Archive | April, 2013

Peace for Failure

27 Apr

Pounce bw

The environmental buzz word in the 1970’s was ecology. Decades of do-as-we-will left rivers and lakes polluted, landfills oozing nastiness, and roadsides sprinkled with trash.

I convinced four girlfriends to forego our social club to pitch-in and help eradicate this evil. Snoopy and Johnny Horizon motivated us. We sent for the Clean Up America kit, learned the song, and The Litter Gitters took on trash.

Pogo was another champion for ecology. Pogo’s creator, Walt Kelly tweaked Commodore Perry’s victory statement at the Battle of Lake Erie:
“We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”pogo_earthdayYesterday I ran into this quote twice. I take notice of freaky repetition like that.

The first time was in the morning while I was reading John 16:31-33. The second was while reading Invitation to a Journey, by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. late last night.

John 16:31-33

Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The context for John 16 is after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and before his arrest that night in the garden. Jesus let the disciples know ahead of time that they would all desert him. He didn’t scold. He didn’t shame them. In fact, the reason he brought it up was to encourage them.

He tells them these things so in him they may have peace. PEACE.

Jesus says that he knows they (we) are going to fail, but that it’s going to alright.

He doesn’t excuse their abandonment (sin), but before it even happens, he lets them (us) know there is grace for failure.

As I contemplated all this, Pogo’s quote came to mind. (More like crashed into my thoughts with combat boots on, actually.) Often, I am my worst enemy. Especially when I hang on to my failure when Jesus has extended grace.

Mulholland’s use of Pogo’s quote explains further (pages 37-38, emphasis mine):

If, indeed, the work of God’s formation in us is the process of conforming us to the image of Christ, obviously it’s going to take place at the points where we are not yet conformed to that image. This means that one of the first dynamics of holistic spiritual formation will be confrontation. Through some channel– the Scripture, worship, a word of proclamation, the agency of an unbeliever– the Spirit of God may probe some area in which we are not conformed to the image of Christ. That probing will probably always be confrontational, and it will always be a challenge and a call to us in our brokenness to come out of the brokenness into wholeness in Christ. But it will also be a costly call, because that brokenness is who we are.

Sometimes we suffer under the illusion that our incompleteness, our brokenness, our deadness is something like a sweater that we can easily unbutton and slip off. It is not that easy. Our brokenness is us. Like Pogo, “we have met the enemy and he is us.” This is what Jesus indicates when he speaks about losing yourself. That in your which has not yet been conformed to the image of Christ is not a simple “thing” in you– it is an essential part of who you are.

To quote one more source:

Failure doesn’t phase you.
Worry doesn’t win.
Lost doesn’t leave you afraid to start again.
Our sin doesn’t shock you.
Our shame doesn’t shame you at all.
Mistakes do not move you.
Terror doesn’t tame.
Death doesn’t doom you to life in the grave.
Our suffering doesn’t scare you.
Our secrets won’t surprise you at all.
At all.

There is nothing above you.
There is nothing beyond you.
There is nothing that you can’t do.
There is no one beside you.
There is no one that’s like you.
There is nothing that you can’t do.
Whatever will come, we’ll rise above.
You fail us not, You fail us not.
No matter the war, our hope is secure.
You fail us not, You fail us not.
You fail us not.


Ready for Sunday

If my failure doesn’t phase Christ, if I have asked for his forgiveness, why does my failure get in my way?

Jesus was concerned for his disciples (and us) so intensely, that even as arrest and death on the cross loomed in the immediate future, he makes sure to give them the info they will need to get through the next couple of days without him: they will fail, and he gives peace even in, especially in, failure.

How can we be sure?  He has overcome the world. The one who rose from the dead is the one who promises peace. The evidence points to his ability to make it so.

Leaders, I think, beat ourselves up worse than believers in the congregation. We should know better. How did we not see warning signs of danger? How can we go on stage after creating such hurt and messiness?

Because we are no worse or better than anyone else. And because he gives peace.

I am losing myself in him.



23 Apr


This post is a little different from the usual.

Last week, on a whim, I submitted my Top 10 Ways to Encourage Your Worship Leader article to Worship Leader Magazine. Today they asked to publish it on their site. It’s up now– on the #2 spot on the Featured page. Could you click on this link and like the article and/or leave a comment?


Worshiping Almighty God with you.


Before darkness overtakes you

20 Apr

SMILING_DalmatianMy dad brought him home for us. A wriggly white puppy speckled with black spots. And equipped with sharp puppy teeth and huge paws. My brothers, sister, and I named him Pepper– for the spots he wore and for the energy that wound him up like my brother’s Wizzer.

Cute five pounds grew into strong 40 pounds while I wasn’t looking. Pepper’s body grew into his feet, but his internal discipline didn’t. He shredded everything his puppy teeth and flexing jaw muscles could handle—our toys, the blow-up wading pool, and Dad’s snowmobile seat.

The last offense put him on the list for deportation as soon as another home could be found. While he served his sentence in the garage, he grew crazier and plotted an endless array of techniques to escape when the side door opened.

His favorite (and easiest) attempts were when a 60-pound girl with knobby knees and long blonde-ish hair brought him dinner. I stood outside the wooden door picking at the peeling paint to work up courage and bravery becoming a Marine before turning the rusty knob. Pepper outgunned me. On his back legs he seemed to tower over my slight frame. Confined all day, his puppy-energy-expenditure did not come close to the needed quota. And his teeth. Oh, they were sharp! No wonder I stood there without opening the door.

More than a few times, he lunged at the door when he saw a crack of light and wrenched it free from my shaking hand, dog food raining down around my sneakers as his dish went flying. I screamed, then bolted, too. The game was on for Pepper. I was his terrified, and very unwilling, playmate.

He nipped at my ankles, and my legs pumped faster. More than once he knocked me down and puppy-played with his teeth on my thin skin. Several times he treed me in our little orchard, and I hurled apples down on him. Another game to him (who knew little green balls came from heaven?), and frantic self-preservation for me.


Right after entering Jerusalem to cries of “Hosanna!” from the crowds, Jesus predicted his death on the cross. His heart was troubled even as he encouraged the crowd: “You will have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you.” (John 12:35)

The crowds still did not know Jesus was Messiah. You can almost hear Jesus pleading with them to understand while he is still among them – before evil came nipping at their heels even though his sacrifice would drive out the prince of this world. (John 12:31)

Again, with just his disciples this time, Jesus entreats them to believe he is the Son of God as he predicts one of them will betray him: “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.” (John 13:19) Yet again, his spirit was troubled.

As he comforts his disciples and prays for them, the mood of John’s Gospel changes. Tension and fear are replaced by Jesus’ deep love for his friends. Three times he encourages them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Instead we are to believe in him for gives divine peace and has overcome the world.

Jesus’ heart was troubled at what lay ahead beyond any crisis or despair we can imagine. (To begin to describe what he suffered would take several posts.) The urgency for his followers to believe who he is in John 12 and 13 melts into the love song of Chapters 14-17. Immediately following, Jesus is arrested, and everything he predicted unfolds – his arrest, crucifixion, and death; Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and the disciples’ abandonment; and his resurrection as he conquered the grave and the prince of this world!

He still has influence, this prince of darkness. Unless you are a hermit without access to the news reports this past week, you have watched the evidence that darkness still has a foothold in this world. The horror at the Boston Marathon is not the end of what evil will do in this world. There will be more – much more. But we do not have to be terrorized like a little girl with a snarling Dalmatian snapping at her heels. Jesus took on trouble so we could have peace.

And peace, wrapped in light, shows up brilliantly against the darkness.


Ready for Sunday

What he suffered for me is reason enough to worship him. That he did it because he loves me makes me love him back.

But it’s still hard to remember this in a way that translates to a practical overcoming attitude. How to remember his peace when faced with evil? I think being prepared is key. One way to prepare is to nurture the relationship by worshiping him. Another is by memorizing his Word. Both cause me to think about the eternal (instead of the temporal) aspects of the situation.

A good verse to memorize: “You, dear children,are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4

Thank God the people of Boston can breathe a little easier tonight. Praise him that even in the midst of horrendous evil he is greater.

Top 10 Ways to Encourage Your Worship Leader

12 Apr

Chicago worship

Instead of writing a devo to encourage you and your worship team this week, I thought I’d post this list I’ve been tweaking for several months. Maybe you can slip it into your Facebook feed so those you lead see it.

This list is based on experiences and conversations over the last couple of decades. I have been blessed to serve in churches that get this. For the most part.

And so… drum roll please….

#10 – Encouragement.  Worship leaders are an artistic group, often with melancholy personalities. I’ve heard that for the general population it takes seven encouraging comments to offset one negative remark. For artistically invested folks the ratio is at least double that. Besides, encouragement never gets old, and it’s free! I have a file of encouraging cards that I read when I’m discouraged. I wouldn’t mind one more.

#9 – Feedback. Kindly given constructive feedback helps me figure out how to help our congregation connect with God better. Don’t be offended if I ask, “Can you explain that a little better?” I really do want to know what you’re saying. And I definitely like constructive feedback that is sandwiched between positive comments. (See #10.)

#8 – Administrative help. Yep I’m creative. That means administrative details are difficult and draining even if I am good at them. Can you get the music ready each week? Can you handle volunteer communication? While these seem like tiny tasks, my week is full of these tiny admin pebbles in my artistic boots that can wear me down. What seems easy to you can take a tremendous weight off me.

#7 – Music gift cards. Don’t buy me music – I may already own the file. A gift card with suggestions of new music works better. Just be careful when suggesting a new song in hopes that we’ll sing it in church. I put a lot of thought and prayer into bringing new songs to the body. Not using your song during the service doesn’t mean that I don’t like your music. So let me know your favorites, and let’s enjoy listening together.

# 6 – Invitation to worship.  A big part of my job is to lead you in worship every Sunday. Don’t get me wrong— I love my job! I also enjoy worshiping God when someone else is stressed about whether the keyboard player will remember the intro. (I play keys, so I can say that!) This week I was invited to the senior worship project of one of our interns. What a soul-refreshing treat!!

#5 – Tickets to a production.  Artistic people soak up inspiration. In fact, we need it like our physical bodies need food and without it my soul begins to whither. A play, art show, night at the symphony, and other events outside the church music world are a necessary luxury that is usually unaffordable. Please check with me though, to make sure I have the date open before you buy tickets. A bonus would be to include a ticket for my spouse.

#4 – Time to create. Creative cross-training keeps me focused and sharp. This is similar to #5, except that I’m engaged, not just soaking it up. Make arrangements for me to take a workshop or spend all day in my studio. Again, check with me to make sure this works with my schedule, then drop off a basket of snacks or a brown bag lunch so I can create all day without stopping.

#3 – Initiate. Do you see a need and have the ability to take care of it? Even something simple would make my day! Wrapping cables, re-setting the stage, sorting music, throwing away coffee cups, stacking chairs…. What do you see me doing when you leave the church? Offer to help me do it, and let’s serve together!

#2 – Pray. All week my efforts go into arranging everything in the worship center and service so that you can have a dynamic encounter with God. I pray for you and for the service. I would love to know that you are praying for me. Drop me a note or an email. Send an encouraging Scripture. When someone sends me a verse or two it often hits the aching spot in my heart. Like preaching pastors, worship leaders are on the front lines— leading the charge into enemy territory similar to the worship leaders who led the Israelite army into battle. The age-old tactic to take out the leader is a favorite one of our enemy’s. I can’t do what I do without prayer. The stakes are too high: we need to gather together and worship God.

#1 – Worship. The best way to encourage your worship leader is to worship God. Some of you connect best with him by pulling into yourselves. Head down, hugging yourself, lips barely moving… you are deeply worshiping him. When worshiping him in community, our main purpose is still to individually worship Him from the depth of our souls – but to do it together. The dynamic is different even though the purpose remains the same. To encourage those around physically show with your posture, countenance, and voice, what is going on in your heart. Try being more overt. Throw your hands up high in adoration. Kneel and cry out to him. Sing so loud you are hoarse. When you worship alone, you have only God to consider. When we can see you are worshiping God, we worship him more deeply—and I lead you better.

Knowing others are worshiping God is the second most glorious experience for a worship leader.

The first is worshiping him.


5 Apr

Piano hands

Explaining, like I did every Tuesday afternoon that the circle with the little line through it was Middle C, I knew by the look in his eyes he didn’t get it.  (Again.) We’d been at it since last fall.

So we dragged out the foot piano* and played a game. I pointed to the key and played the piano note as he “played” Twinkle Twinkle with his feet. Then he joined my on the bench and played it (almost) perfectly. His enthusiasm made up for his lack of understanding, and we fist-pumped and high-fived his effort.

But I longed for him to get it!

I knew the world that would open up when he could understand the correspondence of printed note to piano key. All he could play was what he knew – and a 5-year-old’s repertoire include little Beethoven or Brahms or Debussy. The rich and vast piano literature remained closed to him.

Until the day I saw the flash cross his face.

He looked at me, a smile spreading slowly across his understanding. Studying the music, then moving his fingers on the keys, he played his first mind/hand masterpiece.


The Israelites longed for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai. He had been up there (again) for 40 days getting another copy of the covenant. When he descended, his face burned into their dim eyes, so he covered his head with a veil.

As they wandered in the desert, the Twelve Tribes constructed the Tabernacle as the Lord instructed through Moses. Later, Solomon built a temple for the Lord after they settled in the Promised Land.  In both of these places of worship a veil hung between the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place separating Holy God from sinful man.

Today the word veil brings to mind sheer cloth like tulle or nylon netting worn by a bride, not the Temple veil that protected the Israelites from Almighty God– and certain death. There was nothing light and filmy about it. Bible resources say the veil was 4-6 inches thick and about 60 feet high by 30 feet wide – a virtually impenetrable, but somewhat flexible, divider.

Immediately after Jesus gave us his spirit, this veil was torn from the top to the bottom, removing the barrier between God and man. At the same time the earth shook and rocks were split. An earthquake can be explained away as a natural occurrence, and rocks crack from its tremendous force. But fabric, even 4-6 inches thick, does not crack. Unless the temple fell (it did not until 40 years later) fabric would have been resilient– moving perhaps, but not ripping.

Hung its full height: 60 feet high by pillars, the veil could not have been ripped by human agency. Physically this would have been impossible, especially since the ripping started from the top. Symbolically, the top-to-bottom ripping points to divine rending.

Three days later, God also removed the weighty stone that sealed the tomb where Jesus had been laid.

When the protective nature of the veil and the stone changed to a barrier, God removed them.

So we can see him.

So we can “get it” – understand how much he loves us.

So we can have an almost-barrier-free relationship with him.

The last barrier is death. After that we will truly see him as he is.


Ready for Sunday

If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

The death and resurrection of Jesus gives his followers the unfathomable privilege of direct access to God. Do I “get it”? Do I understand – and take advantage of – the access Jesus bought for me with his death?

How can I communicate that God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”?

Do those I lead “get it” because of my example, or am I a barrier between them and God?


*A vinyl shade removed from the roller on which I had drawn piano keys big enough for a 5-year-old foot to “play” the notes. Using gross motor skills is sometimes easier than the fine finger skills used to play an instrument.  The foot piano eliminates half of the fine-motor + intellectual info difficulty, allowing the student to just focus on the information while playing a game (and expend some excess wiggles!)

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