loving successfully - redefined

My friend Heather over in Australia has a brilliant post that was also her communion message at church this morning. Check it out here.

God is not dead - and neither is His bride

Perhaps one of the more famous things Nietzsche ever said was that God is dead - and in context he didn't mean it that way - but in response to that, so many have said, "No, He's not!" And they're right - He isn't.

I have the words to an old camp song in my head - a slightly annoying, but true and catchy song:

God's not dead - He is alive
God's not dead - He is alive
God's not dead - He is alive
And I know that He's living in me.

"Christ in me, the hope of glory." Thank you, Louie Giglio, for your now-famous Tupperware sermon and the assurance that even if I become a demented old lady, I will still remember that Christ is in me.

A sister in Christ on the other side of the Pond posted today on the question of whether or not the church is dying. I felt compelled to comment, and thought I would post my reflections here as well:

I'm reminded of this time when I heard a prophet/missionary teach at a Vineyard church in Indiana, over 12 years ago, I think - he had actually prayed for someone to be raised from the dead - but it took about 6 hours of fervent prayer before it happened. (I'm not sure I would keep praying past the 1st hour, but he was in high stakes circumstances - the witch doctor in the village basically told him to prove God existed or die, and the proof he asked for was the resurrection of the dead.)

Now I'm sure the guy was actually dead and that God did raise him, and I KNOW that He did that with Jesus, so even IF the Church was dying (which some say she is) God can certainly do something about it. HE'S not apt to show up to the marriage feast without His Bride, I don't think.

So what remains, maybe, is simply that the organization we call the church is in need of, as usual, re-forming - and that those parts of the Bride that ARE exhibiting signs of death, rather than being symptomatic of the whole Church dying, are simply the branches Christ talked about in the parable of the vine and the branches. Those that don't bear fruit aren't ultimately going to be kept - but those that DO - oh! :)

I am also reminded of a scene from one of my generation's most popular movies on this side of the Pond - "The Princess Bride." They bring the main character to Miracle Max, thinking he's dead, and Max says, "He's not dead. He's only mostly dead. And mostly dead is slightly alive."

I think the Church is more than slightly alive. There are people added to her number every single day around the world. There is HOPE. And she has a King who is madly in love with her, and would fight - DID fight - to the death for her.

And He won.

telling your story

I led worship back home again this past weekend, and it was so good to be home. My friend preached a message I've heard him preach before (this starts to happen when you've known a pastor for more than 5 years) - but one which his new church needed to hear. It's a 2 year old church plant that's in some ways thriving, but their pastor will be the first to tell you that the most heartbreaking and discouraging thing over the past two years has been that they just haven't seen people coming to Jesus the way they'd hoped. For a church as focused on and committed to social justice as this church is, that's an indication of something not quite right.

He preached out of John 4 and John 9, about the woman at the well, and a man blind from birth whom Jesus healed. Both stories are about people to whom Jesus made such a difference that they went out and told everyone about it. Their lives were radically transformed, and it changed their communities. Brian basically used their stories to outline the basics of how to share your own story and challenged people to actually go do it this week.

Telling your story is simply answering a question: what was your life like before you met Jesus, and what is it like now? The before and afters. Or if there wasn't a moment like that, when everything radically changed - what would your life have been like if you hadn't known Jesus, and what is it like because you do know Him? As you answer that question, there are two things to keep in mind - what the theme of your story, and how can you keep the explanation short (like maybe a minute)?

My story is simply this: I have always wanted a happy place to belong where I felt wanted. My childhood was marked by a deep-seated need to prove myself, especially academically and behaviorally. Failure to ace a test or to be "perfect" in some way inevitably had unpleasant emotional consequences - which made love feel conditional, regardless of whether or not it actually was. Then I met some people who really loved each other, and who accepted me and loved me right where I was at, and I started to want what they had - a relationship with Jesus. On March 2, 1991, I asked Jesus to be my Lord and Saviour, and as I've started chasing a life with Him, I've found love, peace, joy, and happiness (hence the nickname) and an acceptance that truly is unconditional, and it has transformed a sad, bitter, angry and incredibly unhappy girl into a happy, gracious, peaceful, joy-filled woman. That's not to say that I don't ever get mad or unhappy or act like a jerk - I do - but those patterns of behaviour do not define me anymore. Jesus does. And no matter how difficult it is to follow Jesus some days, I wouldn't trade this for anything. He's changed me - He saved me. I could have been an incredibly miserable and lonely person - but instead He's made me "Happy" and given me a network of incredible brothers and sisters around the world who are my family. And I love this life.

I have an old praise song chorus in my head this morning. (Ah, the perils of being musically intelligent and a worship leader - I am a veritable walking jukebox some days.) I'm sorry I don't know who wrote this - if I can find that out, I'll come back and edit this a bit - but here are the words:

He has made me glad, oh He has made me glad
I will rejoice for He has made me glad
He had made me glad, oh He has made me glad
I will rejoice for He has made me glad

And that's my story.

I'd love to hear yours.

one man's stick

I realize that planning ahead is generally a good thing, and that it does help the powerpoint people to know where you're planning on going with a song, but deviation from your powerpoint plan really should say more about your ability to follow God's leading than your irresponsibility, don't you think?

The jist of an actual comment: "You did a really good job tonight, Happy. Of course, you could have stuck to the slides a little better - there were a few there that ended up being all out of order - but I managed to catch up to you, and it was fine."

We went back to a pre-chorus and a chorus. And I said, out loud, the words we were about to sing. It's not a long song... ???

*sigh* But as I once said to Chris when he was complaining about someone having a stick up their ... well, you know... :) "One man's stick is another man's structure."

I suppose I have my own sticks. LOL. I guess this is one of them... :)

Lord, help me to love the people I'm called to serve with, even when they drive me batty. I probably drive them batty too.

I'm becoming known as the "shoeless girl." I don't suppose it would be the end of the world if I were also known as the chick who doesn't always stick to her worship plan. As long as people are worshiping God and encountering His presence, I don't particularly care what they say. I don't think. Tho I guess I cared enough to vent about it a bit. :P

further thoughts on worship: art vs. propaganda

I definitely have a few reflections on this clip, but you need to watch it first, so here it is. :)

Art - reaching for the truth. Propaganda - pre-fabricated experiences.

There is a certain amount of pressure that I feel as a worship leader to "get it right" (which means everyone has a great time, thinks the band rocked, and oh, yeah - they met with God!). I think this pressure comes from three different sources: 1) the people in authority over me; 2) myself; and 3) the people in our congregation - and I think it varies from week to week where I feel it coming from the most... but I also think I feel it from myself quite a bit on a routine basis. There was a time when I really sucked at this - and yet God still used me, I'm sure of it. Now that I'm better at it, there are definitely times when I find myself using that emotional meter - "well, I just wasn't feeling it tonight" - to measure my success (or lack thereof).

I really have no desire to be a part of the "worship industry." I love that there are tools provided through it that help me to grow as a worship leader - books, chord charts, etc. - but I don't love the machinery behind Sunday mornings most days. There's good to it - I know that. But one of the things that's actually on paper for our church in reference to how we do what we do on a Sunday morning is this statement: "Worship should be fun."


Yes, there is most definitely a sense in which joy should pervade our services, because we have a lot to celebrate. But PLEASE, let's not be so happy-go-lucky and upbeat that we enable people to walk in and out of our building with the misnomer that sorrow has no place in our lives. If we're really encountering God, there are going to be moments when repentance (which involves a degree of sorrow) takes a solemn moment - and we need to be okay with the fact that grieving (either for our sin or for something that's just "not the way it was supposed to be") can be as much an act of worship as dancing for joy. And we need to be okay with those quieter moments lasting awhile, and not feel like we have to turn it around and end all positive... well, let me rephrase that - there's a way to end positively that still honors sorrow, that doesn't belittle it.

I don't go to church to have fun. I generally end up having fun, because God's people, for all their idiosyncrasies, are actually pretty cool - but I don't feel like I've failed if I can't use the word "fun" to describe a worship experience. There's something so much more serious about encountering the living God than "fun" really encapsulates....

McLaren's point about doubt is a good one, I think - we're not nearly as comfortable with it as the Bible is, as God is - but surely there's a way to help people ask the questions they need to ask in the context of our services throughout the year, and not just in the 40 darker days of Lent (or in our non-liturgical liturgy, the 4-5 days of it). I don't know exactly how - but I think there's biblical precedent for it - and I think having your service plan be cookie-cutterish from week to week and always having a U-shaped song set (1 upbeat song, 1 medium paced song, 1 slow song, 1 upbeat song again) may not always be the best way. But I could be wrong about that...

Side-note (long but fast-paced rabbit trail of thought I won't even attempt to trace for you) - when I finally do hire on to a church, I want to be the kind of worship leader that gets to lead worship, not singing. There's so much more to this than just song. And I think it's taken me awhile to realize that - but I'm becoming an artist - and everything from lighting to color to stage design to the songs we choose matters. The first thing God did was create an environment for us to live in. I think it would be cool to get a chance to design worship environments that teach people how to live in worship. No matter how they feel.

Just thoughts.

saturday morning coffee talk

This isn't really an actual post worth reading, I don't think. More an acknowledgment that I haven't posted anything in a week (I have written things; just nothing worth posting! hmmm. sort of like this...) And an observation on organization: it's worth it, sometimes.

This morning I got up and I finally did something about the 6 inch stack of chord charts that had taken over my living room. It only took me 20 minutes to sort them all alphabetically and 5 minutes to file them. Why didn't I do this weeks ago? It would have decreased my stress level considerably. I hate clutter. It drives me mad. But I never do anything about it.

I'm hoping October will be the month in which I turn over a new leaf. I'm giving myself the rest of September to continue procrastinating. And to maybe clean up a little so not being a lazy clutterbug will be easier in October, since I'll be starting off on a good foot. My next project - besides the laundry that got folded and put in a basket next to the closet - is the basket of junk mail that's gone unopened since last October. I know there are a few things in there that aren't junk mail, so it all needs to be sorted. Sounds like a perfect "watch a movie and drink hot cocoa" sort of a task, don't you think? Maybe I'll do that tonight... maybe. :)

further thoughts on worship: enthroning God on our praises

In a comment on my friend's post about worship, another friend mentioned a concept that is familiar to me: the idea that God is enthroned upon our praises. I believe that to be true - I also wish I could find it in the Bible. I did just spend ten minutes skimming through verse after verse on Bible Gateway around the keyword search for "throne" - that brought out some beautiful pictures of heaven as I read. I need to read through Revelation again, slowly, sometime soon. The portrait of worship John paints is so achingly, gloriously beautiful. I can't wait - tho I have to! - to go home and see what it's really like - tho there are definitely moments on earth that can give you just a taste of what it will be like. :)

Thinking again of Mike Pilavachi's observation that when you go into worship expecting to get something from God, you might, but you might not - because really, you aren't worshiping at that point - you're trying to bargain with God. But when you come into God's house (be it in a church building, a small group, a meadow, your car) with the goal of what Hillsong calls "the art of losing myself in bringing you praise" (Salvation Is Here - a truly great song) - often in the midst of that you do find you've gained something - funny... Jesus said that would happen. He who seeks to save his life will lose it, but he who loses it will find it... that's a working definition of worship, if you like.

God, You are amazing.

I am glad that feeling worshipful and actually worshiping are two different things. There was a time in my life where I felt that if I hadn't had a certain emotional experience, I hadn't worshiped. Now I know that worship is far more a choice than an emotion, and that God is pleased with (and worthy of) my worship regardless of the circumstances in which I find myself or the way that I feel on a particular day. (This is very good news to those of us emotionally swayed by PMS.) It is also very good news on days when I'm leading worship and can't tell for the life of me what's going on in the room, but just keep plugging away at what I know to do; I generally find out later that God was up to all sorts of things I couldn't see at the time - what if I believed my lack of emotional connection to a worship set to be a reflection of reality and just gave up? We might miss out on a lot. No, worship isn't a emotion - but that sense of emotional connection when you truly worship (sometimes) is a really great gift, and I'm glad for it. It helps when you worship a God you can't see or physically feel - but Whose Presence you can sense all the same.

further thoughts on worship: why we sing

When the Church meets to worship, there's a lot of singing. A friend recently posted about that, wondering why. Worship and singing are NOT the same thing necessarily, tho singing can be an expression of worship - so why do we do it?

I think there's a few reasons:

1) it's an easy way to get everyone focused in the same direction

2) i think most people love music (of some sort), even if they can't carry a tune in a bucket

3) culturally, every people group throughout history has used music as a form of storytelling; our songs as a Church tell our story

4) it follows the pattern set forth in the Old Testament of how God's people are directed to worship Him

5) it's fun, and an outlet for musicians in the church to bring their gifts to the altar

There are, I'm sure a lot of other reasons, but those are a few that come to mind.

a few thoughts on worship

I had a really cool opportunity this past weekend to head home to Michigan and lead worship for a friend's church. Their worship pastor just left rather suddenly, and they needed a fill-in; I had the time and felt God's leading to take the job, so for most of this month I'll be commuting back home every weekend. It'll be a lot of driving - by the end of the month I'll have spent something like 27 hours in the car just to and from Michigan - but it's good quiet time, and at least the Michigan part of the drive is simply beautiful this time of the year.

One of the things that struck me as I talked with people after the service was how appreciative everyone seemed to be of how worshipful the service was... The first person who said something about it was an old friend from another church, and I thought, oh, isn't that sweet - I'm so glad you had such a cool time with God this morning... and with the second person who said something about it, I thought, oh, cool - I did my job. But after the fourth and fifth comments, I thought, gee whiz, what usually happens here on Sundays?!

I'm reading this absolutely great book by Mike Pilavachi called For The Audience Of One - and one of the points he makes is that worship isn't for us. Ultimately it really doesn't matter whether we feel anything at all - the point of worship is to direct to God what is rightfully His - our attention, our gifts, hearts, minds, souls, praise, glory, adoration, etc... The irony is that we do usually - if we've truly worshiped - receive something back from God - but if we didn't, it wouldn't - or shouldn't - matter.

I don't know. I've always thought leading worship required a bit of schizophrenia - but the deeper I get into this thing, the more I'm realizing that it's just a really weird job.

Wouldn't trade it for anything, tho...