Ready, set … Christmas

Not long ago, a well-meaning person in my congregation asked me, “Are we ever going to sing a Christmas carol?”

At first blush, that might sound a bit harsh. But to be completely honest, it’s a great question.

The Christmas season is a time when angels sing about the baby Jesus … so why don’t we?

After all, the secular world begins playing and singing Christmas songs shortly after Thanksgiving. OK, check that … shortly after Halloween. Early on, radio stations begin playing Silver Bells, White Christmas and all the other standards we’ve come to love around the holidays. It’s natural to assume we’d sing Christmas carols in church, too.

Yet in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, we only sang two songs that even resembled Christmas carols.

What’s the deal? Why no good cheer? Why no joy to the world? Is it me? Have I turned into Scrooge Curmudgeon in my old age?

I admit I’m getting older, but that’s not why we didn’t sing Christmas carols. There’s a very simple, biblical reason.

It’s called Advent.

OK, yes, Advent is kind of a churchy word that conjures up images of liturgical rituals that seem out of place in the modern church. But the truth is that Advent isn’t really a ritual at all. It’s a season, one of repentance, anticipation and hope.

The word advent itself means “arrival” or “an appearance.” The arrival, of course, is Jesus, soon to be born. But there is much to be done before the Savior’s birth.

In God’s word, a good place to start is in Isaiah 40, verse 3.

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

The prophet in this case is foretelling the coming of Jesus about 700 years before the Savior’s birth. Then about three decades after Jesus was born, a man named John the Baptist began heralding His ministry. John did many things, but among the most important was that he called his people to repentance.

And that’s the crux of Advent. It is, first of all, a season of repentance. An invitation to turn away from sin and refocus our hearts on the kingdom of God. That’s a much different tone than the celebratory mood of Christmas.

The songs we sing must be different, too. Christmas carols are wonderful, but they skip the part where we’re asked to examine ourselves, prepare our hearts, and hope for the coming of Christ.

That’s the other part. Advent is also a season of anticipation and hope. We’re getting ready to celebrate the birth of the King. But He’s not here yet, and that fact is made painfully obvious by the awful state of our world. Someday, God will set aside the shootings, wars, genocide, disease, debauchery and every other evil that infects our world. Someday, Jesus will come again and put an end to all of this. But not yet. And we’ve got a lot of preparing to do.

Think about it this way. If you knew the second coming of Christ was four weeks from today, what would you do? Would you celebrate? Or would you prepare? I know what I’d do.

That’s what Advent is all about. It’s about preparation, repentance, and hope.

Christmas Eve is almost upon us. That’s the time to celebrate. That’s the time to let loose and bask in glow of the newborn King. Sing those carols with all your heart. Feel the joy of the Lord and express it freely.

But as we lead up to Christmas, get ready. Because He’s coming.

 

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The King has summoned you. What will your answer be?

A few years ago, I attended a songwriter’s convention in Asheville, NC. This was something I had anticipated eagerly for a long time. The chance to network with other Christian songwriters and grow in my craft was exciting. And to do it in Asheville, one of my favorite cities on the planet, at the impossibly beautiful Billy Graham Training Center — well, that was just icing on the cake.

The Billy Graham Training Center at Asheville, NC. One of the most beautiful places on earth.

But there was a problem for me. I was struggling.

Leading worship and singing lead vocals onstage require tons of confidence. And I had none. The reason was simple: I didn’t think I was a good enough singer.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have plenty of confidence as a musician. But let’s just say that God didn’t bless me with an opera-quality voice. And every time I stepped up to lead a song, I had this nightmarish idea that people would cringe the moment I uttered a sound. To be honest, worship had become a burden on my heart, and it didn’t feel good.

Around the second day at the conference, I attended a breakout session led by Michael Neale, the worship leader at a very large church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Michael was also a songwriter and artist for Integrity Music. This man could flat out SING.

After the session, I meandered up toward the podium and worked up the courage to introduce myself. I shared with him that I didn’t think I should be leading worship because I wasn’t a very good singer — especially compared to someone like him.

Michael was so kind.

“Bob,” he said, “I’ve never heard you sing, but I don’t need to.”

Then he spoke the words I’ll never, ever forget.

The King has summoned you.

“The King has summoned you to sing for Him. Are you really going to tell Him no?”

In that moment, through the encouragement of this remarkable man, God changed my entire outlook on my role. Worship stopped being a burden and became a privilege. A joy. And an honor — the greatest honor I will ever know.

I don’t know where your heart is today. Maybe worship — or serving church — is a burden. Maybe it’s an obligation. Maybe it’s a chance for you to play rock star.

Even if you’re not a worship leader, my prayer for you today is that you’ll begin to view worship as a joyful privilege, one that God has called you specifically to do.

So I’ll end this by asking you the same question Michael Neale asked me: The King has summoned you to play for him. To sing for Him. To be an usher for Him. To greet people for Him. To love the unloved for Him. To be a blessing for Him.

Are you really going to tell him, “No”?

 

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The worship leader — like a pair of glasses

During my years as a church musician, I’ve experienced just about every type of worship situation imaginable.

I’ve played conferences where things were so crazy, so charismatic, that I was afraid somebody would call the cops. Other times, I’ve been the only musician in a room with one or two silent prayer warriors. I’ve seen people speak in tongues, anoint with oil, paint stunning images on canvas, share incredible testimonies, create spontaneous songs, and heal the sick.

Of course, most of my time has been spent in worship that looks a lot like what we do on Sunday mornings. And believe me, I’m thankful for that.

Yes, there are many styles, customs, and experiences in worship. But a common thread weaves its way through all of it — the most profound, life-changing worship happens when God’s people earnestly seek His heart.

And that can’t happen unless the worship leader is transparent. Continue reading

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5 things your Worship Leader isn’t there to do (and probably shouldn’t even try)

I hear it nearly every week. And every week, it brings out the same feelings in me.

The music was GREAT today!

There was a time in my life that such a compliment would absolutely make my day. And why not? A very nice person has made the effort to walk up to me and validate the thing I care most about. In many cases, that person has made a special point to search me out and tell me how much the music moved them. I should be over the moon, right?

But for the longest time, something about that comment made me uncomfortable. I’d smile and say, “Thank you,” but inside, I just wanted to hide. It didn’t make sense. I mean, why should something so wonderful cause me such heartache?

Finally it dawned on me.

When you say, “The music was great today,” it means I have FAILED.

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Any old song will do? Not a chance.

Choosing songs for worship used to be pretty easy. You simply grabbed the hymnal, maybe peeked in the back at the keyword index, and “take your pick.” Any song will do.

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Choosing worship songs has never been more complicated.

Today, it’s a different story. Modern worship planners stand beneath an avalanche of praise and worship choruses. With more than 100,000 songs available and hundreds of songs playing on the radio, never before have we had so much music to choose from.

And never before have worship leaders shouldered as much responsibility for the quality of music as they do now. In bygone days, hymns were included in hymnals only after a panel of theologians and musicians had deemed them appropriate for worship. In the modern worship era, that job falls to individual worship leaders.

All this may leave you wondering: How does a worship leader select the songs? Here are three simple-yet-important questions I ask when considering a new song for worship.

 

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Ready, set, go! The 2-minute Gospel

Elevator_Pitch

Ever had to make an elevator pitch?

You know, the idea where you convince somebody of something in the time it takes to ride in an elevator. It’s talked about mostly in the field of sales, but it applies to any situation where you need to make your case in a short period of time. Most sales people tell you that’s about two minutes, max.

Now, let’s be real here. You can’t convince someone, even the most impulsive person imaginable, to make a major life decision in two minutes. But you CAN pique their interest and make them want to know more. And that’s the real art of the elevator pitch.

In the case of Christianity, I like to call it The 2-Minute Gospel. And I think everybody ought to have one at the ready. Understand, by “gospel,” I’m not talking about reciting the entire books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in two minutes. By “gospel,” I’m talking about Miriam Webster’s FOURTH definition.

Gospel: Something accepted or promoted as infallible truth or as a guiding principle.

In other words, we’re talking about truth. And my question for you today is simple: Can you state what YOU believe to be true about God in 2 minutes or less?

In this day and age of outcry against public dissemination of God’s word, it’s more important than ever for Christians to be able to share the truth — individually, quickly, passionately. The world won’t allow us to stand on the street corner and shout it anymore. First Amendment or not, that right is being abridged daily.

But we can share His truth one-on-one. Are you ready?

And here’s the thing … you never know when the opportunity may arise. It could be in line at the grocery store. In the break room at work. Riding the bus to work. Anywhere. We simply can’t afford to be caught off guard.

So here’s my challenge you: Develop a 2-minute gospel. Edit it until you can do it in 2 minutes or less. Practice it on other believers to see if it’s effective. Have it ready, then USE it when you have the chance.

In a moment, I’m going to share my 2-minute gospel. It’s my way of explaining what I believe, and yours will be different. My gospel really breaks down in to three sections.

1. God created everything.
2. God gave us free will so that we would choose to love Him.
3. We messed it up, so He sent Jesus to pay the penalty that should be ours.

My 2-minute gospel is below. Believe it or not, I can recite this in exactly two minutes. I know because I’ve practiced it many times. You can also find it in the What I Believe section of this blog.

Good luck with yours. I pray that you have a chance to use it.

Bob’s 2-Minute Gospel

I believe God created everything. Heaven, earth, stars, planets, people … maybe even little green men from outer space. Who knows?

I believe He created us so He could love us. At the same time, I believe He left us to decide whether we’d love Him back. Why would He do that? Well, think about it. What kind of relationship would it be if He simply programmed us to love Him? We’d be like Stepford wives. It wouldn’t be real. And that would leave God very lonely.

I believe we messed it up in the Garden of Eden when we decided we needed to know what God knows. Silly us. We can’t know everything He knows. But satan (I won’t even capitalize his name, that’s how much I despise him) tricked us into thinking we could. That led us to sin, which is separation from God. We had paradise in the bag. After the fall, we got our eyes opened to the real world. We became slaves to sin.

I believe that our colossal blunder cost us eternity with God because God can’t have filthy people in heaven (or anything less than perfection, for that matter). Our sentence became an eternal party in the lake of fire, hosted by satan himself.

I believe that God loved us so much, however, that He just couldn’t stand to see us suffer for all eternity. So He made a way for us to be washed spotless — by sending His son, Jesus, to die in our place.

I believe Jesus did come to earth, born of a virgin (yep, a virgin), and lived among us, teaching us everything we needed to know in order to carry out God’s plan. The religious leaders of the time felt threatened by His presence, so they conspired with the Romans to have Him put to death in a gruesome manner on the cross. They thought they had defeated Jesus, but they didn’t know it was all part of God’s plan.

I believe that Jesus rose from the grave after three days, defeating death and completing the job He had been sent to do, fulfilling the prophesies of Isaiah and others from hundreds of years earlier. He made a way.

I believe He returned to heaven to be with His Father, after a time with His closest friends.

I believe God then sent the Holy Spirit to be with us and guide us until the day Jesus returns.

And finally, I believe that I — along with anyone who chooses to believe in what Jesus did for us — will live eternally with God someday in an unimaginable paradise.

It seems like a lot. It’s actually very simple. And the question is … what do you believe?

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What? Me worry?

Patience.

I’m told it’s a virtue. Honestly, I wouldn’t know. I have none.

OK, that’s not true. I have plenty of patience for other people. But I have none for myself, as anyone who knows me can attest. And I have very little patience for things that are out of my control, especially when there’s an outcome I really care about.

Who wouldn’t want a house with a gorgeous family room like this?

For example, my wife and I are trying to sell our home. We’ve done lots of great work to the place — landscaping, siding, roofing, and a bunch of stuff to the inside to really make the house beautiful. It looks fabulous. Here’s a photo of our family room, which is a source of great satisfaction for me because I designed it myself. Pretty great, huh? I mean, this home is READY. Somebody’s going to get a great deal.

Here’s the problem … I’m an impatient ball of stress. Continue reading

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SCOTUS ruling … not even a blip on eternity’s radar

The recent Supreme Court ruling that gives same-sex couples the right to marry has, to say the least, caused a great deal of hoopla in this country.

SCOTUSEvangelical Christians are up in arms with the decision. After all, it’s pretty clear in the bible that God intends marriage to be the union of one man and one woman. Allowing same-sex marriage is akin to condoning sin.

Meanwhile, the LGBT community and its supporters are celebrating. This is about an individual’s right to choose his or her own lifestyle. Evangelicals can’t tell us how to live, they say.

And you know what? The LGBT community is right.
They DO have the choice. After all, that’s how God made things.

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Jesus never preached tolerance

Christ urine

Offended? You must be intolerant.

In 1987, photographer Andre Sarano shot an image of a small crucifix submerged in a jar filled with some sort of amber liquid. What was that liquid? Well, the title — Piss Christ — should be a fairly obvious clue.

In 1996, mixed-media artist Chris Ofili created a painting of the virgin Mary that hung in a prominent New York gallery. His media? Pornographic images and elephant dung.

To the surprise of no one, Christians were deeply offended by both of these works of art. But the more progressive minded of our country demanded tolerance. Never mind that both works were funded, in part, by taxpayer dollars. All forms of art are legitimate, even if they offend. Nobody’s forcing you to look at it.

You must be tolerant, they said.

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‘Don’t lie’ doesn’t mean ‘don’t speak’

Recently in church, we talked about the 9th commandment. “You will not bear false witness.” In other words, “Don’t lie.”

It’s part of a 10-week series about the 10 Commandments, and I have to admit … it’s been tough for me. Week after week, Pastor Glen Blumer stands up on the platform and tells me something I find very hard to swallow: “You can’t follow 10 simple rules.”

See, I’m a competitive guy by nature, so my first instinct is to take each commandment as a challenge.

Glen says, “You can’t follow this commandment.”

Bob says, “Wanna bet?”

Take the 9th commandment. Don’t lie. OK, I won’t. I mean, how easy is THAT? In fact, if I so much as FEEL THE URGE to lie, I’ll just shut my mouth. If I don’t say ANYTHING, it’s all good, right?

Yes! Yes! YES! (Fist pump with each “yes”) Take that, Blumer!

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