And We’ve Arrived…..Home


Earlier in the calendar year I did a several-part series on our search for a new church, with the last post done in early May.  I won’t detail the number of churches we visited, but I will tell you that we did visit quite a few.  To make a long story short, we have ended up at Discovery Church.  To be honest, I’ve struggled for quite some time with whether I even wanted to write this blog post because I didn’t want to draw attention to any one church or make one of the churches we visited but didn’t end up at look bad (for the record, all of them were wonderful congregations).  At the end of the day, though, I guess I felt it was only fair to give this update on our journey.

We made our first visit to Discovery sometime last March and have actually been in attendance ever since.  We decided over the summer to get involved in a small group, so we joined one, and then this past fall I got involved with the early-morning men’s Bible study as well as their new discipleship class.  After all I’ve written on the subject of finding a church I feel it only fair to say what finally drew us to Discovery.  It wasn’t the music, the service time, the pastor, the people, or any of those things (they all played a part, but they weren’t the “deciding factor”, so to speak).  Quite simply, the one thing that overwhelmingly drew us in, and why we felt like God was sending us there, was the vision.   Again, don’t get me wrong, the pastor is a great preacher, the people are wonderful people whom we’re enjoying getting to know, and the girls enjoy the kids’ program.  But at the end of the day those things are, well, just parts of the whole.  And, to be completely honest, there are plenty of churches that do a good job with those parts (some perhaps even do them “better”).  What we were really looking for, as I look back, was to identify with what held all those parts together.  And that was always the missing part at so many churches we visited: our visions didn’t align.

So what is the vision?  I’m not sure I can tell you the “official vision statement”, but I can summarize it fairly simply.  Discovery church is about making disciples.  And that’s what we’ve been looking for for a very long time.  Lots of churches talk about making disciples, but this is actually the first church I’ve ever been a part of that has a plan in place to do it.  Granted, it’s a plan in infancy, but it’s a plan none-the-less; and it’s a good plan.  The leaders and people at Discovery truly want to connect people with Jesus.

And that’s what it’s all about.  Our church in Florida had a very simple vision: “Changing lives by connecting people with Jesus Christ.”  We saw that start to work its way out before we left, but we weren’t at the church long enough to fully experience it (not because we left the church but because we left the State!)  And I see that same desire at Discovery:  They talk about it every week, they make it obvious in how they structure their organization, and they’ve spent weeks preaching it and countless hours putting a plan in place.  They’ve identified discipleship as having three components: Deepen, Do, and Develop (it’s what we now call the “3-D’s” of discipleship).  They’ve even restructured their pastoral staff to align with the three terms – we have a pastor of doing, a pastor of deepening, and a pastor of developing:

  • Deepen – it’s about deepening our relationship with God and other believers
  • Doing – it’s about serving God and others
  • Developing – it’s about intentionally building relationships with non-believers with the goal of sharing the gospel

I’m not saying Discovery is the only church that emphasizes discipleship or that the way they are doing it is the only way to do it – in fact, I know that’s not the case because when I talk to my strong Christian friends around the country I hear them saying the same things but in different ways.  I’m just sharing that, for whatever reason, this language makes sense to me.  While it’s not been said by anyone at the church (at least that I’ve heard), I get the impression that the pastors are actually working to “equip the saints” to do the work, and that the saints understand they are to be equipped rather than delegate ministry to “full-time, paid” people.  And that’s refreshing.

Am I suggesting all those things I wrote in my previous posts aren’t important?  Absolutely not.  I’m simply saying that they are not the end-all of the discussion.  I’ve said for years that those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus are all in the same church, we just worship in different buildings.  And I believe this so strongly that sometimes I have suggested to people they attend a different church than the one I attend.  For the record, I’ve actually taken some heat for that.

Before I go on, let me be clear: I’ve never suggested to anyone in one of my churches that they needed to leave the church.  I’m referring here to people who are searching for a church and I’ve suggested they try a church, but sometimes my suggestion has been different than where I attend based on their personality.  For example, if someone was not into liturgy and high-church I suggested they attend a contemporary service even though I may have been at a liturgical church at the time, or vice-versa.  I never discouraged people from coming to my church and I always welcomed them if they did.  I am just much more concerned with people meeting Jesus than I am with building my local church.  One would think those two are the same, but, unfortunately, they’re not.  And leaders who don’t get that fact are missing the boat, and they run the risk of setting themselves and “their church” up as an idol.

Which brings me to my point…  I get the sense that our pastoral staff gets this – that it’s not about us but about Him.  There were two churches we visited this year where the pastors actually said from the platform some variation of, “We want you to be involved in a church, and if it’s not our church that’s okay – just get involved in a church where Jesus is taught and lived.”  Discovery was one of them.

It’s not a perfect family, but it is our family.  Continue to pray for us as we figure out the role we are to play in our new family, and pray that we fulfill that role as God desires.  And thank-you for your prayers as we have traveled this journey.

 

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Perspective


About 8 months ago I was first introduced to the song Forever Reign by Hillsong, and, to be completely honest, I didn’t care for it.  The phrase that particularly frustrated me (for lack of a better term), was found in the chorus: “Oh, I’m running to Your arms, I’m running to Your arms. The riches of Your love will always be enough. Nothing compares to Your embrace, Light of the world forever reign!”

If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you know a frequent focus of my posts is worship.  I actually feel I’ve been rather silent on the issue for several months, due in large part to no longer serving in an official capacity as a church worship leader but also just because I’ve not been blogging much lately.  One of my criticisms of much modern worship music has always been the lyrics, and I’m in the camp of those who sometimes feel like worship songs sometimes sound more like “prom date music” than they do words of adoration to the King of Kings.

That was, honestly, my first reaction to this song, in particular the phrase quoted above.  For several months I struggled with the song because of this vision it created in me – a song I didn’t, as a male, feel comfortable singing to Jesus, who walked the earth as a man.  It just seemed… well… wrong.  It was one of those songs that I categorized as “more appropriate for women” but not necessarily a good song for men.

As I prayed and meditated on this, though, I asked God why I struggled with singing certain songs.  I asked questions such as, “Do I really love God as much as I say I do if I don’t feel comfortable singing these words?”  But I never felt like the answer to that question was in the negative; what I sensed God telling me,though, was that the answer was in how I was viewing Him and understanding the text myself – it was all in my perspective….

One day I received a new “vision”, so to speak, a new perspective.  Instead of seeing the text in a clearly romantic light (that “prom date” idea), I saw it as the love between and father and his children (or, more specifically, between a child and his father).  There is little I enjoy in this life more than to see the look on my daughters’ faces as they run up and jump into my arms.  One day when I came home from work and they did this I realized they could be singing these words about our relationship: that they were running to their daddy’s arms and wanted to be held by him (which they do all the time).

It was at that moment I realized I could say the same about my Heavenly Father.  I didn’t need to see these words as a twisted eros type of love (not that I ever did because I didn’t, I just struggled with finding a suitable alternative).  I could see these words as a little kid running up to his daddy and jumping into his daddy’s arms.  One of my favorite descriptions of prayers is, “If you want to know how to pray just watch how a little kid talks to her daddy.”  So I guess in the same vein, I’ve realized that if you want to know how to view yourself as truly believing the text, “I’m running to your arms,” view it as a little kid running to her daddy.  This new perspective changes everything.

A New Vision for Worship (4.1)


I’m not sure if you remember the series I did last spring on what worship looks like, so to jog your memory a little bit let’s remind us what was discussed.  In short, we talked a lot about the whole issue of having a “blended” service and I made the comment that I wanted us to move away from the term “blended” and more toward the word “unified” in how we described our service.  Here’s the definition I gave last year in regards to what a “unified” service means,

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

This summer in my studies I “stumbled” across this verse in Matthew (and I put stumbled in quotation marks because if you believe it happened by chance I would tell you I don’t believe in chance…)

“Then [Jesus] added, ‘Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.’” (NLT)

That verse is Matthew 13:52.  When I read it I had a picture of what music in a church should look like – it should be a unification of the “old” and the “new”, which for music in our terms means the “traditional” and the “contemporary”.

Which is one reason why choir will not sing in every service in the fall.  We’ve decided to try something new in our effort to unify the worship experience at Landmark.  What you’re going to see beginning October are two different musical styles in the worship service.  On the First and Third Sunday of every month we’ll have a traditional service, which will include the choir and orchestra – similar to our current setup but a little more traditional than we are doing.  On the Second and Fourth Sunday you’ll experience a more “contemporary” service with a praise band – those are the weeks the choir will not sing in the service.  For those months with a Fifth Sunday the youth will lead our musical selections.

We’re attempting to balance the two facets of worship: that facet that says worship is vertical and God-centered while also understanding the equally important truth that corporate worship is horizontal and is supposed to allow us to minister to each other.  By offering these two different “styles” in musical options we’re trying to better reflection the diversity that exists within our congregation.  Please pray for discernment and wisdom for your church leadership, and for me as the music director, as we journey down this uncharted path together.

LWLC Day 2: Overwhelmed (Afternoon Notes)


This is the second post in regards to Day 2 at the Lifeway Worship Conference.  To see the morning session reflection and notes click here.

After lunch I attended two great sessions.  The first was led by Mike Harland of Lifeway Worship.  The session focused on being a confident leader.  We spent the time discussing leading when there is opposition and examining how Paul led and treated opposition, particularly at the church of Corinth.  Mike gave 10 principles to remember in dealing with opposition.  Of the 10, a couple struck a chord with me:

  • #4: Godly leaders never relinquish their responsibilities to the people they lead (this is not the same as delegation);
  • #5: Godly leaders keep confidence in God and let ministry results speak for themselves;
  • #6:  Godly leaders find confidence in their intimacy with Christ and not from within themselves;
  • #7: Godly leaders lead not by vision but by revelation.

This last one really hit home, and maybe it’s because of my background and training as a school administrator and looking at leadership.  But as Mike shared his thoughts I found myself agreeing with him more.  He defined vision as something that is generated from within myself – a plan that I set forth and aspire to see accomplished.  Revelation is something that is given to me by God.  He referenced Proverbs 29:18 which is often referenced as, “Without vision the people perish.”  But he taught us that the Hebrew word translated “vision” should actually be translated “revelation”.

Not being a Hebrew scholar myself, I went and looked up the verse in several versions.  The NIV, ESV, and the HCSB all translate the verb as some form of “revelation” and not “vision”, so I am going to assume he knows what he’s talking about 🙂  The Holeman Christian Standard reads, “Without revelation people run wild,” and the ESV reads, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.”

However, the most poignant story he told dealt with an interaction he had with a gentleman at a church he once served.  Apparently after a service this guy came up and complained to him about the service, telling him all the things he didn’t like.  Mike replied by apologizing for leading the person to believe that worship was about him and not God.  He then told how he shared with the gentleman the purpose and goals he set out for worship, and through that the guy was able to eventually become a key supporter and prayer advisor to him.  Again, I was overwhelmed by how differently I would have (and have in the past) responded.

My second afternoon sessions dealt with style in worship, and it was very eye opening as well.  It was lead by a gentleman from South Carolina named Mark Powers.    Our text for study was Jesus interaction with the woman at the well in John 4.  I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure I agree with the exact analogy he drew from the text, but I think his point was right on. The important concepts I took away from this session were the importance of Christ Centered Worship, The Worship Report Card, Worship Idolatry, and Vital Contextual Worship. Let’s break these down…

Christ Centered Worship is pretty self-explanatory, it is worship that focuses on Jesus.  It also reminds us that worship transcends style.  This is an important, key element to remember when we get down to Vital Contextual Worship.  We started our session by having a discussion on what exactly the word “worship” means.  Mark gave a fantastic demonstration of the Hebrew meaning, which literally means to bow down, fall prostrate, and show your neck in vulnerability.  Worship begins by falling prostrate on the ground in front of a holy God.  In the time in which it was written, the word used for “worship” was a term that meant a person would literally fall before someone of high authority and beg for mercy, at which point the person could literally execute them by cutting off their head (hence the reference to bearing one’s neck) or turn the sword sideways and tell them to rise.  Again, not being a Hebrew scholar I’ll have to trust him on this one, but it sure does make for a great illustration 🙂  He also reminded us that worship is an overflow of the love we have for Jesus.

The Worship Report Card is a term he uses to remind us that worship is not about what we “get” out of it but of what we “give” to God.  David writes in 2 Samuel 24:24 that he will not give the Lord that which costs him “nothing.”  It is about what we bring to God, yet too often people (even me) evaluate worship by what we “get” from it, but that is not how God intended it.  I personally attribute this to our extreme consumer-driven mindset as Americans, but I suppose it is also a result of our deep, ego-centric nature that must be constantly surrendered to Jesus.  He shared a great quote which read, “Most matters of church growth resolve themselves when people fall deeply in love with God.”  It challenged me, again, to show people the love of God so they could be overwhelmed by it and respond in surrender.

Worship Idolatry is when we begin to insert things into our worship service that we end up worshiping rather than worshiping Jesus.  It fills in the blank for the statement, “X must be present for me to worship”.  “X” can be anything – communion, a particular song, the way the offering is taken, a particular tradition, an instrument (or lack thereof) – anything.  We then were asked the questions, “What is ‘X’ for our church?” and “What is ‘X’ for you?”  This question has me reflecting a lot on how I would answer.  I once served a church where music had become an idol for the church, and part of the job I did there was to help break down that idol (which I believe was done to a certain extent, though it will be up to other leaders to continue that work).  Often times “X” is a very valid component of the service, but when we say it has to happen in order for us to worship then we run the risk of making it an idol.  And that’s a dangerous thing to do.

Connecting this with the session on confident leadership, though, reminds me that one major aspect of being a leader is to address issues such as this and point them out so there can be healing in the congregation.

Finally, Vital Contextual Worship is the term Mark used to describe worship style, and here I think he is 100% correct.  I abhor the terms “traditional” and “contemporary” in regards to worship, and this term, though academic-sounding, is the best one I’ve heard yet.  Vital simply means that is is alive and vibrant; Contextual means that it is within the culture of the individual church (not the global church); and Worship reminds us it is focused on Jesus and giving him the worth he deserves.  This echos many conversations I have had with other music directors, pastors, and congregational members for years.  There is no one right or wrong style of worship; style is dictated by culture.  I would put forth that our “worship wars” (as they are often referred to) are really “culture wars” – a clash of cultures.  Again, I take much insight here from my work in the public school system.  I describe culture as a set of values, belief systems, traditions, and expectations. When a person enters a church and any or all of what is experienced is contrary to their cultural context they will understandably have a reaction to it.

Once we understand the culture (which helps us understand style) we can then begin to work towards changing it (if need be) or better relating to those within it.  Worship is about what we bring to God, and we have to remember that what we bring comes out of our values and experiences, in other words, our culture.  So in order to offer God suitable worship we need to create worship experiences that are culturally relevant to our attendees.  This is not about a consumer-driven mindset for culture, but it is ultimately about leading people to Jesus.  We wouldn’t expect that a preacher would get up and deliver a sermon in Chinese to a group of people who don’t speak Chinese, so neither should we expect to usher people into worship who have a negative reaction to one style of music or another.  Worship is not the end but the means, and the means must be appropriate for the cultural context of the church (on a side note, this follows the same logic as my posting on the use of Patriotic Music in Worship Services).

The evening ended with a concert/worship service led by Dennis Jernigan.  I’ll just say this about it – he has one absolutely amazing testimony.  If you don’t know it, you need to visit his website and learn more about him and his story.  While I have not watched the videos on YouTube he’s done talking about his life, he did reference them, so you may want to visit YouTube and do a search for “Dennis Jernigan Testimony”.  It was quite a powerful story.

Whew….  Now you know why I used the term overwhelmed to describe my day.  It was a full one!

Hypocrisy (2.23)


At the suggestion of several preachers I listen to, I purchased and have begun reading Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris.  The subtitle of the book is “Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters.”  It’s a book of basic theology.  (for the record, none of these pastors I listen to have recommended it to me personally – they just recommended it to their listeners and so I decided to take them up on it J)

So, I’m sure for awhile some of what I read will work its way into these devotionals (like today).  Here is a wonderful thought I want to share with you that will have to be developed more in future articles.  Two researchers, Smith and Denton, did a large study of teenagers to discover their view of God.  Their findings are published in a book entitled Soul Searching, and in that book they describe the pervading view of God among teenagers as “moralistic therapeutic deism.”

Moralistic because it gives them a list of rules to live by; therapeutic because God’s primary reason for existence is to make us happy; deistic because while God exists, he isn’t involved.  They summarize it with this statement: “In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”

After some reflection and discussion about this, Mr. Harris writes (and here’s the gist of this article), “I wonder how different our functional view of God is…I would never dare to call God my Divine Butler or Cosmic Therapist, but how often do I treat him as if he were?”

Ouch!  That one hurt!

I’ve shared before that one of my passions is for people to truly know and understand the God who is (a phrase I’ve borrowed from Patrick Morley).  I interact with many people who talk about “God” in an impersonal way.  We still reside in the Bible belt, and so it is very culturally acceptable to speak about God, to attend church, and to pray before meals in public.

But how many people do we interact with on a daily basis that truly know God?  And what do we do about it?

A colleague at work was telling me recently about how during Lent her pastor had challenged the congregation to read the Bible every day for the 40 days of Lent.  A couple of times a week I’d ask what she had read and learned, and she would share the story or passage that had been covered that morning.  But I’m not convinced it actually drew her close to God.  Harris writes later in his book, “When God tells us about himself through stories and through doctrine, his purpose is relationship.” (emphasis his).  I question sometimes whether people read Scripture just to read Scripture, or do they read it to better know and understand The Author.

Having said all that, let me summarize by challenging you to examine how you treat God throughout the week and ask yourself the question Harris asked- is your functional view of God different than what you say (and if it is we call that hypocrisy).

And for that we must repent and change.

How Big is Your God?


Okay, I know that it’s mid-week and I only write these devotionals for the weekend newsletter, and this may develop into a full devotional, but I heard this quote in a sermon this past week by one of my previous pastors, Chris Goins, and I can’t get the darn thing out of my head (thanks, Pastor Chris!)…. I just have to share it (it’s from James Montgomery Boice):

We do not have a strong church today, nor do we have many strong Christians. We can trace the cause to an acute lack of sound spiritual knowledge. Why is the church weak? Why are individual Christians weak? It is because they have allowed their minds to become conformed to the “spirit of this age,” with its mechanistic, godless thinking. They have forgotten what God is like and what he promises to do for those who trust him. Ask an average Christian to talk about God. After getting past the expected answers you will find that his god is a little god of vacillating sentiments. He is a god who would like to save the world, but who cannot. He would like to restrain evil, but somehow he finds it beyond his power. So he has withdrawn into semi-retirement, being willing to give good advice in a grandfatherly sort of way, but for the most part he has left his children to fend for themselves in a dangerous environment.

Such a god is not the God of the Bible. Those who know their God perceive the error in that kind of thinking and act accordingly. The God of the Bible is not weak; he is strong. He is all-mighty. Nothing happens without his permission or apart from his purposes — even evil. Nothing disturbs or puzzles him. His purposes are always accomplished. Therefore, those who know him rightly act with boldness, assured that God is with them to accomplish his own desirable purposes in their lives. (if you’d like to read the quote in context click here.)

It’s really caused me to reflect on how I see God, and pray that I would see Him as He really is; it’s also caused me to reflect upon my own church and how we communicate God to others through our worship… It’s very convicting, and it’s driven me to spend some good time praying about it in the past several days. It actually reminds me of another one of my favorite quotes:

There is a God we want, and there is a God who is and they are not the same God. The turning point of our lives is when we stop seeking the God we want and start seeking the God who is. – Patrick Morley

Wow… I’m, not sure I have anything else to say right now…