Those People With the Signs at the Intersections

You know the ones. They're usually poorly dressed, with a backpack at their feet. The sign says "Will work for food", or "Homeless. Please Help". Maybe you see them on your way to work? Or while running errands? You pretend not to notice them. You avoid their glance. Yeah, those people.

Have you found yourself annoyed by them? How dare they stand there everyday and beg you for money. They're probably liars, scam artists, just out to make a quick buck. Or they're addicts and will just waste your money on drugs and alcohol. Whatever it is, you know there is no good reason why they don't have a job. They're obviously lazy. Let's see, what other assumptions can we use to make ourselves feel better about ignoring them.

My goodness, if you were to give some of your spare change to everyone that asked you, why that would add up to... uh, let's see here... 50 cents per day times the guy at 5th and main plus the kid downtown... carry the one... Well, TOO much, THAT'S for sure. And besides, you tithe to your church and give money every year to the homeless shelter. You're doing you're part, right?

So why can't you look them in the eyes? Why do you have to pretend to be on the phone? Why can't you roll down your window and say hello?

"Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." Deuteronomy 15:10-11

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Administration
Our Place Christian Church

>sent via blackberry

It's Been A While


Well, I think it's been about a month since I last posted here. Sorry to everyone who look forward to my intermittent ramblings!

I will be speaking at a Prison Fellowship concert this coming Friday, sharing a bit about my past and how important Prison Fellowship is in the lives of those on the inside. I will also be sharing a song I wrote called "Circumstances". The premise of the song is about serving God despite the circumstances that surround us. And it is also about a special set of circumstances that surround men and women in prison and after their release... a stigma that all felons deal with.

Most people doubt the possibility that offenders can change. The reality is that 70-80% of prisoners end up returning to prison, either by violating the rules of their release or for committing new crimes. And sadly, this cycle often repeats itself over and over in their lives. And so, offenders are often viewed with suspicion. It's hard to get a job, to get housing, to get credit... Most people aren't willing to take the risk. There is even doubt among the prisoners inside, a culture that says "You can't change. You'll be back".

And this culture is especially evident when it comes to prisoners who look to Jesus to help them change. Prisoners, as well as those who work in the criminal justice system, are very aware of a condition known as "jailhouse religion". This is where offenders, for whatever reason, claim religion as proof that they have changed, when in reality they haven't changed at all. Judges and parolle officers are very aware of this tactic. And many now give no credence whatsoever to religious claims unless they are backed up by a significant history of positive behaviour.

And as a prisoner, and as an ex-prisoner, I had to continually deal with people doubting my faith, doubting that I was a new creature, doubting the work that Jesus had done in my life. Non-Christians doubted whether there even WAS a God who could change me. And even Christians sometimes doubted whether I was telling the truth, or just using religion as a scam to earn their trust. So I wrote this song:

From the valley, the summit seems so far
And clouds of sin block the view
And those around me deny that it exists
They just say that I'm a fool
To try and climb away

I've fallen further than I ever thought I would
But now I know what I must do
Serve my God like I never thought I could
But they still say that I'm a fool
To think I could ever change

Let them say what they will
I know the change inside is real
And today is my chance
To rise above my circumstances
They won't define who I am
Or how I feel

Prison Fellowship Aftercare is a hugely important ministry. They believe that Jesus CAN change the lives of prisoners, and they take risks. They trust them. They believe in them. Often when no one else will. I thank God for Prison Fellowship and the positive role they have played in my life. If you live in Portland, be sure to come to the Prison Fellowship event happening at Sunset Presbyterian Church on Friday evening, June 3. The doors open at 6pm.

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Administration
Our Place Christian Church

>sent via blackberry

Tithing Part II

In my previous post I asked the question "Would God be pleased if I tithed?" The answer for me is yes. I believe God is pleased when I tithe. I believe tithing is a good thing. But as with all good deeds, its goodness becomes empty if our motives for doing it are misplaced.

For example, singing a song to God is not pleasing to God if our motives are not pure. If we are singing to show off our talents to others so that they might be impressed with us, or if we are singing ritualistically, without really believing in (or more importantly acting upon) the words we are singing, then I have difficulty believing that our singing will please God. Songs by themselves, absent the hearts and the deeds to back them up, are not what God desires from us. Take a look at what God says about this in the book of Amos:

"I hate all your show and pretense--the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won't even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your hymns of praise! They are only noise to my ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry." Amos 5:21-24 (NLT)

Notice that God did not say "All I care about is what you believe". He said that He desires righteous living. God desires Holiness, both inward and outward. Songs, by themselves, are meaningless.

And we should approach tithing the same way. Much like the offerings described in Amos, we should not rely on tithing to accomplish something by itself. It only plays a part in a holistic approach to righteous living. It will not substitute for unrighteousness. Only Jesus can do that. We deceive ourselves if we believe that our good deeds will lead to salvation. At the same time, we deceive ourselves if we believe our salvation removes the need for good deeds. On the contrary, our salvation should compel us to good works. Good works do not lead to salvation, but salvation DOES lead to good works.

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." James 2:15-18 (NIV)

James' challenge here is for us to show our faith. And the sting of this passage is that without good deeds, we are left with very little evidence of our faith. To paraphrase, James might have said, "Talk is cheap". Again, good deeds are not a replacement for faith, rather, as James points out, they are the evidence of it.

"Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins." James 4:17 (NIV)

So I ask you, is it good to tithe? Is it good for you to tithe? Would God be pleased if you tithed? Does God want you to tithe? These are the questions we must ask ourselves when we think about tithing. For me, the answers are a resounding "YES!" What about you?

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Administration
Our Place Christian Church

>sent via blackberry

Tithing

Below are some thoughts on tithing that I shared with our church in our newsletter this week:

Remember, this weekend is POTENTIAL weekend, so I want to encourage all of you to bring a tithe of your weekly income on Sunday. Peg and I give our tithes and offerings each month through automatic bill-pay with our bank's online banking service. But this week we are changing that around and bringing one week's worth of our tithing and giving to church with us on Sunday to put in the plate. That's really the idea behind the "potential" of what we can do together as a church each week. So I hope that all of you will try to do the same as well.

I know that not all of you tithe regularly. I avoided tithing for a long time, and I had all kinds of good reasons for it. I was convinced that I could not afford to tithe, and I told myself that tithing was just Old Testament "legalism" and that New Testament Christians were not required to tithe. My fear of legalism had resulted in a reactionary "backward legalism" where my rationale was that if God did not require it, then I would not do it.

But what changed my mind was this simple question: "Would God be pleased if I tithed?" That changed my perspective on the whole issue. Instead of thinking about what I was or was not required to do, I began thinking about what I WANTED to do. I want to do things that please God, and I strive each day to give more and more of myself to Him. And I have seen God bless my family's finances in ways I never could have dreamed of 10 years ago. Rather than feeling that I can't afford to tithe, I have found that I can't afford NOT to tithe! Of course, tithing is not enough to please God on its own. But it's a conscious step that we all can take toward honoring God with all of our lives.

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Administration
Our Place Christian Church

>sent via blackberry

Jam Nights at Our Place

Jam Night this week was awesome! We had 17 people show up to jam, and it was a great time. Players from the OP Youth Band and Ethnos Worship Band came and jammed with us, as well as a number of others. Jam Night started Tuesday night at 7:30 pm and lasted until 11:30 pm when we finally had to call it quits! We played a ton of music together, from the latest Barlow Girl single "Never Again" to the old Hank Williams Sr. hit "I Saw the Light". Talk about variety!

The night started off with a prayer reinforcing our purpose and intent to worship God and give Him glory, not to be concerned with our own talents and abilities, or with our own glory, but only in worshiping Him with the gifts He has given us. Then we sorted through the song list and decided on a song to play and we were off and rolling (and rocking!). After four hours of rotating players and singers in and out of the lineups and jamming through lots of music, everyone got a chance to sing and play on at least a couple of three song sets, and there were plenty of opportunities to play with new and different people... always an important thing for musicians!

One of the singers sent me an email yesterday and said:

"Hey Ken, Thanks for taking the time to start Jam Night again! It's an incredible forum for worship and learning. I look forward to it every month. Thanks!!"

And I think that really sums up what Jam Nights are all about. If you haven't been to a Jam Night yet, or you want to get back into it again, we'll be meeting on the SECOND TUESDAY of each month at 7:30 pm in the auditorium at Our Place. Its definitely a time of worship where you can join with others in singing to the Lord, but you can come even if you just want to hang out and talk and watch the bands and meet other musicians. I tend to do both! :-) Sometimes people bring their acoustic guitars and sit in the seats and play along with the bands. Since the chord charts are on the big screen you can still participate and get something out of jam Night without having to be on the stage. Simply put, everyone is welcome at Jam Night!

If you are a worship leader or singer or musician currently playing in a worship band or on a worship team, I would ESPECIALLY encourage you to come. It is such an awesome opportunity to share what you know and what you do with others. If you have music you'd like to jam on with us, bring it on a cd in MS WORD (.doc) or ADOBE ACROBAT (.pdf) format so we can project it on the big screens for everyone to follow along. If you're a Christian songwriter and want to share your material with a large group of musicians, this is the PERFECT venue for that. Just bring the chord charts and the lyrics and we'll "jam on it" with you.

Thanks to everyone that came out Tuesday night! I had a great time jamming with you! I hope to see all of you and MORE at the next Jam Night, Tuesday May 10th at 7:30pm. Put it on your calendars!

Singability and Guitar Solos

What is this idea of "singability" in worship music? I've heard so many different points of view on this that I thought I would share my thoughts on the issue.

As far as music style, it is marginally true that some songs are easier to sing than others. The most significant variable that affects singability is familiarity. Hymns are some of the most difficult songs to sing when one is unfamiliar with them, due to the lyrical syncopation and accents that often run counter to normative diction (for example, the word "fortress" in "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" is sung in three syllables, requiring a sort of double tonguing of the first "r", not easily done unless you are familiar with the song, and one of hundreds of like examples).

And the debate on singability runs to and fro. Many who prefer hymns argue that choruses are "too simple and repetitive". And while modern/postmodern worship music is increasingly embracing hymnody and returning to values of complexity, intricacy, and depth in worship music, those who prefer simpler choruses argue for singability. And while there are good points to be made on all sides, in the end it truly boils down to taste and familiarity and circular logic. "I like what I know and can sing and worship to easily", "I can sing and worship easily to what I like and know", etc.

The idea that some songs are more worshipful or more conducive to worship than others is a truly flawed proposition. Worshipfulness is in the heart of the worshiper. Everything on the exterior is taste and familiarity. Hymns are not better or worse than Hillsongs in any spiritual way, nor are Hillsongs better or worse than Vineyard or SixSteps in any spiritual way. The only way they are better or worse than each other is in the way that they meet people's expectations and tastes, or put another way, in the particular language that they speak to particular people. You can read my post called "Music as Language" to learn more of my opinions on this idea.

However, I do feel that some songs, and especially certain lyrical styles, are better suited for leading worship. I believe that ALL music is worship. But not all music is best suited to lead others in worship. For example, I could write a song with lyrics about being addicted to drugs, and how I trust in God for deliverance... and when I sing that song, I would definitely be worshiping God with it. But it might not be the best song for me to use to lead others in worship. Certainly it could lead others to worship, and it would perhaps be awesome and powerful for those who could connect with it somehow and worship through it. But it would take a special connection that not everyone would have. So I see a slight difference between music that is designed and written for personal worship versus music that is designed and written to lead others in worship.

At the same time, during a church gathering there is definitely room for all kinds of music and worship styles. I have experienced great connections with God in personal worship through experiencing the talents and personal worship of others, even if I am not participating in it, but only watching it. When I hear an awesome guitar solo in church, it moves me to worship God all the more because of the amazing talents and gifts of creativity that He gives to us, and for the way that others use those gifts to worship Him. I don't have to participate in a guitar solo to be led in worship by one! But it is my personal choice to worship God for what He does. Some people might get distracted by a guitar solo, or be tempted to give praise to the soloist instead of the Creator who gave the soloist the talent. Some might make judgments about the soloist, assuming that he or she is looking for praise. Instead, I worship God for the talent He has given the soloist, and in my own way I join with the soloist in worshiping God. My assumption is that he or she wants to give God glory by soloing. That is AWESOME to me.

Is Bigger Better?

This is a topic that comes up a lot when people discuss churches. Are bigger churches better or worse than smaller churches? Is quality more important than quantity? Do size and quality correlate?

There is an awesome movement in church planting right now that emphasizes a "house church" model. The idea here is focusing on smaller groups of people with more intimate relationships. There is a lot to be gained by this, and I think it's awesome. And there are many variations on this model as well. Our church plant Ethnos is an incredible example of a hybrid of this model, where the focus is on home groups as the primary pathway into their larger gatherings. I get really excited by this type of ministry. And there have been hundreds of new churches started up all over the country in the last several years with similar types of house church ministry models. And of course there are any number of books on the subject as well.

But I see a problem developing among young church leaders (of which I am one!). The problem is that we tend to see our own particular model of ministry as the best, and as visionaries and leaders we talk a lot about why the way we want to do things is better than the way others do them. This is horribly arrogant and does a lot of damage to existing churches and ministries.

I can't count the number of times I have heard young ministry leaders speak with disdain about large churches like Saddleback or Willow Creek, or even local churches like Beaverton Christian or New Hope. We laugh about how out of touch their ministries are. We use terms like "modern" or "mega" as an insult. We belittle their commitment to discipleship and mentoring. We mock their music and their teaching styles. And all because we think the way we are doing things is better. It seems like the only way we know how to show the value of what we are doing is by denigrating the value of what others are doing or have done.

It seems silly to me. It's like arguing over music style or the color of the church carpet. There is no right or wrong when it comes to church model or size. How can it be wrong for a church to be 10 people or 10,000 people?? How can it be wrong for a church that is 10 people to want to be 100, or a church that is 100 to want to be 1000?

Well, one problem is if the motivation of a church leader is impure. If church leaders are motivated to grow their church for selfish reasons (pride, glory of self, etc.), then that is a problem.

But here's my beef. As leaders we sometimes think we are able to judge another leader's heart on these issues. When we see a church leader who is passionate about growing their church, we question that leader's motivation. I think deep down we assume that there can be no pure motivations for wanting a church to grow, that if we want our church to grow it is because we are seeking our own glory. First of all, it is wrong to think that there can't be pure motives for seeking church growth, or that church growth inevitably leads to bad things like consumerism or watered down ministry or less intensive discipleship. Not all big churches are bad... and not all small churches are good. That's obvious. Second, its wrong for us to judge another person's heart (unless we want to be judged!). And of course we all know this is wrong, so no one admits to questioning another's motives, but that's really what it boils down to.

If Christ is being preached, then it is not up to us to judge a church leader's heart and motives on this issue.

"But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice" Philippians 1:19

So small church people need to quit bashing large church people. And large church people need to quit looking down on small church people. We're not right or wrong, we're just different. Just be glad and rejoice that Christ is being preached, and let's focus on that TOGETHER instead of picking at each other about whose church model is superior.


Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Administration
Our Place Christian Church

>sent via blackberry

Google Polling

Okay, here's a fun one for you. Have you ever done a Google poll? I recently discovered this interesting pastime and judged it worthy to pass along. Here's how it works.

Search Google for "michael jackson rules". When I did this today, Google told me there were "about 613" results for this search.

Now search for "michael jackson sucks". When I did this today Google told me there were "about 1,150" results for this search.

So the results are this:

Michael Jackson Rules: 613
Michael Jackson Sucks: 1,150

That's a Google Poll! Isn't that a whole lot of fun?! Now you have the power to almost instantly query the vast knowledge of Internet Public Opinion on any subject imaginable. I call it the "rules/sucks ratio". Here's a political one:

George Bush Rules: 663
John Kerry Rules: 347

George Bush Sucks: 555
John Kerry Sucks: 7,030

Wow! What a fascinating experiment. George Bush has a slightly favorable rules/sucks ratio of 663/555, which compares well to John Kerry's very poor showing of 347/7030.

How about religion? An interesting topic for me obviously.

Jesus Rules: 6,060
Jesus Sucks: 3,520

That's not a bad ratio at all. I hate to see that many "sucks" results though. It's hard to even type that phrase!

Christians Rule: 1,040
Christians Suck: 9,720

OUCH! Not what I was hoping for, but probably what I expected.

What does all this mean? I leave the results to the interpretation of the reader. I make no claims as to the validity of this polling procedure and will not be held liable for damages resulting from its use!

As a side note, I find it is useful to pluralize the topic if it is one that has rules. For example, searching for "tax rules" is not as worthwhile for our purposes as searching for "taxes rule". Use your own judgement here.

Go have some fun with this, and post any interesting results you find in the comments section for this post.

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Administration
Our Place Christian Church

>sent via blackberry

Passion Week

Our church is starting "Passion Week" on Palm Sunday. I'm getting really pumped about it because it has been such a powerful experience in the past.

This year we're changing things up a bit from years past (we LOVE to change things). We're going to have a series of lunchhour and evening gatherings through the week leading up to Easter. Each gathering will focus on a few key events during Jesus' last week of earthly life, giving us a taste for what He went through for us. In the past we have done this chronologically, looking at what happened on each individual day. This year we are focusing less on the chronology and more on the themes.

For example, on Sunday we'll be focused on the Garden. Jesus begins and ends His journey to the cross here on the Mount of Olives. He begins with the Triumphal Entry, weeping over the city as He sees it from the road on the Mount. And the week ends there as well, with Jesus "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" and sweating blood from the intense anguish.

On Monday we'll be tying together Jesus' anointing at Bethany with His washing of the disciples' feet, a very moving juxtaposition of Christ as Lord and as servant.

Tuesday we will be looking at Christ's teachings during this last week. What were His last words? What was He determined to say before the cross?

Wednesday, we'll compare and contrast two important moments in the lives of Jesus' disciples; Peter's Denial and Judas' Betrayal. What did they mean? Why did they happen? How do they relate?

Maundy Thursday will be a presentation of the traditional Jewish Passover Seder meal, with teachings and explanations. This was the Last Supper Jesus shared with His disciples, where He institutes the Eucharist and confronts His betrayer.

Good Friday may be the most powerful Passion Week gathering of all. The film, "Passion of the Christ" is based on the traditional "Stations of the Cross", and we'll be teaching through the nine Biblical Stations, with opportunities for prayer, meditation, and experiential worship. AWESOME!

I can't wait for this. I get so excited every year when we start the prayer and planning process for these gatherings. I am praying that God will use this year to change even more lives than last!

Unforgivable

And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Matthew 12:31

I remember talking to a Pastor as a kid many years ago about unforgivable sin. He actually told me not to worry about it. He said "If you're worried that you may have committed it, then that is all the evidence you need that you haven't committed it. Because anyone who commits it isn't worried about their salvation." He went on to explain that it is impossible for a Christian to commit an unforgivable sin. Being a kid, I took him at his word. But today I find myself asking, "If it is impossible to commit the unforgivable sin, or if it is impossible to lose our salvation, then why does the Bible bother discussing it and warning us about it?"

Blasphemy against the Spirit is vague and mysterious enough for church leaders to explain away as of little consequence, not worth worrying about, etc. Usually, the response is something like "blasphemy against the Spirit is when an act of the Spirit is attributed to an act of Satan". By making the interpretation as literal as possible, the scope of possibilities for what else might be blasphemy against the Spirit is so much reduced as to be irrelevant. I'm not sure that's the best approach to such a serious subject. Shouldn't we take this seriously?

And even though Matthew 12:31 seems to imply that there is only one unforgivable sin, I would venture to say that there is at least one more:

But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:15

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. [Some manuscripts sins. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.] Mark 11:25-26

So we have a SECOND unforgivable sin in the Bible, the sin of unforgiveness. The nature of unforgiveness is that it is ongoing. Unlike some sins which may be isolated one-time acts of disobedience (lieing, stealing, etc.), unforgiveness is a perpetual sin. If someone has wronged you and you have not yet forgiven them, then every passing moment that you continue in unforgiveness is another choice to sin... each second is a conscious decision to continue in unforgiveness. Therefore, unforgiveness fits the type and pattern of deliberate and continual sinfulness described in Hebrews:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Hebrews 10:26-27

Further, we see in the Lord's Prayer that Jesus taught us to ask God to forgive our debts, but only to the extent that we have forgiven others (Matthew 6:12). By implication, it seems that it would not be appropriate to ask or expect God to forgive us if we in turn have not forgiven others.

I think unforgiveness is the most poisonous condition a human can bring upon themselves. Nothing will destroy a person faster than bitterness and unforgiveness, both in this life and the next. The good news is that unforgiveness is quickly remedied by forgiveness. Once we choose to forgive, our previous unforgiveness becomes forgivable by God once more. The above scripture says that we should forgive "so that" God may forgive us. So unforgiveness is only unforgivable to the extent that we continue in it.

Are you struggling with unforgiveness? If so, I hope y0u have not "written off" the issue. I want to challenge you to take the matter of unforgiveness very seriously. Do whatever you must do, write someone, call them, go see them... if that's not possible, talk with a close friend about the situation, pray with them, be honest about where you're at... do whatever it takes so you can KNOW that you have truly forgiven those who have hurt you. It is literally a matter of life or death.

Old Stuff

I cleaned out my old blog on the Our Place Christian Church Forum and moved most of it to the posts below. If you haven't read the old stuff yet, you'll learn a lot about my history and where I am today as a worshiper and church music leader. As I was reading through it again, I found myself wanting to edit it, change some things, restate some points, etc. But I resisted, and just posted them as is. My disclaimer is that I reserve the right to be wrong, to change my mind, and to grow from all of this! That's the whole point for me.

On the old forum my blog did not allow any comments. Because of the format of a forum, new posts and comments are posted inline and interrupt the continuity, but on this new blog the comments become a separate stream, which is awesome. So go ahead and post away!! I'll never know I'm wrong unless you tell me. :-)

Purpose of Church pt. 2

So what about the idea that "the one" purpose of the church is to bring glory to God? Evangelism and worship and discipleship and helping the impoverished should ultimately do that, should they not? If the church is doing something that doesn't bring glory to God, that is a problem isn't it? But think about this. In the third chapter of Romans, Paul tells us that "our unrighteousness brings out God's righteousness more clearly", and that our "falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases His glory". Of course, Paul is quick to explain that this is not a license do to evil. But the point here is that there is nothing we can do to deny God His glory! God will be glorified by me or despite me. He is worthy to receive it, and He will receive it. He is God! Here's an article I found that kind of follows up on my earlier thoughts that worship is not and cannot be just anything we want it to:

Why Call It Worship?

(Or: Is my Guitar Really a Fried Egg?)

by Tom Kraeuter

Quite some time ago I was preparing to present a worship seminar at a church. As I was setting up my equipment, the minister of music assisted me. At one point he casually mentioned, “I’m so glad you’re here. The people of our church seem to have the idea that worship equals the sermon and the sermon equals worship. To them, there are no other variables. I’m hoping you can help them see a broader picture.”

Since that time, I have encountered numerous churches whose worship services vary greatly both in style and in the elements they include in services week by week. Usually, the background (spelled: tradition) of the church dictates the type of service. In many churches, all the elements of the service are considered “worship.” In a broad sense, this is true, but I would challenge us to look more closely at the biblical definition of worship and consider its implications on our services.

Before we go any farther, we’d better attempt to define the term “worship.” Christians use the word “worship” to describe all kinds of activities. What we need, however, is to find the biblical definition of the word. You see, I can call anything by another name, but this does not mean that it really is what I’ve declared it to be. For example, I could call my guitar a fried egg. This does not, however, make it a fried egg. Simply calling something worship does not make it worship from an honest, biblical perspective.

When I was in seminary, one of the professors had us conduct a word study on the word “worship” in the Bible. We were to look up in our English Bibles all the times that “worship” appears, and see what the original Greek and Hebrew words meant. Based on this research, we were then to come to some sort of conclusion about what worship really is from a biblical perspective.

When the project was complete and we all shared our findings, I was astounded at the results. Almost everyone in the class came to the same conclusions: (1) worship honors God, (2) it is directed toward God and (3) it requires involvement on the part of the worshiper. Even a cursory look at worship in the Bible apart from the original languages will show this concept to be true.

!...all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the LORD (2 Chronicles 20:18).

!Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground (Nehemiah 8:6).!Come, let us bow down in worship (Psalm 95:6).!They came to him (Jesus), clasped His feet and worshiped Him (Matthew 28:9).

!...offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1).!So he (an unbeliever) will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:25).

!...the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and worship Him... (Revelation 4:10).

Worship honors God. There are occasions in Scripture where people rail against God. There are times when some lament the Lord’s seeming lack of involvement in the affairs of His people. There are even places where some folks weep and mourn, crying out to God. All of these may be prayer, but it is not even suggested in the Bible that these are worship. To truly be called worship, it must honor God.Worship is directed toward God. Let’s be perfectly clear: Unless the act is directed toward God, from a biblical perspective it cannot truly be called worship. Worship has God as the focal point, not us.

A few years ago I attended a conference where one of the speakers shared a powerful story. He had been in another city on business with a friend. Since they were there over the weekend, they decided to attend a church on Sunday morning. They found a nearby church and went to the service. As they left the service that day, the friend turned to the man and said, “You know, I really enjoyed the sermon there this morning, but I didn’t get much out of the worship.” The man thought for a moment, then looked at his friend and asked, “Have you ever considered what that’s got to do with anything?”

What he was saying was, “Who is the worship for?” Worship is not for us. Worship—in it’s truest sense—is directed toward God. It is not for the worshiper. It is for the One being worshiped. To truly be called worship, it must be directed toward God.

Worship requires involvement on the part of the worshiper. Yes, I am aware that there was one time in Scripture when Jacob leaned on his staff and worshiped (Genesis 47:31). However, that is clearly the exception! The overwhelming majority of times the Bible talks about things like singing, speaking forth words of praise, clapping, shouting, giving, kneeling, and raising our hands. Years ago Robert Weber wrote a book entitled Worship is a Verb. That title makes the point well. There is an involvement that is necessary in true, biblical worship.

Now that we have defined the term worship, let’s go back to where we began. What is wrong with the idea of the sermon being worship? Nothing, unless, of course, you want to be truly biblical in the use of the word. The sermon is clearly not directed toward God. It may be preached with an intent to glorify God, but it is ultimately directed toward the people. Hopefully the sermon will inspire people to worship, causing them to “see” God and the wonders of His mercy. The words of the preacher may cause people to ponder an aspect of God or His mercy that may well spur them to worship the Lord. However, the sermon is not—in the strictest, most biblical understanding—worship.

The same understanding is also true for communion. There have been numerous times throughout the years that I was inspired to worship God as a result of partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Receiving the communion elements may cause people to worship Him. Recognizing Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross may motivate the believers to worship, but the act of receiving communion is not directed toward God. It is not—in the true, biblical sense—worship.

Does this mean we stop doing these things? Absolutely not! They are biblical in origin. Scripture makes it very clear that these are activities for the Church. We should be very cautious, however, about referring to them as worship.

In his wonderful book, The Joy of Fearing God, popular author Jerry Bridges made these comments:

It isn’t my intent to make a judgment statement about any church service that emphasizes evangelism or body life or teaching. I do believe that such a service should not be called a worship service. A worship service should focus on God. This doesn’t mean that ministry to members of the body or even to unbelievers will not occur. It does mean that the emphasis is on worship of God, ascribing to Him the praise, adoration, and thanksgiving that are due Him.

Jerry Bridges, The Joy of Fearing God, Colorado Springs, Colorado: Waterbrook Press, 1997. (page 247).

Praise. Adoration. Thanksgiving. Those are all God-honoring and God-directed. Additionally, they require involvement.

One key reason that we need to understand a truly biblical definition for worship is simple: so we will allow people the opportunity to truly worship. If a church service includes a sermon, communion and even a special song by the choir, it may be a wonderful service, but there may have been no opportunity for the people to actually worship—to focus on God and adore Him. We must give people time to engage in worship, not just activity.

Let’s be honest in looking at worship. Let’s not be guilty of calling a guitar a fried egg simply because of our traditions. From a biblical perspective—not a traditional or cultural perspective—worship honors God, requires involvement on the part of the worshiper and is directed toward God. Otherwise, why call it worship?

This article may be reprinted in full using the following credit:©2003 Training Resources, Inc., 8929 Old LeMay Ferry Road, Hillsboro, MO 63050, wwww.training-resources.org. Reprinted by permission.

Purpose of Church

Today I've just been thinking about the role of the church in this world. I've been doing some reading from a number of different authors, and it seems that people are looking for "the one" purpose of the church. Some authors will say that "worship" is the one purpose of the church, and all other purposes support that or derive from that. Other authors have said that "making disciples" is the one purpose of the church, and that all other purposes support or derive from that. Or maybe evangelism is the one purpose, or ministry to the poor? My question is why does the church have to have only one dominant purpose? Does evangelism lead to disciple making which leads to worship, or does disciplemaking lead to worship which leads to evangelism, or does worship lead to...

I'm not sure that it's always healthy to try to crytallize or simplify the purpose of the church. A statement like "we are a disciplemaking church" is a good thing. But isn't the church much more than that? What about loving and feeding the poor? Jesus had compassion on blind people and lepers and prostitutes, but He didn't necessarily always take them under His wing for the next six weeks for a small group discipleship class. He simply loved them. And He spoke truth into their lives. But He didn't make them all disciples. Did He? Yet He did command YOU and I to make disciples, of all nations, and to baptize them, and to teach them everything He commanded. So we must do that, but does our duty begin and end there? Is everything else of some lesser importance?

What about worship? Some prominent authors of late have said that worship is the first purpose of the church. But can that be? I mean, I love to worship, and in heaven we will do nothing else. But isn't there more to be done here on earth? Of course, you can define worship as absolutely anything you can think of that you want to be worship (Lord, I am cleaning my bathroom floor right now in Jesus name as an act of worship to You), and then everything is worship and nothing isn't worship, as long as your heart authentically believes that it's worship, and then of course the number one purpose of the church can be worship because anything the church does will be worship because of how you have defined worship. That seems to be the underlying theme of the "worship lifestyle" movement. Of course, any good idea taken to its logical extreme becomes a bad idea. But humanity naturally takes things to the extreme. I doubt that lifestyle worship will be the pattern we follow in heaven. Scripture seems to bear out that we will be praying and singing and bowing on our knees in awe of God as worship, not that we will be worshiping Him with our normal "walking around" cleaning the bathroom floor lives. I am more of the conviction that God desires us to step away from our everyday lives when we worship Him, to lay all of that at His feet and worship Him in Spirit and in Truth, with a pure heart, with singing and thanksgiving and raised hands and postrate bodies, in awe of and in love with Him. It takes a lot of interpretation and exposition of scripture to get to the idea that putting my clothes on in the morning can be an act of worship if I want it to.

Music as Language

This is one I've been thinking about a lot and just wanted a place to post some ideas and get some feedback.One of the things I've come to realize during the course of my ministry is that music in the church is a key defining element that people use to put a church in a category or to describe what "kind" of church it is. Good or bad, people do this and I've come to accept it. In fact, I've even embraced it, because not only do people seem to describe churches on this basis, but they also seem to choose them this way as well.

As you may have heard, I spent a lot of time in institutions growing up and even spent 30 months in a state correctional institution. During my time in prison in my early 20s, I rededicated my life to Christ and became involved in the music ministry at the prison chapel. God used this time to help me grow and to teach me a lot of lessons, and one thing I learned was how important music style is to a church.

You see, at the prison where I was, there was only one chapel. And if an inmate wanted to go to church, there was only one church to pick from. So if you didn't like what the pastor said last week, or you didn't like the style of the music, then you had to decide if those things were important enough for you to stop going to church over. There weren't any other alternatives.

But the chapel had two full time chaplains, as well as a few part time chaplains, so there was a modicum of variety in that way. And a large part of the job of a chaplain was to work as a volunteer coordinator, to oversee and manage groups of volunteers from outside churches who would come into the prison to hold services. So on a weekly basis there was usually a Sunday morning service, a Sunday evening service, Tuesday and Wednesday evening services, and at times even a whole weekend would be devoted to a "seminar" put on by a particular volunteer group like Prison Fellowship or something similar.

So one Sunday morning a mennonite volunteer group might come in and have a service, then that night it might be an African American Missionary Baptist church, then Tuesday night might be the "Unchained Gang" (former motorcycle gang members now serving Christ). Wednesday night might be an Apostolic Pentecostal church group, then the following Sunday morning might be a Presbyterian Church, then a Vineyard Fellowship that evening, then a Lutheran Church on Tuesday... you get the picture. Many of the volunteer groups would get scheduled to come on a regular basis, so we would see many of the same people and pastors from the outside churches over and over again, while some would only come a few times a year. And when there wasn't a volunteer group scheduled for a particular service, our prison chaplains would bring the message and the band might play anything!

As I helped to lead the music bands in the chapel, one of the big responsibilities was making sure that we played music that was appropriate for all these different kinds of churches. We had several different bands and a lot of rotating band members during my time there, and we played all kinds of music; traditional hymns, Gaither style gospel songs, mass choir, barbershop quartet, praise choruses, a capella, vineyard style, you name it. We had to be versatile because the diversity of church groups that came to the prison required it.

And through all of this I began to notice something very interesting. The makeup of our congregation would change each week depending on what volunteer group was scheduled to hold service. If an African American church was there on Sunday morning, then our band would play music with them that was appropriate, and we would see the congregation be predominantly African American. If we had Mennonite volunteers coming in, then the music would be much more traditional, and the congregation would reflect that as well. In fact, there were some inmates who would not come to chapel unless it was a volunteer group that they "liked". Some came no matter what volunteer group was there. But it was easy to see that the "kind" of church that was holding the service had a significant impact on the "kind" of people that would come to church.

The lesson that God taught me through all of this is that His Kingdom has a lot of variety in it, and this is because people come in all different varieties with all kinds of tastes and preferences. And every person is important. So every variety of church is important and serves an important role in reaching these many varied important people! Before prison, I had grown up in a quasi-rural United Methodist church that sang only hymns and had only white people. I had no idea what charismatic worship was. I had no idea what black gospel music was. I had never been to a Mennonite church or an African American church or a Pentecostal church before. I was clueless. In prison, God really opened my eyes to how diverse His Kingdom is, and WHY it is that way. And I learned to value all these different ways of worshiping God, seeing how important each one is, because of how each one reaches a different group of people in a different way, in the unique way that they need to be reached. And music is often an integral, defining component of this variety.

As a worship leader at the prison chapel, I began rewriting some of the secular songs that I had written on the outside, and I began writing new songs as well. These songs were "edgy" if you want to call them that, with electric guitar solos and heavy drum parts... pretty out of the ordinary compared to most of the music we were doing at the chapel. One of the Chaplains there used to call it "Kenny's grunge music". I guess anything with a distorted guitar riff was "grunge" music to him! He would often preach at the Sunday evening services when there wasn't a volunteer group, and he got into the habit of requesting my songs during the worship time. He would say, "Hold on guys. Kenny, play some of that grunge music". Most of the chaplains didn't want me to play my music because it was too hard or loud for them, but he always encouraged it. And some of my songs became standard fare for our Sunday evening services when he was preaching.

And again, I noticed that those services began to be attended by a unique set of people. A lot of them were guys who really liked the heavier style of music. I guess it "spoke their language". Guys would come up to me before service and ask, "Kenny, are you going to play that one song?" It was tempting to become prideful about that, to think that it was me that was drawing new people to the services, that it was my great songwriting or my killer guitar playing. But God was teaching me something. He had already shown me that He loves variety, and that He uses variety to reach out to people in the way that they can understand and relate to. Now he was showing me that I could play a small part in that variety, that He had given me the musical talents that I had, and I played guitar a certain way and sang a certain way and wrote songs a certain way because He designed me that way. And now I was learning that He did it that way because He knew there would be a certain amount of people who would like how I sang and played and would be drawn to it. Not that there aren't a thousand other people who can sing and play like me, because there are at least that! But we can't all be everywhere reaching everyone. God has places for us all to be. At that time, prison was the place where His music as expressed through me would reach out to a certain group of people in a special way that He had planned. There was no one else singing and playing in that prison in the wierd heavy "grunge" way that I was at that time. And it reached out to unique people in a unique way.

I believe that every worship leader has a unique "voice" or "style" that God has gifted them with, and that He has intended them to reach a unique group of people. That is why I see music as language. Take a hispanic congregation for instance. Most likely the pastor preaches in spanish. No one thinks twice about this. Take any language group and apply it to church and you get the same effect. Generally speaking, a white english speaking preacher in their forties will naturally draw a congregation of white english speaking forty-somethings. This is nothing to be upset about. White english speaking forty-somethings need a church to go to!

And music has a very similar effect. Remember when you were in junior high school and all you needed to know about someone when you were determining what quality of friendship you would have with them was what kind of music they listened to? Even today music styles dramatically categorize teens as hip-hoppers, punks, metal heads... you pick the music, there is a clique that is defined by it. Of course, music is not the only variable. There are many others. But music certainly is a variable that defines people.

And it defines churches too. Labels like "traditional" and "contemporary" may seem old-school to me now, but they are still frequently used to define churches. And primarily we think of music style when we hear those words. People often use the music style of a church to decide if they want to regularly attend there or not. Why is this? Why is music style so important to people? Is it that important to God?

Well, yes and no. I think music style is important to God in so much as it is important to people. God wants people to know Him, to trust Him, to put their faith in Him, to love Him, to worship Him. If a particular music style at a particular church helps a particular set of people to do those things, then I think that's important to Him. Just like the Korean pastor who preaches in Korean at the Korean United Methodist Church. If the worship pastor there plays hip-hop, then the church will be filled with Koreans who like hip-hop music. The music is a lanaguage that speaks to them as clearly as the pastor does. The music is a defining characteristic of the church. There is no question that a church that has hip-hop worship will draw a unique set of people, people that speak that language, who understand it, who are spoken to by it, regardless of what language is spoken from the pulpit.

So I take all this very seriously. I try very hard to stay true to my "voice", my "style", my "language", because they are not really "mine" at all. They are God's, and He wants to use them. I know that my language is not the only one. It's not the best one. There are a million others all over this world. But mine is the one that is meant to edify the people that it's edifying, to reach the people that it's reaching, to minister to those who it ministers to, because it is not me that is doing it. God is doing it. I can't take one bit of credit for the way I sing, or the kind of music I like and write, or the way my guitar style has developed. It would be like saying I chose to speak english, or that I had anything to do with that. Believe me, if I could change the way my voice sounds I would!

However, I have realized that I am multi-lingual when it comes to music. My experiences in prison are a prime example. And lots of worship leaders are multi-lingual. Many of them have to be in order to lead the music in their particular church. Perhaps their "first language" is traditional piano and organ music and classical choral arrangements. Maybe that's where they really excel. But due to the nature of the congregation or the pastor's desire to reach out to younger people, maybe he or she has had to lead a more "blended" service with contemporary praise choruses. I have actually seen that happen in a church where the contemporary worship leader stepped down and the traditional leader had to stand in and lead some contemporary music for a while. He did it. It was okay. Sometimes it was really beautiful. And God used it. But it wasn't his "first language", and we all knew it. In a sense, it was like he was a foreign missionary trying to speak the language, but sometimes stumbling over the words, and always with a heavy accent!

Some music pastors are called to foreign missionary work. Right now there is a guy leading worship somewhere on acoustic guitar quietly singing "I Love You Lord" who is heavy metal to the bone and would love to be crunching on electric guitar and screaming at the top of his lungs. But he's been called to that church. God wants him there. God is showing him something. And in the meantime he is speaking the language that he needs to speak to communicate with the people at that church, and God is pleased by that. And the guy is loving it. He loves music, and he loves worshiping God, and he loves the people that he's been called to reach, and he'll be happy if he stays there singing "I Love You Lord" for ever. No question in my mind about that.

But some music pastors are not happy where they are at, for better or for worse. Yes, we need to be content in all circumstances. But sometimes we're not, and that can be a problem. It can be tough when everything inside you is crying out for the freedom to express yourself naturally through music, to worship God in a way that allows you to offer your best sacrifice, to give it all you've got, to take the best lamb from your flock and lay it on His altar. If you've ever led worship music in a church where the music was not really your style, you know exactly what I mean. "Yes, I CAN play piano, but...".

So the point I'm getting at is that everyone has a unique personality and style. And I think God uses that to reach out to as many people as possible. Paul was all things to all people.

"Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Paul was culturally multi-lingual. And Paul worked in a vacuum. Many times he was the ONLY Christian missionary in a particular city, or even in an entire region, or he was one of only a handful. Paul HAD to be culturally multi-lingual. Today there are thousands of churches in every city in America, yet they are very homogenous. Many of them are speaking the exact same cultural language, and this is a problem. There are literally millions of people in our country that don't speak the languages that our churches speak. Is this a generational thing? Is postmodernism the problem (or the solution)? Can I put a finger on it? No. But what I have become conviced of is the need for church planting, and the need for church planters and their teams to speak their native languages, to seek out that unique cultural/generational cohort that they belong to and whose language they speak, and win those people for Christ!

On the one hand, large existing "mega" churches are probably the most able to follow Paul's example of being all things to all men. They are the churches with the resources to hire additional staff, add extra services, and to learn to speak different languages to reach new and different people. On the other hand, existing churches are probably the ones that find change the hardest, that have the most difficult time with tradition and history. But church plants, and specifically church plants that are part of a church multiplication movement, don't need to change. They are what they are, and next year they'll partner in planting a church that is different. A church participating in multiplication planting will see daughter churches and granddaughter and great-granddaughter churches all being born of the unique personalities and cultures and languages of their planters, all reaching new and unique sets of people who relate to those personalities and belong to those cultures and speak those languages. For me, this is an incredible vision for the Church (capital C) being "all things to all men" by committing to the planting of a diversity of churches (small c) that each is uniquely one of those "things" Paul was speaking of to the Corinthians.

So I think I need to go on and distinguish the differences between carrying this approach out on a personal evangelism level, on a local church corporate level, and on a wider Church/Kingdom level, and how this is differentiated among those who find themselves in church leadership positions as opposed to the average church attender/consumer. But this is enough for now. More later.

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Sacrifice

Our church is currently going through a 40 Days of Purpose campaign, and this week we are studying the first purpose of life - worship. Back in the fall of 2001 I wrote a song called "I Exist to Worship You". One of the lyrics references Romans 12:1...

You are nothing less than Master of my life
I fall before Your throne a living sacrifice

The idea of sacrifice is so powerful for me, to think about what it means to sacrifice my body, my life, for Christ. And then to take the step from just thinking about it to actually doing it. Living a life of sacrifice is not easy. The very word "sacrifice" evokes images of pain and loss. The dictionary explains it this way:

"Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim."

My struggle each day is to examine what I value in my life and discover how I may offer it to God. In fact, to offer something I don't value is no sacrifice at all! Often we place considerable value on our own happiness and well-being. I can't count the number of times I've said "I'm not happy with this or that" and how motivated I have become to do things (or stop doing things) to secure my own happiness. Yet, I believe God wants me to offer my happiness to Him, to give up following my own fruitless path to happiness and to be content in Him and all that He is, to say "God, You have a higher claim on my life than I do. In fact, its not even my life, it is Yours, so I sacrifice my happiness to You. I will rest in You. Not my will, but Yours be done".

What would be my motivation for doing this? Again, Romans 12:1 explains that our motivation should be God's mercy. God is merciful, and it is His mercy that should motivate us to offer all that we have to Him. He is God, and it is in His power to demand everything from us, and He would be righteous in doing so. But instead He asks for us to make the sacrifice willingly, to offer ourselves as "living sacrifices", to worship Him with all we have and all we are, to love Him with ALL our heart, mind, soul, and strength. He already made all the sacrifice needed to pay for our sinful lives in full. THAT is mercy! And because of that mercy, we should be motivated to continually offer our lives back to Him in worship, to forfeit all that we value for the sake of Him who has the greatest value and highest claim on our lives.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1

My First Post

If you don't know me already, I'm the Minister of Music & Administration for Our Place Christian Church in Hillsboro, Oregon. We're a new church planted in 2001, and I lead music there as well as oversee the finances. I'm a songwriter and guitarist, have been for 15 years or so, and I've been leading music in various churches and institutions since 1995. God has had me on a pretty wild ride so far, and I'm loving it!

I plan to use this blog as a place to post my thoughts and ideas on music, worship, or whatever else I may be chewing on at the time. I love to generate discussion and challenge assumptions, and I question everything. I'm not certain that very many people will ever read this, but my hope is that anyone who does will take some time to post their thoughts as well, and challenge MY assumptions. In the end, I'd like to learn and grow into a better worshiper through this experience.

So here goes...

Recently my songwriting has been focusing around ideas of helplessness, doubt, confusion... I've really gotten inspired by some of David's Psalms where he really unloads what he's feeling, crying out to God in frustration. Lamentations is awesome in that way too. And a few months ago I got blown away in my quiet time reading Romans 7. In the 15th verse Paul says "I do not understand what I do". What an amazingly vulnerable thing to say. For goodness sake, this man was an APOSTLE! He was writing the very WORD OF GOD! The Holy Spirit may have been literally speaking into his ear, inspiring his thoughts, directing his pen, revealing divine wisdom to him one on one... and he had the guts to admit "I don't understand myself". And he then labors over his sinfulness, in the end calling himself "a wretched man". I totally get that.

Here I am, broken and ashamed
Its all I can do to turn and call Your name
And every day I turn away and follow after lies
But here You are with open arms and tears are in Your eyes

I don't know why I'm This Way
I can't take another day
Lord I turn to You and pray
Come and wash my sins away

That's how I feel sometimes. That's honest and real for me. Sometimes my choices bring tears to my Savior's eyes. And I can't pretend to understand it all. All I can do is pray.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:24-25