Humility and Irony in Worship

So, as many of you may know, I lead worship at a young church in Chandler, AZ.

And yesterday was a great morning of worship, of telling the story of God and proclaiming who he is and what he’s done and what he will do.

However, there was one of those moments yesterday that I shall call a “keepin’ it real” moment.”

Singing some songs... Leading some praise...

Singing some songs… Leading some praise…

It came right after we sang a great song called “Open Skies” by David Crowder. The song ended, and I began to briefly talk about “humility” in worship. I mentioned that passage from James 4 where James quotes Proverbs 3:34, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” And I encouraged our people to remember to come to God, in worship, with humble hearts and grateful souls. Thankful and aware that our Great King’s love flows lavishly on us messed up and wicked people. With humility we understand that God’s grace is given to us not because we deserve it, but because He is good.

And so, with these wonderful thoughts about humility and worship, I then proceed to begin the opening lyrics of the next song, “Your Love is Deep” by Jami Smith. However, it should be noted, I made the decision to lower the key of the song from ‘D’ to ‘C’ back in rehearsal on Thursday. I tell you this, because once I learn a song in a certain key, that key gets locked in to my brain, and sometimes it’s difficult for me to convince my brain and mouth to sing in a different key. So, although my guitar is plucking away nicely in ‘C’, my starting notes on Sunday, in this moment, were far from where they needed to be. And then, quickly I tried to adjust and drop to the right note, but I dropped too far and missed it again. It took me a good 3 or 4 starts and stutters on the lyric, “your love is deep…” before finally I locked in to the right key. A rather embarrassing moment, if I do say so.

But here’s what I love:

a) the irony of having just talked about humility in worship, and then completely butchering the opening of the song.

b) the fact that this wasn’t the first time, and probably nor will it be the last time, but the people of our church love and appreciate me anyways.

c) in reality, this is a defining characteristic of the culture of our church.

Let me expound on the last point a little.

One value of mine in leading worship is that, while I take “WHAT I DO” very seriously, I don’t take “MYSELF” too seriously. The minute I take myself too seriously, I begin to think more highly of myself than I ought. I begin to inflate my sense of importance. I begin to put expectations on myself and others that are unfair or unrealistic. I begin to lose sight of what it means to lead people into hearts of worship. And so, I cherish these moments where not only I, but our whole church, is reminded that I’m human and real. And these moments are welcomed here at our church. Moments where we all sorta realize, “yeah, this isn’t a show… this isn’t a performance or a concert… this is a bunch of real people just coming together for the sake of bringing glory to the name of our Great King, and mess-ups are just gonna happen.” Things like mics not coming on right away, or transitions being botched, or cues being missed, etc… all help, in small ways, to create a culture of authenticity. Now, granted, if these things happen ALL the TIME, that’d be a different story… then we’re into the realm of distractions and barriers. But I don’t think we’re there… No, I LIKE where we’re at as a culture of worshipers.

And so, if you come to our church, I say “thank you” for your grace towards your leaders, and for allowing us to be real and authentic and human. And thank you for  helping us create a culture of not taking ourselves too seriously, but understanding that we’re all in this thing together.

Oh,and thank you Lord for the irony of speaking about humility and following it up with a moment of humility. Gotta love it.

Traffic Pet Peeve? Poetic Justice…

Everyone has them…

Those things that just DRIVE you crazy when you’re out on the road.

People who cut you off… Speeders… Slowers… Motorcycle crazies…

For me, I can’t stand it when someone thinks that the world is their ash tray.
I’m tempted on a daily basis to jump out of my car, run up to the car in front of me, grab the cigarette butt they just tossed out their window and turn to them and tell them, “oh, don’t worry about it… I’ll get this one.” Then casually walk back to my car.

Haven’t done it yet, but one of these days.

This morning, I heard this story about a guy from Denver who also thought the world was his ashtray, however this time the world refused to take it!

The 25 year old man rolled down his window, tossed his cigarette out the window, only to have the wind blow it BACK in to his car! Not only that, but it set his car on fire!! (He was unharmed, so yes, you can begin laughing now).

Check it out.

Poetic Justice: Smokers car sets on fire

Poetic Justice: Smoker's car sets on fire

(click picture for full story)

What about you? What’s your traffic pet peeve, and how might you see poetic justice had (without anybody getting hurt, that’s the rule)?

HP6: The Movie in Review

Reviewing The Half-Blood Prince

Reviewing The Half-Blood Prince

It began with a Stone.

Continued with a Basilisk in a chamber, a murderer escaping from an un-escapable prison, a tournament of wizards from around the world, the return of Evil, and the formation of an army to rise up against him.

It’s the story of a boy-who-lived and his legendary quest to stand up against he-who-must-not-be-named.

And it’s one of the most beautiful and beloved stories of our generation.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the 6th part in J.K. Rowling’s 7 book masterpiece, and in many ways it serves as merely the prelude to the final chapter, setting in motion the things that must take place for the forces of good to challenge, and triumph, over the forces of evil. And this past week, Director David Yates (who also helmed Order of the Phoenix) partnered with Screenplay Writer Steve Kloves (who wrote all BUT Order of the Phoenix screenplays) to take on the challenge of adapting the gorgeous story of book 6 into the tricky, fickle art of film.

It’s always delicate when watching the movie of a book you love, and in an upcoming blog I will talk about the ever present “book versus movie” dialogue, and why it can be unfair to compare the two. But for now, I’ll say that it’s impossible to NOT, however, think of one when engaging with the other, so in my review it will come up from time to time. Just know that we’ll jump in to this topic in further detail later. (Warning: if you don’t know how this, or the whole, story ends, there are plot spoilers to follow.)


One of the more frustrating scenes

One of the more frustrating scenes

When the credits rolled, and I walked towards our car, I couldn’t stop thinking, “wow, I LOVED that movie!” Meanwhile, my wife, who is arguably a bigger fan of the Potter series, kept uttering, “wow, I HATED that movie!” As we talked, we realized that we had different criteria by which we judged the movie (which is, obviously, part of the beauty of art). I couldn’t get over how incredible the movie looked and felt. The cinematography, the photography, the way the shots were framed, the coloring (oh,the coloring!) were all brilliant. It felt like a ‘grown up’ film, if that makes sense. The sets were gorgeous (if not a bit distant from previous established Potter sets). The lighting reflected perfectly the mood of the film. Credit goes to David Yates for creating a beautiful movie. And these sorts of things tend to receive more weight in my mind when I judge films.

By contrast, my wife tends to focus on the nuances of the story and the relationships, the characters and finer plot points. And as she processed through the movie, it became clear that some of these aspects of the film could be weighed and found wanting.

What I’m getting at, is that because of how I initially react to films, I started from a place of really liking the movie. Then, as I began to sort through what I liked and didn’t like, I soon found out that there was quite a bit I did not like about the movie… several pieces of the story that were mis-handled or not handled at all.

For instance, the potions book belonging to the Half-Blood Prince played a significant role in the story. However, in the film, it felt like they resented having to include it. The blossoming relationship between Harry and Ginny was both poorly portrayed and awkwardly shown. Some of the visual effects felt like an afterthought (the first scene of the bridge being rent, the Inferi at the end). Hogwarts didn’t “feel” like Hogwarts (where was the art on the wall?). Much of the actual magic and magical moments in the film felt more “normal” or “non-magical,” if that makes sense. And the most offensive  of all was the slaughtering of the end. Every Potter fan was desperately awaiting the final climax, the moment where our 2nd favorite character finds his end. We sat on the edge of our seats expecting Dumbledore to “freeze” Harry so that he could not interfere with what was about to come. Because that’s PRECISELY what Harry Potter does: he rushes, without thinking, headlong in to danger to try and save the ones he loves. And by choosing to NOT have him be frozen, we get a false-Harry moment. It’s not believable to watch Harry from below the deck passively observing those final moments. And then, once the deed is done and Snape does the unthinkable, WHERE IS THE EPIC BATTLE AT HOGWARTS? No showdown between the Death Eaters and the Order? No funeral service for Albus Dumbledore? No final and beautiful moment between Harry and Ginny? Sorry, this may be the moment where I begin to break my own rules and say the movie just did NOT do the book, no, the STORY, justice.

However, in the end, I still feel like the movie was really good. There were flashes of brilliance: Harry when he took Felix Felicis (the best acting Danielle Radcliffe has done in 6 movies), the Quidditch match, the Weasley Bros joke shop, the jokes between Harry and Ron, the flashbacks with Tom Riddle, the character of Slughorn, and the music… mmm, the music was fantastic!

I’ll have to watch it again before I can rank where it sits alongside the first 5 films. And maybe after the final 2 movies come out (yes, if you haven’t heard, book 7 will be made in 2 parts, Nov ’10 and July ’11) we may look back and appreciate the way they handled the Half-Blood Prince a little more. If you haven’t read the books, close your internet and begin now. If you can’t do that, and you’ve already seen the first 5 movies, do not miss your chance to catch this film in the theater, you’ll probably love it even more than those of us who have read them, because it truly is a beautiful, well made piece of art. But, for the ending alone, I give it only 4 out of 5 stars.

What about you? How did you feel about it? What did you like or dislike?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: 4.5 Stars

Ever Changing Cyber Etiquette

Text-er? Email-er? FB-er? Phone-er?

Text-er? Email-er? FB-er? Phone-er?

Potential Conversation in 2001

Bro: “Dude, did you get my message?”

Dude: “What message, bro?”

Bro: “The message I left on your voicemail?”

Dude: “Home or cell?”

Bro: “Home, dude.”

Dude: “Bro, we don’t really use that phone anymore.”

Potential Conversation in 2007

Dude: “Bro, what’s up.. you called?”

Bro: “yeah dude, I left a voicemail, didn’t you get it?”

Dude: “eh, I just saw I had a missed call… I don’t really check my voicemail much.”

Potential Conversation in 2008

Bro: “Dude, why haven’t you called me back… I hit you up like twice yesterday…”

Dude: “oh, sorry bro… you should’ve texted me. I don’t really look at my calls anymore.”

Potential Conversation in 2009

Bro: “Dude, are you coming tonight?”

Dude: “Coming where, bro?”

Bro: “to the movies with us… didn’t you get my texts?”

Dude: “ah, sorry bro… didn’t check my texts today. You should’ve left me a message on FaceBook…”

I’m guessing, minus the “dude” and “bro” language, you’ve probably had a similar conversation with someone over the past few years. It seems that with the ever changing culture of social networking and communication, the quote-un-quote “etiquette” that goes along with communication is having a hard time keeping up.

I noticed this clearly in an experience I had last week with a friend.

After about 3 interactions (or maybe “failed” interactions) through texting and attempting to comment on Facebook, he finally called me out and just said “dude, I don’t check my actual facebook page… try calling sometime. i think you’d come off a little less abrasive.”

Confused, I called him and asked what he meant, and found out that: a) sarcasm doesn’t always communicate in the virtual world, b) I was misinformed about how frequent this person checked Facebook (turns out he updates via Twitter… so while he has multiple “status updates” a day, it’s almost always apart from actually logging on to Facebook), and c) I had, unintentionally, imposed expectations on this friend based on interactions with other friends.

So what I’m finding is that it is important to be aware of your own expectations towards others when communicating with them virtually. One friend may be an uber-texter… you know the type. Before you even hit the ‘home’ button after pushing send, you’ve already got a reply back. Or another friend may just love the phone… you send an email with a question, and five minutes later your phone is blowing up. Meanwhile, you have the “always have a Facebook window open” friend, who lives and dies by the status updates and comments. And soon you begin to make mental checklists of who communicates how, and by what speed they do so. This can become both helpful and efficient most of the time.

The problem comes when either: a) you don’t actually KNOW the preferred communication habits of particular friend, or b) you get them mixed up or confused. And soon you begin to wonder why JOE hasn’t texted you back, why JILL can’t seem to take five minutes to reply to your email, how long your FB comment/question on TODD’S wall will remain unattended to, and if SUE must have lost her job and can’t afford her phone anymore because she hasn’t returned your call in days.

As wonderful and efficient as all our methods of communication in the 21st century are, they certainly can lead to inter-relational frustration at times if we are not careful. So I, for one, am going to try and make a better effort to understand how my friends and family communicate best, and keep that in mind if an “emailer” doesn’t respond to my text right away, or a “phoner” leaves my Facebook comment unanswered for days.

What about you? Have you ran in to similar problems? And what type of virtual communicator are you, and do your friends know that?


Ghandi, MLK, and Clint Eastwood: Thoughts on Gran Torino.

Ghandi :: MLK :: Eastwood?

Ghandi :: MLK :: Eastwood?

Lately I’ve been wondering (and by lately, I mean the past 2 years) what it means to be a Pacifist. Or, rather, to go back farther, I’ve been wondering what it means to follow Christ in such a violent, war-torn world. And the more I read, study, and walk with Jesus, the more I believe he would find more in common with Pacifists than with War-mongers.  Obvious statement, that… I know… but my point is that I really think Jesus was and is against violence, especially as means to a solution for “dealing” with, or responding to, violence. His ultimate destination, the way his revolution ended, as you know, was by being nailed to a cross. Both his death and his way of life (peace, forgiveness, mercy, justice, love) flew in the face of those who would use violence to fight oppression (the Zealots), and also stood in opposition to those who just threw their hands up, ignored the problem,  and fled to the dessert (the Essenes).

But the working out of his kind of response is so much easier said than done. What do you do in the face of monsters like Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and others… how can Pacifism, or at the least, “Jesus-ism,” be an appropriate response? I don’t have great answers… there are others out there much more suited to answer those questions than me. What I can do is look at the lives of men like Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr., and see in their lives that a non-violent response is not only feasible, but also much more effective and good. Maybe Jesus was right, maybe fighting violence with more violence isn’t the best way.

Nonetheless, I say again that there are certainly no easy or simple answers.

I start with all this, because this is what I was thinking about when the credits rolled to the latest “great” film I watched: Gran Torino, by Clint Eastwood.

Clint Eastwood (Walt) in Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood (Walt) in Gran Torino

(Caution: Spoiler ahead.)

Among many reasons, what I loved most about this film was how it ended. If you haven’t seen it yet, Clint’s character (Walt) is a war-veteran who fits the mold for the old, cranky, racist white guy who resents any non-white folk living anywhere near him. As the story progresses, his heart begins to soften by the Korean family that lives next door. The young gal, Sue, refuses to let Walt’s prejudice define him, and pesters him with attention and a smile. While the young boy, Thao, who starts off trying to steal Walt’s car (his “Gran Torino”) eventually becomes Walt’s project, as he tries to “man” him up, essentially becoming a father-esque figure. Thao’s cousins, who tried to get him to steal the Gran Torino, are part of a gang that eventually resents Thao’s refusal to join them and hates the fact that white-Walt is a part of their lives (believe me, I’m simplifying a very well crafted story). As the film progresses, the gang does a drive-by of Thao’s house, and also gang-rapes Sue. Walt, with a new found love for his neighbors, feels both enraged and guilted by what’s happened (he sorta provoked the gang when he proceeded to kick the crap out of one of the gang members for messing up Thao). The whole thrust of the story and characters is leading towards this climax where the audience is expecting Walt to go Rambo on this gang in retaliation. They show you his collection of medals and guns all film long. They build tension between Walt and the gang. They’ve built the whole story line to train your mind to think you know how it will end. And I found myself thinking, “seriously? if THIS is how the movie ends, I’m gonna be disappointed… but I can’t see how else it COULD end..” Essentially, my mind has been trained and framed by our culture to assume that the natural way to respond to this sort of thing is to “get-them-back.” However, I’m thrilled to say, that is precisely NOT how the film ended…

And this is what I loved. The film gave an amazing picture of what it looks like (in a sense) to live-out the peace mission of Christ. If you’ve seen the film, you know that at the end he goes, by himself (actually locking Thao in his basement, so as to protect him) to the gang’s house, and stands in their front lawn, inviting them to come out and face him. However, rather than reaching in his coat to grab his gun (which by now, you’re completely expecting… maybe even “hoping” he’ll do) he pulls out his cigarette lighter, and in doing so draws fire from the weapon of every single gang member. They pump him full of lead as he stands there, innocently, with no gun and no intent. One man, choosing to NOT respond with violence, but rather to give up his life in an effort to end the injustice. Beautiful. The police proceed to show up, and arrest each of the gang members on the obvious charge of murder, as the sacrifice that is Walt’s body is taken away.

There’s a lot to love about this film (the acting, the photography, the characters), and if you haven’t seen it yet, I hope you will… if for no other reason than to experience the end of the film. It may not have the same impact if you know what’s coming, but I have to believe it’ll still be a powerful moment. Clint Eastwood truly makes his character believable, and the film WILL cause you to think, to pause, to reflect… as all good art should.

How can we live out a Jesus-Pacifism? I don’t know, exactly. It’s not easy, by any stretch of the imagination. But through thoughtful and creative ways, and by learning from men and women who’ve done it in the past, I believe we can begin to show the world that there is a better way… a way of love, mercy, forgiveness and peace. That’s what Jesus was. That was his mission. That is our mission.

For a modern day story of the beautiful picture of living out the peaceful mission of Christ, I have to suggest Gran Torino.

Gran Torino: 4 1/2 stars

The Beatles & Jesus: Ecumenism in Worship


This famous Beatles song was originally written by Jesus… Surprised you didn’t know that.

I remember reading something sometime (that’s called “21st century journalism”) that told the story of how some evangelical churches and church groups began to disassociate themselves with the Billy Graham Crusades because Billy began to have Catholic Priests as part of the team that would meet with people who wanted to follow Christ for the first time at one of his Crusades. Essentially, they argued that because they believed Catholicism to be wrong, and not “Christian,” then Billy should not be using them on his counseling team, and possibly moving “new converts” towards Catholicism upon conversion.

Some of you, after reading that, may think, “yeah, what’s the problem with that? I wouldn’t have supported that either…” While others, “what!? That’s ridiculous… you’re going to boycott Billy Graham Crusades and tell people not to go because there are Catholic Priests there? Wow…” With probably others falling somewhere in between.

Personally, that fact that this occurred, and in many other ways still occurs today, frustrates me to no end.

This isn’t a post about Catholicism, nor is it a post about other religions or beliefs. It’s a post about the Christian call to unity, and what that might mean and look like.

One of my favorite moments in Jesus’ life is when he prays specifically for me… In fact, I believe it’s the ONLY time that he prays for me. Check it out, John 17:20-23…

  • My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
  • that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
  • I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:
  • I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved themeven as you have loved me. (emphasis mine)

Pretty incredible, eh? Jesus actually prays for us who have believed in him because of the work of his disciples… And what is it that he prays for? What is his greatest hope for you, me, and others who have come to faith? Is it love? Is it high morality or purity? Is it health or well being? While these things are good and important, they’re not what John chose to write about in regards to Jesus’ ONLY prayer for believers through the ages… No, that belongs solely to the idea of UNITY.

You can point out immediately that Jesus prayed that “those who will believe in me” be one, and thereby begin to draw lines in the sand as to who is “in” and who is “out,” allowing us to only worry about being in unity with “some” people and not others. Which seems to be common in the church, “what EXACTLY can I do and not do? Where IS that line… so I can come right up next to it without crossing it…”

What if, instead of worrying about who I DON’T have to be in unity with (insert excuse here: they believe differently about the Bible, differently about the Church, differently about the Holy Spirit, worship, salvation, etc), we started exploring “what might it look like if we pursued more UNITY with this other church? This tradition? This faith? These people groups?” etc… Might there be some amazing side effects from being unified with people different from us? Would the body of Christ be that much more beautiful with ALL its parts working together? Might more people “not-of-faith” be impressed with people “of-faith” when they see us getting along, encouraging each other, and working together for love, hope, peace, justice, and healing? If Jesus himself believed that UNITY was of the utmost importance, and that it would be a defining factor in whether or not the world would come to know that he was sent by the Father, shouldn’t we too concern ourselves with this? Might we want to be more intentional in creating UNITY with others, especially those who it may not come naturally?

Last night I had the privilege of leading worship at Camber, the college ministry over at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Chandler, AZ. This was the 3rd time I was invited by the Cornerstone worship guys to come and “fill in” in their absence, and I’ll do it again next Thursday night. This isn’t necessarily ground breaking, as there’s a lot of similarities between our church and Cornerstone, but I believe that in some small way this is working towards better unity between churches in our area. It’s a small step, to be sure, but that’s usually where things begin. I’d love to someday get invited to lead worship at a Methodist church, a Luthern church, Episcoplian, Anglican or Catholic… We have so much to learn about worship from these traditions, and in turn we might have things they could learn from. But if we insist in staying at arms length and not being “intentional” in pursuing unity, we’ll never know.

“Ecumenism” can be defined as: initiatives aimed at greater religious unity or cooperation… most commonly, ecumenism is referring to a greater cooperation among different religious denominations. Since right now my area of expertise is “worship,” I’m trying to pursue ecumenism within worship amongst other churches in the East Valley. What does that look like? I’m not sure… but I’m willing to try. If that’s what Jesus felt compelled to pray for, then consider me compelled to figure it out.

(For a simple way to start fostering this in your church, encourage your pastors and leaders to do what my cousin’s church does in Oceanside, CA. Each Sunday they choose one other church in their area and pray for them during the service. Love it!)

Entering the Blogosphere…


Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time…

About five years ago, after my wife created one, I decided to join the fray and create a MySpace page. I dug it for about a year, adding pictures and videos… posting a blog entry or two… leaving comments and ignoring comments… etc. After about a year, the “last visited page” number grew from a few days ago, to a few weeks ago, and so on… the joy was gone.

I gave up on the whole “social-networking” thing, and went back to reading books.

Then the Facebook craze took off… MySpace was relegated to teens and pre-teens, while the “mature” crowd moved on to the cleaner, simpler, more elegant and user-friendly Facebook. Again, I put it off. Figuring I’d end up just creating an account, post a few things, then let it collect cyber-mold.

And, again, my wife jumped in and started networking it up.

Then, I noticed person after person at my home church creating an online community on Facebook. And the thought occurred to me, “If I’m a Pastor, ministering to the people, and all the “people” are on Facebook, what ought that mean?” Ergo, I went to the people.

I’ve been enjoying the fruits of social-networking for two years now, and I can honestly say that many of my “real-relationships” have been strengthened as a result of it.
I also experienced something interesting… I’m a big fan of American Idol, and this past season I decided to do a week by week evaluation of the performances, and post them on my Facebook, inviting all my friends to comment and interact. It turned out to be a big hit (for like 25 people… but still!), and it got me thinking: if people are interested in what I have to say about American Idol, might they be interested in other things as well? What if I finally created a blog (after thinking about it for 3 years) and had a place where my voice was added to the mosh-pit of the inter-web?

So, it has been done. I welcome you to

Here, I will primarily be blogging about all things related to worship, theology, and pop-culture.

I hope you come back and visit often, and interact when you have something to say.

Stay tuned for blogs on topics such as:
–  Why Gran Torino was a Fantastic Movie
–  Finally reading the Twilight Saga…
–  The Best TV Show You’ve Never Seen
–  Why I Change the Lyrics to How Great Thou Art
–  I’ve Got a Case of Upgrade-itis
–  Ecumenism within Worship
–  Favorite New Gadgets
–  And More

Thanks for reading.

cMart, out.

Showing my son how NOT to climb a rock wall

Showing my son how NOT to climb a rock wall