“A Stick, A Carrot & String”

In preparation for Holy Week…

mewithoutyou – “A Stick, A Carrot & String”

The horse’s hay lay beneath His head our Lord was born to a manger bed, that all whose wells run dry could drink of his supply.

To keep Him warm the sheep drew near, so grateful for His coming here: You come with news of grace, come to take my place!

The donkey whispered in His ear: Child, in thirty-some-odd years, You’ll ride someone who looks like me (untriumphantly).

While the cardinals warbled a joyful song: He’ll make right what man made wrong, bringing low the hills, that the valleys might be filled!

Then Child, asked the birds, well, aren’t they lovely words we sing? The tiny Baby lay there without saying anything.

As a distance stood a mangy goat with crooked teeth and a matted coat, weary eyes and worn, chipped & twisted horns.

Thinking: Maybe I’ll make friends some day with the cows in the pens and the Rambouillet, but for now I’ll keep away – I got nothin’ smart to say.

But there’s a sign on the barn in Cabbagetown: “WHEN THE RAIN PICKS UP AND THE SUN GOES DOWN, SINNERS COME INSIDE! WITH NO MONEY, COME AND BUY. NO CLEVER TALK NOR GIFT TO BRING REQUIRES OUR LOWLY, LOVELY KING. COME YOU EMPTY-HANDED, YOU DON’T NEED ANYTHING.

And the night was cool and clear as glass with the sneaking snake in the garden grass, as Deep cried out to Deep, the disciples fast asleep.

And the snake perked up when he heard You ask: If You’re willing that this cup might pass we could find our way back home, maybe start a family all our own… but does not the Father guide the Son? Not my will but Yours be done! What else here to do? What else me but You?

And the snake who’d held the world, a stick, a carrot and a string, was crushed beneath the Foot of Your not wanting anything.

Devotional – Amos 5.23-24

Devotional:

Amos 5.23-24

Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.  

Weekly Devotional Image

For me, music makes the worship service. I can listen to a mediocre sermon, but if the organist has been hitting all the notes perfectly I can walk away feeling filled with the Spirit. I can be ignored as a first time visitor, but if the gathered body sings with full vigor I can leave the service feeling that I have encountered the living God. I can witness borderline heretical theology in a bulletin, but if the musicians are truly glorifying the Lord through their instruments, I can believe that the service has been redeemed.

I started playing drums for contemporary worship services when I was in 9th grade. I played all through high school, college, and seminary for a variety of churches in a variety of places. It is difficult to describe the doxological feeling that I experience when playing drums during a service, but suffice it to say that I feel closer to God in those moments than many others. Contemporary services are not for everyone, even I will admit that I enjoy playing for those services rather than experiencing them in the pews, but they help connect a large portion of Christians to the living God in a way that shapes, molds, and grows their faith.

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When I was in college I began playing for the Crave service that was a part of the Wesley Foundation at James Madison University. Every Sunday afternoon the band would get together at Asbury UMC to practice for a few hours before the service began in the evening. We would play songs that got people placing their hands in the air and praising God. We would play songs that got people dancing in the pews. We would play songs that were so familiar and catchy that I could actually hear people singing the words over the volume of the drum-kit.

However, even when we were playing at our best, our music paled in comparison with the one night that we left the church and wandered around downtown Harrisonburg. Instead of gathering for the typical service (3-4 songs, prayer, sermon, communion, 1 song, benediction) we met on the steps of the church and walked downtown to pray for our city. We stopped at specific locations and joined hands to prayerfully lift up our community, and in particular we prayed over the local courthouse so that “justice might roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

You can have the best music in the world at your church, but when the music becomes the only life-giving part of your discipleship formation, when acts of justice and righteousness have gone missing, we limit the depth and beauty that we can experience. Music is most powerful when it points away from ourselves to God, and when it inspires us to be righteous outside of worship.

This week, let us look for the moments when we can let justice roll down like waters for others around us. Let us truly listen to the words of our Christian songs and live them out so that our righteousness can be like an ever-flowing stream.

Weekly Devotional – 12/2/13

Devotional:

Psalm 72.1-7

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

Youth Band at a Fat Tuesday Celebration

Youth Band at a Fat Tuesday Celebration

When I was in High School I was fortunate to help form a youth band at my home church. A number of us would gather on a weekly basis in the sanctuary playing contemporary Christian music with guitars, bass, drums, and singers. We always had an adult present in order to fulfill the Childcare Protection Policy, but we largely did everything on our own; we picked the music, practiced accordingly, and planned performances throughout the year.

Though I had been attending church my entire life, it was during this period that I began to have a serious appreciation for worship, scripture, and prayer. We would talk about the lyrics of the songs regarding their connection with biblical verses, we debated about how songs should be played in order to indicate the mood of a service, and we began and ended every practice with prayer.

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One of my best friends growing up was a regular for leading prayer at the end of practice. He was often filled with joy (and by the Spirit) and would wave his arms back in forth while we stood hand in hand in a circle. His way of prayer was unlike anything else I had experienced. Whereas many would pray in some sort of elevated way (“Oh Great and Holy Majestic God who knows no bounds, commit thyself to mercy” etc) Will always sounded as if he was talking to another one of his friends. God, for Will, was a constant companion, a trusted friend, and a exciting partner on this journey of life. Will’s prayers were life-giving for all of there because he made God so much more approachable for all of us. Moreover, the prayers were never limited to our specific needs as teenagers, or even as a band, but they flowed over every element of life. Will would pray for the weather (every week), the other people of our church and school, our futures, and justice in the world. He might not know it, but Will taught all of us how to be in relationship with God, and with one another.

The psalmist writes regarding the coming Messiah, “May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.” Our relationship with God through Jesus Christ is one that meets us at every moment of our lives, the glorious and the mundane. God confronts us in magnitude and in simplicity. As we continue to shape ourselves into disciples of Jesus Christ, our prayers should always be for the one who falls like rain on the mown grass of our lives.

And so, in this holiday season filled with reunion and sacrifice, remember that Christ is a living presence in your life. When you go to God in prayer, let the words of Psalm 72 help to anticipate God’s coming reign, and our responsibility to live into God’s kingdom of justice on earth here and now. Let us all pray like Will, pray for God to reign abundantly in our hearts so that we might all come within his warm and peaceful embrace.