Sting vs. Small-Time Worship Leaders

Okay, it’s official, Sting has one of the best voices in rock ‘n roll. On Monday night I went to see The Police in concert, and I must admit, it was pretty incredible. First of all, Sting is like 142 years old and is still way cooler than I’ll ever be. He had an untrimmed neck beard for crying out loud! Only Sting could make that look cool. In addition to being cool, Sting is simply an unparalleled musician. His bass riffs and vocal runs were simply off the charts. The concert was great.

At one point during the concert, Sting was leading 13,000 adoring fans in the passionate singing of the following profound lyrics: “Do Do Do Da Da Da, Is all I want to say to you.” In that moment I couldn’t help but think of my friend Luke.

Every other Wednesday night Jen, myself, and six other couples gather together in someone’s home for a time of singing, Biblical discussion, and good eats. Luke leads the singing on his old, beat-up acoustic guitar. In one sense there’s nothing particularly special about the singing. Just a few people quietly singing to the Lord. Compared to Sting and The Police, it seems tame, boring, almost insignificant. But in reality, what Luke does is far greater and more glorious. Luke is truly great in God’s eyes. Why? In Matthew 20:26-28 Jesus put it this way:

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

In the world’s eyes, Sting is great. Everybody wants to be with Sting and like Sting. But God isn’t impressed with rock ‘n roll heroes. God is impressed by servants. Those who are great in God’s eyes are those who are nothing special in the world’s eyes. Quiet, humble, faithful servants. People just like Luke.

Not many people see Luke leading worship on Wednesday nights. But God does. I want to be like Luke when I grow up.

The Evolution of a Worship Song

Today Sovereign Grace Music releases an album entitled “Psalms”, which, as the more intelligent readers may have guessed, is comprised of worship songs based on specific Psalms. I had the privilege of writing two songs for this project and hope that they serve many local churches.

But what you hear on the album is often very different (in a better way) than what was originally written by the songwriter. My songwriting process usually goes something like this:

_Stephen writes a song and immediately thinks it’s brilliant – possibly the best worship song ever written.

_Stephen plays the song for his dad, who points out the chorus is boring and cliche, and that the verses could really use some more work.

_Stephen goes back to the drawing board (well, writing board actually) and attempts to correct the above problems. Stephen then plays the song for his dad again, who again helps him to refine the song.

_Stephen finally comes up with the ‘finished’ (note the quotation marks) and then records a very rough demo. Trust me folks, my demos are really rough. Don’t believe me? Click on the player below and listen to one of my original demos from the Psalms project.

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_Stephen then sends the rough demo to men who are much more musically gifted, such as Bob Kauflin, who then suggest further changes to improve the song. After another round of changes, the real final version of the song is given to the producer, who takes my really rough demo and creates something that actually sounds good. Click on the player below to hear the album version of the song.

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So there you have it folks. That’s how a song goes from idea to album in a nutshell. I’m so grateful to work with Sovereign Grace Music and guys like my dad and Bob Kauflin. I hope I can do it for many more years.

FYI – You can download a free song from the album by clicking here.

Dreams and Expectations

God has given humans the incredible ability to dream.

We can imagine the fun we’ll have on vacation, or hitting the ball over the fence and rounding the bases. We can imagine heaven, seeing Jesus’ face and hearing the thunderous waterfall of the praise of multitudes. We can imagine our children growing up to serve God. What an amazing gift to be able to hope and dream.

But we must be on guard, for our idol-factory hearts can so easily turn dreams into demands. Our hopes can easily begin to drive our lives. We can subtly shift from living for God’s glory to living for our idols.

We can unconsciously embrace certain ideas of the way the world is supposed to be. We can buy into the “American Dream”, and then when life doesn?t turn out the way we think it should, we can become disillusioned, depressed, and an easy target for temptation.

Our dream might be as simple as thinking when we turn 16, we’ll get our driver’s license. Or that we’ll graduate from college, marry, have children, a home and minivan. Our expectation might be a long, healthy life.

But what if these things don?t happen? What if we never marry or we lose our health or our job? What if we retire and our wife gets Alzheimer’s?

A member of our church for years dropped out when his son got a girl pregnant and then they got married. ?It wasn?t supposed to be this way,” he said. “I did everything I should and look what happened.? He had a certain EXPECTATION that if he did everything right, his children would grow up perfect. When his dream failed to materialize, he became angry at God.

Though Scripture contains many promises that give parents great hope their children will follow him, it doesn?t guarantee a painless pleasure cruise.

Remember:

? God doesn?t owe us our dreams. He doesn?t owe us long life, health, wealth, a marriage partner, godly children, or anything. In his lavish kindness he gives us many of these blessings but he never owes them to us.

? Our dreams will never fulfill us even if we achieve them. Only Christ can satisfy. He alone must be our portion.

? We shouldn’t be surprised when we suffer in this fallen world. Things break, people get sick. We sin, our children sin. Others let us down.

? God?s dream should be our dream. God?s dream is to glorify himself through a rescued people who are increasingly enjoying Jesus and becoming like him. We can live for this dream no matter what our circumstances are.

So who’s dream are you living for?

photo by au ro

God Glorifying Speech

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How many words come out of your mouth in one day? What percentage of your words effect people in a God-glorifying way? What percentage have the opposite effect?

Lately I’ve been thinking about my own words. I’ve been challenged by the words of C.J. Mahaney in his book Humility. He says:

A lot of language is flowing out of our mouths every day and having an impact on those around us. But how much of that flow is fulfilling God’s intended purpose for our speech?

I tend to speak without thinking. Or, more precisely, I tend to speak without considering how it will affect those around me. And I rarely give thought to God’s intended purpose for my speech.

What is that purpose? Ephesians 4:29 says: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

God-glorifying speech does several things:

  • It builds others up. Words that glorify God are words that build others up. If I speak in a way that glorifies God, it will have a refreshing effect on others. They will be more aware of where God is at work in their lives. They will be encouraged. And hopefully they will be laughing at some point.
  • It’s appropriate for the occasion. Some people are weary and need to be encouraged. Others need to be corrected or challenged. Still others need to be exhorted. Godly speech fits the occasion.
  • It gives grace. Godly speech is a God-ordained means of imparting grace to others. As I seek to encourage and exhort others, they will truly experience the grace of God.

I want to grow in God-glorifying speech. I want my words to impart grace to others. I don’t want to waste my words. As C.J. says:

Through each and every interaction, however casual, however brief, I want to impart grace through my words, for that’s God’s purpose in granting us this gift of speech.

Praise God that he’s not done sanctifying my speech yet.

Wall*E: The Definitive Review

Several weeks ago I called upon faithful and sagacious readers to provide me with their opinion of the latest Pixar film Wall*E. The responses were mixed, some joyfully raving about the movie, others harshly criticizing it. This past Friday I decided to find out for myself. It was time for a definitive review (okay, maybe the word ‘definitive’ is a bit strong, but I’ve always wanted to say that something I did was definitive).

Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. After seeing Wall*E with my own eyes, I came away…insert long extended drum roll and 21 gun salute…distinctly DISAPPOINTED. I was disappointed for several reasons.

As a general rule of thumb, Pixar movies are a glorious combination of humorous dialog, hilarious sight gags, and a moderate dose of cuteness. Wall*E however, relied primarily on what I call ‘The Cute Factor’. For example:

  • For a significant portion of the movie there was zero dialog, focusing instead on the silly/cute antics of a robot named Wall*E. Some of it was mildly amusing, such as when Wall*E watches something on a video iPod, but not nearly as funny as the one-liners delivered by Billy Crystal in ‘Monsters Inc.’
  • Partway into the movie a ‘female’ robot named Eve arrives on the scene. Wall*E desperately wants to hold Eve’s hand – a theme that gets repeated approximately 497 times in the movie. Cute, but nothing compared to Frozone in ‘The Incredibles’.
  • Wall*E and Eve say each other’s names in cute robot voices again and again, which was kind of amusing the first fifty times, but lost a bit of ‘oomph’ after that.

I will admit, there were some humorous moments when Wall*E was aboard the space station, but these didn’t carry me through the movie.

There you have it folks, the definitive review. A cartoon movie critically reviewed by a grown man…my parents would be proud.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’d like to hear where you agree or disagree.

What’s Your Guilty Pleasure?

Sushi

One of the glories of the gospel is that it transforms ‘guilty pleasures’ into grateful pleasures. In other words, things that you once did without gratefulness to God or self-control (e.g. eat ice cream, go cycling, watch movies), you can now do with joy in your heart and in a way that pleases God.

So I’m declaring today Grateful Pleasure Friday. My grateful pleasure? Sushi. Yes, as freakish as it may sound, I enjoy eating fish that are only slightly dead. I love the taste and texture of raw tuna. I love the ‘nostrils full of lava’ feel you get when you consume a little to much wasabi. Raw fish = extreme deliciousness. I’m grateful to God for sushi.

Alright, you’re up. What’s your grateful pleasure?

+ArabianRose

Where Are Your Eyes?

babylon

At the end of twelve months [Nebuchadnezzar] was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, ?Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?? (DA 4.29-30).

As Nebuchadnezzar surveyed his city, he probably saw the hanging gardens of Babylon, one of the 7 wonders of the world, which he?d made. As he saw the sun glinting off parapets and towers, he was inflated with pride over the glorious city ??which I have built by MY power as a royal residence for the glory of MY majesty.?

As soon as he spoke, God drove Nebuchadnezzar into the wilderness where he ate grass like an ox and was drenched with the dew, ?till his hair grew as long as eagles? feathers, and his nails were like birds? claws.?

But God had mercy had mercy on ol? Neb, who later reports:

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation (DA 4.34).

In his commentary on Daniel, Iain Duguid notes that before he fell, Nebuchadnezzar?s eyes were on himself and his glory; afterwards he lifted his eyes to God and his glory.

A few days ago, my fellow pastor Joe spent some time with a local pastor who?s been here 3 years and taken his church from 90 to 400. They have a beautiful new building complete with flat screen TVs everywhere. Children and teen rooms have things like Moon Bounces and Nintendo Wiis and climbing walls. Instantly, I compared myself: I?ve been here 28 years and we?ve got around 320 members. Our building?s fine, but not fancy. Half the time, when we try to project a DVD clip, it doesn?t work. Until I heard about the Wiis, I was really happy with our freshly painted children?s classrooms. Suddenly I was filled with envy and discontentment – we’re the dinkball church with the dinkball pastor from Dinkville.

What happened? I took my eyes off Christ and his glory, and became consumed with my own peewee glory and accomplishments. And when they didn?t compare to another pastor?s, in my wicked pride, I became downcast. My eyes weren?t on Jesus and his work on the cross, but on myself and my work.

If I?d kept looking at Christ and his glorious cross, I would have rejoiced for all he?s doing in my brother?s ministry and church, and ours as well.

Praise Jesus, he won?t tolerate our pride and he loves us so much he?ll do whatever it takes to get our eyes back on him. He convicted me of my evil pride and got my eyes back on his glory. And I didn?t have to eat grass or be drenched with dew.

If our eyes are on ourselves and our accomplishments, we’ll be miserable. But if we keep our eyes fixed on Christ and all he accomplished on the cross, we’ll be filled with joy. Let’s ask Jesus to help us get our eyes off ourselves and onto our great Savior.

photo by mixstar

Worry Never Ends

Endless

You learn a lot when a baby enters your life (note: understatement of the century). I’ve learned that babies are cute, no matter how bad they stink. I’ve learned that “there’s always more where that came from”, if you know what I mean. I’ve learned that a baby can cause a mostly mature, grown man to dance around like a deranged clown in an effort to get his baby to laugh. I’ve learned that diapers cost more than gold…and oil. Babies are boat loads of fun.

I’ve also learned that babies give you lots of things to worry about. Sickness, safety, vaccinations. Household hazards and sleeping conditions. Spiritual health. The list never ends. There’s always something else to be worrying about. Charis isn’t crawling yet, and sometimes I worry that she’s not developing fast enough. But I know that as soon as she starts crawling, I’ll begin worrying that she isn’t walking yet. Worry is a sinful, endless, gut-twisting cycle.

And were not just talking about babies here. We’re talking about all of life. There’s always something else to worry about. Will I be laid off? Will I be able to provide for my family? Will my parents be in good health? Will my children follow the Lord? Worry doesn’t take days off. It’s relentless and ruthless.

Changing the circumstances doesn’t solve the problem either. When one worry vanishes, another quickly fills the void. Changing circumstances is a only symptomatic cure for a much deeper problem. Worry is rooted in a faulty view of God. When I’m worrying, I’m failing to see God’s good and sovereign care. In Matthew 6:25-26, 34, Jesus said:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

God cares about birds. Think about that for a second. Ravens are semi-ugly, annoying birds (sorry if you like ravens), yet God cares about them. He feeds them, clothes them, sustains them. Not a single one dies without him knowing about it. Now, if God cares for ravens, won’t he care for me? I’m his child. He crushed his precious son to make me his precious son. He bought me with blood. In light of all this, won’t he take care of me each day? This is what I’m learning to rest in. Each day is going to have some degree of trouble. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that God will be there, caring for me.

What are you worried about today? What does this reveal about your view of God?

There Will Be Grace

paper airplanes

I don’t like to fly.

When I do, I almost always wind up thinking of worst-case scenarios. What if I’m in the bathroom and the tail section breaks off? What would it feel like to be launched into the atmosphere? Would I pass out from the lack of oxygen at 30,000 feet? Would I suddenly wake up 30 feet above the ground and for the last 2 seconds of my life experience intense terror before the incredible pain of impact? If I die, what will happen to my wife and children? Who will provide for them? Who will teach my teenage boys about Christ and walk them through their teen years? Imagination is a gift from God, but on planes my imagination tends to go into overdrive.

We don’t have to fly to be tempted to fear. What if I never get married? What if I can’t find a job? What if my child gets a serious disease? What if my teenager continues to rebel? How will I make it when I retire?

After the Exodus, God provided manna for his people. He told them to gather each day’s amount and not store up any extra. They weren’t to worry about tomorrow’s manna, or next week’s manna, only that day’s.

In his book Running Scared, Ed Welch points out that for Christians, manna is a picture of grace. Like manna, God provides grace for each day. We don’t know what challenges we’ll face in 2 weeks or 2 years, but we know that whatever we encounter, there will be grace. We can’t get tomorrow’s grace ahead of time, but when we need it, God will provide.

Corrie Ten Boom used to say that when she was a child, her father would take her on train trips. While waiting, she’d ask her father for her ticket, but he’d say, “I’ll give you your ticket just before we get on.” And each time, when the train would arrive, he’d hand her her ticket just before boarding. Corrie’s point was that God gives us grace just when we need it. He gives us each day’s manna.

God helped me apply the manna principle the last couple times I had to fly. When tempted to fear, I was able to counter the temptation to fear by praying, then reminding myself, “No matter what happens, there will be grace. Should I be launched into the stratosphere, there will be grace. Should the plane crash, there will be grace. Should I die, there will be grace for my wife and children.” Amazingly, fear left me.

I’m seeking to apply these 4 words to every situation in which I’m tempted to fear. Be it finances or family, I’m attempting to regularly cast my cares on Jesus, then thank him that there will be grace.

May these 4 words, “there will be grace”, encourage you today.

photo by ?reg

Dealing With Blind People

SightI have a friend (we’ll call him Terry) that I hang out with on a regular basis. Terry doesn’t know Jesus. I’ve probably told him about Jesus five times and the reaction is the same every time: he just doesn’t get it. The whole idea of Jesus dying on the cross and being the only way to God is stupid to him. It doesn’t make a lick of sense. Actually, I should clarify a bit. It doesn’t make sense to him, but he also doesn’t want to believe it, which he has told me several times. Which brings a question to mind. Why am I any different than Terry? Why does the gospel make beautiful sense to me? Is it because I’m smarter, or had Christian parents, or am just a more religious guy? Why are you a Christian, but your aunt, or mother, or best friend isn’t? What’s the difference. Check out what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14 -

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

There is one massive, fundamental difference between me and Terry: the Spirit of God opened my eyes to see the truth. Apart from the work of the Spirit, the gospel appears to be a message of madness. People don’t willfully embrace madness, they scorn it. Terry hasn’t yet had his eyes opened by God, and so he sees foolishness where I see beauty.

In his book The Cross and Christian Ministry, D.A. Carson says of these verses:

Paul’s point, then, is that the possibility of knowing God and understanding his ways does not belong to any human being as an essential component of his or her being. The distance is too great; our self-centeredness is too deep. And nothing in the “wisdom of this age” can help us…What is required then is revelation.

I shouldn’t be surprised that the gospel seems ridiculous to Terry. He literally can’t see it. In fact, it’s utterly impossible for anyone to know God apart from God revealing himself. I never would have embraced the cross if the Spirit of God hadn’t first worked in me. The cross would have appeared barbaric, foolish, and stupid. But in his mercy, God gave me sight, and now the cross is a beautiful thing.

This fills me with gratefulness to God and gives me hope for sharing the gospel with Terry. I can’t convince Terry to believe in Jesus. I can’t persuade his heart with apologetics or convince him of his desperate sinfulness. But there is One who can do such a miraculous work. God himself can save Terry.

You can’t open the eyes of your mom, aunt, best friend, or college roommate. But we serve a glorious, kind, revealing, God. He can let them see the glories of the gospel shining through the foolishness.