October 13, 2010

Altar: True Worship

I preached again, this time with Pastor Will Kallhoff, who did part 1 and I did part 2 on a sermon about worship. I thought it turned out really well, people responded well. When you listen, one thing to know: when people start laughing, it's because a sword was pulled out of its sheath. That is all.

August 16, 2010

Another Sermon

I preached another sermon and thought it was worth putting up here. The video of the sermon itself isn't that exciting, but the video before the sermon is somewhat important - so video first, then sermon audio. Enjoy!

April 20, 2010

Responding to Greatness

What does it mean to lead worship? How is it different than performing?

I was confronted with questions like this tonight at a meeting, and they're good questions. I also did a terrible job of answering them on the spot, which is sort of sad since I should be able to talk about this stuff easily - it's sort of my job. Now, obviously on some level it depends on how you define the various words in question, particularly "worship" and "perform" but lots of people think they're very clear about what those words mean and think everyone else agrees with them. So it's worth exploring the questions if just to finally agree on what the words mean.

We started thinking about this in youth group recently: what is worship? What does it mean to worship someone or something? The definition we came to was this: to worship is to acknowledge something's greatness and to respond to it. It's a great definition because it's both simple and concise. It's also modestly disturbing because it means we could potentially be worshipping a lot of things that maybe don't deserve it.

Worship is in the attitude and behaviors of a person. As someone whose job it is to lead others in worship, I have to start right at the beginning and say that my job is, by definition, impossible if I think that leading means it is my sole responsibility if someone does or does not worship God. When it comes down to it, a person cannot be forced or even coerced into worship; they have to respond freely for themselves. If they were coerced, it's not worship. If they were forced, it's still not worship. Now, I can be very distracting in many ways (I can make it all about me, which distracts, I can be really bad at what I do, I can make too many changes, I can keep everything too the same ... the list is long), but it will always come down to a decision, a choice of behavior made by the individual.

Performance, in Christian circles, is often thought of as the polar opposite, the Joker to worship's Batman. Performance is, in this vein of thinking, trying to get others to acknowlege MY greatness and respond. And by that definition, I have no problem saying that I'd prefer never to perform again. If all we're on about is ourselves, then we've missed the point of the gospel entirely. And yet it's a constant temptation; I want others to say "wow, Chris, you're so great because that service rocked my world" or "Chris, you make my life complete when you sing every sunday." Nobody's ever actually said those things, really, but I'd be lying if I said I'd never wished they would. I'm weak that way. But it's important that I catch that before it goes too far; it's one thing to desire excellence, it's quite another to be excellent for the purposese of being acknowledged. The compliments that help me the most?
Them: "Chris, I can't believe I met God like that today, He talked with me today and it was awesome!"
Me: "Sweet. What did you think of the band?"
Them: "What band?"
It's really not about us, it's about God's glory, it's about acknowledging how incredible God has been and continues to be in our lives and then responding accordingly. But I'm glad God asks us to be a part of it.

But let's take it a little farther because there is still the issue that performers are among us, and often enough, we're the ones guilty of trying to call attention to ourselves. The grace of it all? It is still possible to worship God in a place where those who say they're leading are actually performing. See, others can HELP you worship, but they cannot worship FOR you. It used to be, back in the day, that the priests were to be the representative of the people, to present the sacrifice of the people to God for them, but when Jesus came that changed. Now, we are to present ourselves as transformed by the gospel as a spiritual act of worship, we are to be imitators of God, we are to love others as we love ourselves ... we are to love God with all of our beings. Worship happens corporately, but only because lots of individuals agree together about He who is being worshipped. So when I'm in a place where others are trying to call attention to themselves, it might be harder, but I still need to acknowledge God and then respond; it's still on ME to be in a place of worship, even in spite of others.

As a worship pastor (or more properly, a creative arts pastor, one who strives to lead others in worship through artistic endeavors), it is both a humbling responsibility and a frustrating exercise. On the one hand, everything I do is to be an example for others to follow, and yet it does not guarentee that they will ever truly worship. Flip it around, and I can be doing my absolute worst and others may still worship God simply because they love Him so much that nothing I do can distract them. Sometimes I get frustrated because it makes me feel sort of redundant, but then I remember, God still wants me here, God still wants my help leading others.

March 2, 2010


We Americans are obsessed with control. Some churches push the value of excellence; many want to plan ahead not becaue it is pleasing to God to do one's best, but because it gives them some assurance of their control over the outcome. A whole movement of church growth was built around this concept, called the "seeker-sensitive church." Other churches are petrified of change; for them, this means keeping everything the same, week to week, month to month, year after year. We can control what we know, and so we introduce no new ideas, no new music or art, and consequently no new congregants.

This is not to say that excellence is a bad value - God does ask for our everything, from hearts to minds to strengths (it actually does please God when we do our best) - but to say that it needs to balance with other values such as flexibility, compassion, and understanding. Nor is this to say we should change just for the sake of change - that would be a terrible use of resources and time, and would likely hurt many in its pursuit of novelty over tradition. It is a call to intentionality, for excellence with purpose and change with direction and design. Jesus called his disciples out of their cultures and comfort zones for a purpose, a mission, a grand design.

Subsequently - and I think, because of Jesus' example - Historic Christianity has challenged and continues to challenge every culture in some fashion. For the Greeks and Romans it challenged pantheism and emperor-worship; for the Jews it challenged notions of messiah and Torah; for the African it challenges notions of marriage and of the supernatural; for Polynesians it challenges notions of the "Big Man" and materialism; for Americans and most Westerners, it challenges notions of control, individualsm, and consumerism. No culture is left unchanged in the wake of true Christianity, a religion that confronts a culture's demons at their source. But so too is no culture left empty when confronted with Jesus, who makes the culture more whole, more complete, more alive than it had been. Jesus does not ask us to obliterate a culture, nor does he ask us to become one with it. Rather, we must always keep the two in tension with one another; we must not allow our own cultural prejudice and bias to contort the free expression of Jesus' spirit manifested in another culture. But this does not mean we have nothing to say to it; rather, the global, multiethnic, transnational church is to keep itself accountable, each culture challenging and subverting notions of superiority over others. Jesus liberates culture to be more full, more complete, more whole than it could have possibly been without Him. The Romans were freed to a life focused on the One True God, the Africans liberated to a life without fear of the darkness, and Americans emancipated to a life surrendered to the Will of God, serving others instead of themselves.

March 1, 2010


It's amazing how buildings can be symbols. In St. Gallen, Switzerland, there is a Catholic church building dating back somewhere between six and eight hundred years ago, and it stands as a symbol for Western Christianity today.

In its time, it was an awesome sight: painted ceilings soar above intricate baroque latticework in copper and bronze. It was meant to inspire awe, for the congregant to walk in and immediately fall to his knees in awe of God and of the Church, and in so doing, inspire the heathen to convert.

They didn't do "seeker-sensitive" back then.

The confessionals - of which there are many - each depict a different scene - Christ walking on water, the martyrdom of Stephen, and others. The altar stands separated from the congregation by several ornate wooden railings; a golden cross stands at the front, and above it, three symbols depicting the Trinity; in the back, a massive pipe organ. All is the finest that can be had, crafted by the best artisans and architects, spared no expense. It would have shone with unmatched brilliance when the light hit the windows, making the inside almost glow as a choir sang the Gloria or the Agnus Dei before the pious masses.

Today it's a tourist attraction.

It was restored a few years ago, but only to a point; what was once copper and bronze is now green and oxidized, the gold and the paintings faded, the pews worn and empty. Sometimes the acoustics are used for orchestral or choral concerts, at which point a few people show up to listen. The rest of the time, tourists come in groups and admire the fine artistry, gawk at the organ, sit in the wooden pews, take pictures, make light conversation about the paintings, and take pictures of the altar. And then they leave, unchanged, uninspired, untouched.

It speaks so well to where we find ourselves. An empty building, forgotten except by a few tourists and its own meager congregation, an icon of glory days passed, of lost power and of waning influence. Europeans look elsewhere for their spirituality now, to science and Buddhism and New Age and - for a growing number - to Islam.

It's because of Church buildings like this that such a change began. The altar, for example, is separate from the congregation, peasants, who were deemed unclean and ineligible for communion. The masses were expected to come to church because - so far as they knew - their only option for a life better than their own was in the hands of those in power, and those in power took their money and their goods to pour into large buildings and to make themselves comfortable.

It is at this point that I run into conflicted feelings. There were obviously many who abused their power, but there were a few - some of the artisans, a few priests and bishops, many monks, and perhaps even a pope or two who were not in it for themselves, who genuinely believed they were living as Christ commanded. They poured their time into their congregations and into creating the artistic masterpieces that now sit in our cities, victims of entropy. They did what they could in a corrupt system (though most didn't challenge that system). But eventually, the people had enough and stopped going when other voices gave them a better option.

What do we do with this picture of a building, a masterpiece of art that is at once a historic marvel and contains many tragic stories? Do we chalk it up to the heathens, to those who chose to leave because they stopped believing (did they ever start), and call upon them to repent and return to the cathedral? Do we call it a failed experiment and abandon it to history and to the concerts and the tourists? How do we learn from this? How do we at once celebrate those that were truly faithful (if somewhat misguided by their culture) and avoid the pitfalls of a bureaucratized institution that would take the resources of the poor (and the rich, yes) to build a mere building when many were without food? Can art be created without exploiting others? Do we really need the building? If not in this massive all-but-abandoned structure,






January 29, 2010

Family of Four

Caedmon Jace Logan, born 1-29-10 at 4:09am, weighed in at 8 lbs 9 oz. He's got his daddy's height and his momma's pouty lip; the girls are and forever will be going wild because of that. Liz is doing really well after being induced and having a subsequent 25 hours of labor. She's gotten sleep, I have not (but am looking forward to bedtime). Thanks to everyone who was praying for us, God listened; when it seemed that we'd be inducing for two more full days, she suddenly went into active labor and dialated 7cm in the span of an hour. Caedmon was born not too long after, just a few hours - 45 minutes of pushing (very short).

His name is Gaelic; "Caedmon", the warrior, and "Jace", derivative of "Jason", healer. Warrior-healer. Liz calls him CJ. We pray he lives up to his name.

Pictures via Flickr

January 16, 2010

Music and Mission, part II: Incarnation

I was perusing my files today to filter out the old stuff and noticed an incomplete post for a series I started a while back. If you're interested in the topic, here are links to the first few posts from the series:

Part 1a
Part 1b

And now, we continue the story. Thanks for reading ...

Once I started thinking like this, it occurred to me that perhaps I'd been thinking in all the wrong ways about worship arts. Maybe instead of treating worship as another duty on Sunday, I could use that service as a means to teach the congregation about being missionaries. Maybe, as Neil Cole writes, it was about lowering the bar on church and raising the bar on discipleship. The more I studied, the less I saw wrong with having paid worship staff, so long as they used their positions as pastoral positions. If a church's worship service was less about trying to convince people who are not there why they should be Christians and more about sending the Christians who ARE there to the people who don't want to be, maybe, just maybe, there could be hope for the world yet. To say it another way, I started to take issue with what some called the "attractional" model of church.

God didn't just do the same thing He'd been doing - pillars of fire, large clouds, plagues, prophets who parted the sea - he didn't stay apart from His people, but instead came down to live among them. And not just as a fully-grown adult either, God came down as the Son and spent time growing and living with the first-century Jews. Sometimes, I think, we want our missions and evangelism to look different, to be easier than that - we want to just go in assuming everybody already knows where we stand and call them to repent. That's the story we often tell with our actions, right? We sign big declarations about what we think are important issues, preach sermons about repenting, and have long conversations with each other about "the way of the world," and all the while the people who need to meet Jesus aren't involved in the conversation because it never even occurred to them that the Church might have answers to
their questions. I think if we ignored three of the four gospels, we could continue to think like that, but since we don't just have Mark, but also Matthew, Luke, and John's accounts, we can't ignore this idea of incarnation because it affects SO much of church life. We can't just isolate or even insulate ourselves from the world and then expect it to change; like Jesus, we have to invest ourselves in it, even preparing to pay a heavy price to see change - good change, positive change, godly change - happen.

Israel did this time and time again; they'd isolate themselves from the world around them or they'd use military means to make change happen, and over and over again things didn't seem to work out for them. Worse, they couldn't seem to stick to their own rules! Time and time again, God sent prophets to inform Israel of her misdeeds, of her affront to the poor, the broken, and the downtrodden. God asked Israel to be a light to the world in the midst of darkness, to show the world the way in which they could live well, the way in which they could know God. But instead, Israel continued to forsake that charge. And thus Jesus came.

If our lives are to be imitaitons of Jesus, and if our collective body of churches are the body of Christ, then it stands to reason that our worship services can fit into this story. Churches ought to begin by learning the culture around us, applying it to the way we design services, and using those services to make better disciples of the Christians and non-Christians alike who come.

(to be continued ...)

January 4, 2010


When I was a kid, my parents had this habit of taking me and my sister to a dentist every six months or so. I always wondered if he intentionally tried to fit most of his little tools into my mouth at the time just to see if he could, but by the end of the appointment he’d be satisfied that my teeth were in satisfactory health and give me a new toothbrush and a stern warning to floss better. And if it had been a really good appointment, I’d be told to walk out the door into the lobby and press a doorbell button that lit up a big sign that said “hey hey hey, no decay.” This was a really big deal to the dentists and hygienists that I would be able to press this button.


I mean, nobody expected me to get more teeth, only to keep them healthy. Our basic assumptions tend to be limited to maintenance, not expansion; we don’t expect growth, we expect things to stay just the way they are now. Obviously our experience tells us that a single person can’t actually have more teeth, but aside from that, we think it’s a silly question because we don’t like decay. We don’t like teeth that can rot and cause pain and make us eat only yogurt and applesauce. We don’t like that things break down, that they wear out, that it takes energy and effort to maintain them at their present state. In the science of thermodynamics we call this “dynamic equilibrium,” the way that it takes energy and effort and work to just keep things the way that they are instead of decaying – we call it “entropy.”

It takes an extraordinary amount of effort to keep things at dynamic equilibrium. Your body’s mitochondria, the little powerhouses of your cells, are feverishly working day and night to produce chemical energy, something called ATP, from your food. Furthermore, maintenance requires more than just energy, it also requires your cells to die on a regular basis as they wear out, and are replaced by new versions with new mitochondria and take up the call to keep being a body. When a person’s body decides to stop fighting the entropy, something called static equilibrium begins to take hold. Without all that effort, the body re-equilibrates with the environment around it and the elements begin doing their own thing. Another word for static equilibrium is “death.” When your body stops fighting the decay, it dies.

All this effort to keep one thing going.

But let’s say that my assumptions were different, that I still wanted the world to have more teeth. What would it take? Despite the limitations of my own mouth, there is a way – I could always get together with a girl (she’d have to be a cute girl if I wanted good teeth) and then make a few tiny people that could then grow their own teeth. Speaking from experience – I’ve done it twice now – I can say that it works. There are now more teeth in the world than before.

You can sleep easier tonight.

In order for growth to happen, it requires one to transcend dynamic equilibrium. Massive changes have to take effect in order to reproduce; new hormones are created, entirely new structures are built to house this new creature until it can sustain itself, great amounts of energy are spent in the making. And when at long last the day comes, there is pain and discomfort and separation. We literally cut the two apart sometimes when the growth hasn’t gone exactly according to plan. But in the end, there’s this beautiful new infant, fragile and vulnerable. And the process is still not finished; more energy is poured in, more effort is made to make muscles and bones and organs bigger, brain cells grow and fit into new patterns, and eventually, there is no longer an infant, but a fully capable, mobile adult that can make decisions, laugh, cry, and eat sushi.

God asks us to grow.

See, growth doesn’t happen when we simply try to maintain what we have. Sure, it takes a measured amount of energy to fight decay. But in reality, the amount of energy it takes to fight against decay is best spent growing bigger, in reproducing. In the end, it is in reproducing that we are able to live as a species. But when we reproduce, we cannot make the other into clones of ourselves, we must allow them to be unique, capable on their own, with their own set of gifts and talents. We don’t dictate who they are, God works with them so they can be the best they can be.

If nature is any sort of reflection of God’s intentions – and the scriptures and our tradition resonate that it is – then we are to move beyond simply maintaining ourselves. Life is not, in the end, about us, but about something bigger, more than ourselves. God’s assumptions are not our assumptions. And so our church programs have to give up on being static, because if we try to maintain them just-so in a changing world, we’re simply prolonging the inevitable move to equilibrium. When it’s about keeping it just like it always was, we’re really saying it’s all about us. But if we grow, if we reproduce and allow the children to grow up and think for themselves, we’ve begun to act out something bigger, something grander. We act in the very character of God.

Photo Update

I finally got a chance to post a few new pictures on Flickr. New house, Christmas, and lots of others of Rori. Enjoy.