Wednesday, August 24, 2016


All musicians - all artists, for that matter - crave bringing our very best performance to the table.  This is just something that comes with being an artist and has probably been the case since the first time Grox picked up a stick and whacked it against a stone wall, bellowing out noises of various pitches. Grox thought, "I do better next time. Grunt."

Certainly, as God-worshiping Christians, we desire to bring our very best as an act of worship to our Creator.  Like how the builders of the original temple used the finest metals and woods as they created a "worship space."  We musicians desire to do the same.  Our desire is to play the guitar, or drums, or sax, or bass, or keys... or to sing... at the highest level of perfection because we know that will please God in our worship.

In fact, we believe that the better we perform, the better God is worshipped.

Or, at least, that's what we church musicians say - because it helps hide the fact that, sometimes, we are more interested in showing off our talents than simply worshipping God WITH our talents.

Did I say that out loud?

Whether we are willing to admit this or not, the truth is that all current church musicians live in an age of ultra-entertainment.  It has been this way for several decades but in recent years has become even more pronounced.  Most would agree that in many churches, the "worship set" has evolved (if that's a fair word) into more of a "God Show" where our bands and vocalists are performing songs that do speak of God - but songs that attempt to replicate what is heard on Christian radio - more than actually "leading the congregation into worship encounters." (by the way, if the goal is to simply copy what is heard on the radio, why not just play an mp3 of the songs and let the worship band sleep in on Sundays...)

Trust me - I know that sounds a bit harsh. It's meant to.

Average Christians in the pews (or bean-bag chairs, depending on your worship room) have been noticing how simplistic many of today's worship songs are.  Christian comedian, John Crist, does a great job of narrowing down today's trend towards creating simple Christian hit worship songs in a humorously biting video.  You can see that video HERE.  (But then, come back to read the rest of this article!)

Now, here is where this blog post will take a detour.  I actually have no problem with simple, 3-chord worship songs - provided they transcend mere entertainment or "hit song" fodder - and, instead, actually help usher the worshiper into a Spirit-led and Spirit-breathed encounter with the Lord. 

There actually is a difference between 3-chord fluff entertainment (think of any Monkees song) and 3-chord Spirit-led songs (think the book of Psalms). 

The difference is found in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and, surprisingly, it is easy to miss - even for today's "American Idol-tainted" worshippers.

Sometimes I try to imagine David playing on his harp (lute) and ponder what his music - his songs in praise and worship of, and towards, God - might have sounded like.  He may not have even had "chords" as we know them.  Perhaps he sat on a rock near a stream and strummed or plucked his way through lyrics that are now forever cemented in the pages of scripture.  No doubt he offered his best to God - but the question is - - his best "what?"  I don't imagine David strumming and worshiping and then suddenly stopping and thinking, "God would be better pleased if, instead of this V chord, I played a IV chord..." David would simply strum and worship, strum and worship, strum and worship...

The simplicity of a worship song structure is not what makes the song inadequate or unworthy of honoring God.  It is the simplicity of the worshiper's heart that lessens the "worship value" of a song.  A song can have 7 chords, 11 changes, 2 bridges, augmented, diminished and inverted chords, rich with deep lyrics that match the greatest theological depth of any classic hymn.  But if the person playing or singing that song is only in it for the performance - it is NOT a "worship song" designed for God - regardless of how "holy" the words might sound.  In other words - your great performance will NOT please God if it never rises above the level of a great performance.

Likewise, a song with only 3 chords and simple "Psalm-like" lyrics, when sung or played by someone who's heart is only focused on God, WILL be a song that not only worships our Lord but helps others do the same.  I know this for a fact because I have seen it and I have done it.  When the focus is solely on the Lord - with our talents and abilities thought of as one might think of a set of tools in a toolbox - THAT is when God is actually pleased.  THAT is when God is actually worshipped.

For this reason, I am far more interested in the simple, 3-chord worship song that is truly worship-filled, than the mega top Christian "worship hit of the day" that is sung or played in a Godless manner.  It's not about the HOW.  It is always about the WHO.

If you are a church musician, or one of the worship leaders, your job is NOT to sound amazing.  If you do happen to sound amazing, that's great!  Keep it up.  Bring your best.  But make sure you are bringing your best WORSHIP rather than your best performance.  God is not more pleased or worshiped any fuller simply by your slick guitar licks or 5-octave vocal range.  And - He is ALWAYS more pleased with the worshiping heart of the "pitchy" singer.

I challenge you to make your next worship set less about matching top Christian radio hits, and more about singing simple songs that use less instrumentation but clearly help focus the congregation on the very reason you have all gathered in the first place.

Focus on the WHO and the HOW takes care of itself.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Chummers of Men

Twice in my life I have been deep sea fishing.  Or, as I like to call it, "lay down on the floor of the galley until the feeling of your guts escaping leaves." 

I'm not really a "sea fisherman" type.  I'm more of a "pop open the can of Starkist" type.

But one of the things I learned on my fishing trips was the fine art of luring the fish by tossing out chum.  You get the fish interested in the area by filling that area with dead fish parts (are you hungry yet?) which attracts the fish. 

Then, you toss in the hook and BOOM you got yerself a meal!

Most churches today are passionate about finding and using the latest or greatest of most effective or "best" means of attracting new people into their churches.  In some ways, they are creating lures by tossing out "chum" such as the use of fog machines, or laser lights, or moving stage lights, or other high tech attractions that will hopefully lure people into the sanctuary.  Many have multiple-flavored services (old, young, hip, rock, country, etc). Some have done away with visual reminders that you are even in a church - no cross, no stained glass, no Bibles... All of this is in the hopes that a non-Christian will show up, enjoy the show and then be hooked in to a relationship with Jesus.

BOOM you got yerself a Christian!

The truth is, there is nothing wrong with those worship additions.  And if your church prescribes to that model, then more power to you.  God works in mysterious ways and who am I to question the motivation behind the rationale of using a dunk tank for baptism or calling the Lord's Supper "Commune-Yum-Yum?" 

But I do find myself pondering something...

How LONG-LASTING are these "American Idol" methods going to work?  See, when we format our church following an entertainment model - even if our motives are pure - eventually, some other church will offer a BETTER entertainment model - and your flock will flip the remote and simply go elsewhere.  This happens - all - the - time. 

Before I go on let me be very clear about something.  This is IN NO WAY a condemnation on "modern" or "contemporary" worship.  Only on STYLE.  The same push for entertainment can occur in an ultra-traditional church setting where the style is robed choirs, liturgical structure, etc.  Any format can become an "entertainment lure."  We just happen to live in a time when the modern church has adopted (in a large, general sense) to become "hip and edgy."

But what if we were to offer something that IS long-lasting - that no other church in town is offering, then we will not only retain those who show up but we might actually create disciples rather than just spectators. 

The early church (see the book of Acts) obviously did not have the means to modern-day technology so, on one hand, it's difficult to do an "apples to apples" comparison.  That said, they DID share the same humanity that we have.  They were men and women and children - just like us!  They had jobs, and families, and relationships, and dysfunctions, and issues of anger and rage and hate, and they had various levels of need - from plenty to nothing.  At the core level - they were just like us!

But here is one huge difference between them and us - the early church had no NEED to CREATE chum or to MANUFACTURE lures.  You know why? (This is going to hurt) - THEY HAD THE HOLY SPIRIT!  Yes, I know, I know... all of we believers "also have" the Holy Spirit.  I get it. 

But it appears that the early church enjoyed more of an awareness and expression of the Holy Spirit.  Signs and wonders happened in their midst. (This is AFTER Jesus had left, so we can't simply wave it off as "because of Jesus' miracles.")  They allowed for, and anticipated the actual presence, power and moving of the Holy Spirit in their assembly.  No lights. No lasers. No fog machines. No Top-10 Christian Hits - -  just the power of the Holy Spirit changing their lives in such a way that they were led to LOVE one another and ACCEPT one another and PROVIDE for one another. 

The lure - the "chum" - was NOT external or manufactured... it was INTERNAL.  It was a CHANGE OF HEART.  It was TRANSFORMATION.  And it was the direct result of their DESIRE to be immersed in, and changed by, the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.


The reason today's churches tend to be focused on the external lures is because we look around and see "success" by other churches doing the same thing.  We see "large numbers" as proof of that success.  And so we think that replicating what those successful churches are doing will bring the same type of success to our church.  And, in the short term, it DOES!  Until the worshipers decide to go find a "better show" down the street.

Ah - but what we DON'T see are the countless churches out there who ALSO have large attendance but have nothing flashy or showy to use as their evidence of growth.  These churches - that most never hear about - are filled with men and women who crave to encounter the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  I know this because I have actually been inside of those churches.  The focus is never about the external flash.  They have fantastic praise teams - but the focus is never about the well-rehearsed music.  They have people who offer clear and articulate messages - but the amazing oratory of the speaker is not the focus.  They have created welcoming worship rooms - but the color of the walls, the use of lights, the other particulars - are NOT the focus.  The focus is ONLY on encountering the presence of the Lord.

THAT is the lure.  THAT is the "chum."

If your church desires to see long-lasting, life-transforming growth, I challenge you to do the unthinkable: TEST this out.  Begin focusing less on HOW you "do worship" and more on WHO it is you are worshiping.  This might mean taking a bold step in how you order your service.  It might mean offering a night of deep praise and worship with prayer and healing attached.  It might mean shutting off the screens one Sunday.  (Can you even imagine?) Whatever it means for your church, it is worth the effort. 

In other words - don't be a "chum." Be a disciple!

Monday, August 15, 2016


Over the past several decades of working and serving in churches as a music and worship director, discussion inevitably creeps in regarding how difficult the job of being a music director in a church must be since there is a constant flow of criticism in many churches regarding music styles, forms and functions.

Sadly, this criticism is not reserved only for the music leaders. 

All of those in church service leadership are targets for criticism.  The Senior Pastor, the Associate Pastor, The Youth Director, The Missions Pastor - - even the sound techs, the custodians, the ladies who set up the tables for the women's tea - - everyone is open to receiving criticism from members of the congregation.

This always leads to someone saying, "Wow, I would NOT want YOUR job!"

There is a moment of awkward laughter and the acknowledgement that the job of "pastor" - at any particular level or calling - is difficult! 

Of COURSE following the call to continue the work Jesus set out to accomplish is difficult.  Look what happened to Him for fulfilling the call His Father placed on His life?  He was killed.  And what did He do to warrant murder?  He loved. He cared. He served. He healed. He accepted. 

And then He died on a cross.

So, yes, ministry is difficult.

But here is the huge "blind-eye" problem - - We look at those who killed Jesus and anger rises up inside of us.  We say, "How could they have treated Him like that when all he was doing was trying to love them?  Those horrible people!!"

Tell me - do you own a mirror? 

Yeah, I meant for that to sting. 

We who are constantly critical towards those God has called to help lead us towards living lives that align with the model of Jesus are really no better than those scoundrels who attacked Jesus. 

See, friends, the problem is NOT with your leaders. (Yes, sometimes it is.  Sometimes the leaders are completely off-the-wall and saying or doing things that are completely outside of what the Bible teaches.) - - but MOST of the time, your pastors, your ministers, your directors, your leaders are simply doing what God has called them to do in the ways He has gifted and wired them to do it. 

A few things to remember about your church leaders:
1) They are doing what GOD has called them to do. 
2) They are doing what they do - BECAUSE THEY LOVE YOU.
3) They are humans who will make mistakes.
4) They are NOT your hired help - they are God's servants called to shepherd your church.

Acts 2:42 reminds us that the early church was "devoted to" their leaders.  Look up that word "devotion" and see if it matches the way you view your church leaders.

As one of those servants, I want to somewhat selfishly ask and challenge you to please consider very strongly your perpetual need to be critical of your pastoral leaders.  If your case is valid, then do what the Bible says and take it to your church board of elders or other leadership.  Do not gossip among the saints about how poorly your church staff is doing their job.  That only causes division. 

And if your case is not valid (and you will know deep down in your heart whether or not this is true) then just close your mouth and find ways to support your pastoral and other staff leadership.

God did not place you in your church to be a nay-sayer.  You are not "called" to complain.  You are not "better" than your church staff or pastors.  You are one member of the body - a member who is just as important as all the other members - who are called to love one another - including your pastors and staff.

In the end - yeah, you probably don't want our job.  But you certainly can help make this thankless job far more fulfilling by actively supporting the efforts of those who lead your church. 

One of my favorite movie quotes is from the film, "A League of Their Own."  In the film, Tom Hanks plays washed up manager Jimmy Dugan.  One of his female ballplayers is complaining about how difficult it is to play baseball.  Dugan says, "Of course baseball is hard.  It's supposed to be hard.  If it were easy, anyone could do it."


Saturday, August 13, 2016


I am not sure where or how to begin this short article... the reason being, the moment someone brings up the topic of the Holy Spirit, there tends to be an automatic resistance.  

The best I can do is offer my journey and see if it resonates with anyone out there.

I became a Christian at the tender age of 12 while attending a camp in the mountains of Southern California.  During that summer I came to hear about a Savior, Jesus, who loved me unconditionally and was my path to everlasting life.  

Because I believe what the Bible teaches, I know that the moment I accepted Jesus as my Savior, He placed within my His Holy Spirit, to work in my life in a variety of ways.

So - in a sense, I "had" the Holy Spirit within me the moment I became a Christian.

In some ways, this would be similar to how a house has plumbing for water already built in.  In most cases, you buy a home and there is no need to install plumbing.  There is water in those pipes.  It is in the house.  

We'll come back to that later.

As I grew in my faith, I became aware of a fuller expression of the Holy Spirit.  I would relate this to how being in a relationship with someone over time will lead to more in-depth knowledge and experiences with the person.  A brand new relationship will exist at one level.  A relationship of, say, 3 years (if it is truly growing) will have knowledge and experience at different, new or deeper levels. It is still the same relationship - but there is a new-found depth, the longer the relationship is nurtured. 

And so it was with me and the Holy Spirit.  As my relationship with God, through His Son, Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit grew - there was new-found depths and levels in the relationship.

I grew up attending a main-stream denominational church where not much dialogue was given to the topic of "the power of the Holy Spirit."  Over the decades, much confusion has come about because of some who chose to create "extra-biblical" expressions and teaching related to the Holy Spirit. This left a bad taste in the mouths of logical believers.  I have come to realize that this has been a classic example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  

The reality is that the Holy Spirit is only as "crazy and mysterious" as the pages of scripture allude to. My personal view is that, when it comes to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, if I don't see it plainly, or very strongly implied, in scripture, then I usually don't align with the particular expression. If, on the other hand, I DO see it, or I CAN justify the expression based on scripture, then I grab it and run because why wouldn't I delight in and enjoy ALL that God has for me in that area?

Remember the plumbing in the house?  

My home has pipes running through every wall in almost every room.  And those pipes contain water.  But that water does not automatically flow out of those pipes without me making a decision to open up the faucet.  When I turn the handle on the faucet, water comes rushing out.  Before I do that, there is water present but it is not flowing.  After I decide to turn the faucet on, that is when the water actually flows.

It is like that with the Holy Spirit.  He is always there, ready to flow.  He is "in the pipes" so to speak. But only when I decide to "turn on the faucet" will He flow in a more profound manner. 

What does "turning on the faucet" look like?

That question required a very long answer. In a nutshell, we open up the faucet when we do any or all of the following:

> Enter the time of corporate worship with an expectancy to MEET GOD, not just sit together with His children.
> In our singing - when we allow ourselves to be immersed in what the LYRICS actually say and let that truth massage us with His glory.
> When we choose to LIVE the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.)
> When we allow ourselves the FREEDOM to express our devotion and passion for God outwardly with our bodies, arms, hands, etc.
> When we are NOT RESISTANT to the power of the Holy Spirit being made manifest in our assembly - for example: healings, or spontaneous song, or dancing, or weeping, etc. 

For me, the Holy Spirit is all about restoration and relationship.  It is not a "magic" add-on to our faith as some tend to view.  Rather, the Holy Spirit is the life force - the water in the pipes - that MUST be freed in order to do what it is intended to do.

You open up the faucet, water comes out, things get wet.
You open up the Holy Spirit faucet - his power comes out - and you are impacted.

Now - why did I title this blog post, "Ruined by the Holy Spirit?"  Glad you asked...

In my times of private or corporate worship, when the Holy Spirit faucet is opened and He begins to flow, something happens that transforms me.  Honestly, I lose track of time and even locale.  I find myself immersed in His presence - the presence of God, the presence of Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It is joy and beauty and delight and awe - it is a nearly unspeakable reality of "one-ness" with the God of all creation.  It is both a deep reverence and, at the same time, a deep longing to know my God at a deeper and deeper level.  

My times of corporate worship singing transcend the mere "singing of the songs" and become more of a musical, joyful and reflective meditation.  The words I am singing move beyond the level of "narrative" and into the realm of "proclamation."  I move away from focusing on HOW I worship (meaning song styles, instrumentation, harmony, musical excellence) and, instead, I focus on WHO I am worshiping (the Almighty God of all creation, Jesus Christ, His glory, His honor, His wonder.) 

Because I have encountered that type of "Holy-Spirit-infused" worship, I find it difficult these days to simply sit in a room and sing a collection of well-rehearsed "God songs" without personally diving in deeper and encountering His presence in those moments.  

Therefore - I have been "ruined" by the Holy Spirit. 

And because I have experienced that, I want ALL believers to experience that.  Reason being, there is something TRANSFORMATIONAL that occurs when we open up the faucet and let the Holy Spirit freely flow during our times of worship.

This lines up with what we see happening in the early church - when they worshiped, they did so with gusto, freedom and expectancy.  This, along with other key practices such as devotion to the leaders and to one another, is what led to the Lord "adding to their number daily" those who were being saved.  Churches GROW when they allow the Holy Spirit to flow freely in their assembly. 

Are you ruined by the Holy Spirit?  If not, I invite you to open up the faucet and see what happens.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Feeding Time

I love the old story of how each person has within us two different animals.  One is a wolf, who is evil and destroys.  The other is a dog, who is loving and brings life.  Both cannot live at the same time and deciding which one gets to live is solely based on which one you feed more often.

I have a similar thought regarding the life or death that occurs within churches and, like the story of the wolf and dog, it all depends on which one you feed more often.

In this case, the two "animals" are Spirit and Flesh.

When we feed the Flesh, we are seeking to please man.  This path always leads to criticism of nearly every aspect of the church's ministry.  The music is too loud, the screens are too small, the lights are not bright enough, the pastor's message is weak, we don't sing enough hymns, we don't sing songs I hear on the radio, the parking is difficult, the chairs are uncomfortable... and on and on and on...

And on...

On the contrary, when we feed the Spirit, we are seeking to please God.  This path always leads to contentment and celebration.  Criticism flies out the window because the more we seek to please God and encounter His life-transforming presence, the less we worry about, or care about, or focus on, those man-pleasing concerns.

We move from a place of moaning to majesty.

Granted, it is far easier to complain than it is to celebrate.  If it were easier to celebrate and feed the Spirit, we would have far less churches in continual uproar over petty, foolish and divisive issues. We live in a world that continuously feeds the flesh.  I'm reminded of the Richard Foster book, "Money, Sex and Power."  Those three areas still tend to be the ones who draw us in and mold us into creatures seeking to please MAN'S needs rather than God.

Ah, but that doesn't change the fact that we still must be a people who please GOD rather than please man.  We must make the difficult choice to step over that threshold and alter our paradigm to become a church goer who stops feeding the flesh (critical and complaining) and, instead, feeds the Spirit (focusing on The Father).

So, here is the difficult question: which one are you feeding?  I won't ask for a raise of hands.  But I do encourage you to take a few moments and consider strongly if you are feeding the flesh (pleasing man) or feeding the Spirit (pleasing God).

Because like the story of the wolf and dog, there ain't room for both.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What's Your Problem?

What is the problem with ministry?  Why does nearly every single action or event or program need to be accompanied with angst, distrust, confusion and commotion?

The easy answer is: Satan.  His only goal is to get us fighting against each other and pull our focus off of God and on to petty things like song arrangements, pew colors and window coverings.

But it’s too easy to simply blame Satan.  So let’s look at a more human example. Perhaps James can offer us some thoughts on this…

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  (James 4:1-3)

Why do we fight?  Because we don’t get our way.  Kinda like back in 3rd grade when Tommy stole your blue crayon and made you cry so you decided to grab Tommy’s lunch and toss it out the window. 

Yeah, it’s like that. 

Childish, petty, immature and a total waste of God’s talents, treasures and time.

We don’t get our way with (name the ministry) and so we whine and complain; grumble and moan.  We begin spewing our angst and hate and BS among the flock with the sole intent of disrupting the joy and peace in the fellowship.  Of course, we don’t call it that.  We call it something far more righteous sounding – we call it “concern for the church” or some other completely false pile of you-know-what that helps us sleep at night. 

Meanwhile, ministry leaders and others in the church are dying because of this nonsense.

So, what’s the problem?  YOU ARE, if the above, in any way, describes you.  If you don’t like the new staff member or the new ministry or the new vision, you have two choices: change your heart and stay, or remain hard-hearted and leave.  Period. 

I once had a disgruntled ministry leader tell me that by remaining in leadership, even though they cannot in any way agree with the new direction of the church, they were taking the high road.


The high road is a change of heart.  Remaining in a leadership position while maintaining a sour attitude is not taking the high road.  What a cowardly thing to say.

In the end the choice is clear – either change your heart, or change your geography. 
If, by some wild chance, any of this post speaks to you then I encourage you to take some time and read through the book of James.  Just let the Holy Spirit lovingly massage your heart and bring you to a deeper awareness of where you might need to change your attitude about things – or – be bold and simply leave the church.

Because it’s very possible that the problem with your church – is you.