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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Your wife has... cancer.


Not the words we wanted to hear and certainly not in our plans for the summer. We live in a fallen world that is racked with disease and Christians are not exempt from them. Still, in the back of our minds, cancer is what happens to others, not to us. Suddenly our lives were filled with doctor appointments, lab tests, etc., and notebooks of what has to be done and what not do. Moments of frustration and hurt watching the one you love suffer as a result of the chemicals pumped in her body to eliminate that which would kill her. The pain is still pain and we have only begun the journey.  Overwhelming, yet God’s grace has been there through it all. We have even seen how He had been preparing us and providing for us long before we received the news.

Not surprisingly, Scripture and my devotional time have become more meaningful and critical to the day to day confronting of the new realities in our lives. Today as I was reading in I Corinthians 11, I was reminded of all that Paul had gone through as he sought to be obedient to God’s calling in his life. In the context, Paul is defending his apostleship to the church at Corinth against the “super-apostles” whose boasting and domineering leadership were causing trouble for the church. Rather than boast of all the miracles that had been a part of his ministry and the great expansion of the Gospel because of what he had done, his focus was on his difficulty and suffering. 

For Paul, living in obedience was not a denial of the hardships, pain, and suffering that accompanies following Christ, but the acceptance that these things would be a part of developing the character of Christ in his life.  In “living in the victory of Christ,” Paul showed complete transparency of the trouble and hardships he had and was facing. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 1:8 he stated: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”  Strong words from the same man who said that he could “do all things through Christ.”

Rather than base his apostleship on a false philosophy that says “a loving God would never allow His loved ones to suffer,” or “following Christ means going from victory to victory in power,” Paul chooses to reveal the truth that even Jesus suffered and we should expect no less.  In 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul shared “We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. [2] ... you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out." [14-15] Obviously, part of the instruction Paul gave to new believers was the reality of suffering for the cause of Christ. 

Not all suffering is a result of following Christ, however, as we follow Christ we must anticipate that suffering will be a part of the journey. Sickness is real. Pain really does hurt. Going through times of suffering does not mean that God is far away; on the contrary, His presence may be even nearer. We lean not on false or trumped up emotions, but on the promise of God’s Word that the Spirit of God lives in us and He is with us until the end of time. Our focus must be on giving Him glory and relying on Who He Is. The pain will remain, our understanding that God is still in control, that He loves us and that He has a plan for our lives and can help us trust Him that, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” [Job 13:15]

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Why Skill-based Music Study is Needed in the Seminary Setting

Questions have risen over the past few years as to the necessity of skill-based music study, especially in the seminary setting. Students may come having played keyboard or guitar, or sung in their praise band and at least believe that they function well in that setting. They realize that they need more training, especially in worship studies because that where their interests lie. When they begin to look over what an accredited music degree is going to involve, some decide that it has little or no relevance to what they believe they need and opt for a non-skill based track. While some of these tracks provide a good overview of worship, they are not designed to address the skill-based needs the student might have. The following are some thoughts and considerations that need to be discussed and my desire is not so much criticize the one, but validate the critical need for the other.

1. Students don’t know what they don’t know. Please pardon the obvious in this statement, but let me illustrate. Even for a student that comes with some skilled-based experience, that experience has generally been limited and specific to a local situation. For the student to not continue to develop those skills reveals a belief that those skills will be adequate for future changes that will undoubtedly come. The lack of continued skill development those sets the student up for possible failure in the future.

2. An educational system that is driven solely by student desires will most certainly be lacking. I doubt that many would want to go to a doctor that only took the courses that he or she thought were interesting and wanted to take. The reasoning is that doctors with great knowledge and experience in the field designed the basics of what a doctor needs to know; the specializations follow a foundational program of study. In a similar fashion, there exists foundational course work for skilled-based programs of study from years of research and experience. Some institutions have followed the student-driven model, leaving the students to seek skill development on their own, or failing to get the needed training. Rather then an either/or situation, balance can be achieved in meeting students needs and desires without eliminating the standards by reframing the standards in a contemporary context.

3. Without getting too technical, brain development must also be taken into consideration. The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to develop and that not until the mid-twenties. This part of the brain manages higher functions such as the analysis of future consequences. The dilemma comes when a student fresh out of high school goes to college and is asked to focus on a specific area that will determine his work, income, and livelihood for at least the foreseeable future and the very part of the brain that is responsible for such decisions is not fully developed. Rather than trying to address this dilemma, some institutions cater only to what the student can discern with limited foresight.

4. Students can obtain skill-based education in secular institutions and many that come to our seminaries have attended such institutions. The difference is the context from which the material is taught and the biblical worldview from which the material is presented. For example, music history taught from a biblical worldview can lay the foundation for students to understand much of the contemporary music and music theory can be readily applied to aid in the musical part of worship.

5. Accessibility and affordability are crucial elements of skill-based education.  While financial issues are not the main issue, they remain an integral part of the equation, especially in graduate training.. For the student, the cost for private lessons are added to the tuition; for the institution, maintaining faculty for skill-based education remains one of the most expensive budget items. Some institutions have completely eliminated skill-based programs principally for budget reasons. While this may address one issue, it fails to address the issue of adequate training and preparation for worship leadership. While the “trend” to cut programs has spread, the growing need in churches is for more skilled musicians and skilled-based professors to teach them has grown even greater. Graduate programs such as the DMA are crucial to the skill-based needs in the educational system and especially those based in a biblical worldview. One recourse has been to fill the gap with an adjunct teacher model, so that skill driven education can be maintained. Great care must be taken with this model that those filling the gaps be able to teach out of the biblical worldview, otherwise, the distinctiveness of the biblical context from which the subjects are approached will be lost.

6. After years of multi-venue worship, a growing number of churches are focusing on multi-generational worship and desiring one person who can not only lead a single style-driven worship service but one that is more inclusive that unites the church as a whole. This leader must have the skills to lead and direct some kind of choral group and coordinate youth and children’s musical groups for outreach and to aid in training future leaders. The performer/worship leader model is fading and many churches are looking for someone who can do more than just lead a few songs and look good on Sunday. The development of such skills is beyond the popular week or weekend workshop’s capacity and design, whose strength is disseminating a specific content in a short period of time, not skill development.

As I stated earlier, my goal is to bring this growing crisis to the discussion table. I realize that some may disagree on some, perhaps all of what is presented. I am very grateful for the training I have received at both a Baptist University and two seminaries. After nearly 50 years of ministry [including 20 with the IMB and then 17 years at NOBTS], I believe we are at a critical period in which secular culture, recovery from the worship wars, economic pressures, changes in student population, generational issues, and faulty discipleship in our churches are forming a “perfect storm” that we must address. I pray we may seek God’s wisdom and leadership as we face these days ahead discovering solutions that continue to meet the needs of our churches and students.

Friday, March 8, 2019

“And give us today our daily bread...” some insights...

We have heard and recited it thousands of times, so much so that we might have missed one of the profound truths it contains. The Model Prayer Jesus gave in Matthew 6:9-13 is a storehouse of insight on which we need to meditate often.  One truth in particular that has recently come to focus in my devotional time is the phrase, “ and give us today our daily bread.”

I’m sure that the disciples would have remembered how the children of Israel would have gathered manna daily during their sojourning in the wilderness and were commanded to only gather enough for that day, except in preparation for the Sabbath. Through this, they were to learn not only was God in control but that they needed to learn to trust Him for daily provisions. When they failed to do so as commanded, they were rebuked by God through Moses.

In learning to trust God on a daily basis for food, they would learn more of Who He was and is; the Ever-present “I AM” and Lord over all things. Yet, I believe that there is more than just understanding that God is our daily provider for food.  The prophet Jeremiah gives us insight into his Lamentations, specifically in 3:21-24:
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

In the midst of the tragedy of the fall of Judah and the prophet’s lament of all that the sin of Israel had caused, he sounds a note of hope: God’s great love and mercy still surrounded them; God’s “compassions never fail, they are new every morning.” God’s faithfulness is shown by His daily granting His love, mercy, and compassion, day after day. Part of the “daily bread” we need is this realization of His giving the love and mercy we will need for that day.  As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” So we must appropriate that love and mercy for this day and trust that tomorrow it will be there as well.

When we begin to look at a problem, difficulty, or circumstance in its entirety, it will seem like too much and we get overwhelmed. Our solution is to trust in the God that provides for us today; to thank Him for “today’s bread,” for today’s love and mercy and not worry about tomorrow. We must be obedient today and trust Him for the future. In Philippians 2:13 in the Living Translation, Paul states: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Commit to being obedient for today; claim the promise of God that He is the One that can give you the power to be obedient, but the desire to do so as well. We may feel too weak to do so, but we can identify with Paul again: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” [2 Corinthians 12:9]


Let “today’s bread” be not only the physical food that you may eat, but also the love, mercy, and grace that God gives His children as they trust in Him. Don’t give up focusing on the enormity of the task ahead, but trust the loving Father for the grace of that day

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Note to my younger self...

I responded to God’s call to ministry when I was 17 and started leading worship in a small church not long afterward. God’s mercy and grace were abundant as I was helped and encouraged, corrected and guided by some loving and wise pastors and laymen and women during those early years. I was “adopted” by several families who made sure that “single young fellow” would have something to eat or someplace to rest.

In my limited experience, I was confident in what I knew and my abilities and had a sincere desire to serve. 

Like many beginning in the ministry, the expression “you don’t know what you don’t know” fit me like a glove.

So if given the opportunity to tell my younger self some things, I believe I would start with these things:

1. Spiritual knowledge is not the same as spiritual health
Knowing some biblical knowledge is not the same as understanding the Word and applying it to your life. Though I had a regular time in the Word, I lacked tools in discernment and how to make application in my everyday life. Spiritual knowledge is not the same as spiritual health.

As Peter Scazzero shares we can’t be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. I desperately needed help learning how to be healthy emotionally. I needed help dealing with issues in my life. Somehow I thought I would just pick it up along the way or something.

2. The song of the Church started long before me…
I needed a biblical understanding of what worship was and wasn’t. I knew my experience, but had never studied worship, read much on worship, or how what I was doing fit into it all. I knew what I liked and didn’t like. I was trying the measure the distance of the earth to the moon with the short little ruler of my experience; worship was so much more than I understood. How we had gotten to the point of where we were in congregational worship had no connection in my mind of where we were going.

History was ok and some of the stories were great, but as far as I was concerned, life was always going to be singing, youth musicals, and new music. I didn’t really need the old stuff. I needed to see that the song of the Church started long before I arrived and will be going on long after I am gone. I needed to grasp what had gone on in the past to help me deal with the future.

3. I need to live in the acceptance that only Christ can give
My self-worth is based on what God in Christ has done in my life, not what I could accomplish or how well I could perform. I secretly longed for approval from friends, and others that could validate my worth and value. Little did I realize that I was giving them a power that they could never really give and could not serve to fill the vacuum I felt inside.

I really needed to see that Christ in me “was the hope of glory.” I no longer needed to be driven by the comments of those around me for my security, but instead, live in the love and acceptance that only Christ could give.

4. The right to be heard is earned through trust
Developing strong relationships are basic to life, ministry, and discipleship. We will earn the right to be heard by the trust we had developed more than the position we hold. Learning how to become a servant leader, focusing more on what God is doing in someone's life and joining in that, is more important than trying to develop relationships that will "help further my career."

If I could go back and share with my younger self some things, there would be a lot I would want to share, but I think I would start with these.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Most of us are not....

J. S. Bach could compose complex counterpoint on after only hearing the melody one time;
...His “Musical Offering” was just that and a masterpiece of just some of his genius.

Most of us aren’t like Bach.

Mozart was touring as a young child and had composed his first opera at 12;
...He “copied” the music he heard in his mind directly on to the paper.

Most of us aren’t like Mozart. 

Isaac Watts was writing poetry and knew Latin, Hebrew, and Greek by the age of 13;
...Many of his most famous hymns were written while still a teenager.

Most of us aren’t like Watts. 

Fanny Crosby, blinded just a few weeks old memorized many entire books of the Bible and composed more than 6000 hymn texts.   Charles Wesley wrote over 9000.

Most of us aren’t like Crosby or Wesley. 

Most of us aren’t like those almost miraculous number of prodigies who seem to defy the laws of nature with their talents and abilities.  In fact, if everyone could do these things they would become so common that they would be no more noticeable than someone opening or closing a door. These “special” ones need the rest of us who are not so gifted so that their gifts are highlighted. This is not a “sour grapes” attitude, but a statement of fact.

What matters is our attitude and response to being “ordinary.” C. S. Lewis stated that there is no such thing as an “ordinary” human being. Something that will help us to re-focus and see things more from a biblical viewpoint.  Here are some thoughts toward that journey:

1. We are made in the image of God; there are no “ordinary” people.  At the same time, we are all sinners in need of and dependent on the grace and mercy of Almighty God.
2. Our purpose in life is to bring glory to God, not ourselves. When the artist notices that more people comment about the frame than the picture, he changes the frame.
3. Our worth comes from what God has done in us. Christ gives us true worth.
4. Any great thing we might accomplish will probably be forgotten soon after we are gone, if not before, so we must focus on those things that have everlasting value.
5. The greatest investment we can make is to allow God to remake us into the image of His Son in our thoughts, words, deeds, and all we are and focus our lives in making disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit for God’s glory.

Paul's admonition in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 is helpful here But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I thank God for the Bachs, Mozarts, Crosbys, Wesleys, and others He has given through time and I thank Him for allowing me to be “ordinary.”  I just want to be obedient to what He has called me to do and be. So, I can be content in being a single little flower put on a lone hillside by God’s grace to bring beauty by being what God had created it to be that only He can see.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Lessons on Worship from Jacob

The life of Jacob and his transformation for deceived to the one who “wrestles with God” [Israel] is fascinating. Though I’m many books could have been written or have been written about him and much can be learned from commentaries, I have been blessed over the past few weeks studying Jacob’s life during my private devotional time. [I also enjoyed the fact that the Sunday School material that we are using from LifeWay was also covering the material.] I believe that there are some key lessons we can learn from Jacob about worship found in Genesis 35:

1Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem.  5 Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them. 6 Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother. 8 Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth.

Context: After Jacob’s daughter is assaulted, her brothers deceive the people of Shechem into believing that they would be willing to intermarry, but only if all the men were circumcised. Later they go into the town and slaughtered all the men and seized all they own and taking those who are left as slaves.  Jacob seemed convinced that the peoples around him will attack and take revenge. God now appears to Jacob. God had appeared to Jacob before: [1] as he fled from Easu and saw the ladder to heaven and asks for God’s protection; [2] again when Laban was displeased, God instructed Jacob to return home. [3] Before encountering Easu, Jacob wrestled with the angel all night, who changed his name to Israel. Jacob’s life was punctuated with God speaking to him in the midst of crises. This time God instructed him to go to Bethel and build an altar, the place where he first met God. God had consistently taken the initiative in Jacob’s life, especially during difficult times.

1. God took the initiative in speaking to Jacob.
Notice that verse 1 of the chapter begins with “Then;” after the context, we had just described. Jacob was probably fearing for his life, and “then” God took the initiative and instructed him to go to Bethel, that place where God first revealed Himself to Jacob when he was fleeing from his brother.  This is one of the few times in Old Testament when God commands that an altar be built; that He be worshiped in a specific place.

Why would God tell him to return to Bethel? You will remember that some 20 years before, fleeing to his uncle’s land to get away from Easu, God had revealed Himself in a dream. During that time God made this promise to Jacob:
13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” [Gen. 28:13-15]
God was taking Jacob back to the first time He had revealed Himself to the young deceiver.

2. God desired that Jacob remember the nature and character of God.
God could have just repeated the promise to Jacob where he was, but in returning to Bethel, God wanted Jacob to learn something about the nature of God, that He was faithful to what He says He will do. God had promised to not leave Jacob; He wanted Jacob to return to the place of the promise. In doing so He was reminding Jacob of His nature and character: The Faithful One, Provider, and Protector.   God wanted Jacob to worship Him at that place, remembering what He has promised. Part of worship is acknowledging who God is and what He has done.

3. They made preparation for meeting and worshiping God.
In preparation for the return, Jacob instructed his family [which would have also included all those working for him] to put away their idols. His four wives and their servants had come from a culture that worshiped many gods. Rachel had even stolen her father’s idols when she left to return with Jacob to the land of Canaan. Jacob’s understanding of who God is had grown to realize that God was not going to be “one among many gods,” but the only true God. If they were to meet with God in worship then they needed to prepare.  As someone has said, “Christ must be Lord of all or not Lord at all.”

4. Jacob responded in obedience to what God had commanded centers his worship on God alone.
Upon arriving Jacob built the altar and named the place “El-bethel” Bethel means “house of God;” El-bethel means the “God of the house of God.”  What difference does this make? Jacob’s focus in the first meeting was centered around the place: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God” [28:17]. Before he placed conditions on God: “if you will do this, then You will be my God..” [28:20] Now, his focus was the God who had kept every promise. God had protected Jacob and his family and even had put the fear of them in the people in that area.  Jacob’s attention was now on the presence of God in this place and not just the place. God had kept His promise, revealing His nature and character.

5. God repeated the promise to Jacob, but Jacob’s life had been transformed; now he could live out the promise as God intended. 
After going the Bethel and building the altar, God spoke to Jacob again, repeating the promise:
9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.  14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.

God’s speaking this time could have been in response to Jacob’s obedience to His command in 35:1. He and his entire family had put away all other gods, they had purified themselves to prepare to meet with God, Jacob had built the altar. God chose to speak again and He repeated the promise previously given some 20 years before.  Why? One possible answer might be that even though many things, good and bad had happened, God was revealing Himself true to His promise, even though Jacob had not been perfect. God’s ultimate plan to bring a Savior to the world through this family line was to be fulfilled.

Another reason might be that this was not the same Jacob from 20 years before. He was Israel; he was a changed man, one who would listen to God and obey.  In response to God’s repeating of the promise, Jacob set up a stone marker and anointing it with oil as an act of worship and renaming the place, Bethel. God had spoken, God had promised in the past and Jacob was now confident that God would keep His promise, the very promise He had first given in the beginning. He need only live in obedience to the God of promise.

Truth to take home...
1. God takes the initiative in worship.
2. God is faithful, even when we are not.
3. God is present, even when we are not aware of His presence.
4. God will provide.
5. God is in control; He knows the future, we can trust Him.
6. We must prepare to meet Him in worship
7. We must respond in obedience and thanksgiving.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Few Words to Aging Worship Leaders...

A few words to aging worship leaders...

Isaiah 46:4
Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Psalm 92:14-15
They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

As the years pass, the passages above in Isaiah and Psalms have become more and more meaningful. The same God that called you years ago is the same whose Holy Spirit lives and works inside you now. Here are a few reminders.

1. There is nothing you can do to make Him love you more; there is nothing you can do to make Him love you less. God is love.

2. Our worth doesn’t come from your ability to perform; our worth comes from what Christ has done on the cross and His love for us.  You may feel that you know more now and understand things so much better now than ever in your life, but that fewer people pay attention or even care about your opinion. Remember your worth is not based on how many “likes” you get, but our worth comes from God. He is enough; “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

3. Acceptance of the new does not mean rejection of the old. Some will remember how meaningful “Pass it on” was and how it spoke to thousands of youth in its day. Some songs have a season; some become part of a canon of songs for multiple generations, like “How Great Thou Art,” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” God is raising up men and women to speak to their generation. As in every generation, we need to evaluate theology and embrace what is good and leave what is not.

4. Be an active mentor; bear fruit by cultivating relationships of younger worship leaders. Learn from them: they have a wealth of knowledge about technology.  As you open yourself to learn from them God will open opportunities to pour into their lives from the overflow of experience He has given you.

5. You may not be on the platform every week anymore, but that’s ok. I’ve found that not having all the “other things” to do on Sunday helps me focus more on worshiping. Sometimes stepping out of the limelight helps us realize that our focus might have been misaligned at times, and motivates me to pray for those leading worship even more.

Change can be painful. Even though I teach voice regularly, I have noticed the signs of age affecting breath, tone, vibrato, etc. My energy level and even desire to attack certain things are not as great. That’s when I remember God’s promise in Isaiah 46:4: "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you." 

Blessings.