I'm a Hypocrite

You know those quizzes that float around the internet - the ones that associate you to a popular figure of some sort? I saw one on Facebook the other day called, “Which Bible Person Are You?”. I'll admit it. I was curious so I took it. One of the questions asked, “Which personality trait repels you the most?”. There were four options: hypocrisy, intolerance, lying, and cowardice. I chose hypocrisy. I hate hypocrites.

Things are a bit complicated at the moment. I’m faced with a series of challenges that have me asking a lot of questions. I’m reevaluating some things. It reminds me of a season I was in about a year and a half ago. To keep a long story short, after an exhausting internal struggle I came to the conclusion that I had become too caught up, too immersed in a tiny portion of what Christian life should be. I felt like there was something missing. There was something more. So I stepped out of the “bubble” to find it.

Formative, yet dangerous. That’s how I would describe the last several months of my life. With guidance from my mentors and a strategic plan to develop various spiritual disciplines, I felt the Holy Spirit open my heart and my mind to gain a greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian. I matured as a Christ follower. The process was and will continue to be difficult though. There were times when I was frustrated. Times when I was worn out. Times when I was angry. Times when I just wanted to call it quits. It was at those moments, however, that God would find a way to remind me of His abundant grace. A reminder. That’s what I need right now. And I think I got one.

When I finished the quiz the result I got was Peter. I can’t help but smile in amazement at all the ways that God speaks. We know Peter as one of Jesus’ most passionate and excited disciples. This was the man who leaped out of a boat to walk on water with Jesus. The man who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and whose confession would be the rock that the Church would be built upon. The man who would go on to boldly proclaim the gospel and see thousands saved. Such amazing things done by the same man who denied knowing Christ not once or even twice, but three times. Yet, as we see written in John’s account of the gospel, Jesus, so full of grace, redeemed all three of Peter’s denials and charged Peter to care for the Church and follow Him. Peter was a hypocrite, but he was a hypocrite covered by grace.

I hate hypocrites, but I am a hypocrite. I’m a hypocrite when it comes to trusting God. You see, trust requires something. Trust requires surrender. It demands the relinquishing of your hopes, dreams, wants, and needs as well as the fears of not attaining them. Trusting God means letting go of human reason and logic and releasing your entire life and it’s purpose to God. That’s tough. It’s easier said than done, but here’s the thing - I’m not doing it alone. Yes, I’m a hypocrite, but I’m a hypocrite covered by grace.

Busyness

Earlier this year I partnered with a missions organization called Reaching Indians Ministries International and I had the opportunity to travel to North India and visit a few of their ministry sites. Since coming back to the states I've been asked to write about my experiences on a few different occasions. Here's a devotional I wrote for Asbury UMC in Madison, Alabama that I thought I'd share.

Busyness is difficult to overcome. It seems as if there is always something competing for our attention. Calendars filled with responsibilities cover our walls, computer screens, and mobile devices. They have become the bible that guides our daily steps. Anxieties and worries seize our thoughts. Visions of the future distract us from the present. When did life become so complex? Work is important, but so is taking time to enjoy the simple things in life. I was reminded of this during my first trip to North India.
It was a dry and hot day in Nagpur, Maharashtra, India. The sun was beginning to set and I had just completed my tasks for the day. I decided to spend the remaining hour or so of sunlight visiting the children at the Mission India Mercy Home in Nagpur, one of the 18 Mercy Homes planted by Reaching Indians Ministries International. Vijay, our driver dropped me off at the front gate of the Mercy Home. As I stepped out of the rugged SUV built for spirited Indian streets and choppy dirt roads and on to the dry dusty ground, my mind was immediately overcome with questions like, “What will I say to these kids?” and “Why didn’t I bring someone with me?” I’m generally a reserved person and I was worried about how I would interact with the children. “Would I come across as boring or weird?” I didn’t have much time to process these questions, as I found myself quickly approaching the Mercy Home door.
Seated on the porch steps was a young group of boys playing a game with two wood chips. The game involved the player placing one of the wood chips into a notch in the ground and hitting it with the other wood chip causing the first wood chip to fly up into the air. The player would then hit the airborne wood chip with the wood chip in the player’s hand. The individual who could hit the wood chip the farthest was the winner. Nervously, I approached the young group of boys and made my best attempt to engage them. I was successful. Within just a few minutes I was fully immersed in the activity. For those few moments I became a child again. I had no responsibilities. I forgot that I was half way around the world. I forgot that I had Bible school classes to teach. I forgot about the language barrier. I found such great joy in such great simplicity.
I’m back in the U.S. now and my calendar seems to be growing larger each day. There is a lot of work that needs to be done. Appointments must be made, meetings must be attended, people must be visited, and places must be traveled to; however, in the midst of all the busyness I now make an effort to think back to the moment when my biggest challenge was to hit a tiny piece of bark as far as I possibly could.

"Zion" by Hillsong United

Zion

Well, it’s about time. It’s been a while since Hillsong United has put out a record that I've enjoyed from start to finish. Don’t get me wrong – Hillsong United does a great job of writing music for the Church, but somewhere during the last decade I feel like they lost touch with the rapidly changing music scene. Kudos to them for sticking to their original sound, but if a group is hoping to make a career out of writing and recording music, they need to consider the latest music trends. Zion did exactly that.

Every time Hillsong announced a new project, I found myself dismissing it fairly quickly. It started sometime after the release of I Heart Revolution: With Hearts as One. Something about Zion caught my attention, though. I think it started with a series of pictures posted on Instagram by Michael Guy Chislett, a guitarist, producer, and entrepreneur in general that I respect and admire greatly. One picture specifically caught my attention. It featured Simon Kobler and Benjamin Tennikoff in a New York City studio surrounded by synthesizers. That’s not typical for Hillsong United; even in the studio albums. When I saw that picture and realized Michael Guy Chislett was producing the next project, I knew it was going to be good.

On the morning of February 26, 2013, I got into my car and opened the Spotify application on my phone. I searched, “Hillsong United” and there it was. For the next seventy plus minutes I listened. I was impressed. It’s been a few months since then and I’m still listening to Zion and I’m still impressed. Four songs stand out and are probably my favorites: “Scandal of Grace”, “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”, “Love is War”, and “A Million Suns”. As a songwriter, I pay close attention to a song's lyrics. My favorite on Zion comes from "Love is War", "You came and died but the grave was borrowed." It's a simple idea presented uniquely. I love that because it makes you think.

Despite what I think about the record, I’ve overhead more than one conversation between dissatisfied Hillsong United fans, in which several negative points of review were made. Although I enjoy the record, there are two that I acknowledge, the first being the record’s length. I agree. It’s long. Of the thirteen tracks on the album (the deluxe edition has eighteen) only two are below the four minute mark, of which one is a musical interlude. The longest track, “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” lasts just a few seconds shy of nine minutes. The lack of “congregation friendly” songs is another weakness of the album that I’ll yield to. This one’s big. Hillsong in general, not only Hillsong United is a major source for songs used in collective singing. Zion features maybe three – “Scandal of Grace”, “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”, and "King of Heaven". The majority of the others are primarily arranged as performance pieces.

Last night the Hillsong United gang brought the Welcome Zion tour to Chicago and I had the chance to attend. Both of these vices showed. I loved the theme of the tour. When an individual worships, he or she is welcoming the kingdom of God or Zion. However, I felt like I never reached that point where one gets lost in God's presence as I have in past worship experiences. There was no smooth transition between the songs either, as many of the arrangements on Zion are performance oriented. It was probably for this reason that several songs from prior projects were played. The event also felt a bit long. By the end of the night I was exhausted. Maybe I felt that way because it took a while for the event to begin? Or maybe it was because I hadn't had much sleep the night before? Nevertheless, from a strictly musical perspective, it was a good evening. I thoroughly enjoyed Simon Kobler's drumming. The electronic, synthesized arrangement of "Hosanna" was excellent as well. From an evangelistic perspective, I'm glad the message of love and grace was so clearly presented. The opportunity to accept Christ was also a great feature.

Bottom line: While the tour could have been executed better, I am very pleased with Zion. Well done, Hillsong United. Well done.

Jesus at the Center

Christianity is about Christ. It is not about the thoughts or preferences of the Christian. Why then does it seem as if so many of us Christians have digressed from Jesus' teaching and works and have become most concerned with things like arguing interpretations of scripture, debating theological ideas, or critiquing expressions of worship uncharacteristic of one's faith tradition? This is not to say that such activity is unnecessary. Having conversations about such things is beneficial to growth and discipleship and it enables one to learn and appreciate another’s beliefs and practices, while possibly strengthening his or her own. However, when one becomes fixated on those conversations he or she overlooks what is far more important to the Christian faith—Jesus Christ, His teachings, and His works that gave humanity the ability to restore its relationship with the Father. It is an issue of balance. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I guess this imbalance has a lot to do with the spread of individualism, a philosophy that has generally been attributed to Western culture, but is now evident worldwide. I believe individualism is important. God created us to be unique individuals with varying gifts and abilities; however, we should not forget that those distinct gifts are given to us so that we may come together to form the body of Christ and carry on the work that He started (see Ephesians 4). We are to abandon our personal preferences and agendas and take on the mind of Christ. Fairly straightforward, right? I think so, but this led me to ask another question: Do we really, truly know and recognize who Jesus was? If we don’t, how can we adopt Jesus’ way of thinking and continue His work?

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ ‘Well,’ they replied, ‘some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.’ Then he asked them, ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.’” -Matthew 16.13-18 (NLT)

This is a fairly familiar text in which Jesus explains His mission and clearly indicates that nothing will stand in the way. It is our duty as Christians to carry on this mission with the same level of authority; however, notice where the Church is to be built. Jesus says that the Church will be built on a rock—Peter’s confession. Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah that the Jews had been awaiting. He was able to perceive the divinity within Jesus and it was upon that revelation that the Christian Church was founded. Is Jesus still the foundation of the Church and the center of our faith, or have we lost our focus and made Christianity about less important things? Do we know and recognize Him for who He really is? Do we know Jesus's qualities and characteristics, the way He acted and reacted, His way of thinking, His way of loving? When I asked myself these questions I was disturbed at how incomplete my view of Jesus was. I was embarrassed.

Just as Jesus tells Peter in verse 17, the true revelation of who Jesus is only comes from the Father, so I've decided to become intentional about getting to know Jesus. Now, when I pray I ask God to reveal His Son to me. I search for scriptures that discuss Jesus’ character. I also just began reading a new book by John Ortberg called, Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. What are some other ways we can get to know Jesus? Let’s attempt to know Him. Let’s carry on the work He started and build His church. Let’s keep Jesus at the center of our faith.

Cambodia 2010

This past summer I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Cambodia with a missions team and work with Cambodia Outreach, an organization based in Cambodia's capital city, Phnom Penh. Led by pastor Jesse McCaul, Cambodia Outreach is one of the largest Christian ministry's in Cambodia. They have planted churches in 12 of Cambodia's 24 provinces and have a goal of reaching all 24 by the year 2020. In addition to church planting, Cambodia Outreach's ministries include children and youth ministry, discipleship, leadership training, healthcare, creative arts, and English language education. As we were a team of musicians, much of our time in Cambodia was spent working with the music ministry at New Life Fellowship, the primary church planted by Cambodia Outreach in Phnom Penh. We gave group and private music lessons, conducted seminars on the biblical and theological perspectives of worship, and helped the music team prepare for their next studio recording. We were also given the opportunity to visit and minister at two of Cambodia Outreach's provincial church plants, teach English classes, assist in providing basic healthcare, and partner with Operation Christmas Child by delivering gift boxes to children in an orphanage.

Spending six weeks in Cambodia was an incredible and eye-opening experience. I learned a great deal about Cambodia's beautiful culture and about myself. I believe God is doing amazing things in Cambodia and it is my sincere hope to one day return and worship with the believers there.

Here is a video I put together with some footage I shot while in Cambodia: Cambodia Outreach