April 28, 2014


"Mooooommmmmm! CJ hit me!"
"Did you talk to him about it?"
"Well ... no ..."
"Maybe you should go do that first."

It struck me as I watched this little exchange how our kids need to learn how to handle conflict from an early age. My daughter's exclamation was a product of her anxiety - she didn't want to deal with her brother at all, and would rather have some authority figure deal with him, someone who could MAKE him do what she wanted, because she had been made upset.

Mark Sayers writes that,
"In our day, anxiety has reached epidemic proportions in the west. Worry, fear, and stress define the contemporary emotional landscape. Rabbi and psychologist Edwin H. Friedman in his study of leadership argues that contrary to popular opinion, leadership is not in the possession of particular skills, traits, or personal attributes. It is primarily in the ability to command a non-anxious persona in an anxious environment."
(Mark Sayers, Facing Leviathan)
All too often, I've seen churches handle their anxiety over conflict this way too. When someone's upset about the music volume, for example, I've seen them go straight to the senior pastor or to influential board members - or even social media - instead of talking with the tech booth or the worship pastor. And what's worse, so many senior pastors enable this same behavior by trying to assuage those members themselves instead of sending those congregants back to the people with whom they actually disagree. They skip a step, as it were, in the name of efficiency. We're very passive-aggressive in the West, and would rather have someone solve our problems for us than deal with the emotional turmoil of engaging conflict directly.

Jesus spoke about conflict as though the relationship was more important than the issue. If you read his words in Matthew 18, he speaks of going directly to the person you're upset with first, not above, below, or around them. Gossip, it would seem, is not a way to handle conflict either. If we engage each other face-to-face, we can see the honest emotions of the other and may experience empathy - we enter in to the pain of the other. Jesus is saying that if we were to understand the other person's perspective, the conflict usually becomes something we work together to resolve rather than a competition to be won. We must take a posture of confession with one another.

The trouble, though, is that engaging a person in conflict face-to-face is scary because of risk; I have to open up myself to the possibility that I might be in the wrong, that the other person's motives were entirely pure and that my anger at them is unjustified. Maybe the worship pastor or tech booth have entirely good reasons to have the volume at that level (with that nice little decibel meter they keep back there), maybe my seat happens to be directly in the path of a speaker and if I'd simply move ten feet sideways, the volume would be fine. But that would mean I was wrong, and in our culture, being wrong is a really, really hard thing to admit - it produces a lot of anxiety. To be clear, it's pretty likely that in every conflict, both parties carry some of the blame (maybe the volume is legitimately too loud sometimes), and this is usually why we go straight to the authority figure or to gossip - we know we're partially responsible for the problem and don't want to be at fault.

Sometimes, people do go to each other first, and it's beautiful when it happens. I remember a conversation once with a lady from one of the churches I pastored. It was the Christmas season, and I had made a slide that said "happy holidays" on it with a cartoon nativity scene. She came into my office with a determined look on her face, and in her nicest "you've pissed me off" voice, she explains why she'd been offended by the term "happy holidays" in a church. After some questions, I discovered that she hadn't seen the nativity scene on the slide because of the old dim projector we were using. Suddenly, it all made sense and I could explain my reasoning - this was not my attempt at secularizing the service, it was merely pointing out that advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are a sequence of holidays we celebrate at that time of year. It was her turn for a lightbulb moment.

She quickly became an amazing friend, but that would never have happened if she'd talked about me behind my back or gone to the senior pastor - I would never have even known about the conflict until suddenly I was in trouble from "authority figures." One little misunderstanding could have gone another way entirely, yet people get unnecessarily dismissed from their jobs regularly from stuff like this, especially people in relational jobs like Pastors and Counsellors and Administrators, not to mention the many relationships ruined over badly-managed conflict.

It does not have to be this way.

Speaking from experience, things don't always get resolved by one conversation. On the chance that a one-on-one heart-to-heart honest conversation does not resolve the conflict (though I've found it usually does), Jesus counsels us to go engage the other party with a few other people, that the testimony of a few trusted people with evidence (not gossip to the whole church) would help convince this person of their bad choice. Don't just "let it go," Jesus says, make sure that you help them to see why this is a mistake. And, since their actions affect everyone (including you), bringing the witness of a few others to the table shows that I'm not crazy telling you this by myself. Remember, the passage in question is in the context of a loving Father who searches out a single lost sheep - clearly, God wishes a united flock, one that sticks together rather than one that is broken by conflict.

If this doesn't work, Jesus says the whole congregation needs to gently help this person see where they are wrong. This would assume the issues is important enough to bring it before a lot of other people (and I've never had or heard of a "volume of a service" issue being brought before a whole congregation). Finally, if none of this works, the congregation is to treat the offending party as a pagan or corrupt tax collector.

It begs the question though: how did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors?

We get that one wrong a lot too.

Anyway, Jesus says that we ought to do absolutely everything in our power to restore the broken bonds.

But this isn't just an internal matter. How we handle conflict inside the church not just important because of how it hurts brothers and sisters in the congregation (yes, everyone you don't like in your congregation and in others are still family). How we handle things inside the church in our own family directly impacts how we interact with those outside the church; it negatively affects our collective witness. Put another way, badly-handled conflict does not help the Kingdom come on earth. Heaven handles conflict differently than we do. If we behave like Jesus to each other inside the church - honestly, openly, but with dignity, restraint, and mercy - then we will be much more likely to treat those outside the church (or perhaps, more optimistically, "not yet a part of the church") the same way.

Mark also writes that,
"in order to influence with authority, the leader must go through a process of withdrawal. Here the leader learns to confront their own anxiety, and emotionally differentiate themselves from others and the anxious environments that they create. The leader must "return" to the toxic environment, maintaining relational connection yet remaining emotionally differentiated, and live out a posture of peace."
(Mark Sayers, Facing Leviathan)
How we handle conflict will be instrumental in leading the world to Jesus. Jesus was not a leader who led from His anxiety, He led from a place of peace and strength, and He certainly did not avoid conflict. He didn't ostracize pagans and tax collectors, He welcomed them into His inner circle. He helped them transform, both through healthy conflict management and healthy modeling of a new way of living. He washed the feet of the one who betrayed Him, and served him bread and wine.

He died and rose for them.

He redeemed them.

And so the world will know His followers by the way they love one another.

What we do in church isn't just for "in church," though we ought to use it there too. What we do inside is practice for when we are outside. We model as a Church what we practice with the World. What we sing and how we sing it isn't just for Sunday, it is to be lived out the rest of the week too.

And we can show the world that God can and does take broken things and make them whole again.

April 24, 2014


Trouble always comes. No matter how hard we try to plan around it, to avoid it, to run from it, our circumstances will not go as we had wanted them to. What matters, then, is what we do with it - how we live within it. We can spend our time laying blame for our suffering - this person or people have wronged me - but that is playing the victim, and playing the victim is no way to live. We can blame God, but God is always with us, the One who will never abandon us, who will even pursue us when we run away. No, playing the victim only damages us further; though we may have been wronged, we may have been hurt by someone else, playing the victim is the way that we continue to hurt ourselves after the fact.

Mourning, on the other hand, is important in times of trouble. When we have lost something significant and have no words that seem adequate, Paul writes that the Spirit will intercede on our behalf, that our groans are too profound for words. As a musician, this makes some sense to me - sometimes, a song comes that has no words, that is only melody and texture or guttural cry, that an emotion can only be expressed without words.

Sometimes, words only confuse the issue.

When we mourn, we work through our grief and begin to let go what we have lost. God looks at a much longer picture than we do; He is always working toward that new creation, a brand new day where all things will be restored. Paul writes that we need to take the same far-reaching perspective. What we go through right now is going to end as only God can end it: with joy.

So why fear what is coming? If God is working for the good of His whole creation, we can endure, we can take each challenge as it comes. This does not mean we don't suffer, this does not mean that we do not mourn; this simply means a shift in our perspective at what is happening. As I wrote earlier, trust does not come easily in such times. But we hope because we don't yet see that end; trust comes because of such times. The very absence of triumph means we must hope, because it means God's not done yet. We have every reason to hope, because our God is so much bigger than our pain; after all, He is the One who created all things. Joy can be had in the midst of the desert.

So what do you see? Do you see the world turning against you, or do you see a chance for God to work? Do you see the overwhelming odds, or the victory that's coming? Do you see only fear and death, or do you see the hope of new life rising from the ashes?
Now I’m sure of this: the sufferings we endure now are not even worth comparing to the glory that is coming and will be revealed in us. For all of creation is waiting, yearning for the time when the children of God will be revealed. You see, all of creation has collapsed into emptiness, not by its own choosing, but by God’s. Still He placed within it a deep and abiding hope that creation would one day be liberated from its slavery to corruption and experience the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that all creation groans in unison with birthing pains up until now. And there is more; it’s not just creation — all of us are groaning together too. Though we have already tasted the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are longing for the total redemption of our bodies that comes when our adoption as children of God is complete — for we have been saved in this hope and for this future. But hope does not involve what we already have or see. For who goes around hoping for what he already has? But if we wait expectantly for things we have never seen, then we hope with true perseverance and eager anticipation.
A similar thing happens when we pray. We are weak and do not know how to pray, so the Spirit steps in and articulates prayers for us with groaning too profound for words. Don’t you know that He who pursues and explores the human heart intimately knows the Spirit’s mind because He pleads to God for His saints to align their lives with the will of God? We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. From the distant past, His eternal love reached into the future. You see, He knew those who would be His one day, and He chose them beforehand to be conformed to the image of His Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of a new family of believers, all brothers and sisters. As for those He chose beforehand, He called them to a different destiny so that they would experience what it means to be made right with God and share in His glory. 
So what should we say about all of this? If God is on our side, then tell me: whom should we fear?
[Romans 8:18-31, TVT]

April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! I hope you'll take some time to listen to the Creator today, He who has blessed us with such an incredible world. Take care of it, my friends, and anticipate the day that the Creator will come and live with us once again ...
So God said, "Now let Us conceive a new creation—humanity—made in Our image, fashioned according to Our likeness. And let Us grant them authority over all the earth—the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, the domesticated animals and the small creeping creatures on the earth." So God did just that. He created humanity in His image, created them male and female. Then God blessed them and gave them this directive: “Be fruitful and multiply. Populate the earth. I make you all trustees of My estate, so care for My creation and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that roams across the earth.” [Genesis 1:26-28]

April 21, 2014


Author's note: I started writing this about a day after the whole "controversy" started over the movie that was just released. After a lot of thought, I didn't post it immediately so I could be more thoughtful about my words. I'm glad I waited; the words have evolved a lot, and while it seems no longer "relevant" in terms of timeliness, I hope they are still edifying.

When Liz and I were first married, she somehow convinced me to volunteer in the children's wing with her for a month. We were assigned to the 3's and 4's class. I was not yet a parent, had very little experience with children, and so I wasn't really sure how she'd roped me into this (Liz had been a children's director and had loads of babysitting and nannying experience, so at least the kids had that going for them). And while I did ok, I learned that I would never be a successful children's pastor. I'm ok with that.

But I'll never forget the Sunday we taught the kids the story of Noah's Ark.

We started with some ark-related activities - a water tub with some boats they could drive around, animal coloring sheets, that sort of thing. Finally, it was time for the story. We had done pretty well - most of the kids were sitting on their carpet circles and were listening intently. But as Liz got to the part where the sky opens up and the rain starts to fall - I kid you not - there was a huge boom of thunder outside and it started to pour rain.

You can't plan that kind of awesome.

While I was a rookie with kids, even I knew enough to keep my mouth shut from pointing outside and saying "hey, kinda like that guys!" I really wanted to, but I didn't. Of course, we hadn't finished the story yet, and evidently most of the kids hadn't heard this one before, because their imaginations kicked into high gear. They kept asking if we were all going to die, if they could see their parents one last time, and why God was angry. And of course there was




Somehow, Liz got their attention and finished the story as quickly as she could, to get to the rainbow and the promise at the end, and after that I think we were ok. But it was a sobering reminder to me of why the story of Noah is not to be trifled with. Why we teach this story to little kids, I'll never know. It's a very dark story, full of evil, death, and tragedy. It's not a story that allows us to maintain our innocence of the hard things of the world. But I suppose it has some (potentially cute) animals and a boat. See, the kids understood - they hadn't been spoiled by the way their parents and grandparents would downplay the death of the world and instead focus on the cute animals. They hadn't yet learned that the story of Noah doesn't happen anymore, that epic floods and giants and miracles and tragic heroes just don't really happen in our world because the Bible is really just a collection of moral stories that help us learn to be good entitled pain-free american citizens ... 

... right?

Despite what we say so vehemently to the contrary, we western evangelical adults often behave as if the story of Noah was just a myth, a legend, a fable.

I'm not going to comment about the Aronofsky film that just came out, because despite that I've read interviews with the director and I've talked with trusted friends who have seen it, I myself have not. What I do know is that the Biblical text is written as a midrash and is thus fairly sparse in detail (what did they actually talk about for a year in the ark? or before that, for that matter). I do know that the flavor of the story of Noah is meant to be dark, sinister, conflicted, hard. Yet I've read versions of this story that leave out the death of the world entirely, that talk about the rain coming and the family surviving as if they're the only family around. The story of Noah is not cute, it's not funny, and it's not even really that exciting; it's a tragedy. It's depressing. For most of it, it should make us wonder about the character of the God we follow.

It's a story that should bring us to tears.

But when we get to the end, God laments the death, laments the return of chaos, and promises that this will not happen again. At the end, we see that the heart of God burns for ALL of His creation, that God Himself weeps for those who have perished, and so in the midst of death and chaos, God restores all things again; the waters recede, the chaos is once again pulled back, and life is restored to the land. His passion for Justice does not have the final word; His heart for mercy does. The human race is spared, despite that Babel and Exile and Calvary are still yet to come.

Because then comes Abram and Sarai. Then comes Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. Then comes Moses and Joshua and Rahab. Then there's Deborah and Samuel and David and Solomon and Micah and Esther and Isaiah and Nehemiah and so many others. And of course, then came the ultimate example of this, a life lived so fully in the character of God that He couldn't even remain dead.

Then came Jesus.

It's a story of a God who won't simply let His creation die, though that might by itself be a Just thing. No, at His very core, God is one who redeems, restores, re-creates, rebuilds. God is the One who pulls back the waters of chaos time and time again so that His creation may have life.

April 20, 2014

Resurrection Sunday

May resurrection be made real once again today. May death rest peacefully in its grave, for we no longer must fear it. May the Kingdom of Jesus come awake among us - Christ is Risen!

April 18, 2014


Worship (v): to offer oneself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to a merciful God (see Romans 12:1-2)

It is no accident that Paul begins Romans 12 with the reassurance that God is merciful. Remembering God's mercy, or "in view of God's mercy," we are to make ourselves as living sacrifices. Our whole lives require a re-orientation if we're to get this right. Offering ourselves up as sacrifices, even living sacrifices, means that we are now at the mercy of God - every part of our lives are open for His use; every decision, every relationship, every resource.

So worship - true worship - requires an extraordinary amount of trust.

By Paul's definition, I can't worship God if I'm holding something back, because that's not all of me. Trust is scary; people who place their lives or their families or their jobs in the hands of God have lost them. Our individuality is not the only thing at play here, the Kingdom is far bigger than any one of us. Let's face it, it's a risk; we don't know what God is going to do with us once we give our lives to him. There are a lot of reasons to hold something back; I don't want to lose my wife, or my kids, or my job, or my friends, or my house, or my stuff, or my security ... simply, I don't want to lose my self-made identity. I hold on to all these things because I like them, because they matter to me, because I've worked so hard to get those things.

But Jesus says, those who lose their lives find them.

Jesus says that it takes trust in order to truly live. When we hold onto everything so tightly, we're not really alive. Paul observed that when people gave their lives to Jesus, when they let go of everything - when they worshipped - they received back far more than they gave. People that give up everything are transformed into new people, better people, people of a Kingdom made to bring Heaven on Earth. 

If our lives are lived in worship, we model the Passion of Jesus. We don't have to trust blindly; Jesus did it first. Jesus trusted the Father, and said, "not my will, but yours." And so can we die to ourselves, to the things we've created for ourselves, to the things we've decided are most important in this world, trusting that God will start over with us. We can trust that He'll take the lives we've laid down and re-create them stronger, purer, brighter, more true than we ever could have been before. We emerge from our watery graves new, whole, clean.

That is another reason we gather every week: to share those stories. In singing, in hearing from the scriptures, in our conversations with one another, we hear more stories of how God is worthy of our trust, and we are able to encourage others to trust a little more. Because when we gather together, trust comes easier. We can hold up those who don't have enough trust to keep going, who the tides of life have worn down, who hear the voices from the outside screaming of their supposed madness. And together we bury our pride and our insecurities in the presence of God and are again reborn.

We are, after all, a Resurrection people.

April 13, 2014


Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday are both holidays of pomp, circumstance, and celebration. And yet the two stand in stark contrast to one another. As the tradition goes, on Palm Sunday we celebrate Jesus the humble king, who came into Jerusalem on a donkey (rather than a war horse) surrounded by the commoners (instead of royalty) who placed their coats and palm branches at his feet (instead of a red carpet). But notice the subtleties of the story; everyone is celebrating not what Jesus had come to do, but what they wanted him to come and do. They wanted the triumphant warrior who had come to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to its former glory. The bad guys were, as they say, gonna get what was due. There’s a reason we don’t call Palm Sunday the high point of Jesus’ ministry. I wonder how many people were disappointed when Jesus told the disciples to ask for a donkey rather than a horse. And Jesus didn’t come into Jerusalem thinking “at last, my kingdom.”

He came in weeping. Victorious kings don’t come in weeping.

He knew this wasn’t the start of something grand, something big, some new ministry initiative or some new benevolent monarchy. He knew that something grand had already started thirty years earlier in a dirty cave, or maybe even thousands of years earlier when Abram was called out of Ur by a mysterious God who wanted to redeem the world. Jesus knew there was a final victory needed that only He could win, a new high point to come.

But it wasn’t today. Not palm sunday.

Resurrection Sunday, on the other hand, follows a week of insanity, chaos, rebellion. A final supper in which Jesus declared that someone would betray him, followed by betrayal after betrayal. It’s interesting to note, that while Judas was the only one who scripture says would betray Jesus, all of them did; they all fell asleep, they all left. Jesus died in between a thief and a murderer, not between loyal friends; they watched from a distance. Kings aren’t supposed to be crucified, especially not next to criminals, and so when all hope of this victory was lost, the followers of the would-be king dispersed. Some took to hiding, others buried the body, all wept. The world sat in silence. The sabbath passed.

But then, an empty tomb. A mysterious gardener. Strangers on the road.

Victory had come in the strangest way; death itself defeated, the world reborn in a slow, staggering, quiet way, like daybreak. Love had come, but nobody noticed. The contrast is this: while Palm Sunday is mostly about the people celebrating what they wanted, Resurrection Sunday - Easter - is about celebrating what we got. Resurrection comes only when every hope and dream that Palm Sunday celebrates has been dashed against a Roman cross. On Resurrection Sunday, we celebrate that our Palm Sunday hopes weren’t big enough, that God knew what we wanted was too small, and so gave us something better: 


April 8, 2014

Some Rambling Thoughts on Creativity

The creativity of my kids never ceases to amaze me. They seem to be able to come up with new ideas for a story at a moments notice, and have no bias for characters. Spider-Man often saves My Little Ponies from a burning firehouse made entirely of foam blocks, and an unnamed female superhero has a tendency to help a little ghost out of a wad of sticky gum ("gumtrapment" ... she never gets it). Paper towel tubes and sticks find all sorts of new identities. Those multicolored foam blocks become everything from Iron Man to cars to pet houses to mouse traps.

Clearly, for those of us who suffer from bouts of writers' block, there is something to be learned here.

Not that they've caught any mice yet.

The imagination of kids seems, to me, to come from a certain innocence. They haven't yet been totally molded into our cultural lenses because a lot of those lenses still make utterly no sense to them. They've not yet accepted that these two things don't go together because, of course, THAT would be ridiculous. Mice can't be trapped in foam block structures. Ghosts can't be trapped in gum. That doesn't look like a car.

I wonder if creativity has more to do with an innocence of the rules?

A few months ago I was in a mall searching for the Apple store, when I noticed, right across the aisle, a store that looked oddly similar. And then I smirked, because of course, it was the Microsoft store. The two looked nearly identical; same aluminum facade, same backlit tables, same dress-casual employees. And the thought that came to my mind was not "ooh, I want to try the Surface!" but, "boy, it must be sad to define yourself by someone else's standards." Microsoft had gotten good at following the rules; Apple, on the other hand, had decided that they would, instead, make the rules.

Successful creatives don't react to the ideas of others as if there's only one way to do something; they're proactive, constantly searching. Creativity and curiosity go hand in hand, and so they ask two questions a lot, more than any others: "what if?" and "why?" Creativity means seeing the universe for what it can be, not for what it is or for what it's not. Creative people allow themselves the permission to wonder, to explore. Everything is connected and so, often, creativity means finding ways to link ideas that seem unrelated. Inhibitions and fears of getting it wrong can be overridden by the wonder of the possible. It's not that failure doesn't hurt or isn't discouraging, it's that, since every idea is worthy of exploration, every failure can be a learning experience. It means not letting the voices pressuring us about limited resources (voices that are as often inside as outside) get in the way of the possibilities. Creativity is only necessary when there ARE boundaries; we don't need creativity if we don't have a problem to solve (which, coincidentally, explains my fascination with MacGyver and Fringe).

Sometimes that problem is simply "there needs to be more beauty in the world!"

Creativity often comes out of stillness, out of what Ori Brafman calls "white space" - a place where our minds are free to wander and make those connections we wouldn't ordinarily make. It's why I keep a set of bathtub crayons in the shower, to literally record those ideas on white space (since my mind is like that of a fish; three seconds and the idea's gone). I know everyone says that bathtub crayons are just for kids, but I've lost too many good ideas because I forgot, and I've had too many good ideas saved because I wrote them down when I thought of them to follow that rule. Some of my best ideas came when I wasn't trying to think of my best ideas.

Draw in the margins.
Do weird things.
Keep a record of your ideas, even the ones that don't work.
Ask a lot of questions.
Look at it from a different side.
Don't just see the problem, smell it, taste it, touch it, hear it.
Try something else.

Some (ok, all) of that sounds a bit cliche. Do it anyway.

Sometimes, we make things too complicated, we try to over-think, over-analyze, over-create. A piece of music can be refined only so many times; a blog can be re-written only so many times; that canvas can only hold so many layers of paint.

Sometimes, creativity simply means knowing when to stop.

April 6, 2014

Made Alive in You

When I was a kid, my parents had to drag me to church every week. I do mean every week; I'm pretty sure that, between the ages of 8 and 14, I begged my parents every single sunday to let us stay home. Aside from some generational issues, the reason was simple: I am a musician. And I hated the music.

As traditional churches often do, they had hired an organist to accompany the hymns. However, to me it was clear that nobody had interviewed with much vigor (the Eastman school of music is 25 minutes away, so this should have been easy), because the organist was bad. Very bad. Don't get me wrong, he could put his fingers on the right keys and all that (most of the time), but the man would turn any hymn into a funeral march. It was so depressing.

And so I hated hymns. And I refused to sing.


Fast forward to seminary. I had overcome any issues with singing when I was introduced to modern music ("contemporary" at the time), and found a heart language in which to sing. I played on worship teams on my sax, and even sang a backup part to "Flood" one Sunday as a teenager, to the surprise of my parents. My loathing of the hymn remained. In my mind, they were too wordy, the melody too complicated for congregational singing, the language too clumsy. They had become, as it were, irrelevant for the culture, and if I had had my way, they would have been banned from churches.

As it turns out, Asbury Seminary didn't feel the same way. In fact, they too had hired an organist, a man in his late 80's (I think) who I could grudgingly appreciate for his remarkable musicianship. The man could seriously play, and while chapel was not a mandatory experience at Asbury, Liz and I began to attend together. The speakers were excellent (mostly professors), but I had to put up with traditional hymns and the occasional acoustic tribute to contemporary music in order to hear them.

I remember it vividly. I was in chapel, standing amongst my peers and rolling my eyes like I usually did after the first hymn, when the organist began the introduction to a traditional Wesleyan hymn called "And Can it Be." And I remember noticing a change in the room. It was a feeling, something intuitive, not something I could measure. But something was definitely different, and as everyone started to sing, the words caught my attention in a way they never had before. I looked around me, and watched as men and women younger than me and much older than me sang with a passion I'd only ever witnessed in large contemporary congregations. They closed their eyes and clenched their fists, they raised their hands and smiled as they sang,
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee
Amazing love, how can it be
That Thou my God should'st die for me?
And it suddenly hit me: I didn't hate the music. In fact, I had never bothered to actually listen to the music, all I had ever done was lament the poor delivery. For years, I had ranted and raved against something made to worship God simply because my first impressions had done the music a disservice. I had been so preoccupied with my own prejudice, I'd never bothered to accept the music on its own terms. But now, God had opened my ears, and my heart - and eventually my lips - began to sing with my peers,
No condemnation now I dread
Jesus and all in Him is mine
Alive in Him my living head
And clothed in righteousness divine
Bold I approach the eternal throne
And claim new life through Christ my own
When I'm asked about my ministry among both modern and traditional congregations, the question often comes up, "what's your favorite kind of music?" While my iPhone has a pretty eclectic assortment of styles and artists, people really want to know, am I traditional or modern? Which is better? And the answer is simply this:


I am both. The two cultures have much to teach one another. God says to sing a new song, and God says to remember. The two must go hand in hand with the many other forms of musical worship if we are to be the Church. I first sang songs of worship in a contemporary gathering, but I have regularly encountered the living God in both of these styles and more.

I tell this story today because I've finally finished a new recording, one of my own original arrangement of the hymn. I've modernized the language a bit, and written a chorus based on Charles' refrain. Oh, and it's a modern sound; the traditional and the modern, hand in hand.

May your heart sing with mine as you listen.