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…”

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Place of Freedom

I’m playing keys for worship tomorrow at Bellevue Christian Center, and I’m excited.

Among other great songs, we’re doing a number that is fairly new to us… Place of Freedom from Highlands Worship.

This is such an easy song to pick up and learn, which makes it easy to get past worrying about the music and get into expressing our hearts in worship.

It’s sometimes difficult to get past the technical details, the particular notes and riffs, the structure of the performance: “verse, chorus, verse two, chorus twice, instrumental, bridge, build up, break, chorus with drums only, chorus, ending, soft intimate chorus, real ending”

We go through that, hit every beat, every note, every peak and valley of dynamics… and in the end, did we encounter Christ or enjoy a concert?

Tomorrow, I intend to lift my hands and reach for Him, shout His praise, sing my song like I am unashamed, and shout for joy at the mention of His name.

I’m coming to worship and then to hear from Him through His Word.

How about you? Why are you going to church tomorrow?

May Collective

A few weeks ago, our church and partner churches got our worship teams together for the monthly Collective – our opportunity to train our minds and hearts for ministry the way we practice our instruments and vocals for performance.

Pastor Mike King shared his thoughts about worship and ministry. Some of it is specific to our church(es) but a lot of it relates to any worshiper or worship team. That’s what I’ve tried to capture here:

Worship teams aren’t resident rock stars, they’re conduits of community. They’re a key part of building connections within the Body. They’re not outside or above or separated just because they get up on stage on Sunday. We’re all going after encountering God together.

Worshipers have to consider identity – do we believe we are at least called to something?
Don’t find identity in what we do, but in who we are.

Mike uses an idea of three buckets side by side to explain this identity:
First, the Character bucket – things that fill you up and define who you are
i.e. devotion time, worship time, time with spouse, with kids, maybe some wholesome hobby.

Next, the Love bucket – glimpsing God and seeing things differently, starting to care about what God cares about, finding out what God says about us.
Knowing the love of God enables us to be a spokesperson of the love of God

Finally, the Mission bucket or Do bucket = what we do, what we’re called to.
We all love the do bucket because it’s easy, it’s what we know to do. Doing things is the default answer to any crisis or confusion we face.

We can’t find our identity in the do bucket. That’s full of what we do. We can’t start with whats. Start with why. Start with vision.

We must not be interested in notoriety, but interested in legacy. What is the impact we’re leaving behind?

Remember that everything we do is – or should be – in response to the greatness of God.

Have we encountered Him? As soon as we glimpse who He is, He reminds us who we are… not who we used to be, but who we’re going to be by grace.

So, with all that in mind, here’s five key steps Pastor King suggested:

1. Change how we view ministry in worship. Own it like you made it, like you mean it. Worship is not just the music pastor’s thing, and we all have to do his work. It’s OUR work. Change takes strong leadership and it’s not fun; we need leaders to step up.

2. Define results. How do you know where you’re going, or what your goal is? How can you communicate what the future looks like if you don’t know? Generally worship teams are way more concerned about spiritual health than ministry performance. Don’t worry about doing things, worry about what we ARE. Understand the vision on the pastor’s heart, then adopt it as yours.

3. Live transparently. Rock bottom is not a place of shame, judgment, disgust–those are the words we associate not with hitting rock bottom but with people seeing us there. We want to present the nice image. Why wait until life falls apart to change? Find accountability. Build relationships. God moving in the church is always challenged. This step is the most important thing we can do. Dangerous vulnerability, honesty, and transparency. If we can’t open the secret closet of skeletons with the people in this room, why are we serving together?

4. Take time to pause, to celebrate wins. For example, after the crazy eight service Easter weekend…. Week 1, celebrate the wins. Week 2, evaluate what we could do better. Don’t just focus on what went wrong, but be glad for what goes right.

5. Pray like you mean it. If you don’t have a prayer life, you don’t have a worship life. Our culture shifted from servants of the King to creating worship stars. Great leaders take people places that they visit often, so if we’re hoping to lead people into God’s presence, we need a personal worship life. We need time spent learning the love language of the King, hearing His thoughts about our world.

Reflection time:
What bucket do we focus on? what are we using to fill each one? what does God want to reroute in our lives?
Who are you?
What has He called you to?
Are you owning His calling in your life?
Are you responding to Jesus because of His greatness?

Needless to say, it was a challenging time of checking the direction we’re headed and the priorities we’ve set. Hopefully some of Pastor King’s comments encourage you to pursue a deeper intimacy with God as well.

Dance Central

So X was about worship leaders, Y was about ‘you,’ as in all of us in the congregation as individuals, and now Z will be about God.

Ok, Z and God don’t really combine well.

But Z goes well with the prophet Zephaniah, who gives us a powerful image of God.

The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17 NKJV)

Maybe it sounds sacrilegious, but God goes nuts about you and me. The word for “rejoice” there is also translated “exult,” and it has as part of its meaning the act of dancing with joy. It means to spin around, caught up in powerful emotion.

God celebrates us. He dances over us. He rejoices, He gets wild with gladness. He belts out songs of victory.

Chris Tomlin has a new song called “God’s Great Dance Floor” that I was sure I hated at first. “What is this?” I asked. “Is the church a club now?” And then I listened to the words, and I thought about Zephaniah and the promise that God dances over His people with a love that never stops loving us, no matter how far we run, that never gives up on us and looks always to the future, not the past.

Can we see that? Do we sense The Lord our God in our midst? Do we feel the power and presence of The Mighty One? Can we glimpse God-of-the-Universe doing a jig at the thought of us?

For me, I have to admit, I rarely can picture this. I have a hard time taking hold of this love and internalizing it. I don’t always feel “dance-worthy.” I’m the ashamed wallflower at the prom, the ugly and unpopular one, on the outside of the party.

But God rushes over to those of us on the outskirts and tugs at our arms, smiling wide, eyes bright. He dances when we would not, when we can see nothing worth celebrating. We dance, because He does. We love, because He loved us first. We rejoice, because He rejoices over us and gives us reasons for joy.

Picture David in the Old Testament, dancing and celebrating the return of the Ark to the people of Israel. Everyone holds David in high regard, as a mighty man of war. “Saul has slain his thousands,” they sing, “and David his ten thousands.” This strong warrior is still able to cut loose and express joy in front of the people, even at the expense of his reputation. “I will become even more undignified than this,” he says when challenged. His God is worth celebrating.

God never calls us to do what He would not. He always gives us an example to follow, at His own expense. And so we see God Himself in this word picture, The Lord of Hosts, the Mighty Warrior – and He is willing to become undignified by dancing and rejoicing over what the world says is nothing of worth. He is willing to set aside glory and leave His honor behind in order to reach out to the nobodies and the ne’er-do-wells.

Heads down, staring at the floor, we know what we’re worth… or rather what we’re not. But God extends a hand nonetheless, tapping His foot, brimming with energy and passion, ready to explode into motion, all to express one core foundational truth:

You are My special treasure, My prize, the one that I love.

That’s worthy of a few twirls, isn’t it?

It’s For You

I talked a bit about great worship leaders in the last post, but now I want to focus on the body.

One of the phrases we often say about worship music in the church, and indeed the various acts of service or worship we perform throughout our lives, is: “It’s not for me, it’s for God.”

And of course, that’s a laudable humility (ironic, no?) that ensures we don’t focus on being in the spotlight, being the center of attention. Our devotion is meant for God’s benefit.

But worship is absolutely meant for us as well. As in, it is right, it is expected, it is proper, it is a duty.

Sometimes we find those aspects of church life or ministry that we want nothing to do with, and often we use the excuse that “that’s not what I’m called to” or “that’s not where God is leading me.” But certain things are universal; they apply to every believer.

God doesn’t have to “call” us to a life of communication with Him, although some will always be more comfortable with that than others. We are all expected to pray to some degree.

God doesn’t have to “lead” us to study His Word. Our desire to know Him and have our minds renewed should do that without some special unction of the Spirit, though certainly there are some who feel more at home digging into theology and Hebrew-Greek lexicons.

God shouldn’t have to “move” us to worship either – even singing should come ‘naturally’ as a believer. Singing is strongly encouraged throughout Scripture, especially in the Psalms and in the New Testament. Consider Paul’s exhortations that everyone should come with a psalm, a hymn, a spiritual song. He suggests that through singing, we can teach each other more about God. (Check 1 Cor 14:26, Eph 5:18, James 5:13, and the following.)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:16, 17 NKJV)

Verse 17 – whatever you do in word or deed – captures the essence of worship. We see in Romans 12:1 that our spiritual act of devotion is to be living sacrifices, offered to God for His purpose.

I’m not talking about only the music we play and the songs we sing at church. I’m talking about the way we live our lives everyday, everywhere. That form of “worship” is for everyone, no special ‘calling’ required.

When we stand up to sing a hymn, when we pass the offering plate, when we listen to the Word preached, and when we sit at our desk at work during the week, we’re meant to be worshiping – doing everything for the glory of God.

Worship isn’t just for God, nor is it for the “worship team” or those who minister in various ways. Worship is for every believer, and so, without any doubt, worship is for me and you.

Check the Motive

My wife and I were discussing the A to Z, as I was making a list of potential topics. The first one she suggested was “motivation.”

What kind of motivation do you mean, I wondered.

“I always want to get to the heart of things, the ‘why’ behind what we do,” she answered.

Questioning motivation of others is very difficult. We can’t read minds or judge intent. We either take what the other person says, or we believe whatever we’d like about them in spite of what they say. But there’s no reliable way of knowing for sure. So my thought is that making assumptions about the motivations of others puts us in dangerous territory.

But I think my wife has a really good point, so long as we direct the question of motivation to our actions and intentions. Because I read Jeremiah where God tells us that our hearts are deceitful and wicked, beyond our comprehension. So when I feel like my heart is suggesting a course of action, I don’t want to give in and “follow my heart” as the conventional wisdom goes. I want to ask myself, “Why am I doing this, and is this what God would want?”

Think about the song list you might choose as a worship leader (assuming you’re in that position). I know there have been times where I’ve looked at songs based on:
what I like
what’s cool
what’s new
what sounds good
what flows together well

But if the point is to encounter God in the worship, then are any of those standards the most important one? Am I doing what I believe will best lead the congregation to a better revelation of God and His relationship with us?

Or am I concerned with sounding and looking good?

What about the arrangement of songs and how they flow together? I’ve sometimes thought of novel transitions, special instrumentals, or skillful techniques I think would be great on Sunday morning… but do any of those add up to more meaningful worship of God? Sure, we can have a sweet guitar solo, and then we can change keys four times in a rising crescendo until we hit the peak and everything drops off to a moving, quiet a capella melody. But does that glorify God in that moment?

Or is it being done to show our skill, to say “Look what we can do,” to call attention to us in a moment when all eyes and hearts should be fixed on God? My wife asks, is it being done to manipulate people into a “better” worship experience? And is that our job?

As singers and musicians, we may not be in charge of song selection or arrangement, but we still play a pivotal role in the ministry. Our actions can impact the overall team, so our motivations matter. This is an area that can make or break a worship set. If everyone gets up as individuals intent on making sure their awesome skill is heard, then there is no team. There’s just a bunch of musicians trying to one-up each other. When we worry about the team dynamic, we can realize “How do I support the overall sound?”

I might be able to play a great part on the piano, but more often than not, what I need to do is hold down a synth pad… which is boring, uninspiring, lame. A trained monkey can do it. C A F G repeat. Yawn. But that synth pad fills in a hole in the overall sound, and it allows the bass to stand out in the low ranges, and then the rhythm guitar fills in the mid range, and the lead guitar wails out a haunting tone to complement the melody, and the background vocals fill in their harmonies…

And now we have a team where everything is functioning for the benefit of the whole instead of the individual.

Question motivation when it urges you to show off, when something comes to mind that says, “Oh, hey, I could play that part, I could fill in what that guy is doing.”

Vocalists have this question to consider as well. One of my favorite jokes is the Kim Walker “ha-ha” at the end of key lines. @WorshipSoundGuy on Twitter made the joke, “Background vocalist, unless your name is Kim Walker, if you do that ha-ha again, I’m straight-up muting you.”

I doubt many have that burning desire to “ha ha” each time they sing about grace, but what about the vocalizing and stylish flair we can add to our performances? Are we adding it because it adds something to the whole, or because it adds something to how people view us? Just because you can shimmy down the scale and back up again within the space of two words doesn’t mean you should. But sometimes that may serve a purpose. You have to check your motivation.

Let me share a story that captures what I mean here:

I remember one of the first times I got the chance to lead worship for the Sunday morning service. I was so excited. And our church was in the middle of a time where we focused on a very specific style and range of songs: spiritual warfare songs.

Not my favorite.

And there were a few other folk who also thought, “What I wouldn’t do for a good Vineyard song about just loving Jesus.”

So I said to myself, “Great, now’s my chance.” And to the disgruntled folks, I said, “Oh, just wait until next week when I lead. We’ll do all those love songs.”

We start the service, and get through one of the songs. And it’s ok, I tell myself.

We’re in song two, and I’m playing and singing and leading my heart out. And it’s pretty much getting a “meh.” Maybe I tried to start song three, or maybe it was just in the middle of song two, but the official worship leader leans over and whispers, “This isn’t going right. Let’s switch to such-and-such song.”

The song I was most sick of hearing. The song that had nothing to do with how much I love Jesus and He loves me.

I got through the set under her direction and song selection, and walked out of the sanctuary as soon as it was over. I was fuming. So were a few of my disgruntled friends.

This was supposed to be a time of intimacy and love in the worship, not more spiritual warfare and declaration! How dare the worship leader usurp my opportunity to lead the congregation, and redirect our focus to the theme the church was currently studying!

(You probably see all the holes in that logic, but I was mad, so I didn’t.)

I even got into the “us” who loved intimate songs versus the “them” who wanted to do all this spiritual warfare stuff, never considering that “us vs. them” is really really wrong in the church body.
I stepped outside to cool off and not distract from the service.

In the middle of my tirade, one of “my” folks, one of the “us” came outside. I saw her approach and smiled, knowing she’d agree with me.

She opened up with this:

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17, 18 NASB)

Conviction stabbed my heart like a sword of fire. She was kind enough to not lead with the two verses prior, about jealous and envy and selfishness.

The worship leader later sat down with me and let me know she understood. “Dave, you have to remember, this thing on Sunday morning, this isn’t for you. It’s for them. It’s for God and what He wants to do in them. There are so many days I’d love to just melt in His presence and sing love songs. But that’s what I do on my personal time. That’s for me, so that I can come in here and know what God wants to do with them, and follow what He’s saying to the Pastor. I can’t pick songs on Sunday for me. It’s not about me.”

That’s the essence of considering our motivation for what we do as worshipers, especially if we are up front on stage, and even more so if we are leading.

“It’s not about me.”

The Journey

“It’s a journey, not a destination.”

Today, that was a friend’s comment on happiness. I’ve heard that said about relationships, about financial responsibility, even about being a whole person who lives the way the Air Force wants its Airmen to exemplify.

I’ve even said this phrase. Two days ago, for the H entry, I mentioned the hope we enjoy, knowing that we can strive for a closer relationship with God and a deeper spirituality. We’ll never arrive at a point where we can say we’re done, but every day, we can take steps in the right direction. I also made the same point about a fitness lifestyle on my other A to Z blog.

With that in mind, today’s joint topic on both this blog and the fitness blog is: the journey.

So what does this really mean?

For me, it means asking not only what goal I have in sight but also where am I actually headed. If we are believers in Christ then it makes sense to say that we will have Christ and some form of Christ-like living as the goal we home in on. But having that as a stated goal doesn’t mean we’re making progress toward it.

Campus Crusade for Christ uses a tract with a graphic meant to depict the difference that takes place in our lives after we accept Christ.

Three examples of our spiritual nature

Three examples of our spiritual nature

The first picture reflects our state before we were saved, where Self sits on the throne, Christ is out of the picture, and we do as we please. The black circles of various shapes and sizes are meant to portray our efforts and interests. In the first state, we do what we please.

The second shows the idea of a “carnal Christian,” someone who has “faith” as a part of their life but still does what they please. Christ is in the circle, but Self is on the throne.

The last circle puts Christ on the throne and Self at His feet, with interests and efforts balanced, ordered and directed by the Savior, not Self. That’s the ideal for a believer in Christ. That’s part of going on the journey.

But that’s not all. There’s a key point I believe we must understand.

When we think about spirituality, we often assume that the closer you are to God, the more spiritual you must be. A mean-spirited lustful slob of a man is pretty far away from Christ, where we might look at a faithful pastor or public figure and assume they’re pretty near to Christ. This is a faulty assumption. Sometimes the non-believer is more spiritual than the believer. How can that be?

Where you're headed matters.

Where you’re headed matters.

With a journey, it’s not just the goal that matters. It matters how you’re progressing toward that goal.

When my wife and I are headed to a new place in Omaha, we sometimes pop open maps on the iPhone and turn on location services. A little blue ball pops up to show us where we are, and it moves along as we drive. We might be really close to the red ball marking the destination on the map. But if we’re driving away from it, are we better off by virtue of being “on a journey” toward the destination? Of course not. Not at all!

Spiritually speaking, Christ is our destination, and He is moving and doing things in the world around us. Is our little blue marker slowly moving toward Him, moving with Him, orienting to Him, even if we’re on the other side of town? That’s healthy spirituality, recognizing that we may be nowhere near the level we want to be, while keeping focused on how to get there.

On the other hand, we might see Christian figures who are “so godly” in public and yet find out that they stopped moving toward the red location some time ago and started doing their own thing. Maybe they were really close compared to me, but it doesn’t matter, because they aren’t moving toward the goal, staying in line with Christ. They’re driving away.

“It’s a journey” doesn’t simply mean we should enjoy the process along the way. It means we should know where we’re headed, and roughly how we go about getting there. Then we should point ourselves in the right direction and take steps. No matter how far away we are from the mark, if we’re aiming for it and moving toward it, that’s what makes us “spiritual.”

 

Song: Rain Over Me

Sow for yourselves righteousness;
Reap in mercy;
Break up your fallow ground,
For it is time to seek the Lord,
Till He comes and rains righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12 NJKV

Rain Over Me – audio file posted on SoundCloud

I was playing Hide and Seek with my kids the other day. They’re quite talented, but I excel at cheating. While I was counting, I kept messing up… skipping numbers, counting past the agreed upon number, forgetting what number I was on.

That way, I got them to talk and tell me I was doing it wrong.

And them talking told me roughly where they were hiding.

Jonathan is the sneakiest of the bunch. Deborah and Justin do pretty good at hiding, but Jonathan–it’s like he can fold himself up into a little cube and hide anywhere. He’s a ninja.

True story: When he was seven years old, we had the following conversation:

“Dad, I think I want to be a scientist who studies rocks when I grow up.  …or maybe a ninja.”

“Jonathan, that’s really neat. But being a ninja is hard.”

“I think I’d make a great ninja.”

“Really? Why is that?”

“Well… Ninjas have to be good at climbing, and I’m great at climbing. I climb the trees around our house better than any of the other kids.”

I knew this to be true.

“And ninjas have to be good at sneaking, and I’m great at sneaking. I was hiding in the bushes right next to my friend, and he didn’t even know I was there!”

He thinks for a moment.

“Ninjas have to be good at martial arts, too. I have to work on that.”

Back to Hide and Seek… Jonathan lurks in a cabinet. Jonathan climbs up on the shelves above the refrigerator. Jonathan squeezes himself into a small cabinet at the bottom of our entertainment center. It’s ridiculous how easily he hides anywhere he wants.

Then it’s my turn to hide, and I decide to have some fun. Justin (our seven year old) is now the “seeker,” so I make it easier on him. I try stuffing myself into the cabinet where Jonathan hid. Sadly, I’m a little pudgy compared to him, and so try as I might, I can’t quite fit in there. My head is sticking out.

But the point of Hide and Seek is to be found. That’s part of the fun.

In his book, God Chasers, Tommy Tenney writes about hide and seek with his daughters (if memory serves). And he equates the game of hide and seek to our relationship with God.

There are times when we seek God but He seems hidden, far removed, silent. Tenney talks about how he stays hidden while his daughters are enjoying the game, but there comes a point where they become desperate. Maybe Daddy has really left. Maybe he’s not here anymore. Maybe I’m all alone. 

Their tears start to flow and their laughter turns to crying. And the heart of the father is stirred to make himself known, to burst out of hiding and rush to the child, to catch them up in his arms and reassure them that “I have been here all along. I would never leave you nor forsake you.”

Tenney talks about that cry of desperate need and how it catches the Father’s heart and, in a way, commands His attention.

Can you imagine God that way? Can you see the loving Father who sometimes hides His face? Can you picture the tug on His heart when we become desperate and cry out for Him? Can you see the “Hider” turning into the “Seeker” as He rushes to scoop us up and reassure us that all will work out, everything will be fine? Can you hear Him whisper, “It’s okay, I am here. I never left you, even though you didn’t know where I was.”

Hosea 10:12 was a theme verse for my church back in 2001.  We really focused on the thought that God is out there just waiting to be found, and as we live out righteousness and experience His lovingkindness and mercy, as we break up the hard ground of our hearts in our desperation for Him, we can trust that He will turn and respond to our cries. He will come and rain down His righteousness upon us.

“Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you.”

“Seek the Lord while He may be found.”

“It is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness upon you.”

We seek God, calling out to Him… until we discover He is coming toward us — the father running out to meet the prodigal child — ready to embrace us and pour out His love on us again.

I always want to surrender to that love. I always want the “ground” of my heart to be broken up, softened, ready for His work. I always want Him to come and pour out the rain of His Spirit over me.

Rain Over Me

You are all I need

Jesus, You’re my everything

You’re the One I’ll seek

For all my life

 

Your all-sufficiency

Answers my dependency

Your unfailing love

Is now my life

 

I will seek You with the rising sun

And serve You till the day is done

Jesus, every day I’ll praise Your name

I will follow You in righteousness

To know Your lovingkindness

Seeking You until I catch Your heart

And You rain over me

 

Rain over me, rain over me

(repeat)