Archive | March, 2014

Dissing Unity

29 Mar


Hobby Lobby. World Vision. Westboro Baptist. Noah. Chik-Fil-A. Duck Dynasty.

Is anyone else tired of talking about all this instead of Jesus? I know I am.

About mid-week my heart was so heavy, I wanted to scream: STOP IT! Of course no one would have heard me among all the other voices, so instead I thought and pondered, asking myself if there was anything positive I could do in light of all Christian messes in the news lately.

My search took me to John 17 – Jesus’ last words to his disciples. Jesus prayed for himself, for the ones surrounding him, and for us– those who will believe.

“I do not ask for these (the disciples) only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”  John 17:20-23

In his last moments with his friends, Jesus prays for unity. Why? Not so they will all feel good about each other and their relationships. Not so they will be emotionally healthy and fulfilled. Not even so they would have peace.

He says it twice: so that the world may believe and know God loves them.

Jesus could have said any number of things knowing that he would be arrested in a few moments. He chose unity; the if-you-missed-everything-else-I-said-get- this.

Christian unity is a big deal.

The main reason my heart has been so sick over the news stories lately is that more than the issues themselves, the disunity is what the world is noticing– the opposite of what Jesus prayed for right before going to the cross! Even in that moment he knew we would blow it, just as he knew Peter would. Yet he went forward to Golgotha for Peter… and for us.

Every facebook status, every blog post, every news report about these stories makes me ask: How can I be part of the solution? I’m not a player in any of these events. But I definitely have a part to play in the greater story. And so does every Christ follower.

Remember the principle in the Sermon on the Mount? “You have heard it said… but I tell you….”

Several times Jesus refers to the Law, then takes the issue further into the soul.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

What does this have to do with unity? Jesus repeats this pattern in Matthew 5 indicating that he is concerned with all heart-attitudes not just the few examples he gives. He starts the New Covenant ball rolling expecting us to keep it in play.

External obedience is not enough. Not if we claim to follow Jesus.



Unity isn’t a problem for worship teams…. right?

No one is ever jealous of another’s ability or opportunity.
No one ever thinks he/she could do a better job than someone else.
No one checks out what someone else is wearing on stage with a critical eye.
No one ever talks badly about another team member.

Especially not the worship leader.

Christian unity begins in the small interactions of everyday.

Team unity is a big deal. If we aren’t unified, will those in the congregation sense the love God has for them or be distracted by a spirit other than The Spirit?

And as the leader, I set the tone.




Cross Purposes

22 Mar


Yesterday spring found a chink in winter’s armor.

My cheeks are still warm from a full day of sunshine, reminding me on this 35-degree morning that yesterday was really real.

Wanting to be outside and last fall’s undone garden chores intersected beautifully under the blue sky. I like working hard, especially when I can step back and see results, so I plunged in with a happy heart.

The first to go– dead stems from the perennials that will grow anew and be covered in color again this year. Next up were the branches pruned by the blades of the fierce windstorms that blew through the midwest this winter. The ruthless gardener had not been neat, and they were scattered cattywumpus all over the yard, on the roof, in corners by the chimney, and inside the shrubs.

At first I had a hard time determining which branches were legitimately part of the bushes and which were dead windfalls from the tree above. They looked practically the same without leaves to tell them apart.

A crooked branch caught my eye. I looked more closely and found lots – enough for a good start for a bonfire! The bush’s branches were all going the same way–  from main stems toward the sky. Dead windfalls were scattered in at cross purposes with the bush’s branches– ones that would soon welcome spring for real by putting out tiny pink flowers.

Being involved in church life, and specifically worship ministry, is never dull! Glorious times of worshiping God together are interspersed with difficult situations – criticism, arguments about musical style difference, and others’ expectations. It’s easy to get discouraged and give in to distractions that lead away from the main thing.

Last week I overheard someone say that not every difficulty we face is spiritual warfare. I’ve been thinking about that comment, and I’m not sure I agree.  We live in this temporal, physical world, which does make seeing what’s happening in the spiritual world difficult, but the heavenly world is just as real, and vastly more crucial to every situation, than this one. Everything in this world – every conversation, decision, thought, situation – is also intrinsically of eternity.

Everything is spiritual warfare. Not every difficulty is demonic or a spiritual attack, but every situation is part of eternity. Until we are in heaven, there are opposing values, ideas, and perceived realities in conflict.

If you’ll allow me a pun in the midst of a serious thought… the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of Heaven are at cross purposes.

One is interested in self, the other in Jesus.



In the big conflicts of life it’s easy for me to discern which kingdom’s value structure is driving the situation. In re-thinking everything– even the more mundane and seemingly inconsequential– from an eternal perspective, it’s tougher.

  • In a conversation with someone from the congregation who doesn’t like the musical style of our worship– what is really going on? Self-centeredness?  Further conversation and several questions often reveals that there is a lot more to the story. Sometimes, however, it was simply a thoughtless remark.
  • Making a decision about which songs to sing on Sunday– do I choose the one I just wrote or go with a well-known standard? What’s my motivation– self-aggrandizement or allowing people to worship God with Truth. Maybe my song fits better.

These are just two examples of many, many ordinary opportunities for me to have a positive affect eternity as I live in both kingdoms.

The question is: how do I discern what’s going on?

How can I be “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work”? 2 Timothy 2:21

The answer: look for direction.

Is the heart-motivation going toward Jesus? Toward the cross of selflessness?

Or is it a dead, crooked branch that will be lifeless come spring, and only good for a bonfire?

Everything pointing somewhere besides the cross has to go. The first part of 2 Timothy 2:21 calls us to be cleansed from everything that is dishonorable.

Direction is everything.

One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

Blowing Chunks

15 Mar


Winter has been brutal in the Midwest this year. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE winter… in places that are equipped for it.

I like my snow measured in FEET, not inches, in a town boasting a fleet of ginormous plows and snowbank snowblowers.

Here in the city we have temporary plows fastened to the fronts of pick-up trucks. Winter laughed at them this year!

But now the trucks are emerging from winter’s hold like insects wrapped in a spiderweb losing its stickiness. The Northern hemisphere is tipping toward the sun, reversing the frozen grasp that has seemed so very permanent. Ice is cold, and hard, and unyielding… until sunshine returns.

This week I was driving into the city for a worship service. I was late and unprepared due to a tough, unforeseen situation. As I drove, I tried to pray and keep it under 70. Watching the speedometer was easier. I was so distracted by this issue and frustrated that I wasn’t prepared!

God often uses my environment to speak to me when I’m like this. Behind the truck in front of me what looked like puffs of smoke blowing across the road caught my attention. I sped up to see what was going on, kind of like Moses checking out the bush.

The truck was dropping ice bombs that exploded into snow-puffs when they hit the road.

The mud flaps (or should they be called snow flaps this time of year?) concealed the truck’s underbelly where I suspected the ice chunks were coming from. All I could see were little explosions of celebration every time one fell off. Even the biggest and toughest pieces of ice couldn’t weather a drop onto concrete going 70. Every one was obliterated. I laughed, imagining that the truck’s mileage will get better this week after winter falls off.

When I pulled into the parking lot we share with a liquor store, I sat there for a few minutes to let some chunks fall off me. I was still distracted, but as I looked at the outside of the church my heart grew light knowing that God would work in our hearts that night– he has every night we gather in community, and I knew he would again.

The prep was already underway in the kitchen (we have a meal together before the service), so I went straight to the dining area to run through the night’s songs. I love Jesus, and I love to sing; the combo is often cathartic, but that night I heard God singing back to me as I worshiped him. The day’s chunks melted off my heart and the residue blew away as I worshiped.

The ministry that God did that night was amazing! A woman that is seeking God stayed late, and we talked about freedom in Christ. A couple of weeks ago she made a pact with the devil, but now I could see the enemy’s web losing its grip as her eyes communicated understanding of grace that we’ve been praying for for so long. There are a few ice chunks still clinging to her heart, but many more melted off. For the first time she can see the path leading to Jesus.

What has seemed like an endless winter is powerless when spring sunshine returns. Every piece of ice will melt.

What had all the makings of a fiasco-night developed into a divine worship service that glorified God that began when my rehearsal tipped over into praise and God removed the crusty ice from around my heart.

That would have been enough.

But God also let us watch as years of suffocating bonds fell away from a tender heart.



As people enter our church buildings tomorrow, many will be carrying junk from a broken world. Some will bring hard issues deep in their underbellies that no one can see. Others will be wound with a sticky web that constrains their worship. Many will be distracted by the pressures and pace of life.

All of them will be entrusted to us.

God works through several aspects that intersect our temporal physical world with the eternal spiritual realm – the primary ones being his word, prayer, and worship. We can plan, lead, and deliver a perfunctory event using all of these.

Or we can invite him into every facet and watch him work. That is my prayer for all and each of us tomorrow.

Spring has come back to the Midwest; all the ice will melt.

Jesus came into the world to break every chain and make all things new.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
.    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
.    and rivers in the desertIsaiah 43:19

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  Revelation 21:1-7


8 Mar


Last night I stumbled on photos of my hometown that I took during my last visit.

Achingly beautiful.

(Click on the photo to get a better idea of what I mean.)

Each photo called to me to put myself into the photo like Bert and Mary Poppins popped into his sidewalk chalk drawings. Everything within me answered the call. When I opened my eyes I was still here in front of my laptop screen. Sigh. Oh for Calvin’s transmogrifier.

At first I thought I was feeling an intense longing – longing to be there, longing for how I feel when I’m there. That was certainly part of it. More than that, though, my heart ached.

Down beyond the dailiness of life, past thoughts and consciousness, my heart was undone.

Being in nature opens my soul at another level. Even farther into my spirit, at the very essence of who God made me, lives the part of me that beauty touches. Little else makes it that far into my heart. Walls protect tenderness, and beauty ekes in through the chinks.

Glory streams in and my heart fills beyond its capacity. My soul is burstingly full, and yet still wants more.


As I continued looking at my photos another desire wafted in. Several friends came to mind– friends who would love my hometown as much as I; friends who would greatly benefit from the soul-scrubbing that happens when surrounded by natural beauty.

More than their welfare, however, I was thinking about experiencing the vistas of my hometown (glorious sunrises and sunsets, overlooks of Lake Superior, miles of sand dunes stretching toward the horizon) with my friends. Being there together.

Although I’m an introvert, and happy to enjoy a brilliant sunset by myself, there’s something about sharing beauty with others that makes it even more beautiful.


Much of worship is a mystery to me– physical touching spiritual; creator desiring attention from his created; God’s glory inhabiting our praises.

Of one thing I am certain: that God is beautiful, and we get a glimpse of that during worship.

Together, when we humbly journey to the foot of the cross, we are before his throne, and we gaze on the beauty of Jesus.

When I worship him alone, I see his beauty. When we worship him together, the Standard of beauty becomes even more beautiful because the moment is shared – magnified – with others who also ache in His presence.

His glory streams in and our hearts fill beyond capacity. Our souls are burstingly full… and still want more.



Here are a couple of ways to prepare our hearts for leading others tomorrow:

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
   that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
   all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
   and to inquire in his temple.  Psalm 27:4

O Lord, You’re Beautiful – original by Keith Green.

And covered by Jesus Culture. Some especially beautiful moments:
.   – When Kim Walker wipes her eyes at 1:55 (in response to God’s beauty?)
  – And at 4 minutes in when the leaders step away from the mics and the crowd sings out together

My prayer for all of us tomorrow: His glory will stream in and our hearts will be full beyond their capacity. Our souls will be burstingly full… and still want more.

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