Monday, October 27, 2008

The Cost of Discipleship

At our church, we have a 2-story house on the corner of our property that was donated to the church so the church could have the lot space and expand our campus. The house is over 100 years old and is in great structural shape, but needs some TLC on the cosmetic end. So, in an effort to get the house taken off the property and to prevent demolition of the structure, our trustees put a sign in the yard "Free House to be Moved." Needless to say, we've had many inquiries and people come by to look at the house. But here is the reason the house is still here. The house is taller than most power lines and would probably have to be partially dismantled, then reassembled at it's permanent home. The cost of moving the house, we've heard from interested parties, is somewhere between $55,000 to $85,000.

Well, today, I was thinking about a comment I heard this past weekend at a 6th Grade Retreat at Lakeview Conference Center. Our speaker told us that some people will tell you that making Jesus your Lord and accepting His forgiveness is the easiest decision you'll ever make--a no-brainer, if you will. But he riminded us that choosing to follow Christ is really one of the hardest decisions we'll ever make because it involves a life-long commitment to loving God and other people, even when it's not easy.

I think a lot of believers encounter God and get caught up in the "free house" mentality, and then realize what the cost of that free house is and their excitement dwindles. Jesus talked about this in the Parable of the Sower (The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.). So, was choosing to follow Christ, the hardest decision you've ever made? The easiest? Somewhere in the middle?

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." --Matthew 16:24

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Way It Ought to Be

I remember my first Christian concert. It was 1987 at Reunion Arena in Dallas. We saw Twila Paris, and a couple of other people, but the headliner was Petra. We were on the floor...13th row if memory serves correctly right in front of a towering wall of speakers and I had no idea what to expect. They all came out in silver jumpsuits and big hair (it was the 80s, remember?) and blew our ears out much like Marty McFly at the beginning of Back to the Future. Ever since, I've been to dozens of Christian concerts both for my own enjoyment and as attempts to get my youth group plugged into music that wasn't mired down with messages of sensuality, physical perfection, and the "do whatever you want" mentality of our culture.

But somewhere in all the loud guitars, lights and sold out arenas there runs a danger of something getting lost. With all the T-shirts and shameless plugs for the upcoming album Christian music begins to look a lot like non-Christian music which in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. But I've been to many shows where the artists didn't speak much or talk about what their relationship to God meant to them. At these shows, the band came out, sang and played for 2 hours, and we all went back to buy shirts and CDs on the way out. But last Saturday, Oct. 11, I experienced a breath of fresh air amidst all the tyranny of contemporary Christian music. I went to Christ United Methodist Church in College Station, TX to see Building 429 with opening acts After Edmund and Addison Road. The experience was as spiritually enlightening as it was pleasing to the ears.

We paid a modest price of $10 for our tickets and were in a church that seated about 1500 that was maybe 2/3 full. So there was plenty of room to get up by the stage and get very close to the performers. After Edmund had done a show the previous spring here in Palestine and our kids were so crazy about them...they are a great band and put on a great show. But when the guys in the band realized that our kids had been at the Palestine, their memories were jogged and they remembered them. It was so nice to see this band who was touring across the country to remember a bunch of jr. high kids from Palestine. Jason Roy, the lead singer of Building 429 served as emcee for the whole show. Many times the headliners stay tucked away until the big finale, but he wanted us to experience God's love and worship him at that concert. So the concert was about Christ, not about them. They also did a few worship songs that were not orignally written or performed by them to lead the congregation in worship. I wasn't really surprised, but yet, I wasn't expecting it either. I mean nobody is going to be able to go to the back table and find the Building 429 CD with the Matt Redman song on it--it doesn't exist. But their heart was for worship and community and I felt that superceded any agenda for record sales.

I realize that record sales are a small portion of what funds these cross-country behemoths as they go from town to town with huge trucks filled with lights and sound equipment and in order for them to do what God has called them to do, they have to make money. However, it's good to know that amidst all the bright lights, record sales, touring, merchandise, and everything else that bands are still doing the Lord's work by lifting people's spirits and leading them to the throne of God.
(Below, my youth group kids with members of After Edmund)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New Creations or Banged Up, Suspended Coulda' Beens?

I was so excited at the beginning of the season--every time I turned on SportsCenter, my Dallas Cowboys were getting tons of air-time discussing how they were the most talented team in football. and favorites for the Super Bowl. I've been a Cowboys fan as long as I can remember--my Mom even tells a story about us driving past a Holiday Inn (back when they had a big white star on their sign) and I shouted from the back seat in my best baby talk "Dadda Cabboy". From the days of Staubach, Dorsett, and Coach Landry, up through the Danny White era, I watched it all. It was a tough pill to swallow when Jerry Jones bought the franchise, but when the triplets (Aikman, Emmitt, and Irvin) and their supporting cast started making a run for the championship I quickly came around. But the events of the last week have been disturbing. Our all-pro quarterback has a broken pinky along with our punter who has a broken foot. Our #2 running back is out with a torn hamstring and many of the players are just "banged up". But the one inactive player that tops the list is not due to an injury. Yes, the gamble that team management took in acquiring Adam "Pac-Man" Jones under the condition that he would behave himself did not pay off in a positive way. He had some drama at a hotel in Dallas two weeks ago and is now in an indefinite suspension for a minimum of 4 weeks. I felt Pac-Man should have been suspended by the team regardless of what the NFL decided to do, but it seemed that to the management that winning was more important than discipline. In other words, it was like the Cowboys were saying, "We don't care how you act off the field as long as you put up big numbers ON the field." Add to all this the constant ego issues with Terrell Owens who never seems happy with the amount of passes thrown his way. As I thought about the team's situation, some thoughts came to mind as well as some scriptures.

If we are in Christ, we are new creations, right? Paul says in Romans that we are to be "more than conquerers." But I think many times we are a lot like the Dallas Cowboys--a team that has a ton of talent, but whose egos and injuries get in the way. They can't seem to be successful right now because of all the drama they experience off the field. Paul says this is the human condition in Romans 7, beginning in verse 7. He says "what I want to do is what I do not do and what I do not want to do are the very things I do." Our lives are bogged down by sin. Even though we are new in Christ, we still deal with our sinful nature. How would our lives and ministries look if we put all the personal drama aside and lived as new conquerors? For seasons it seems we do that, but a lot of times we spend our time and energy chasing futile goals--either in ministry or in our personal lives. We are trying to get to another rung on the "ladder" or trying to make enough money to afford the payment on another car. If we would learn to run the race God calls us to run, we will live like champions, not like banged up "coulda beens".

Monday, October 13, 2008

Planting Seeds

This morning, I opened my myspace inbox to an email from a student I haven't seen in the youth program in a long time. This student lives a pretty good distance from Palestine in a small community. She was a regular in our program at one time, but due to gas prices and family changes she has been unable to attend for some time. We have kept in touch over the last year through myspace. I always wanted her to know that she was missed and we wanted to see her next time she got a chance to come to one of our meetings. Well, this morning she reported to me that she had been almost agnostic over the course of the last year, but at a couple of events this weekend with another church, she had "gotten saved" (that was how she put it--I have to assume she prayed to make Christ the Lord of her life--either way, she had a spiritually moving experience and had talked to someone about her relationship with God). She told me how she saw the reality of who God was. One of the events she had attended was a production of "Hell House." Personally, this is not how I like to approach preaching the gospel, however, this was something that spoke to her heart. I was encouraged to know that the seeds I had planted over nearly 2 years of study came to fruition somewhere else. She is now getting plugged into the ministry of this church that is closer to her home and where she has several friends from school.

Sometimes it's hard to let go of stuff. We want to be the guy who leads droves of students to Christ each week and has the big program with standing room only at each of our lessons and when it doesn't happen that way, we can get discouraged if our pride gets in the way. The church in Corinth had this problem (I Cor. 3), although, It wasn't Paul and Apollos who had the pride was the congregation. They were taking up sides for who was their favorite preacher. As youth ministers, we want to see those kids make a profession of faith and come to Christ under our watch and we forget that we may be planting the seeds or watering, when God is the one who will bring the growth and it may be someone else who gets to reap the benefits of the harvest. For those of you guys in the trenches of youth ministry, be encouraged. Isaiah 55:11 says the Word of God will not return void (KJV). The lessons you teach week in and week out are sinking in, but they may not take root until long after you teach them.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Yahweh and the Festival of Manliness

This past Friday, I got to spend the day doing one of my favorite things--hunting. Not just hunting, but hunting with my best friend, Tommy Rosenblad who is a pastor in Bartlett, TX. Tommy is not only my best friend, and an avid hunter, but he also shares my love of football--particularly the Dallas Cowboys. So on Friday, we met early that morning at the deer lease. With it being very early in the season we decided to sit in the same stand and "film" our hunt. It's hard to film when you don't see any quarry. We got skunked. We saw no deer. The only thing we saw was a lone coyote who walked the length of the field and came near our stand just out of bow range. The hunting forecast doesn't look too good when there are predators lurking around. Anyway, I digress.

Fast forward 2 days to Sunday School this past week. The lesson was centered around the story of David and Jonathan. (short Bible story paraphrase: Jonathan's dad, Saul, was the king and was jealous of David and had been trying to kill him. Jonathan made an oath to God that he would be loyal to David no matter what.) We studied about how some friends bring us up while others bring us down. What I began to realize in that study was that for some students (and adults) Christianity is just another thing they have in common with their friends (they like the same movies, video games, sports, sports teams, etc.) Then their are others for whom faith isn't just something that they have in common with their friends--faith is the foundation of that friendship!

Sunday night, we were doing a small group guys study called "Becoming a Young Man of God". One of the questions posed was, "What do you think it means to be a real man?" Many people would say that 2 guys dressed in camoflauge and toting bows and arrows in the woods and talking about their love for the Dallas Cowboys and all things football would be very manly. But I think that true manliness is when men can have a friendship that is built on their faith in God through Jesus Christ. "Jonathan said to David, "Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, 'The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.'" (I Sam. 20:42) Pretty manly, huh?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Youth Band: Leading Worship from a Drum Set

Recently, our youth worship band in our fairly small youth group suffered a tremendous loss when our drummer's family moved away. I played drums in a worship band in college so the natural transition was for me to move to drums. Although, I considered myself to be a better drummer than guitar player, it has been a difficult transition. I would like to share with you some of the obstacles and frustrations I've experienced. If anyone out there has any advice, please post a comment. I'm thinking of getting a drum machine, so if you've worked with those, maybe you can make a recommendation.

A drummer doesn't have a commanding presence over the rest of the band. Unless the band members are intent on watching you for cues it's difficult to have that nonverbal communication you have when standing up and playing guitar. With a guitar you can move around, bob your head, and even turn and show them your fingers on the fretboard. From a drumset, you are limited to really only being able to control the tempo and texture of the song.

It is difficult to interact with the audience/congregation from behind a drumset. In worship circles, we talk about the invisible wall between the stage and the audience. As a worship leader, that wall really gets bigger when the "leader" is at the back and tied to a chair.

Having a band leader on drums puts more pressure on the singers because there is no one standing up beside them singing with them. Although you may be singing from the drumset, they still feel isolated from you and can make younger singers more nervous.

Leading singing and playing drums can be challenging in itself. This may just depend on the person doing it, but certain instruments, like rhythm guitar, really lend themselves to accompanying singers. I find it easier, in fact, to sing from behind my guitar than without it (if it's a song I know). Drumming and singing don't always blend, especially if the drum rhythms are not right in sync with the vocal lines.

As I said earlier, I'm considereing getting a drum machine for our worship band and going back to guitar. What have your experiences been with drum machines? Is it a good thing, or is it too "canned" where the kids don't really connect? Also, would I be better served having another student learn to play djembe or cajon? My guitar player doesn't have an acoustic, so I don't think that would blend very well. What do you think?