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Music for Short Missions Animation 

I really enjoy writing music for a variety of projects and recently I got a chance to do that for a short animation for our church. I got to work with my children in the creation process, too.

Asher Pope did the animation. I did not know just how much work animation is! He landed on something simple, but classy. Then we recorded Zach Fulginiti for the narration, I wrote the music bed, and Elliot (my son) wrote the string quartet parts. Late one night this week, I set up the mics and recorded my children playing the string parts. They are subtle, but really add to the vibe. My hat's off to Elliot!  

Plus, it's great to see one historical aspect of our church so clearly. Enjoy: 

 

Faithful Gazing 

Worship Notes for Feb. 21, 2021

The Christian life calls for a healthy balance between being faithful with earthly responsibilities and keeping an eternal perspective. Right before our eyes is all the stuff of daily life; a job, investment, food, Covid, etc. Yet at the same time we have eternal hope, we know that we are strangers and sojourners in the land, and that we are not of this world. So while we live life in the flesh it is faith, or the eternal perspective, that brings meaning and purpose to the temporal. Or, as Galatians puts it, “the live we now live in the flesh we live by faith.”  

Several of our elements of worship call us to abide in Christ by faith so that we might remain faithful in life. This past Wednesday began the season of Lent, which traditionally is a time of repentance and preparation for Holy Week. Perhaps this season can be a good reminder to seek the Lord in prayer, ask that he might show us those things which steal our gaze away, and then set them aside so that we might fix our eyes upon Jesus in faith.

Psalm 27:4   One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.

The old cliche, "So heavenly minded that you are no earthly good" makes it's point. But in reality if we are truly heavenly minded, or faith minded, then we will also be earthly good because faith allows us to be faithful in all the stuff that's right before our eyes.  

Need and Gratefulness  

Worship Notes for Jan. 24, 2021 

Christian worship should cause us to let go of self-sufficiency. Of course, this flies in the face of what we naturally pick up from our own culture. Self-sufficiency, independence, self-reliance, survival, and the like have an almost revered status. 

True, the old "teach a man to fish" proverb has its place. However, singing, "I am a rock, I am an Island" may not capture the heart of a repentant sinner. Further, to touch on current events, the promises of President after President to fix all societal ills ring hollow. Yes, hope is good, but fool hardy self-sufficiency is a distraction from our ultimate need.  

This week, much of our service at Christ Covenant will highlight that need, which is deep and multifaceted. Yet the Lord's provision is deeper and complete, which means ultimately we can respond in gratefulness. 

Fleas 

In our home we've been reading A Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom's account of hiding Jews during the Second World War, eventually being caught, and being imprisoned in a German concentration camp. One especially poignant scene is when her sister Betsie reminds her to be thankful for all they have in their new horrific circumstance, including the fleas that were crawling up their legs. Later, they realize they have the freedom to read their smuggled Bible out loud because their guards would not enter the flea-ridden barracks. As they read, other ladies translate the Dutch into German, French and more, passing the words of life from one bunk to another. The beauty of the scene is stark against the ugly backdrop of the death camps. 

We have a hard time imagining the depth of their need. Yet, provision came in the form of fleas and a little freedom from onlooking guards. Amazingly, gratefulness grew in spite of, and even because of their incredibly desperate situation.  

The current political state in America (both before the inauguration and now) certainly highlights our spiritual need. But I wonder if our societal mess is actually provision; fleas as it were. I have received a few visceral responses to this suggestion, but the fact that the Ten Boom's trial produced gratefulness long before any of that trial was removed is instructive. I don't want America to fail. I love my country and pray for peace. However, more than this, I want to see the church I love replace self-sufficiency with gratefulness. It's easy to say and hard to live, but trials, need, and provision may be the medicine we need to take.  

Take It Home 

We print a full bulletin every week (and provide it online here). This not only helps us during corporate worship, it also allows us to walk through the elements of the service later in the day or during the week. Take it home, read through it again, and this week return to the opening hymn several times. There we are reminded that we hurt and he heals, we know grief and he brings peace; we despair and he gives hope; we need and he provides. To God all praise and glory.

Which Kingdom? 

CCC Worship notes for Jan. 17, 2021Does your desire match God's will? Do you want the same kingdom he wants?

More questions: Do you want to do deeds of love and mercy, like we sing about in Lead On O King Eternal? Do you want the Spirit's greatest work to shape your thoughts and life, or are you content to immerse yourself in current events? This week at Christ Covenant Church, the service should challenge our assumptions and reshape our desires. It is all too easy to make the subtle shift from praying for the kingdom of peace to simply hoping and working feverishly for visible stability, security and a culture that matches our world-view. Distractions abound.

I admit that I often just kinda slide into thinking about my home, my life, my story, my country... My "kingdom" can easily become the focus from day to day. I want the Kingdom of God to match my vision for visible, tangible comfort. Further, I want the Lord's will to match my vision for how that comfort, peace, and security should be achieved. If he would just listen to my great political and societal plans! It turns out that I can be just as short sighted as the Pharisees in Luke 17:20-21. 

It is good to stop and consider. In some ways this is exactly what the weekly worship service is designed to do. And, one of the best ways I have found to help with this is singing the Psalms. They do a great job of revealing faulty thinking, in part because the Psalms in song form are so foreign to us. The language is jarring at times. It can shock us into new ways of thinking, praying, being. 

For example, we will sing about desperation and oppression (Psalm 42 - Lord From Sorrow Deep I Call), which helps prepare our hearts to adjust to desires for different treasures and eternal truth. Further, we will sing and proclaim that the Lord is the hope of the poor (O Lord Most High - Psalm 9, 2021 Version). The implications of this can quickly make many of us feel uncomfortable or at a loss. Finally, it is our privilege to sing of God's mercy and his will to save people from every language, tribe, and nation on the earth (Psalm 67 - O God to Us Show Mercy).

Again, do our desires match these things? If not, perhaps we are not as close to the Kingdom of God as assumed. Perhaps we should take up the prayer, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." 

 

 

Scripture as Prayer 

Worship notes for Jan. 10, 2021

Approaching the Lord in prayer can be done in several ways, one of which is to allow his word to inform our prayer. Often, the call to worship I write is a reflection on a Psalm. In addition, this week our confession of sin includes the very passages upon which the call to worship was based. Some passages can seem foreign to us. Yet, with a little effort, most passages can turn our hearts to prayer or even reveal answers to prayer as we seek our Father. This, of course, is nothing new. Part of my focus in planning worship is to simply exemplify how we can turn a passage into prayer, using the Scriptures to guide what we ask and what we think on. Seeking our Heavenly Father in his word is, as it were, sitting upon his knees and bending our ears toward his voice. 

Here is the Scripture unchanged for our corporate confession of sin: 
Psalm 65:1–4 and Psalm 102:1, Psalm 143:1, Psalm 69:5 

Leader: Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions.  
All: Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you! 
Leader: Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!
All: Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

Here is my reflection turned into a Call to Worship based on the above passages:

Leader: Lift up your voice to God, who reigns in Zion, for praise is due his name! He hears your prayers and atones for your transgressions.  
All: Cry unto the Lord, for he hear your prayer! 
Leader: Come near and dwell within his courts! Be satisfied with the goodness of his house, the holiness of his temple! 
All: Give voice to your pleas for mercy! For nothing is hidden from the LORD, our God.

Epiphany 2021 

Worship notes for Jan. 3, 2021

Today is the traditional Sunday upon which we celebrate Epiphany or the 'manifestation" of Jesus Christ. This is an opportunity to meditate upon one aspect of the story of Christ's brith, that is, the visit of the magi or wise men from the east. Over time it has become a season to celebrate the revelation of Christ's birth to the Gentiles and an opportunity to pray for the spread of the gospel throughout the world.

So, while most of our service points to waiting upon the Lord, Isaiah 60 and "As With Gladness Men of Old" allows us to recall that waiting for the messiah is over. He has come, and he sends us into the world with a mission to proclaim good news, even while we wait upon his second advent.

Relief 

Worship notes for Nov. 1, 2020

After considering the decline of mankind in Genesis 4, chapter 5 comes as a relief. In fact, relief is promised. This week, as we sing at Christ Covenant Church, we will be reminded that the Lord has often granted relief, that we were made to walk with him, that our penalty was paid in full (our ultimate relief), and that all our cares can be cast upon him. Even our greatest burden Christ bore on the cross. And so we respond my singing how marvelous, how wonderful!

I have to admit, this is a reminder I need and want. With the current political messes we are watching along with the pandemic lingering, there is a felt need for relief. Fatigue has set in across the board. Thankfully, that's not the end of the story. Though new challenges come, current ones fade. So, though there is no promise of a life of ease which is free of cares, there is a promised hope that through each challenge we grow and begin to rise above passing frustrations. 

Therefore, though I don't do this perfectly by any stretch, my heart can both engage with current needs (i.e. vote, deal with health issues, work out all the details of life) and look way beyond them. The promise of ultimate relief gives relief from being beholden to the problem of the hour. Thank goodness.

Planning with Pastoral Interns 

I have been working with several pastoral interns as they plan our worship services for the next four weeks (July 12 - Aug. 2). We are looking forward to learning together. Already I have noticed that I will learn a lot from them. It's great to collaborate, whether we are talking about writing songs or planning worship. It breaks you out of ruts and grooves that you don't even see. 

How to Plan

I've encouraged our interns to think in terms of themes, theological categories, emotional quality, and most of all making the service lead through a "gospel arc." That is, I've asked them to ask themselves, "does this service highlight the gospel in some way?" Does it lead us through seeing a God who calls us to holiness, a Savior who provides that holiness, and the Spirit who helps us walk in holiness?

Of course, they will also be balancing things like length, keeping songs we don't know to a minimum, prayers, readings, etc. Plus, they will be making assignments for who does what, and they will be leading a portion of the service themselves as well. 

Until You Do It

I believe it's important that more seminary students spend more time thinking about and actually planning worship. A class is good and important. However, until you are thrown into the actual planning process with real live people in mind you don't really understand all that you must balance. Plus, there is something about actually leading in front of people that gives you a sense of what connects, what falls flat, what's important to do even if it did fall flat.

Then, of course, there's the variable of working with the other pastors and musicians. How well will they understand what your intent was when you planned? Did you communicate that well? Did you consider or ask about their skills, personalities, backgrounds? And these are just a sampling of all that may come up in the course of ministry in various contexts. 

It's Worth It

Finally, once the dust has settled, once the service has come and gone, there is the joy of knowing that you had a part in helping a congregation see more of Christ. The hope and prayer is that all these efforts lead to a people to grow in holiness and affection for Christ and others. This makes all the planning and prayer worth it. Plus, from my own perspective, this exercise of working with pastoral interns provides the opportunity to shape several young men in how they think about and plan for worship. That's a privilege.  

Kingdom of the Heart 

Lord, now indeed I find thy power and thine alone,
can change the leper’s spots and melt the heart of stone.
Jesus Paid It All, by Elvina M. Hall, 1865

The Bible proclaims and calls for the spread of God's kingdom. However, how it spreads, and particularly, how it should spread has been a matter of debate and sometimes debacle. Plenty of theological errors related to the kingdom of God have led to grave consequences. The crusades, for example, are low hanging fruit. More recently, you could add Reconstructionism and several abuses related to Patriarchy to that list. 

This Sunday we will ask how the kingdom spreads. It should come as no surprise that it's mainly by changed hearts and not by military action, political wrangling, or activism. Our worship service will call us to focus on lifting up our hearts first and foremost. We will confess that the Lord directs the kingdom by spreading light in darkness. But mainly, we are reminded that the kingdom of peace takes hold by breaking up the hard and stony ground of the heart. 

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Worship Notes For Sunday, July 5, 2020 at Christ Covenant Church, Matthews, NC

Habakkuk's Two Responses  

We are in the midst of a health crises, race crises, financial instability, and more. Of course, we don't expect a complete melt down, but what would our response be if that were the case? Habakkuk knew that destruction was coming. As a prophet he was sure of it; he'd 'seen' it. His response was two fold. 

Response One: Cry for Mercy
In Hab. 3:2 the prophet cries out for mercy. He now knows the end result of sin: destruction. As we taste just a bit of chaos and destruction, it is right to cry out for mercy. As we recognize our sin and the result of that sin, it is good to cry out for mercy. 

Response Two: A Resolve to Rejoice
Responding to promised destruction with rejoicing is not natural. But, destruction is not all Habakkuk foresaw. He also saw the ultimate end, which was salvation. I think his response of rejoicing was both a resolve to give God praise in the face of chaos and an ultimate sense of hope. Perhaps part of the key to the call to rejoice in severe mercies is to find hope in ultimate promises. We are not left with just "bad" providences. Instead we know they lead somewhere. Therefore, rejoicing is a choice now as well as the end game.

This week in worship I'm using passages from Habakkuk for the call to worship and confession. Plus, the Numbers passage mirrors Hab. 2:14. And, we will sing from Hab. 3:17-19 again (listen here). From beginning to end, this book leads us on a gospel path. In chapter three we will see the cry for mercy and the resolve to rejoice. May the Lord build both responses in us as we grow in our sense of eternal hope. 

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Worship Notes For Sunday, June 28, 2020 at Christ Covenant Church, Matthews, NC

I Will Rejoice (2020 Version) 

This month (June 2020) at Christ Covenant Church we are working our way through Habakkuk, which is one of my favorite books of the Bible. This week in worship I will introduce I Will Rejoice, based on Hab. 3:17-19. 

Part of what I love about this passage is how it prepares our hearts to give thanks even in the face of providence that we don't understand. Seems appropriate to most times. 

Back in 2006 I released my album Rise in the Darkness. For this update I have redone the vocals, and  smoothed out a couple phrases with congregations in mind. Plus, I gave the melody a lift at the end of the chorus. Finally, I was able to add my kiddos on background vocals!

Stream or download I Will Rejoice (2020 Version) here. There's a lead sheet with chords too. Enjoy!

P.S. My son, Elliot is working out some string parts, and I look forward to singing this with our choir once we are back to whatever normal will look like. 

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Worship Notes For Sunday, June 21, 2020 at Christ Covenant Church, Matthews NC

A Looking Faith 

My faith looks up to thee, thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine;
Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly thine. —Lowell Mason

I need this song. Truthfully, I often look down at my own toes rather than "up to thee." I get bogged down in the mundane. I wonder about the importance of my position. I sometimes exhibit a distracted faith, a self focused faith. But biblical faith calls me to set my eyes on things that are above. 

This old hymn captures a lot of what we will focus on in worship this week. Biblical faith is not a contentless faith or a self focused faith. Rather, it is a "looking" or trusting faith in someone beyond myself. It has content, requires assent, and brings about assurance (Heb. 11:1) to the point of a new walk. Not only this, but our opening hymn this week will remind us that the Lord is sovereign in faith, and that therefore we can cast all our cares upon him, even if those cares arise out of the valley of the shadow of death.

Thankfully, as I look to Christ it's harder to look at self. And, once 'self' is out of the way, walking by faith is a real possibility. This is something we need amid all the pain which is currently sweeping our country. 

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Worship Notes For Sunday, June 14, 2020 at Christ Covenant Church, Matthews NC

The Greatness of Gentleness  

2 Samuel 22:36 reads, “You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your gentleness made me great.” 

This short snippet in the midst of David’s last words is striking. The poetry is full of war talk -troops, bows, battles, torture, enemies – with themes of meekness and mercy sprinkled throughout. But it’s the shield and gentleness that grabs me. 

When I think of a fight, salvation and gentleness are not the weapons that first come to mind. Yet, as Martin Luther noted, the cross of Christ turns everything upside-down. In the Lord’s economy, rather than burying dirt to save your career or smearing your opponent as an offensive tactic, salvation is a shield and gentleness makes one great. That’s countercultural. 

A Shield 

If I am honest, self-defense and pointing the finger is my gut instinct. But shielding oneself and being a bullish accuser rarely protects. At best it provides the opportunity for more dirt to stick, and, at worst, it is mimicking the devil. My best defense is not self-defence or accusation, but the breastplate of righteousness in Christ (i.e. salvation). 

Gentleness 

On the one hand I am tempted to lash out. It feels good to use sarcastic and cynical offensive tactics. On the other hand I’m tempted to be silent and passive. But principled gentleness does not allow for either. The greatness of biblical gentleness is that it accompanies the strength to work for a principled and true peace without using those principles as clanging gongs. 

Therefore, to restate the verse above, resting in God’s salvation is a shield against ultimate harm, and greatness comes with principled gentleness. 

Real Armor 

This week our worship service will include some “war-talk” and “war-songs.” Some folks are uncomfortable with this, and rightly so given certain historical events. But when you consider that our ‘armor’ should actually be things like truth, peace, righteousness, salvation, and even gentleness if we borrow from David, it transforms both our discussion and our actions. This week at Christ Covenant, among other things, we consider Ephesians 6:14-17 and the putting on of the helmet of salvation and the readiness of the gospel of peace. 

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 
Or, to paraphrase David: blessed are the gentle, for they shall be made great.

Wait, and Be Strong 

When we feed our dog, Dottie, we tell her to ‘Sit!’ and ‘Wait.’ Dottie obeys, and as she waits, begins quivering with anticipation. Dottie will wait a very long time, fully expecting good things to come. She is quite strong. 

This Sunday our congregation, like so many others, will be scattered around town and tuning into our worship service digitally. It’s strange to say the least. For the moment we will have to wait to get back together. Until then join us and sing along in your living room: https://christcovenant.org 

Our service has been developed around Ephesians 6:10-11, which is a call to be strong. Other than that the current virus scare is generally a result of the fall of man (See Kevin DeYoung’s post here), we don’t need to say that it’s specifically a “scheme of the Devil”. Yet the fear and worry that might accompany it could be. All kinds of darts are thrown at us: distraction, fear, impatience, etc. 

So we will sing of hope (My Hope is Built on Nothing Less), thankfulness (My Heart is Filled With Thankfulness), our refuge (O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer), and the Lord’s strong arm (We Praise Thee O God, Our Redeemer). 

Psalm 27:14: Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! 

We wait on the Lord, and with strength we anticipate worshiping together and forever.

On the Move 

A biblical worship service should reflect good news, tell good news, and propels us toward gospel service. Neither the service nor the Christian life should be static. This week Kevin DeYoung’s sermon series takes us to Acts 13:1-12 in which Barnabas and Saul/Paul are sent out – they are on the move. 

Here’s a link to our Sunday order of worship. Below are my notes to help prepare us for the service. 

Today our service progresses from a plea for mercy to confidence in our calling to tell of our Redeemer. We move from requesting that the Lord would shine upon us to confessing that Jesus does reign wherever the sun may rise and set. We are called to turn from disobedience unto obedience. We ask “is Christ worthy?” and sing with confidence that he is. We move from darkness to light, from shame to salvation, from hearing to speaking, from receiving to sending. We are not a static church, but a church on the move that the Lord’s glory might fill all the earth.

Longing for Belonging 

*The following is copied from our bulletin at Christ Covenant Church, which we call “In Preparation.” I write these notes off and on in order to help our flock train their eyes and hearts for worship. I don’t write them every week, in part due to space and in part because it’s good for us to discover themes and connections on our own. Not every service must be a tight unit, and yet often clear themes can help us prepare or examine our hearts before the Lord in worship. 

For Sunday, October 20, 2019: 

A sense of belonging is a deeply felt need in the human heart. We love our groups, tribes, gangs, buddies, peeps, and most of all our families. Simon and Garfunkel longingly sang of being an island or rock, but no one can actually live like that without becoming cynical and lonely. The church can provide a sense of home, and yet the truest sense of belonging cannot be separated from believing. 

A true church member is not one who joins a club or finds his peeps. A member is one who is saved by grace through faith and lives a life of repentance. Today our service points out what it is to belong to Christ, be his people, be in our Father’s house, be a part of the body, and find union in Christ. The sacrament of baptism points to being included in the visible church, and the accompanying call to faith reminds us that we must also be welcomed into the invisible church by faith and repentance. The family of God are all those who are hid in Christ the Savior.