Monday, March 2, 2015


Life as we experience it contains a lot of twists and turns, ups and downs, and highs and lows. It is because of that roller coaster type existence that it is so important for us to be connected to one another as humans.

As someone who has spent their adult career in ministry, this is not always the easiest thing to do.  I don't want to sound condescending, but if you haven't served in ministry (as a job, not a volunteer) I don't think that you can fully understand why.  When you are on a church staff, people scrutinize EVERY thing that you do, say, type, wear, eat, etc.  I could share things that I have been scrutinized over that would probably shock you, but that isn't the point of this blog.  It is a fact that you have to be able to deal with or ministry will eat you up and spit you out.  Consequently, connecting to others has been a struggle for Beth and I.  You always wonder if people that are befriending you are doing it genuinely or if they are simply trying to find something in your life to use against you at a later date.  Unfortunately, this isn't fair to those who are genuinely seeking friendship, but it causes you to put up a wall to protect yourself and your family from all of the junk.

While we've been attending our current church for 8 months now, it was just 3 weeks ago that Beth and I made the decision to attend our first Life Connection Group (SS Class).  Let me  share with you what I have found in the past 3 weeks with The Servants (that's the name of our group).

For starters, we chose the group because we already knew a few of the members through our involvement in worship ministry.  That made it much easier for us to walk into a group.  The Servants are not your typical Sunday School class and I LOVE them for it.  In our short time with the group, I have come to learn that (and if I'm wrong, then I hope that John will correct me) their main focus in our hour together is to share needs and concerns that people have and to spend time praying for them.  Sometimes, that may take the whole hour and if it does that's ok.  It's not that we're pushing Bible study to the side as something unimportant, it's that we are making sure that every person around the table knows that the people in that room love them and care for them.  It is truly a living breathing example of bearing each other's burdens.

Whatever church you call home, I encourage you to seek out a small group that will allow you to come as you are and encourage you along this crazy journey that we are all on.  It can be a life changing experience to get connected.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What Do You Know?

I got into a conversation with someone close to me this weekend.  It was one of those conversations that as soon as it starts, you know where it's going and no matter how badly you don't want it to continue, it does.

It started as we got onto the topic of what people wear to church.  This person was lamenting the 'good old days' when people always wore their absolute best to church each week.  You remember the traditions.  Wednesday evening service was casual, and by casual I mean you didn't have to wear a tie if you were a guy. 

Then the conversation went where I really didn't want it to go.  Music.  Ugh!! I don't want to get into a worship war debate with someone so close to me.  I was told how a preacher had told a story about using the hymn 'At The Cross' in a service.  In the days following he received MANY emails, notes, etc. asking where he had found such a beautiful song.  This preacher then went on to say, "That's what's wrong with many of today's churches. No one knows any of the old songs of the faith that helped so many people through so many things."

Really?!?!?  THAT'S what's wrong with churches?? We're not singing enough old songs so consequently people can't get through their troubles because they don't know these songs??  You have got to be kidding me!!

I've made it completely clear in other posts, that I don't care if your worship style is traditional or modern.  I care about one thing when it comes to what people take away from a corporate worship experience.  Do you know Jesus??

I believe it is completely possible to introduce a sinner to Jesus with a hymn or with a modern chorus, with a KJV Bible or with The Message.  Can we PLEASE stop bickering over music?? We all know that everyone has their preferences and that's fine.  Stop bad-mouthing those styles that don't fit your personal preference.

I'll get off my soapbox now.

Have a blessed day!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Modern Worship: Emotional or Cerebral

Over the past several months it seems that those infamous worship wars are heating back up.  I have personally debated the issue with people and have read countless articles lamenting the rise of modern worship as the death of all that is sacred.  Most of the arguments fall into one of two categories.  The first states that the technological enhancements to our worship experiences have become distractions rather than enhancements and have created a performance or concert venue rather than a house of worship.  The other states that there is absolutely no good theology coming forth from modern worship music.  There is a third camp that is not as prevalent in the war against modern worship music.  That camp simply states that modern worship music is too wordy and too difficult to sing.

Before I continue, let me say that to some extent, this modern worship pastor feels that there is some validity to each of these arguments that must be weighed as we plan for an effective and meaningful worship experience.  It is in the weighing of these arguments, that I want to pose the question, 'Can we have a meaningful modern worship experience that also engages the intellect in the way that more traditional worship experiences seem to?'

What made me want to explore this?  I have a friend who recently changed churches and is observing the season of Lent for the first time in her Christian life.  She is chronicling her journey through Lent on her blog and it has been a fascinating read for me.  You can check it out here.  One of her observations is that she enjoys the intellectual engagement that she is getting from the traditional forms of worship she is experiencing.  This is not a new train of thought, but her insights have been so powerful that it has challenged me to ask the question that I raised above.

Why is it that the modern churches don't include any traditional liturgical elements in their worship services?  Are we scared of losing 'cool points' if we dare look at things like the church calendar or responsive readings?  Make no mistake, the modern church still follows liturgy.  It just more often consists of elements like announcements, transition videos, skits, etc.  Before you throw me in the traditional camp, let me say that I think there are ways to do all of those things including some of the more 'old school' elements I mentioned.  Does it require some work and extra creativity on the part of the staff? Sure.

The under 40 generation is a very visual generation and the technology enhancements work for us.  However, we also like to be challenged intellectually.  A lot of churches ignore that and assume that if they give us the smoke, lights, and modern music we will stay engaged simply because of the production value.  They are often finding that to not be the case.

I think my biggest pet peeve with many (not all) modern churches is the void of scripture woven throughout the worship service.  In many places, you might get 2 or 3 verses of scripture to kick the sermon off and then that's it.  Did I miss something?  Is the Bible the guide that we use for our lives?  If so, shouldn't it have a more prevalent place in our service?  I'm not advocating that we worship scripture, but I am advocating that we use it a whole lot more than we usually do.  Realistically, if we simply included more scripture in our worship, we would certainly engage our minds more than we currently are.

I am starting to wonder if maybe we get too hung up on the terminology of modern/contemporary/traditional that when we hear the term that doesn't best fit our preference we shut down and refuse to even see what God may be speaking to us.  In my opinion, there are wonderful songs of worship in praise in both the traditional and modern scopes of music.  There are also terrible songs with bad theology in both veins as well.  Worship is about God, not us.  Maybe we should challenge ourselves to engage in every facet of our corporate worship services from start to finish.  As hard as they try, our pastors and worship pastors won't always get it right. It's not fair to put all the blame on them when you don't get what you expect from a worship experience.  Stretch yourself. Challenge yourself.  Don't check your brain at the door.  I think what I'm ultimately getting at is that I believe it is completely possible to have a modern worship experience that moves our emotions AND challenges our thought process.  Modern and cerebral worship experiences don't have to be mutually exclusive.

I have blogged a little bit with regard to a few of the arguments I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.  If you want to read more about those, you can go here and here.

Please feel free to comment your thoughts.  This could be a fun topic.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Carolina vs. Duke 2015 Round 1 - What We Learned

It's been a while since I've done a sports related blog, so if you don't like sports or don't care about college basketball, I'll be back to my normal blog posting soon enough.

I never write on this topic immediately after the game as the emotion, win or lose, is too raw and I find it impossible to even try to be objective in those moments after the buzzer sounds.

Last night was everything that is right about college basketball.  The greatest rivalry arguably in all of sports was on display for 2 1/2 hours and as it usually does, it lived up to the hype.  Both teams overcame double digit deficits to force overtime and the game came down to the last possession with the Dukies going home happy and the Heels taking the longest 8 mile drive of the season back to Chapel Hill.  Here's my observations while attempting to put my bias aside.  Feel free to challenge or agree in comments as the discussion is what really makes this fun.

1. Tyus Jones is a player that every Carolina fan will hate for years to come.  One of the youngest players on the floor, in the biggest game of the year, was probably the most poised man on the floor last night.  What he lacks in stature, he more than makes up for in heart.  He simply refused to let Duke lose last night.  Okafur had all the hype, Jones delivered a much more poignant performance.  This takes us to....

2. Jahlil Okafur is a phenomenal talent, no question.  He can be contained if you take the game to him.  You have to initiate the contact with him.  If he is allowed to make first contact, he will eat you for lunch.  However, he didn't respond well when Carolina got physical with him.  This Carolina fan is still hoping that he's one and done.

3. Marcus Paige is a shell of what Carolina fans saw last year.  I don't know if it's the plantars fasciitis or if teams have simply figured him out, but whether or not he's scoring, he must impact the game for Carolina to be successful.

4. JP Tokoto will drive Carolina fans nuts with some of his decision making, but I would rather him make a few boneheaded decisions and be aggressive like last night, than watch him disappear to timidity.

5. If Brice Johnson can eliminate one stupid foul per game, he could be absolutely dominant. Unfortunately he loses about 3-4 minutes of floor time every night due to foul trouble.

6. People will be quick to criticize both team's defense given the final was 92-90 and I'll admit, both teams have defensive flaws.  Duke can't defend the paint and Carolina can't defend the 3-point line.  That said, let's also be honest and say that when clicking as both teams were, these are 2 of the best offensive squads in the country.  When a team or a player (Quinn Cook) get hot from 3, Carolina is in trouble.  Likewise when a team owns the paint (Meeks and Johnson), Duke can be beaten.

7. Both of these teams can play with and beat anybody in the country, but I don't think either of these teams make a title run this year.  Duke isn't deep enough and I expect them to wear down in the tournament as they have done in year's past.  I mean, let's face it...the 18 game ACC schedule is absolutely grueling and it will take it's toll on the best of teams.  Carolina struggles to close teams out and that will ultimately spell their demise in March.

8. Who wins round 2??  Duke will be favored, but I think Carolina will be motivated to exact a bit of payback on March 7.  Either way, we should have another classic on our hands.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Do We Like To Be Offended?

It's a serious question. Is there some underlying reason that we are so quick to play the 'I'm offended' card as soon as someone says or does something that we don't like? I'm actually starting to think that maybe, to some extent, we do. Before you write me off (or get offended) please here me out. Let me draw from a recent online encounter that I had.

Is this really controversial?

The above link is to a blog post from a very good friend of ours. She posted this and a firestorm broke out on her personal Facebook page. She was called careless because some took offense to the blog (particular the part about women's ministry). I was absolutely floored at the level of offense that took place over this simple blog post.

Now. I am not here to talk about her blog. I have my opinions, but that isn't what this is about (especially since I am a man and these were women sensitive topics). This is about how easily some people are offended (particularly in the church).

What do we get offended about in church? There's the obvious thing....heresy. This should not only offend but most likely cause us to seek another church to be a part of if when confronted the heresy is not dealt with. We are offended by the style of music. We are offended by hard teaching that is sound doctrine when measured against scripture. We are offended when our pre-conceived notion of doctrine is challenged. We are offended when someone doesn't smile when they walk past us. We are offended at how someone dresses. You get the point....we are offended by a lot of things when in reality, heresy may be the only valid thing on the list to take offense at. Why do we seek offense?

I have a theory and it's simple speculation on my part, but here it is. Claiming offense gives us a reason to not examine ourselves. It points the blame towards the person or thing that offends and moves the spotlight away from us as individuals. Culture has been inundated with a philosophy that we have a right to not be offended. Sorry, but that's hogwash.

Jesus offended. A prime example is at the end of John 6. This is the infamous 'eat my flesh and drink my blood' incident. So many of His followers turned away at this saying that Jesus asked his closest friends, his disciples, if they were going to leave too. This wasn't the only time He offended, but it is certainly one of the most memorable.

Now, I know what some of you are saying right now. That was Jesus. He did nothing wrong so it was ok for him to be offensive. With that being said, let's go farther into New Testament writings. Particularly those of Paul and James.

There are so many controversial passages in Paul's writings that it's impossible to pick one. But if you need to be convinced, read Romans 1, and I Corinthians 12 and 14 and see how it would be easily to take offense at his writings. Then let's move ahead and read the book of James. We all probably take offense to what he has to say about the tongue.

Our propensity for being offended is probably one of the biggest reasons that there is so much fighting inside the four walls of the church.  That in-fighting is one of the biggest turn-offs that non-believers have with regard to the church.  Can we not step back for a minute and realize that our personal offense is just that in most cases....personal? Sometimes we would be much better served to internalize the offense and use it for self evaluation instead of using it to tear down or destroy someone else.

In fact, I personally like it when a pastor says something that makes me double take and ask if that's what he just said.  It forces me to go back and examine the scripture even more and that is healthy.  So that being said, unless there is all out heresy involved, can we just take a chill pill and quit being so easily offended.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Thankful For Memories

There has not been much sleep for me since about 2:15 AM. My phone rang. I knew before I answered what it was. We had been anticipating this phone call for a couple of days, but no amount of 'preparedness' takes away the absolute punch in the gut I felt when my dad said the words, "Pappy's gone." It's been some 7 hours since I got the call. I haven't cried yet. I have a feeling that this bottle of emotions is going to come flooding out once I get to Maryland.

Now both of my grandparents on my mom's side are gone. I am left with 35 years of memories of Pappy and I am so thankful for those memories. Since moving to South Carolina I've only been able to see Pappy at most 1 time per year. The hardest part has been with only seeing him once a year, each time I've seen him the past several year I've been able to really see the gradual deterioration of his health. Because of that, I choose to remember happier times. Here are some of my fondest memories of Vestal Yelton (Pappy).

1. Christmas Eve at Mamaw and Pappy's was a highlight for us every year. Roughly 17-20 of us crammed into their house for dinner and gift exchange. I can still here his voice as everyone would enter the house, he would let out a resounding, 'Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!' During the gift exchange, everyone wanted to sit in Pappy's recliner. The only way to get that seat was to convince whoever was seated there that they had a phone call (obviously pre-cell phone days). It wasn't often that someone fell for it, but when they did, it was priceless. This became the running joke year after year even though no one was falling for it (except on the occasion that one of the grandkids had a fiance or spouse that had not experienced Christmas Eve with our family). What I wouldn't give for one more Christmas Eve with the whole family there.

2. I remember walking back through the woods with Pappy to fish (although we never caught anything) in Liberty Reservoir. For me, I enjoyed throwing rocks in the reservoir more than the fishing, but I really think that it was about the time with Pappy.

3. I remember our yearly family camping trips to Granite Hill in Gettysburg. There was something unreal about watching Pappy come down their waterslide head-first on that foam mat.

4. I remember that when you would tell him you loved him, his response would without fail be, 'I do you too.' He had a hard time verbalizing love, but those of us who were fortunate enough to call him Dad or Pappy knew that he loved us.

5. Lastly, I remember all too vividly the devastated husband weeping over his wife's casket in 1997. He was never truly happy since she died and we all knew it. I am comforted in knowing that early this morning for the first time in over 17 years, he saw Carrie Yelton as he has never seen her before. More importantly than that, he saw for the first time face to face, his Savior.

I will miss him greatly, but I know that he is no longer suffering. His mind is clear and his heavenly body is perfect.

Until I see you again, I love you Pappy! And I know that you do me too. See you over there.

*BTW - here come the tears.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


I can't help it. I have been thinking a lot about death lately. It seems that in my own little corner of the world, death has surrounded me lately. Since August it seems like there has been a constant thread on my social media feeds about people that I know or people that have impacted me in one way or another passing away. Here's the list.

1. Billy Latham - Beth's father passed away last August. This was the first time either of us have had to deal with losing a parent.
2. Andrae Crouch - OK, I didn't know Andrae, but as a worship pastor it is impossible not to feel the impact of his writing in the world of church music.
3. Lari Goss - Lari was a well known and respected writer and arranger in the Christian music world. I was fortunate enough during my time at Lee to participate in the recording of one of his projects 'God's Glorious Church' with the Lee University Campus Choir.
4. Andrew Thomas - Andrew was an friend of mine at Lee. He was a remarkable bass vocalist and one of the most compassionate individuals that I've ever met.
5. Madelynn Nelson - This was a little girl that we never knew but she was a cousin of one of Beth's classmates at CSU. She was battling cancer and she passed away yesterday.

With the exception of Beth's father, all of these people have passed away within the last two weeks. Then, on Thursday night I get the phone call that my 92 year old grandfather is more than likely beginning the final phase of his life here on earth. Here's a photo that was taken from what would probably be my last visit with him.

Oh, and did I mention that earlier this week Beth's grandfather was taken to the hospital because of a medication mix up that bottomed out his blood pressure and heart rate to very dangerous levels. He is now home and stable.

So this is why I have been thinking so much about death.

We often hear the word death and think about the finality of it that is portrayed in the world. The reality of it is that death while final in relation to our time on this earth, is really just the beginning of eternity for all of us. The pleasure, or lack thereof, in eternity for us depends on one simple thing. Have we accepted the gift of salvation that Jesus so willingly and selflessly provided for us through his death and resurrection. Eternity can be spent worshiping the Creator in Heaven or it can be spent in torment. The choice is ours.

Is it cliche to use the subject of death to take time and do a 'status check' on the condition of my relationship with Jesus? Probably. That being said, I would much rather be cliche and know that I'm ready to go when my time comes, than to ignore it and miss Heaven.