If the originating purpose of presenting a work of art is rooted in an exclusive desire to achieve nothing other than personal pleasure or gain, then the artist (defined as one having a gift to weave thought and emotion for the purpose of compelling sensation) has abandoned the programming of Original Design and is pandering to and promoting self-love which destroys Christian community and embraces atheistic humanity.  There is no legacy.  There is no worth.  There is no significance.  There is nothing more than an undulating emotional wave that will break itself in time leaving no trace of good…but potentially helps to pave the path for others to pursue the same destructive course of self-love.

In the corporate worship experience of the Church, the enduring artistic works have come to represent altars of remembrance of God’s grace, mercy, and presence in our lives’ circumstances. This is an effectual gift of God to us.  How many times do we hear songs, or read poems, or view images that result in an edifying “flashback” of interventions in our lives we know to be the work of God?  There is a risk, however, in sequestering these works and our creative artistic efforts for this sole purpose.  We must work to avoid permitting the arts to only PRESERVE a culture of faith.   If they cease to do more than safeguard anthropological exercises of preferred religious ritual, then we are back to self-love and a sense of godlessness in the things about which we become passionate.  The arts in worship should always present a God that is ALIVE and PRESENT; presently engaging the culture for the purpose of redeeming it and restoring it.

Therefore, it should not be our desire, the artist or the worshiper, to offer each other, or our God, the same songs, same offerings, same gifts over and over for they begin to cost us nothing in spirit, thought, or effort.  Such a practice is the result of ignorance to Truth and an absence of Relationship.  In the Old Testament, you will find that offerings presented in worship were offered, left, and consumed. To come again meant to come with something new and, important to note, something that was the result of purposeful effort, process, preparation, and thought.

Brief aside:  Regarding the contemporary and modernist trends that have been developing in Christian art and corporate worship for decades; though I do not believe that the arts should archive history, we should be careful not to reject the works of the past.  It is important to recognize the significance of their testimony.  No act of God is disposable and, therefore, no work of art conceived from His intervention in a believer’s life should be either.  Consumable?  Yes.  Disposable?  Absolutely not.  Though we know His mercies are new every morning, yesterday’s mercy delivered the morning to us.