Definitely Not Boring

{I started this post as a response to the question, “What is worship?” posed by Stephen Simpson at the CSM Forums. Check out the site for some great conversation.}

I hear so much talk these days about how just singing some worship songs and hearing a sermon has gotten stale, boring. How we need to expand our creativity in services and come up with new ways to experience God. And while I think it is valid to seek to be creative (God is the most creative Being of all), I think we miss the point of worship. I think we could all agree that the worship life of the early Church in Acts was vibrant and definitely not boring. But we see from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church that it was very simple: Chapter 14 talks about gathering, singing a couple of songs, having words of prophecy, tongues, etc.. This is so simple. You don’t really need a producer for it. Do we need special lighting* for the Holy Spirit to come in power and heal broken hearts?  When He comes – how could that possibly be boring?

So what is worship?

There are so many “right” definitions of worship that you can read in so many amazing books. But my favorite way to discuss worship is to talk about what happens when I worship. What happens when I come into the presence of the living God and see just a glimpse of who He is. So often I can’t even stay on my feet. I have to fall to my knees and then that’s not even good enough. I’m on my face. He is so great, He is so wonderful, that nothing I could say or sing or do would even be close to enough. All I can say is, “You are worthy. You are worthy.” That is the place we truly worship and that is the place I want to be as much as possible. If more believers (and unbelievers) could have those encounters, disagreements over style and music would take a backseat to the main event: His magnificent presence.

Definitely not boring.

*I don’t have a problem with “production” as an avenue for someone to use his or her gifts, but these elements become the focus too often.

YouTube Sessions #3

youtube sessions

Week three of the YouTube Sessions!  I’ve gotten some great responses from the first two videos, so thank you.  After you watch the video below, be sure to go to my channel and subscribe.

“I Need You Lord” is an older song to which I’ve added a new section.  I was walking to the grocery store (something I do a lot) and for some reason I was singing this song in my head.  When I got to the end of the verse, I just kept singing and this new section was born.  Enjoy.

Download the MP3 here.

Phil Wickham – Singalong

I wasn’t familiar with Phil Wickham before I downloaded his free release Singalong.  I came upon him because I heard a worship leader using one of his songs and wanted to check out the writer.  When I went to his site, the album was free so I bit.

When I get a new album I try to give it some attention and listen, at least once, all the way through in order.  The way an artist usually intends.  I listened to this as I was about to go to sleep one night with headphones and was moved deeply.

First, I’m a sucker for live albums.  Second, this is just Phil, his guitar, and an audience that seems to know his songs – another plus for me.  Third, the intensity of the worship is profound.  He gets at one of things I strive for when I’m leading…you can just see him standing before the Throne of Grace as the leader of a group of worshipers and just imploring them to give more of themselves to the Object of their worship.  He’s the host as everyone has gathered for an amazing journey.

This is all on a foundation of great songs.  “Beautiful,” “Desire,” and “Divine Romance” are exceptional and have already proven themselves.  What struck me on this album was the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing“:

Teach me some melodious sonnet,

sung by flaming tongues above.

And then…

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

prone to leave the God I love;

here’s my heart, O take and seal it,

seal it for thy courts above.

These lyrics reverberated through me as I listened to Phil and the congregation sing them.  That’s good writing.  That’s great songwriting.

So, go download your copy of Singalong today…it’s free!!

Hate to Stop the Music

I know I run the risk of sounding like Madonna (thanks, Norah!) Rihanna with a title like this (I think her’s was “Please Don’t Stop the Music”).  But I’m forging ahead anyway – you can’t copyright a title :).

A couple weeks ago I was coming into work and, like a lot of New Yorkers, I had my earphones in taking in some tunes.  (At a minimum, most New Yorkers are listening to an iPod and reading a book.  There are many variations on this.)  As I got in the elevator I noticed the woman beside me was taking out her earphones as I was.  There was actually a sense of disappointment in the air; like someone had injected a little reality.  She laughed a little when I remarked at how lame it was to stop the music – especially when it’s good.

I saw a commercial lately that illustrated just this.  The ad shows a young guy with tattoos and earrings rocking out to some headbanger tunes right up until he sits at his desk, removes the earphones, and the image changes to him as conservative businessman in a suit.

Something about music takes us out of reality and into an amazing universe created by the artist.  I believe this is a good thing.

Last summer Olivia and I drove to New York City from Nashville several times (15-16 hours).  The last time we made the trip, we bought the Sara Bareilles album, Little Voice, and played it relentlessly: there and back and while we were driving around the City.  I can’t tell you how crazy it is for one of those songs to come up on shuffle now and be taken back exactly to how I felt on that trip.  If I close my eyes I am in the car driving over the Queensboro bridge in our Honda Fit with the windows rolled down.

How does music do that?  More importantly, how can I make music that affects people like that?

Does music do this for you?

YouTube Sessions #2

youtube sessions

Here’s the second installment of my series, the YouTube Sessions.  Today’s song is “All of Me.”  It’s a fun, upbeat song made for celebrating.  I always read in Scripture about the Lord being the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” or the “God of Israel.”  What struck me is that, because of Jesus, He is also the God of me – all of me.

Download the MP3 here.

Justice, Obama, and the Harlem River

I know there are lots of different people with different views that read this blog. I have my friends from the Church who, by and large, are conservative. I have my music friends who are mostly liberal. I even know some who cherry pick from one side or the other. If you know me, you know that I lean conservative and this is mostly on social issues. I’ve lived in overwhelmingly liberal communities a lot, so I’ve learned to just keep quiet and nod when politics comes up. This is a shame, but I know as soon as I express my support for certain positions that I will not just get a disagreement from some liberal friends, but a moral judgment that could threaten their opinion of me as a person. The same goes for select conservative brethren. If, by some chance, I happen to feel that the Left has some insight on a particular issue (I can’t think of one now:) then I am lambasted as not holding to the straight and narrow.

So it is with this disclaimer that I offer you the following words…

A few months ago I was taking a walk along the Harlem River in Manhattan. If you don’t know the geography of New York City, there are several rivers/bodies of water that meet here: Hudson, Harlem, East, Long Island Sound, and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve been taking walks and spending time praying as I explore the City and this particular day I felt God say “Pray for justice.” Now, there are those that pray for justice all the time and it is burden on their hearts. Let’s just say it’s not one of my regular prayer topics. So I began to pray in the Spirit for justice; justice in the City, in the Nation, and justice in the lives of my friends and family. As I finished, the Lord began to speak to me. He said that the election of Obama as president is a river of justice for African-Americans. Just as the Harlem River cuts through the rocky land, justice cut through the rock of hard hearts that brought oppression to an entire race and is now bringing about righteousness.

You have to believe me when I say I wasn’t really pursuing this revelation. It was if the Lord wanted to reveal it to me for some reason I’m still not aware of. I am just overwhelmed that He would choose to speak to me at all.

Considering my views and the fact I voted for John McCain, I began to ask God how this could be with Obama’s positions, particularly on abortion. What about justice for the millions of unborn babies that never see life? He answered that I, as a human, could not see justice the way He sees it. We tend to only focus on one thing, one issue at the detriment to all the rest. He can bring about His purpose in as many streams as I could imagine and beyond. He showed me that there was justice coming related to abortion and it would be a wide, mighty river (think of the Mississippi). And not just for abortion and racial injustice, but for all the wrongs that require His ability to make them right. The streams of righteousness are flowing strongly through all the Earth.

The thing all of these “rivers of justice” have in common is that they flow to one place: the ocean. Remember that I said that in New York City many rivers/bodies of water flow into the Atlantic? When I saw that they were metaphors for justice, I asked the Lord if the ocean was a place of judgment or mercy. He conveyed that it could be either. The atrocities committed are more than deserving of judgment, but because of Jesus, because of His sacrifice, the rivers flow together into an ocean of mercy. This mercy stretches as far as we can see like the horizon line on the water that just keeps going. The rivers flow into Him – the true ocean of mercy.