Author Archive for

12
Dec
11

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

I used to like Burl Ives. Really, I did. I anticipated the Christmas season with great fervor and started each season off with Emmy Lou Harris’ “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’.” The impetus for this Christmas unveiling when I was a young adult was the first cold snap when I had to light the pilot light in my furnace. I would stand over the grate in the floor and as the heat rose up, I would sing along with my Emmy Lou Harris Christmas album at the top of my lungs. It was glorious. It was always the first Christmas song I played; it was always the first Christmas song I heard each year. I controlled how Christmas was doled out because years ago, merchandizing had not started cramming it down our throats. I was very selective with the music and reserved it for the Christmas season only, the one and only exception being this annual personal heater lighting ceremony.

Now I’m afraid if I hear Burl Ives sing “Holly Jolly Christmas” one more time, I will pummel the next five shoppers I see. The song brings out the Scrooge in me. I don’t want to buy gifts anymore. I don’t want to be within ten miles of a mall or even the grocery store with the incessant sound tracks playing. I just want to be with my family and friends. And most of all, I want to worship the Christ Child. The Savior of the world. My Savior, my God and my friend.

It is our job as worship leaders to cut through this squandering of Christmas. To put right the aberration of the purity, the simplicity of the story of “God who came to live with us.” We may be tempted to entertain the people as they walk in the door for their twice-a-year trek to church. We may be tempted to stick with tradition and not dig too deep into abandoned worship. We may be tempted to go easy, so we won’t scare them off.

But what do you think those shepherds did in that stable? Do you think they sang some four hundred year old song about the promised Messiah? God was laying right there in front of their eyes. Angels were splitting the sky open with their celestial praise; the glory of the Lord filled the atmosphere. I think they were dumbfounded with a standing in awe kind of praise that erupted in earnest and spontaneous thanksgiving. I’m pretty sure it was not very holly jolly at all. I’m pretty sure it was profound.

Don’t get me wrong. Christmas is light-hearted too. The Light of the World banished sin and death and brought us new life. We absolutely need to celebrate the birthday of the King. Throw Him a party! Dance and sing! But do it from a place deep in your heart that screams out “I love You! Thank You for coming to save me!” Then take time to usher in the Holy Spirit, the Wonderful Counselor, the One who heals and comforts and reveals all truth. And be contagious about it. Drown out the sounds of the world that tells us we can buy Christmas. Drown out the lie that we can “have ourselves a merry little Christmas and all our troubles will be out of sight.” Minister to someone whose circumstances contradict any hope that their Christmas will be holly jolly.

The bottom line: Worship this Christmas. As you sing the words to those traditional carols, full of truth, full of theology, full of life, MEAN them. Spend time with your family reading prophecy and its fulfillment. Spend time with people that need your faith, need your spirit, need your joy. Make the season holly jolly for real.

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21
Nov
11

Walk in My Shoes

I had a 5th grade girl in the recording studio last week, and like me, she is a tiny little thing. We had lowered the microphone to its shortest possible level and she was still straining her neck to have a straight shot at the mic. Not a good position to lay some vocals. I quickly looked around the room for anything she could stand on. A chair would be too high. I didn’t want her to sit on a stool. And then the answer hit: “Peyton… would you be willing to stand in my shoes?”

My wedge heels were the perfect height to raise her up. I took a picture of her singing in my shoes. It was pretty neat. But the more I thought about it, I realized that there was a deeper meaning. As she sang, I began to pray “Lord, let her voice be strong like mine as she grows. Let her heart be turned toward ministry. Let her see my example and walk in Your ways.”

In children’s ministry, God gives us tiny little hearts to mold. Tiny little beginnings to turn into big futures. Tiny little talents to develop into huge gifts for the kingdom. I am always looking ahead, trying to discern where God may be leading each child I have the opportunity to work with individually.

There is a young man whom I “discovered” from the thousands of kids in Vacation Bible School one year. He was not involved in our Kids Choir program. But in the midst of the congregation that week, his enthusiasm and passion kept drawing my eyes. I convinced him to try Kids Choir that fall. Now he has recorded with us on two Kids Choir CDs and is continuing his worship leading with our new middle school choir,  Ignite. Andrew says that his goal is to “take over Ray Jones’ job” one day. Makes me laugh, but I don’t doubt for one second that God will indeed use him in ministry in a big way. Just last week, I called his mom to see if I could try his little brother Matthew in the studio. I needed a young voice and had never recorded a five year old before. She said “Well I’m glad you didn’t talk to Andrew first. He has already been working with Zoe on that song.” She’s three. Andrew has already taken upon himself the task of leading and teaching others. He walks in our shoes.

Our new middle school choir led worship a few weeks ago and I was moved to almost wracking sobs, overwhelmed by the Spirit of the Lord in the room. As the dancers made the lyrics of a great worship song spring to life, I marveled that every single one of the girls grew up in Kids Choir, every single one was prepared to a professional level because they had been led by a masterful dance teacher whose heart of worship is evidenced through the choreography she creates. They dance in Phaedra’s shoes.

Our youth choir Puresound will lead worship this weekend. They are led by a young woman who grew up at CBC, that sang in Kids Choirs and the Youth Choir that I led, that I taught voice and piano to for six years. She walks in my shoes.

Thank you Lord for this awesome privilege! Thank you for the Peytons and the Andrews and the Kristens that you give us to mold. Help all of us see that our lives are the textbook they are reading, and help us to follow consistently and passionately after you.
“Step by step You lead me, and I will follow You all of my days”
Rich Mullins

24
Aug
11

It’s Time that All Ages Praise

Exodus 20:6 But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.

When you are at a church as big as CBC, the majority of our ministries and methods are specialized and departmentalized. This works really well on one hand because as a staff or even a volunteer, we are afforded the luxury of getting to focus on doing what we really do well and leaving the things we don’t do very well to someone else who does it really well. And since excellence breeds excellence, the church grows because people are drawn to excellence and the church improves because we have a larger pool of excellence to draw from. This is a very good thing.

Seldom, though, do we get to be a part of multi-generational events. I gave up worrying about missing the small church fellowship feeling about ten thousand members ago. But last month, as I sat in a multi-generational recording session, I felt it. I had dear friends beside me and in front of me and several rows over. I had Kids Choir kids that followed me in like I was the Pied Piper and we worshipped together. I thanked God for the teens that were there to praise – that keep their walk with the Lord constant – that have grown into mighty God lovers. I experienced adult choir members that are core CBC worshippers filling up the choir room with yet another round of praise. And I thought to myself “I love these people. I love this church. I love my Savior who binds us all together and is the reason that we sing”.

My parents and my grandparents and their grandparents were of the primitive Baptist denomination. In their tiny communities, church was the defining institution, but more importantly, the Lord was the defining King of their families. I can remember watching my granddaddy lead the hymns – there was no paid music director. He was the postman – the only postman of the community who knew every person in the town – where they lived and how they lived. And every Sunday he led them all in worship. Young and old, poor and poorer (no one was rich where they lived), saints and sinners – they all worshipped together.

I thought about my granddaddy last night. After the session ended, Ray Jones mentioned – not once but twice – that we need to do more intentional multi-generational worship events. We had already planned on featuring the Kids Choirs with the adults in October and our new middle school choir Ignite with the adults in November. We have some Puresound high school choir dates with the adults on the calendar as well. And as always, kids will sing at Christmas and Puresound at Easter. But we will be even more intentional, featuring families and more multi-generational choirs – not just adding a single age group choir to the adults. Who knows? We’ll have to hang children from the rafters and maybe build some temporary staging – don’t know what it will look like or when it will happen, but the Spirit is stirring us. There is a need for us to come together to honor God.

I tell my children all the time one of the reasons they walk in blessing and favor is because of my ancestors. I tell them all the time that they better marry girls with generations of obedience to the Lord backing them up. I pray my sons are listening for my future grandchildren’s sakes. I am so thankful for the legacy that my family has left for me.

What I can do now is continue to teach these future generations the ways that they can worship and the how of how to live. The Spirit is stirring and it’s time to listen.

Ephesians 3:21 To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

08
Aug
11

The World’s Greatest Job

CBC’s Christmas musical “We Celebrate the King” is now published by Lillenas Music and we recently took a bus up to Kempke Music Service’s summer conference to premiere it. For me it was a “pinch me” kind of moment. As a worship pastor, I have attended many reading sessions, plowing through reams of music searching for new songs. As a composer, I have been known to dream “someday it would really be awesome if I had some music published and we were reading through it.” Being able to present the music live was even better. I had my picture taken next to the stack of books. I was like a tacky tourist and I didn’t care.

We included several kids in the premiere and the energy and charisma they brought was palpable. The kids know how to use their chest voices, they all have great stage presence,  they know what worship is, and they let it rip. It’s unusual to hear and see kids sing like they do and the worship pastors in the room responded enthusiastically to them. You couldn’t help but be taken in by their authentic love for Jesus.

Being with the kids for two days was energizing as well. We played games, we screamed in a thunderstorm when the lights flickered, they entertained the wait staff at Denney’s and sang in pristine three-part a cappella harmony for the. They beheaded a Happy Meal Barbie. Hanging with them will make me forever young. As they sang through four albums of kids choir music on the way home at the top of their lungs I realized anew that my calling was the greatest joy of my life. I am forever grateful to the Lord for the privilege of leading them into His presence, for allowing me to empower them to minister, that I get to teach them to use their gifts for God’s glory.

When I was their age, I was asked to learn a song for the premiere of a Christmas musical somewhere in Houston. I think the name of the ‘cantata’ was “The Glory of Christmas;” the name of the song was “Christmas Isn’t Christmas.” I distinctly remember singing the solo at the event and knowing it was a big deal kind of moment. Little did I know that I would grow up to be a worship pastor that would give a handful of kids the same big deal kind of moment.

Eight of the ten kids are moving on to our brand new middle school choir, Ignite, debuting this fall and I will miss them terribly. I laugh now to think I was afraid that after my own kids graduated out of the program that I might lose some of the passion I have for kids choir. But it’s only getting stronger.  There’s no doubt I will fall in love with the next crop of kids. I will throw parties for them and take them to do historical things and we will laugh together and sing at the top of our lungs, too.

So blessings to Logan and Lillie and Xan and Megan and Andrew and Miranda and Mallorie and Emma. And you will see the Barbie head again.

28
Jun
11

There are People Out There Who Need Jesus – For Real

My nephew graduated high school in north central California and our whole family went out for a week to celebrate. Things California has that south central Texas doesn’t have: cool summer weather, beaches AND mountains, In and Out Burger, and MC Hammer. We got to meet MC. For real. His son plays on my younger nephew’s baseball team. My brother-in-law is the coach. U can’t touch that.

Besides MC, (now a pastor along with other endeavors) and my nephew (whom we led to Christ two years ago) I am not sure if we encountered any other Christians. I’m not being judgmental or high and mighty. It was just an observation that hit this little Bible belt girl square between the eyes. There are people out there that don’t have a clue who Jesus really is and could care less. For real.

I didn’t think that was possible in America. My sister and brother-in-law and apparently none of their friends go to church. We spent an evening with two of my first cousins that I haven’t seen in perhaps ten years. One of them sends his daughter to a Catholic school and they unapologetically claim “non-religious” as their faith. When I tried to slip Jesus and what He means to me into the conversation, I got looks that ranged from “you are a fanatic” to blank stares that said (without saying) “I have absolutely no basis of reference for anything you are saying.” Needless to say, I have a heavy burden for my cousins, their children, my aunt and uncle and basically, the whole state of California.

I have several things to ponder concerning all this.
1) Would anyone know I am a Christian if we hung out some Saturday afternoon and we couldn’t talk about my job or my church? I hope so. I think so. I know in my head I filter everything, EVERYTHING, through my faith, through the Bible, through obedience to the Lord, but does Jesus come out in my words, in my actions, in my laughter, in my appearance to the world? For real?
2) As a song-writer, I am prompted to write songs full of truth, full of Jesus, full of life-giving light and hope and peace that aren’t for the church. At all. Songs that don’t have words like redemption, Lamb of God, and righteousness; songs that don’t talk about “how miserable I was before I met Jesus,” because they’re not – THEY’RE NOT – they’re happy and successful…for the time being; songs that reveal the character of God to a world that has no clue that God is personal, that God is reachable, that God is desirable. God commands us to sing a new song to Him, so, yes, I will still write songs of worship to praise the God I love. But I have a new objective to write Christian music for non-Christians that will make sense to them. Because what we say and how we say it doesn’t make sense to them at all. For real.
3) Since I grew up in the south with a church on every corner, in a family that went (and still does) Sunday morning, Sunday evening and to prayer meeting on Wednesday night, since my momma taught me how to worship, my step-dad is a pastor and my daddy says “thank You Lord” as a response to almost anything, since I work in a church, and all my friends go to church, and I really don’t have much of a life outside of church, for real, I don’t realize that there is a whole other world out there with absolutely no Jesus, no concern about their eternal destination, no apparent need for God in their day-to-day lives. What am I going to do about that? I know that within my ministry I’m doing exactly what God called me to do, but it’s not enough. I am compelled to tell about Jesus where it is uncomfortable, where it is unwanted, where it is not solicited to people who don’t even know they need Him. For real.

In his parachute-panted hip hop heyday, MC sang “Oh my Lord, thank You for blessing me.” For real – those are lyrics from “U Can’t Touch This.” MC knew Jesus even if he didn’t always show it. Just like the rest of us Bible belters. We don’t always show it. But we need to. For real.

15
Jun
11

School’s Out – Time for Rest

School has been out a few weeks and with two trips already behind me, the summer looms large, ripe with potential. I love summer. Schedules are loose, commitments are breezy. But being an adult, it can’t compare to the feeling of “school’s out.” I remember the first summer I was on a church staff, I realized with much consternation that though the calendar said “June,” I was expected to go to work each day. That summer felt like prison. I had made it to 27 being a student or a school teacher. I did not think I would live through that summer. No one should be inside a building in July. Really.
The other day when I picked up my 8th grader from school on the last day and watched him dance around in the car like a crazy man, I knew he was celebrating many things. Summer. The end of middle school. The thought of 2 ½ months stretching out in endless abandon. I turned to him and said “You know this feeling that you feeling right now? This pure joy, this reckless gift of freedom? Adults never get that.” I’m really not a pessimistic person, but I am having a hard time with this. With family scattered, my vacation gets eaten up spending time with all factions. It’s wonderful, but never truly restful. I need to be alone, perhaps. I think I need a sabbatical.
Oh dear, that word comes from “sabbath.” Secular dictionaries describe it as “a day of rest and worship.” Another concept that I have a really hard time with: say it’s Sunday. I worshipped today. So then I come home and try to rest. And doing nothing is, well, boring. My brain won’t stop planning, creating, sorting. If I’m not producing, then what good am I? I want to produce good fruit for the Kingdom, for my family, for myself. “Be still and know?” Hardly possible. But is it?
God created the whole world. Then He stopped. And He rested. And He called it holy. What would I give to be able to stop. To say “It’s good. It’s finished.” When you think about it, God didn’t have to rest. God never sleeps nor slumbers. But He gave us the example we need. He said rest was necessary, mandatory, HOLY. Set apart, perfect, blissful. No matter how busy we make ourselves, we will never be finished with our work here on earth until the day we are standing at the throne with our mouths agape. So we might as well quit trying to be so darn effective and try being a little more playful, a little more lackadaisical, a little more like an 8th grader on the last day of school.
I’m going to spend this summer perfecting rest. And it’s going to start, for real, Sunday by Sunday. Sabbath by Sabbath. School’s out. Rest is only a holy moment away.

22
May
11

The Next Generation

Psalm 78:4 We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.

Psalm 79:13 We will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise.

I love verses about raising up the next generation. I am a spiritual and musical product of my grandparents and parents, my aunts and uncles pouring into me the truth of scripture and the power of worship. Obviously my former pastors, choir directors, and Sunday School teachers did the same, and I am very grateful to them all.
When I see generations come together to lead worship, it thrills me. It gives me great hope for the future. It is the reason I do what I do. I love working with adults, but seeing worship come alive in a child and experiencing worship leading from a teen is life changing.

At CBC our worship ministry is based on these precepts. Teach someone else to do what you do. Start them young and give them authority to lead when they are ready. Multiply yourself. As I stood onstage at Easter with Puresound, our Youth Choir behind me, the significance was not lost on me. Most of the youth leaders are a product of a Kids Choir ministry. All of the dancers except the two oldest professional dancers grew up at CBC dancing in Kids Choir worship events. It’s working…
I usually hold a recital for piano and voice students at the end of a semester. Last Christmas instead of a recital, I took students to a nursing home to play and sing Christmas carols and worship songs. This spring I took it a step further and my students will lead worship at a CBC multi-site. At the rehearsal they sang with conviction and excellence in pristine three part harmony. They will boldly worship, some will speak out about their love for the Lord, some will play instruments, some will ad lib, some will pray. They will all lead out on a song. I will even have one of my own sons come with us to sing (the other has a baseball tournament…) It’s working…

Psalm 71:18 Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.

Thank You, Lord.




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