A Dream

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This man is standing with his back turned to people that openly show hostility and hatred towards him. These people would likely have him dead at any given chance they could get away with it. There’s a man holding a anti-semetic sign in one hand and a confederate flag in the other while one man is giving a nazi salute and another is dressed in KKK garb. Yet, there he stands, not only with his back to them, but to protect them. That’s what a hero looks like. That is what love looks like.

It takes bravery to do what this man does for a living. His job is to lay down his life in service, whether it’s for someone with good intentions or not. This is what he does to regularly to put food on the table. Everything could potentially be taken away from him in an instant, but there he stands. It’s men like him that are going to turn the tide of bigoted attitudes towards people of color, not violent protests.

You cannot kill an ideology with hatred. An ideology in and of itself is something that’s immaterial. It exists outside of the physical world. It’s in a person’s thoughts and in a person’s heart. If you cause a person with a dangerous ideology, that doesn’t stop it from advancing in the thoughts and hearts of others. In some cases, the anger and hurt left in the wake of wars on harmful ideology can actually cause it to grow and advance, rather be silenced and defeated.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” – MLK

MLK is another modern hero, well known for refusal to engage with those that hated him with violence and hatred. What he did sparked a dream for generations to come to dream also. Hand in hand, putting to shame those that opposed him and his supporters in the past and for generations to come.

He looked into the eyes of enemies that persecuted him and saw them as men and women with lives of equal value and dignity. He envisioned a world in which we could live alongside one another sharing that brotherhood and he died for it, but his dream lives on to this day.

I believe the reverend drew from two things to anchor him in his resolve: firstly, Genesis 1:27, which establishes the equality of all men and women from the very beginning; and Matthew 22:36-40 in which Jesus answers what the greatest commands are: love for God and love for neighbor. Maybe 1 Peter 4:18 motivated him, in which Peter shares that love covers a multitude of sins. Regardless of what verses inspired him, his mark has been made.

Christians, this isn’t the first time we’ve had this kind of display rock the world. Think of the original 12 disciples. All of them less one died gruesome deaths. The only one that died a natural death lived his life scarred and outcasted. What did God do with the love they had for people that hated them? He set the entire known world on fire! No matter how many people were set ablaze alive, thrown into lion’s dens, or crucified, the spread of Christianity could NOT be contained. The very people that wanted Christianity stopped at all costs eventually became followers of Christ themselves. If you would like something in the current time that God has worked through this kind of love, He’s got you covered there too.

China, in which people are killed for being Christians, is experiencing a boom in underground churches. Under the looming threat of arrest and/or death, the numbers of professing Christians is growing instead of declining. The momentum is swinging in favor of the Christians so much that China is actually projected to become the biggest Christian nation in the world.

I’ve said all that simply to say that if you have a problem with hate groups, you not only have to call their evil to repentence and oppose it at every opportunity, but you MUST love them with equal fervor. That’s what’s going to kill hate fueled ideology. Love! Martin was right in his following in the steps of Christ. We’re only going to see a decline in open hatred by responding in open love.

If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering just how to effectively do that to people that don’t like you for whatever reason.

 

 

Refuge Bible Church

Refuge

Being a part of a church plant is both challenging and exciting. It’s much different from being a part of an established, well-oiled machine. There’s a grimey and messiness to everything. It’s hard work that requires a lot of patience and dedication. All hands are on deck. All hearts are lovingly sacrificing something. It’s truely a gritty labor of love where there are no faces in the crowd. These are some of the things I was weighing will I was going to make the transition to Refuge or not.

“Refuge Bible Church is a church family of Jesus’ disciples throughout the Metro Indianapolis area. We believe that Jesus is making all things new, and it is our desire to be a part of that redemptive mission.

Whether you are an atheist, agnostic, spiritual skeptic, doubter, curious about Christianity, or a committed follower of Christ you are not only welcome here but wanted. We strive to be an authentic community of faith, meaning that it’s OK to express doubts, struggle with faith, and that we will encourage each other to seek Jesus.

Jesus knew that we are all sojourners and asking questions and searching for fulfillment— that we are thirsty. He said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38)”

— From the website.

The catholic (universal) church has one mission: to make disciples. Various sects of the body accomplish certain tasks more effectively than others. Various visions are casted with varying levels of emphasis to accomplish The Great Commission. What I can see Refuge doing well at is authenticity, which is what makes this an exciting church to be a part of.

A naked culture is being cultivated here. It’s creating an environment where people are free to cast off the masks they’ve been conditioned to wear and just be free to show themselves for who they are: sinners in need of grace. In this church, we intend to learn to love one another well when not only when things are well, but when sin brings forth strife and struggle. Sanctification is a lifelong process. Life doesn’t become a neat little package where nothing goes wrong just because you’re a Christian, and we’re striving to acknowledge that fact and contend for the faith together.

With all the work that’s ahead, the most exciting thing to me is inviting people in to be a part of our family and seeing what it’s like to be loved in this way. There’s a deep longing in the hearts of man to be truly seen and loved for who we are. It sounds wonderful to say it’s possible. It’s comforting to share memes that offer up the idea of something like this. But, none of that is as rewarding as actually toiling for that alongside people that are on the same mission.

Refuge Bible is going to start meeting weekly starting this Sunday. This is for those of you curious about why I would leave an established church that I love. This is for those of you curious about what kind of church I’m a part of and what kind of church I’d reccomend to those that long to be in deeper community. Come and see!

There are two ways to join us: One is on Thursday night for food, fellowship, prayer and study. If you’re skeptical about going to a worship service and you’d like to meet people in a more casual environment, this one’s for you. We break bread in one another’s homes for this! For the rest of you, there is that invitation, and there’s also Sunday morning worship at 10:30.

If you’re looking for a church home, won’t you come and see what this is all about? Come and see what the beauty in the messiness of being seen is like. Let us learn together what it means to love one another as Christ loves the church.

Love Your Pastor!

How’s your pastor doing? What’s he struggling with? How is family doing? Is he loving his wife and kids well? Is his health okay? Does he have people he can confide in? Does he have consistent accountability to help sharpen in the areas of dullness and encourage in the areas of strength? Where are the messages he’s preaching coming from? How much is he wrestling with what he’s preaching about? These are all great questions to ask your pastor. Let him know that you love him!

Think about it. Whether the congregation you’re a part of is big or small, your pastor is making a lot of sacrifices (or he should be!!) The pastors I’m thinking of at least are always meeting with people. They’re counseling people, encouraging people, helping to teach others to lead, overseeing the direction of the church, and serving every which way. These men freely give so much of their lives away. Are we letting them know that they’re loved and appreciated for using the gifts God has given in them in the way they do?

It’s a good idea to make it a practice to give your pastor some encouragement when the time allows. I say this because of an article like this one I read a couple years ago. I couldn’t stomache the idea of losing someone I love like that without letting them know that they are loved and that I want the best for him and his family.

Here are a few things I would love to pull my pastor aside to share, for even just five minutes if that’s all that I had to work with:

  1. Tell him how you were encouraged or challenged by his preaching.
  2. Be affectionate. Tell him that you love him. Hug him. Pray for him.
  3. Tell him what he does well and how it helps you to process things.

And for goodness sake, guys and gals….. Please, PLEASE… It’s alright to have a conflicting view with something said or done, but be considerate. The time leading up to a worship service or the time immediately following it IS NOT a good time for negative criticism. Set up a time where the two of you can meet privately and discuss whatever the issue is. These men are already overly critical of their own prayers, the way they preach their own sermons, and whatever their shortcomings may be as it is. It’s not loving to make things more stressful for them at the time immediately before or after participating in worship, is it?

Lastly, be sure to thank his wife for her sacrifices as well. If this article is something that’s commonplace, she can be feeling isolated even though she’s surrounded by loving people.

I can’t stress enough how much better off the congregation is when the pastor is well loved. With the right encouragement, you get better preaching. With the right accountability, his family will have a better husband, father, and so on. You may even find a way to serve alongside him that stregthens the bond that you have and contributes to the overall health of the church.

I’ve shared some things I do commonly, but my thoughts aren’t the come all, end all. What ways can you think of to better love your pastor and his family? Be spontaneous and creative! Let us think of ways we can love one another as Jesus does.

Read more: The folks over at Desiring God have something to say about this too.

 

One More Light

A week ago, the news broke that Chester Bennington committed suicide. This tragic loss was a total blindside. Family, bandmates, friends, and fans alike were all taken aback by this. Why did this happen all of a sudden again? When he decided to take his own life, what did the lyrics to the newly released song “One More Light” mean to him?

If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well, I do

Ironically, this particular performance of the song was dedicated to Chris Cornell, who also committed suicide in similar fashion. This is sadly not unusual in the limelight. We see many stars living in a whirlwind of substance abuse, fortune, and fame. In recent years, we’ve seen the two aforementioned men, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Wayne Static, Robin Williams, Kurt Cobain, Lucy Gordon, Chris Benoit, Aaron Hernandez, it goes on and on. Meanwhile, there are people that are still living in a way that’ll likely bring about another young death.

If I had a chance to ask any of them one question, it would be this: what did you lack? Certainly, in this most recent tragedy, it wasn’t for lack of money. He just bought a two million dollar home before he took his life. Was it for lack of love? Certainly not. The home he bought has enough rooms to accomdate his wife and six children. Was he seeking some other companionship? The shock and grief shown by people that he’s friends with, people that’s he’s made music with, and people he’s toured with all indicate that Chester had someone to turn to in time of need. He had wife, six children, bandmates, and a legion of fans. This man did not lack love or adoration.

I read an article the day of his passing that blamed the death on the fans. Many of his own fans were harshly critical of Linkin Park’s new material. There was some negative press about the album as well. To coincide with this, there was an incident where plastic was thrown at the band during a performance of a song from the new album. The article suggests it was pressure and criticism from fans that drove him to do what he did, which I scoffed at. But, what if I was wrong to react that way? What if that did have something to do with it?

In “Free From It All” Lecrae raps “You live for their acceptance, you die from their rejection” when talking about an artists’ relationship with fans. What if that actually did weight heavy on Chester? His mistake would have been placing his identity in fallible humanity, which would not justify pointing the finger at his fans.

Ecclesiastes is playing right before our eyes over and over again. With all the money, all the fame, all the love, and all the pleasures this life could possibly offer, people still are not happy. They’re still committing heinous crimes. They’re still taking their own lives. Until we realize that this is not something we can throw money at and attempt to medicate, this is just going to keep happening. What good is at for a man to gain the whole world and still lose his soul?

Nail in my hand
From my creator
You gave me life
Now show me how to live

 

Made to Suffer

 

What would you say to someone that asked you where God was when they suffered a traumatic loss or some sort of violent tragedy? How would you show a reverent love for God and compassion for your grieving neighbor? How would you support what you’re saying with what God has revealed to Himself about us? This commenter disgracefully shows us how to disregard love, scripture, and compassion in one fatal fell swoop (S/N: reformed Christians that are young in their faith don’t seem to have a clue what compassion, grace, or sympathy are. It’s a serious problem, y’all. I digress….)

So, where was God? I immediately think of John 11:35, the shortest verse in the bible, “Jesus wept”. Jesus was weeping in this moment due to the passing of his friend, Lazarus. Isaiah 53, written roughly 700 years before Jesus entered creation, predicts Him in His humanity as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. His own family thought Him a madman, He had no home to rest His head, those closest to Him all abandoned Him when He needed them the most, and the people of own tribe were constantly plotting to have Him murdered. Jesus was witness to much disease and death, and also to the oppression of the tax collecting Jews and Romans.

The notion that God does not understand our pain is off the mark. Jesus felt it firsthand. It was so bad near the end of His life, that He got hematidrosis, a very rare condition where humans sweat blood. All the way back then, God was with us in the form of Jesus, entering into our suffering and showing love and compassion for us when we had none for Him.

So, is God not all powerful? Could He not stop the murderer, rapist, sexual molester, or other heinous criminal? Yes, God could stop all of that. We long for the day when all of the pain and suffering of the world is finally put to death itself. This is where Jesus in His divinity steps in, because there does indeed come a reckoning for sin. The debt owed for that sin is death (Genesis 2:17 / Romans 6:23). All of us fall short of God’s righteousness in some way, and because of the chasm it creates, we don’t have peace with God. In short, we all deserve the death penalty. None of us has offered God, who lacks nothing, something to deserve the blessing of life or the comforts of it. If God again wiped the world clean of all of us, it would still be justice, but He instead shows grace.

What is God doing about all this pain if He has the power to stop it and understands how it feels? God is 2,000 years ago entering His creation as the man, Jesus Christ and living the perfect life and offering up the perfect sacrifice, which was His own life. God is rescuing the rebels, the very people who hate Him and love sin, and reeling them in to be His hands and feet, the very ambassadors of the message of reconciliation with God. God is showing us that there will be justice and that our pain is not in vain.

Paul, a man who was at the execution of the first Christian martyr was used as a prime example of this. This man went from persecuting and killing Christians to writing the vast majority of the New Testament. That’s what Jesus is doing with and through the rebels. Paul, along with all the other apostles lived incredibly difficult lives. All but one faced execution, and yet they still went on empowered by what Christ has done in them and is still doing in the world now.

To anyone that would ask me where I think God is in their suffering, I say let me grieve for you and with you in your sorrow. Let me be there for you and try to comfort you. Let me attempt to meet you in your pain the way Christ came and met us in our pain all those years ago. Let’s not pretend there are simple answers and we should just smile through our sorrows, denying the limits of our humanity. Jesus wept in his Humanity, but in power, made a way for peace, justice, and restoration. He’s still doing that today.

This is but an overview: many that are wiser and more mature have already said a lot more than I have, but here are a few recommendations:

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
Where is God When it Hurts? by Philip Yancey
Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller

If you have five minutes, watch this:

 

If you have an hour, watch this:

Developing a Theology of Worship

 

This is for Jacob Ross and all those that appreciated my contributions to worship during my tenure at Midtown. A lot of thought and work went into what I did, and much of it was inspired by Phil Kirk. Of anyone I’ve ever discussed worship music with, I’ve found that my taste is the closest to his. Not only that, he introduced me to a lot of music I may never have heard otherwise.

Starting out, I played the role of Midtown’s equivalent of K-Love. I wasn’t familiar with much contemporary worship music and I had no idea how to go about selecting songs for the intermission or post-service. I just played whatever was popular at the time, which was pretty boring for me, and probably for everyone else too. Luckily for me, I got to sit in on a discussion about how Phil chooses worship music and how he narrows the song bank down weekly for the service. His thoughtful and meticulous approach inspired me to explore the world of worship music more.

In the beginning, a lot of things I tried fell flat. I would sit behind the board and watch to see how people would react to the music and they seemed bored or indifferent. If it was really bad, I had a certain someone in my ear to tell me about it, which helped a lot in the refining process too. Over the next few months, I began to experiment with the sounds of different genres and artists, and the results were hit or miss. I was seeing some progress, at least. Things wouldn’t take a turn for the better until I had a dream that had a song in it that bores me to tears.

The song in question is “10,000 Reasons”. I’ve always found the song really boring and it just aches my soul how popular it is in Christian circles. Having a dream about it changed the way I went about doing everything. I wanted to incorporate the song into what I do since other people like it, but there was no way I’d volunatarily suffer through it weekly. That’s when it dawned on me: Spotify has made many different versions of popular worship music available to me! I went on a search for a version of that song that I could tolerate and I stumbled across Christafari.

I found that not only did they have a version of the song that I actually like, they had versions of other popular songs that were being incorporated into worship every week. I tried it out to see if the congregation would like it, and it was a hit! People loved it! That Sunday, a lot of people even requested that I play nothing but them for the service. It was then that I hit my stride.

That week, I pillaged through Spotify playlists for variations of songs incorporated into worship regularly and I began playing them. From there, the reactions became a lot more positive. People began to approach me every week asking about the different artists and songs I chose, and that motivated me to keep pursuing that new approach.

Along the way, I learned a lot about traditional hymns and contemporary worship. I learned about psalmody and the what the discussions were about all those things. From there, I got even better. I was able to find songs of different eras that appealed to different members of the congregation, and the effort resonated with people. I was engaged by different people telling me stories of growing up listening to different songs during worship. It helped them to feel that their presence there was noticed. That also altered my course a little bit.

In the end, I learned to think on my feet and take a lot of things into account. Who was leading worship and what are they like stylistically? What was the sermon topic that day? Is there something in my song bank that’s congruent with both of those things? It was important to me to help create a cohesive worship experience every Sunday, and those are things I thought about. Once in a while, a song would even be mentioned by name within the sermon itself, so of course I’d have to scramble to find it to play immediately following the doxology.

I’ll give an example of what I did the last Sunday I was there. The sermon was about being content in Christ despite our circumstances, based on a text out of Philippians. In that we see Paul suffering a lot, but still having the peace of Christ. The worship leader on that day has a sound similar to Shane & Shane, so I had to keep that in mind too. I hastily threw together a playlist in my head as Corey prepared to give the benediction and followed with songs that tie together the message and worship pretty nicely if I do say so myself, lol:

Sovereign Grace Music – To Live is Christ
The Modern Post – It’s Not Enough
Jimmy Needham – It is Well
Dream Theater – The Bigger Picture

If I had more time to think this through, I would have played “Fix My Eyes” by King’s Kaliedoscope, but I didn’t think of that until I had already left. A lot of my thinking is on the fly for better or worse.

In closing, the last song I played for the last two months before shutting everything done was “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas. I always played that song last as a way to remind whoever else was left and myself that despite whatever struggle we were going to face throughout the day, peace is promised to us. There is no circumstance or sin too big for our God, so we’re free to lay our weary heads on Him.

(Note: I always thought it’s fine to play songs that aren’t exactly Christ centered like that at the VERY end, when most of the congregation is there. Though the songs have a Christian message, I wouldn’t want to distract people from their worship experience with music that doesn’t directly exalt Christ.)

Here’s the playlist, which will probably always be a work in progress, minus a few songs I only play for special occasions (Easter, Christmas, etc).

So, there you have it. A journey through my thought process behind the music that made people love what was different about me being behind the board. It didn’t happen overnight.  The current playlist is the fifth build (or something like that). At the beginning, a lot of things I tried didn’t work. Some of those same things that didn’t work then cause people’s faces to light up now because they know to expect something a little different from me. Thanks for challenging me to learn more and encouraging me when I was doing things that resonated within you all! There is still more to come. 🙂

Now that I’ve finally written all that, I need to read Justin’s parting gift to me: a book called “Theology of Worship”. I’m sure after reading that, I’ll end up again revising the way I do things. Thanks again, guys!!

We Are Midtown

When this is posted, I’ll be visiting Midtown Church for the last time as a regular attender. It’s going to be a very difficult and bittersweet day for me. I can’t imagine the emotions I’ll be feeling. I’m leaving a body of believers who have loved, encouraged, strengthened, and embraced me in ways I haven’t been able to accept up until my first visit. I have learned and grown a lot in the past two and a half years. The next steps I’m taking wouldn’t be without the experience I had there.

I remember my first visit very clearly. All I wanted was to have temporary fellowship with other Christians. I had plans to join another church I already had an existing relationship with, but it wasn’t possible at the time. I was just passing through, and I made it clearly known to anyone that approached me. I didn’t tell anyone, but I wasn’t even going to return a second Sunday. Their love for me, a stranger, changed my mind and my heart.

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I joined the congregation for the first time on December 7th, 2014. It was a dark season for me, which was one of the many reasons I had for never intending to remain there long enough to be known. Christmas was getting ever so nearer and things were just getting worse inside of me because of it. I just wanted it all to be over with so that the reminders of my struggles at that point would disappear. I was alone and approaching despair. The sooner Christmas could be over, the better I’d feel about the isolation I was in at the time. I was ready to force it to be over, but that’s when I got a message that changed everything.

Christmas Eve came and I was on the verge of despair. “I’ll just sleep through this”, I thought. I had a bottle of Captain Morgan on hand ready to knock myself out with. The second I opened the bottle, I got a private message on Facebook. To my surprise, it was from Corey Smith, the pastor at Midtown. He asked me for my phone number so he could give it to someone he had introduced me to. I gave it to him not thinking anything of it and I went on with my uneventful night. I wouldn’t return to that bottle again until the next day.

When I woke up Christmas Day, I contemplated all the things I could possibly do with other people before deciding I’d rather be in my shell. I went to that bottle and picked it up again, but I was interrupted by another message. This one was an invitation to join a family from the church for dinner. Strangely for me at the time, I felt compelled to accept the offer. With a sigh of exhaustion I asked aloud “You really don’t want me to do this, do you?”. I ended up shelving that bottle again that night and instead went to have dinner.

They were so gracious to me. So gracious, I was internally bewildered. I didn’t know how to respond to strangers inviting me into their home and treating me like family. I did not understand this kind of embrace. There I was coping with what felt like a life long war with acceptance issues while I was sharing a meal with them and celebrating the birth of Christ.

My plan failed. I wanted to be a ghost, but how could I after experiencing that? It took Midtown only two weeks to penetrate my heart. The love there enticed me to stay, so I did. Even more shocking to me, this kind of affection was not limited to just that family. Many times over, I was invited to be a part of fellowship people were having in their homes for Christ’s name sake. I was welcomed to do so much with so many that I never really had the chance to take it all on. Slowly, but surely, I was beginning to understand why this church had such a different air about it.

“By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. – John 13:35

It would take some time for me to set my pride aside enough to accept that this truth was being revealed to me right before my eyes. In my habit of returning to my isolation, I got myself into a lot of trouble. I caused much grief to people that care for me and would have been there if I allowed them. My selfishness could have ruined my life, or worse yet, the lives of some innocent strangers. It all happened because I refused to be truly seen.

The first chance I got to share my experience with Corey, I did. He preached about walking in the light that Sunday. It was fitting that I confessed my sin to anyone that would hear me that day. In turn, some secret sins were confessed to me. It was then that I was truly a part of the body. I was seen and I was allowed to see some unpleasant sides of people that I was growing to love more and more. We confided in one another and trusted one another. It was intimacy I never thought possible, but I knew it wasn’t enough. I had to continue to push myself. I had to serve this church.

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It was then I was given the opportunity to run the soundboard, which was a huge blessing for me. It was behind that board that my love for music, my desire to serve, and being a witness to the love that’s at Midtown all came together. Sometimes, I would find myself still sitting behind that board an hour after the services were over just watching people. I would watch people I don’t even know show their affections for their friends and family, I would marvel at it. It made me feel so blessed to be a part of the church.

There’s no way I could end this without saying just how much fun it was to entertain the congregation. I would play some songs just to see how people would react (which thankfully was positively that vast majority of the time). From Johnny Cash reading the gospel to John Petrucci shredding it up in a song about faith, I kept things pretty unpredictable and diverse. I made it a point to choose songs that would tie into the day’s sermon if I was quick witted enough to figure something out too.

There were lots of tedious little things going through my mind that influenced what was being played.. nevertheless, what kept me motivated to keep getting better were those special reactions I would get sometimes. Some people would sing, some would dance, some would come to the board to ask me about the artists I was playing (especially Christafari!). Every weekend was truly a blessing to be part of that atmosphere. It helped me to understand what it means to have something “make your heart glad”. Alas, after being a regular for two and a half years and serving for roughly two of them, my time is coming to a close.

People of Midtown, your for love not only for one another, but the world around you is nothing short of astonishing. I truly believe the hand of God is on you and empowering this love to make a great change to anyone exposed to it. Without God using you in this way, I still would not be able to accept what it is to truly be a part of the body of Christ. That is what I wish to take with me on my walk from here on.

This isn’t goodbye by any means. There’s no such thing as such for us Christians. One way or the other, we’ll have fellowship again. Until then, thank you.