Old Reliable

How many blog posts have you seen that start with an apology?

“Hey, sorry for not posting for so long. I had some projects at work, and then my mother-in-law came to visit, and then I got sick all weekend…”

I imagine all bloggers start out eager and excited, planning on regular posting. But life often gets in the way of our best intentions. And yet reliability is one of the hallmarks of building a strong platform in social media.

Michael Hyatt, author of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, posted a blog recently listing reasons he stopped reading your blog. One of the reasons given was unreliable or infrequent posting. The apology post also appears on every list of “blog posts no one wants to see” that I’ve ever read.

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I say this only with fingers pointed at me (as this screen cap of my post dates will bear out). But if the critique fits, then take it in the constructive and encouraging way it’s meant:

People aren’t interested in intentions.

What’s the solution? Consistent action.

Maybe that means scheduling out posts well in advance, or structuring realistic goals like one post a week. Perhaps it means blocking out a portion of the day for interaction on social sites, or for writing and editing the next blog. It definitely means we avoid being haphazard, only posting when we feel like it.

Spirituality is like a platform, because we have a message we want to get out to the noisy world that may or may not be listening. Just like successful blogs and social media efforts, the message we communicate has to be reliable. If I never speak about my faith, it’s hard to believe that’s a powerful or important part of my life.

Our spiritual platform – just like social media – is born out of discipline and consistency. We do the little things, the day-in day-out basics of living out our faith, the stuff no one applauds or even likely sees. In this way, we develop patterns and habits that serve us well when crises arise.

My pastor from when I was a child posted a story about a fellow believer, a widow of a pastor who was murdered two months ago. My former pastor and an elder paid this lady a visit with the hopes of encouraging her by presence if not by words. He wrote, “She didn’t express anger or bitterness (though I could understand it if she did.) Willie and I went to encourage her, and we left encouraged by her!”

He then made this key insight:
“Such true Christlikeness isn’t acquired in a crisis. She has lived consistently for God over time and now, in the midst of the storm, her faith is made manifest. I was deeply moved. I want to be like her — as she is like Christ.”

We have the option to dabble in a hobby, post a blog now and then, share some thoughts, maybe read a Bible verse or “like” a spiritual post on Facebook. We can have the Sunday spirituality in a life that otherwise leaves out Christ.

But then we have no spiritual platform to stand on, no compelling reason for the crowd to stop and listen to what we have to say.

With Eyes of Faith

I’m waiting for my daughter, standing in the back of her youth group, watching how these young people are interacting. The music is a touch louder than I might prefer. The speaker and the singers scream a bit more than I’m used to. My bee girl is sitting by herself, and the worried dad in me hopes she hasn’t been left alone the whole night.

The service is wrapping up, they’re all singing one more song. Some friends join my daughter, and everyone is called to the front.

The speaker offers a simple invitation to relationship and life in Christ. A couple hands shoot up. Cheers break out. Applause echoes through the room.

The realist in me knows that so many youth from my generation turned away from their faith as young adults.

Worried dad hopes my daughter doesn’t join their ranks.

The cynic hopes those raised hands are sincere.

But eyes of faith picture angels rejoicing as lost sheep are found.

And worried dad remembers the Father’s arms wrapping around this prodigal son when i wandered off years ago.

So i look at my daughter in the crowd, and I know it’s going to be all right.

Get Daddy

There’s something to be said for simplicity.

At church yesterday morning, after the service, I was waiting to speak with the pastor who gave the message. Someone else was talking with him, and a child probably two or three years old bounded down the aisle of the sanctuary toward the man, calling out a sing-song “I’m ‘onna get mah Daddy… I’m ‘onna get mah Daddy…”

And I thought about worship, specifically how I approach it. Or maybe better stated, how I approach God.

It’s easy to fixate on what we do, wherever we minister. Sometimes I can even think about how I do that ministry, to see if there’s a way I could do it better. But so much of my thought is on the technical details, the processes, the cooperation with others toward the goal. It’s not always about a simple act of relationship to God.

Maybe that’s a part of what it means to “do everything as unto The Lord.” We don’t work for a mean boss who demands perfection and threatens to dock our pay or make us work overtime. Maybe doing my ministry – whatever that may be – is like a child consumed with only the desire to please the Father.

Maybe God would like it if I would stop worrying about musical dynamics and smooth transitions, and simply come singing “I’m ‘onna get my Daddy…”

Broken Lives

Our broken lives were changed, when You broke the night with day. — God Be Praised, by Jon Egan

Check out the video here.

My wife and I are playing music at our church this morning, and God Be Praised is one of the songs on the list. It has a piano piece during the verses that takes up my attention so I can’t sing at the same time. But the first line of the third verse is the above quote, and it is my favorite line of all the songs we’re playing today.

Why? Because it captures so much in so few words.

What does it capture?

My state – On my own I am broken, I am shattered, I am in pieces.

His grace – Because of Him, as the pieces of the chains that bound me fall to the ground, the rubble of the life I tried to build begins to come together into the masterpiece He intended.

The victory of Christ – The night has been broken, the bondage shattered, the stronghold demolished. Light and life have come through Christ.

The finality of this change: Christ’s work is done. “It is finished.” Our lives are being changed, yes, but the primary catalyst for change – His victory – is already settled and established.

As the spiritual kingdom of this world shatters all around me, and as the world I tried to build comes apart, light shines in the darkness and unrelenting love creates a new life out of the ruins.

This is how His Word is coming to life in my heart today as we sing.

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In All Things Charity

I am amazed when I consider how some Christians handle conflict.

Some people seem content to throw the figurative grenade into the room, then pick up the pieces and see what’s left. No really, that’s pretty much a quote I was given as one person’s method of conflict resolution.

There are those who feel compelled to fire their Scripture-shotgun into the face of any opposition, no matter how tame. “I know what God says on this matter. I asked Him.” Or perhaps “I have a degree in Christian Ministry, so I don’t need your input on Christianity, kthxbai.”

Not exact quotes but close enough.

I attend a church whose stated vision is to “Saturate our city and our world with the heart of God.” My wife and I have been playing for the music ministry for about a year and a half now. When they announced a new members class, we realized “Oh hey, we should probably become members if we’re going to be up front leading worship.”

During the class, we covered the 16 tenets of faith held by the Assemblies of God (the denomination or association that this church belongs to). The pastor teaching the class made it clear that there’s a bit of room for disagreement, room for skepticism and other opinions. In making his point, he quoted an old phrase:

In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.

There are certainly some core beliefs that we as Christians have to agree upon. “I’m a Christian, but the Bible is rubbish.” Well, good luck with that. “I’m a Christian, but I’m not sure about this Jesus is the Son of God business… he was a nice teacher but he didn’t rise from the dead or anything…” Yeah, good job, welcome to heresy, your religion is pointless according to a relatively unknown Christian named Paul who wrote half the New Testament. We have to have unity in some essentials or else there’s no point in us gathering together.

Non-essentials, to me, are those things that aren’t going to seriously change my behavior. All the debate about speaking in tongues, or what sort of music is “right” for church, or whether there’s going to be a Rapture or will it be Post-Trib or Pre-Trib or so on… does any of that change how I pursue God in my personal life? Not that much. Even “Once saved Always saved” versus “We can lose salvation” is a silly debate to me, because our focus should never be looking backwards to see how close we can get to walking away from Christ without actually losing salvation. Our focus should be on following after Him. Looking backward to whether there’s a line, or at what point we cross that line–that’s a mistake. So in those non-essentials, when I disagree with a fellow believer, I get over it and do my best to get along with them in spite of our differences. There’s some liberty, some room for differing views.

Because in all things, we are called to practice charity. You are more important to me than your particular theological persuasion. When we discuss theology, my goal is not to crush your misguided view and show you how much more correct I am. My goal is to see another perspective on God, and refine my understanding to better match Truth. And I hope you get the same result out of the dialogue.

I don’t have a degree in Christian ministry. But I do have some guidance from that little known leader in the early church:

24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition… (2 Tim 2:24-25 NASB)

Scripture shotguns and Gospel grenades just don’t make a lot of sense to me. “In all things, charity.”

Not casualties.

Shadow

With one sentence, my son broke my heart.

He said, “I’m going to take off my gloves, because it’s the last time I’m going to hold Shadow and feel how soft he is.”

Shadow the bunny

Shadow the bunny

Our rabbit passed away in the morning about a week ago. Two weeks of sickness took its toll. He grew weak and thin even though we gave him food and water by a syringe. After the first week, Shadow rarely moved. On the last day, he would fall over, unable to get back up. We had an emergency appointment with the vet scheduled for that afternoon, because the treatment was not helping.
We talked with the kids all along. “We’re doing our best, but this isn’t looking good.”

I hurried home for lunch when I could break free from briefings and meetings. I didn’t even cancel the vet appointment–not because I didn’t believe my wife and son’s ability to figure out that Shadow had passed, but because I didn’t want to accept it yet.
I spent ten or fifteen minutes digging a deep hole in the long grass that was Shadow’s favorite place to hide when he would hop around the fenced yard.
And as I dug, and as Jonathan held his rabbit close, we talked. Jonathan said, “I don’t want to get another rabbit for a long time,” and I think we both knew he was really saying, “I don’t want this pain again.”

Rather than simply grieve the loss, we remembered with joy the fun moments we shared with the rabbit. Once, Jonathan forgot Shadow in the yard. I hurried outside hoping he hadn’t squeezed through a gap in the fence, but Shadow was nowhere to be seen… until two black ears popped up within a thick patch of grass. Maybe it was time to mow!
Shadow would jump sometimes and thump the ground, changing direction in mid-air. When we first got him and took him out in the yard, it took Jonathan and his friend a good half an hour to finally catch Shadow and put him back in his pen.
It touched my heart to hear Jonathan laugh in spite of tears.

Shadow lurking in the tall grass

Shadow lurking in the tall grass

We also took comfort that Shadow no longer suffered. Watching him wither away was painful.
Jonathan and I both spent hours trying to care for Shadow as he grew ill. The vet gave us something like baby cereal for rabbits, and it would clump up in the syringe we used to feed Shadow. Squeezing hard enough to get the food out without putting pressure on our weak bunny’s face was a difficult challenge. We held a sort of vigil for two weeks, hoping our efforts helped.
But Shadow still passed away.

I thought about how Jonathan must be feeling, and I thought of King David in the Bible.

Quick recap: David sinned, sleeping with Bathsheba and getting her pregnant. Once that happened, David tried to trick her husband into thinking it was his child. When that failed, David coordinated for the husband to be killed in battle. God sent Nathan to call David out for the sin, and David repented. But Nathan also promised that the child of that union would die as a result of the sin.
The child grew ill. David fasted, forsaking food and drink. He lay on the floor, inquiring of God on behalf of the son. His servants tried to pick him up, tried to give him food… and he rejected their offers. This lasted a week.
Then the child died.
The servants grew worried. If David took the sickness hard, how would he take this news?

…David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped…(2 Samuel 12:19, 20 NASB)

They questioned him about his actions, and he replied, “I thought perhaps God might have mercy on the child. Now that the child is gone, why should I fast? He will not return to me, but I will go to him.”

It called to mind Job’s profound response to all his suffering: The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)
Matt and Beth Redman wrote the song “Blessed Be Your Name” in response to both their personal hardships and the terrorist attack on September 11th. Their concern was that the church lacked songs for expressing faith in God when times are hard and things don’t go our way. They looked at Job’s responses, and how he asked “Shall we accept good from the Lord and not accept adversity?”
So this became our song, out there in the lawn. As we laid Shadow in the grave, I started to sing Blessed Be Your Name.
I cannot imagine the sorrow and suffering of a parent who loses a child, or of a spouse losing their other half. There’s a reason the best advice is to simply be there with them in their grief, to listen, to say nothing.
Even with our relatively insignificant loss, it was still very difficult to sing the second verse.

Blessed be Your Name,
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s all as it should be
Blessed be Your Name.
Blessed be Your Name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your Name.

It’s hard to look at difficulties or loss and still say “every blessing You pour out, I’ll turn back to praise. And when the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say blessed be Your name.”
But being a worship leader is more than singing on stage for the congregation, convincing people to clap or raise their voices to a popular tune. It’s demonstrating worship, even for our little congregation of the two of us, responding to God no matter the situation.
Sometimes leading worship means showing others how to worship when it hurts.

My Monkeysphere

“I want Jesus to be in my monkeysphere.”

Okay, weird conversation piece, maybe. First, what’s a monkeysphere (if you don’t know), and second, did I go off the sacrilegious deep end or what?

1. The “monkeysphere” is a term for the number of interpersonal relationships a brain can generally maintain and care about. The term comes from monkey research where the scientists discovered that the monkeys’ brains would only allow them to form societies up to a certain number of other monkeys. A bigger brain permitted a larger society. They then tried using a human brain and ended up boosting the monkey’s “sphere” of relationships from 50 to 150.

Basically, the monkeysphere is the collection of people you actually care about and think about as real people… not just friends on Facebook, or nameless humans that intersect your daily life. A good example is the trash man, whose job dramatically affects your quality of life, but whose name you probably do not know or care to discover.

The wiki article about it seems to make it pretty clear.

Clear on that one? Good.

2. No, I’m not losing my faith or mocking Christ. My wife and I were talking about how we relate to God, and she made the comment that she really wants to remember the personhood and humanity of Christ. A Man, someone she cares deeply for, willingly suffered beating and shame. He chose to endure anguish and agony, and He accepted His own execution.

Jesus is the soldier who jumps on the grenade to save the other soldiers in the trench (except multiplied by 20 billion or so).

If a person does that for you in real life, it’s kind of hard to forget it.

The fact that I can say it that way, and you probably understood and agreed – that says something about how we view Him.

I find I happily recognize and recount the transaction, the theology, the spiritual “chemical” reaction that took place at the Cross. My sins were washed away by His blood, my inky stain of death was turned scarlet, and my scarlet sins were washed clean. I can quote the scriptures to say what took place: He died for all, that those who live should live for themselves no longer, but for Him who died and rose again… if through one man, death reigned in all men, how much more shall life reign through the one Man Christ Jesus… for there is no other mediator between God and men… and so on.

It’s a historical fact. On such-and-such day, the battle of Gettysburg was won by the Union. Abraham Lincoln wrote a powerful speech about it. And on such-and-such day way back in 33 AD or 29 AD or whatever, the battle over sin and death and hell was won by the Messiah. And Paul the Apostle wrote some really powerful speeches about it. I like to quote them, just like I enjoy hearing “Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…”

Hopefully my point is becoming clear.

I find it easy to recognize Jesus’ unique place in history and theology.

I find it all too easy to stop there.

I don’t want a historical figure. I don’t want a relationship with a spiritual principle, nor an affection for a moving quote.

I want a personal relationship, a constant interaction, a recognition that there was a Man… and not just any Man, but my best Friend… and when the enemy opened fire, He jumped in front of me, arms wide, to protect me from every deadly shot.

You don’t forget that sort of love. And neither do you recall it with cold distance. It changes your life.

Oh, and don’t forget, dear self… all those other monkeys outside my sphere? He did the same for them.

Maybe I should care. Because He does.

Don’t You Know

A while back I posted about building a spiritual fire in worship ministry, followed by a post on bringing the heat. I used the “fire triangle” as an analogy. To have a fire, you need fuel, heat, and oxygen. Remove any one of the three, and you no longer have a fire. The fuel for worship ministry is technical excellence, the foundation on which we build everything else. The heat is the excellence of heart, the passion and the energy we bring into our ministry.

My worship pastor pointed out that even with both technical and heart excellence, we still require the action of the Holy Spirit in order for worship to be meaningful and effective.

“Apart from Me you can do nothing” – Jesus.

The movement of God is absolutely a necessary part of the “fire triangle” of our worship. And every worshiper I know is well aware of that fact.

What I also note is, so many act like we have to beg God to show up and then hope for the best.

We often use terms like “leading people into His presence” or “taking the congregation somewhere we’ve already been” in terms of going somewhere else to get to God. We speak of inviting or welcoming God’s presence into the sanctuary or place of worship. We ask God to come join us.

We forget:  God is in us.

The big change in the New Testament gospel message isn’t simply that our sins are forgiven. Don’t get me wrong, that’s huge and I’m grateful. But that was a means to an end. Our sins separated us from God (see Isaiah 59:2). The cross does away with them. Our salvation by grace through faith in Christ unites us with God – puts His presence right inside of us, which was the promise all along. Emmanuel, God with us.

Everywhere we go, God is there. Not just in the sense of “omnipresence” like God is invisibly but spiritually everywhere and there’s no place we could go where He cannot (Psalm 139 speaks to this).

No, God is alive and active inside of His people. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit; God is working in us, Christ in us – the hope of glory.

So the question isn’t “Will God show up today?” or “Did we welcome His presence properly?”

The question is, “Did I set my mind on Him? Did I recognize His already-present activity in our midst? Did I come here with my agenda and idea about how things would go, or did I set all that aside with the recognition of His presence among His people?”

One of my pastors spoke of invoking the presence of God on a daily basis – not that we have power to command God to show up, but we have the ability to remember and remind ourselves that God is already here.

He would ask, using 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Don’t you know?” And the question is valid, because so often our words reflect that we’re not appreciating this spiritual reality.

Oxygen is all around us. Sure, there are ways to smother a fire, just as we can quench the Spirit. And there are special moments where God moves in a powerful and unexpected way, breathing on our embers and causing a flame of revival or a deep response to spring up from the smallest fire.

But if we’re committed to living for God, we’re going to be experiencing His presence as routinely as we breathe in and breathe out. He becomes a part of our lives.

<blockquote>”19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB</blockquote>

Bringing the Heat

“I’d rather have someone sold out in passionate pursuit of God who can barely hold a tune, than some concert-level professional with no spiritual intimacy.”

I’ve been writing about building the fire of worship in ministry, starting with the needed structure of technical excellence as fuel. 2nd Samuel 6 has been my source text for this topic.

The next leg of that fire triangle is the heat, or in the case of worship, the heart.

The previous post looks at 2nd Sam 6:1-10 to see what happens when we don’t have the right structure in place in worship. But structure and musicianship is not all there is to quality worship ministry, just like arranging wood in a fire pit doesn’t actually give us a fire.

Starting in 2 Sam 6:11-23, King David makes a second attempt to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem, and this time, he starts it right. The appropriate people are carrying the Ark by the poles built into its frame. No ox cart is involved. On top of that, sacrifices are offered every few steps, and the King himself steps up to lead the worship and praise.

Here we see David’s heart in a right position before God and the people. Most of my thoughts here come from what Pastor Herbie Thompson shared with the Bellevue Christian Center worship collective for June – credit where credit is due.

Herbie pointed out that David leads by example in three ways which reveal his heart for God. First off, David worships with liberty.

Technical excellence calls for us to take worship seriously, but heart excellence calls us to be liberated and willing to set aside what seems proper. We must sometimes abandon dignity for authenticity in our worship. As worshipers in the view of others – whether on stage or in every day life – our expression of what’s on our heart provides an example and permission for others to follow.

What does that look like practically?

– Many traditional churches teach dancing is bad or at least dangerous. But when I read accounts of worshipers dancing before The Lord, I realize that it’s ok to permit my body’s movements to demonstrate the emotion in my heart that words cannot fully express. It’s not about my skill in dancing, it’s the fact that my heart moves me to dance before Him even as He dances over us (Zephaniah 3:17).

– I didn’t know I could get angry with God until I read the Psalms and saw worshipers expressing anger and frustration to God. Now I can be more honest in the hard times.

– We sing songs that speak of bowing down or kneeling, of raising hands in surrender, or of jumping for joy. It may not look ‘professional’ but my heartfelt physical response matching the words I’m singing – that tells others that they can do the same in church or in their everyday life.

– We often have times in between songs where we encourage the congregation to express their heart to God using their own words. If we never show what that looks like, if we never risk stumbling over spontaneous praise for fear of how it might appear or affect our reputation for technical excellence, then we’re not giving permission for the people to express their hearts freely.

Our structure has to be in place, but we can’t be bound to what’s written in a schedule or what’s printed on a page. We have to be willing to operate in liberty, so that those we’re leading can learn how to worship liberally.

The heat we bring to worship is also expressed by using all our might. David didn’t hold back in his dance and celebration. He didn’t encumber himself with the robes of the king or the heavy crown – he put on a functional priestly garment and got footloose. His physical and nonverbal actions communicated exactly what his mouth was saying.

How often do I bring that level of heart into my worship, in private or in public? Do my gestures and movements and expressions communicate the same as the words I sing? Am I singing about joy with a strained look on my face, or playing piano gritting my teeth as I try to get every note right? Am I singing a song of humility and brokenness with a wide grin on my face?

And am I giving it my all, or am I holding something back? Our expressions of worship may be the only tool someone has to figure out what worshiping God means. Do they see me bring half-hearted effort as if I have somewhere I’d rather be? Or do they see me give everything I’ve got, shouting praise till my voice is raw, because He’s worthy?

Pouring all of ourselves into worship teaches others how to do the same.

Finally, David worships with his title. He gets up as the King and he shows the people how important worshiping God is. “If the King is doing all that, then God must be important. If the King is dancing, and offering all these sacrifices… if the King took off his robes and crown and set aside his dignity to worship God, then so should I.”

David made it all about God. David took what seemed like the most important thing about him and turned it into worship of Him. Like the elders in Revelation 4 throwing down their crowns before the Throne of God, David shows the people that it isn’t about the King of Israel, it’s about the God of Heaven and Earth.

David correctly shows that the title is not as important as the testimony. His actions will be respected by those who saw him set aside his dignity for the sake of worship.

With titles and dignity, we can go one of two ways. We can turn them into another aspect of how we worship God, or we can use them as an excuse to take away from our worship of God. Michal goes that route in vv. 16-23. She goes off on David about how “the King” has distinguished himself – her primary concern was for his title, not for his heart toward God. She becomes a spectator instead of a participant, judging instead of joining.

It challenges me because it’s so easy to watch and critique instead of engaging in worship. “I wouldn’t do it that way. I would have played this song instead, it fits better.” When I find myself in that position, I need to watch out!

So, in all of this, I reflect on three questions:

What holds me back from liberty in front of other people? (Is it fear of their reaction, is it concern for my reputation? Is it shame or perceived unworthiness?)

What do I hold back in worship that keeps me from giving all my might?

What are the titles I hold that I deem most important, and how do I turn those around into amplified expressions of worship? (i.e. father, husband, manager, coach, writer)

Technical excellence and heart excellence are what we bring – the fuel and the heat. Next I’ll look at the last leg of the triangle essential for maintaining fire: the oxygen of the Spirit.

Building the Fire

I was a bit of a pyromaniac as a kid.

I might have burned several toys over the years. I may have used a lighter and hairspray as a makeshift flamethrower to kill bugs in our basement. I possibly was involved in dousing an indestructible metal Tonka truck in gasoline, but I’m pretty sure that was my brother’s idea.

I did set a dumpster on fire, but that was purely by accident.

But at camp I learned how to build and maintain a fire. Fires need three things: fuel, heat, and oxygen. Set up the fuel correctly, and you ensure that oxygen can flow through once you get the flames started. Set it up haphazard, and you potentially smother your fire. Most importantly, if you build it right, you can keep it going.

Worship ministry is similar. It starts with fuel, a foundation of technical expertise that gives us something to build on.

In 2nd Samuel 6, we see a few pictures of worship around the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of the presence of God. And the first is about this technical expertise.

Once King David secured his throne, he turned his attention to God’s presence. David wanted the Ark in Jerusalem, and went to retrieve it. He brought 30,000 men, all of them ready to praise their hearts out. They put the Ark on a new cart, and they started a celebratory procession to bring God’s presence back to the city of the King.

But the Law was clear about the way the Ark would be moved. It had poles fitted into rings on the corners (see Exodus 25) and had to be carried by the Levites (Deut. 10:8). The use of a cart was forbidden.

So the cart is jostled, and the Ark moves, and Uzzah, one of the guys walking along next to it, reaches up to make sure it doesn’t fall over. I mean, that would be pretty embarrassing, right? If the holy Ark fell in the dirt along the road?

Uzzah dies on the spot. The celebration stops. David says, “How can this Ark come to me?” and he sends the Ark off to a nearby house instead.

David had all the passion in the world, surrounded by a crowd praising their hearts out, and it wasn’t enough without the right structure.

Last Sunday, my wife and I were discussing worship. She noted how worship ministries often seem like a pendulum, swinging from emphasis on the right heart and attitude to emphasis on impeccable performance and musicianship. I’ve heard it said, “I’d rather have a struggling musician playing with a heart after God than have a concert-quality musician who’s in it for themselves.”

But we miss the point if we look at this as a dilemma, as though you can only have either technical expertise or passion for God, not both.

We can throw some folks together on stage and go after God with abandon, and it might be a powerful moment. But it’s not a sustainable model for a worship ministry.

I could set things on fire as a kid… but I didn’t know how to build a fire that could be kept burning.

The fuel for our worship “fire” is technical excellence. It’s the structure we set up, the way we arrange and organize all the parts of the ministry.

We can call it practice, musicianship, or competence. But it goes further than notes played on instruments or words sung by voices. The sound crew, the lighting manager, audio/visual technicians, administrators who organize songbooks or communicate schedule details – any group that plays a part in the technical details has to be involved in the overall development of skill for the team. They all have to be involved in this process of growth and maturation because any one of them can create a positive or negative impact during the ministry time.

For our church, this means changes like incorporating a click track to play in our earphones so that everyone can (hopefully) stay on tempo. It means getting the different instrumentalists and vocalists (and sound crew, and A/V crew, and lighting crew, etc) together to hone each other’s skills. It takes time and effort and commitment.

I used to think heart was all that mattered. I led worship based on feeling and a sense of what I hoped was the Spirit’s leading. We might practice a set on Thursday, but by Sunday morning, I would change the set because another song felt better. Or we’d practice a song in one key, and then I’d come in on Sunday and change keys so the songs would transition together better. We had a small team of adaptable and skilled musicians who would essentially shrug and say, “If you think so, sure.” Then they’d play so well it was like we planned it that way months in advance.

We had a trumpet player join. He warned me he was getting back into playing after years, but he would try his best. And I thought he did quite well, adding in here and there to complement the band.

I didn’t learn until weeks later that he was taking the music home Thursday and painstakingly transposing all the songs to the right key for his trumpet so he could spend hours practicing what we played. When I changed things on Sunday based on “heart,” I was essentially putting him on the bench for those songs. On top of that, I was disrespecting the hours he spent honing his craft every week to be able to participate.

I thought all the structure was stifling, and the refusal of organization liberating.

But the structure makes a ministry that can burn strong and keep on burning.

Take away one side of the fire triangle, and it goes out. Take away the technical excellence, allow it to atrophy, and the fire of worship ministry is extinguished.

Next, I’ll look at the other side of that pendulum – heart excellence, the “heat” to our fire.