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Cross Posted on Reflections of a Christian Daddy and on Grace Notes

For two days I’ve been pondering this whole Osama bin Laden thing – what to think of it, how to respond to it, and, perhaps most importantly of all, where to go with it.  Apparently, I’m not the only one – here are just a couple of the websites and blogs I’ve read recently:

Osama bin Laden Dead; Christians Debate Response

‘Do Not Gloat’ over Osama bin Laden’s Death

How Should Christians Respond to Osama bin Laden’s Death?

‘Do Not Gloat’ vs. ‘Joy to the Righteous’

One of my high school friends wrote a blog post on it in the form of a letter to her two small small children, and another friend from Florida wrote one of the most thoughtful posts in a note on Facebook (sorry, I can’t post that link because it won’t go anywhere if you’re not her friend…)  It’s ironic that no one can agree on what feeling is appropriate.  There are arguments flowing back and forth on blogs (both personal and professional), Twitter, Facebook, and everywhere else.

As I think about the implications of bin Laden’s death I do not care to debate the appropriate response to it.  All those scriptures people are sharing about not rejoicing in the fall of your enemy and not rejoicing in the death of the wicked are true.  And all those verses that proclaim God is a God of justice, that government’s role is to protect and defend the righteous while punishing the wicked, that God takes vengence on the wick – they’re all true, too.  Here are two more verses that I’d like to share with both sides of the aisle:

The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. (Deut 29:29)

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. (2 Tim 2:23)

God is God simply because he is able to reconcile what we can not.  Somehow all those verses people are quoting are true – even though it seems they are mutually exclusive.  God’s ways are not our ways, and this might be one of those things best left up to God.

The night I heard of bin Laden’s death I posted a simple statement on Facebook: “I guess May 1, 2011 is the day OBL realized Islam is not the way to Heaven, 40 virgins weren’t waiting for his arrival into the after life, Alah is not Jehovah, and Jesus is way more than just some good prophet who lived a long time ago.. Yet I feel no pride at this moment, only awesome gratitude that even though OBL and I deserve the same punishment, b/c of God’s grace I am saved from it by a risen Savior and Lord.”  (yes, I know I mis-typed – it’s not 40 virgins, it’s 72, but you get the point!).  I wasn’t being sarcastic, I wasn’t trying to be funny or self-righteous or uber-holy, I was just trying to state a fact.  I wasn’t rejoicing or mourning, I was simply trying to process my own feelings towards the death OBL and what it meant for our country, the world, and my own family’s life.  For the record, I still stand by what I said that night.

As I consider the whole thing, though, I begin to ask myself: What is it I want my girls to know about this?  What is it this situation teaches us about life?  And that’s where I start to find my answers.

First, evil is present in this world – and they need to know that.  Yes, I protect them as best I can – as does my wife.  They are not exposed to many of the evils of this world because I don’t believe they need to be or should be.  But they need to understand that people are bad and that this world is not ruled by Jesus right now but by Satan – and it is a terrible, terrible place.  Yes there is good, yes God’s Spirit is in the world, but scripture teaches us that this world is the domain of Satan right now – and that is why people get sick and die, it’s why people hurt our feelings and “stab us in the back”, it’s why people lie and cheat and steal.  My girls need to know that we are in enemy territory every moment of every day of our lives until we physically reside with Jesus.

Second, they need to know that evil will be defeated because God is just.  OBL was an evil man; I don’t care how much people want to talk about him being made in the image of God.  He was made in the image of God (as we all are), but scripture also says that while he was made in the image of God he was corrupt and fallen, his heart did not not know good.  OBL received his justice on Earth at the hands of the government – the government established by God to protect us from evil and dole out punishment on evil doers.  OBL also faced judgement when he met Yahweh after his physical death.  And God delivered justice when he sent OBL to Hell for all eternity.  Not because he killed thousands of people here on Earth, not because he was a terrorist who attacked my country, but because he was a fallen, evil man (like we all are) who was destined for Hell from the beginning of time unless he accepted the way of the Savior – the God-man who died on a cross at Calvary and then rose from the dead three days later – the God-man we call Jesus.  OBL was destined for Hell as all of us are destined for Hell.

Third, my girls need to see that God is also a God of grace and love.  What’s that saying I love so much? “But for the grace of God, there go I.”  We talk about God’s grace all the time in Christian circles in terms of us being saved, but have we ever considered that it’s more than just “getting saved”?  Here’s the issue – if I had been born to different parents, at a different time, in a different place I would be living a very different life.  Why wasn’t I born as a child of OBL or Saddam Hussein?  Why wasn’t I delivered by a non-believing woman in a far-away country that hated Christianity?  And if I had been, what would my life be like now?  There’s always these debates about whether we are products of our environment or not – the answer is absolutely we are!  If I had been born in Iran in 1976 I can pretty much guarantee you that I would not be a Christian right now one day headed for Heaven but would be following my destiny towards Hell.  Am I saying that those born in Iran are all going to Hell?  Yes.   Am I saying that those born in the USA are all going to Hell?  Yes.  What I’m saying is that all those who are born – regardless of where they are born – are going to Hell.  Grace comes in to play because God placed me in a family who resided in a country that allowed us the freedom to learn about Him, to worship Him without fear of persecution.  And because of that I came to know Him and love Him and serve Him – in short, He worked through my environment to save me.  People don’t go to Hell for any other reason than the simple fact that they are people, regardless of where they came from or who they are.  My girls need to understand that because of the freedoms we have they have more opportunities to experience Jesus Christ in a week than some people will have in a lifetime.  And for that they should be eternally grateful.  And for that they should (also) be eternally broken that people will die tonight and spend eternity in Hell because they did not have the privileges we do.  Hopefully, it will motivate them to serve and share.

Finally, they need to rejoice not just in the defeat of evil, but, more importantly, they need to rejoice in the victory of good.  GK Chesterton’s famous quote came to mind often the last two days: “Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”  My girls need to see the world is full of dragons – but, more importantly, they need to see that the dragons can be defeated (and, most importantly, The Dragon has been!). I’ll be honest and tell you that the video of all the people outside the White House chanting and cheering broke my heart and disgusted me.  Not because they were celebrating the death of a terrorist and murderer and not because they were screaming “U-S-A”.  No, I was disgusted and broken over the fact that they were worshipping a false god.  See, exactly one week prior to OBL’s death I led my church in worship – worship on the most glorious day of the year: Easter Sunday – the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead, eternally defeating death, Satan, and the grave and opening the way for me to have a relationship with God based on soley on Jesus paying my debt.  And I can tell you that, to my shame, my church service did not look like that event outside the White House on May 1.  Why is it that we rejoiced more over the death of an evil man than we did over the triumphant victory of God?

And that’s why I’ve wept for the past two days.  Not because of OBL’s death, but because we have rejoiced more over his death than I saw most of us rejoice over the resurrection of Jesus.  I wept not because I felt sorry for OBL’s family or thought we shouldn’t have killed him.  No, I wept – I weep still – because we, as the body of Christ, have spent more hours blogging, Tweeting, posting on Facebook, and arguing over whether OBL’s death was righteous or not.  What we should have been doing – what we should BE doing – is blog, Tweet, post on Facebook, and share the love of God in Christ Jesus – the grace of God found in Christ Jesus – the chance that we as Hell-bound human sinners have to turn around and walk the victorious, free, forgiven life found in Jesus because of his death AND RESURRECTION – with every soul made in the image of God we come into contact with.

I don’t care if my girls know about OBL or not.  What I want them to know is that Jesus is alive, that He loves them, and He wants to forgive them.  That’s what matters, and its is worth shouting about and staying up late over.

Note: for those who have missed any rehearsals in the past month, all devotionals are available on my blog (the address is at bottom of the page).  This particular devotional is part four in a four week series, so if you’ve missed any of the previous ones you may want to go back and read them to better understand the context of what I’m writing, or now that I’m finally wrapping the entire thing up you may want to go back and look at the first three to refresh your memory on how we got to where we’re at.

Week 1: It’s a Matter of the Heart

Week 2: It’s Culturally Bound

Week 3: To Blend or Not to Blend? That is the Question.

Over the past several weeks we’ve looked at this issue of musical style in worship and last week I suggested we needed to move away from the term “blended worship” and towards “unified worship”.

I came across the term “Unified” worship about six weeks ago in an article by Scott Wesley Brown.  Below is an excerpt from an article he wrote on the subject of Blended Worship.  Because I think he hits the nail on the head here (and says things much more succinctly and elegantly than I can), I’ll just quote him (for the full article click here):

I prefer the term “Unified” worship over “Blended” worship because our intention should be to reflect the scriptural teaching of unity in diversity. (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:12-14) The term “Blended” worship does not necessarily mean that it is “unified” worship. The best way to describe “unified” worship is to say it is anchored in the church’s historic worship and seasoned with the fresh winds of the Spirit’s movement in the present using the “best of the best” from the past and the present.


The Church today faces “the spirit of individualism” and has succumbed to tailoring worship to meet the expectations of various age groups by fractionalizing the church into what are now called “venues”. No longer called sanctuaries, these “venues” cater to the “experience” one is up for. If you don’t like the “Traditional” try the “Edge” or the “Over the edge”……….whatever works for you! How dare we ask a teenager to sit through a hymn or a senior to listen to a song by Delirious!

I do understand that it is appropriate for children, youth, seniors or those of other cultures to have a meaningful experience within the context of their own group, but what ever happened to “corporate worship”? Indeed worship is both vertical and horizontal; it is about God, yet it is about people in fellowship with one another before God.

But when the focus is on people (mostly ourselves) there will always be battles because we are diverse (and opinionated!). If you think it’s hard trying to please everyone at your church, imagine how difficult I thought it could be leading worship for a church in the Middle East with 500 members from 40 different nationalities and dozens of denominations. Yet somehow it worked…..not perfectly…but it worked because the greater focus was on God. They had their individual meetings throughout the week, but on the Sabbath they were in corporate worship.

Mark Horst wrote, “As soon as we come to worship looking for and expecting an experience, we have violated the most basic principle of (worship). We easily become religious aesthetes capable of judging the entertainment value of a church service while remaining unaware of the reality it can open us to. Unfortunately for us, when our worship becomes self-conscious rather than God-conscious, it points not to God’s reality but (only to) our own.”

Too often we think of worship mostly or solely in terms of how it impacts us rather than how it impacts God. And we are the losers when we do that. If we think of ourselves as the necessary beneficiaries of worship we won’t truly worship. If we think of God as the beneficiary of worship, we will also benefit. One of the major reasons people argue about worship today is that they have the wrong person (themselves) in view. Worship ultimately is not about us; it is about God.

And if it is about God, then it is about pleasing God with a heart attitude clothed in humility.

Now, I’m not sure there is much difference in the way Unified worship “looks” versus the way Blended worship “looks”, particularly in our church, because what is important here is the heart of the worshipper (remember the first devotion back in February that touched on this topic).  What I know is this: as long as we seek to please our own desires in worship and not touch the heart of God then we are committing idolatry by placing ourselves on the throne instead of Jesus.

And once we realize that this issue of musical style in worship is less about style and more about the heart we have made a tremendous step forward in Christian growth and maturity.

Cross posted on Grace Notes


It’s funny how some things take longer than expected.  Take this devotional, for instance.  In the middle of February I sat down to write a brief devotional on musical style in worship.  Here we a month later and I’m still trying to finish writing a devotional on musical style in worship!  We’ll try and tie this all up in the next two weeks before we take our hiatus from rehearsal until the beginning of April.

Last week week’s devotional ended up being much more history lesson than I had originally intended, but I really felt it was important that you understood some of that.  History is important because it helps give some perspective on where we are right now and also informs us as we move forward into the future.  I ended with this statement: “The problem lies in defining ourselves by our cultural differences and not our unity in the Spirit.  So where does that leave us in 2011 at our church?  That’s something we’ll look at next week.”  Well, next week is here!

When I first came on staff I was given the job of working to “blend” the musical style in the services.  Without repeating the history of what’s happened here over the past decade in terms of music style (since most of it was before my arrival, anyway), let’s just say that there has been some disagreement on how music should look in church.  From my understanding a process was put in place and, at the end of it all, there was some pretty obvious desires on the sides of the coin labeled “traditional” and some on the side labeled “contemporary”.  A decision was then made to work towards a “bled” in style – something that would have a little bit of everything in an effort to make everyone happy.  It would lean neither too far to one side nor the other but attempt to stay somewhat in the middle (if I’m wrong on my history I’m sure someone will let me know this week via email or phone call!).  I don’t know everyone who was involved in those discussions or decisions, and, quite frankly, I’m kinda glad I wasn’t here when the decisions were made because choices like this inevitably leave some people’s feelings hurt – regardless of how sensitive everyone tries to be.

Over the past couple of years I have worked very hard to transition our church’s musical style in worship into what I consider a “blend”.  Sometimes with resistance from people, but more often than not I have been met with openness.  People have generally understand that sometimes music is planned that they may not like, but, for the most part, they take it in stride because on any given Sunday there may be something they like but someone else doesn’t.  It’s one of those give-and-take things that mature adults and believers are able to understand and accept.  But as I’ve gone through this process myself (both as your leader and personally) I’ve come to realize there is one main struggle I have with the “blended” approach.

It’s about us.

That’s the bottom line.  “Blended worship”, as it has been defined in the past decade across multiple churches and multiple denominations, is not about worshipping God at all (at its heart).  It’s about making man happy with a particular musical style.

Ouch.  That hurt to write, so I can only imagine how much it hurt to read.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe the people who made the decision years ago to pursue a blended style made what they honestly believed was the best decision at the time – and I probably would have made the same decision myself (in fact, when I interviewed, I remember saying and believing that!)

In the past several months I’ve given this a lot of thought, prayer, and study.  While I believe the spirit with which “blended” was arrived at was done with the best of intentions, I believe it’s time for a change.  As a church we’ve made some great strides in musical style transformation over the past years.  I believe we are more “blended” now than we were three years ago.  But we have so far to go – not musically speaking, but spiritually, in terms of understanding and accepting style. So next week I’m going to introduce that concept to tie this all together.  But here’s the sneak peak: Instead of “blended” worship let’s try for “unified” worship.

Cross Posted in Grace Notes

Last week we began examining musical style in worship.  Here’s a quick review:

  • Music in and of itself is neither good nor evil;
  • Lyrics in and of themselves may or may not be Christian or non-Christian;
  • Ultimately, it is the heart of the musician that determines whether a song is Christian or not.

So what makes musical style so controversial?  There are a host of spiritual issues we could examine here, but today we’re going to focus on the connection between culture and music.  Culture is a very broad term with as many definitions and understandings as we have people reading this, but one thing we will all agree on is that a part of culture is musical style.  Culture is not defined by geography, race, or location, (though each of those is a part of culture) anymore than it is defined by music.

From a global standpoint, we will all admit that music will be different in churches in South Africa, China, Brazil, England, and Greenville, North Carolina.  We would not expect it to be the same across each of those areas and we would not be offended (or should not be offended) by the music found in a church in China when we visit China. We should also recognize that music in a church in Greenville, North Carolina is probably somewhat different than music found in the back hills of West Virginia, the urban churches of New York City, or on the beaches of Honolulu, Hawaii.

And we’re all pretty comfortable with that because it makes sense and is easy to understand in terms of geography.  But when issues arise in our own church it becomes a more personal issue and harder to resolve.  Why is that?

Outside of the obvious answer of sin, pride, and selfishness that we all struggle with this side of Heaven is the basic fact that it is very difficult it identify “American music” culturally.  One of the by-products of America’s economic success is the emergence of different sub-cultures.  We play out in a minor way every Sunday morning in churches across our country the cultural clashes that have risen up for centuries in cities, states, and neighborhoods.  Back in the 19th and 20th Centuries there were issues of language, traditions, and religions that caused problems between people groups.  Our country, because of its diversity, has always struggled with these issues – issues because we identify ourselves as German Americans, African Americans, Americans with an Irish-Catholic heritage, or coming from China town or Small Italy.  Conflicts arose as a result of a clash of cultures.  While it doesn’t make it right, this has been a reality for years in areas outside of music.

But American sub-cultures have continued to increase since WWII.  Economic prosperity has led to more money in our country than at any other point in history, and where there’s money there’s a desire to spend it and obtain it.  As a result we now have multiple sub-cultures under one roof – even where we do not have evidence of “blended families”.  How?  Based on age.  Think about it.  We have entire companies who depend on the money generated by selling to one age group – we have teens, pre-teens, tweens, kids, toddlers, and babies who have their own clothing styles, food, literature, TV shows, games, and, yes, music – in short, their own culture.  Combine that with the fact that since WWII the average life expectancy has continued to rise, so now we have a greater diversity of ages who are present in any one family at any given time.  And we all go to the same church.

How did the church respond?  We developed programs for different people groups (cultures) within our churches.  We have pastors who specialize in youth ministry, others who focus on senior adults, some who are children’s pastors, and others who focus solely on music, drama, or the arts.  I know of one church here in Greenville that has paid staff positions with the following titles: Senior Pastor, Youth Pastor, Children’s Pastor, Music Minister, Children’s Music Minister, and Minister of Youth Music!

Is it any on wonder this is conflict between these age groups?  Each one has been led to think that they deserve to have their needs met because they have someone who specifically can meet them.  And if there isn’t, well, just use our money to create a position that will!

Is any of this diversity wrong?  Absolutely not!  Is it wrong for us to create positions in our churches to reach different people groups?   No.  Even in the NT we learn that Paul’s ministry was to the Gentiles while Peter’s primary ministry was to the Jews.  The issues arising from different cultures in church go back to the Church’s very birth.

The problem lies in defining ourselves by our cultural differences and not our unity in the Spirit.

So where does that leave us in 2011 at our church?  That’s something we’ll look at next week.

Cross posted on Grace Notes

Last week’s devotional was designed to assist us in identifying the object of our worship.  At the end of the devotional I mentioned that this week I’d spend some time addressing the issue of musical style, so let’s look at how musical style relates to worship in a worship service.

To start with, too often we (particularly in more “Evangelical” denominations) limit the term “worship” to the musical portion of a service, but we need to remember that the entire service – not just the music – is a time for worship.  Today we’ll focus only on the portion of the service which contains the music.  This always raises questions like, “What style is appropriate for worship?” or “Are certain musical styles allowed while others are not?”

Let’s start by establishing something.  Contrary to what some authors would have us believe, music in and of itself is not – I repeat, not – good or evil.  There is one primary thing that makes a song “Christian” more than anything else: the heart of the person singing it.  Notice I didn’t say it’s the text.  The primary determining factor of whether a song is Christian or not is the heart of the person singing/playing the song.

You may be wondering why lyrics are not the determining factor.  It’s because even in some songs the lyrics themselves could be considered neutral.  Take for example this song, often sung as a praise song (and written as such):

In the secret in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there
In the secret in the quiet hour I wait
only for You
‘cuz I want to know you more

I want to know you
I want to hear your voice
I want to know you more
I want to touch you
I want to see your face
I want to know you more

I am reaching for the highest goal
That I might receive the prize
Pressing onward
Pushing every hindrance aside
Out of my way
‘cuz I want to know you more

Even though there are strong scriptural references and overtones in the song, it could very easily be heard on any pop radio station as a love song between a man and a woman instead of a song of pleading to know Jesus.

What about this song:

Wait – There’s no mountain too great
Oh, oh, iyo
Hear the words and have faith
Oh, oh, iyo
Have faith

He lives in you
He lives in me
He watches over
Everything we see
Into the water
Into the truth
In your reflection
He lives in you

Looks like a Christian song to me – references to overcoming mountains (doesn’t Jesus say that with enough faith we could move mountains?  Doesn’t scripture promise that every mountain will be made low?)  “He lives in you, He lives in me” sound an awful lot like Paul’s letter which reads, “No longer I but Christ.”  But the song is from Lion King the Musical and is far from Christian in its context – it reinforces the New Age philosophy in the show (and movie) of the “Circle of Life” and refers to Simba’s father (Mufasa) living on through his son – that he’s really not dead at all.

But it looks an awful lot like songs we might see in churches now day – it could even be perfectly at place in an Easter service!  So what separates the “sacred” from the “secular”?  It’s the heart of the singer.

Music is a part of culture – a significant part of culture – which is why it is so personal and even controversial.

Next week we’ll continue looking at this, but for today we need to understand that music in and of itself is neither good nor bad, and even lyrics can be misleading.  It is the heart that matters most.

Cross Posted on Grace Notes

What Do You Worship?

Posted: February 13, 2011 in Worship
Tags: , ,

The last two devotionals have shared insights from Soulprint by Mark Batterson.  Let’s continue with looking at another quote from his book:

“The Creator has hardwired you to worship.  In fact, you can’t not worship.  The question is not whether you will worship.  All of us worship all the time.  The question is, who will you worship?  And you have only two options: either you will worship God with a capital G or you will worship god with a lowercase g.  And if you choose the worship the god of you, you’ll become a disappointing little god to yourself and all who worship you.  Ultimately, all identity problems are really worship problems.  Identity issues are the result of worshiping the wrong thing.”

Last week’s sermon reminded us that we all struggle with idols in our lives, not man-made statues that we bow down and worship, but things that we put in front of God.  Go back and read the first five sentences of the quote above.  We all worship – even non-believers worship.  Yet are we worshiping the true God?

You’ve probably heard this before, but worship is giving worth to something.  More specifically, includes the following definitions:

  • adoring reverence or regard;
  • to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing);
  • to feel an adoring reverence or regard.

Notice that it doesn’t specifically say “God” or even the more general term “Deity” in any of those definitions, but it does say it can apply to “any person or thing.”

How do you know what you worship?  Look at what is important – what you are unwilling to give up – and that’s what you worship.  And we can even worship worship!  Too often we talk about having to have a certain style of music, or a particular order of worship, so that we can worship.  I’ve heard people say things like, “I can’t go to a church service that doesn’t include the Lord’s Prayer!” or “If they’re not playing with a praise band I can’t worship.” or “We gotta have more hymns – can’t worship without a good, traditional hymn.”

Notice how I worded those statements – I’m not addressing preferences here (such as, “I worship more through hymns than praise choruses, but I can handle some praise and worship every now and then.” or “I prefer praise & worship music but hymns don’t I’m able to worship even when we sing some traditional hymns.”)  What I’m referring to above are those people who try to say that worship is only possible if “X” happens (whatever “X” may be).  And when we cross the line from expressing a personal preference to making a mandate that is not found in Scripture we have replaced God as the object of our worship and put in his place our own idea of what aught to be.

And that is a dangerous place to be – it is a place we can refer to as “idolatry”.

Next week I’ll begin to transition this into a look more at style in worship, but for this week take some time and ask yourself the question (or, better yet, ask God the question): “Is there anything in my life that comes before Him, particularly in how I worship?”   And then be prepared to hear His answer.

Cross Posted on Grace Notes