Thursday, October 25, 2018

We Will Serve the Lord - Joshua 24:1-26 sermon

“On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people and established just rule for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in God’s Instruction scroll. Then he took a large stone and put it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord.”

This is a big thing that Joshua has done. The sort of thing that will be remembered for years to come. The kind of thing that will be a reminder to the people of what has happened.

A lot of Christians today use part of this passage as a reminder. You might have recognized verse 15, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” We heard it a little different in the translation read this morning, but I’ll bet most of us still heard that popular verse. How many of you have something in your home that says, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord?”

Why is it important that we remember this? Why was it important for the ancient Israelites?

I want us to think a little bit about what we talked about last week. Do you remember what I said about why the Ten Commandments were given to God’s people?

Yahweh gave the Commandments to the Israelites out of concern that they stay in right relationship with God and with each other. The purpose of the the Commandments is to keep God’s people on track. To remind them of their mission to show the world who Yahweh is. To remind them that they are blessed in order to be a blessing to others.

This thing that Joshua does here also serves to remind God’s people once again who they are and what they should be doing.

In today’s scripture we find Joshua gathering the twelve tribes of Israel because he’s got a few things to tell them. Joshua became the leader of the Israelites after the death of Moses. Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from the mountain and God’s people agreed to follow the Law, binding themselves to Yahweh. Now under Joshua, Yahweh’s promises have been fulfilled and the people are in the Promised Land.

The tribes have been in the Promised Land for a little while now—they’ve become comfortable with where they are. They’ve divided the land up and each of them has their own part. But as we know, getting comfortable can lead to complacency. It’s all too easy for the people to forget the journey that brought them to the Promised Land. And it’s really important that they don’t forget.

Joshua is old and close to dying. So he delivers a rousing speech to the people gathered there recalling the good deeds of Yahweh and reminding the Israelites that they are now reaping the benefits of the Lord’s activities on their behalf. Joshua encourages them and reminds them of who they are and where they’ve come from—and of the commitment they’ve made to Yahweh.

Joshua has supplied another memorial to keep the people on track, a covenant to remind them of what they’re about, to keep them moving in the right direction even though they’ve now settled down in the Promised Land.
So what can we learn from this? Where can we draw parallels? Well, an obvious parallel is that those of us who are members here at EMC are signing our membership covenant today. What can we learn about our covenant from the story of Joshua’s covenant?

God’s people needed something to keep them on track, to guide them as they join Yahweh on the mission to bring the good news about who Yahweh is to the world. The Commandments were in place as a reminder of the importance of being in right relationship with God and with each other. And now Joshua is taking the time to remind the tribes that they have joined Yahweh on a mission to save the world, that they are blessed to be a blessing. He has added “words in God’s Instruction scroll” and put up a large stone in the sanctuary.

Joshua made a covenant for the people so they would be reminded to stay on track, just like Moses did with the Commandments.

Our covenant does the same thing. So even for those of us here who are not members of EMC, this covenant being signed today by members recommitting themselves to EMC serves as a reminder to stay on track, to be in right relationship with God and with each other, to keep moving in the direction of Jesus, to actively join Yahweh’s mission.

Like the ancient tribes of God’s people who needed to be reminded of how they got where they are, we too can look back and see how God has led us to where we are today. Our covenant reminds us of our past and encourages us to also move forward, honoring the commitments we’ve made to God and to each other.

All of you, for one reason or another, have found yourselves here at this place, Emmanuel Mennonite Church. Some of you were here in the very beginning. Some of you have come very recently. Others of you joined somewhere in between. Maybe some of you are still deciding whether or not to hang around. That’s okay. We want to walk with you as you figure that out. 

But you all have a reason for being here—and that reason is that in some way or another, EMC makes sense to you. These people, this way, this denomination—whatever it is, you are here.

So our covenant is serious because we are serious about who we are and what we do. We are here together for a reason and we’re willing to stand together and state publicly that EMC is important enough to us that we want to be members here. We commit ourselves to growth in Christ, to living the life that Christ has called us to live.

And more than that, we want to commit ourselves to this local gathering of Christ’s body and its stated mission. We commit to loving each other as Christ taught us to love. We commit to be here regularly. We commit to pray for our church’s ministries, to support those ministries both financially and with our time. We commit to giving and receiving guidance and direction from one another. We commit to the relationships we have with organizations and churches we are affiliated with—and to the global church in all its diversity. 

This covenant is a statement of who you are in the midst of us. 

It is a statement that you are a follower of Jesus and that you aren’t finished learning and growing. 

It’s a statement that these people standing around you (and a few who aren’t here today) are who you want to stand with as we “strive [together] for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up.”

So this is my inspirational speech to you. This thing that we do here is important. It means something. Don’t take it lightly. For your part, live up to what you are agreeing to in this covenant. Be reminded of who we are and what God has done for us.

As we prepare to come on up here and sign the covenant, you might be reminded of your baptismal vows—this is a similar statement. As such, it is our tradition that membership (and therefor the signing of the covenant) is reserved for those who have been baptized and have made the public decision to follow Jesus. If you have not been baptized and would like to be, please come and see me or Pastor Kim. We would love to talk with you about baptism. And if you have been baptized but have not been a member here at EMC before, we also ask that you would come and talk with us before signing this covenant. This is a part of the process that is part of our tradition.

We are a covenant people. Together we covenant. 

Those of you who wish to renew your covenant membership with EMC, please read aloud with me: 


To grow in Christ, and to better live the life to which Christ calls me, I commit myself to this local gathering of His body, Emmanuel Mennonite Church, and to its stated mission, to Christlike love of all its members and attendees, to regular church attendance in worship, to prayer for those whom our ministries touch, to financial and active support of our ministries, including our ministry to the world, to the compassionate giving and receiving of counsel among all members and attendees, to the strengthening of our relationships with our affiliated organizations and churches, and with the worldwide church, by the grace of God and for God’s glory. Amen.

Fulfilling the Law - Exodus 19:3-7; 20:1-17 sermon

The Ten Commandments. Just saying this musters images of Charlton Heston with his wild hair and fake beard. I’ll be honest, I’ve never watched the movie, though I’m sure I’ve seen parts of it.

I want to take a look at the story of the Ten Commandments and why the Commandments were given in the first place. This is one of the reasons I love the Narrative Lectionary—we get to really look at how these stories fit together—and when we do that we get to understand some of the “why” behind them. And this helps us to relate the stories to our lives in this time and place.

If we go backwards a few weeks, we recollect the story of Noah. And if we remember what was preached that day, we remember that Noah’s story is about showing who Yahweh is and how Yahweh is different from the other gods people were worshiping then. It also shows Yahweh’s commitment to humanity through the covenant made. 

After Noah we heard about Abram and the promises made by Yahweh to bless Abram in order that he might bless the whole world with the great news of who Yahweh is. This was also done with a covenant.

In the weeks after, we heard about Joseph and Yahweh’s faithfulness and finding that our hope and our joy are not dependent on our circumstances. And Yahweh leading the Israelites out of Egypt and Moses telling the people not to be afraid and Yahweh telling them to keep on moving—and we learned that there is no barrier big enough that God cannot make a way through.

And now we catch up with the Israelites in the wilderness doing the best they can without knowing where they are going or how they are getting there. They are basically blindly following Yahweh—and this causes them to sometimes fall back on their own devices—to sometimes fall back on the old ways—and so maybe they start looking to do things on their own for themselves.

So Yahweh reminds the Israelites who their God is—that Yahweh is a God who cares for humanity, Yahweh is a God who covenants with humanity, and Yahweh is a God who is trustworthy and righteous, even in the face of humanity not living up to its God-given potential.

And this brings us to the reason why Yahweh gave those commandments to Moses on that mountain—God’s people needed something to help keep them on track, something more tangible to guide them on their journey.

And while the Ten Commandments are kind of a big deal since they are the beginning of the Law that is foundational for God’s people—these Commandments aren’t really the point. In Exodus 19:3-7 we are reminded why Yahweh delivered the Israelites out of Egypt.

Yahweh tells Moses to tell the Israelites that if they faithfully obey and stay true to the covenant, they will be set apart as a kingdom of priests. The Commandments are a way of helping the Israelites stay on track—to fulfill their calling as priests to the whole world.

Now I want us to think about what it is that Yahweh is trying to do in the world. What is Yahweh’s mission that the Israelites are called to join?

The Commandments point to this as well. Yahweh created humanity in the image of God—and as such, humanity is created to live in community with others (and with God) and to be righteous and just and to forgive one another and to live at peace with others and to raise up the downtrodden and to… well… be like Jesus.

The Law created on that mountain—those Ten Commandments—is fulfilled in the coming of the Christ. Jesus answers the question of that legal expert in Matthew 22:37-40: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

Because again, God’s people had tried to find their own way rather than rely on Yahweh—they had created all sorts of laws and rules to surround and support the commandments. But when asked by the legal expert about the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus didn’t talk about idols or stealing or desiring your neighbor’s donkey—Jesus spoke the Law that is above all the rest: love is what matters most.

If we love God and love people then we are following the Commandments without even paying attention to them. But more important than that, and this is at the heart of what the Commandments are all about, if we love God and love people, our relationships with God and with people become our highest priority.

At the heart of the Ten Commandments is Yahweh’s concern that humanity stay in right relationship with their God and with each other. These commandments speak to the rule of love above all else—the idea that loving one another is what Yahweh intends and that as God’s people we are called to show the world how to do that.

It’s easy for us to get so focused on following the rules that we forget what the rules are for. And if we (in our striving to find the right way) make up some rules that in some way break down relationships or inhibit being together, we need to allow the law of love to guide us back to a place of community where the Spirit of God’s grace guides our actions.

Like God’s people of old, we are a covenant people. And in being a covenant people we adhere to the guidance of God’s Spirit—helping us to be a loving community of Jesus-followers and helping us to show the world that Yahweh is a God of love and peace. This is the reason for Yahweh giving the Law to God’s people—to help them make the right decisions and to be a people of peace.

Next week we will be signing our covenant membership as we do annually. I want us to really pay attention to what we are doing when we do this—not to make sure that we’re “following all the rules,” but that we’re also paying attention to the purpose of our covenant.

Our covenant reminds us of who we are, of our commitment to this local gathering in this place, and of our mission to live as God’s people in order to be blessed and to be a blessing to those around us. It reminds us that our relationships are really important. The reason that we commit to this covenant on an annual basis is to keep these promises in our minds. 

As we prepare to covenant together next week, reflect on what this covenant means to us. Remember that at the heart of this document lies our commitment to love one another and to foster the relationships we hold with Yahweh and with each other. The purpose is to keep us on track so that we are a blessing to others.

We remember that being a blessing by loving God and loving people is our reason for everything we do. This is the reason for Yahweh’s covenant with humanity and the reason for every rule, law, or ritual action that we take. As we celebrate communion this morning, we do so not for ourselves, but for the benefit of others, that they might also be drawn into community with our Lord. As we stand together and bless the Jinteh’s as they celebrate ten years of marriage, we are blessing them that they might be a blessing to others. This is our call. This is our covenant. This is who we are as God’s people.

Our covenant is a way of helping us as a congregation of Jesus-followers to stay on track—to fulfill our calling as a priesthood of believers for the whole world, to keep us connected to our mission as this church and to the mission of the global church. Our covenant keeps us grounded in our togetherness and provides for us a connection that helps to focus our gifts, to keep our eyes on Jesus, to not be afraid, and to keep moving forward.


As we study these ancient stories of covenant and law, may we draw from them a hope and a commitment to stand together in love, without fear, in order to be a people who is blessed and is a blessing. Amen.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Blessed to Be a Blessing - Genesis 12:1-9 Sermon

How many of us read Genesis 12:1-9 about the call of Abraham and think, “Why Abraham? What makes him so special?” I mean, really, of all the people in the world at that time, why him? It’s an interesting question, because Abram (as he was called at first) is one of the sons of Terah. We are told in Genesis 11 that Terah is a worshiper of many gods. In fact, Jewish tradition tells us that Terah was actually a maker of idols, and Abram worked in his idol shop. This really doesn’t sound like someone God would choose to bless does it? So what really makes Abram so special that Yahweh chooses to bless him?

Well, we have absolutely no idea. Scripture never tells us why Abram is selected by God. This is a mystery we just have to live with. Scripture does, however, tell us what Abram is chosen for. Let’s take a look.

Genesis 12:1 begins: “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household…’”—this is a great scripture to hear the same morning as a baby dedication, right? Verse 1 finishes with, “…for the land that I will show you.” So Yahweh is telling Abram it’s time to move on. Why? Verse 2 tells us what’s up: “I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.” 

There’s a lot of promising going on here by Yahweh—promises that a great nation will come from Abram, promises that this nation will bless Abram, promises to make Abram’s name respected, and then Yahweh promises that Abram will be a blessing. What does this mean?

If you follow these statements in order, it follows that these blessings given by Yahweh lead up to and are the cause of the final statement: Abram is to be a blessing.

Verse 3 breaks this down a little more: 
“I will bless those who bless you,
    those who curse you I will curse;
        all the families of the earth
            will be blessed because of you.”

All the families of the earth will be blessed because of Abram.

Abram did as the Lord told him. After hearing this, who wouldn’t, right? Abram packs up his household, leaves Haran, and heads for Canaan. When he arrives, he finds Canaanites living in Canaan, and the Lord appears to him and says, “I give this land to your descendants.” This brings up other questions about why Yahweh would give them land that someone else is already living on, but we’ll deal with that another time. For now, I want to take us back to last week’s text, the story of Noah from parts of Genesis 6, 8, and 9.

So we know that Abram’s father was Terah; his father was Nahor whose father was Serug… okay, forget all that genealogy stuff.  Here’s where I’m going with that: working back about ten generations up Abram’s family tree, we find Noah. So in Abram we’re still within the line of Noah whom Yahweh saved from the flood that destroyed the whole world. 

Now, remember how Pastor Kim talked about the Noah flood story last week—the whole story is about showing the readers or hearers of that ancient story about how Yahweh is different from all those other gods out there. 

The twist in the Noah story is that, while there are other documented flood stories from those ancient days, the difference between the Noah story and all the other flood stories from that time period, is that Yahweh hangs up his bow, his weapon of war. In doing this, Yahweh demonstrates something that will become very evident later in the grand biblical narrative: Yahweh is not a violent God.

How does our story of Abram’s call this week tie into the Noah story from last week? If the main gist of Noah’s story in Genesis is to show Yahweh as a God who is very different from all the other gods worshiped in those days—that Yahweh is not like those gods, Yahweh rather rejects violence and chooses to interact and covenant with humanity—then the connection is this: Abram is called to show the world who Yahweh is.

This isn’t a part of our text for this morning, but if we continue to follow Abram’s story, we discover in Genesis 17 that Yahweh does, in fact, covenant with Abram as well. Yahweh tells Abram that he will be the father of a great nation who will also call Yahweh God. That nation will also have a call: to tell the world who Yahweh is.

Now I don’t know how many of you have read the whole Old Testament—I’ll be honest and say that I don’t think I’ve read the whole thing—but if you read within the Old Testament you’ll find over and over and over again that God’s people, those ancient Israelites, are constantly falling short of their covenant with Yahweh, just like Abram.

By the way, Abram doesn’t become Abraham until Genesis 17 when Yahweh covenants with him.

So what is the point of Noah’s story showing that Yahweh is different from the other gods worshiped in those days, that Yahweh isn’t violent and covenants with humanity? And what’s the point of Yahweh making a covenant with Abram so that Abram will bless the world with this wonderful news when Abram (and the nation descended from Abram) constantly falls short of fulfilling this call?

Because if we wait, the answer reveals itself.

Last week the children’s story taught us something about waiting. The little girl in the story had to wait to get the answer she needed. Noah also had to wait to get his answer. Eventually he was able to know that there was dry land, that he and those with him could finally get off that big boat. If we wait, the answer reveals itself.

We can read the Old Testament front to back and not find the direct answer to the questions we ask. If we read it carefully, and get a little lucky, we catch some glimpses of what Yahweh is up to—of the mission that God’s people were called to but failed to finish. The answer is one we all know as the Sunday school answer: it’s Jesus.

Abram fell short and never quite lived up to God’s covenant with him (and neither did his descendants)—fast forward to the New Testament and we see what waiting gets us: Jesus comes to show us what God is really up to.

Over and over and over in the Old Testament we read about who Yahweh is (although often those writing the story weren’t too sure themselves and frequently got some stuff wrong). 

But if you keep reading and turn the page into the New Testament, you eventually get to Jesus. And once you do, it starts to make sense. Jesus is Yahweh incarnated (in human form) on the earth. Jesus came to show us once and for all who Yahweh is (because apparently we’re a little dense at times and can’t figure it out for ourselves). Jesus completes the call of Abram and his descendants. And in Matthew 1 we find that Jesus is also in the direct line of Abraham, and therefor Noah. Coincidence?

Here’s where it comes and sits in our laps. The covenant made with Noah—the covenant made with Abram—the covenant made with God’s people thereafter… this covenant is still in play. This covenant is “with us” as well.

Jesus shows us who Yahweh is and teaches us to live the way of Yahweh—non-violent, peacemaking, justice-seeking—Jesus teaches the law of love that supersedes all other laws—just like Yahweh supersedes all other gods.

Like Abram, we are called to bless the world with the Good News that we have heard. Sometimes we might ask ourselves, “What makes me special? Why does God need me to tell others about how Yahweh is different than they might think?” Well, I’ll be honest, I don’t know what makes you as special as Abram was—but here’s the thing—you are.

You have seen or heard something that has opened your heart and mind to Jesus. You have begun to understand who Yahweh is. This is a big deal—so big of a deal that we can’t keep quiet about it.

And there’s more to it than that. 

Because we are a part of God’s story, we can look back on the rest of God’s story and read that even though they often missed the mark—over and over and over again they fell short—if we are patient—if we wait on the Lord—we get our answer. Yahweh has covenanted with us—and Yahweh is faithful. 

Psalm 130:6-7 reads: “My whole being waits for my Lord— more than the night watch waits for morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for morning! Israel, wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God!”

Wait. The story will reveal itself. We sit at a crossroads. We don’t have all the answers. We can’t have all the answers. But if we’re patient and live into the covenant we have made, a way forward will be revealed. That’s what the story of Abram is all about—God’s promise finally coming to fruition. 


Abram doubted God. Abram laughed at God. Abram must have at some point had a terrible identity crisis wondering what was happening. But Abram remained faithful and Yahweh was even more faithful. God kept his promises to Abram. What more might God have for us? 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Music

The family I grew up in was musical. Not like singing in the car while traveling on vacation musical, but like trained musical. My folks grew up in a church tradition that sang. That’s one thing Mennonites pride themselves in, singing. Both of my parents sang in choirs, lots of choirs. Even when they weren’t in school or church, they sang in a choir.

My dad earned a bachelor’s degree in music when he went to college. He played the trumpet and liked to play it enough that he went to school to study it. He never really used that degree, but he liked music. Music is important in my family.

As you can imagine from all that, the music I grew up hearing was a lot of people singing in a choir and various other classical styles. I suppose I can appreciate these styles, I’ve certainly tried, but they just don’t speak to me down deep. 

So I grew up in that musical family, but I’m not sure I really took after them musically. But there are a few places of overlap.

Generally speaking, my dad and I did not share similar musical tastes, except in one area. Somewhere in time, my dad grew fond of certain kinds of folk and country music. Artists like Emmylou Harris and John Denver were his favorite. Willie and Waylon found their way into our house too. I connected with my dad through this music. For father’s day one year I bought tickets for my dad and I to see John Denver at the Saroyan Theater. It was great. My dad yelled, “Yay, grandma” at one point. Someone yelled that on the An Evening with John Denver album that we listened to a lot. John Denver died not long after.

There was a connection in that music; I don’t know why dad liked it, but I’m glad he did. Because of it I’ve been influenced by that sort of folk/country flavor. As it turns out, Americana stylings are sort of where I land these days. But while my upbringing might have gently pushed me in that direction, the training I received growing up did not.

My parents put me in piano lessons when I was very young; I think maybe kindergarten, but it may have been first grade. The first song I learned to play was an overly-simplified version of the Star Wars theme. I played a lot of Beethoven and Mozart and a guy named Bartok. To branch out I tried my hand at ragtime and other jazzier pieces. I can still picture where the old piano sat in the family room of the old house on Cortland Avenue. There was a big window nearby with at least one houseplant hanging in front of it. And a groovy beanbag chair. I love beanbag chairs still. Piano was good for me. I enjoyed it. And I got pretty good at it.

I also sang in the Mennonite Children’s Choir when I was a youngster. I did not enjoy this choir. We wore silly vests. I remember passing out from the heat at several performances. I was that kid. I also remember being one of the only boys who did not ever move to the “low” section. I guess with a children’s choir you couldn’t use soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Instead it was high, middle, and low. All the boys eventually moved to low. That’s apparently what the boys did because they were boys. At least I was lucky enough to make it to middle before I quit. But I did quit.

I remember pieces of how these things happened; I’m not particularly good at remembering. But sometime after I quit that choir, though while I was still taking piano lessons, I began to feel a calling.

I suppose this was a natural calling that I should not have been surprised with given the musical family I grew up in. But I felt the urge to play guitar. My dad had a guitar, a great old classical guitar. It wasn’t anything fancy, and he didn’t play it well, just basic cowboy chords. I think the brand name was Augusta. From what I learned, it was a decent mid-priced instrument in it’s day. He let me use that old guitar as I began to learn to play. The saddle broke as I was re-stringing it. I took it to Archer’s Music to get it fixed. What a great shop. I suppose they sold new instruments, but I just remember all of the great vintage stuff. So cool. I still have dad’s guitar as part of my collection.

So I quit piano lessons and picked up the guitar. This would have been early in my high school years. I didn’t take guitar lessons. I took a guitar class later at Fresno City College while I was there. This gave me some exposure to classical guitar, but I didn’t really learn anything except that I play it wrong. My piano teacher used to get on me about making up my own fingering as well. Whatever. I make stuff up.

Guitar. What else can I say about it? Was it love at first sight? Maybe. I’m no virtuoso, but in those early years I couldn’t put the guitar down. I still would rather play than do most other things. I learned with a couple of books. My dad had a Mel Bay book that must have taught me some basics, but as soon as I figured out chord structures I moved on to learning songs by Paul Simon or Neil Young or the Beatles.

During the summer of 1987 I discovered the Beatles. This started something. Something in me clicked and this led me to spend a couple of years in high school listening only to music that happened between the years of 1962 and 1972 (except for Neil Young. His music spanned later than ’72). I kept it centered on the ‘60s. Or thereabouts. I was steeped in folk and psychedelia. I seriously didn’t listen to anything else. The contemporary stuff I heard on the radio in those days didn’t interest me. And then I heard U2.

It’s not that I fell in love with U2 at that time. Honestly, I didn’t. I bought the album War at a used record store because it seemed like protest music. I liked it fine. The point though is that I started looking at music made after 1972. I had already found David Bowie—and this lead me to hear bands like the Clash and the Cure and the Smiths. The foundation I found in the music of the ‘60s led me down a road that eventually busted my musical tastes wide open. There were so many styles and genres and sub-genres appearing from the mid-’60s on. And I couldn’t get enough. Suddenly I became a musician.

My grandma bought me my first electric guitar. It was not a great instrument, but it got me started. I played the heck out of it. I still have it. I don’t play it anymore. But I did back then. A lot. And I’m not really sure how my parents handled it. I don’t remember. I certainly was not able to play it loud when others were home. But somehow I played it. My grandparents bought that electric guitar, but they certainly didn’t know what it meant. For me, that guitar meant life.

My grandma bought me another guitar a little later on—it was a Yamaha acoustic-electric classical guitar. I’m not really sure why I wanted that guitar so bad, but I did. I’ve played the heck out of that one too. She bribed me with that guitar. I had grown my hair and she didn’t much like that. She bought the guitar and my hair got shorter. It’s what happened. The funny thing is, shortly after this occurred, I shaved my head for the first time. She didn’t like that either. Some people you just can’t please. But I digress.

Lots of people played in band in high school. I didn’t. But I was in a band in high school. You get the difference, right? I didn’t play in the school band. I was that guy who spent his time inside his head, constantly writing stuff down and figuring out how to make music that worked for me. Even though I used other people’s music to learn to play, I didn’t really care about playing other people’s music. I wanted to play my music.

There were two bands at our small school. The other one played what we called heavy metal back then. We wouldn’t call it that anymore; it was hard rock anyway. The band I was in played something a little different. This was the time when something called “modern rock” was beginning to emerge. I guess it was called that because no one could figure out what else to call it. Nelson’s Hairstreak (that was our band) sounded unlike that other band. We were influenced by folk, new wave, punk, psychedelic, and maybe a few others things. We played what we wanted to play. I’m sure we were trying to sound like something else we’d heard somewhere, but we were fairly unique. Don’t ask about the name. It’s a moth or something.

We practiced at the drummer’s house. I remember Gary’s mom always made us cookies. And somehow she never complained about the noise. It must have been terrible, at least some of the time. We were, after all, learning how to make music on our own. We experimented a lot.

I remember our first gig; somehow we got permission to use the chapel after school one day. It looked like a theater, with seats, a stage, and a sound system. I borrowed a Les Paul and a louder amp. We were amazing. We advertised around school and anywhere else we could think of. We didn’t charge admission. I don’t imagine there were many people there—but there were people there, enough that every once in a while someone says they were there. Why, I don’t know, but it happens. My parents were there. I remember their reaction. It was something like, “What was that?!”

Nelson’s Hairstreak played here and there until high school was over with. We tried to keep it together, but we drifted. It was okay. We’re all still good friends.

My folks didn’t really get was I was doing. Maybe they did somehow, I don’t know, but either way, they didn’t seem to like it. We were loud. My dad was a classically trained musician. My mom likes “nice” music. My sister majored in vocal arts in college. She sang with the local opera company. She sang solos with choirs. She had voice lessons. What she did was something my folks could understand.

I’m not casting dispersions on my sister. She did what she wanted to do and enjoys it. I’m glad for that. She liked what I did too. She just happened to like the classical thing. Different strokes for different folks.

I’ve played in a few bands over the years. After the Hairstreaks, I spent a lot of time writing music on an acoustic guitar. Two of my friends from the old band had started another one and then one of them went away to college. What was left of that band turned into another band called Ground Floor. The name was based off of something C.S. Lewis wrote, I think from Mere Christianity. I don’t remember for sure. I was asked to play guitar. The band was an acoustically based sound, with two guitars, my current brother-in-law playing bass guitar, a percussionist, and a guy on saxophone. 

Ground Floor was fun. We played a lot. During that time I was introduced to some great musicians; a few became friends, and some of us have played a lot of music together over the years. Shortly after I joined, the percussionist moved to LA to pursue film or something and we were left looking for someone to take his place. I honestly have no idea where we found this guy, but Sam became one of my best friends.

Sam played percussion, but like me he started on guitar. He didn’t teach me to play drums, but because of his drums being around, I was able to learn. I just kept trying until one day I could. Sam was older than me, but that mattered little. There was just something that clicked between us. I don’t know if you can understand what I’m saying here; it was like we knew what the other was going to play before we played it. Our musical styles were fairly different, but we blended well.

Ground Floor didn’t last long after Sam joined. Someone thought it was a good idea to add in some electric guitar (okay, it was probably me) and eventually creative differences led to a split. That and the bass player quit to get married.

So Sam and I started a band called Clean. This band went through a few personnel changes over the years. We were always a four piece, but between Sam and me we were quite capable of playing all the instruments we needed. So we rotated. When we had a second guitar player, he played drums. On his songs he’d play guitar and I’d play drums, though sometimes he’d sing from the kit. When we found someone else to play drums, he played guitar. This was my favorite. We played a wide range of folk and rock styles, but when it came down to it, we were a jam band. We looked for ways that we could improvise during live shows. It was a lot of fun.

I left town for a little while, but when I returned, the band got back together. Yep, I said it, we got the band back together. Sam and another fellow had started playing art shows around town. It sounds strange, but galleries hired them to play during shows. It started out as acoustic guitar and Native American flute. Sam played the flute. He made the flute too. Go figure. I have one that he gave me. It’s cool. He plays (and builds) bagpipes too. Don’t get me started.

So when I moved back to town, I joined those two. I added percussion to the mix. It was groovy instrumental music, a lot of it made up on the spot. And just like us, eventually someone added lyrics to a tune. And someone thought some electric guitar might be nice somewhere. And then we needed a bass player. We found one and became a regular rock band again. Eclectic, but fun. We played like crazy until I was the one to get married.

Kim had been to quite a few of my shows over the years (and I’d played with her bother for a while). After we got together, she decided she wanted to play too (okay, she already wanted to, but with me it became a reality). After a few guitars and a couple of basses, she settled on bass. I like playing with her, but the two of us singing together is the best.

We’ve never officially had a band together, though we’ve played with lots of folks over the years. Once the kids came along (which was right away) we did most of our playing in church. It’s funny, this is what led us to where we are today. This is a story for another time, but because of music, I stayed in church. And then Kim and I got together and eventually she decided to go to seminary—and then I did too. And now we’re pastors.

I’m a pastor who plays guitar. I used to be a musician who played in church. That’s what we liked to tell ourselves; we weren’t Christian rockers, we were Christians who rocked. Or something. We didn’t really play “Christian music” anyway. We just played music. But this set me on a path. I became a music leader in church. Then I became a worship leader in a “contemporary” church. Then a pastor. One thing led to another. And I still play guitar. 


Know any good drummers?