Serve

cropped-5535_149208995750_578060750_3812338_7316009_n.jpg“I serve at the pleasure of the President”  The West Wing

Recently, I was setting up the stage at our church building for worship.  I started thinking about how the front of a church came to be called “the stage.”  A stage implies a show, and a show implies personalities or stars.  I’m not sure it’s the best word to use, but I’ll save that discussion for another time.

We have a cross at the back of our stage.  Someone sent me a picture they took during worship, and it looked like the cross was coming out of the top of the drummer’s head.  The band was set up, behind the communion table and in front of the cross (the cross is slightly above floor level).  Linda, my wife, was the one who pointed it out.  She said it was strange to have the people who lead worship stand in front of a symbol of the One we worship.  Instead of being a conduit for worship, we were putting ourselves in front visually.  At first, I was reluctant to change things around, because the band was set up in a way that was best for sound and comfortable for the musicians.  But, it didn’t take too long to realize Linda was right.  I always talk about leading people into the throne room and getting out of the way.  I always say it’s not about me.  Here was a chance to do something to make the point right up front.

We cleared a path on the stage, roughly 8 feet wide, down the center, leading to the cross.  The band was spread apart to each side of the stage, with the drums and bass over to the right, keys and lead guitar to the left.  I explained what we were doing to the band and they were more than willing to go with it.  It gives us a chance to remember who we serve.  It’s a little inconvenient, but it’s a small sacrifice we gladly make.  I get asked about it once in awhile, and when I explain that it’s a tangible, simple way to show we honor Jesus, people get it.  Everything we do or don’t do says something about what we value. In this case, it’s a tangible demonstration; it’s not about us, it’s about Him.

Being on a worship team is an awesome privilege.  We’re usually on a stage, but that doesn’t make us stars.  We’re there to help lead our people into His presence.  It takes more than good lighting, sound and musical skill.  We serve at the pleasure of Jesus, under the authority of our leaders, with love, encouragement and compassion for those we lead.  We’re keeping an open lane.

 

Heart

 

Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
 when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love

don
t for a moment escape Gods notice. Psalm 51:16-17 MSG

 Recently, a young family man suddenly died.  He was a friend of our family since childhood.  We are heartbroken.  As I hugged his stepfather after the funeral, to express my sympathy, he said “We have hope, because he’s with Jesus now, and we’ll see him again.”  On a very dark day, I could hear God speaking through him and giving both of us comfort.  The young man and his family are Catholic, many people in my home church know the family and share in their grief.

 For a worship leader, there’s challenge in times like these.  Hard times for ourselves and people we love are kairos moments, revealing our depth of character and strength of heart.  If we’re going through the motions in regular days, we’re going to come up very short in extraordinary ones.  The moment will swallow us up, and we won’t be the leaders were called to be.  How do we prepare our hearts?

 Well, in the section of Psalm 51 above, it looks as though we need shattered pride and hearts.  From experience, I can tell you it’s true.  But the shattering isn’t as bad as it sounds; because we don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.  When people say bad things about us, our family members are sick, or we’re out of money, God loves us.  When we pour out our hearts to Him and come to Him every day, He loves us.  He does answer prayers.  As worship leaders (or for any believer), it’s imperative we develop our relationship with Him through His Word and through prayer.

 Here’s a good way to start a rhythm.  Read the Moravian texts each morning (moravian.org).  It has a weird name, but trust me, it’s just a daily journey through scripture.  You can have it emailed to your inbox every morning.  Spend a few minutes reflecting on something in those verses that strikes you.  At first it may seem rote and boring, but if you stick with it, you’ll be amazed at what comes to you.

 Next, when you pray, start out with being thankful.  Here’s something cool Linda and I started doing.  Get some small river rocks.  As you pray for something, get out your Sharpie and write it on the rock.  Put the rock in a jar.  Keep praying the prayers and adding rocks. When the prayer is answered, move the rock to another jar containing rocks with answered prayers.  Go through the rocks often, giving thanks for the answered prayers and continuing with the ones still on your heart.

 Your heart will grow three sizes.  It will show in your worship leading.

You Play Who You Are

Our vision of worship must never be limited to the activity of worship. God has always been after your heart and mine; songs and liturgies are a means to this end.  -Dan Wilt

Over the past 30 years, I’ve had the honor of leading worship for a Vineyard church near San Francisco, in Concord, California.  Same church, in the same town, in the same neighborhood, near my high school.  I’ve known some people in my church since the 70’s.  If you asked 18 year old me if I’d still be in Concord in 2014, my answer would definitely have been no.  I wanted to be a successful songwriter and touring musician.

Over time, God has made it apparent to me that He was using the years of my life differently than I thought He would.  He wanted me to learn to submit my hopes and aspirations to Him.  He wanted me to be faithful in the small things.  He wanted me to learn to follow and trust.  He wanted me to become a worshiper who makes it to the finish line.  God called me to abide with Him, recognize His voice and do as He says. He called me to be Jesus’  disciple with His character.

When I first started worship leading, it wasn’t really a “thing” yet. Around here in the early 1970’s, young people were coming to Jesus in large numbers all over the place.  Since we were part of the rock generation, it seemed like a great idea to write Jesus songs in our musical style and bring them into the church.  When I first started leading songs on Sundays, it seemed a like it was an afterthought.  I was allowed to lead one song from the Young Life songbook (it was called the little brown hymnal) every week or so.  No electric guitars or drums were allowed.  I led from the far side, below where the choir stood, singing songs like Amazing Grace (to the tune of House of the Rising Sun).  It was in essence, just a nod to the younger generation, but even this small start felt like worship to me. Over time I’ve learned what’s happening during these moments of worship is Heaven’s gates are being opened wide. Whether I’m with a few or many, it’s all the family of God, coming together into His presence.  I’m there to make a big deal of Him. I love how John Wimber describes this:

…I think its important for our worship leaders. to know what theyve been invited to. They lead us to the throne, but then they need to get out of the way. Were not there to worship them, so they need to point us to Jesus… period. 

I’ve seen many worship leaders come and go.  Some end up quitting because they feel under appreciated and misunderstood.  Some were hired for their skills and didn’t grow in character.  If we want to LAST as worship leaders, we’re going to need to face our struggles together.  We need to know why we’re doing it, how we’re doing it, and for whom we’re doing it. Our spiritual character must be cultivated, in daily, self-feeding rhythms, if we are to grow. We can’t just hope it will happen. We have to intentionally grow as His disciple. Our daily lives need to have components of relationship with God, family, friends, team members and other people around us.  Otherwise, our lives are disjointed, and the words we sing are hollow and disingenuous.  If we know and live into our identities, as children of the Father, we become much better disciples, and in turn, better worship leaders.  The words we sing are genuine.  Our hearts are right.   My good friend, Tom Patitucci, told me this  line his jazz bassist brother, John, uses to describe the inner life of musicians:

You play who you are.”  Let that sink in for a while.

As it turns out, our hearts are revealed by our actions. Me on Tuesday has to look like me on Sunday.  I want to help develop worship leaders of character plus skill.  If we’re going to be genuine and last for the long run, we’re going to need to give our hearts and skills over to the One who provided them in the first place.  It’s time to build up and maintain relationship and discipleship among worship leaders.  I can’t wait to see what God will do through us, together!

Hope Has Come- Cameron Walker

Hi Everyone,

A couple of weeks ago, I travelled to South Carolina and spent quite a bit of time sharing stories and ideas with my new friend, Cameron Walker.  We share a passion for encouraging worship musicians, and we’ll be collaborating more over time to that end.  For now, I’d like to introduce you to his music.

Hope Has Come, is a moving and beautiful worship experience.  The songwriting and musicianship are excellent, but what really catches me is the connection to the Father’s heart that comes from going through some trials and coming out with stronger faith on the other side.  Hope Has Come is made up of great songs, which could stand alone, but the album definitely deserves to be appreciated in its entirety.   I recommend you pick up this album on iTunes and put it on repeat for a while.

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Summer Sabbath Devotional #3 – Ask, Search, Knock

Abiding

by Linda Foster

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Luke 11:9-13 – Jesus says:

“So this is my word to you: ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. You see, everyone who asks receives! Everyone who searches finds! Everyone who knocks has the door opened for them! If your child asks you for a fish, is there a parent among you who will give him a snake? Or if he asks for an egg, will you give him a scorpion? Face it: you are evil. And yet you know how to give good presents to your children. How much more will your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”?

So I read this passage of Jesus’ own words.

And I ask: what is He saying to me right now through these words?

And how am I to, by His grace, respond to…

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