I was talking to my mom on the phone last night and she wanted to know what I thought about a Christian musician by the name of Christian Bergdahl, who is teaching that syncopation is occultic in nature and is having a negative effect on young people in the church.
Broad sweeping statements like this are always red flags, but it’s my mom, so rather than writing it off, I looked into it.
First, he has a very pleasant musical voice. Secondly I detected a little syncopation in some of his phrasing. Of course he would likely state that he is talking about a driving constant rhythm of some sort, but this gets into the problem. Who decides what is acceptable and what is not? So here was my response to my mother.
So I googled his name and looked at some of his teaching.
Basically he is misrepresenting the gospel and putting God and Satan on equal footing and then saying we get to choose between them.
In reality we are born in sin needing a Savior and are essentially slaves to sin. When we accept Jesus he comes to live in us and changes us by his power and grace. We no longer live as slaves to sin and salvation is not dependent on what we do - which dog we feed as this man puts it. This is simply legalism and it keeps people under fear that they will not be worthy of salvation. The truth is that we never are or will be worthy of salvation but we are saved by grace through faith. It isn’t of works so we can’t be proud about being saved as if we deserve it.
Syncopation is not sin. Different styles of music aren’t the problem. Musical content is the issue. When considering religious music the real question should be - Is it Scripturally accurate (support the gospel) or not?
As for love songs or symphonic styles, these have to do with where people came from and experiences in music they have had. One style isn’t inherently good and another bad. Secular music as a category is not sinful in any way. We must continually discern whether or not what we are listening to is encouraging or discouraging our spiritual development and maturity.
Trying to force people’s musical choices based on making them feel guilty is simply what legalists do to gain attention for themselves. This guy is simply going after a following so he can promote his stuff. It’s about money and prestige within, in this particular case, the subculture of Adventism.
I don’t think his positions are strong musically or theologically.
Keep listening to the Limelighters or any other music you enjoy, Mom, and turn off the legalists.
Galatians 5:1 (NASB)
1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
Being Dangerous for the Kingdom
Easter 2013 Crownridge Campus, Oakhills Church. This was given to the Praise and Worship Ministry Team involved in a rehearsal Thursday followed by five services Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In the room were most of the choir, orchestra and band. We also had guest recording artist Mathew West and Max Lucado as well. Following these remarks we took communion together and prayed with a special focus on our guest musicians. We normally have this back-stage service around 10:00 Sunday mornings.
The thoughts I shared came to me in the middle of night. I really thought I was supposed to talk about something else that morning, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I have edited my remarks a little since my presentation in order to help convey the message with a little more clarity. So if you heard my talk and now read my words, no you are not losing your mind. I have done my best not to alter the basic ideas, however.
So here is what I said.
After an incredibly busy and exciting weekend, life will resume along more ordinary lines and each of us will face or re-face the challenges and struggles, we, in some ways, have set aside to be here working together.
It is possible, in fact common, in most churches, that the busiest, most dedicated servants will have the greatest let downs come the week following high holidays like Easter and Christmas.
It makes sense logically because we will likely be less rested than many others coming out of such an insanely busy weekend. But there is another reason.
When we stand up to be identified as representing Jesus in front of others by leading in worship, we are delectable targets for the one who hates God the most and who is always on the lookout for ways to get back at Him through tormenting His children. (Understand this as you process any criticism in the coming days).
This vulnerability can even apply to those who hold no particular or specific religious conviction and are just here to lend their musical talents. We are all his children whether close or far. (And you thought playing in a church was a safe gig. Think again.)
If Satan can get a minister or a worship leader (and each one of us is involved with leading worship for one of Jesus’s churches this weekend) - if he can cause one or many of us to stumble or fall, it does incredible damage, especially to our most fragile members - children and new believers.
In other words, we need to understand there is no immunity or grace provided for performing for God. In fact, it is just the opposite.
Which leads me to say that these few moments together as the Praise and Worship Ministry are not frivolous - not something we do back stage because it looks good or seems appropriate. Don’t confuse this with other moments this weekend where people are applauding and thanking us.
Right now we are doing Kingdom Business - which has to do with taking time to focus ourselves on our personal relationships with our Heavenly Father.
Being inside a church doesn’t qualify for going to church. Our activities are very different from the congregation’s. They come, not to perform, but to respond through the music, the message and the rest. We musicians are distracted by the work we are called to do during the worship service (even if we feel blessed in the process). So this little moment, away from the spot light, is church for us. Right now, it is important that we focus and understand that what we are doing is actually engaging in a life and death spiritual struggle for our own souls, not the congregation’s. Everyone of us knows what it is like to walk around feeling dead and empty on the inside, so I’m not being melodramatic. Musical talent and spiritual health are two entirely different things.
Renewal of strength and the ability to stand up under difficulties really only comes through communion with God. I’m not talking about taking communion, also known as observing the Lord’s Supper, although when entered into with a genuinely open heart toward God it can help us connect. I’m talking about what comes into each of us by being connected to God in the way Jesus described as abiding in the vine.
John 15:5-7 (Message)
“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. 6 Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. 7 But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon.
So if there is all this risk in leading God’s people in worship, why do it?
Unless we know the answer to this question and are able through out the rest our lives continue to answer it by faith, we will burn out and fall away.
So let me share with you my answer and I hope it is yours as well.
We worship because we can’t help it. Not necessarily because everything in our lives is going well or even in hopes God will repay us for our sacrifice of time and talent expended this weekend by doing something to make our lives easier. Our worship comes simply because we overflow with gratitude for what He has already done. It’s because we know how the story ends and we want to - together - be dangerous for the Kingdom.
Remember: Truly worshiping God unleashes resurrection power.
Asking to Prophesy
Oakhills Crownridge 3/17/13
1Corinthians 14:1 (NASB)
1 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
We are encouraged to ask God to speak to us and through us. The gift of prophecy is alive and well in the heart of Spirit-filled believers even if it is not taught by many who go to seminary.
So I asked last week that God would speak to me and this is what happened:
First, God told me to get up early the other morning. I didn’t want to, but I did it anyway.
After showering and getting dressed, still having no clue what this was all about, I sat on the couch and opened the Bible. It opened to Ezekiel 40 because I was there the night before. He told me to read it so I did. Again.
Ezekiel 40:1-8 (NASB)
1 In the twenty- fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was taken, on that same day the hand of the Lord was upon me and He brought me there.
2 In the visions of God He brought me into the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, and on it to the south there was a structure like a city.
3 So He brought me there; and behold, there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze, with a line of flax and a measuring rod in his hand; and he was standing in the gateway.
4 The man said to me, “ Son of man, see with your eyes, hear with your ears, and give attention to all that I am going to show you; for you have been brought here in order to show it to you. Declare to the house of Israel all that you see.”
5 And behold, there was a wall on the outside of the temple all around, and in the man’s hand was a measuring rod of six cubits, each of which was a cubit and a handbreadth. So he measured the thickness of the wall, one rod; and the height, one rod.
6 Then he went to the gate which faced east, went up its steps and measured the threshold of the gate, one rod in width; and the other threshold was one rod in width.
7 The guardroom was one rod long and one rod wide; and there were five cubits between the guardrooms. And the threshold of the gate by the porch of the gate facing inward was one rod.
8 Then he measured the porch of the gate facing inward, one rod.
It goes on like this for chapters. The angel measures, Ezekiel records and normally I yawn, wondering why on earth this is in the Bible and why God wants me to read it, again.
The reason I am even in this book has to do with my wife, Linda. A women’s Bible study at church is tackling Ezekiel this year and this section 40 to 42 is her section to teach. She asked me to proofread her handout and so dutifully I did. Of course to do a good job for her I have to read this section for myself.
But my work for her is done. Yet now God has stepped in and wants to speak to me. And what does He want to tell me? At first I have no idea.
As I stare in my mind’s eye at what essentially is a 3D word picture another picture pops out. And here is what God begins to show me.
The measuring was necessary because Ezekiel could not understand or relate to others the dimensions of what he was seeing. He was taken around the temple to show it was not a facade.
The guard houses, the priest rooms and the rest are showing us that God has places for us to serve Him. We are a part of His plans. There are no people in the vision except God, Ezekiel, the angel doing the measuring. The absence of people indicates that God wants to populate His temple with people. He doesn’t need the temple for Himself. The temple is for his people - the exiles, the brokenhearted, the defeated. It is to show them they have jobs to do and are secure in Him.
He has a place for me as well. He has work for me to do and if He were to show it to me I would not be able to get my mind around it. So he shows me bit by bit. He walks me around the outside and excitement builds as He takes me closer to the center, the Most Holy Place.
That was what God wanted to show me the other morning.
A day later I was still thinking about this amazing moment with God and this is what I then wrote.
A day has passed. This isn’t a great deal of distance and I don’t ultimately know how God will bless me but I want to remember how this event impacted me.
First God showed me the power of His Word by taking me into a book, chapters and verses that on the outside appear to have less to say to me in my life and circumstances than any I can think of. He spoke into my life with words so strong in assurance it is as if you could measure them as solid granite blocks in a wall measured by an angel in cubits to record how thick deep and tall are His thoughts for me and you.
He showed me that his message was for the brokenhearted and that I qualify.
You see, the life I am living is not the life I planned. It has gone lower in some ways than I could have ever imagined, yet the path has uncovered a God who loves me I did not know, who has His own plans.
When I signed up to serve Him I thought this servant thing was more or less a ceremonial designation and that for the most part God would make sure my life was a nice friendly adventure, sort of like an expensive African safari. We might encounter a well controlled danger or two, but for the most part we are simply blessed to live some sort of American dream. For some unexplainable reason we seem to deserve it while others elsewhere live in war, ignorance and poverty. Really, it’s too unpleasant to think about.
But along the way God begins answering deeper prayers like:
God, make my life count.
God, show me life as you see it.
God, please direct my steps.
God, give me more of yourself.
So He obligingly begins a demolition/reconstruction project. Slowly (at least it has been this way for me) he breaks off everything that I love more than I love Him and I discover that the problems of Abraham, Job and Ezekiel are not recorded because they are unusual or extreme, but because I will encounter similar tests. They won’t be identical but God never promises they will be any easier. The question is, will I apply their lessons to my circumstances or will I take over the controls of my own plane and attempt to fly through my storms by the seat of my own pants?
When we are brokenhearted, when life is not turning out as we planned, it is not by accident. No pain and suffering we experience will go unused by God for our ultimate blessing and the blessing of others.
Here is what I heard God say without words yesterday morning.
“Ben. I Am a builder. Even when you do not see me or feel me I Am at work. That temple is your life. I have been putting it together, piece by piece, stone by stone. And I give it life. I breath into you and give you breath like the dry bones. I dwell in you and I give your life meaning and purpose. I made Ezekiel”s temple, not because I need it, but because people like you need it. It is a safe strong place where we can dwell together and in it my people have work to do. That work involves sacrifice and the eradication of sin for the healing of the nations. I am about recovery and restoration and You must align yourself with me to have impact in this world whether you see it or not.”
And now I have written this down because someone else needs to understand God is at work doing the same thing in them. Remember, suffering and difficulties are never wasted by God.
Finally, I hope my experience helps you better understand the importance and blessing the gift of prophesy is to our lives and to the Body of Christ. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NASB)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.
6 But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer;
7 and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.
Me and My Voices
Oakhills Church 3/3/13
4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
I used to study this passage holding the mirror up to myself. In this way, it often became no more than an indictment pointing out where I am failing to love others well.
Lately, however, I have come to better appreciate how important it is to understand that there are three voices in my head (and I think I’m more or less sane).
All these voices sound like me. Of course no audible sound is heard by anyone else. They all show up in my mind and I do not distinguish them one from another based on a unique accent or any other variation in how the words or thoughts are delivered. In other words, I can only identify who is saying what based on the content of what has been said.
Voice #1 is my own voice - what I think. This is my soul, my life, my fears, hopes, doubts and personal and limited logic talking. What is utterly amazingly to me is that I have been given immense authority by God to make decisions — so my words matter. This is in spite of the fact that my life is the blink of an eye. David marveled at this in Psalm 8 when he said
4 What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
5 Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
6 You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
I remember how I felt as a new father. Here I was entrusted with the precious lives of little helpless fragile babies to help raise and I was definitely not the most qualified one to do this. I had no advanced degrees and no previous experiences, plus, as I look back on it now, I was barely an adult. But I had the power and authority over their lives because I just happened to be their dad. Well it seems just as true in the spiritual sense as it did being a father that I seem to have more authority than competency.
This authority we possess simply for being members of the human race has to do with God’s character. He said, “Let us make man in our image.” There is authority that comes with being made image bearers.
Voice #2 is the voice of God. After the fall of man God’s input or voice became cloaked. He no longer was my Sovereign Lord because Adam had sold his, and our birthrights for a mouthful of forbidden fruit.
Fortunately the story didn’t end there. When I became aware of my true situation I had the opportunity to exercise my God-ordained authority to resubmit myself to his rule. You see, I have a legal right to do this because my penalty has been paid for by the shedding of innocent blood on my behalf. So whenever anyone gives God permission (being that it is their choice in the matter) he takes them to his side of the battle line.
The war continues to rage but we have been rescued and our eternal fate has been sealed.
But it doesn’t end there either, we now are threats to that third voice that has limited but still highly destructive access to our minds.
Voice #3 is the voice of the Accuser. He takes every blessing, every word of love and encouragement from my Heavenly Father and twists and distorts it.
When words from Scripture condemn me leading me to shame and self-pity I can know this is not coming from Voice #2 because this is not God’s heart for me. That I would even have to write about this while studying a chapter in the Bible devoted to love, because it brings up in me guilt feelings, indicates just how corrupt Satan really is.
If I look at this chapter as I have already stated as a way of seeing how far short I am from perfect love then I believe I am falling for a trick.
Yes love is patient and all the rest I am not. But God is love and he is in me. So I have full access to the love that displays all these powerful attributes of the Spirit. And as it says in Philippians 4:13 (NASB)
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
On the one hand I am instructed by studying this passage on what love really looks like. I come to understand the high standard that Agape love really requires, but this is not for the purpose of condemnation. Rather, it is for my restoration.
Final tip on listening to the voices in your head.
- Just because you can’t hear God speaking doesn’t mean he isn’t. It likely means other sounds and thoughts are too loud. Get quiet and command the other voices, by your authority as a child of the King, to be quiet.
- Remember, condemnation without restoration is not coming from God or yourself. Break all agreements with any voices that are telling you that you are worthless or that God hates you. Agree only with what God declares about you, not even what you think about yourself.
Proverbs 3:5-6 New International Version (NIV)
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
To be friends with an invisible God requires following instructions. God tells us how to do this. If we do not listen then God waits. To us this waiting and not moving behavior on God’s part can cause us to mistakenly conclude that he is not real. His significance to us blends into the…
February 24, 2013 at 3:57pm
Oakhills Church 2/24/13
Lately I have been thinking about intimacy. My questions have had to do with how to be a better husband and friend. Intimacy is about being closer to others in good and healthy ways.
I offer this reflection to this morning’s praise and worship team Oakhills Church, not because it is based on anything connected directly to music ministry, but because the need for intimacy in relationships is important to our lives at a deeper and even more fundamental level than what we do musically. I guess the only link I can make with music is the idea that if we are better people and more alive in general having the ability to make better relationships, then we will have more creativity and joy in music. Obviously this doesn’t address the “He or she done me wrong songs.” Those obviously come from another place entirely.
But going in the direction of intimacy has a price, so even though I think I want it, at the same time I know there is risk involved. In fact the intimacy I sometimes think I want is something I have likely not experienced with another human being since the time I was cradled in my mother’s arms and totally loved for just being who I was. And even then it wasn’t mutual intimacy. I did not have the capacity as a baby to love my parents the way they loved me.
I used to think that the deepest intimacy between two adults would be able to experience would be sexual in nature. I do still agree that this is very intimate, but upon further reflection, I have changed my mind. Not that sex can’t be very intimate, but still I think it is just a foretaste of an even deeper level of knowing and being known by someone else. When I told my wife my thoughts about this she stated that this isn’t what most women think the deepest level of intimacy involves. She thinks most women see intimacy as the pursuit of their hearts in good and safe ways by either girlfriends or lover/husbands. Either way, both men and women, in the pursuit of something they think is intimacy, can actually be behaving quite selfishly, and I’m fairly certain selfishness is the opposite of intimacy.
Then I remembered this verse in James.
James 5:16 New International Version
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
James 5:16 Amplified Bible
Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart]. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].
If I want intimacy, I have to be willing to confess my sins to the other person. In other words, I am willing to share the work I am engaged with God where he is impacting my life and changing me. My reputation is of no importance. What others think of me is no longer sitting in the middle of all my thoughts and directing my behavior. I am broken before the eyes of the other and yet alive, joyful, peaceful and powerful. Yes, it’s an odd place to be and really not possible in my own power.
But if only one is willing to go deep then this still is not descriptive of most profound intimacy two people can share. In fact this is the risk. One will open his or her heart and discover the other doesn’t reciprocate. And what is worse, the other may actually use our self-disclosure against us.
So intimacy can only be truly achieved when both people are safe. This means they are both individually mature emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. They desire intimacy, but they don’t need intimacy with another person to be truly alive, healthy and happy. Intimacy is a blessing from God, not a requirement for life. This is because the deepest intimacy should always be with God alone, and he is ultimately enough.
But here is what may happen when the other finds me safe. He or she may then become willing take their own journey with God, a journey into their deepest pains and longing, and in time will be willing to come out and share more openly about themselves.
So the first step to deepest intimacy seems to require me unilaterally opening my own heart without forcing open the hearts of anyone else. Intimacy with another human being is a fruit or blessing that comes from a deeper intimacy with God. The more intimate I am with God, the more intimate I can be with anyone else. When I have a source of comfort, truth and power flowing into me that is not connected to other humans I am able to receive a level of intimacy that will be available to put into my relationships with them. My security is no longer dependent on anyone else’s actions, which lowers my risk of harm (that I worried earlier) when I become more transparent before others. Because I understand the depth of God’s forgiveness of me I have a greater capacity to easily forgive others. I learn to not quickly take offense and because I am actively processing my own issues, failings, questions, disappointments with my Heavenly Father, I am safe with others. I learn not to cling, complain, nag, whine, and the rest that causes others to try and keep a safe and healthy distance from me.
In communion with God and reflecting on his goodness he teaches me about love and intimacy. I discover that intimacy involves complete honesty about myself before God. It means telling the truth to the others as best we know it about what I am struggling with. However, this has nothing to do with telling the truth as I best know it about anyone else – especially those I am closest to and know the best. If I ever want to shut down intimacy, that’s an excellent way to do it. I am to confess my sins not anyone else’s sins.
Intimacy requires a high level of trustworthiness. This doesn’t happen overnight because trust isn’t about what I say, but about what I do that is in line with what I say. It is a slow intentional walk. This means that intimacy doesn’t require an emotional event to pop me into a deeper level. I don’t suddenly just discover or come to feel that I are more intimate. This emotional burst may be an illusion, and pain may follow when I discover it just ain’t so.
There are no strings involved with intimacy, no ways to bargain to agreements. In other words I can’t force going to this level on someone else. We can only go as far into a deeper friendship as both of us are willing to go individually. This means that whoever wants intimacy the least will get what he or she wants. The one who wants intimacy the most, must accept this reality and can only pray that it may change in time. No pressure can be applied.
Following this self-disclosure part, it is important not to miss the next step in James 5:16.
The two pray together. They don’t discuss. They don’t try and fix the other, They don’t pile on. They don’t dismiss too lightly. They hold each other up before God and pray blessings on each other.
And, according to this verse, what does God do? He heals them. Sometimes physically, sometimes relationally, always ultimately – meaning their lives will be a blessing to others because they chose to walk in intimacy with their Heavenly Father and with each other. That’s what righteousness looks like.
Of course this has marital implications but it also opens up the opportunity for a level of intimacy with others that most marriages today don’t even enjoy. We need each other, even though at times it hurts, because this is what God wants for us and the way he has chosen to heal us and make us healthy and useful in his Kingdom.
Extra Thoughts to Ponder:
Those individuals I have known who are emotionally, psychologically and spiritually mature (note I didn’t say perfect or without problems of their own) tend to have more intimate relationships in general compared with the rest of humanity. This is an important thought to ponder, but a little off the point here.
Relationships are always unbalanced. It is impossible for two people to be at the same place at the same time. This might explain why we need each other. Sometimes someone is ahead of the other and sometimes behind. Sometimes no one is ahead or behind, but they are facing different ways and seeing different things. We need others to help us understand a bigger picture we cannot receive directly from God – by his design.
Wounds come in the best relationships. Sometimes the pain we feel is amplified beyond the triggering circumstance that brought the wound back up. Sometimes we are not aware of where this wound originated and what happened in the time between then and now. Did we try to protect ourselves by making vows that no one would ever hurt us like that again? Did we make agreements that we deserved the punishment because we are not good or loveable even to God? These agreements and vows move us away first and foremost from the intimacy we should feel with God. Whenever God feels distant or angry, understand that this is not the heart of God. We see the heart of God in his actions in Jesus while on earth and that he willingly went to a cross to separate us from our sins as well as our wounds. We need to remember that he said he came to heal the brokenhearted and to set the captives free. (Luke 4:18)
Whenever we are stuck, it’s time to seek help. This may only be sharing a need and asking for prayer. We may need more help than this, but asking for prayer and direction is always a good first step because God can then lead us into anything and everything else we need to become what he made us to be in him.
Because I want greater intimacy, I want something God also wants for me. This is good.
Because I want something that is good for me and others does not make me a good person. It does not justify me trying to push people even in “good” directions. Only God is good.
I can choose good, I can stand for good, I can walk in good ways before God and I can pray for God to act to bring about good in others. What I cannot do is become Junior-Holy Spirit for others. This, in my mind, is one of the greatest relational errors in Christendom – people pushing others to “shape up” rather than praying, encouraging and living before them as good examples of what safe people look like.
February 10, 2013 at 9:04pm
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
paraphrased for musicians.
1 If I [sing] with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of [musical taste and selection], and know all [harmonic variations] and all [music theory]; and if I have all [the performance skills], so as to [move] mountains [of fans], but do not have love, I am nothing.
3 And if I give all my [royalties and sell all my instruments] to feed the poor, and if I surrender my [celebrity status] to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Competition in the Body of Christ
1 Corinthians 12:31 (NASB)
But earnestly desire the greater gifts.
And I show you a still more excellent way.
Competition is found in music.
Awards, first chairs and coveted solos help define pecking orders and ascribe how valuable many people are to themselves more than anything else. Whatever talent we discover or is affirmed in us by others we will work to develop because we all want to be good at something, to stand out and to make our parents proud, whether we are kids or adults with parents long gone.
If I was talking to beauty contestants, the outer beauty, along with something called “poise,” would consume us. We would place great weight on what judges would have to say about how our looks compared with others. Our beauty would define us and we would see that if we have what people want, doors would open.
Music is no different. It can open doors too.
If we were a sports team we would be fighting for first string and in professional sports the best contract and MVP status.
We are taught and to some level form agreements early in life with the idea that fulfillment and happiness are attached to our gifts. This is how we grow and define ourselves in the world. Sometimes compared with others we determine that we have little or nothing of value. When we form this agreement, the enemy of our souls remembers it with pleasure and will happily exploit it in us sometimes for the rest of our lives.
Now let’s talk about church.
To many musicians who grew up outside a church, and I count myself among them, playing for a church service can be simply another gig because we frame it in the only context we know. Show me where to stand, what you want me to do and I will conform, after all, performance is my job. Your doctrines are not my concern. I’m used to smiling when I don’t feel like it and understand the show must go on.
When musicians become Christians, miraculously, Jesus does for them what he does for everyone else. When given permission Jesus forms a bond with the new believer. This does not mean that instantaneously our thinking and behaviors change completely. The most obvious stuff may go quickly - our speech may get cleaner for example and we may become more honest in some dealings as God convicts us, but the deepest agreements, the elements that we have always believed to define us in even good ways are often left unchanged for years, and possibly our whole lives, because we refuse to let them go. When we have won in a particular arena of life we tend to defend its importance. We attribute the development of our talents to being under driven people and defend and justify the way it was done to us as the way it aught to be done. We didn’t know or really take the following pretty familiar verse to heart.
Philippians 4:13 (NASB)
I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.
If this is true, then the source of power has changed for the believer. I now play through Christ. I now sing through Christ. He supplies my strength. I acknowledge for the first time the true giver of my gifts. It wasn’t in me because I was clever or deserved it. God gave it to me just as he gave me life in the first place.
As members of the body of Christ we enter into a new manner of performance, one where competition is replaced by cooperation; where our abilities are no longer our identities and where we are able to rejoice in the talents and abilities of others, even when they appear for a moment to eclipse our own. We can only do this because we now know our redeemer personally and trust he always has our very best in mind. He knows exactly what he is doing, even in our weaknesses, illnesses and disappointments. Singing, playing and leading worship in such a choir or band changes from performance to witness. Community is formed based on, as this morning’s verse said, “a still more excellent way.”
The quality of music in a God -fearing and honoring team, as we are witnesses to here at Oakhills, not only improves with time but also internal conflicts are managed in love and do not poison the group. When we come to God for healing it then enables us to enjoy his gifts here on earth for a long long time AND we can, with open and peaceful hearts, enjoy the gifts of others and love them without envy or jealousy. This is part of that more excellent way.
2/3/13 Oakhills Church, Crownridge Campus
Prayer, Praise, and Invisible Connections
Presented to the Praise and Worship Team at Crownridge Campus of Oakhills Church.
1 Corinthians 12:26
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
Note the verse says with “it,” not “him” or “her.” We are still in the analogy of the body made of members.
Example: If the heart suffers the rest of the body is in trouble as well.
This gets to John Donne’s poem where he says “No man is an island… Therefore never ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”
Part of life in Jesus is to begin to care more about others than we do ourselves. When they suffer it is not just their problem it is ours as well.
Personally of late I have come to understand how disease is fundamentally an attack against God through his creation.
Some have exploited this fact and put God to the test by healing services before the world where the primary motivation is not restoring suffering people but exploiting the sick or debilitated for personal gain. Because this is such a blatant hypocrisy it turns off, not only nonbelievers, but believers as well. Because we legitimately do not want to be lumped with charlatans and exploiters we inadvertently reject the truth that true healing always comes through prayer.
When prayer is activated and the body begins to lift a member up, much more happens than just the restoration of health to a single individual. The faith of many grows toward God and because healing may not come instantly there comes a season where persistent prayer is needed and exercised. This focus reveals in those who engage in it a series of transformative revelations that convict of sin and strengthen walks within the members. In addition, collateral fruit begins to bud around the faithful and others come into healing as a side blessing with the greatest of all healing being salvation.
So prayer is not to be a last resort in medicine but first applied. We have lost this because we as a society have trusted too much on pills and procedures. This is not to discount their use but don’t you think before you as a physician prescribe something or as a patient take something we should all first humble ourselves before Almighty God and ask for guidance and healing?
Now to the second part of the verse - rejoicing with the member that is honored.
Selfishness is a disease of the soul that blocks the transmission of blessing through the body. This results in isolation of the member. Parts of the body cut off from others whither and die. Rejoicing and praising God for the work and blessings he performs through his body that seem disconnected from us are actually very connected.
Rejoicing when others are honored creates a shield of praise that preserves the sweetness of the blessing. Jealousy and backbiting do just the opposite. They rob joy and can make moments of achievement feel instead like cursing and humiliation. When someone is complemented and we remain “neutral” not wanting them to get a big head, we are working for the enemy. Praising and rejoicing God acknowledging another’s gifts is an important activity within the body. Churches that believe they best serve God by diminishing or ignoring the sacrifices and efforts of brothers and sisters in Christ actually are not fulfilling Jesus’ great commandment to love one another.
I wrote to this point yesterday and then sent it off to some of my prayer partners. I did it to hopefully bless them, but also so they could reflect, pray and give me feedback. This resulted in a dialogue which caused me to write the rest of this devotion.
First they wanted to know how I had come to my thoughts. Here was my answer.
My earlier writing came from reflecting on the Scripture verse and thinking about how I have not understood the centrality of prayer to healing.
It helps heal us as we celebrate and love others which is opposite what the world teaches. The world teaches us to seek credit and glory from others and take the praise into ourselves. Here’s the problem. When we seek glory, which is an attribute of God, not man, it damages us. It warps our minds and we begin to live more in illusion than reality. This affects the way we make decisions and treat ourselves, God and others. When we appreciate the gifts of others, we can and should outwardly applaud, congratulate and thank them for blessing us as instruments in God’s hands, but always in so doing, we are actually glorifying our Father in Heaven.
Jesus said this in his Sermon on the Mount.
16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
As musicians it is important to attribute God for the gifts and talents we have been given, not to mention the opportunities to use them. It is not necessary that words are said. It’s the way we shine our lights. It’s our focus and heart in the performance, which should lead back to the times of preparation and practice. Let us always be sure to dedicate our music and performance back to God every time we pick up an instrument or step up to a microphone. It is also important that we understand that our relationship with other musicians is critical to our spiritual health as well as the spiritual health of the team and church. We need to be careful not to hurt others by words coming out of the same mouth that gives God praise.
Remember what James said about the tongue.
But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.
So, now. Share if any of this is new for you and how it might change the way you contribute to the Praise and Worship Ministry in your church.
December 23, 2012 at 11:09pm
Christmas is the Gift
The deepest reason we give gifts is because we are made in God’s image.
You see, our God is a gift giver. If we understand this about our Heavenly Father’s nature, then the fact that salvation is a free gift makes a lot more sense.
The most memorable and lasting gift God ever gave us came wrapped in rags.
He did it this way to make sure we got His point that this gift is not intended exclusively for just a few special ones.
Notice how Papa God didn’t give this gift in secret. First, he placed baby Jesus in a manger - so exposed and available that poor shepherds could simply walk down from the nearby hills to take a look. And their invitation came by angels who opened a portal between heaven and earth in the dark of night exposing myriads of the heavenly host bathed in glorious light, loudly singing their joyful declaration,”To you a child is born.”
Most people however stayed indoors. It seemed the wiser and safer thing to do.
But the shepherds weren’t the only visitors. Wise men from other countries also came following a new star that suddenly appeared for this special occasion.
Think of the logistics involved in that one.
And, what did the wise men bring? Gifts of course. As I said, we are made in God’s image. It feels natural to give gifts.
In contrast to the wise men, however, there were a privileged few who saw God’s gift as a hostile threat. They didn’t want a gift. They wanted to simply keep, and if possible grow, what they had - which to them seemed like power, wealth and control, but were actually from heaven’s perspective just filthy rags.
So what over this last two millennia has changed? Of what I have described here, really nothing.
Isn’t it interesting that the gift wrapped in rags still comes every year, still waiting in a manger, available to be opened? And aren’t there among us those represented by shepherds, wise men, arrogant kings and the sleeping masses?
And isn’t it interesting that accepting God’s gift is no more complicated than opening a present on Christmas Day?
And as cool as all this is, what is even more remarkable is what happens to anyone who accepts God’s gift - they become gifts wrapped in rags themselves, on the outside appearing no differently than what they have always seemed - same faces, flaws, circumstances and apparent limitations.
But behind all this something is different. It might be just a glimmer in the eyes at first but those of us who have experienced it before them know exactly what it is.
On this day in the city of San Antonio a child is born and you will find him wrapped in rags lying in the manger of a new child’s heart.
For right now in the life of the new believer the baby is in the stable right next to the the animals - a gaggle of fears, a herd of complaints.
In time the baby will grow, and when He does we will see the Child of God’s outward rags change into robes of righteousness.