Category Archives: Worship

Saturday Night's Alright

I’m so excited. 

Our base chapel started a Saturday evening service, which works well for lazy old feeble folks like me that want that slow Sunday morning. 

And they have a choir director who has been filling in playing keys but doesn’t particularly want to do that.

They also have this poor, unattended grand piano.

And I have a wife who plays violin…

So last week, I stepped up to say “You know who’s got two thumbs and plays some good piano? This guy.”

It’s a small, intimate service, but it’s contemporary and the music is pretty much everything I enjoy.

I know I shouldn’t pick a church based on what I like / what suits me. But I’m not going to complain at the chance to serve and contribute something missing to this small part of the Body of Christ.

Off for now, it’s time to jam!

Shadow-Boxing

A friend posted a cartoon that caught my eye. The character looked over a list of resolutions and expressed frustration, knowing this year’s efforts – like so many others – were doomed to failure. Then he changed the list to negative versions. “Get fat. Become weak. Watch more TV.” That kind of thing.

The last scene has his son looking at the list, while he lifts weights and sweats in exertion. His son says, “You’re off to a horrible start on these, Dad.” And he replies, “I know.”

I like that. 

I thought about 2015 and what I accomplished:

  • published three books available on Amazon and CreateSpace
  • regained an additional aircrew qualification in the military
  • Deployed to the Middle East for three months 
  • flew 89 sorties in the fiscal year (October – October) — roughly 1 every 4 days
  • beat out the rest of my coworkers on flights (one friend made it to 85… the next highest had 20 less than us)
  • started a family devotion time with my wife and kids
  • knocked out 5 separate debts
  • crawled out of the unfit mess I’d gotten myself into
  • started a walk-to-run program after not running for about five years
  • reached my lowest weight in about 10 years
  • used my talents in professional settings – performing vocals for the Japanese and American anthems for a co-worker’s retirement and playing Christmas tunes for social hour at our squadron holiday party
  • Played and sang for the chapel while deployed

All that said, I know “the rest of the story.”

  • I struggled for years to put those books together and can’t shake the feeling they could’ve been better
  • I’ve dropped several balls at work that now need to be addressed
  • I’ve let my relationships with my wife and kids grow stale or routine
  • I’ve done the same with my faith
  • I continue to make terrible spending decisions based on convenience, impatience, and selfishness
  • We’ve added or increased a couple debts while eliminating others
  • I crawled back into the unfit mess by ignoring fitness while focusing on other things
  • I’ve gained back most of the weight I lost
  • I’m still not doing anything on a regular basis with the talents I possess.

So this year, I’m not making empty promises to myself about what I will or won’t do. Like the comic, my list is full of anti-resolutions–the bad answers to questions I ask myself whenever I consider what 2016 holds. 

And I took a cue from a friend who recently posted a verse she chose for the year. My selection speaks to my frustration and my desire for better answers.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭9:24-27‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/1co.9.24-27.esv

I look forward to what this year holds… not because I expect some “new me” to appear. I just want to find the one I know already exists deep down.

Contributor if not Author

There’s a saying, “Writers write, authors publish.” I’m not sure if it’s meant to chastise those of us who claim the “author” title improperly (by whose standard?) or to encourage us to move past a never-finished manuscript and into the final scary stages of publication.

Maybe contributors to published works fall in the middle somewhere. And despite the growing acceptance of self-publishing, I can’t help but imagine there’s a diminutive attached to that method of publishing… an unsaid and insincere “well, isn’t that cute.”

Despite all that, I’m proud to announce my work has been included in a compilation of stories about God’s leading and guidance in our lives today. The book of about 40 different stories includes five of my short personal accounts for where I believe God worked in my life to give me some direction at key times. Think Chicken Soup for the Soul but amped up in overtly Christian content.

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I mentioned this once on Facebook when I found out about it (around the time I deployed at the end of last year). In looking over blog posts, it seems I never actually posted about this, however.

Here’s the link to the book on Amazon: God Still Leads and Guides

Bridging the Gap

Seventeen (and a half) years ago, I knelt in this spot under a blue sky and asked my girlfriend to marry me.

Wifey and I would take long walks away from our on-base dorms, strolling through lawns and parks, up and down the hills on Kadena. We’d often sit on a bridge, under the stars, legs dangling off the side, hand-in-hand. Or perhaps she’d snuggle up next to me, head on my shoulder as I put my arm around her to hold her close.

There used to be a bridge here.

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You can see two marks where the edges once stood. I proposed on that bridge. When we married, Wifey came from the States to rejoin me on Okinawa. And sometimes we would revisit “our” bridge. I’m pretty sure we even took our oldest children to see it (not that they cared, of course. They were very young, and it was just a concrete bridge.)

In the grass across from where the bridge once stood, I laid down under a cloudy night sky, crying out to God, overwhelmed with frustration and anger at myself for various failures as a new adult and Airman. I
dealt with my dissatisfaction with mistakes I’d made, and I thought about my childhood faith.

It was there that I decided I had to really live what I claimed to believe, or forsake it all. I chose the former.

(Rationally, I understand that there’s no theological reason to look for God up in the sky, as though He lives out in space somewhere and we all live down here like some fishbowl He watches when He gets bored.

Rationally, I know that the universe goes on for billions and billions of light years with whole other galaxies comprised of nearly-countless stars spinning and swirling through a cosmos full of other stuff we can’t even yet comprehend. So my musings as I sat in the grass staring at the night sky were pretty insignificant in the scale of what we know is out there.)

Back then, Wifey and I would walk for hours. And with Okinawa being a Pacific island, we sometimes got caught in sudden cloudbursts of rain.

One time in particular, the rain became a torrent and we took refuge in the doorway of the nearest building, a couple blocks away from our dorms.

It rained for an hour or more, solid sheets pouring from the heavens. Finally we got so desperate that we prayed. “God, I know it’s silly… But could You stop the rain so we can get home? Please?”

We went back to talking. Several moments later, when our conversation paused, we realized it was silent outside our refuge. The rain stopped.

We set off for the dorms, shocked and thankful. And just as we reached our dorms, a drizzle started up again.

(Rationally I know that rain can start and stop at any time, and an island like Okinawa has unpredictable weather. There are perfectly natural explanations for how this happened.)

Years later, I had a similar experience on the way to work. In a torrential downpour, I prayed for the rain to stop even while admitting it was a purely selfish request.

It did, and I walked into my building dry when all my co-workers who arrived both before and after me were soaked. The disparity was noticeable enough that people actually asked how I got in.

(Rationally, rain is intermittent sometimes. This one experience is no reliable proof. And there have been times I’ve prayed, but still got wet.)

For years, when I drove past the bridge or jogged around the nearby track, I would see the bridge and smile. I would remember my promise to Wifey, or maybe think of my re-commitment to Christ. And I understood why various Old Testament figures were so quick to set up a monument (usually rocks piled into an altar) for special moments in their experiences with God. Spatial memory–our ability to recall a particular place or setting–is a powerful thing.

Rocks can get tipped over or scattered. Bridges can be torn down. Buildings are destroyed and rebuilt (or not).

But spatial memory locks a moment or concept in our minds to a specific place, and that doesn’t fade or break down over time.

Rationally, I know there are plenty of facts about the world around us, some of which can seem to conflict with faith as I currently understand it.

On the one side are the experiences and the intangible unprovable tenets of faith.

On the other side sit the cold logical facts and all their implications about the world and humanity’s place in it.

It often feels like quite a formidable gap divides the two.

That’s okay. There’s a special place in my heart for bridges.

Eye to Eye

I’m sure if you’ve seen Disney’s Frozen, you’ll remember this exchange:

Anna: We complete each others’–
Hans: Sandwiches!
Anna: I was just gonna say that!

What? Really?

Being away from home on business can be stressful, especially leaving behind Wifey with our four always-wonderful, never-exasperating, easily-managed children. (Two of whom are teenagers. God help us.)

When we were dating, Wifey and I would go for long walks and talk about everything and anything. (Aww!) Sometimes when we’d struggle for a way to express a thought, the other would spout out the word or phrase.

And Wifey would joke that we were “eye to eye.”

Wifey plays the violin, and I play piano. We’ve learned over the years of playing together to sense where the other is going. Ok, I’ll be honest, I think I just play whatever I want. But she knows how to complement it perfectly, how to tell when I’m about to shift to something different.

In our frequent practice, we stay in tune to each other. In frequent communication, we keep that “eye to eye” connection.

I’m happy to say this experience has popped up time and again over the years, even while apart. Wifey has supported me all along, and we keep having these “eye to eye” moments. And 16 years as a military spouse is no joke!

Early on, it might have been “ear to ear” as we took advantage of the once-a-week 15 minute morale call.

With reliable email, exchanges sped up exponentially, and sometimes our emails back and forth would contain the same words or ideas.

Instant Messaging and chat rooms used to be a thing ten years ago–remember that? I don’t think we ever said “Chat to chat” but the connection remained.

And now Facebook Messenger and cellphone texts still afford us those opportunities to stay in tune with one another.

But I know there have been those times where we haven’t played in a while. I go one way musically, and she goes another. Or we can’t find our parts and end up doing our own thing.

Same with communication. When we get caught up in routines, stresses, or personal interests, there are those moments of disconnect. Usually this leads to confusion and lengthy discussions where we try to figure out “What the heck is going on in your head?!”

Sometimes it leads to arguments.

There’s a spiritual parallel: how “eye to eye” am I with Christ? Am I connected frequently enough that I can follow His lead and stay in tune with Him? Is His Word fresh in my mind, answering my questions and finishing my sentences?

Or has it been a bit since we last chatted?

When it comes to time and relationships, quality is born out of quantity. I can’t come in and declare “I have two minutes for intimate conversation, starting timer NOW. Go!”

But frequent connection makes for a closer connection.

And there’s never been a better instant messenger service than prayer.

Sometimes By Step

I promised to look at some Rich Mullins songs I love the most, as a Wednesday “Worship” thing.

I thought about putting these out on Sunday, because, hey, they’re worship and spiritual and churchy and all that.

But Rich Mullins was hardly churchy, and that’s kind of the point. Plus, while some of his songs spoke to me on Sundays, more often than not, his words and music were what I needed in the day-to-day of the work-week, in the midst of choices and struggles and frustrations and delights.

“Sometimes By Step” is one of those songs that I heard growing up–we’d sing the pretty Praise & Worship style chorus in church. Then I heard the whole song, and was shocked that there were all these powerful words in the verses. I felt robbed unawares, denied something powerful and true years earlier–missing out without even knowing something was missing.

This version shows Rich speaking about the profound nature of God’s tasteless love for us. I won’t do it injustice by trying to recap it. Please listen and hear him out, reflect on the love revealed in Christ’s sacrifice which is for <strong>all</strong>, not just for the so-called deserving or worthy.

In the first verse, Rich sings that “there was so much work left to do, but so much You’d already done.” And that so captures my despair at my failures, coupled with my joy at the hope of God’s grace at work in me.

The second verse hits my heart even harder. To think that a star Abraham saw was lit for me… to recognize that when I feel I don’t fit in, that might be by God’s design… and to remember even though I fall and struggle in the journey, I’m never beyond the outstretched grip of God’s grace.

That gives me a powerful reason to declare “Oh God, You are my God, and I will ever praise You!”

Rich Mullins Was Aptly Named

A few days ago (before I went on this short work trip away from home), my wife and I finally watched Ragamuffin – the life story of Rich Mullins’ ministry and struggles fitting in to the Christian music industry.

She pointed out that Rich Mullins’ name is appropriate: a guy who’s always mulling over the deep and rich things of God’s love, the practical expressions of it that get lost in religious structures and routines.

I know as a newly-recommitted Christian, Rich Mullins’ songs challenged me and pushed me to go farther and deeper in my faith, to be authentic and to think about what it really meant to pursue Christ.

For days since watching the film, I’ve had one of my favorites of his songs stuck in my head: If I Stand.

The chorus really captures a simple passion that it would all be about Him and not about me:

If I stand, let me stand on the promise that You will pull me through

And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to You

If I sing, let me sing for the joy that has born in me these songs

And if I weep, let it be as a man who is longing for his home.

In the verses, he points out how the “stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the Giver of all good things.” As I write this, I just finished reading through Psalm 4, which includes the phrase, “How long will you love what is worthless?” (v.2)

I love a lot of arguably worthless pursuits. Or I’ll say I engage in a lot of pursuits of debatable value. I can make a case for the “good” that may come out of them. But it rings hollow.

Songs like “If I Stand” refocus me and get me centered back on Christ. But that’s just one of the awesome songs Rich wrote, just one topic on which it felt like he spoke and sang directly to my soul. So for a while I’m going to post a song a week, starting Wednesday, and briefly share my thoughts or why the song means so much to me.

Here’s If I Stand, recorded live. (I had to see him actually playing piano, because I don’t want to believe he can intentionally hit all those keys. He also makes a mistake in this, so you know he’s human.)

Radical Focus on Wrong Things

When does making music not involve playing actual music?

When you’re a “Radical Christian,” apparently.

I hope you all have perfect pitch...
I hope you all have perfect pitch…

A gent named Wes McAdams has a couple blogs that popped up on my Facebook feed. His site is titled “Radically Christian – 1st Century Christianity in a 21st Century World.” One post calls into question why some churches feel musical instruments are a necessary part of the worship service. The next challenges the idea that instruments have any place in today’s church at all.

It concerns me when people assume they’ve found the secret, the missing spiritual link, the one thing that every “good” or “true” Christian should be doing (or not doing) in order to show how much more Christ-like they are than everyone else.

Usually that’s the road to heresy. Because if Jesus isn’t the One Thing–if your message becomes “Jesus and (fill in the blank)” instead–then your Gospel isn’t the good news of grace anymore. It becomes all about doing something to prove your faith and earn your reward. Or it becomes yet another self-righteous way to show how much better you are than the benighted and corrupted so-called Christians in every other church.

However, since I have been a lead worshiper at times in the past, and since one of my passions is worship (to include specifically the musical part often done in church gatherings), I wanted to give Mr. McAdams’ points due consideration.

(thinking…)

At best, he’s being silly and nit-picking, but generally harmless. At worst, he’s way off Scripture, and his condemnations foist an assumed truth based on misunderstandings upon his readers.

He makes important points about what worship has become to many churches. It can be a spectacle or performance with little or no heart. It can be focused on the congregation without giving due regard to the God we’re supposedly worshiping. It can be a misguided attempt to draw more people who otherwise might not be interested in church. And it can feel like a talent show where people get attention.

Those faults are also potentially true of everything else we do in church. But we don’t stop preaching even though I’ve heard people talk about what a powerful speaker a pastor is. We don’t stop giving to the community for fear that someone might do it to be seen doing good. We don’t stop sharing the Gospel even though some Christians talk about the converts they’ve made like an ace pilot keeps track of his kills in combat.

McAdams’ post questioning whether we need instruments in worship makes so many important points that I wish I could share it for all that’s right in his assessment of modern worship. He mentions so many causes for concern that I personally share. Modern worship runs the risk of becoming a distraction, a business model, a Play-Doh fun machine churning out tepid and indistinguishable songs onto albums to create dollars instead of devotion.

But the critique goes awry when McAdams takes a logical point (you don’t need instruments to worship) and makes it a mandatory stance (churches must not use instruments to worship). He does this even while pointing to scripture that tells us to do whatever we do for the glory of God.

In so doing, he throws the grace out with the guitars.

The second post I linked is McAdams’ case for why instruments ought to be forbidden in church. He uses the example of ordering a pizza. If he orders a pizza with Canadian bacon and pineapple, those are the toppings he expects to receive, no more, no less.

The analogy is, if God in the New Testament only mentions making music with our lips and our thankful hearts, then those are the only “toppings” God wants on His praise-pie. The New Testament makes no mention of musical instruments, only psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

And McAdams argues, that silence is a prohibitive restriction in the same way that I don’t need to say “No green peppers” if I order his pizza as described earlier.

The logic is flawed.

What would 1st century hearers possibly think when told to sing psalms and hymns? Would they possibly think of the psalms of David and others recorded in scripture? Would they see it in a way appropriate to their culture? Was music with instruments forbidden as an expression of worship for the Jewish people?

Hardly.

Psalm 92:1-3 “It is good to give thanks to the LORD… with the ten-stringed lute and with the harp, with resounding music upon the lyre.”

Psalm 33:2 “Give thanks the LORD with the lyre; sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.”

Psalm 81:2-3 “Raise a song, strike the timbrel, the sweet sounding lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet…” (all references NASB)

That search took all of two seconds. And there’s plenty more.

McAdams makes the case that the Old Testament doesn’t apply here, just like the pizza order I made last week may not be the toppings I want today. We’re under the New Testament, so what God orders in the New is all that matters.

But the OT informs the NT, and gives us a perspective on the understanding 1st century hearers would have. Otherwise, let’s strip it out of the Bibles, because we only need what is recorded in the NT, right?

By definition, “psalms” and “songs” could be logically assumed to involve music with instruments. The counterpoint to his pizza analogy is that—without specifically saying so—he expects his pizza toppings to arrive placed upon a crust covered with sauce and cheese, because that’s what a pizza is.

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I guess you don’t want these, because you didn’t specifically ask.

The difference between his misguided focus and my rant is this: grace.

Self-righteousness likes to tell others where they’re going wrong. But Grace is big enough to say “If you worship without instruments, praise God! If you worship with instruments, praise God! Do everything for the glory of God!”

A radical thought, I know… but one that’s big enough for us all to come together.

God Leads Us At Our Best

This is the first of five meditations I wrote for a project last year. When my iCloud account got accidentally purged, I thought I lost these. But I recently found a file, so I thought I’d share them online.

The other four will be scheduled for Monday mornings, to start the week out looking for God to lead in our lives.

GOD LEADS US AT OUR BEST

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus… (Colossians 3:17, NIV)

“But I don’t want to go to Japan.”
Near the end of language training for the Air Force, my class received orders. Mine said, “Okinawa.”
I whined long-distance to my parents in Chicago. Before the military, I didn’t live away from home for any length of time. Flying to Texas for Basic was the farthest I’d ever been from Mom and Dad. Training in California came next, but I could still drive home if I wanted.
Okinawa is the other side of the world.
There was a big test coming soon. We would have to prove we knew our language well enough to continue to our next duty station. It would be easy to miss some questions. My best friend was on his way to a different job because his grades were low. I could do that too, I thought. Fail, and stay close to home.
My parents no doubt wanted me to stay. But my father advised me, “You need to do your best. If God doesn’t want you to go to Japan, you won’t. But if He does want you there, you’d be wrong to resist.”
I graduated from language school and continued on to Japan.
Over six years on Okinawa, I met my wife, got married, had two children, and rededicated myself to Christ. Now I see God prepared His best for me. But I had to give my best to see it fulfilled.
I’m happy to say I passed the test.

Application: God may use skills we’ve developed to reveal the path we should take.

A Digital Ministry Profile

This morning, at church, I felt vindication.

It’s not a top-of-the-list expected sensation when you walk into a place of worship. But for today, vindication fit.

The pastors preached on wineskins, using Jesus’ words to the Pharisees as a reference.

But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:16, 17 NASB)

The point for the congregation today is that holding onto our old ways of doing things may keep us from experiencing growth in our relationship with God. And relationships are one area where our pastor sees a new wineskin is needed.

In today’s culture, so many of us spend our time connected to the Internet, hands almost surgically attached to our cellphones or mobile devices. I personally was shocked at how quickly my iPad got its dark tentacles wrapped around my habits.

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Here I am typing this onto my iPad while riding a bike at the gym, using my cellphone hotspot to upload. No, I am not addicted to these devices.

Speaking of modern culture, our pastor declared, “A lot of people have more relationships via the Internet and social media than they have in face-to-face relations.” By unscientific appearances, because I’m too lazy to find data for what seems obvious, this is the case. Everywhere I go, I see people on cell phones, texting, Facebooking, tweeting, Vining, snapchatting, vlogging, and whatever new thing I’m not even aware of yet.

At least I do when I take my eyes off my iPhone.

Ok, so why the vindication?

Because my pastor’s words spoke directly to a form of ministry my wife has labored in for probably over a decade. And his words lent credence and validity to her form of ministry where others rolled eyes, scoffed, patronizingly agreed, or outright walked away.

My wife ministers the light and love of Christ to people online.

A stay-at-home mom by choice and homeschooling teacher by choice of four children ranging from three years old to teenagers, my wife doesn’t get a lot of time to spend volunteering for the church or doing whatever small group activities come up. When she gets time, she usually takes advantage of the chance to rest, because she earns those breaks.

So when the church wants to go door-to-door, or when they’re asking for nursery volunteers, or they want all the women to come out to a midweek Bible study, or to cook up dinners for the family with the new baby, more often than not, my wife isn’t serving there.

And she gets the looks for it! “Well, if you’re dropping your kid off in the nursery, then we need you to volunteer.” I get that. That makes nursery sustainable. So how about if my excited, willing teenage daughter volunteers in my wife’s place? “Not good enough.”

“Well, it’s so neat that you talk to people on your computer, but you know, we really need someone to come do street evangelism.” Because pouncing on people is a proven tactic, right.

My wife may not step foot out the door, but she clicks across the world and types words of love and hope into the hearts of people she’s never met in person. She may not have a foot on the ground, but she has a virtual hand on the shoulder of a grieving woman, of a new divorcee, of a worried parent whose child is in trouble with drugs. She may not be knocking on doors, but God knocks on hearts through the connection my wife makes with friends and strangers.

Years ago, when I’d log into a chatroom on Yahoo or geocities to debate theology, my wife would talk with people one-on-one to find out what they were going through and share her similar experiences.

Later, when I hopped on forums to post rants about politics and religion in our culture, my wife would trade private messages with people who had been emotionally or physically abused, whether by family, by acquaintances, by strangers, or even by their church. She gave hurting people an avenue to open up, to trust again, to connect with someone who had walked in their shoes and survived to tell the tale.

On Facebook, my wife almost always has a chat open with a friend or two, most of the time just staying connected and sharing life across the country or around the world. That constant reliable bond makes it possible to speak into someone’s life when they are in need of a friend. And sometimes it comes back to bless my wife when she needs encouragement.

Even on World of Warcraft and Farmville, she has made connections to strangers that developed into friends.

All the while, she’s ignored or brushed away the silent criticism and derisive looks from people who should have been excited and supportive.

Sure, if you get her going on politics or draw her into an argument, ministry gets lost in the chaos and flame wars. But that’s true of everyone, regardless of how persuasive we all might believe our memes and rants on Facebook to be.

So to those who laughed at my wife and her “so-called ministry,” I’d like to rise above and be the better man. But she’s the better half.

That means I get to laugh back, feel vindicated, and point out that she’s so ahead of the curve, no wonder they couldn’t see her from way back there.