Protests and Prayer

I was asked for my input on a solution to the problems discussed in my most recent post. Here’s what I came up with:

How do we deal with this? I’ve taken all the free time I’ve had since venting my frustrations about this dialogue to come up with a solution to the problems we face. My value of my own views or opinions isn’t high enough for me to be under the delusion that things would change for the better if people would just do things my way or that I have all the answers. What I do know this: there has been a serious lack of compassion for people that are hurting. That’s what prompted me to speak up.

I look at all the bickering in response to news articles and opinion pieces and I see people that want to be right and to give the right answers, which is understandable, but in that they are forgetting the pain some people are facing because of this issue. In interacting with other conservatives, I was met with a pretty nasty backlash for even mentioning a negative experience I’ve had and why it’s important to me that someone with a public voice would take a stand (or a knee). It was made clear to me that many people want to pretend this isn’t an issue and that I should just keep my trap shut.

This message to be quiet wasn’t limited to me. The gripe with the BLM movement is that there is a lot of violence involved with the group and it isn’t being properly addressed by it’s advocates. That’s fair. That’s why I can’t support them myself. Colin took a knee and people are in an uproar about that. How peaceful and quiet can you get? The message was perpetuated: shut up and stop talking about this. Are we going to keep talking about how this message is being communicated or are we finally going to address the problem people are trying to express? We have to open our hearts to honest and tender discussion.

As Christians, we need to be able to differentiate cold truth from warm truth (terminology I just made up to express what I’m feeling, so bare with me). A cold truth is responding to the problem with statistics and bringing up other issues. Yes, black on black crime is a problem. Yes, fatherlessness in the black community is a problem. Yes, there are more black babies being killed at the hands of Planned Parenthood than there are being born. Is that really something you want to bring into the conversation with someone that’s already angry, fearful, paranoid, or consumed with pain?

Cold truth just incites more anger. Not only are people led to believe that white conservatives that spout this information just don’t care about them, but things are brought to their minds that make them more angry or fearful or whatever they were feeling before the exchange. There is no compassion or sympathy in cold truth. It just makes things worse.

What people need is a warm truth. They need people to come along side them and mourn injustice with them. As Christians, we remind each other of the gospel and of our identities as brothers and sisters. We have to be willing to do the hard work of having face to face uncomfortable conversations with people we disagree with and be willing to love them. We don’t have to agree with another person’s opinions on any given matter to show them love when they’re weeping. We need to be able to show each other a warm, personal love because love covers a multitude of sins, and in that multitude includes racism.

Colin is not a Christian. Unfortunately, the influential Christian voices have only reacted to situations like this instead of taking the lead and starting the conversations. Lots of people that are not Christians have been vocal about this, but they’re doing it in a worldly way (Ice Cube, Ice T, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Nas, and many others). These people have been publicly talking about racial injustice for nearly three decades and conservative America is just now kinda sorta acknowledging that there *might* be a problem. Christians with the capability to speak into the issues need to do it first and do it with the gospel.  We as the church can’t complain about people that aren’t believers behaving (or protesting) like nonbelievers when we’re not actively engaging the issues they’re tackling head on. I wonder how differently the reaction would’ve been if a prominent Christian got on both knees in front of this flag instead of a nonbeliever on one.

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Bastard II

Around 10 years ago, I penned something I called “Bastard”. It was about the desperation I felt about the longing for a home I couldn’t seem to find no matter how far I traveled. It resonated with a lot of people. To this day, it’s the second most popular thing I’ve ever written, behind only the one about how I ended up in jail and why. Here we are a decade later. I have sense found my home, but my inherited family makes me feel like I’m still on that isolated island.

I’m a reformed Christian that’s black and conservative with some theonomic leanings. That makes me an oddity, especially when the environment I grew up in comes into play. Frankly put, all the black people that have a similar view that I have (both of them), I met online. So, that’s fine. With blacks and whites alike, there are differences that are not issues of salvation. I am okay with that. What makes me feel like the bastard child now has nothing to do with a difference of opinion, but of apathy. You white evangelicals (I used that broadly as I consider my white brothers and sisters that love me, support me, and challenge my positions), I really don’t feel like you love me.

I take a look at this fiasco surrounding Colin Kaepernick in amazement at how cold you are. He’s bringing attention to injustice persons of color experience and you make it about a flag. Honoring a song and a flag is more important to you than a person made in God’s image just like you. If it’s not, then why do you keep acting as if he’s committing treason against America? Why do you support Trump saying he should be fired or share posts that portray that in a positive light? Why do you not speak out against it if you don’t feel that way.

The answer is simple: you don’t care. You don’t care how many bodies are dropping in those streets. You don’t care about the open tears black mothers have been openly weeping in public for years upon years. You. Don’t. Care. What’s it going to take for you to weep with those that weep (Romans 12)? How many of us have to die on camera before you show a shred of compassion? I wonder if I’ll see it in my lifetime. As of right now, there’s not a lot of white family I’d feel comfortable talking to about this, and that’s not the way it should be.

You Christians who love your pledge so much: this flag is flying over the abortion mill where 60,000,000+ have perished. It’s flying over the courts that sanctioned the suits against the Christians that refused to violate their consciences. It flies over the homes and establishments over the most vile, disgusting, and racist people. Considering the principles this country was intended to be built on, that’s a disgrace to the flag .. but more importantly, this is against the law of the One who gave man his dignity and value.

You keep making this about a worthless piece of cloth that will pass away when there are things happening that dishonor God. Where is your loyalty? Is it with God? Or is it with God AND the flag? This might come as a shock to you, but America dishonors God DAILY. Those things DO NOT go hand in hand.

I’m sure someone is going to falsely accuse me of being a cop hater or something that can’t be proven. I’m okay with that. I’ve seen God open the eyes of people that have been blind to challenges that minorities face and that’s what gives me hope. They have embraced me and shown me love (shout out to YOU Midtown Church!) when they have seen my wounds and the aching of my heart when these things arise.

So I’ll end with asking you this: what am I supposed to say when white liberals say that you’re a racist? I know a good majority are not, but this apathy is impossible to defend. What am I supposed to say when time and time again, I see some secondary issue taking prominience over the life of someone made in God’s image? At the end of the day, I just wish I could feel like my white brothers and sisters gave a damn about any of this pain and that I could freely say that. It seems to me like they’d rather win an argument than show someone that’s in pain some compassion.

Then I turn around and look at the way some of my black brothers and sisters are addressing things and I can’t co-sign it because of methods that don’t honor God. In some sense, I guess I’m still a bastard.

 

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.

 

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.