Category Archives: church

Prayer for Independence Day

God our Father,

By Your providence You have formed this, and all nations, intended as instruments of Your common grace.

With humble gratitude, we thank You.

For the freedom to gather as Your people, and openly worship together,
We give You thanks.

For the freedom to speak the truth in Your name, without fear or hesitation,
We give You thanks.

For the men and women who, for the sake of liberty and justice, stand willingly in harms way,
We give You thanks.

When we have failed to live out the high calling of our founding principles,
Grant us mercy, O God.

As our leaders guide this nation in the course ahead, may they be held true by the law that You have written on the hearts of all people;
Grant us wisdom, O God.

Though the injustice of this world may, at times, compel us to take up arms, may we ever be slow to anger and guided by justice, looking forward always to that coming day when You shall end all wars;
Grant us peace, O God.

Holy God, You are the source of every blessing that flows from free and prosperous lives, sustained by the imperfect virtues of this great nation.

May our strength be guided by justice,
May our justice be guided by compassion,
May our compassion be rooted in love,
May our love be the fruit of our freedom,
And may our freedom be yielded to you.

May Your strong right arm

So order all things


The One-Another Life

Well friends, it’s time once again for you to do my homework. I’m back at Christ Community Church this Sunday, this time in the pulpit instead of behind the piano. The message topic is “The One-Another Life”.

I started scanning through the New Testament, and pulling out verses that command us to ______ one-another. There are roughly 600 million of them. Love one-another, pray for one-another, encourage one-another, forgive, be at peace with, serve, be kind to … it’s a catalog of instructions for how we should live together as believers. Or, as people even. So, some scattered thoughts that are coalescing into a message:

  1. Very few of the Christian Virtues (patience, compassion, gentleness, humility) are solo endeavors. They require another person to be put into action upon.
  2. The one-another commands are practical application of internal virtues. The act of patience toward someone else exercises my humility muscle. Humility muscle. That sounds weird. I’ll probably phrase that a little differently.
  3. The church is a practical workshop for training up virtue by means of community interaction. It’s where we practice the best expressions of ourselves. I don’t mean this in an exclusive way, that we save the best of ourselves for making the club a nice place to hang out. More like a gym, where we build up the strength that we then use to do the things we ought to do when we go out into the world.
  4. This kind of one-anotherness requires messy and intrusive relationships. In any room full of 100 people, there is somebody who badly needs a mentor, somebody else who needs help watching the kids while they go to school at night, somebody who is struggling with the same failing sin over and over, and needs somebody to step in and call them on it. All of these things require us to be close enough to each other that we get to peak into private spaces. Peak into private spaces. That sounds awkward. I’ll phrase that differently too.
  5. The thing is … I don’t like that idea. I like space. I often feel like I don’t have much in common with “church folk”, and the idea of letting them into my life far enough to practice the one-anothers in a meaningful way makes me uncomfortable. Like, really, really uncomfortable. I don’t like small groups or home churches. They are, well … weird.

Thoughts? Input? Suggestions? Angry personal slurs? Let ‘em rip! P.S., if you don’t have anyplace to be this Sunday, head on down to Christ Community Church at 10:15. It’ll be a hoot!

the devil can’t have all the good music

Our associate pastor has been preaching a four-week series.  Usually whoever is preaching doesn’t request a specific postlude (played after the benediction, as the congregation is exiting), but sometimes new blood behind the pulpit brings fresh ideas.  Each Sunday he requested a specific pop song that tied into each sermon, making it more memorable.  For Mark 2, when the paralyzed man is lowered from the roof due to the large crowd that had come to hear Jesus, the worship band played James Taylor’s “Up On The Roof“.  I loved it.  One of my favorite songs has a whole new meaning.


You know how sometimes you just find yourself needing random things, and so you make them, and then you release them into the wild on the off chance that other people might need those same random things?

Here’s a 4-part hymn voicing for the venerable Doxology. Share and enjoy.


Earlier today, Gretchen and I stood up in front of the church and announced that I would be stepping down from my position as Worship Leader at Christ Community Church.

A Little History

About 9 years ago, I was the worship leader for a small church plant in the Inland Empire. It was not a good experience. The leadership was not supportive, our relationship with the pastor was demeaning, and when we left we shook the dust off our feet. I had no place to go, no obvious means of income, but we had to get gone.

We bounced around for a few months, moved to Burbank, and then out of nowhere I got an email from Doug Scholten, the pastor at CCC. Their worship leader had left with two weeks notice, and Doug was scrambling to find an interim who could hold down the gig for a month or so while they looked for someone to take the position. We met, it went well, and I agreed to cover the gap. Mother’s Day of 2003 was my first Sunday at the church.

As they looked at candidates for the position, they asked me if I was interested. I kept saying no – I wasn’t interested in a church gig, I didn’t want to get back into that mess.

After 6 months, Gretchen and I realized that we did, actually, really want to be there. The people were warm and welcoming, the position was well-defined and well-suited to my abilities. More than that, Doug was the kind of pastor that all church musicians hope for. He respected music and the arts, was willing to try new things, and was able to step back and allow me to do my job. I submitted my resume, and they hired me as the Worship Leader.

Some Highlights

In my first year at CCC, Doug asked me to preach. It was the first time I had been asked to preach anywhere. It was an overwhelming and awe-filling experience, and one that I came to both dread and relish.

We have a seasonal choir at CCC, but most of the choir lit wasn’t appropriate for our group. I started writing and arranging music for our choir, and as I’m sitting here looking at my scores folder, over 8 years I’ve written or arranged 30 pieces of choral music for this choir. There’s nothing quite like the relentless necessity of Christmas and Easter to force you to build a catalog of work!

Good Friday has become a tradition of experiential risk-taking for us. One year we created an immersive environment with 30 laptops projecting photos and videos, and live-blogging stations for people to record their reactions. Last year we booked a string quartet to play a meditative concert of challenging contemporary music. The path from “What if we …” to “Let’s try it!” was well-worn.

A few years ago, we added a Classic service at 8am on Sunday mornings. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea initially, but it has become the perfect way to start the out the Sunday haul. Instead of jumping right in to running charts, setting tech, rehearsing the band, I get to start the day by sitting quietly and playing through two hymns with a small congregation. It’s a brief meditation for me, and has become one of my favorite things.

In the time I’ve been at CCC, we’ve had about 12 students from APU come through and play with the team, sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for much longer. It’s been a place where some of the things we talk about in class can be worked out very practically, like a “lab” extension to the lectures.

Both of our children were born and then dedicated at CCC. I love that we gather around and lay hands on new parents, commissioning them to the ministry of parenthood.

The Transition

In the last few years, Gretchen and I have been feeling a strong pull to find a local church. We love many things about CCC, but the drive is 45 minutes on Sunday morning, and an hour and a half during rush hour. The time and distance mean that we can’t be part of the community of Christ Community Church. Our kids can’t be in the children’s choir, Gretchen and I can’t be in small groups or make it out to social functions.

We believe in the mission of the church. We believe that it has the power to change lives and communities. That power, though, is worked out through the relationships within the church, and between the church and those in the community around it. If you’re only present for Sunday morning, if you are forced by time and distance to stand one step removed from the other people in the congregation, then you might be “going” to church, but it is impossible to participate in the transforming power of church. You can’t serve the mission. You can’t be served by the mission.

So, we starting praying and looking for a chance to make the transition to a local church.

The Road Ahead

February 27th will be our last Sunday, after which I will step down from my position as worship leader. March 6th I’ll begin leading a small early morning chapel service at a large church in the Irvine area. It’s a traditional music service, with piano and organ, along with the occasional string quartet and guest soloists. It’s early in the morning, and so I’ll be home in time for us to find a 10:30 service at a local church, where we can attend together as a family.

There are many things we will miss from the last 8 years, but there are also some things we’re looking forward to.

We’re looking forward to sitting together during a worship service.

We’re looking forward to attending a small group or bible study together.

I’m looking forward to being that guy every worship leader dreams of, who walks up after the service and says “Hey, I’d love to sub on the worship team sometime if you need someone to cover keyboards,” and then can actually play!

I’m looking forward to a smaller scope of responsibility, to a simpler service. I’m looking forward to Easter and Christmas being seasons of joy, instead of dread.

The seed that was planted with the hymn service at our church has blossomed. I’m looking forward to playing music from the deep and rich tradition of the church.

I’m looking forward to volunteering for things … or, saying “no” to things!

Leaving Well

There are so few times in Church when we are able to leave well. It seems like most transitions happen because the church is unhappy, or there is conflict with the leadership, or character issues, or because someone leaves for a better gig, or more money, or … anyway, we as a church have a bad history of ending ministries well.

This is a good transition. Hard, but good. We are leaving a healthy ministry behind, we are leaving with the blessing and goodwill of the congregation, and we are leaving for the best of reasons.

This is a good thing.

Week O’ Projects

This is the week of projects for me. Three things on the plate:

  1. Preaching on Sunday about The Prodigal Son, focusing on the feast at the end of the story. I think I may cook up some burgers on a little hibachi grill while I talk. Mmmmmm, feasty.
  2. I’m giving a presentation tomorrow night on the state of digital music distribution, with emphasis on the legal and commercial barriers between subscription services (like grooveshark and before it’s untimely death) and download services ( and itunes).
  3. Doing a critical analysis paper on  3 different pop-rock piano songs: Tiny Dancer, Piano Man, and Drops of Jupiter. My thesis is that Elton John established a piano ballad form that Billy Joel copied, and that Train sucks.

What are you folk up to?

Bread of the World

Found a great hymn this week, arranged it for viola and piano. The tune is “I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger” and the words are as follows:

Bread of the world in mercy broken
wine of the soul in mercy shed

By whom the words of life were spoken
and in whose death our sins are dead

Look on the heart by sorrow broken
look on the tears by sinners shed

And be your feast to us the token
that by your grace our souls are fed

Save the Date

So you’ve seen Mike’s posts about The Lord’s Prayer, and his piece, Our Father Vindicate,  now come hear it live.

From the APU School of Music Calendar:

Jan.22, 2010 Friday: “The Lord’s Prayer” Festival Concert; Stamps Rotunda (Darling Library), 7:30 pm

Men’s Chorale, Chamber Singers, and Alumni Orchestra

Alex Russell, violin    Duane Funderburk, piano

“Enjoy an evening of music dedicated to the most famous prayer in Christendom, featuring new music composed by Professors Phil Shackleton and Michael Lee, as well as new music by contemporary composer Alf Bishai (NYU). ”

I say we make it an event and go out for dinner, celebration afterwards. Whose in?

a reflection on playing music

Today I got two calls to play piano.  The first was from an unfamiliar source, wanting me to play at a “Shakespeare audition thing” from 6-9 tonight, and they didn’t mention money.  Jason and I were laughing about how much money it was take for me to do it.  $500?  In other words, I was particularly uninterested.

Then I got another call.  A man in our church has died.  He has been ill for quite some time.  His wife, for this long duration of his illness, has spent one of her few hours away from his bedside each week teaching my son’s three year-old Sunday School class.  I’m not sure how long she’s been teaching, but she was also the teacher two years ago under the same circumstance when my daughter was there.  Can I play at his funeral Friday night?

Instantly I became grateful for the ability to play, because I can’t find the words to say Thank You.

God is Good, Good, Good. Mostly.

Posts in the Sermon Prep: God is Good series

  1. This Week’s Sermon: God is Good
  2. God is Good, Good, Good. Mostly.
  3. God is Good: Sermon Audio

Well, first service is done, second service is about to start, and the sermon went great! I’ll post the audio a little later, but for now, here’s the manuscript. Thanks to all for your help, your comments, and your prayers.

God is Good (manuscript)

Previous in series: This Week’s Sermon: God is Good

Next in series: God is Good: Sermon Audio


A couple of Saturdays ago I was in our church kitchen.  A man I didn’t recognize popped his head in from outside.  “I can’t make it to church tomorrow,” he quickly explained, “so I stopped by to drop off my tithe.”

Caught off guard, I said, “No one is in the office right now, but if you trust me enough what would be easiest for our treasurer is if I just put it in the basket for you tomorrow.”  “Sure,” he said, handed it to me, and just as quickly as he arrived he was gone.

It turns out I couldn’t have run away with it even if I had bad intentions.  It was a credit union check typed out to the church with a modest amount that included cents.  I am guessing it was exactly 10% of a paycheck.

In the midst of the ups and downs of church life, I was stopped in my tracks by his pure obedience.  He is not an active church member, but was somehow led to worship in this sacrificial way.  I had never before tithed on behalf of someone else.  It was an honor.

From Descartes to Indiana Jones

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Doubt series

  1. The Third Rail – Doubt
  2. Digital Art Photos
  3. 7 Days of Doubt
  4. From Descartes to Indiana Jones

Here’s the audio from today’s message (not sure if the audio player is working, so I’ll just put a download link.

Faith … and Doubt (sermon audio)

If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, here’s the outline:

  1. Descartes was awesome, but misguided.
  2. The world has embraced Descartes’ definitions for “know”, “believe”, “rational”, and “faith”.
  3. The church, too, has embraced Descartes skepticism, albeit with differing results.
  4. Some try to meet the evidential standard, by mustering evidence to prove the tenets of faith beyond all doubt. The Christian Apologetics movement is a result of this impulse.
  5. Some concede that the standard of rational certainty can never be met, and allow skeptics to define faith as irrational. This also allows them the freedom to ignore any logical impediments presented by new scientific evidence, challenging passages of scripture, and to uncritically accept everything received by tradition.
  6. Both reactions are wrong, because they concede Descartes’ definitions.
  7. Faith is not irrational, and it is not the opposite of doubt.
  8. Faith is the commitment to something as true, on the basis of good evidence, but where certainty is impossible.
  9. Indiana Jones is awesome, except for the last movie.
  10. We don’t have to fear doubt. Everyone doubts. Everyone from Hebrews 11, everyone in church history, even me, even Mother Teresa.
  11. Three things we should do when we doubt.
  12. Keep worshiping (Matthew 28:17)
  13. Keep fellowship (John 20:26)
  14. Keep reading (John 20:31)
  15. These are all acts of faith. They are not irrational, they are not certainty, they are faith.

If you want the full experience (minus the actual experience!), you can download everything here:

Faith … and Doubt (manuscript)

Faith … and Doubt (keynote presentation)

Previous in series: 7 Days of Doubt

The Third Rail – Doubt

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Doubt series

  1. The Third Rail – Doubt
  2. Digital Art Photos
  3. 7 Days of Doubt
  4. From Descartes to Indiana Jones

A week from this Sunday, Chad and Erica will be leading worship at our little dutch chapel in Orange County, and I will be bringing the bible-thumping fiery rhetoric from the pulpit. You should definitely come check it out. Or, if not, you should at least help me plan my message.

I think I’m going to talk about the third rail of the life of faith: doubt.

Here, let me make it a little spookier:


Topics on the table:

Doubting Thomas
Mother Theresa
Mark 9:24

So – hit me. If you had to put a percentage on is, what’s the ratio of belief to doubt for the things in your personal creed? How influential is the belief of others in reinforcing your belief? Do you feel the freedom to express honest doubt about fundamental things (scripture, resurrection, omnipotence) when you’re in the company of other believers? And most importantly, Doug, will I still have a job waiting when I get back? For that matter, Phil, will I still have a job waiting when I come before the faith interrogation high council?

Next in series: Digital Art Photos

in appreciation of music pastors

My church has been without a music pastor for two years now.  We have a lot of musical talent within the congregation and over time have figured out our lay roles to keep the program healthy and even growing.

Some weeks I am not at church between Sundays.  This week, I’ll be there about 10 hours, which for me is a lot, since I work three days per week and raising my children is the highest priority.

With that in mind, today I felt one with music pastors.  I didn’t spend hours rehearsing with the band, then the next night teaching the new tunes to the choir just so middle aged man could stare back at us.  You came to church, dude, worship!  On the other side of that coin, how humbling and awesome it was to see others worshipping to the fruits of our labor.  One last reflection: As second service came to a close, I felt, “That’s it?  Now we put these tunes away and choose a new set for next Sunday.”

However, since I am not a music pastor, I am off next Sunday.  I will likely be sleeping in and walking to church with my family.



Artist Paul Fryer’s piece “Pieta” was recently put on display in a cathedral in Gap, France. Although it is certainly not unusual to see a bloodied representation of Christ, it is unusual to see him upon an electric chair.

I have often wondered how Christ would have been executed if his passion were to have taken place in modern times. Would he have died under the needle? Or perhaps dropped to his death with a rope around his neck? No matter the modern form of execution, none compare to crucifixion on the cross. As painful as death by electrocution, hanging, injection, or rifle must be it is over in an instant, modern methods seeking to be as “humane” as possible. The cross was designed for a long and violent death as the victim bled, choked, and asphyxiated to death. In fact, people were surprised that Jesus died as fast as he did.

I would be interested to hear what your initial reactions are to the piece. I appreciate the work for its craftsmanship. Works of wax have become eerily life like and an effective medium for portraying humanity. As for the chair, I do not find it to be as scandalous or shocking as it is described, but merely a modern viewpoint of the crucifixion; helping us realize that Christ was indeed executed by both religious and political authorities, institutions of men, rather than suffering an ethereal or metaphorical death.

What made me interested enough to post on the piece is where it was being displayed: a church. If “Pieta” was merely on display in a gallery it could be approached from a distance. It could be found interesting or provocative, perhaps arousing a curiosity as to the artist’s perception of Jesus and Christianity, but would remain distant or merely cerebral. However, within the Church, where Christ is the center and the cause for gathering in the first place, one is forced to grapple with their understanding who Christ is and what this image has to offer that understanding.

I commend this church for its willingness to present Christ to the people in this manner. People will be blessed.