Prayer for Artists and Musicians

A facebook friend on a Worship forum posted this. Worth sharing…

O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. -Amen

From the Book of Common Prayer

An Open Letter to Michael Gungor.

I’m sorry.

On behalf of Christians everywhere who don’t seem to be able to get past the fact that even though you don’t believe the universe was created in 6 literal days that you still love God and believe Jesus is who he said he is.

I’m sorry.

On behalf of people who have spent way too much time the last few days debating and arguing until their fingertips are numb (as mine are right now), even though you have never said anything against the historic creeds of the Christian faith.

I’m sorry.

On behalf of people who have to be defined by being right on the internet, or by creating an enemy or at least a heretic where none exists, or who haven’t read about the history of witch hunts and don’t remember how ridiculous and damaging they are, and how petty and stupid they make Christianity look.

I’m sorry.

You are a deep thinker, a gifted songwriter, a tremendous musician, a true artist. We in the church probably don’t deserve you.

Please stay though. Please. We desperately desperately need you.

One of the Guys Who Saved my Mind

It has been said that modern people love the music and culture of their late teens and early 20s the most. I don’t totally agree with that, but it’s probably true that about half of my favorite albums were made during that time of my life. High on the list is an unfortunately almost forgotten gem by a guy named Pat Terry, “Film at Eleven”. I just got finished sitting and listening to this marvel in one sitting (on vinyl, no less).

In the early 80s, when I first found faith in Christ for myself, I was surrounded by a lot of people whose idea of faith was basically turning off the brain and believing whatever somebody else told them, and for a while, I was a little nervous that I couldn’t hang onto something like that, until I was rescued from that way of thinking by a handful of authors (including Francis Schaeffer and Peter Kreeft) and more to the point, a handful of songwriters who engaged their heart, soul, faith and fingers to craft songs that came at faith without avoiding hard questions. Pat Terry was one of those. (The others were Mark Heard, who produced 3 Pat Terry Records in 82, 83 and 84, and Bruce Cockburn.)

This album might appear on CD or iTunes someday, but as of today, all you can do is find an old out-of print vinyl copy. It’s probably in my top 5 favorite records I’ve ever heard (still sounds great to my ears by the way), and unlike all the others of my very favorite albums, might even have TWO of my favorite songs ever (“Christ Alone Will Wear the Crown” and “In My Dream”).

I don’t know why I’m posting this other than to encourage those of you who still have a record player and some determination and curiosity to check it out if you can find it.

No, you can’t borrow mine.

Sorry.

Christ alone will wear the crown
worn by many others
When will mankind lay it down
and join our hands as brothers

I’m the Biggest Wuss in the World

The final night of the National Worship Leaders’ Conference was really wonderful, and the highlight (along with seeing one of my son’s favorite singers, Nicole C Mullen) was seeing the 4th – 6th graders from the Korean Central Presbyterian Church lead us in worship for a while. They had smiles and hand motions and songs and attitude that was absolutely wonderful, and I was smiling and singing and waving my arms and deeply deeply touched…

…but then…

…in the middle of it all, I thought of the families of more than 200 girls halfway around the world who are wondering if they will ever see them again… and I thought, what if I got home and found out that my son was not there and we might never see it again, and there was nothing we could do either way.

And I cried like a little girl…

And I hope all do…

I Need a Death Sentence

So, I’m here attending the National Worship Leaders’ Conference and two of the speakers have completely blown me away.

One is Marva Dawn, the other is Tim Timmons.

Both said exactly what they felt, with great love for Jesus and his Church, and very little regard for what the popular positions are on anything. I found myself agreeing with most everything both of them shared. And they have something in common.

Their bodies are completely under attack. Marva has been deathly ill and spoke from a wheelchair, is deaf in one ear and blind in the opposite eye. And she had a joy that radiated like almost no one I’ve ever heard of or seen in my life.

Tim Timmons sang and talked like a man who believed that God can do anything, and does amazing things in the world today, and means every promise He ever made in the Bible… and Tim is basically dying of liver cancer even as we speak (although so far it is taking cancer a LONG time to take him…)

It makes me feel like if we all had a death sentence, or at least LIVED like we have a death sentence (which in a sense, we do), we might have more insight, more faith, more joy and more wisdom.

I wonder.

All Choked Up

It happened again this morning…

I wanted to bust into tears when I dropped my son off at school (I don’t normally drive him, but it was raining and thundering this morning, so I did).

Maybe it was because my son had been away at Boy Scout Camp over the weekend, maybe it was the rain, or maybe it was because I had tripped and almost fell down stairs (and thought I was gonna die for a split second… but I’m fine…)

Or maybe it was because I’ve lost 3 relatives this last month and one other person I used to know from an old job.

Perhaps it was because I didn’t sleep well.

I prefer to think it was because in moments like those, I do actually realize how blessed I am. How fortunate to have the wife I have, and the son, and even the dog. How fortunate to be part of the community of faith in Jesus throughout history, and the particular group of ragamuffins I work with.

I think I actually do understand how lucky I am to have 3 squares a day and a roof over my head.

Maybe I really do realize how blessed I was to know people I’ve lost for even the short time I did.

Or maybe I’m just tired and need more coffee… No, I’m sure it’s not that.

Adventures in Missing the Point

From a letter to the editor in the Cincinnati Enquirer, April 23, 2014.

With all due compassion to the woman struggling to feed her family with food stamps, the story did not deserve the front cover of The Enquirer on Easter Sunday. This day is the “Feast of all Feasts” – the great celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christians worldwide, Easter is THE most important event of the liturgical calendar. Indeed, Christmas is celebrated only in preparation for this great event.

I respectfully request that next year you give Easter the dignity and honor it deserves.

Well, I hope that next year the paper gives the Easter holiday the dignity and honor that Christ would applaud, where we are more informed about, stand more with and care more about the least amongst us, such as a woman who struggles to feed her family with food stamps. (Matthew 25 comes to mind.)

I think Jesus would want that more than just about anything.

Christianity is Ridiculous

I am barraged at times like this (Eastertime) by a LOT of stuff on Facebook about Easter and the resurrection from both my “believing” friends (some of whom believe every cute cat video/sob story/conspiracy theory on the internet) and my “non-believing” friends (who, frankly, also often –I think– believe some stuff for some really odd reasons).

You’ve seen it. Everything from “The resurrection is a sham” to the latest “I died and went to heaven and I came back” story. Often this stuff ends up getting tied to something political or not (I love the new facebook feature with “similar links” for this kind of thing). Then we have the evidence guys… “I can prove it happened.” “I can prove it didn’t.” We have people who’ve made loads of money writing books from either perspective.

So let me spell it out for you, in a nutshell.

The idea of somebody rising from the dead, after being in a tomb for perhaps over 48 hours, on his own power… is… well… ludicrous. It’s not scientifically credible, it doesn’t happen, and somebody who believes such a thing has actually happened is probably not right in the head, and shouldn’t be trusted with heavy equipment or power tools or firearms…

…if it didn’t really happen…

But it did… If this part of the Christian faith isn’t true, then anyone who believes it is just, frankly, nuts.

More than three decades ago, the risen Christ suddenly made himself known in my heart, my life, my soul (if you will). I can explain it to you, but if He doesn’t do that amazing almost magical thing He does in you that he did in me, I admit, sadly, you will never believe me, or Him.

He is risen.

I promise you.

Is “Christian” a Bad Word Now?

Rachel Held Evans is complaining about what has happened to the name (and by extension identity) “evangelical” over here on her blog…

And in the wake of thousands of people deciding that a particular issue (that probably doesn’t affect them directly) was more important than using a small part of their resources to help a child in desperate need (see here)… I feel a little funny about the word “evangelical” these days, too.

Some have said our labels have been stolen. Labels like “christian” and “evangelical”.

But… Remember, the word “evangelical” didn’t get stolen… but rather… in the marketplace of (relatively) free ideas, it got auctioned off to the highest bidder, as people who decided agreeing with them about certain lifestyle issues was the deciding factor in whether a person had value or not. (I’m not arguing those issues here, merely the horrible manner in which they have been co-opted as a litmus test for faith by fragile flawed humans).

And, really… it’s just a word. Nothing more.

The crusaders called their activities “christian” when they massacred people for disagreeing with them.They weren’t.

Arminians called their activities “christian” when they massacred Calvinists… and vice versa… They weren’t.

American slaveholders called their activities “christian” when they used Scripture to rationalize demeaning and even “owning” other human beings for generations… and then they called their activities “christian” when they covered their faces and killed people because of the color of their skin.

We evoked Scripture to justify our crusade to wipe out the aboriginal people of this nation, whose land we stole.

and so on… and so forth…

This is nothing new. Christians miss the mark a lot… And when we don’t, we don’t make news, because Jesus says to keep our good deeds quiet, and I think a lot of us are obeying that. (bad PR, but good spirituality…)

Dear God, help us to remember how much you are deeply in love with us and share that love… and not all this other junk…

The Gospel You Heard is Wrong

So… what if I told you that there was a man who is on his deathbed right now who was a hero of the Civil Rights era, who had received awards from organizations including the NAACP for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination? Would you say he deserves to be celebrated? What if I told you it was the founder of Westboro Baptist Church? Okay… now?

What if I told you that the guy who wrote “Awesome God” struggled with alcoholism his whole adult life, smoked like a fiend and cussed like a sailor (when he wasn’t getting in real live fistfights with his band members and offending everybody around him). Would you stop singing it?

What if you were a Protestant and I told you that the man most famous (and some argue most instrumental) for starting the Protestant Reformation was a raging unrepentant anti-semite till the day he died. Would you turn back to Catholocism?

I was reflecting with a friend today about how we get the Gospel wrong. Go to a funeral. People will talk about how great the person was, how many good or great deeds he had done, how generous he was, how loving… It’s all bunk, sorta…

I have a handful of friends who have been asked that when I die (if they are able) they attend my funeral to talk about what a black-hearted notorious awful sinner I was in my heart of hearts and how hopeless I was (although we needn’t go into detail, okay).

Why?

Because the Gospel isn’t that I can become such a good person that my good deeds outweigh the bad… It’s not that I’m redeemed so that I can somehow attain heaven or union with God or whatever you want to call it by my good works… Nope. It has nothing to do with me, or my deeds, good or bad (both of which can be equally sinful).

Do I have your attention yet?

So… what is the Gospel?

It’s simple really. In short, the reigning King of everything that ever is, was, or will be died for our sins, so we don’t have to. I’m not normally a fan of the Message, but I think that this part of scripture really reads well, so I’ll end with what a lot of folks who are smarter than I am think is the very first presentation of a “creed”… THE Gospel…

1 Corinthians 15:3-11 (MSG) (emphasis mine)

The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.

But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it. So whether you heard it from me or from those others, it’s all the same: We spoke God’s truth and you entrusted your lives.

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