as we forgive

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. – The Lord’s Prayer

Asking forgiveness is easy. We simply recognize our mistake, accept the consequence (shame or otherwise), repent, and request forgiveness from the person we transgressed.

Granting forgiveness is difficult. Why so? The reason is deeply sinful. We simply desire to be a vigilante in the name of self-preservation. We withhold forgiveness because we want to protect ourselves.

We would like to think ourselves as vigilantes of righteous justice; however, not only is that difficult to achieve, Jesus informs us that it’s not our job to exercise God’s justice. It’s God’s job to exercise God’s justice. The parable of the wheat and weed (tare) is enough: Jesus says that God will send His messengers to pull the weeds from among the wheat. If you and I embark on that mission, we likely will uproot wheat in the process.

What about Jesus telling His disciples Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.? Does that give us authority to decide when to extend and withhold forgiveness? Nope. Jesus is not transferring His sovereignty to the disciples. Prior to ascending, Jesus claims ALL authority in heaven and earth is Mine. Bounding and loosening is related to the authority Jesus gives to His Body – all Christians – in the context of church discipline (Matt 16 & 18), not in an individual (although Peter is definitely a quarterback of sorts much like Eliakim in Isaiah 22.22).

In the Lord’s Prayer, the end of Matthew 18 and other places throughout Scripture, it is crystal clear that followers of Jesus are to extend forgiveness to their transgressors.

When Christians withhold forgiveness, it is a sinful act of insecurity. It asks God, Are you strong enough to protect me? I do not believe You hold me in the shelter of Your wings. I am insecure in my relationship with You…can You really protect me from being hurt again?

When Christians withhold forgiveness, it is a sinful act of treason. It says God, I am going to dig in and protect myself. I will not submit myself to Your sovereignty. You do not know what’s best for me. I know what’s best for me. I am the captain of my soul.  Not to You, o God, but to me be the glory.

When Christians withhold forgiveness it is a sinful act of deceit. It says I am not who I say I am. With my lips I confess I have transgressed against God and in His loving-kindness He extends forgiveness in Jesus Messiah; but in my heart and life I deny the existence of any such thing.

In the death, burial and Resurrection of Christ, the Messiah, God proves that mercy triumphs over judgement. That mercy is embodied in the lives of His elect.

Today I choose to forgive as God has chosen to forgive me.

[coming soon will be a post of “What Forgiveness Is Not”. In keeping with the theme of nothing original, the content of that post will come from my wife, Cynthia. It should be noted that her formula for forgiveness is not original with her…we’re passing on that which has been entrusted to us.]

long-term partnership (unedited)

(this post is unedited and may not be completely coherent due to lack of sufficient sleep…)

The relationship between CrossPoint Baptist Church and Bugiri Baptist Church began in 2008 via IMB missionary-to-Uganda, Vernon Sivage. How the relationship came to be is a testimony to the deep reaches of God’s Providence (as are all healthy relationships), and will require another blog post.

Bugiri Baptist has an impressive infrastructure held together by a congregation dedicated to the glory of God and the good of Bugiri-town and beyond. This infrastructure is a testimony to Pastor George’s spiritual maturity, leadership skills, and financial independence (he is full-time employee of the local government). In a landscape covered by weak Gospel-centric preaching (which produces unhealthy congregations!) and the false-Gospel teaching of prosperity, Bugiri Baptist is an anomaly. But it should be the norm. And it can be…with long-term partnerships. Bugiri Baptist Church has not always been healthy. This level of spiritual health is fairly new, circa 2010/2011.

In 2009, 2010 and 2011, CrossPoint Baptist sent a mission team to assist Bugiri Baptist in equipping the saints and serving the community. The CrossPoint Baptist teams were paired with Bugiri Baptist ministry leaders who also served as interpreters. Both congregations combined resources to advance the Gospel through pastors’ conference, children’s program (VBS-type), door-to-door evangelism, primary and secondary school visits to donate school supplies, and visiting the local prison and hospital. At the schools, the administrators demanded the Gospel be presented to the students. At the prison, the team brought blankets, mats, washing buckets and soap for each prisoner and prison staff member. [There are no dorm rooms or bunks at the prison; each person sleeps on the floor.] At the (surprisingly unsanitary) hospital, the team prayed and gave gifts of sugar and soap to each patient and nurse in the name of Jesus.

The first time Pastor George and Bugiri Baptist had been to the schools, prison and hospital was during the mission week of 2009. Hopefully you can connect the dots to see the necessity and benefits of an almost four-year partnership.

In 2011, CrossPoint Baptist voted to send its mission pastor and twenty percent of the congregation to replant Grace Baptist Church.

Also occurring in 2010/2011 was a development at Bugiri Baptist. Pastor George pulled his ministry leaders together and said, “We cannot take a mission team to the USA, but we can take a mission team to our area.” They began to “take trips” to the surrounding villages and pockets of immigrants/refugees taking residence in Bugiri, advancing the Gospel through door-to-door evangelism, children’s programs and public worship services. Knowing about the Grace Baptist replant, Bugiri Baptist also sent one of their own to replant Izidra Baptist Church, a congregation that dwindled down to three people and now has twenty-five gathering to pray (that’s another blog post as well).

The relationship between CrossPoint and Bugiri Baptist is a gospel partnership. It is a long-term gospel partnership. We did not throw money at a congregation and say, “God bless.” We committed for long-term. We did send money to put on a roof, establish a child support center, fund ministry supplies; but we also sent people to be equippers and examples of faithful Gospel ministry. In turn, we learned so much about Gospel ministry that we could not have learned within our own cultural context. Christians all over the city, state, nation and world are co-labourers with Christ. CrossPoint refreshes the hearts of the Bugiri Baptist saints and Bugiri Baptist refreshes the hearts of the CrossPoint saints. The Unifier of both congregations is the Holy Spirit, working to magnify the Son, Jesus, in Bugiri, Baton Rouge and all over the world. Both congregations have learned so much from the other. The influence of one congregation can be found in the other. This is God’s design in a long-term partnership (similar patterns of disciple-making). Christ is exalted when people, united by God’s Spirit, work together for the gospel.

There is great need in Uganda for long-term partnerships. Congregations in the US have what congregations in Third World do not. [I don’t like the phrase “Developing Nation” in lieu of “Third World Country” – it’s too optimistic in most cases, IMHO).

I love being with Christians who are taking their first trip beyond the border of the United States. You can see in their eyes the process of anxiety, discovery and then finally, delight.

Living for God’s glory and the good of others is so rewarding, just the way God designed it to be. Plus, there’s a great perk: experiencing and enjoying the Gospel in a multi-ethnic context gives one a delicious foretaste of heaven.

made it to uganda

Greetings from the lobby of the Anderita Beach Hotel (named after the owner’s children, Andrew and Rita, respectively). It is a 10 minute ride from the Entebbe airport and located on the shore of Lake Victoria. Enjoying a cup of African tea while watching the sun rise over the early morning fishermen always points towards the greatness of God’s creation.

Everyone is settled in their room and most likely sound asleep under a mosquito net. The team travelled well together and gracefully withstood a 25+ hour journey.

A couple notes of interest:

Before deplaning in Entebbe, our flight made a stop south of the Equator: Kigali, Rwanda. We dropped off a few passengers and picked up new ones heading to Entebbe or Amsterdam (a new flight crew took our plane back to Amsterdam). So…the team has been in four countries (US, Netherlands, Rwanda, Uganda), three planes (KLM is a splendid airline), two hemispheres and one trip!

We made it smoothly through Entebbe’s passport control. The Madame was kind enough to let our group get visas together. The Ugandans enjoy expressing hospitality to their visitors. Seven of us had sixteen bags (mostly Rubbermaid tubs) that caught the eye of the customs official. He briefly inspected school supplies, toys, books and other things. He let us through without incident. (I’m sure his children will enjoy the pack of glow-in-the-dark bracelets). Once through the doors leading outside, we saw our guide, Daniel; driver, Joseph; and IMB missionaries Vernon and Sandi Sivage – www.UgandaBaptistSeminary.org

We will leave Entebbe in the morning and begin a three-hour journey to Jinja. We need to get there before 1pm to exchange US dollars for Ugandan shillings. We’ll spend some time on the main street market doing a very important exercise: exegeting and assimilating into a new culture. We will look for certain hand or eye gestures when locals greet one another; we’ll look to see how the Ugandans are dressed and how they carry themselves. We want to do our best to assimilate into and honor the general customs of the people we’ve come to visit, serve and work alongside.

We plan to have dinner with the Sivages and some other missionaries, then spend the night at the Triangle Hotel which overlooks the Nile River. On Sunday it’s off to Bugiri for the bulk of our mission adventure.

Internet access may be spotty, but the Anderita has always come through with a wireless signal – even when operating on generator power. [Currently, the power is out, so we don’t have any hot water, but the wireless signal is strong. Prioritizing electricity for internet use over guests having access to hot water is indicative of the strong mobile telecommunications & web infrastructure that continues to develop in Sub-Saharan Africa.]

Better sign off before I start rambling.

Praises be to God the Father who has unified His Ugandan and American children in the Spirit of Christ.

effective musical worship

Having been in music performance over a quarter century, I’ve experienced a broad-range of genres and audiences: church youth group musicals, Broadway-style vignettes, piano recitals, stage-diving in a Christian rock band, Louisiana Philharmonic in St Louis Cathedral, Messiah arias, African villages, prisons, conferences, weddings and funerals.

To the praise of His glorious grace, God called me to Himself eighteen years ago to glorify Him through music. Thanks to the gift of mistakes, mentor figures and fellow pilgrims who share the same love for music, I’ve picked up a few nuggets along the way. For the glory of the only One worthy of our praise, I pray these nuggets contribute to your spiritual formation and effective musical worship leadership.

Nugget #1 – Don’t use the term “worship” when you intend to refer to the “musical worship”.
I first heard the term “musical worship” from Jim Shaddix – a preaching professor (NOBTS), pastor (Edgewater Baptist), mentor (Emmaus Road) and friend in New Orleans. Dr Shaddix forged in us a conviction that the singing portion of the worship service was just that: a portion of the service. Shaddix brought to our attention that Christians (including us seminarians) used the term “worship” to refer to the singing that occurred before and/or after the preaching. He rightly taught that the whole service – including the preaching and listening of a sermon – was worship.

If you want to reference the music aspect of the worship service, call it musical worship. Refer to the preaching along the lines of worship through proclamation of the word. Don’t call yourself the worship leader unless you also plan to deliver the sermon and lead the music. As the musical worship leader, you are glorifying God through music. In the same manner, the preacher glorifies God through heralding (preaching) and teaching the Scriptures. Not to be left out, the congregation glorifies God in the listening to the proclamation/teaching of His Word. [Read the excellent work, The Passion-Driven Sermon by Jim Shaddix].

If the sermon is boring, it may not always be the preacher…we should listen, expecting to hear God’s voice through His word. Are you listening for God’s voice through the sermon with the same intensity you desire God to listen to your voice through the singing?

Nugget #2 – Pick songs people know
Leading musical worship requires honing the same skill as understanding a passage of scripture: context! context! context! Know your audience.

[SIDE NOTE: There’s been an age-long battle called “worship wars”. Listen, if a congregation is having a worship war, they’ve got big problems! What they usually mean by “worship war” is they simply disagree on music styles (see nugget #1 for clarification, and explore how Luther and Calvin disagreed on church music). Don’t worry about being “traditional”, “contemporary” , “modern” (the new way of describing “contemporary”) or “blended”. Can anyone even define those words in hard terms? Don’t worry about transitioning a congregation – just know the audience! [Burying a “dead” congregation is a different story. I’m afraid you’ll need more than a change in music to address those thorny issues.]

Here’s the deal, pick and lead specific songs that serve the specific Christians gathered in that specific setting. Generally, the songs played in a prison are not usually the same songs played at a Ladies Tea. We musical worship leaders must learn to be intentional with our planning and I don’t mean planning to capo 4 and play in G the whole set. We must be intentional in preparing to be an effective ministry leader within the context of the specific Christians gathered specifically to exalt Christ. If the other worship leader (preacher) is asking God for a specific word from His Word, should not the musical worship leader exercise the same discernment? If the audience is a mixed demographic, acknowledge the creativity of God displayed among humanity, and then provide opportunity for each group to give their musical praise to the Lord. This is a great teaching tool: one day different languages, styles and preferences will cease; we will all sing heaven’s song with every tribe, tongue and nation represented among those who believe! When you find yourself criticizing other people’s musical preferences, remember that one day down the road you’ll ask a young person to play a Phil Wickham or Tomlin song, and they may not have a clue who or what you’re talking about…

It’s okay to teach the older crew new songs. It’s okay to teach the younger crew old songs. It’s okay to teach English-speaking Christians a song in Swahili. It’s okay to teach people songs they’ve never heard so as long as the lyrics are theologically accurate and the music is excellent.

Nugget #3 – Lyrics communicate theological accuracy
Pick songs that are theologically accurate. If the lyrics on the whole do not reflect the Gospel of Christ or lack Biblical precision, scratch the song – even if it’s being played over and over on the local Christian radio station. God is not honored with heretical praise. You may have to re-write words or phrases to make a song completely theologically accurate. God’s honor and people’s souls (what they are taught to believe about Jesus) are at stake with the songs you pick. No one goes about their week humming the sermon; they usually hum the songs they hear you sing.

Nugget #4 – Arrangement and performance is musically excellent
Regardless of a song’s style or genre, if it’s done poorly, God is not glorified. If you can’t play a particular song with musical excellence, regardless of how theologically accurate the song is, please don’t play the song. I’m not suggesting you must be a virtuoso musician in order to lead us in musical worship…I’m simply suggesting the rest of us should not have to suffer through your unprepared playing/singing.

Another professor/mentor/pastor/friend, Dr Bob Stewart, told the story of a musician who prefaced his song with This is a song God gave me. I’d like to play it for you. When he was done, he was told “Don’t blame that song on God.”

Practice. If you have other musicians playing with you, write charts and do your part to help them understand the way you play the songs. Expand your musical preferences for the purpose of effectively leading diverse congregations to see and sing the greatness of God. If the song is done with excellence, everyone will enjoy it, even if it’s not their preference. More importantly, God is honored in your art; namely, the preparation, execution and message.

Nugget #5 – Keep the music flowing
Other than heretical lyrics and atonal music, there is nothing worse than awkward silence between songs. In modern vernacular, the space is known as “transitions”. [Some people use a prayer as a transition to get the musical worship team up or down from the stage. Don’t be that guy!] The times for dramatic pause are few and far between. Whilst silence can be effective – when intentionally used – it is normally awkward for both the congregation and the musicians. Every musician is thinking about providing some music for the “transition” going on, but since this ain’t their gig, they don’t feel the authority to provide such. When one song has finished and you’re planning to go into another one, keep the music going – even if it’s one person noodling on the piano, padding on the keys or picking the guitar. The music will maintain continuity for the congregation as you move into the next song. Silence will be awkward…especially if the rest of us hear you flipping through your music sheets on the music stand.

Nugget #6 – Read or recite Scripture
You don’t have to use Scripture as a transition, but between songs or even at the beginning of the service, the Scriptures provide an opportunity for the congregation to engage with the voice of God. Don’t be afraid to read Scripture! Particularly if it helps us understand the next song, allowing our mind and heart to collaborate in praise to God.

Nugget #7 – If you’re gonna change keys, take a step UP, not down
I owe this nugget to a more charismatic brother, Danny Donham. Changing keys is exciting, especially if the change is up! Unless you know what you’re doing and can stretch out the modulation (see Nugget #4 for clarification) don’t go down a step, or you’ll feel a train wreck about to occur (actually, you won’t really know what’s happened, you’ll just know that something in the room is now different). Think of those epic ballad songs that change keys when the chorus repeats at the end: the pitch goes up and all over the room the hands go higher, the voices get louder and the hearts feel warmer! ha. I’m not suggesting we manufacture an emotional trance (see Nugget #3 for clarification), but I am suggesting that in God’s design, we respond to music like nothing else. It’s okay to exercise and explore emotions during musical worship, but please be aware of your own emotional intelligence so you can discern the range of emotional intelligence/maturity within the congregation. If you’re going to change keys, go up.

Nugget #8 – Keep the focus on Jesus
During my first year of seminary I was asked to lead the musical worship for one of the chapel services. The president of the seminary, Dr Chuck Kelley, was preaching this particular chapel service. I couldn’t mess this up! I sought him out and asked what he would be preaching so I could plan songs for the sermon’s theme (and impress him with my thematic prowess. Hey, made sense to me…). He smiled and replied, “You keep the songs focused on Jesus and I’ll keep the sermon focused on Jesus.” Oh. That makes better sense.

Don’t over-think it. Instead of trying to tie-in some obscure song with one of the sermon points, spend that time focusing on lyrical accuracy, musical excellence and effective leadership for your particular congregation.

Nugget #9 – Lead the followers
We are looking to you for direction on all fronts. It’s true that on some occasions all we will need from you is to play the songs. It is also true that some of us will stand up in the middle of the room while everyone else is seated, but for the most part, we’re all going to follow your direction. I learned this the one hard way. Also from Dr Kelley…

The very first time I led the musical worship in chapel (different from the service mentioned above), I opened with the very contemporary (or was it modern?) phrase “Feel free to stand, sit, or whatever, as we worship God.” (was I emotionally unintelligent!) A few people stood, some sat, and everyone else looked confused. After the service, Dr Kelley put his huge arm around my scrawny shoulders and said in his presidential voice, “Brian, you’re the leader. Tell us what to do. Don’t give us the option, just tell us when to sit and stand.”

Got it, Doc. Thanks for the nugget. (Eleven years later, that memory still makes me laugh.)

Obviously these nuggets aren’t original. They have been learned through making mistakes.

Nugget #10 – Don’t repeat my mistakes; make new ones and send me the nuggets.