The Sound of Worship

The past few weeks we’ve found ourselves in the midst of deep conversation about the intersection between faith and society.  Voices call for more and less.  Political factions take sides. Lines are being drawn.

There seems to be a race to the bottom, to be the most offended by people of faith. Personally, it has reminded me of the response of Jesus when asked about the greatest commandment. He replies to love God and love your neighbor, hardly the musings of a political leader.

For we know Jesus did not come for any earthly power.  More than once the crowds and leaders of the day tried to bait him with questions and conflicts. Every time he made his way around it, destroying the conventions, structures, forces and “common sense.”

Eternity was at hand.

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So what if we’ve gotten it wrong?  What if the church stands at an important intersection, at the crossroads of potential? What if it is primed for a shift, for a new way of community, service, prayer and worship?

In a post last week, I added a song by Isla Vista Worship.  Watching more of their stuff on Youtube, I found this video:

The narrative in the clip makes a statement that struck a chord with me.  It says that worship music should be done with skill and artistry, that is should shape the sound of secular music.

Think about that. We’ve reacted for so long.  What if it was time for Christian writers and artists to shape the narrative?  To reflect the love of Jesus into society with such power and impact that it changes things, that it removes the debate.

It is time for change, for real and actual change.  It is time to build fresh and living faith, to show real moves of the Spirit, to reach into communities and fight for those in need.

Are you ready?

~Matt

The Sound of Worship

I logged into Spotify the other night to view an advertisement for Hillsong United’s newest album titled, Empires.  There is no denying the reach of the Hillsong church, founded in Australia and now located in branches across the world. As with any mega-church, you can find positive and negative stories online from current and former members.

The music of Hillsong has shaped modern worship.

I went to Amazon to check reviews on the album and saw the lowest reviewer making this statement, “is it just me or have their last few albums gotten slower? I miss their up tempo music.” This statement shines light on an important part of faith and life.

What is the sound of your worship_

Oceans is one of Val’s favorite songs. I have no issue with slower worship anthems. They can certainly bring us close to God and carry us into the spirit of worship. My problem is when we turn our back from the joy of praise to sell more units and move more downloads. I tried to get through every song on Empires and couldn’t do it.

It was too slow.

Now before we get technical about shaping worship experiences and flow, let’s consider something.

What will Heaven sound like?

How about an eternity of joy, perfect love, praise and the presence of the Creator? No more fear. No more suffering. No more illness. No more tears. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take an eternity of an explosion of praise, to let go and let loose and finally see salvation in the purest and complete form.

I’ll leave you with my current favorite worship song from Tim Hughes and Worship Central and a great example of a declaration of praise:

~Matt

Fire Words Week: The Way

I’m back from a weekend at the beach and ready to start with some fresh and exciting material. This is the first night in a series about the words we use that start fires in our lives; personally, professionally, or spiritually.  They are the expressions that polarize the world. Each post will be mixed with some great music so check it out and enjoy!

Carter and I just spent two days in Millsboro, Delaware visiting my dad. The town is near the bottom of the state and we survived a pair of long car rides.

We were in the yard throwing Carter a wiffle ball to hit with one of the old-school yellow bats.  He loves baseball and dad and I were both working with him on his batting stance.  At one point he said, “Just let me do it my way.”

In six words he inspired and captured so much of the dynamic between fathers and sons.

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We are not living in a world that enjoys singular answers.  We want our paths multiple and divided. We want independence.

Later on Saturday night we were fishing off the dock behind my dad’s house, three generations together throwing fishing lures into a lake as the night breeze pushed the smell of blossoms across our faces.  As writers do, I started thinking.

Our paths are connected, three men born across generations with different memories and experiences. We pass down a part of our souls.  There are things I say that sound exactly like my dad and Carter will come out with phrases from both of us.

He may want his own way and he will find it one day.  Until then, he will discover himself and negotiate the connection between his past and the future.

Jesus says, straight out, I am the way.

So, how do we handle it when asked about our faith?

I take a clue from Carter.  Sometimes, the clearest thing to do is say “this is my way.” Words carry weight and power. Own your faith.  Step out and you’ll see the connections and lives change in the process.

~Matt

Worship Song Inspiration: I am a huge fan of this song and the work of Worship Central.  Listen once and you’ll be hooked!

Inspiration Point

A new post series will be starting today and continuing on the weekends.  They’ll be a short hit of inspiration, from an image to line of a song or video.  My hope is that they’ll serve as a moment of encouragement for the the new week to come.

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A line from Val’s favorite worship song, Oceans. When the storm is raging, don’t forget to keep your eyes above the waves to the change that is coming.

~Matt

What Uptown Funk Teaches Us About Worship

The only way you haven’t heard Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars on the radio is if you’d been under a rock.  Their hit, “Uptown Funk”, has had massive air play. Ronson’s song is a throwback to James Brown and Mars adds the vocals to make it into an instant classic.

So what can we learn from the song about worship?

The Value of Past and Present Together- The first engaging and intimate worship experience happened for Val and I when I was in college.  We attended The Bridge, a service for students that saw over a thousand kids at two different meetings every Sunday night.

The church was blessed with talented musicians. The room was dark, the stage lit by candles. The songs were modern, relevant, and emotional. As you stood in the presence of God you felt a connection to the early church and their worship in the dark under the eyes of governmental persecution.

You Can Dance- A few months ago, we attended a worship concert with Kristian Stanfill.  He covered Chris Tomlin’s song “God’s Great Dance Floor.” The music and the environment had you moving. Now, I know not everyone is down with that level of engagement during worship, but part of connecting with God is experiencing Joy.  When was the last time you felt it?

Keep Looking Forward- As we consider worship in the church today, how will it progress?  Technology will move forward whether or not the church is in step with it. What else could enhance worship? How do we find a balance between multi-sensory engagement and drawing an audience towards God?

Think of the untapped potential. What will worship look like in twenty years? Lights? Sounds? Art? Instruments, voices, and electronics? I can’t wait to find out.

~Matt

 

Choose Life

This morning, in church, we had our service remembering veterans and their sacrifices to our country.  The service is traditional and powerful, always including a time to invite veterans in the service to the stage to be recognized.  Every year the stage is full of men and women, young and old, from all branches of the military. I’m always touched by this display and thankful to my friends and their loved ones who have served.

Two young men split the message today, both wounded in action in the Middle East, and both representatives of Operation Warrior Reconnect. They were poised, eloquent, funny, and emotional. The first spoke about being talking to his wife on the cell phone, in his bunk in Afghanistan, and having the building hit by a rocket attack.  He spoke about the desire to keep fighting, even with deep injuries to his leg, back, and head.  He talked about coming home and the struggle of his wife and family, about the challenges of adapting to normal life.

This soldier, and his wife, had both attempted suicide more than once.

A line from his story stuck with me.  He said:

You don’t have to be in combat to get wounded.  The key is to choose life.

Every day is a choice. You can live or stay on the sidelines. I’m tired of the sidelines. There’s too many goals I’ve put off for tomorrow, too many missed opportunities.  What if we lived every moment as a chance to be at our best? What if every situation was there for the taking? How would your life look if you grasped all the promises of the next sunrise?

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National Geographic made this their most recent coverage image.  Photographer Martin Schoeller snapped this shot of Layka, a Belgian Malinois, who lost a leg from three AK-47 rounds in Afghanistan. Layka took this fire protecting a squad of troops.  You can see her medal in the picture. There is something of beauty and power there.

I’d take a thousand magazine covers like this over the usual crap at the grocery store.

So this month, don’t forget to say thank you and welcome home to a veteran you know and love.  We are free because some chose to stand and fight, to protect the innocent and right the wrongs of the world.  Use their sacrifice and service as inspiration to fight your own battle.  Find your day one.  Turn away from the addiction. Call that person you’re avoiding. Write the first sentence.

Write the first word. Take the first step.

Seize the day.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: This music video made national headlines as the David Crowder Band actually used Lite Brites in the filming.  The story of the song will touch your heart.

Broke: Moving Past Money

The front of City Hall in Reading reflects the architecture of a city founded in the 1700’s.  It takes me two passes to find a close parking garage.  The interior of the building is all lacquered wood, high ceilings, and glass doors. I find an index hanging on the wall and make my way to the second floor.

The city council chambers are empty.  I pass a snack bar where a police officer eyes me as he picks out his candy. As much as I search, I can’t find Brian Kelly’s office.  Kelly is the only official employee of ReDesign Reading, an organization devoted to promoting social change and combating poverty. Finally I stop at the Mayor’s office.  A receptionist smiles at me as I enter.  I ask her where I could find this mystery individual.  She tells me to wait a second and walks around the corner next to her desk, returning to tell me he will be with me in a moment.

Minutes later, Kelly turns the same corner.  He is taller than I expected, with long hair and the start of a beard.  We shake hands and he tells me he hasn’t eaten yet, despite it being almost four in the afternoon. He asks if I’d join him for some food and I agree.

We walk out of City Hall and end up at an El Salvadorian restaurant where he orders in Spanish. Kelly is my age, a graduate of the Wharton Business School at Penn, and had spent a year working in Guatemala to facilitate social change.  He tells me his Spanish is a little rusty, so he likes to practice whenever possible.  In this small corner of the city, looking across a plate of pupusas with soccer playing on television and Spanish music flowing from the kitchen, we start to talk about poverty.

Kelly tells me the current system is broken, set up to keep the poor in poverty. Benefits are based on income so, in the end, where’s the motivation? Without jobs, why get married when claiming a second income eliminates housing, food, and cash benefits? Real change is based on social connection, on volunteer equity not done with currency rewards in mind.

Kelly envisions a system of bartering hours for needs, of housing co-ops where work equals room and board and fresh vegetables from sustainable gardens. He sees value in every person and knows they are filled with untapped energy.  His passion is matching untapped energy with needs.  He is a catalyst.

Our talk has floated in my head since then and it will be included in more detail in my book about the fight against poverty in the city of Reading, PA.

So could the church exist beyond currency?

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Digest that for a second.

No more budgets, no more offerings.  Volunteer hours are exchanged for food from pantries, gardens and farms grown by members. Outreach programs happen on a weekly basis. Staff members have needs met by a community of believers waiting to come beside them and lift them up.

We call for volunteers all the time, floating out versus where Jesus tells us to serve.  We say, do it, it will be good for you. What if we added a tangible result? What if a childcare volunteer could have his or her children in the church daycare for free during the week? What if a person mowing the church lawn can have their lawn tended in return?

What if we redefined economy for the church?  Why not us? Why not now? Jesus told us how hard it is for a rich man to enter Heaven.

We intellectualized his statement: he didn’t have a mortgage, taxes, kids to go to college and neighbors driving a new Lexus with a greener lawn and personal trainers. 

What if he meant what he said? What if we started taking him seriously? We can break and reset the system.  The church can be a radical change agent. It can start now.

The fuse is waiting to be lit.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: Take a few minutes and listen to the words.  A great song.