Category Archives: faith and theology

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!


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.

They will build and dwell, they will plant and eat

Our church follows the lectionary (sorta), and the Old Testament reading for this week comes from Isaiah 65. I’m prepping for Sunday, and the words of the passage struck me so powerfully. You should really take 5 minutes to go read the whole thing:

Isaiah 65:11-25

Did you read it? Go read it!

I’m not moving on until you read it.


OK, good.

In the middle of the passage, verse 21, comes this,

“They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.”

I can’t really even put into words why it struck me so powerfully, but I was glad to remember that in coming Kingdom, there is still work, but it is never an act of futility. It is always fitting, always fruitful.

The Feast Between

I’m prepping for Sunday’s sermon, the last in a series on the Prodigal Son. I’m talking about the feast, at the center of the story, the feast the serves as the hinge between the younger son’s return and the older son’s reticence. I’ve been thinking about the connection between communion and the feast.

Communion is an interim practice, bridging between the cross and the coming kingdom. It is a reminder of what happens at either end of the interim. It reminds us that Christ laid out the cash ahead of time for the feast that’s coming. He put down the deposit on a fatted calf and a keg. Communion reminds us of the price of admission. It’s also a foretaste of the feast that’s coming. Like at a BBQ, when you cut off just a little corner of the tri-tip and bring it over for someone to taste. It’s a small portion now to remind you of the bounty that’s coming.

Whenever Jesus uses the image of the feast, there are always two groups of people in the story: those who believe themselves deserving of a feast, and those who are shocked to be invited. In Matthew 8:11, “many come from the east and west, and take their place at the feast with Abraham” but the subjects of the kingdom are thrown out. In Luke 14 the invited guests beg off and refuse to come, so the doors are thrown open to the forgotten, who flood the king’s banquet hall. In the prodigal son story, the self-righteous brother believes he deserves a feast, and refuses to celebrate with his brother. The younger brother knows he deserves nothing, and so is welcomed back with joy and celebration.

The feast is for sinners.

O For A Thousand Stacks

I am supposed to be writing a piece of chamber music, which has to be finished, like, yesterday. I am, therefore, of course, doing anything and everything but that. Here’s today’s little time waster. By the way, singing through a hymn 20 times is a great act of meditation and contemplation. Those words start to take on serious meaning.

O For A Thousand Tongues

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?

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

This Week’s Sermon: God is Good

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

Yep. I’m preaching again on Sunday.

This week’s topic, “God is Good … So why is everything so f’d up?” I’ll probably modify the title by Sunday.

A little help please?

Next in series: God is Good, Good, Good. Mostly.

On Lazarus

Kyrie Yeshua

Even over death?
What of death come early?
death come in the midst of life

and passing by the body
and passing in echos
into every part of life

These echos of death
are theft of joy
and bind us too closely to feet of clay

These echos of death
make sharp our tooth and claw
to rip from the earth our daily meat

These echos of death
make me selfish
and base
and cold
and mean
they cause me to betray my sacred birthright

These echos of death
wrap fetid hand across the mouth of
breath of God and dragging down
make silent what should be
our chorused song of hope

Even over this death?
This death come in the midst of life?

Our Father, Vindicate – Finished!

On May 28th, 2008, I jotted down the first few notes of Our Father, Vindicate. I stared with the melodic theme (E – D#, F# – D#), and the sound of that flat 6 suspension in bar 26. One year and one month ago today.

A few minutes ago, I just finished the final mix of the recording. It’s such a huge feeling of accomplishment to see this thing come together, and to have something solid in hand, something people can hear and respond to. I’ve loved writing this piece, I’ve hated it at times, I’ve put more hours into it than anything I’ve ever done, and I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a musician because of doing it. I’m glad it’s behind me, but I’m very glad to have done it.

So, here it is.

Our Father, Vindicate
By Michael A. Lee

Downlod the chart: Our Father, Vindicate.

The vocalists are, in order of part from top to bottom:
Anthony Maglione
Brent Froelich
David Loucks
Jessie Bullock
Kyle Campbell
David Kress
Lucas Short
Phil Nash

Additional vocals by Michael Lee, and Harold Clousing.

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

7 Days of 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

I’m reading Matthew Henry’s commentary on John 20, and he makes an observation that I hadn’t noticed before. In the “Doubting Thomas” story, 8 days pass between Thomas’ proclamation of doubt, and Jesus reappearance to confirm his resurrection. Henry’s interpretation is that the delay serves as a kind of rebuke to Thomas.

That’s not what struck me, though. Thomas basically calls the disciples fools, and says “Someone has duped you, but not me.” And yet, when the story picks up 8 days later, Thomas is hanging out with the 12 (11 at this point, sans Judas). He’s still part of the community, still in the fellowship. Imagine what those 8 days must have been like! What else would the other disciples be talking about, apart from the resurrection? It had to have been the topic at every meal, every gathering. The resurrection, what it meant, what they should be planning for the future. I wonder if, when the week had passed, Thomas had begun to hope that it was true, if he was prepared to believe it, or if he become cynical in the face of their foolish (to him) faith.

I like the precedent that this sets for the church and those of us who are doubters in her midst. There is space for puzzling through, without breaking fellowship.

Previous in series: Digital Art Photos

Next in series: From Descartes to Indiana Jones

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